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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 04:06 AM
Number of posts: 4,342

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Watching about food: Japanese TV show "Kodoku no Gurume" (The Lonely Gourmet)

Based on Masayuki Qusumi's manga, illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, who died this month. It's about an importer/exporter who travels around Japan doing business and is a very good eater. He doesn't like to waste an appetite, has an eating philosophy of choosing just the right restaurant and placing just the right order and discovering new things, alone. It makes you feel almost a little pervy staring at a guy eating a meal in real time, but ... it's sort of like experiencing it yourself.

I hadn't even heard of the manga or the show until recently, but now I'm hooked. I think it's the kind of thing you either love or think is horribly boring. Unlike a lot of shows where celebrities or reporters go to restaurants with a camera crew, Kodoku no Gurume is filmed in the restaurant with the food but the staff and customers all played by actors. Then for the last few minutes Qusumi goes to the restaurant to eat and we see the real people who make and serve the food (unlike his fictional character in the TV show, Qusumi seems quite convivial and charming as well as a dedicated drinker, calls sake "water" and beer "juice" and the camera crew always laughs).

Here's the first episode I saw, when The Solitary Gourmet goes to Hokkaido:

Writing about food: Donna Tartt, "The Secret History"

"It was always a tremendous occasion if Julian accepted an invitation to dinner in the country. Francis would order all kinds of food from the grocery store and leaf through cookbooks and worry for days about what to serve, what wine to serve with it, which dishes to use, what to have in the wings as a backup course should the souffle fall. ... I don't know why we insisted on making such a production of these dinners, because by the time Julian arrived we were invariably nervous and exhausted. They were a dreadful strain for everyone, the guest included ... . I found myself less able to conceal the evidences of stress, in my uncomfortable borrowed tuxedo, and with my less-than-extensive knowledge of dining etiquette. The others were more practiced at this particular dissimulation. Five minutes before Julian arrived, they might be slouched in the living room -- curtains drawn, dinner simmering on chafing dishes in the kitchen, everyone tugging at collars and dull-eyed with fatigue -- but the instant the doorbell rang their spines would straighten, conversation would snap to life, the very wrinkles would fall from their clothes.

"Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find something very wonderful in my memory of them: that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; its reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside. The whoosh of the flames was like a flock of birds, trapped and beating in a whirlwind near the ceiling. And I wouldn't have been at all surprised if the long mahogany banquet table, draped in linen, laden with china and candles and fruit and flowers, had simply vanished into thin air, like a magic casket in a fairy story.

"There is a recurrent scene from those dinners that surfaces again and again, like an obsessive undercurrent in a dream. Julian, at the head of the long table, rises to his feet and lifts his wineglass. 'Live forever,' he says, and the rest of us rise too, and clink our glasses across the table, like an army regiment crossing sabres: Henry and Bunny, Charles and Frances, Camilla and I. 'Live forever,' we chorus, throwing our glasses back in unison. And always always, that same toast. Live forever."

Writing about food: anniversary of the publication of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

"I was powerful lazy and comfortable -- didn't want to get up and cook breakfast. ... Well, then I happened to think how they always put quicksilver in loaves of bread and float them off because they always go right to the drowned carcass and stop there. ... A big double loaf come along, and I most got it, with a long stick, but my foot slipped and she floated out further. ... . But by-and-by along comes another one, and this time I won. I took out the plug and shook out the little bit of quicksilver, and set my teeth in. It was 'baker's bread' -- what the quality eat -- none of your low-down corn-pone.

"Mornings, before daylight, I slipped into corn fields and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind. Pap always said it warn't no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime; but the widow said it warn't anything but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn't borrow them anymore ... . So we talked it over ... trying to make up our minds whether to drop the watermelons, or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But towards daylight we ... concluded to drop crabapples and p'simmons. ... I was glad the way it come out, too, because crabapples ain't ever good, and the p'simmons wouldn't be ripe for two or three months yet.

"I hadn't had a bite to eat since yesterday; so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage, and greens -- there ain't nothing in the world so good, when it's cooked right -- and whilst I eat my supper we talked, and had a good time. ... Once there was a thick fog ... . A scow or a raft went by so close we could hear them talking and cussing and laughing ... but we couldn't see no sign of them; it made you feel crawly, it was like spirits carrying on that way in the air. Jim said he believed it was spirits, but I says, 'No, spirits wouldn't say, 'dern the dern fog.' ... It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened.

