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All-American Road Trips: Denver

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

The Big View

Flanked by mountains and ringed with highways, it's easy to get lost in Denver's strip malls, chain restaurants and outer-ring developments, but once you find your way to Colfax Avenue, you're on the road to dining with the locals.

I was suffering from a dreadful cold on the trip, so we didn't get out to the bars at all, but there were a couple of spots that came highly recommended by my buddy Alex (a former Denverite):

My Brother's Bar: "A classy spot with fantastic burgers (try a JCB burger)."

The Cruise Room: "If you're staying right downtown this is a good bet for cocktails, though the crowd can be a bit obnoxious on the weekend."

The Bites

Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Just blocks from the Botanical Garden, Liks Ice Cream is a friendly neighborhood joint that features homemade ice creams and sorbets alongside umbrella-shaded outdoor seating. If you're not up for ice cream, the iced coffees and chai seem like a good bet. I had the Jack Daniel's Chocolate Chip, which tastes lightly alcoholic and quite creamy... very much like an iced Bailey's.

Though it's not exactly a cafe, I'm a book junkie, so the Tattered Cover gets a happy mention. Good coffee, tasty-looking pastries and, of course, books! They have several locations, but why not go to the historic LoDo locale? It's huge, comfy, welcoming and chock-full of high-quality staff picks to help you snag a winner or two among the hundreds of selections on the shelves.

Pete's Kitchen

Serving 24 hours daily in a slightly seedy stretch of Colfax Ave, Pete's Kitchen is a classic greasy spoon. My friend Alex recommended it for the chicken-fried steak. The "how ya doin' hon?" staff all seem sweet and genial, if harried. Pete's has been an institution since 1942, so you're here as much for the history as for the gyros platter with fries.

Side Dishes at Domo

If you don't make a reservation, you're going to endure a long wait at Domo's country-style Japanese restaurant. But the lobby is large, the decor is warm and engaging, and you can spend a few minutes walking through the various rooms and gardens. I didn't get a good sense of their fish craftsmanship, but their Wankosushi(TM) combo helps to offer sushi newbies an easy way to navigate various classics by offering a pick-three (or pick-five) small-plate option that arrives with miso soup and an array of kitchen-selected side dishes. It's filling, fun and approachable.

Tacos Platter

El Taco De Mexico strikes me as the kind of place that once featured great food at fantastic prices, but now that it's been listed in a few national publications, they've raised the rates a bit. That said, it's still a good lunch spot. The neighborhood seems like one that's recently been reclaimed by a handful of small, arty businesses, so it's nice for a little post-taco stroll. Order in Spanish or English. The staff is fluent in both. You'll sit with the locals, sip horchata and chew your burrito or tacos in a busy, but tidy, diner booth.

The Takeaway

Denver, Denver everywhere, but I never once saw a Denver Sandwich. The classic Denver Sandwich is essentially a western-style omelette on bread. If you're going low-carb, just skip the bread and eat the omelette. This would also be nice with a slice of cheddar or a spicy pepper jack melted across it. Mmmm...

Denver Sandwiches (Serves 2)

4 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup ham, diced
1 green onion, sliced thin
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 slices good-quality bread

1. Beat the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt and pepper together until blended. Add the ham, green onion and green pepper.
2. In a heavy frying pan or skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil.
3. Pour the egg mixture into the pan, creating an even layer.
4. Cook about 3-5 minutes, lifting the edges to allow excess egg run underneath.
5. Run a spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the eggs. Turn the omelette carefully, and cook another minute or two on the other side. Slide onto a plate and cut in half.
6. Toast and butter the bread, using half of the omelette for each sandwich.


Tattered Cover Book Store
1628 16th St
303.436.1070

Liks Ice Cream
Liks Ice Cream Parlor on Urbanspoon
2039 E 13th Ave
303.321.2370

Domo
Domo on Urbanspoon
1365 Osage St
(Just off W Colfax Ave)
303.595.8256

Pete's Kitchen
Pete's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
1962 E Colfax Ave
303.321.3139

El Taco de Mexico
El Taco de Mexico on Urbanspoon
714 Santa Fe Dr
303.623.3926

Cheers,

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4.30.2008

FoodLink Roundup: 04.28.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was found (thanks to the sharp mind of Mr. Hazard) in the blossom-filled lanes of Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post a guess in the comments.

A Guide to Bakeries in Manhattan's Chinatown
A handy guide for the gweilo, myself included.

Book-Beer Pairings
Slightly less reading comprehension, slightly more giggling while you turn the pages.

The In Vitro Meat Consortium
I've said it before: The future is yucky.

The All-Natural Taste That Wasn’t
“Isn’t it amazing how many additives it takes to make something taste natural?”
Oh, Pinkberry, you haz betrayed my tiny trust.

