Category Archives: Food for Thought

Let’s Go Dutch

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

Cookware is made from myriad materials, although some form of metal is the most common.  Different metals of course, have different properties, and thus each one has its own constellation of pros and cons.

Cast iron is inexpensive, durable, becomes very hot and maintains its heat.  Nothing short of a grill will sear your meat like cast iron.  That’s the good news.  On the flip side cast iron is reactive.  That means it can chemically interact with acidic ingredients.  It can also rust, and food tends to stick to it.  For these reasons cast iron pans must be “seasoned.”  This involves coating the entire pan, inside and out with oil or shortening and baking it to seal the fat into the pan.  This inhibits rusting and provides a non-stick surface but naturally this layer eventually breaks down and the process must be repeated.  Some cast iron pans are coated with enamel.  This is an attempt to ameliorate the dilemmas of cast iron while maintaining its strengths, particularly the exceptional heat conduction. Continue reading Let’s Go Dutch

Dining on Death Row  

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthouhgtonline.net

If you were on death row, what would be your last meal?  Think about it.  It’s not as simple a question as it appears.  Your first instinct might be to pick your favorite food.  But maybe you might select your most meaningful food, such as the first meal your wife made you, or one of your mom’s memory-laden classics.  Or maybe your desolation and bitterness would leave you so resigned that you would forgo a final feast.

As morbid as it seems, there exists great fascination about the last meals of condemned prisoners, especially the famous ones.  Man has always been beguiled by the macabre.  Just look at the historical popularity of horror stories and movies, murder mysteries, forensic TV shows, and the countless traffic jams created by the curious queue of commuters, anxious for a glimpse of the adjacent accident.

The state of Texas used to keep a list of its inmates’ last meals on its website.  One of their convicts who participated in preparing last meals compiled them into a cookbook entitled Meals to Die For.  A similar book is entitled Last Suppers:  Famous Final Meals From Death Row.  However, despite all the interest, there are detractors as well.  Texas eventually eliminated the last meal list from its website due to complaints that it was in poor (do not pardon the pun), taste.

The tradition of providing a condemned person a final meal hails back to the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans, who all practiced this custom.  Ages ago in Europe the provision of a last meal had superstitious underpinnings.  It was believed that if a condemned person received a last meal, he tacitly accepted his fate and forgave those responsible for his demise, such as the judge or executioner.  Thus, his acquiescence and absolution would prevent his spirit from vengefully haunting those who had played a role in his prosecution.

Today, most governments provide a last meal to those who are sentenced to death.  In the United States, the actual parameters of the last meal vary from state to state. Naturally there are limitations on the requests.  You will not find any convicts chowing down on foie gras and Russian caviar before meeting their maker.  Texas limits the meals to food that can be made within the prison.  At one time, Florida imposed a twenty dollar price limit.  Some states will allow takeout from pizza parlors, or other popular restaurants.  Maryland conversely, does not offer its inmates a special last meal.  Alcohol is universally forbidden and a final smoke depends on whether the prison is smoke-free or not.

So what is so fascinating about the meal choices of those on the precipice of daeth?  Undoubtedly it emanates from the aforementioned allure humans have with the lurid side of life.  More specifically, the last meal gives us a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the human mind.  What does a soulless serial killer want to consume on his last day on earth?  Why does he choose that?  And more frighteningly, what does it mean if I might choose the same?  Does the fact that I’d also pick fried chicken mean that something sinister is lurking within me?  Or is it just an eerie coincidence?

So what are some famous last meals?  Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer and necrophiliac, dined on steak, eggs, hash browns and coffee.  Don’t see anything crazy there.  And before you anti-red-meat crusaders attempt to link carnivorousness with savagery, consider the last meal of Oklahoma inmate Michael Pennington:  a vegetarian pizza, salad, and dessert.  John Wayne Gacy, another depraved serial murderer, chose fried chicken, fried shrimp, French fries and strawberries.  Velma Barfield, the famous female arsenic killer asked for a bag of Cheez Doodles and a Coke.  Aileen Wuornos, another infamous female killer who took the lives of seven men, declined a last meal.  Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber), received ice cream.  Victor Feguer, who kidnapped a doctor and killed him, asked for a single olive.  Adolf Eichman, the notorious Nazi, in what could only be considered sadistic and twisted, requested an Israeli wine.  California murderer Robert Alton Harris desired Kentucky Fried Chicken and Domino’s pizza.  Joan of Arc asked for Holy Communion.

As to what these specific choices mean, if anything, about the individuals is really anybody’s guess (with the exception of Joan of Arc; she suffered from religious delusions).  What’s more revealing is the larger picture, namely, the role that food plays in life.  Food is so much more than the sustenance needed to biologically survive.  Food is woven into virtually every meaningful event in our lives, be it the joyful or morose.

The last meal is a symbol of our empathy.  Even though we may be putting to death the most despicable person on the planet, those of us who are not despicable, still feel some consternation, and sometimes even sympathy.  It’s our attempt to ease the individual’s suffering and somehow make their final journey, (this time pardon the pun), more palatable.

 

Fancy That

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

People customarily use the word “fancy” to describe an upscale restaurant.  “Where are you going for your birthday?”  “Oh, my husband is taking me to a fancy restaurant.”  What exactly is a “fancy” restaurant?  What are the exact criteria that differentiate a fancy restaurant from a regular restaurant?  I polled about fifty of my friends and culinary colleagues and asked them that specific question.  Here’s what they said.

