Monthly Archives: February 2010

Extra-Slow Food: San Francisco snails

From my dear friend Heather Smith, a profile of a snail-hunter in the Mission District of San Francisco. I’ll just say that Heather was, not so long ago, mostly vegetarian. Mostly. And then the next thing I hear she’s in Thailand eating tarantulas, and now this.

By the time I catch up to him, he is addressing the underside of a tangle of leaves. “Hey buddy,” he says to the gumball-sized snail clinging the bottom.

The snail is silent. It looks like it doesn’t even suspect that its destiny is now to be the amuse-bouche at the $100 a plate wild-foraged Valentine’s Day dinner that Rabins is cooking.

Read about it at the new Mission Local website, one of those newfangled hyperlocal news sites out of my alma mater.

Personally, what I love about hunting snails is how slow and unsuspecting they are. And how well they go with butter. I made snail-stuffed mushroom caps as a child … even then I wondered whether the ones in the back yard were edible. I have collected them from the sea, sauteed in shell, and smashed with rocks like cavewoman. This spring a friend and I will try fattening some apple snails, a flirtation with animal husbandry.


Out of my league in Whiskey Town

Alas, I am not only a Philistine of spirits but a lightweight as well. Manning the volunteer WORT-FM table at Thursday night’s “A Celebration of American Distillers,” a tasting with 30+ distillers at the Edgewater Hotel, I was given a shot glass I hardly used to the best of its ability. If I drink too many different whiskies, I forget what any of them taste like.

But my mouth still thinks about Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, the darling of the night. Continue reading

Madison maple owners, lend me your sap

Frozen at night, slush during the day. This recent weather in Madison has made for some sloppy commutes, but on the bright side I’m hoping it’ll soon be time to make maple syrup. With help from the many guides on the tubes, and from the turkey fryer W. purchased just for this purpose. This is really his baby, but I’m the one with the blog.

The numbers are a bit daunting. It takes 43 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. You might get a gallon of sap a day when the stuff is flowing. So I’ll need a few trees.

Willy Street is lined with maple trees … but I don’t know what kind they are. I’m going to have to look into whether I can get permission to tap city trees. Do tell me, if you happen to be an expert on city ordinances.

Ideally, somebody reading this has one or more trees that are:

• sugar maples (If you aren’t sure which kind you have, this guide might help; also, this picture of the bark)
• on the Isthmus, downtown or near UW-Madison
• next to each other
• at least 1.5 feet wide, with healthy crowns (perhaps hard to tell during the winter)
• well exposed to the sun
• owned by someone who doesn’t mind if I drill a hole in it and redirect a few gallons of sap.

Got trees? Send me tips at There’s some sweet, sweet syrup in it for you if it works out.

This darkest winter, in lieu of truffle-hunting …

… I suppose I’ll have to make ’em.

Imperfectly shaped gets retooled as “lovingly hand-crafted.” I ain’t no chocolate expert.

Continue reading

How to eat like a pro

Things I learned about competitive eating this weekend:

—One can be a world eating champ in anything, as long as one picks a sufficiently obscure category: Chili, you’re going to have competition. Better: frog legs. Clementines.
—There is big cash money to be had, or at least a free meal, in getting food down fast and keeping it down, but the downsides are (1) it’s still Sbarro and (2) you will be immortalized in the media with food all over yourself. The media (including me) cannot resist the spectacle.
—Sometimes, just watching people eat is enough to kill the appetite. My stomach was saying lunch, but my brain was saying no, no, no.

You can hear it yourself: here’s my audio postcard on the 2010 National Food Court Championship, at Madison’s University Mall food court. I threw it together for WORT 89.9 FM‘s evening news show, In Our Back Yard, where I volunteer each Tuesday. The production was quick and rough—but I think the charm of Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman, the competitive eater from Yonkers, still comes through loud and clear. Very loud.

Warning: It doesn’t pass the breakfast test.

‘Probably the wisest way to treat an egg is not to cook it at all.’

So said MFK Fisher, who served her children an egg yolk spread on dark bread, sprinkled with brown sugar, as “a potent snack.”

Anathema to the New York City Health Department, which the NYT reports cited a restaurant, the Pegu Club, for serving a marvelous-sounding concoction—of Earl Grey tea-infused gin, simple syrup, and lemon juice—without warning of the evil raw egg in it. The menu notes the health warning, but the customer needed no menu to order.

Should we substitute pasteurized eggs, as the health inspector suggested? Continue reading