Manhattan Milk Company
All new... it's retro.

Guide to Kosher Imaginary Animals
A good "just in case" guide.

When Neighbors Become Farmers
Lawn? We don't need no stinking lawn.

The great British breakfast is a killer
Hilarious. Read through to the response at the end.

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4.28.2008

Hungry for the Classics

Long before I flirted with food love, I fell hard for books. But the sad truth was, it really didn't matter how hard LeVar Burton worked at making Reading Rainbow relevant. I was still one of those bookworms that caught flying iceballs in the face from November through March.

These days I'm spared the iceballs (usually) and I'm really bowled over by what Penguin Books has been doing with their Graphic Classics series. Daaamn... The classics are suddenly edgy!

These are books I want to be seen with on my subway commute. Witty illustrators like Chris Ware doing the covers. Current scribblers like Fast Food Nation's Eric Schlosser doing commentary. For the luvvagod, French flaps!

I swoon. And when J sent along the cover to The Three Musketeers, I knew I had to share, as well.

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2.27.2008

Coming Soon: Bananapocalypse

Last week on the radio program Fresh Air, Terry Gross announced that she'd interviewed Dan Koeppel, the author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. Hearing that, I almost turned the radio off.

"Really?" I wondered, "Does the world actually need another single-word-title history book?"

Consider just a sampling of the single-subject history genre: Tobacco. Mayflower. Cod. Salt. Hotel. Gin. Rum. Citrus. Spice.

You'll find that many of this ilk have big, blustery subtitles. For Cod, it's: "A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World," while Rum is "The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World." One begins to wonder if there's a food, drink or object that didn't change the world.

Despite my weariness of the big-big little history book, I listened in on Fresh Air for a few moments and — of course — got sucked in. That Terry Gross is some talker. And Koeppel's single-subject discussion was actually pretty interesting. Bananas did change the world for many people.

For one thing, I didn't realize that the banana (now grown across most of the world's tropical zones) originated in Southeast Asia. I also didn't know that the banana our grandparents knew and loved (the Gros Michel, which was said to be terribly tasty and easy to ship) essentially died out due to a fungal disease.

Banana Bunch

The familiar long, slender, fragile banana that appears in every grocery store across the U.S. is the Cavindish banana, which was thought to be so bland and delicate that Koeppel said the Chiquita banana company nearly went out of business because they resisted switching over to Cavindishes as the Gros Michels whithered away.

As it turned out, those bland, fussy Cavindish bananas were quickly adopted by the banana-eating public and faster than you can say "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the tasty Gros Michels were all but forgotten.

Much as I enjoy a nice Cavindish, that seems like a sad turn of events for all of us. Because every Cavindish is essentially a clone of every other Cavendish and our appetite for them is seemingly insatiable (Koeppel says Americans purchase more bananas than they do apples and oranges combined), it seems like it was only a matter of time before another bananapocalypse. (I think we've already observed the dangers of crop monoculture.)

Indeed, Koeppel says that banana fungus is on the move, and it's really only a matter of time before American banana crops are affected. Scary thought.

Thankfully, there are other bananas in the world. The only problem is, they're not widely cultivated, so if the Cavindish goes offline, it'll be a long, banana-less age in which scarcity ensures that banana muffins are served in only the finest of restaurants, and things like banana splits, bananas foster and banana smoothies are forgotten entirely.

Unfortunately, while Koeppel's discussion of ruthless banana barons, scummy produce marketing practices and impending fungal doom piqued my interest in his book, it also made me crave bland old Cavindish bananas in a big way.

One of my favorite banana recipes (although one I don't often make — for obvious reasons) is based off of the banana pudding recipe from Bill Smith and Lee Smith's Seasoned in the South.

I'm usually not much for meringue, so I leave that off and just go with a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish. If you've never made pudding that wasn't made from a box, I think you'll taste a big difference in the pudding recipe below. Homemade pudding isn't difficult. If you make it with good ingredients, it's a seriously tasty tribute to the last days of the Cavindish banana.

Cavendish Banana Pie (Serves 4-6)

2 cups half & half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1" slices
1/2 box (6 oz) vanilla wafers
2 medium-sized ripe bananas

Dash ground cinnamon (optional)
Dollop fresh whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat 1 1/2 cups of the half & half with the split vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until it just steams and begins to form a skin, about 5 minutes. Do not boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining 1/2 cup of half & half to dissolve it. Beat in the eggs.

3. Pouring in a slow stream, whisk the hot half & half into the egg mixture. Pour the mixed liquids back into the heavy-bottomed pot, returning the vanilla bean.

4. Cook the liquid over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. After 3 to 5 minutes, the custard will begin to thicken. Continue to stir for a few minutes more, being sure to move the whisk over the entire bottom of the pot.

