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Friday, March 14, 2008

Bittman Go Braugh!

I love Mark Bittman (of the New York Times Dining Section) for insisting, relentlessly, to be such an elitist foodie prick; he embodies the effete New Yorker cliche so well, it's uncanny. If you aren't familiar with his work (he's written lots of cookbooks) or have only read his column (The Minimalist) I suggest you check him out in video form because only through this medium does his sincere I can't help but make it clear I know I'm smarter than you-ness come through. I'm not being ironic or sarcastic, these are actually the reasons I can't help but like the guy (he does seem to know what the hell he's talking about and he makes quick meals -- the obvious smart guy's alternative to Rachael Ray -- poor thing).

So I used to read his column every week and once in while I read his blog "Bitten," (hey, even Shakespeare couldn't resist a pun) but recently I've been watching his 3-5 minute videos instead, much to his indifferent chagrin no doubt. This week's video is for St. Patrick's Day (aka Monday for all you out there who seem to find it impossible to remember what is the same every year -- March 17th guys -- Erin go Braugh!). As Bittman introduces the segment, "In honor of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, I've decided to cook a Mexican dish, because it's green." Just about everything I love about the DB (and I don't mean Daniel Boulud) is evident from that very first sentence. You kind of have to listen to it, but, trust me, it's all in the delivery. The pregnant (I once posited that only men used pregnant as a non-literal adjective, so I guess I'm trying to prove myself wrong) pause between "Mexican dish" and "because it's green," is done with ironic perfection -- that kind of perfect Monty Python beautiful clash between the low-brow ridiculously absurd and the higher-brow intellectually germane -- right, ok Mark, sure, and you know what else is green? Marijuana. I'm just saying.

Since the whole dish is about being green and apparently Mexico's cuisine is also about being green, it shouldn't come as any kind of surprise that cilantro is but one of many green ingredients. There's the tomatillos and pepitas, the marjoram (love marjoram, love it) and poblanos, the lime and serrano. So of course, being Mexican and all, and green and all, there's the cilantro too. Once the chicken has finished cooking in the sauce of tomatillo and garlic and peppers and pepitas and so on (Mark calls them pumpkin seeds, "well actually squash seeds" dismissively. If you watch the video you'll note the characteristic crotchetiness in the delivery) he questions "That green enough for you? Wait! Some ciiiilantro..." and proceeds to top the dish with various other herbs and green things. He says cilantro with the affect of an American ex pat living in a Spanish speaking country (and maybe he lived in Mexico for 15 years, I really don't know) -- he really gets cilantro, cilantro is Mark Bittman's homeboy.

My gripe du jour is two-fold. 1) I understand the desire to play off the green rather than decidedly Irish cultural aspects of St. Patrick's Day, I really do, but for God's sake my fucking name is Erin, I got Irish heritage, leave cilantro out of a holiday we all really know is not about food but too-much drinking. 2) It seems to me cilantro is becoming an almost de facto green addition to things. Now, I'm not saying it isn't at home in Bittman's dish, (although I don't think even he would argue it'd be fine without it, just add a little more parsley) but in his delivery he makes an I'm sure accidental point, a point only a cilantro hater might notice: not green enough? add some cilantro! For Christ's sake, if it's green you're looking for add some parsley or chives, inoffensive flavors that, sure, have flavor, but it's, you know, neutral-ish. When you add cilantro you're not just adding green, you're adding gross.

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