I heard on CNN the other day that the Japanese, longtime global leaders in the design and production of tiny objects for which we gluttonous Americans have no use whatsoever, have developed a whole line of hydroponically-grown, dwarf-sized vegetables for single people.
This is very good news indeed.
I am an unabashed supermarket junkie. There is nothing I like better than spending a leisurely weekday morning trolling the aisles of the neighborhood Whole Foods, pissing away my ever-dwindling 401K on mounds of fresh fruits, vegetables, salad dressings, marinades, meats, herbs, and spices as I fantasize about all the wonderful dishes I am going to make for all the fabulous dinner parties I am going to have for my friends. And there is nothing I hate more than cleaning out my refrigerator three weeks later, when all those wonderful, formerly fresh produce items have congealed into a single, fuzzy, green lump of mush in the back of the vegetable bin, as unappetizing as they are unrecognizable. So the whole concept of a drawerful of tiny vegetables is quite an appealing one. If nothing else, it means a smaller mess to have to throw away.
It’s not that I don’t like to cook. I love to cook. Well, that is to say, I love the idea of loving to cook. I currently subscribe to four cooking magazines: Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, and Cooking Light. I’ve saved every issue since 1988, because I just know someday I’ll get a craving for braised lamb shanks with tangerine gremolata on butternut squash polenta, and without that February 1991 Bon Appetit with the recipe in it however will I be able to prepare them? I have two entire bookshelves full of cookbooks -- everything from the entire Williams-Sonoma Cooking Catalogue to the complete Time-Life Pasta Series to every volume of Food & Wine’s “Best of the Best” collection (which, come to think of it, is really nothing more than a conglomeration of all the recipes in all the magazines I’ve been hoarding under my kitchen counter all these years…but, hell, I’ve lugged those fucking magazines around to a dozen different apartments in the past fifteen years and I‘ll be damned if I‘m going to throw them away now). I am also the proud owner of all of the following kitchen items: a chrome-plated Cuisinart Deluxe Food Processor; a Cuisinart mini-prep (this will come in handy when the mini-vegetables finally make their way to the East Coast); a Black & Decker Stick Blender; a Black & Decker Standing Mixer; a chrome-plated Oster Limited Edition Blender; two toaster ovens; a set of Wusthaus chopping knives in an attractive wooden knife-block; a stainless-steel vegetable steamer; a gourmet sushi kit; two sets of colorful ceramic baking dishes; an electric crock pot; a Cafepress all-in-one coffee maker and bean grinder; the complete line of Meyer Teflon-coated cookware with lids; a spice mill; a mandolin (no, I don’t know what it‘s supposed to do either, but in 2001 everyone was getting them); every variety of dried spice known to man; a selection of exotic vinegars and an entire array of flavored olive oils; and my crowning glory: a Showtime Rotisserie Barbecue and Grill, complete with barbecue gloves, self-turning kabob rods, and three different Flavor Injectors. Yep, when it comes to figuring out new ways to sucker in the gullible public, all they have to do is consult a big bulletin board with my picture on it to figure out exactly what buttons to push to get folks to buy.
With all the cutting edge (hee -- get it?) kitchen implements in my possession, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit that the only appliance I really get any mileage out of is, of course, my microwave. You know. For all the Lean Cuisines I have stashed in the freezer. Right next to the free range chicken and boneless skinless turkey breast that have been sitting in there since 1998.
The Foodie Phenomenon is like some bizarre cultural movement that sucks you in without any conscious effort on your part. They just make the lifestyle look so appealing. All you have to do, or so they would have you believe, is dab your forehead with one tiny drop of balsamic vinegar and the next thing you know you’ll be sipping Chardonnay on a flagstone patio somewhere in the Sonoma Valley, surrounded by a crowd of trim, well-heeled thirtysomethings in khaki and linen. What’s not to want?
Well I’ll tell you.
