Corn Aggression

Christmas Day Eve: On our drive back from Murray’s brother’s house on the south shore, we were listening to NPR, which for some reason we can do in Montreal because we’re so close to Vermont. Anyhow, the radio hosts were discussing how the price of commodities like corn and soy are rising because they are using these crops to create ethanol. And as a result our food prices will rise, too.

WTF? The frustration boiled inside me. Apparently this is not new news, it’s been debated for a while now, and consumers in Canada have already felt its effects: Rising Corn Prices Hit Grocery Shoppers’ Pocketbooks

Thinking back to my reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, makes this discussion of the corn industry especially vexing. The government (US and probably Canada, too) gives huge subsidies to farmers who grow corn and quite frankly it’s just as bad for the environment as oil. Chemical fertilisers literally burn out the soil. Ranchers are force-feeding cows corn because it sustains the industry. But cows can’t digest corn, so they are fed foreign chemicals and antibiotics (sustaining the pharmecutical industry) to help them digest it. It’s unnatural. The “regular” everyday beef most people eat is made from cows that are kept sick thier entire lives. And all in the name of progress. Because we produce too much corn and have to get rid of it somehow. So now it’s fuel. And this world is so fanatical about its fuel that we’ll burn anything to see if it will work. What’s cheap and that we have too much of? Corn. Let’s burn some corn. But sadly our entire food industry is based on corn, so burning it for fuel is forcing up our food prices. It’s maddening. What can we do? Buy and eat local, natural and unprocessed foods.

Like the music industry, it’s a total mess that needs to be dismantled and destroyed before it will properly work again. The ecosystem we are running is done: smothered and covered. We can’t keep mending it with band-aid patches, fixing leaks with duct tape and misleading subsidies. It’s an environmental dictatorship where money is the controlling power.

Check out the Biofuel Bind for more.

While the following story is moderately outrageous, it may solve two problems: obesity and the fuel crisis: Around the World in a Boat Fueled by Human Fat.

Art Showdown: Cooking vs. Music

This past Tuesday, after the second big snowfall, I insisted that Murray accompany me to Ikea. Trips to Ikea must always be planned thoroughly: the day of the week and time of day must be carefully selected, otherwise the place is too crowded and I can’t stand being in crowded places. Our time at Ikea was, as usual, slightly satisfying but completely forgettable. At any rate, there was still tons and tons of snow on the roads, and the usually short drive home took nearly an hour.

When driving, and especially when stuck in traffic, Murray likes to listen to the CBC; he says it means he’s an adult now, and I would tend to agree, but would expand the definition to him being a “true Canadian adult.” Anyhow, Q was on, and our good friend Jian Gomeshi was interviewing a dude named Jonah Lehrer. Lehrer is the author of the recently published Proust was a Neuroscientist, a book that “…explores the oft-overlooked places in literary history where novelists, poets and the occasional cookbook writer predicted scientific breakthroughs with their artistic insights1.” . Further exploration of Mr. Lehrer’s blog immediatley reminded me that I’m not nearly smrt smart enough to dedicate myself to such a read, and while the Q interview and other reviews have peaked my interest, I’m just too impatient to collect all the facts…or perhaps I am without the desire to be 100%, fully informed, but why should I, when 79% has always worked so well?

The conversation between interviewer and interviewee took a slight tangent to cooking, where they discussed the science of cooking and the innovations of Auguste Escoffier, including the deglazing technique. At any rate, it all got me to thinking about cooking, and how the more simplistic and “old-fashioned” you cook, the “better” your food is considered. Like how some people freak out if you cut a pie crust in a stand mixer, or even with a pastry cutter: they insist that if executed properly, using your hands results in a better crust. So then why, in cooking, as an artistic form, is it better to be traditional and, dare I say, boring, where as in music, boringness and being labelled as “derivative” promises a fate worse than death? Why is a well made apple pie awlays amazing, and Jet so absolutely horrible?

That’s really harsh and I apologise but I’m trying to make a point. Do I? I’m not sure but the idea kept me awake last night and I coulnd’t fall asleep until I jotted it down. Music is so incredible and powerful and in my rummaging through the smart bits of the internet I read about Oliver Sacks, another brainy dude. Anyhow, he recenlty published a book called Musicophilia which outlines the immense and innate powers music has on the human body. And if my assumptions might, for a second, be validated, Sacks suggests that the physiological and psychological effects of music on people are deeply connected. Or as he says: “humans are a musical species.”

