1/20/11

GOP Bill Would Eliminate NEA, NEH?

The National Medal of Arts awarded by the Nati...According to this article here the House GOP "Spending Reduction Act of 2011" bill would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and cut the National Endowment for the Humanities budget by 95% or more.

It shows a 100% budget cut of $167.5 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and the  National Endowment for the Humanities would suffer the same amount: $167.5.



It's sad that at time like this, when this money is going to employ people who create art and enhance life, at a time when unemployment is high, that the GOP wants to cut more jobs and create more unemployment.

This study says that money invested in the artists has a 50%+ return to the economy.  While checking out this info, I found an interesting calculator. Click the image below to estimate the economic impact of your nonprofit arts and culture organization—or even your entire nonprofit arts community—on your local economy. Click here to learn more about the calculator.



Enhanced by Zemanta

1/14/11

Lardo Sandwich Review

When I was a kid in Michigan after a day sledding I'd come out of the cold to find my mom had made me a "flower" sandwich. She would put a slice of cheese and a slice of bologna or salami on a piece of white bread, then a dollop of ketchup in the middle. I didn't like bologna, and didn't especially like ketchup on my sandwiches, but when she put it under the broiler something wonderful would happen: the bread would toast, the cheese melt, and the meat curled up everywhere except the center where the ketchup was. On my plate it looked like a little cheese & meat flower, toasty warm on a freezing midwestern day.

A new "pod" of food carts has sprung up in the neighborhood, and one of the most interesting is Lardo, which offers a similar sandwich. It's not the same ingredients, but the same philosophy of taking some simple, almost trashy ingredients and making a wonderful little sandwich. It's a grilled mortadella and provolone sandwich with mustard aioli and pickled peppers. Normally I'm nonplussed by mortadella, ranking it slightly higher than bologna, but I've had some versions of the meat that surprised me. This is one of them. The flavor was homey without being bland, reminding me of the flower sandwich, or maybe even something farther back in my memory. Meanwhile the pickled peppers provided enough excitement that every bite was a new adventure.

At this point you can stop reading and click away to some other web site, unless you want more observations on Lardo.

Their lamb slider is interesting. Unlike other sliders, which usually consisted of a small patty on a small bun, this sandwich was two small lamb burger patties on a single large bun, topped with home made ketchup and roasted red peppers for $7. Normally lamb has a rich, oily taste, but the ketchup and peppers balance it out.

The key Lardo sandwich is porchetta on a light panini topped with a parsley gremolata. The porchetta is distinctive, but not something I'd order again. I put it in the same vein as pulled pork (My wife hates when I order "pulled pork" at restaurants, she doesn't like the way it sounds. I keep ordering it, not to annoy her, but because it always seems like it should be better, but I'm usually disappointed).

Pickled peppers peeking out of the ciabatta
Like pulled pork, porchetta is pork steeped in cultural heritage until it's as tender as butter. Unfortunately, I don't want a butter sandwich. The sandwich was too fatty for my taste, and the parsley gremolata failed to pull its own weight. At $8 it was a bit expensive for what you get. I've heard other people rave about this sandwich, but my tastes run toward the grilled mortadella.

The guy running Lardo seems nice, and on the weekends you'll find his little son in the cart with him, or running around the pod. If you go for the porchetta (pronounced "pork-etta") then order a San Pelligrino limonata to complete the Italian experience.  Meanwhile I'll save a buck, order the grilled mortadella, and think of snowy days in Michigan.

1/13/11

Sandwich Review: Dick's Kitchen

Arnold: What's the secret sauce?
Brad: Thousand Island dressing. What's the secret sauce at Bronco Burger?
Arnold: Ketchup and mayonnaise.

 

I cannot recommend enough Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Subtitled “A Natural History of Four Meals,” Pollan devote almost 500 pages to exploring food production in America, and the decisions, expenses and unintended consequences that are processed into that system. His website has the best summary of the omnivore’s dilemma.

“The cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast-food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous food landscape. What’s at stake in our eating choices is not only our own and our children’s health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth.”