5. When the surface begins to steam a little, gradually stir in the sugar. Be careful, because this will make the custard more likely to burn on the bottom.

6. Remove the pot from the heat and beat in the butter. Stir constantly to help the butter to absorb. This will temporarily thin the custard. Discard the vanilla bean.*

7. Pour a cup of the hot custard into a deep-dish pie pan or an 8" square pan. Line the bottom and sides with vanilla wafers. Slice the bananas over the cookies, then layer any remaining wafers over the bananas. Gently pour the rest of the custard over the cookies and banana slices.

8. Cover, lightly, with plastic wrap, and chill for two hours or overnight. Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh whipped cream, if desired.


* Alternatively, save the pod to make vanilla sugar. Just dry used vanilla pods and add to a roomy mason jar that's filled 3/4 full of white sugar. Keep the jar lidded and shake it every once in a while to scent the sugar with vanilla. Use in desserts.

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2.25.2008

1 c4n h4s sp4gh3tti n0w?

Every office has at least one of 'em. Their tribe is despised, but essential. They are the keepers of red pens and the wielders of dubious eyebrows.

He or she is the cubicle despot in the corner who adds and removes your commas and apostrophes with seeming whimsy. She who speaks at length on prepositional phrases and compound modifiers. He who loathes your passive voice and visibly winces at your clumsy use of "it's" for "its."

I speak, of course, of the savage grammarian. And despite my loosey-goosey use of ellipses and a tendency to begin sentences with "and"... at my day job, I happen to serve as one of those go-to grammar golems.

The Girl's Like Spaghetti
I would have loved this book so much when I was nine. I coulda been an even bigger know-it-all in my fourth-grade homeroom class.

Imagine, then, my delight as I discovered that grammar goddess Lynn Truss, author of that English-usage gem Eats, Shoots & Leaves, repurposed that book for kids and recently published a sequel with a food-themed title: The Girl's Like Spaghetti.

I know this is only a very loosely food-related post today, but I just wanted to express how pleased I am to know that in an age of nonstop phone leet and i can has cheezburger, kids still have some fun options to help them learn how the language should actually be used.

After all, isn't it much more fun to break the rules when you know which rules you're breaking?

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2.20.2008

The Long Tail of 1946

Yesterday I introduced the weird, wild, wonderful world of Foods 1946, but to really understand where 1946 was going, it's important to take a quick look at 1945.

Our friends at Wikipedia tell us that 1945 "was a common year starting on Monday. It is most widely known for being the end of World War II. It is also known as the beginning of the Information Age."

But just scan down a very brief list of events that 1945 contained...

America's President up and dies
Hitler and Goebbels kill themselves
Berlin falls
The UN is founded
We see the first atomic bomb testing (quickly followed by the first horrible, horrible atomic bomb usage)
The second World War ends
The first ballpoint pen is sold (for $12.50... ouch!)
Ghandi shouts down the British Empire
We see the dawn of the cold war
The Nuremberg Trials begin
The Cubs are actually in the World Series

... 1945 was HUGE, people.

Frozen meals testing
Hot dog! Frozen meals are promised soon!

With all that in mind, the crazy investment optimism put forth in Foods 1946 seems well-founded. America had survived so much by the time 1946 rolled around. 1945 was dramatic and terrifying. Who wouldn't be tempted to dip into some good, reliable, long-storage processed American food to welcome better days in 1946?

That's why Foods 1946 is actually a love letter to a young, optimistic processed foods industry. The good people of 1946 were looking to America's food industry to offer good, cheap, easy canned, frozen and otherwise manipulated foods to attack the very real monster gnawing at the periphery: famine.

Have a look at the following chart from Foods 1946 of average global caloric consumption as measured in the summer of 1945. (Click into the image for a closer view.)

charting calories consumed, globally, as of summer 1945

You'll notice two things:

1. Half the listed world is starving (creating a handy market for American foods)
2. Americans are averaging waaay more calories than they need*

Is it any wonder that most of the processed food companies featured in Foods 1946 are now international food processing behemoths?

And it any surprise that we're currently dealing with a national obesity crisis? America started gaining weight in 1945 and hasn't stopped in over 60 years.

Tomorrow we'll explore yet more interesting discoveries contained in Foods 1946

(*Nutritionists generally recommend about 1500-2500 calories per person day, depending on the subject's weight and activity.)

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1.22.2008

Top 10 Tasty Tales of Childhood

James and the Giant PeachI was a lucky little kid. I had parents who read to me and bought me lots of books. Early on, they introduced me to the wonders of the public library and taught me to read, which cracked open the whole world's opportunities.

As an adult I still carry around a whole heap of warm, fuzzy nostalgia for the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Theodor Geisel, the weird poetry of Edward Lear and Shel Silverstein.

