March-April 2008

A GREEN FAIRY TALE

By Michael Macheret

When the day finally arrived I suppose I expected parades in the streets. Talk about setting expectations too high! It wasn't as if there hadn't been any publicity. The Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Food & Wine Magazine, National Public Radio - even ABC News, f'cryin-out-loud. Absinthe was back on the shelves, or maybe you hadn't noticed?

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January-February 2008

SOME FOOD TIPS FOR MARDI GRAS

By Michael Macheret

Mardi Gras is early this year, February 5, and what a great time to revisit the best regional cuisine in the continental US. To my taste, Gumbo is at the top of the list. Somehow the word “gumbo” has come to be used as a metaphor for throwing together anything at hand into a stew. That may be somewhat justified in that gumbo is a very flexible dish when it comes to the main ingredients. Gumbo can be meat-based, or fish-based or a combination of the two. Sausage, chicken and oyster gumbo is one of the great combinations that places gumbo in a class of its own. However, there is nothing random or haphazard about the art of cooking gumbo.

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November-December 2007

AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE?

By Michael Macharet

Apple Pie may indeed be the most authentic American food, even though there is nothing indigenous about it. Apples were brought here by the Europeans; there are no varieties of apple native to North or South America. But putting history aside (and from what I see on TV these days, that comes very easily to us), just the mention of apple pie seems to evoke a memory of a simpler time, something that seems to speak to our roots. Perhaps apple pie is the correct metaphor for a nation of immigrants. Actually I was so inspired by Jack Kerouac's meanderings about apple pie in On the Road, that when I made my own cross-country drive in my younger days I also made several side-trips to see if real American apple pie was still being served up in the American heartland.------

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September-October 2007

GOOD FISH CHOWDER

By Michael Macharet

Good fish chowder, good clam chowder
Makes you want to cry for more.
Fills you up from your top to your toenails.
Makes you hear the ocean's roar.*

Chowder (not to be confused with that pasty white glop you get at your local pirate-themed fast fish eatery) is one of the great culinary contributions from traditional fishing villages.

At its core, chowder is simply a fish stew. Bouillabaisse, a Mediterranean fish stew, is really just another kind of chowder, differentiated by the regional ingredients associated with the recipe and maybe a bit more refined in its seasoning. Brittany has its own version of fish stew called cotriade, a simpler version and one that's based on fish found in the waters of the north-east coast of France. Matelote is another French fish chowder made in the inland regions and thus uses fresh-water fish. It also traditionally includes a generous portion of wine to make the broth and so it is a kind of fisherman's coq-au-vin. Send the fishermen down to Louisiana, throw some okra into the stew, add local fish like shrimp and crawfish and you have a fish stew called gumbo. This is not to say that the $35 bouillabaisse at Chez Françoise is going to look or taste anything like that $5 bread bowl of chowder you pick up at Jolly Roger's Bait and Sushi Shop. Chowder, like any other stew, is not fast food. It takes care and attention to detail if you want to really hear the ocean's roar in your soup bowl.

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July-August 2007

THE JOY OF POI

If you've been to Hawaii, then surely you've been to some hotel's luau at least once (and if not, what kind of tourist are you, anyway?) A luau, as all good tourists know, is about the food. And just so you won't go hungry, they make sure not to keep the offerings too authentic. But one thing for sure, you're guaranteed to find that obligatory Poi - that purple paste in a bowl that the entertainers will warn you about. It's something, they say, only a native Hawaiian could love. And do they love it! Dipping two fingers at a time, then three fingers and finally scooping out a handful in a cupped four-finger dip. Guaranteed to get a good laugh.

To a culture accustomed to sweet and salty flavors as we are, poi is a shock to the senses in its relative blandness. Compound that with the especially tasteless sample you're likely to find at your Hawaiian Buffet, you'll wonder why anyone would bother with it.

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May-June 2007

SPAM®: Substance Over Image

By Michael Macheret

Notorious is a good way to describe it. Maligned fits very well, too. Defamed - that's the perfect word for it. You have been spammed. You see it in your e-mail every day. It's not very funny, except in theaters where it's always good for a laugh. On the Broadway stage, Monty Python's Spamalot packs the house. The "spam" in Spamalot derives from a sketch in the classic Monty Python's Flying Circus BBC series. In the Spam episode, a waitress recites the menu at a patron's request:


Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam; spam spam spam egg and spam; spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam; or Lobster Thermidor à Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provençale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam.


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March-April 2007

The Mother of All Cocktails

By Michael Macheret

Pity the poor cocktail! What a corrupted and abused concoction it is. Walk into a “martini bar

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January-February 2007

Magic From New Mexico

By Michael Macheret

Columbus has been so maligned that Columbus Day has become the most embarrassing holiday on our calendar. Yes, he was wrong about many things, like in what land he had docked his ships and about who those people were that greeted him. But he knew a good meal when he tasted it and what he tasted was the magic of chile. He brought the chile back to Spain and from there the chile conquered the world: from Europe to Africa, and on to India, Southeast Asia, China and Korea. Maybe if we celebrated Columbus bringing chile to the rest of the world, we’d have more agreement about his holiday?

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