Saturday, May 22, 2010


When you're an English major, you meet a lot of assholes.  There's always somebody in the classroom because they want to know The Rules, they want to know how to identify what other people are doing wrong.  They love made-up idiotic rules like whether or not to split an infinitive, end a sentence with a preposition, or use a serial comma, and if they're really rotten they love William Safire too.  They want to be able to pick apart somebody's post on the internet.  They want to memorize lists of mistakes, because if someone violates some made-up rule of grammar concocted by some 19th century hobbyist or God help us Strunk & White, nothing they say needs to be listened to, and nobody need ever be the boss of us.

When you're in religious studies, you meet a lot of assholes.  There's always somebody there who wants to shore up their beliefs or find the errors in others'.  There's always somebody there who just wants a leg up on everybody else morally, who's scared of any authority they don't own a piece of.  They memorize a lot of lists of mistakes.

When you're a professional writer, you meet a lot of assholes.  Small-minded busybodies who don't understand the difference between a style guide and actual rules of language, who crow about some imagined error they've found in a published book as though that failure, real or imagined, can somehow be turned into their victory.  They love mistakes.

When you're a cook ...

I've met a lot of assholes.

There's always somebody eager to thrash somebody else for putting ketchup on a hot dog, which is a good litmus test for people who actually know anything about food vs people who just love the idea that there's always a one-right-way to do a thing.  There's always somebody who'll recoil at the idea of using Maker's Mark to make a cocktail -- "that's a sipping whiskey" -- which usually means they don't know anything about cocktails and probably not a lot about whiskey.  Or worse, what they do know is just rote lists of What Other People Do Wrong, an imagined grammar that, because it can be imagined, is then treated as though it's real, as though it's something no one has any control over -- some law of physics recently discovered in the Oscar Mayer Frankfurter Laboratory, where innate incompatibilities between ketchup and hot dogs have just been observed.

For any pursuit, for any body of knowledge, there are people whose desire to understand extends no further than their love of finding fault with others.  All they want is to attain a point where, no matter what they do, at least they know that somewhere out there, they can identify someone who's doing it worse -- even if they have to invent the metric to prove it.

That sort of nonsense is one of many reasons I don't read cooking message boards or very many blogs.  The pursuit of expertise is flypaper for assholes, it's just how it works.  There will always be people motivated not by the thing itself, but by some imagined value possessed by the authority that expertise confers -- the preacher who loves the pulpit more than he loves God.  I want to never be that; I want to never pretend to tolerate it.

Point being, hopefully this blog never does that.  I'm particular about definitions: barbecue is not cooked on a grill, simply because that's not what the word barbecue means.  A slider is a small thin hamburger on a small bun, with onions -- that's what the word means, that's why the word exists.  You can't use "slider" to mean "a lobster tail on a medium-sized bun," not because there is anything wrong with a lobster sandwich but because it infringes on the usefulness of the word slider.  A martini is a gin drink, in a cocktail glass -- not any old drink that happens to be poured in such a glass.  That doesn't mean you can't have your sour apple drinks.  It does mean an appletini is a dumb name for a drink, and part of a larger trend of dissolving the semantic edges of the martini.  I see a clear difference between the things I get grumpy about and that other asshole behavior -- hopefully I'm not just rationalizing it.  I'm less concerned with preventing people from doing things I find unpalatable and more concerned with the way good things die off: when "barbecue" is appropriated to mean "grilled," it becomes harder to find barbecue restaurants outside of the Triangle and the South because the customer base isn't likely to appreciate what exactly a barbecue restaurant is or why it's more expensive than a burger joint; the trends which culminated in the appletini destroyed a lot of good drinks along the way, and made it very difficult or impossible to find their ingredients.  That last part is the key: my cocktails do not prevent you from having your appletini, but your appletini prevented me from having my cocktails for a long time.  There is a difference between your right to take a nap and your right to take a nap in my driveway.

Onward.  I actually opened the blog to post two quick follow-ups:

1: Corned beef.  I finally got a chance to compare the pink corned beef (salt + curing salt) and the grey corned beef (just salt).  The main difference is that the grey corned beef is much much saltier.  I mean, it's saltier than bacon.  It's like country ham, maybe saltier.  I probably should have soaked it longer to get some of the salt out, but either way -- it's much much saltier than the pink.

2: Creme fraiche, and thus creme fraiche ice cream.  Unfortunately I have discovered there is a pronounced drop in quality when you use ultrapasteurized heavy cream (such as is sold in supermarkets) instead of pasteurized cream to make the creme fraiche.  It took longer to thicken, it never became quite as thick, and the flavor, texture, and tanginess were all ... inferior.  This is a particular pain in the ass because even though I live in a former dairy town, I can only get pasteurized cream at Whole Foods in another state, and it isn't the sort of thing you can stock up on and keep in the pantry.

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