The four meals are simple things. The first is a petroleum-based fast food hamburger and fries purchased at a McDonald’s and eaten in a car heading down the highway at 60 mph. With the second and third meals he examines both an industrial-organic method of food production and visits an intensive-organic farm. For the last meal he reverts to our hunter-gatherer heritage to forage for mushrooms and kill a wild boar.

This book is packed with information and anecdotes, including Pollan’s experience raising a single cow using the industrial method, but the idea that struck a chord with me is how much of our diet is based on corn. On Earth living things are carbon-based, and in order to grow and survive they much consume more carbon. Plants, bacteria, animals and humans are all in competition for efficient methods of gathering and consuming carbon. Corn has an identifiable carbon isotope known as C-13, which allows tracking of that atom of corn up through the food chain from corn to cow to human, or directly from corn to human in the form of high fructose corn syrup, as well as in additives to other processed food, or through the popcorn and breakfast cereals we eat.

In the course of the book he discusses the different methods of production and it’s clear he prefers the intensive-organic, grass-based farming method of food production. The small farm that he visits in the book has a mechanism where the cows graze the grass, which is then followed up with a movable hen house so the birds can clean up the grains the cows missed. The droppings from the animals go back into the ground as fertilizer, and he rotates among his fields so no grass is over-grazed.

There are many reasons to prefer grass-fed beef. In the US grasses are better for the soil, requiring less fertilizer, and they can more often be native plants. Feeding cattle on grass allows them to grow more naturally, slower than a cow fed on corn, but this natural diet keeps them healthier so they won’t need as much antibiotics and medical treatment during their life.

When it comes to taste, some say that the meat from grass-fed cows is more aesthetically pleasing in terms of marbling and fat content. And in the course of producing beef, grass-fed cows are treated less like meat factories, which might ease some people’s consciences.

I’m not saying you have to read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” before you visit Dick’s Kitchen, but it helps to appreciate the backstory of the meal waiting for you there.
The website for Dick’s Kitchen says it’s “Portland' 1st Stone Age Diner.” If you’re one of those people who like a restaurant with a philosophy, theirs is written on the menu:
“an emphasis on healthy, lean proteins and fresh vegetables: the type of food our ancestors evolved to eat and that is now considered most in tune with the nutritional physiology that promotes health and a lower risk of metabolic disorders."

 
The hamburgers were supposed to be hand-made patties, but they were so regular they looked like they were made in a burger press. At five ounces it's slightly more than a quarter pound burger, but the difference is negligible. The basic burger comes on a dairy-free potato bun and with lettuce, tomato, red onion, "home-made" pickles, special sauce and a side of coleslaw. When I ate there you could order a side of "not-fries" for $2, but I notice the online menu shows the price as $2.50. The "not-fries" are baked fries, and are better than the average baked fry.

"Wait!" you say. "What's in the special sauce?"

Dick's Kitchen says they make all of their sauces, and we got a chance to try all of them. Of course they have the standards: ketchup, mustard and mayo. I felt the mustard was nicely zesty, thick enough but not pasty. But those were run-of-the-mill next to the other sauces. The Persilla sauce slightly reminded me of an Indian coriander chutney, which they described as a pesto-like sauce made of parsley, anchovies, garlic and Parmesan. The horseradish sauce could have been spicier, as with the Wasabi aoli. I liked the aoli, which was creamy and had a good taste of Wasabi, but not any of the bite, and found it was good dipping sauce for the burger. The best sauce for the “not fries” was the chipotle aoli. It had a taste which went especially well with the sweet potato “not fries.”

For drinks you can order hand-made sodas for $2, so we enjoyed a watermelon and a root beer, and I ordered a HUB lager from their selection of five taps. The d├ęcor was retro-minimalist faux diner with pictures of other famous Dicks on the wall. Because the space echoed it was a bit noisy, and on a Friday night we had to wait about half an hour from the time we ordered until we were served.