Bottom line? Don’t deny undeniable music. It’s essentially inhuman to be hateful of music that speaks to you. Being a discerning and critical music listener makes you a better person, and being improperly swayed by poorly written songs makes you, well, inferior? Um…yeah, maybe.

Listen to the Q Podcast here: Q: Dcember 18th

1 Publisher’s Weekly: Nonfiction Reviews: Week of 6/11/2007

Best Veggie Burger Revisited

I just remembered that I had omitted Ontario’s Best Veggie Burger: Weber’s on highway 11. This would be the close second to the Crown Burger I mentioned in my Veggie Burger Blog. When you go to Weber’s you have to get fries and a milkshake, too. They cook the garden patties on a charcoal grill and if you live in the province of Ontario and you’ve never been to Weber’s then you should be ashamed of yourself. An interesting tidbit about Weber’s is that they had to build a pedestrian overpass because too many people were getting hit by cars trying to cross the highway to get their burgers. That’s how good they are.

Best Veggie Burger

On our travels, we’ve had the pleasure (and excruciating pain) of discovering food the world over. When on tour, Murray and I feel a constant struggle to find vegetarian food that’s not: 1) coated in melted cheese, and 2) disgusting. There have been some triumphs (Excellent Sushi in Vancouver, BC, incredible curry soup and tea that tasted like the Earth at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Flat Whites with Johnny in Sydney, AUS), acceptable standards (Pret-A-Manger, Pizza Express in the UK), and surprising failures (revolting vegetarian restaurant in Bilbao, Spain).

The most universal quest, however, is the eternal search for the ultimate veggie burger. While in a pinch, you won’t be wronged by a veggie burger with cheese from Harvey’s (Murray asks for BBQ sauce on his), you can definitely do better. So oftentimes Murray and I will find ourselves wandering strange, international places, looking for something our stomachs might rely on. We’ve been cheated far too many times by England’s afterhours kebab shops…our own naivety, I suppose.

The best veggie burger we’ve ever tasted caught us by surprise in, of all places, Salt Lake City, UT. I think it was called Crown Burger. They had their own “special sauce” that killed it. We both ate two garden burgers and even though we were so incredibly full we ordered a bunch and brought them back to the tour bus for everyone else to try. Oh, we had milkshakes and fries, too. We totally pigged out that time.

Montreal’s probably most renown veggie burger is the pinto burger from La Paryse. While strictly not a veggie burger but a bean burger, the combination of cheese and the nutty-beany taste of the patty kills. Aux Vivres has a pretty good tempeh burger, but I find it a little on the dry side…better to go for a sandwich on chapati. Mondo Fritz had a good veggie burger, but they recently closed down all of a sudden (due to the endless third-world war/construction zone Blvd. St. Laurent became over the summer?).

This journey is not over. The search continues.

My Parents

Being at the cottage, isolated and without TV in the country with my parents, evokes all the fear and self-loathing of David Sedaris’ autobiographical essays, or Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections.” Here are two brief but telling examples:

I noticed, sitting on a bathroom shelf a small sign of preparedness: my mom had brought a sewing kit. Contained in a small, clear plastic box were about a dozen colours of thread, some safety pins, a button, measuring tape and a tiny pair of scissors. It looked a right kit, prepared for any clothal failure. But one thing seemed to be missing: a sewing needle. I was so amazed by this fact, that I looked through the whole kit just to make sure, but it remained missing. So could someone please offer a possible use for a sewing kit without the tools required to sew?

Unless you are grilling a steak with fries, my dad is impossible to cook for. The things he likes are simple, he likes down home soul foods, and so cooking for him might seem easy. But there are several wildcards, the main one being that Murray and I are vegetarian. Next is the list of no-go foods (only out of preference, not dietary in any way): no cilantro, no eggplant, no cucumber, no garlic, no cream sauce, no ricotta, and the list continues. A single misstep could ellicit the reaction (that Murray got this week): “Its good but I don’t like it.”

