Category Archives: Kitchen

I consider “cultural appropriation,” as such, to be an untenable charge. That’s not to say that the bad kinds of “cultural appropriation” that people point to are a-okay and that there is nothing to object to. Their often is! I can understand why Chief Wahoo makes many Native Americans mad, to pick one example. But it’s not going to be the “appropriation” that is the problem, but some accompanying aspect. Mockery is perhaps the most obvious example. But cultural appropriation as such simply can’t be bad in a pluralist or multicultural society.

You could make an argument that we ought to consider cultural appropriation in a way similar to trademark violation. We don’t allow people to use Mickey Mouse. Why should we allow them to call themselves the Fighting Sioux? Then you start getting questions about who owns what, which gets pretty messy. Worse still, you have to then assign cultural guardians for who represents the tribes, ethnic groups, and so on. This really ought to be raising some alarm bells with you. So any legal mechanism is going to be off the table, pretty much.

So we’re left with social censure. That’s what we have to do for breaches of multicultural etiquette. And when it comes to social censure, you’re never going to have 100% agreement. How we use other cultures or don’t will always be a bit tricky. But whether we can or not? It’s not clear how that can possibly be a real question in any society that claims any value to pluralism or multiculturalism. “Look but don’t touch” simply isn’t palatable. An argument in favor of multiculturalism is to be exposed to many things, and allowing intermingling of cultures provides even more. If this isn’t a good thing, what do we need those other cultures for anyway?

All of this brings me to recent events in Portland, burrito cart owners were pilloried for the high crime of cultural appropriation. They buckled under the pressure and closed shop. It’s part of a larger movement in Portland to identify and blacklist cultural appropriating restaurants in favor of authentic foreign food establishments. Cultural appropriators are often criticized for being reckless or shallow with the incorporation of other cultures. In this case, the two ladies behind Kook’s Burritos were accused of the opposite: Getting too close to the source material, stealing work product, and bringing it home.

The discussions I’ve seen so far remind me a bit of the Hot Coffee lawsuit verdict, where the critics sound like the defenders of the verdict by assuming that the other side doesn’t understand the real story and that if they did they would see how eminently reasonable the verdict/animosity is. Except that, for many (and by “many” I mean “me”), the additional information doesn’t actually help all that much. Here is the article that touched off the debate:

“I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did,” Connelly says. “They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins. They wouldn’t tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look. We learned quickly it isn’t quite that easy.”

Connelly and Wilgus have turned their passion into new weekend spot Kooks Burritos, which has a concept that fits twee Portland: a breakfast burrito pop-up inside the hip Tight Tacos food cart in a Southeast Portland parking lot.

“On the drive back up to Oregon, we were still completely drooling over how good [the tortillas] were, and we decided we had to have something similar in Portland,” Connelly says. “The day after we returned, I hit the Mexican market and bought ingredients and started testing it out. Every day I started making tortillas before and after work, trying to figure out the process, timing, refrigeration and how all of that works.”

Well, she figured it out.

And here is how it was characterized:

“…We were peeking into window of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look,” she said. So let’s recap the story thus far: These two white women went to Mexico, ate tacos, and then decided they would just take what the locals clearly didn’t want to give them. If that wasn’t bad enough, they decided to pack up all their stolen intellectual property and repackage it in one of the few places where such a business could plausibly work: Portland, Oregon.

While describing themselves on their Yelp biography (which has since been edited), Connelly claims to have “a mean tortilla flip” while Wilgus anointed herself as the “director of vibes” and “our little abuelita with recipes from the heart”—even though the recipes were stolen.

Week after week people of color in Portland bear witness to the hijacking of their cultures, and an identifiable pattern of appropriation has been created. Several of the most successful businesses in this town have been birthed as a result of curious white people going to a foreign country, or an international venture, and poaching as many trade secrets, customs, recipes as possible, and then coming back to Portland to claim it as their own and score a tidy profit. Now don’t get me wrong: cultural customs are meant to be shared. However, that’s not what happens in this city.

Much of the characterization presented suggests that this is more of an intellectual property dispute than a cultural appropriation dispute… except if you read the rest of it, it clearly isn’t. The “theft” is somewhat incidental. If they had done this in Greece, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation as the story would be received as the humorous story the ladies thought they were telling. The criticisms are very geared towards a specific sin by a very specific kind of culprit. This also has tenability problems, though that’s perhaps a post for another time. We might not be having this exact conversation if white girls hadn’t peeked at non-white cooks, but we’d be having one closer to it. It’s not clear what the original proprietors have lost here, nor is it even clear why they were less than helpful. My guess is that it had less to do with objection to white imperalism and more to do with the fact that ladies who didn’t speak Spanish well were bugging them.

