Without Reservations

All in the call

"Things we ate included chicken and dumplings (which they call chicken pot pie), and peach pie (which they call peach dumplings)."

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS I won't sleep in a dead man's bed, but I will use his razor to shave my sweater.

"She walks like a little farmer," Hedgehog's gram told Hedgehog while I was not in the room.

Gram, recently widowed, is in a nursing home in Bloomsburg, PA. We visited every day at least once a day while we were there. We brought her fudge from the fair. We brought her caramel corn, corn, "penny candy," and a pork sandwich. I did her nails.Read more »

With or without you

Praying to the reservation gods - whoever they are
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› paulr@sfbg.com

The ancients had many different gods, though none (that we know of) in charge of restaurant reservations. But they were certainly familiar with fickle and tempestuous deities, and I can't imagine any god of restaurant reservations being any other way. Despite the heavy infestation of computers into most of our lives, restaurant reservations retain a certain crapshoot, the-gods-must-be-crazy quality. No doubt the lord of restaurant reservations finds this amusing. Read more »

Food and the city

Uniting Italy's patchwork of regional cuisines
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When we talk about "regional" cuisines or cooking, we often find ourselves talking about some quarter of Italy. For centuries, Italy was a politically fragmented land — a jigsaw puzzle of kingdoms, duchies, principalities, serene republics, and city-states — and did not become a modern nation-state until the 19th century.

Yet what politics could not achieve, food could. As John Dickie demonstrates in his engrossing Delizia! Read more »

A tale of two burgers

In faint praise of Del Taco
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The road goes ever on and on, often past fast-food stands. A two-hour toddle from LAX to the Coachella Valley took us across the belly of the beast, South Central Los Angeles, where traffic is as horrible as rumor has it despite the $4-per-gallon gasoline prices thoughtfully delivered by Bush & Co. When gas is $40 a gallon, I wondered (by Labor Day?), will it make a difference? The consensus view in the cabin of Zippy, our Wonder Dodge, was No. Read more »

Chefs that go crunch

"Do they fall on their knives, one by one, alone and unmourned, off camera?"
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Watching people cook provides its share of voyeuristic pleasures while also, in theory, offering bits of edification. It's far easier to learn how to make a dish by watching somebody else make it than by tip-toeing your way through a recipe's thicket of words, and this is true whether you're watching in person or via television. Read more »

Fly, read, eat!

A thought: edible menus
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Even the best-laid dietary plans can go awry when dieters make pilgrimages. Air travel in America entails many gaudy food horrors, from cold and grudging $8 airport sandwiches (even if sold under such reassuring signage as that of Il Fornaio and Firewood Café) to the minuscule packages of Lorna Doones the flight attendants fling at you, as though they are warders in a dingy, 19th-century French prison and you are a prisoner consigned to the deepest dungeon, which happens to be airborne. Read more »

Thrill of the kill

Cooking for carnivores, minus the euphemisms
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› paulr@sfbg.com

WITHOUT RESERVATIONS In our age of euphemism, it is shocking and/or refreshing to find a cookbook author using the word "kill" when talking about where meat comes from. The author is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall, and the book is The River Cottage Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, $35). Fearnley-Whittingsall is English, as we can guess from his hyphenated surname (a "double barrel," as my single-barrel English friend calls the complexly-designated), and the English perhaps suffer less from euphemism disease than we do. Read more »

Jam of lords, lords of jam

The joys of Blenheim apricots
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Blenheim, as those of us who feel the occasional twitch upon the thread of Anglophilia will recall, is the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough as well as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, a figure much admired by, though not at all resembling, le George W. Bush. Blenheim is also a type of apricot, and Blenheim apricots were indeed grown on the grounds of Blenheim Palace in the 19th century; in due course the fruit, taking its way ever westward, arrived in California. Read more »

The water cure

Maybe those who insist on bottled water should be obliged to join the smokers outside
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The recently launched campaign against bottled water in restaurants — Food and Water Watch's "Take Back the Tap" program (www.takebackthetap.org) — makes a number of sensible points, most of which have to do with the drastic wastefulness of bottled water. Bottled water has to be bottled, typically in plastic vessels (whose manufacture uses 17.6 million barrels of oil a year in the United States alone, according to FWW); those bottles then have to be shipped — more fossil fuel used, who knows how much? — and disposed of once they're empty. Read more »

The republic of fennel

Pale bulbs found in abundance
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› paulr@sfbg.com

Fennel, like certain politicians one could name, has its pestilential, never-say-die quality: you see it growing all over the city, its feathery green plumage waving from street-tree wells or creeping up faded walls. It's the kind of plant that could survive a nuclear holocaust, the kind of survivor the writer Jonathan Schell must have had in mind when he described a nuked United States as "a republic of insects and grass" at the outset of The Fate of the Earth (Knopf, 1982). Read more »