"The hunk of butter, big as a person's fist, was where I had left it, so I took up the slab of corn-pone with it on ... but here comes Aunt Sally with a candle, and I clapped the truck in my hat, and clapped my hat on my head, and the next second she says: 'You been down cellar?' ... I was that scared; and the place getting hotter and hotter, and the butter beginning to melt and run down my neck and behind my ears ... and a streak of butter come a trickling down my forehead, and Aunt Sally she see it, and turns white as a sheet, and says: 'For the land's sake, what is the matter with the child! -- he's got the brain fever as shore as you're born, and they're oozing out!'

Bill Maher, New Rule: The Magic "R"

PBS: Between this vegan cafe and a Trump cafe in Texas, a political chasm.

I hope they do a follow up this time next year. I think if the Trump cafe is still open, they'll have changed their name. The well-off patrons who love Trump so much will still love him, those directly affected won't be eating out very often.

Seth Meyers, A Closer Look: Trump's First Solo Press Conference as President

Writing about food: Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone"

"Imagine a New York City apartment at six in the morning. ... Coffee is bubbling in an electric percolator. On the table is a basket of rye bread, an entire coffee cake, a few cheeses, a platter of cold cuts. My mother has been making breakfast -- a major meal in our house ... . Right now she is the only one awake, but she is getting impatient for the day to begin ... she barges into the bedroom and shakes my father awake. 'Darling,' she says, 'I need you. Get up and come into the kitchen.' ... He leans against the sink, holding on to it a little, and obediently opens his mouth when my mother says, 'Try this.'

"Later, when he told the story, he attempted to convey the awfulness of what she had given him. The first time he said that it tasted like cat toes and rotted barley, but over the years the description got better. Two years later it had turned into pigs' snouts and mud and five years later he had refined the flavor into a mixture of antique anchovies and moldy chocolate. Whatever it tasted like, he said it was the worst thing he had ever had in his mouth, so terrible that it was impossible to swallow, so terrible that he leaned over and spit it into the sink and then grabbed the coffeepot, put the spout in his mouth, and tried to eradicate the flavor. My mother stood there watching all this. When my father finally put the coffeepot down she smiled and said, 'Just as I thought. Spoiled!'

"For the longest time I thought I had made this story up. But my brother insists that my father told it often, and with a certain amount of pride. As far as I know, my mother was never embarrassed by the telling, never even knew that she should have been. It was just the way she was. Which was taste-blind and unafraid of rot. 'Oh, it's just a little mold,' I can remember her saying on the many occasions she scraped the fuzzy blue stuff off some concoction before serving what was left for dinner. ... My parents entertained a great deal, and before I was ten I had appointed myself guardian of the guests. My mission was to keep Mom from killing anybody who came to dinner."

Full Frontal, for Black History Month: We're Still Not There: A Practical Guide to Resistance

Samantha Bee: The Great Unchecked Legislature Fuckfest of 2017

Writing about food: Hilary Liftin's "Candy and Me" -- Valentine's conversation hearts

"It was the winter of eighth grade, and I thought that I was on the cusp of being discovered by boys. ... I couldn't even imagine how a conversation with a boy might proceed. When I pictured my ideal encounter, it consisted of an initial dreamy gaze, filled with a silent understanding of mutual attraction, which led immediately to making out. ... The eighth grade ski trip was coed. The idea of getting onto a coed bus without a pre-established seating partner was inconceivable, so Lucy and I signed up together, and promised to sit next to each other. I brought a large bag of conversation hearts as our bus snack. ... Lucy kept pace with me, and by the time we had gotten to the New Jersey Turnpike, the bag was empty. ... In an almost too-perfect delivery, halfway through the sentence, 'I don't feel well,' she vomited between her knees, onto the floor of the bus. ... So much for being noticed by the boy creatures.

"A person can only take so many conversation hearts. After the third full bag of the season ... they start to taste sickeningly chalky. But they have charm. Their palette is as tied to spring as candy corn's is to autumn. They are hopeful and convincing. When you are alone, you can use them like a Magic Eight Ball, thinking, If the next one says 'true love,' I'm set for the year. I am not alone in my consumption of conversation hearts. They've been around (originally as Motto Hearts) since 1866. According to Necco (the New England Confectionery Company), in the Valentine's season they manufacture more than eight billion hearts, which sell out in the space of six weeks. Once, walking in Cambridge, I stopped in the middle of the street, 'Necco is nearby,' I announced, sniffing the air. Tracing the scent, my friend and I turned the corner, and there was the factory. Every year I consumed more than my share of the eight billion, but this year I wanted a change.

"No boy had ever given me conversation hearts, or anything else for that matter, for Valentine's Day. Ever since the eighth-grade ski trip, conversation hearts were a reminder of the absence of romance, the admirers who never emerged, the flirty conversations that never happened. Now I finally had Neal, a flesh-and-blood boyfriend, and I wanted my Valentine's Day, dammit."

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