More to the point, if they’d simply stolen the recipes, it wouldn’t have been nearly as hard as it evidently was to get it right. And the end product of all of this is people in Portland got to enjoy good food and no longer get to enjoy that food.

People are, of course, free to boycott any establishment they wish for whatever reason. The Kook ladies are not victims of some First Amendment violation or political persecution. To the extent that they are victims, it is in service to an ideal nobody should really want. My objection is not in their methods (though I’m definitely more hip to “Check out these actual minority-owned restaurants restaurants” than yelling “Unclean” and “Cultural Imperalism”, but the rationale for deployment in this particular case. Portland is very white. It would be a shame if their food options were unnecessarily demographically limited.

Category: Kitchen

One of my New Years resolutions was tending to my health. Most particularly the vaping, the weight, and soft drink consumption. These are all interrelated. The vaping is not a health problem in itself (I believe), but it coincides with my soft drink consumption because I do them both together, and with weight insofar as vaping provides relief to overeating. This post is about the weight thing.

I had tried to vaguely “eat less” and eat more of the high-fiber cereal in the morning, but it really wasn’t working. What I decided instead was simply to start counting calories and see where I stood. I never got an accurate measure, however, due to the Hawthorn Effect. Once I knew it was being counted, I modified my behavior almost immediately. According to the calculator I basically need to stay under 2500 calories a day, but every day but one (out of ten or so) I’ve come in under 2000. Despite the fact that my rules explicitly state I can eat whatever I want.

What I’ve learned most immediately is when I was mindlessly eating. Like I’d get a piece of cheese of Lain and then I’d get one for myself since I was right there. I also managed to, without much effort, figure out where I could scale back when preparing a sandwich for example. I also found out which foods are good at filling me up without taking up much in the way of calories. That last one could backfire because eggs are one of the good filler foods, but progress is progress.

What I find most noteworthy about this is how consistent I’ve been. In all but a couple of days, I’ve eaten between 1800 and 1900 calories. That’s a pretty range, made more interesting by the fact that I had no target in that range. To the extent that I had a goal, it was going to be 2500. Now I am for below 2000 – but no rules – and I not getting all the way up to 1990 or anything. My body apparently needs 1800-1900 to function and to stave off hunger.

It actually makes me wonder if my pre-monitoring calculations were similarly reliable. If I was eating between 2800-3000 calories, somewhat reliably, day-after-day.

Category: Kitchen

Indiana Governor Mike Pence accepted the Vice Presidential spot on the now Trump/Pence ticket. Then he did something that bread controversy:

This opened up a dialogue. Allegedly, this began when some people mocked Pence for eating at Chili’s in New York City. I caught the second phase, which was people defending the choice. Then came the third phase, which accused everybody in Phase Two of being faux-populist because Chili’s is trash and everybody knows it.

It was an endless plate of meta.

But it brought to light several questions:

  1. Is it acceptable to eat at Chili’s in New York City when there are other options available?
  2. Why, precisely, was Mike Pence eating at Chili’s in New York City? Was he trying to flash some working class cred and engage in some culture wars, or is he a tasteless dweeb without sufficient taste and sophistication?
  3. Is it acceptable to criticize him for doing so, and suggest that it is indicative of said lack of taste and sophistication? Or does that make you an elitist?
  4. Is it acceptable to defend eating at Chili’s in New York? Or does that make you a phony populist?

One of the more interesting aspects of this discussion is the notion that Chili’s represents “working class” to begin with. It doesn’t, especially, in my view. I associate it more with middle class, in suburbia, small cities, and large towns. For those on the left talking up phony populism, and those on the right trying to demonstrate populism, Chili’s is an odd hill on which to do battle. It’s not especially inexpensive. Apart from Denny’s, none of them carry a blue class vibe. Outside of the bar, they cater as much as anything to families on their night out as anything, and groups of people who all want to grab a bite to eat and want something they can agree on. Places of this sort tend to have wide and varied menus that can cater to different people at once.

Due to my biography, the place I most recognized this dynamic was small city and big town America. In suburbia you sort of take these places for granted, but in Deseret it was a big deal to get one of these restaurants. That’s not because there’s no good local cuisine, exactly. In fact, in Deseret, you have an unusually high assortment of restaurants with dishes from all across the world. (Think Mormons, who like to open businesses and many of whom spend two years overseas in foreign cultures.) But you grow up and you see these ads for places on TV and then you find out they’re opening one here! Wow! You can finally get those dishes that you keep hearing about!

And they’re not bad. They’re median food, almost definitionally. They’ve been field tested extensively by corporations with a lot of resources and a strong motivation to figure out what median people like. You don’t have to like it, but if you think it’s trash then… yes… you run the risk of snobbery or elitism. Even if you aren’t, you are in the company of a lot of people that are.

