Sunday, January 23, 2005

Culture Blogs

A few months ago I made a foray into the realm of Culture Blogs. I define a "Culture Blog" as one that witnesses C.S. Lewis' dictum that goes something like, "We need fewer books about Christianity by gardeners, and more books about gardening by Christians." What he meant was that Christianity ought to permeate our culture, and that the task is not accomplished by blogs like mine, which tend to discuss Christianity as though it were a subject in its own right without connection to things like art, sex, or food. Food. Yes, I'm going to do The Food Thing soon. I can feel it. I've been calling up websites that sell cooking utensils, pots and pans, searching Ebay for Saladmaster, wistfully browsing the favorites list I have of websites that sell Italian groceries through the mail at black-market prices. So I'm glad to have found my latest specimen of Culture Bloggery.

The last time I went to the Culture Blogs I found Elinor Dashwood's Mommentary. Before that it was Otto Hiss' Otto da Fe and before that, the Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa. Oddly enough, these guys all seem to know each other. I guess a Cynic can recognize a Stoic across a taberna-full of drunken legionaries and drovers any day. So, the new Culture Blog on my blog roll is . . . . . . Erik Keilholtz's Eriks' Rants and Recipes Hey, I feel classier already!

Delving into the blog I found lots of great posts. Here's one that discusses the preservation of one's faith in the (professional) kitchen. I really enjoyed it because it refers to a great book, Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. When I read it I thought, "Can people do so much drugs, drink so much liquor, chase so many immoral pleasures, and be coherent enough to cook great food?" Apparently they can, and so Mr. Keilholtz answers my second question, "How could someone live their faith in that environment?" Apparently that's like tightrope-walking. It can be done, but it's not easy.

There are also brilliant food ideas. Like this one for a savory cheesecake. No recipe was forthcoming, unfortunately. I think a slice of savory cheesecake would be an incredible side-dish, the ultimate gratin, with beef (or is that boef?). It's also the kind of "incredible-but-logical-when-you-think-about-it" idea that intrigues me.

And Mr. Keilholtz's interests are not limited to the purely culinary. He is a dedicated father, vigilantly guarding his child from the terrible dangers of Bambi-ism. (Cue snippy sterile feminist or girly man, "Oh, don't tell me you're going to shoot Bambi!" And my reply, "Of course not. Didn't you see the movie? No one wants to shoot Bambi. We want to shoot his mom.") Among the wonderful things he does is take his little girl to a cattle-slaughter, so she can see where food comes from. This is the kind of thing that triggers anxiety among dumb people. Among those things required for a human life are truth and food, and seeing where food comes from serves both requirements. Why plague your children with years of stupid, unarticulated Bambi-guilt over every hamburger, steak, and Thanksgiving dinner they will eat? I'm forever grateful to my trip, so many years ago, to a cattle auction. No, it wasn't a slaughtering, but everybody knew that was next. Feel guilty about eating those slobbery, smelly, beasts? Hell, no!

I wish I could cut-and-paste long quotes to further intrigue you. But I can't, there's some computer thing that won't let me do it. So here's a bit of Mr. Keilholtz's incisive wisdom about the significance of food and eating it:
"Excessive convenience when it comes to the family dinner table is a gigantic erosion of the social fabric that binds families. The other side of selling convenience is encouraging two-income families and the ills that come with absentee parents. Certainly, using pre-brined pork is not going to suddenly break apart a family and send teenagers into wanton sex and drug abuse, but it is a step in that direction."
People just don't "get" things like this, and their incomprehension is proof that we really have a Culture of Death. People who are deep into a culture don't really notice it, they only notice its consequences. "Lifestyle choices" like lesbian marriage aren't the culture, they're the consequences of a culture that alienates people from their sexuality. Choosing whether to whip up a velveeta-and-pre-cooked-bacon "skillet" meal out of a box, or to take the kids to McDonald's again, isn't the culture, it's the consequence of a culture that says our fuel is irrelevant and that it only matters how quickly we can get back out there and serve the machine.

I note that Mr. Keilholtz's extensive food writing is not only the result of his being a food critic for the newspapers, it's also due to the fact that he lives in the best place to buy and enjoy food, namely a major sea-coast city. He can buy organic heirloom tomatoes, fresh-killed beef, seafood and anything else from the fantastic, life-affirming panoply of cuisine brought to his home by cultures older than our own. For anyone like myself, living in the middle of Velveeta Country[TM] where distance and cultural sterility make even simple, homely (and wonderful) things like Mortadella or escargot rare delicacies which must arrive via a horribly-expensive FedEx'ed replay of the Berlin Airlift, his blog gives frequent cause for despair. But it's a melancholy, wistful despair, not altogether unpleasant when one considers the Cheesy Tuna Noodle Bake[TM] alternative. Still, it's best to lash oneself to the mast of God's will before reading the blog's gastronomic elegies. Otherwise one could easily wake up barefoot and suffering from exposure, having walked halfway to California in a paeilla vision.

No blog is without its flaws. (Some, like mine, are largely displays of flaws). Mr. Keilholtz has one or two bad habits. His positive hatred of deviled eggs is one of them. He loathes them, often referring to them as synonyms for everything that is banal and disgusting. In defense of deviled eggs, I must point out that if you're compelled to attend funerals, church-meetings, and such in the Midwest, you'll quickly learn that deviled eggs are usually the only safe thing to eat. You don't want deviled eggs? Then go try the creamy, lumpy gook in which an unthawed package of BirdsEye[TM] vegetable medley is suspended; the brown stringy stuff covered in a sheen of fat which you can pour on hamburger buns made from tan styrofoam; the Jell-O[TM] dish that looks as if it's preserving the entire city of Pompeii; the dish of Spam[TM] slices topped with canned pineapple rings and maraschino cherries drizzled with Mrs. Butterworth's[TM] maple syrup; the hard umber orbs ensconced, like demented caviar, on a pile of (cut-up) spaghetti sauced with a daring blend of Ragu[TM] and ketchup; or, the tuna salad made with peanuts and tiny marshmallows. Yep, deviled eggs can look pretty damn good, especially if the cook's taken the time to make a filling and use paprika. I'm not so hot on the hardboiled-eggs-cut-in-half variation, but even that's preferable to balgona-and-Kraft-cheese slices rolled up together and topped with a cocktail olive held in place by a plastic toothpick.

But Mr. Keilholtz's uncharitable view of a time-honored survival strategy does not detract from his fine writing and sense about food. His blog covers many other topics such as bullfighting, theology, liturgy, and something called "semiotics." (Hey, I told you it was a Culture Blog!) Even better, he's got recipes, and links to cool websites about coffee. In addition to adding the site to my blogroll, I think I'm going to designate it as the official headquarters for Food Thing 2005. I highly recommend long and frequent visits.

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