Let me tell you honestly: the hamburgers weren’t amazing, but I think the sauces made them enjoyable. Dick’s, however, isn’t about the burgers. It’s a gateway restaurant. In addition to the meaty fare they have a wide range of meatless offerings that look and sound interesting. The menu lists a tempeh Reuben, a Portobello burger, SmartDogs, and vegan salads. Swinging back the other way, they also have heritage meats bratwurst, and a bacon burger with uncured bacon. Oh, and there’s a non-required reading list.

So, what’s the secret sauce? The real secret is that Dick’s Kitchen wants to take you on a journey to change the way you think about your meal, and they're making it taste good on the way.

I’m not joking about the reading list:
FURTHER READING
Enhanced by Zemanta

1/4/11

Sandwich Review: Burgers

The amazing Kobe beef burger at Bamboo Sushi.
If there's any sandwich, or any food at all, that could be called typically American, I'd point to the hamburger.

Originally from Europe, it came to America, shortened its name to Burger, and became famous in New York city in the early 19th century. Burgers in visited the 1904 St Louis World's Fair, and when automobiles pushed the frontier of travel to the in-between spaces of the country, the burger came along for a fast-food ride.

Like other immigrants, the burger has adapted, showing the occasional regional influences with bacon, BBQ sauce, avocados, and evolved, turning into Gardenburgers, veggie patties and shrimp burgers. Patties can be fried, broiled, or grilled. For consideration as a burger, however, the key ingredients remain constant: a patty between buns (it's sad how Patty Melt, burger's cousin, has been cut off from the family due to a lack of buns).

The flexibility of the hamburger is so great that I lose all interest in any version of it that's institutionalized. I'd include McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Junior, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, A&W, Red Robin, and Fuddruckers in my list of mass-produced burger machines. There are a few regional examples that stand out. Burgerville, for example, has marketed itself as a local company using local ingredients, which gives it integrity, if not a distinctive taste. Meanwhile, in the Seattle area Dick's Drive-in has a cult-like following that earned it a place in a song from the Presidents of the United States. I'm sure there are hundreds of other examples of regional chains like In and Out Burger, or White Castle, but my iconic image is of the Generic Hamburger Stand that used to exist in an old Der Wienerschnitzel building in Corvallis, Oregon. This restaurant used the generic labeling scheme as a marketing ploy, and served hamburgers for 59 cents in plain white wrappers. The last time I ordered a burger from the hut I caught a glimpse of the cook, an obese teen, sweat-stained and ill-groomed, surrounded by four grills of sizzling patties. That's my takeaway from the institutional version of the hamburger.

Even when it's not a distinctive meal, the restaurant setting can be worth it. Portland alone has hundreds of these examples. I remember many lunches at Skyline Restaurant, enjoying the pre-retro retro feel of the linoleum tables and vinyl-topped chrome stools at the counter. After we moved to our house near Mt. Tabor, my wife and I moved our lunches to Seaton's Pharmacy, which had a lunch counter that served thick shakes, crisp crinkle fries, and grilled burgers that were just about the same as Skyline, but with an entirely new crowd of daily regulars (unfortunately Seaton's is gone, now a chiropractor's office, but Fairley's Pharmacy on NE Sandy still offers a similar experience). McMenamin's, another local treasure, used to offer burgers hand-formed by hippies in a distinctive "Grateful Dead" milieu. The decor is still the same, but unfortunately the burgers have slid downhill into mass-produced conformity.

This site has a map of PDX burgers

View Larger Map


Recently Portland has experienced an interesting twist: local restaurants are trying to make a distinctive burger. Maybe it's in response to the rise in vegan restaurants, or just a burger rebellion, or maybe it just another phase in the evolution of the burger in America: for any need, for any hunger, for any price the burger will be served.  Just as Ruth Stafford Peale said "find a need and fill it," restaurants have found a need and fed it.  So, now we have spendy burgers, going at $28 a sandwich, nearly 10 times the average hamburger price; and a quest for gourmet burgers.

Up next, a review of the burger at Dick's Kitchen.