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All’s Fair in Food and Prose

This Sunday’s New York Times boasts a remarkably food-savvy piece of op/art: Fairs Enough (requires registration). It’s an illustrated rundown of the most delectable fair foods from states as far-flung as Washington State, Vermont, and Texas.

From the “elegant” ham biscuit at the State Fair of Virginia to the frybread-based Indian taco at the New Mexico State Fair, the Times does a great job of running a nearly infinite gauntlet of fair food options.

An added bonus: the Times graphic is free of the penny-ante “oh, aren’t the locals fascinating” condescension that thoroughly permeated Slate’s recent feature on the Minnesota State Fair.

With its offensive colors and overlapping carnival-ride soundtracks, strolling through the midway is like taking a walking tour of one’s own headache…

Slate writer Ben Crair: have you never been a young person? Are you, in fact, an extremely angry 70-year-old man, who attended the fair in order to shake your ivory-handled cane in a trembling manner at the noisy, unsophisticated youth who seemed to swarm the grounds?

Attending a fair and then complaining that the midway is full of “offensive colors” is like going to an NFL football game and complaining that the fans are loud. Yes, the fans are loud. It’s a football game. And yes, the midway will have “overlapping carnival-ride soundtracks.”

McDonald’s will also sell hamburgers, and the sun will continue to be yellow.

Pack It In

The Today show’s recent feature on healthier choices for kids’ school lunchboxes provides a nice introductory primer for the burgeoning line of snack-y, grab-and-go foods produced by natural foods makers.

The days when health food stores sold nothing but mung bean sprouts and Tiger’s Milk Bars are long over. These days, there’s a brown-rice-compliant alternative to just about any crappy processed food one craves. Pepperoni pizza? Buffalo wings? Oreos? “Health food” has come to encompass all these choices, and many more.

Of course, even a vegan cookie made with all-organic ingredients is no stalk of broccoli. Junky health foods are still loaded with fat and calories, dicey at a time when the citizens of the world are unable to button their pants. And some of the products flying the “healthier choice” flag are still total crap. FritoLay’s line of Baked Cheetos are lower in fat than the old-school chips, but contain a potent stew of nasty ingredients like partially hydrogenated oil, MSG and artificial flavors and colors. And though Oscar-Mayer has been working on slimming down its Lunchables line, it’s still a convenience food with an inconveniently disal amount of salt, fat, and chemicals. But since I’m from the generation who got a double-pack of Little Debbies in the ol’ lunchbox, these foods seem to be a step in the right direction. Or maybe, I dunno, parents could consider just throwing an apple in the kid’s lunchbox, rather than a fruit-flavored snack.

We be jammin’

‘Tis the season for preserving fruits and vegetables, and the food blog world is not going to let it pass unheralded. The most recent edition of Sugar High Fridays, a monthly blogging event, was devoted to canning.

Hosted by Delicious Days (recently selected by Time magazine as one of the Fifty Coolest Web sites), this event resulted in 53 submissions from food bloggers around the globe. Can these people can? Yes indeed!

The variety is impressive—from blueberry port chutney, to cognac-infused plum walnut jam, Seville orange and Calvados marmalade, and a jam of shallots, beer, prunes, and cocoa nibs (perhaps I am just impressed these guys managed to incorporate booze into their recipes). Interesting flavor combinations abound; apricot and roast pistachio; fig and sesame; nectarine and tomato,

Though perhaps most impressive is the entry of one Carl Tashian, who took on the task of canning 1,000 tomatoes. His landlord observed, “you have way too much time on your hands.” He also now has 72 quarts of canned tomatoes. That should keep him in sauce until next spring.

Child of the Corn

Corn mazes are big business for small farms these days. With the advent of computer-aided design programs (and tractors guided by GPS), the tall green labyrinths have gotten exponentially more complex over the past few years. However, most farms still stick with the usual Halloween themes of ghosts, pumpkins, and broomstick-riding witches.

However, a recent NPR Weekend Edition found a Massachusetts corn maze with something a little more au courant. Mike’s Maze in Sunderland, Mass. has found a way to attract both candy-apple-clutching kids and and their organic-cider-swigging foodie parents alike, by making a maze in the shape of a toothy, mallet-wielding Julia Child, backed by a fully loaded knife rack. And that’s not all; according to the website, additional entertainments will include “a potato putting course, tomato trebuchet, potato cannons and anything else we can throw in, maybe even the kitchen sink.”

After all, Julia is hot these days: two years after her death at age 91, she’s got a memoir on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, (requires registration) while Nora Ephron is working on a screenplay based on Julie and Julia, Julie Powell’s blog-born tell-all about her year-long, gimlet-fueled (and butter-drenched) attempt to cook every recipe in Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But will the ghost of Julia be lurking, chef’s knife in hand, behind those rustling stalks, ready to fend off any attempts to make her over into a cuddly, oversized date-movie mascot?

Young palates, aged wines?

Derrick of An Obsession With Food wrote earlier this week that his blog was popular with the teen-n-tween crowd, according to Microsoft’s demographic analysis tool. “I’m skeptical that the next generation has so much passion for wine, homemade charcuterie, and fine dining,” he writes, doubting the accuracy of the tool (which predicts viewers’ demographics based on their search queries and Web page views).