Parents. They just don’t understand. Either that or Murray and I have become serious food snobs. Its probably a little bit of both.

Murray’s Food Blog?

Since we’ve been home, we’ve been watching a lot of Food Network, and doing a lot of cooking. I actually started a very normal habit of buying Martha Stewart Living every time we go to the Costco (it doesn’t get more normal and boring than that, really, and I apologise if that doesn’t meet your expectations). Anyhow, my department in the kitchen is baking. I do desserts, cookies, pies, etc. Next week my friend Stacey is teacching me how to make preserves. Murray, however, has really excelled. He makes amazing dinners, and last night cooked some killer roasted veg with leeks, potatoes and orange and yellow carrots. We get our produce from the market and try to buy everything local, or grown in Quebec. Then there was BBQ corn, veggie sausages with tomato sauce, and arugula and radicchio salad with cherry tomatoes we grew in the backyard. Then he made this Nutrageous and Haagen Das Blizzard that was really just too sweet, but I had to eat it. Him and Rob sometimes get together and plan out a whole menu; Rob rocked a killer Grandma Pizza last week (inspired by one they had in Brooklyn with Scott when Murray was mixing GOL) and the Ceasar salad is near perfect. So we are eating well, but I’ve been trying to convince Murray to start a food blog. He wants to pitch a cooking show, but I think he should start with a blog. Anyway we’ve been taking pics of his dinners once they’re plated (yeah, that’s right, he plates) so maybe I will take notes, or video short clips, or just let it be. In any event, I love it…so there will be news to come on whether or not that blog happens…

Simple, Rustic, Honest Food

So Murray and I have been working a lot on our kitchen and it is nearly done. Sometimes it’s strange to reconcile real life inside our home, and real life outside our home. I love getting domestic, gardening and growing my own food, sewing and just tidying up. But for a second today I was getting a little tour-sick…every now and again I miss being on tour, I look forward to going to England, going to Pret and Muji. Like who is really me: tour Natalia or home Natalia? We are definite beings, her and I.

I am really fond of TV chef, Gordon Ramsay. Hell’s Kitchen is entertaining enough for a reality show, but Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares really gives a lot more. I have a lot of respect for Chef Ramsay: he’s a hardass and doesn’t take any bullshit. I like his style. I’m finding it inspiring in an everyday sense, that being nice will only go so far. I watched an episode tonight where the owner of the restaurant was too nice to fire his useless chef, so his business was crumbling. And Chef Ramsay was kicking his ass to do something about it. Anyway, the restaurant has probably gone down in flames since the show aired. But Chef Ramsay, I salute you! Shrewd on the business side, and totally pragmatic on the food side, he’s a proper genius.

Jamie At Home is pretty good too, but he’s a bit too fussy. Like yeah right I could grow letttuce between the stones in my backyard, or have enough time to groom, feed and water a complete herb garden. Its a bit bougey. He means well, and totally gave his show this indie-rock vibe. It’s pretty hilarious. Anyhow Jamie Oliver’s show probably contributed to my UK-homesickness: there’s no way gardening could happen that easily in Montreal. We have like a two-month growing season. I could get into the temperate climate in the UK: they’ve got giant rosemary and lavender over there.

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OUT OF CONTROL

A Letter to Elisabeth about Los Angeles

Hey Lis,

I’ve been thinking about your visit to L.A….I like L.A. a lot but was thinking about what to tell you so you can get the maximum California experience. So I give you my ten-second review of L.A.:

So even though its gross, you absolutely have to have a car. Maybe you can get the Uni to rent you one (push for a convertible even though it feels ridiculous at the time, it will make sense when you are driving). Being in L.A. without a car is useless: there’s no point and any effort to get a feel for the city will be wasted. Bicycle, walking, public transit: all useless. You will spend half your day traveling and the city will be closed by the time you get anywhere. Assuming you won’t have a lot of spare time, here is my must-do list:

1. You must go to Hollywood. Drive, or, if you must, walk along Hollywood Blvd and see the desperate freaks (Spiderman, freaky goth dude, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, etc) and the Walk of Fame (those stars on the ground…its kind of crazy). You will get weepy when you see the Hollywood sign in the hills for the first time. Guaranteed. If you’re lucky there will be a red carpet event happening at the Chinese Theatre and even if they are just setting up for it all those hours spent watching Access Hollywood will make sense. Maybe you will see Ryan Seacrest.