If I met any of these people in real life, I know I’d absolutely hate them.
Those people drizzling the imported black truffle oil over the butterflied stuffed shrimp sizzling atop their Weber grills? You know who they are? They’re the same people who go to wine tastings and spit instead of swallow. How can anyone be friends with people like this? I mean, really!
Every year there’s this big Food & Wine Festival in Boston that’s held at our own pathetic little mini World Trade Center. It’s the Foodie Event of the year here: there’s a big banquet the night before where all the celebrity chefs come to meet and greet their adoring public (who really couldn’t tell a poblano from a porcini, not that they‘d ever be caught dead admitting that), and then an entire weekend of wine tastings, cooking classes, cookbook signings, and all manner of other pretentious Foodie-related events. But the big highlight is the Saturday Wine Expo: where all the wine vendors come to strut their stuff. For a mere $30 entrance fee you get your very own embossed tasting glass and free license to consume as much wine as you can throw back in five heavenly hours.
Most people, myself proudly among them, go to the Wine Expo for the obvious reason: all the wine you can drink for $30? Hey, Monsieur Sommelier, sign me up! Unfortunately, there are always a few sour grapes in every bunch, and, in the case of the Wine Expo, these Whinophiles manage to poison the entire barrel.
Now, I’m a wine lover. But I’m not a Wine Lover, if you know what I mean. I did take a wine appreciation class about a hundred years ago, which basically taught me how to not make an ass out of myself at business dinners and also that I hate Sauvignon Blanc. But otherwise, I’m pretty arbitrary when it comes to selecting wines. When confronted with a particularly vexing bacchanalian decision, I base my choice on one of two variables: the price of the bottle or the attractiveness of the label. If I want to impress the person I am with, I’ll go with the more expensive bottle. If I merely want to treat myself, I’ll just pick the one with the prettiest label and be done with it. It’s not a very scientific method, granted, but it suits my shallow purposes just fine.
The Whinophiles would be horrified by my technique. You see, they have a far more sophisticated means of selecting their wines, honed through years of intensive study, miles of travel through the sun drenched vineyards of Tuscany, and long hours of grueling tasting experience. And I know all this because I’ve heard them describe it. I’ve heard them describe it in minute, exhaustive, infuriating detail as I stand stuck behind them in line at the Louis Latour Tasting Table, waiting for my turn.
Back in the days when I was upscale, before I lost all my jobs and became Poor, I was well on my way to becoming a Whinophile. I read their books. I took their class. I bought their fancy corkscrew. I did draw the line at spitting, though, because that’s just wrong. Anyway, during my Whineabee years I assembled a collection of handy tips so as to groom myself for acceptance in this exclusive club. As penance for being so tardy with this week’s blog, I am hereby passing my secrets along to you so that you, too, will know how to fit in with the Whinophiles at your next tasting event. This is all you need to do:
The Attire: Ladies are to wear linen or wool trousers (no spandex, please), silk blouses, and pearls. Leave the Hermes scarves at home, though, as it can be a bitch to get the errant dribble out of the silk. Gentlemen should don their khaki trousers and a light blue or white Oxford shirt, open at the collar, with a navy blue or tweed blazer. No elbow patches, unless you reside in Cambridge (and even then only if your home is in the Brattle Street area and you went to Harvard).
The Reconnaissance: Snatch the Event Map from the usher’s inexperienced grasp and retire to the nearest corner, highlighters and yellow stickies at the ready. Color code desired regions as follows: yellow (French wines); pink (Italian and Spanish wines); orange (California wines); blue (South American wines) and green (Australian, New Zealand, and South African wines). German wines are problematic -- it’s a lot of work to sort the good ones away from the really horrific Rieslings and you only have five hours so I’d advise you to skip them entirely. Use a black marker to X out the following entirely: anything bearing the label Gallo, Paul Masson, Woodbridge, and any other brand that comes in a carton. If you must have them, you can pick them up at a Store-24 on your way home.