While I’m inclined to agree that Derrick knows his readers better than an automated program could, it does seem like a lot of really young people are into food these days. Every time I blink there’s a new cookbook for kids on my desk, and grub-o-philic TV shows and books catering to college students (many of whom blog about food) seem to keep popping up. And just today, Slashfood reported that family-style restaurant chain Applebee’s has hired Food Network heartthrob Tyler Florence to develop some new menu items in a bid to increase the chain’s appeal among young folk.

Maybe Derrick is right that youthful ‘hounds are into different types of chow than their more seasoned counterparts (i.e. maybe the youngsters place less emphasis on traditional “fine dining”). But then there’s apparently a growing number of sommeliers who started developing their oenophilia when they were well underage. Is there really a lurking under-18 crowd in OWF’s readership?

What about here—any teenage CHOW fans out there?

Killer chips

The chemical acrylamide, a “probable carcinogen,” has been found in potato chips, and the news is disturbing enough to make food science writer Robert L. Wolke swear off the snacks for good.

“I love potato chips,” writes Wolke in The Washington Post. “Doesn’t everyone? But I have just thrown away half a bag of them, and I intend to buy no more.”

According to Wolke, acrylamide is created by chemical reactions that occur during the cooking process when foods with starches and proteins are heated. The amount of the chemical produced varies depending on cooking time, temperature, and other factors.

Although the word is out on what level of acrylamide consumption is hazardous, Wolke is switching from chips to nuts, just to be safe:

But why did I swear off potato chips, when the jury has barely begun to consider the hazards of acrylamide at potato-chip consumption levels? When no safe maximum level of acrylamide in human foods has been determined? Well, it’s a lot easier to quit potato chips than to quit smoking, and there are many alternative salty crunchy-munchies that can accompany my cocktail without endangering my health —at least not so far as has been discovered. So I switched to peanuts. Will their time come?

For more information about acrylamide, Wolke points to a survey of acrylamide levels in foods conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and new federal legislation that would affect how states and localities can regulate toxin levels in foods.

Top Chef Preps for Season Two

After the savory success of last season, it is no surprise that Bravo moved their second season premiere date from March to October as well as upping their mince-meatable cheftestant count from twelve to fifteen. Just who will the cheftestants be? Reality Blurred reports. Those who were as glued to their sets as I was during last season’s show will recall how loud and repetitive the cheftestants were in their proclamations that they weren’t pastry chefs. However, this year’s crop will feature pastry chef Marisa Churchill fresh from the oven of San Francisco’s Ame Restaurant, which should crisp a few pie crusts out there.

Like last season’s crop of pressured cookers, the chefs hail primarily from New York, California and Las Vegas, which is kind of annoying, actually. I mean, aside from the huge fact that Jean-Georges Vongerichten is opening a new restaurant in Minneapolis in September, the Twin Cities was recently touted by Food & Wine magazine as being “the most exciting architectural hub in America, with brand-new buildings by the likes of Jean Nouvel and Cesar Pelli—and world-class restaurants to go with them.” Of course, that’s just Minnesota-raised me getting my personal dander up, but hello? What about Seattle, Portland, Santa Fe, or Boston, fer crissakes?

Top Chef premieres Wednesday, October 18 at 11 pm on Bravo. On October 25, the show will move to its regular Wednesdays at 10pm timeslot.

Hot for Hotdish

Over at Flak Magazine, I’ve written an extremely timely review of an extremely strange food: hotdish on a stick. It’s a fair food that’s been hyped to the point of being video-blogged.

For those unhappy few among us not originally from the Upper Midwest, hotdish is a casserole-like food closely associated with the cultural core of what it means to be Minnesotan; its primary unifying agent, cream of mushroom soup, is known colloquially as “the Lutheran binder.”

While hotdish is primarily a cold-weather favorite (read: roughly half the year) it emerges in its “on-a-stick” incarnation during the Great Minnesota Get Together (also known as the Minnesota State Fair). Minnesotans will have to hustle to get their mitts on this starchy rod of meat-n-potato stuffed goodness; the get-together ends on Labor Day.

A Really Righteous Fish Fry

Nevermind the charbroiler, says elmomonster–“Deep-frying is the only path to righteousness for tacos de pescado.”

The fish fillet in Las Cotijas’ fish tacos, dipped in batter and fried to golden crunchiness, could do double duty in an order of fish and chips. But here it gets wrapped lovingly in warm corn tortillas, topped with crisp shredded cabbage and squirted with pico de gallo and some tangy, mayo-y sauce.

Another nearby candidate for “best fish taco”: El Taco Nazo. Remember, there’s no relation to the other Taco Nazos, which are decent but pack a greasy punch.

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [South OC]
642 E. 1st St., Tustin

Los Cotijas Taco Shop [Little Saigon]
11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove

El Taconazo [Inland of LA]
14676 Pipeline Ave., Chino Hills

Board Links
Los Cotijas Taco Shop–Tustin–A Review with Photo

Hitting the Panchan Bar at Greenland

The newly renovated Greenland Market has way more products than before, including a “salad” bar with Korean side dishes (panchan) like dried little fishies, noodles, seaweed salad, Korean sushi rolls, rice cakes, and more. Great deals on fresh fruit and veggies, and there’s sushi-grade fish as well as live seafood and stew packages. For Valleyites, this blows away the Galleria market in Northridge.

Greenland Market [East San Fernando Valley]
17643 Sherman Way, Van Nuys

Greenland Market [Inland of LA]
18901 Colima Rd., Rowland Heights

Board Links
Asian Market Extraordinaire…......