On the other hand, if you think they are unremarkable and you’re puzzled as to why someone would go all Michael Scott and eat at Chili’s in New York City, I get that. As with a lot of things snobbery-related, a lot of it depends on the delivery. If you feel the need to denigrate Chili’s, though, well that came come across poorly. If you’re of the mind that Pence wanted that reaction, well maybe he did. But if people took the bait, they took the bait. If you don’t want to get caught up in the “dining wars” of casual dining chains, then don’t. And if you’re a snob, then own it. (I’m not a snob about food, but I can be a snob about other things.)

I don’t know Pence’s motivations and don’t much care. I could see him thinking that he could get a rise out of people by eating at Chili’s. Or that this could be a homespun appeal to Regular Folk. On the other hand, the guy had a really big weekend and there was a lot going on. When we last moved across the country, we passed through a lot of good food towns and ate chains. Why? Because food wasn’t really the point. We just wanted something reliably good (to us) and get on our way. Mike Pence was just tapped to be a Vice Presidential nominee and had gone to New York on the equivalent of a last-minute business trip. I can certainly imagining myself finding comfort in Chili’s under those circumstances.

Truth be told, though, I didn’t actually see as much original outcry as I saw outcry against the outcry. Which is to say, by the time I caught wind of the conversation, it was people saying “Actually, Chili’s is okay” and “Chili’s is awesome” and “Screw the snobs!” This is not uncommon. Either I miss the first round, or as often as not the blowback to the thing is bigger than the thing. But even if we accept that some people did go ahead and mock Pence for his pedestrian ways, and we figure on the blowback, the third round was people telling people in the second round that they can’t possibly like Chili’s (or can’t not have a problem with Pence eating there).

That’s actually a more severe statement than “I don’t like Chili’s” and even “Chili’s is crap.” The first is a statement of personal taste, but even the second allows for some disagreement in the “Okay, you like crap.” This, though, is to suggest that Chili’s is so bad that anyone above a certain who claims to like it is a liar.

This lead to the anti-Chili’s populist argument that it’s actually more insulting to the normals to “pretend” you like Chili’s than to insult it. That was kind of a new one on me. I can sort of get the argument that “Actually, Chili’s isn’t that cheap so there’s nothing working class about it.” As mentioned, Chili’s isn’t exactly a working class haven and so it’s not a working class populist deal. Or more precisely, the “class” argument with regard to Chili’s works both ways. But this takes us into a weird space where it’s practically suggesting that liking Chili’s is, in itself, putting a bone in your nose to fit in with the locals. Not anything a sensible person would ever do.

So yeah, let’s chill out about Chili’s. Try their southwestern eggrolls. Good stuff. Or don’t, because it’s not your thing. But let someone else try it, and like it, even if it doesn’t seem like it should. Don’t rise to the bait of politicians baiting you, if that’s what they’re doing. And if that’s not what they’re doing, Chili’s really isn’t such a bad place if you’re a politician crunched for time, want something reliably good, and need to be asking yourself serious questions about your life choices.

Category: Kitchen

Applesauce cookies!

These were a staple of my childhood, and are now a staple of my children’s childhood. My mom discovered the recipe years ago when she wanted to bake but didn’t have any eggs nor money to buy any. These are the only sweet against which I have no willpower. Making them today with my daughter, we both had to restrain ourselves against eating up all the dough before we made any actual cookies.

The cinnamon and cloves make this an ideal fall treat, but they’re great any time of year.

– 1 cup shortening
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 cups unsweetened applesauce
– 4 cups flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon cloves

* Preheat oven to 375
* Cream sugar and shortening together
* Blend in applesauce
* Blend baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves into the flour
* Blend the dry mix into the creamed, adding about 1/3 at a time
* Grease cookie sheet (the cookies will stick otherwise)
* Use dinner spoons to drop balls of dough onto the sheet – do not make them too big
* Cook for 12 minutes

Two notes of warning

  1. The recipe is notoriously finicky. Small differences in the amount of ingredients, especially the baking soda and flour, can really affect the taste and texture, respectively. Sunspots and the color of shirt you’re wearing may also affect them. If they don’t taste wonderful, don’t despair, just try again. Once in a while I still have a batch that’s not quite right.
  2. I use homemade applesauce because the cookies need the rougher texture. Maybe you can find a more naturally textured applesauce in the store, but with the standard smooth applesauce the cookies will lay down flat like little pancakes. The homemade applesauce is easy — just simmer about 6 apples in a cup of water until soft (about ½ hour), then mash them up. I use a potato masher. Just don’t blend until smooth. I use a combination of apples, a couple Golden Delicious for tartness and Fuji, Gala or Macintosh for their flavor and I don’t add any seasoning to the mash.

