Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Noodles and Oodles of Food from Everywhere

  • My new desk lamp from Taotronics is a wonderful LED lamp with adjustable color, brightness, and position. It has a sleep timer and a built-in night light. There's a USB plug in the side of the base that will charge my phone at that fast rate.

The question of the day is what do I write about when I have no idea what to write about. I am by nature garrulous, and sometimes I'm able to channel my babble into writing. Professionals who peer into my eyes and ears and who analyse the strange chemistry of my blood dread my appointments because I incessantly rattle their ears with my jawbone. It's fair to say I've brightened the day of a few bored store clerks with my round-the-world gonzo-babble, so I'm not equally off-putting to everyone.

Noodles, cooked and drained,
receive extreme unction.
There is nobody around right now except for my mother, who is watching television in the back of the house, so the solution seems to lie in cooking some pasta, on which I plan to drizzle a little olive oil, which, they tell me, is more likely a fraud made from grape seed oil and rapeseed oil:

Journalist Tom Mueller has investigated crime and adulteration in the olive oil business, publishing the article "Slippery Business" in New Yorker magazine, followed by the 2011 book Extra Virginity. On 3 January 2016 Bill Whitaker presented a program on CBS News including interviews with Mueller and with Italian authorities. It was reported that in the previous month 5,000 tons of adulterated olive oil had been sold in Italy, and that organised crime was heavily involved—the term "Agrimafia" was used. The point was made by Mueller that the profit margin on adulterated olive oil was three times that on the illegal narcotic drug cocaine. He said that over 50% of olive oil sold in Italy was adulterated, as was 75-80% of that sold in the US. Whitaker reported that 3 samples of "extra virgin olive oil" had been bought in a US supermarket and tested; two of the three samples did not meet the required standard, and one of them—with a top-selling US brand—was exceptionally poor (Wikipedia).

I'll lightly season my fraudulently annointed noodles with some oregano, maybe some dill, pepper, and salt. I've been wanting to do this for a long time because pouring on the marinara out of a jar makes such a heavy concoction, and I want to eat something light. I never have the seasoning, but tonight I do.

I tell my mother I'm going to cook some pasta, and she looks at me as though I'm speaking Greek again. I try the word noodles, but that doesn't help, so I go get the bag to show it to her. She's moved the noodles, so I have to look for a while. It hasn't occurred to her that I buy food too. I don't mind her eating the watermelon chunks that I buy, but she eats the food that I buy for myself and leaves untouched the food that she buys for herself, so I'm going to start making her shopping list look more like mine than hers. At least I know what she likes now—not pasta though. I stood there five minutes waiting for her to answer my question: do you want some pasta? Some noodles? Am I cooking for one or two people? I finally get it loud enough that she can hear me, which upsets her because it seems like I'm shouting at her. She says, "No," and heads off to her room for bed. Sometimes she makes me feel like Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Noodles seasoned with garlic powder, oregano, and a little bit
of dill. I didn't use any salt or any chili sauce, which they needed,
but I tried doing without.
So when I went to the store Friday, I picked up a handful of seasoning that I thought would be appropriate. I like to use fresh seasoning when I can—fresh basil leaves among the produce are the freshest, best tasting thing in all the grocery store—but I didn't know when I would be doing this simple drizzle-and-season pasta, so I bought little jars of dried seasoning that would keep.

So is there a logical loop between writing about noodles that I cooked and eating those noodles while I write? I cooked noodles that I ate while I wrote about cooking the noodles that I ate while I wrote about cooking the noodles that I ate while I wrote about...

They were a little bland because I decided to get by with the seasoning and without the salt. Perhaps a splash of lemon juice would have helped. Some Cholula would have helped, but I have reached that age when even conservative and flavorful sauces like Cholula set my panties on fire, so I not only eat less hot sauce, but I envy people who eat spicy things like chilis with joyous abandon.

Mark Wiens is one such indiscriminate gobbler of spicy curries and chilis, which he eats as nonchalantly as apples. He gobbles them down like Shaggy in Scooby-Doo. I'm a fan of Wiens, as anyone who has been reading my blog surely knows by now. He is based out of Bangkok, Thailand, and his beat has traditionally ranged all over eastern Asia, but lately his horizons have widened to cover the whole planet.

The official tourist bureau of Jordan invited him to come over and eat, so with an official guide and translator, he spent several days traveling all over the country eating in fancy Jordanian restaurants as well as in Bedouin tents. That was an adventure I could only envy—there are restaurants in Austin that serve Mideastern cuisine, but I feel they would be so far from what I saw Wiens and his wife eating in Amman that I can't muster the spirit to go try it.

Not long after the Jordan trip, I noticed that Wiens's videos and his Twitter- and Instagram-trail diverged—on YouTube he was taking a wonderful culinary tour of South Korea, to which I could relate because I lived in Korea, though in only a short time he knew more about the cuisine and tried more things than I did in the two years I was there. Meanwhile his tweets and Instagram photos were reporting amazing dishes from European capitals as well as a massive Reuben from a Katz's Deli in New York.

(Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem called "C’mon Pigs of Western Civilization," which mentions Katz's Deli in an unappetizing light. I'm a Ginsberg fan of such proportion that I have to read everything, even if ... Well, even if, but if you're stomach is delicate, you might want to refrain. There was for a while in Austin a Katz's Deli, which got away with its name because its owner was named Mark Katz, but those big-name New York restaurants do have a vague awareness of what's happening beyond the Hudson River: a place on Larimer Street in Denver calling itself The Little Russian Tea Room got a cease-and-desist letter from their namesake back East: they ceased and desisted by mutating into a linguistically droll but still enticing Little Russian Cafe. I understand they're gone altogether now.) 

Here's a cross-section from Wiens's delicious-looking Reuben at Katz's (his Web page and enterprise is called Migrationology, by the way):

A photo posted by Mark Wiens (@migrationology) on


So finally the other day Wiens posted a short video that left me drooling for good food and trembling with wanderlust. He told everyone to sign up for his channel to get ready for The Food Trip of a Lifetime. The reason his fans were getting videos from Korea but photos from literally around the world became suddenly clear. "39 days, 9 countries, 11 flights, 131 meals," the video crows at the end. Wiens's trip was sponsored by Star Alliance, which, without a lot of research, seems to be a global consortium of airlines. Star Alliance sponsored seven travel bloggers and blogging couples, each with his or her own interest. The topics they covered are a romantic journey; diving; architecture; wine; the cultural arts of design, technology, style, travel, art; the wonders of the world; and of course Wiens's world food. These are all going to be great to watch, and I'm going to subscribe—with notifications—to their respective YouTube channels.

You should sign up to Wiens's channel if you like to eat. I realize there are people who live on gruel because they consider fueling the body as a necessary evil, but I advise everyone—you, my neighbors, and the joyless stoics living empty and painful lives—that they should celebrate life in its most fundamental essences, and the most rudimentary way of doing that lies in reverently eating good food and in celebrating that food with the fellowship of friends.

You see, there are two blogs in one here: my bland noodles and Mark Wiens's culinary adventures. That's what's happens when I sit down before the great tabula rasa, roll a blank piece of paper around my typewriter's platen, and open a vein. At first I get just the lymph fluid before the blood really starts to flow. When I was in graduate school I'd throw  those first several pages away, but now I'll publish anything.