The Approach: Once you have narrowed the selection, you may commence your approach. Move toward the desired table, head cocked ever-so-slightly, one eyebrow aloft. If you are an experienced nose-wrinkler, now is the time to bust out the move. Otherwise, a haughty snort or two will do just as nicely.
The Maneuver: Should there be others in line in front of you, ignore them. After all, they are probably swallowers. Merely extend your tasting glass in front of theirs so as to maneuver yourself ahead of them. They will defer to your superior knowledge. In fact, they'll probably thank you for blazing the trail.
The Introduction: Once at the front of the line, stand expectantly, perhaps clearing your throat once or twice so as to attract the attention of the Bored Wine Company Representative who has been standing behind the table for the past three hours, uncorking and pouring bottle after bottle into the clutches of the huddled masses who came before you. Lucky for him, you’re there now! Just the connoisseur he’s been waiting for! Someone who talks the talk! He’ll have nothing better to do than nod wearily at you for the next twenty minutes as you rattle off every tidbit of obscure information you‘ve managed to cram onto the index card in your pocket in the mistaken belief that the Bored Wine Company Representative actually gives a shit.
The Ritual: Once you have sufficiently impressed the Bored Wine Company Representative with your encyclopedic knowledge of wine trivia, it is time to commence the Tasting Ritual. Extend your glass, gesturing frantically if more than a quarter-inch is poured that that is “far too much” (after all, you are an experienced Whinophile and you need but a taste to determine quality).
The Swirl: Swirl your glass several times, tilting it back and forth, and make an incisive remark about the “fingers.” If you have a pair of half-glasses be sure to set your glass down to fumble in your jacket pocket for them. Ignore both the eye roll of the Bored Wine Company Representative (no, he is really not standing there wishing you would die at his feet so he can go home and go to bed) and the jeers of those waiting in line behind you (yes, they are waiting for you to die at their feet so they can get their turn). Hold your glass up to the light and complain that you see a speck of cork floating around. Insist on a new glass, then repeat the process, oblivious to the glares of all in your vicinity.
The Sniff: Inhale deeply, savoring the aroma, and be sure to use one of the following words to describe the bouquet: ripe, flinty, spicy, oaky, or (if displeased) musty.
The Sip: Sip. Swish. Spit. Even if it is a $150 Chateauneuf de Pape, you must spit it out into the Spitting Receptacle (usually a white plastic bucket overflowing with the backwash of the Whinophiles who came before -- I know, I don’t get it either). If you are in the mood to be ultra-pretentious, you may also chew the wine before spitting it out. Yes, you read that right. Give it a good chew or two. Everyone will be suitably impressed and will be sure to adopt your technique..
The Incisive Commentary: Prepare to deliver your incisive commentary, and be sure to speak loudly enough so that the Bored Wine Company Representatives three tables over will understand that you will be a Force to be Reckoned With when you come their way. The following terms are all acceptable when used to describe the wine: pear, apple, vanilla (for white wines); cherry, pepper, berry (for red wines). Other trustworthy terms are: full-bodied, ripe, buttery, smooth, or the ever-handy oaky. If at all possible, be sure to compare the taste to the most expensive wine you can think of (even if you have never tasted that particular expensive wine; no one will know and everyone will applaud your discriminating standards).
The Dismount: Rinse out your glass with the water provided and turn, nodding indulgently at the minions behind you as you brush by on your way to the next table.
Repeat process until either sated or escorted bodily out by Security at the unanimous request of every Bored Wine Company Representative staffing the event.
It’s a lot to take in, I know. Hey, I never said it was easy to be a Foodie or a Whinophile. Snobbery is hard work. But there’s an easy alternative, and one that I guarantee you is a lot more fun: just look around for me. I’ll be the one in the corner, surrounded by a stack of Gourmet magazines, beer in one hand and miniature carrot stick in the other.