Category: Kitchen


Category: Kitchen

I love all kinds of breakfast cereal. Too much, in fact. I had that successful diet with the FiberOne, of course. The FiberOne is good, but not so good that I can’t stop eating it.

Regular cereal? Man, I can’t have that in the house ever because I just never want to stop eating it.

Category: Kitchen

Anthony Bourdain eats at Waffle House, and declares it good:

For some reason, my dad isn’t a big fan of Waffle House, so I rarely got to eat there growing up. And inexplicably, Denny’s, where Dad did like to eat, didn’t offer waffles. So I lived something of a waffless household.

Imagine my surprise when I grew up to discover… I didn’t actually like waffles very much. I mean, they’re okay, I guess, but pancakes tend to taste better. Or maybe it just didn’t live up to ten years of hype in my mind?

wafflehouseBut I do, it turns out, like Waffle House. There is a Waffle House in Millsburg near Clancy’s workplace there (she also works in Stonebridge, right by our old house). Whenever I have to take Lain up, we do go to Waffle House. Not to get waffles, though. And pecan waffles sound pretty disgusting. But the general menu is pretty greasy and good. The atmosphere is pretty nice as well.

You can tell who they cater to by the signs of the signs politely asking you not to sexually harass the waitstaff and informing you of the steps they may take if you do.

One of Lain’s favorite books is Curious George Makes Pancakes. If you’re at all familiar with CG, you can probably guess the plot. We’re at the phase where I like to ask Lain “Where is the X” and she points to it. Or I point to something and she tells me what it is. She likes to book about pancakes so much, I thought she might get a real kick out of trying some. But the couple of times I have tried to take her to IHOP, she has sort of gotten into a fit and doesn’t want them.

I wonder if she’ll like waffles.

Category: Kitchen

The past week was exhausting, and ended in a meeting I’d been dreading, in which I got to sit through yet another round of listening to our Dean lecture the faculty at something just under a full shout, deflect the demand of a guest at the meeting that I change the agenda and forgo some crucial procedural matters so we could just get right to their concerns, then get accused of picking on and singling out one department–ironically, the one most closely allied to my own, and for whom I had just done a shitload of work, including fixing some of their required forms for them–because I raised an issue that has been bouncing around unresolved for close to a decade and that has caught up several other departments (including my own) at various times. The particular joys of that moment were 1) the marvelously passive-aggressive way it was phrased–“I feel like we’re being picked on”–to give the utterer plausible deniability about having actually accused me of picking on them (it’s just her “feels” after all), and 2) that as chair of the committee I felt it best to not say anything beyond demurring any targeting and pointing out other departments that had been negatively affected lest I appear churlish.

I was feeling churlish, of course. But a burrito, a beer, and a bourbon followed by three White Russians at the bar changed that. (more…)

Category: Kitchen

Homekist crackers – which may be a Walmart housebrand as I have never found them anywhere else – are about half the price of even the cheapest of other saltines. You might be thinking “you get what you pay for” and… you’d be half-right.

The odd thing about Homekist crackers is that they have almost no quality control. I don’t mean that they’re terrible. I mean they are terribly inconsistent. They may be the most inconsistent packaged food I’ve ever purchased.

A good batch is as good as any name brand saltine out there. Better than most. Really good. Crispy. Great.

A bad batch is just terrible. They come out of the packaging half-stale. They’re cracked and broken. Sometimes you will lose up to a fifth or so of them to being only suitable for soup because they’re so crushed.

And there is no way of knowing which kind of batch you are going to get. There are some batches that are in between, but they mostly gravitate towards the great and the terrible.

Speaking of Walmart crackers, their reduced fat “Thin Wheats” are better than Wheat Thins.

Category: Kitchen

So Taco Bell released this commercial.

Which is really quite gorgeous.

I’ve long wondered why Taco Bell doesn’t do breakfast, given that Sonic has previously gotten my business solely for having (very lackluster) breakfast tacos in parts of the country that don’t offer it regularly. It’s definitely punching up to go after McDonald’s on the breakfast front because that is what they do best.

Speaking of which, it’s looking like McD’s is finally rolling out the all-day breakfast in San Diego. It’s amazing what desperation will get you to do. Jack in the Box figured this out ages ago. It happens quite frequently these days that I end up getting breakfast sandwiches at Sheetz simply because they serve it later in the day.

And lastly, McDonald’s is also in the news for announcing that it’s going to start paying its employees more. However, given that they only own about one in ten of its locations, the effect will be limited. When I worked at McDonald’s, I was actually about fifty cents ahead of minimum wage. And when minimum wage went up, my pay went up, too.

Category: Kitchen