2. You will inevitably cross Santa Monica Blvd so expect to have that Sheryl Crow song running continuously though your head.

3. The Grove. An outdoor mall and my favorite place to shop. Its so American but so California too. Everyone looks famous. I saw Larry King with his trophy wife there and wow is he ever an old man! He must wear A LOT of makeup. There’s a farmer’s market at the Grove and it’s right next to CBS studios so you can get CSI mugs for your friends, too.

4. Malibu or Santa Monica. Go to the beach, get a juice, see the ocean.

5. If you have five seconds to spare, do a drive-by on Rodeo Drive. Also its fun to see the Beverly Hills signs. You will understand Beverly Hills Cop just that much more.

One thing you might think will be fun but is a waste of time: nightlife & partying. Totally sucks. Everyone is constantly checking everyone else out and looking for something better to do. A good bet is going to the movies. My friends Mark and Wendy took us to see a movie (Star Wars…I actually waited in a line that went around the block!) at the Fox Westwood Theatre on Broxton St. (near a campus…I think UCLA?). Its an old-school, big theatre and really nice, even just to see from the outside at night.

Also, regarding food, the Chichos rule. You can never go wrong with a burrito. The more mom and pop the place looks, the better the food will be (i.e. avoid chains). Diners are also generally pretty good.

Anyway, that got a little intense. Neptune just woke me up at 4M and now she’s fast asleep and I’m totally wired. Now I want to go to L.A. too! Have fun. Kisses to you and yours. I gotta get sleepy now!

Natalia

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Leeds or Burst

Leeds or burst…an obscure joke from the opening credits of Perfect Strangers. Balki was certainly the original Borat.

After show in Leeds. I realised tonight that this town may have the best food in England. Three for three here, and that’s amazingly good for the UK. Sorry to everywhere else.

Last night was Manchester, where we had a hang out with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. It was a little surreal, like when worlds collide. Speaking of which, it was odd that yesterday we hung with those dudes, and today we got some Google news alerts about Krief’s feelings about our Morrissey shows. Alls I’s gots to say about the whole thing is that we’ve played four shows with the gentle Moz, and I’ve still never met the guy. Just the way it goes, I guess.

Now if only I had a story to tell about Johnny Marr.

Berlin & Munich

I pretend Germany doesn’t interest me, that there’s something too grotesque about the past; too complicated. We walked by the Polish Cultural centre, Murray asked if I wanted to go in and I declined: “I can’t, I’ll probably just start crying.” So Berlin, all its older buildings pockmarked and crumbling by WWII bullet marks and shrapnel. I emailed my friend Malcolm: “It’s like walking through Medal of Honour for PS2,” but actually it really made me choked up. Like on these very sidewalks, there was a battle, there was rubble and blood. A battle for my family, a gunfight for our future. I know, I know, there are still wars going on today, but, at risk of total selfishness, I admit that this is the only one that directly affected my family.

So our gig is at a former bunker or wine cellar, its original use we are not sure of, but either is feasible. During the show I noticed actual mortar from the domed brick ceiling had fallen onto my keyboard. Actual mortar. Like where does that ever happen, except in some semi-centennial, aged cavern?

This place is fucked but there is something I like about it. Also, at every show in this country, I swear there has been a couple making out every night. Now that’s special.

I had a dream about food. It’s reached that point in the tour, where I get insanely homesick, jealous of other people’s house plants. So I dreamt about food, I invented a recipe in my sleep. It goes like this: take an eggplant and scoop out all the guts but leave about 1cm of pulp next to the skin. Ok now take the pulp and cook it up with onions, garlic, rice and some sunflower seeds, mushrooms and parmesan or something like that. THEN get some green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces and blanched. Now fill the eggplant shell three-quarters of the way with the rice mixture, then top it with the green beans, then some shredded mozza cheese. Just a sprinkle. Then bake for like 30 minutes at 350C. Serve with fresh tomato sauce. Holy fuck that would be really good. I can’t wait to try making it when I get home.

Wow I’m such a loser. I finished typing this after our gig in Munich. We played in some building that is three hundred years older than I am.