Price.  When queried about the hallmarks of a fancy restaurant almost everyone mentioned the cost.  Fancy restaurants are expensive.  As one of my readers put it: “The amount of money that one spends at a fancy restaurant would feed six families in Bangladesh for three months.”  But exactly what dollar amount is the boundary between a regular and a fancy restaurant?  If the cost will feed those six Bangladesh families for only one month is it still fancy?  Your personal background, income, restaurant experiences, and level of culinary expertise, among other things, can all influence your monetary dividing line.  Suffice it to say that one Ben Franklin will not cover a basic three course meal (appetizer, entrée, and dessert), plus non-alcoholic beverages, tax and tip, for two people at a fancy restaurant.  Continue reading Fancy That

Any Port in the Storm

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

 Port is one of the world’s most acclaimed fortified wines, and to fully appreciate it (meaning cerebrally as well as gastronomically), one must first understand what a fortified wine is.  Fortified wines are wines to which alcohol has been added during fermentation, which is the process by which the natural sugar in the wine is converted to alcohol by the enzymatic action of the yeast.  Augmenting the wine with additional alcohol while fermentation is occurring effectuates two ends:  it raises the wine’s alcohol level, and makes it sweeter.  Boosting the alcohol content prompts the yeast to prematurely terminate its sugar-to-alcohol assembly line.  Thus, the wine retains a greater degree of residual sugar than what normally remains in a standard dry wine after fermentation.  Because ports are sweeter, they are often considered dessert wines and are traditionally served after a meal.  However, they can be employed as an aperitif as well. Continue reading Any Port in the Storm

Corned Beef’s Finest Hour

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

 Arnold Reuben (1883-1970), opened a deli in New York City in 1908.  After a few relocations it settled into its final home at Madison and 58th or 59th Street (depending on the source), where it stayed for the next three decades.  As the story goes, in 1914 an actress by the name of Annette Seelos, who was working on a Charlie Chaplin film at the time, stopped into Reuben’s.  Allegedly she stated:  “I’m so hungry I could eat a brick.”  Reuben took some rye bread and added Virginia ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing.  Seelos was so pleased with his concoction that she requested it be named after her.  Reuben, taking his due credit and rebuffing her narcissism stated:  “The hell I will.  I’ll call it a Reuben’s Special!”  Continue reading Corned Beef’s Finest Hour

The World is Your Oyster

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

In the 1988 movie Shoot to Kill, FBI agent Warren Stantin (played by Sidney Poitier), and mountain man Jonathan Knox (played by Tom Berenger), are deep in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, searching for a killer who’s holding Knox’s girlfriend hostage.  Late one night they’re sitting in front of a fire eating what Stantin thinks is a rabbit.  Stantin, a city boy, is espousing the benefits of urban life, amongst which are the variety of foods available. He mentions oysters in particular.  Knox subsequently informs Stantin that he is not eating rabbit, but marmot, a large rodent.  Stanton is horrified and begins spewing expletives.  Knox calmly replies:  “That’s OK; I think oysters taste like snot.”       Continue reading The World is Your Oyster

Up Against the Wall

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

In 1929, Alphonse Gabby May Capone, a.k.a. “Scarface,” a.k.a. “Big Al,” or just simply, Al Capone, was vying for control of Chicago’s criminal enterprises with rival gangster George “Bugs” Moran.  A plan was hatched to rub out Moran and most of his outfit.  On the morning of February 14, five members of Capone’s gang lured seven of Moran’s cronies into a garage under the pretense of purchasing hijacked, bootleg whisky.  As part of the ruse, two of Capone’s thugs were dressed as police.  But the subterfuge worked too well.  Moran, who arrived late, saw the “police,” and dodged the meeting.  How thin the line is between life and death—for inside the garage, Moran’s men were lined up along the back wall and riddled with machine gun fire.  The infamous bloodbath went down in history as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”  Continue reading Up Against the Wall

Sichuan

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

 Sichuan, (also spelled Szechwan), is the second largest province of China, and is located in the south-western part of the country.  One of the more densely populated regions of China, its populace is ethnically diversified.  Surrounded by mountains and interlaced by the Yangtze River and its tributaries, Sichuan is one of China’s most fertile areas.  A significant amount of the province is dedicated to farming.  Sichuan leads China in rice production, but also produces numerous other agricultural products such as corn, sweet potatoes, wheat, barley, and soybeans.  Sichuan’s bamboo forests are home to the beloved panda.  Continue reading Sichuan

Roux the Day

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Mark R. Vogel

foodforthoughtonline.net

 A roux is a cooked mixture of flour and fat that is used to thicken sauces, soups, and other preparations.  Although any fat can be used, butter is the most common.  Down in New Orleans, you’re likely to find unctuous roux made from lard.  A standard roux is comprised of equal amounts of flour and fat by weight.  Sometimes you’ll encounter recipes that deviate from this basic formula due to the type of flour or fat relied upon, but generally speaking, you really can’t go wrong with a simple one-to-one ratio.  Continue reading Roux the Day

The Ripper’s Time is Published

Written By Mark Vogel

History professor Henry Willows is in love—in love with Catherine Eddowes, the fourth victim of Jack the Ripper. Although over a century distant, Henry’s obsession knows no bounds. With the aid of an ingenious physicist, Henry achieves his raison d’être: a means to travel back in time, stop the world’s most infamous serial killer, and save the woman he loves. But the fabric of time isn’t easy to change . . . and the Ripper has plans of his own. Continue reading The Ripper’s Time is Published