Not surprisingly, most of the works that resonated strongly were the ones that featured food.

I vividly remembered poor Ellen Tebbits, yanking up an enormous beet from the mud for her classroom show & tell. I fully empathized with Winnie the Pooh's honey obsession and puzzled for years over Eeyore's ascetic thistle diet.

Recently I ran across the Pennsylvania Department of Education's very thorough list of children's books about food and was pleasantly reminded of the wealth of beautiful illustrations and luscious stories still wrapped up within the folds of my brain.

Therefore, in no particular order, I share:
My Top 10 Tasty Tales from the Rosy Days of Childhood
1. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
A town that rains food! Best. Place. Ever. (Or maybe not?)

2. James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl's descriptions of fresh peach are so mouthwatering. Take my advice and don't read this book unless it's peach season. (Now is a good time.)

3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
Dahl again. Amazing. Creepy. Tantalizing. All at the same time.

4. In the Night Kitchen
The mind of Maurice Sendak is such a treasure. As a youngster, I remember this book being a bit scandalous for its full-frontal nudity... as if depicting a joyful nude was something base. Silly puritans.

5. Green Eggs & Ham
Who doesn't love Green Eggs & Ham? I don't want to meet that person. I remember back in the day when Jesse Jackson read it on Saturday Night Live. Hi-larious.

6. The Tawny Scrawny Lion
A skinny lion that's never full. A rich, delicious stew. A lovely little book.

7. The Poky Little Puppy
Poky. Clumsy. And absolutely greedy for dessert. That's my kind of puppy.

8. The Little Red Hen
She's a go-getter, that little red hen, and she really promotes the whole "dining at the source" concept years before it was cool.

9.Stone Soup
It's a classic tale that's been told many times, but this is the tasty version I remember.

10. The Giant Jam Sandwich
Peril! Terrified villagers! If only all such problems could be solved with a giant jam sandwich.


Have a treasured food story from your childhood bookshelf? Do share!

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8.02.2007

Forget Foodies. Unleash the GastroGnomes!

The New York Times published an article today that features "The Foodie Scene in the Twin Cities," the subhead for which proclaims, "In another sign of a cultural awakening, dining out in this city of sensible industry is no longer confined to steakhouses."

Sitting on the couch this morning, I read this line aloud with ill-hidden outrage.
Confined to steakhouses? Seriously? Did the writer actually visit MSP? I lived thereabouts for close to ten years and I can't remember ever eating at a steakhouse.

My sweetheart chuckled from his desk a few feet away. Having already read the piece, he knew my boiling blood wouldn't cool a bit as the thesis statement of said article became clear.

As it happens, the "Foodie Scene" covered in the Times refers almost entirely to some recent "celebrity chef" action. Oh sure, there's a passing reference to one of the excellent farmers' markets and to Chef Brenda Langton, a Minneapolis fixture who's been cooking tasty things as long as I can remember, but as far as the Times is concerned, the term "foodie" seems to be confined to those looking for high-end five-to-seven course prixe fix dining directed from on high by the new gods of expense account cuisine (Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, in this case).

Why all the rage? Well, if I knew nothing about the Twin Cities (and honestly, that's true of the majority of New Yorkers I've met), I might read that article and think to myself, "Thank heaven for those bold, selfless celebrity chefs. How else would a backwater like that learn any kind of appreciation for organic and regional ingredients? God bless Wolfgang and Jean-Georges."

All of which is complete and utter hogwash. But wait... is it possible that they mean something different by the word "foodies?"

With that thought in mind, it seems the foodies of the Times eat exclusively at tables with very high thread-count coverings. Said foodies would also have to have completely forgotten Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson who ran Restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis (and NYC) until recently. And they'd have to be blind to places like La Belle Vie, whose chef, Tim McKee, was recognized by Gourmet, James Beard and the local City Pages. (And for that matter, I recommend that those seeking guidance on MSP just skip the Times and read the City Pages food reviews. They know all the best things going.)

I could go on, but I feel we should get back to business: "Foodie." I've never liked the word. It just sounds dumb. Like someone affixed a vowel sound to a random noun to make a label. It's what little kids do to form insults.

They can have that word. I just want to clarify that "Foodie Scene" as used in the article mentioned above should be read as the "Status Dining Scene."

On the other hand, I feel that those people who are dedicated to ferreting out and exploring the world of tasty, exciting, horizon-expanding foods available any a given place should be called something else.

"Gourmets" sounds flaccid and snobby. "Epicurians" seems accurate, but it comes off as a tad stiff. "Chowhounds" isn't bad, but it's rather specific. I'm going to go with something more like "Gastronomes," which conjures up an image of an army of garden gnomes armed with forks and knives, ready to explore and devour. Unleash the Gastro-Gnomes! (A bit terrifying, isn't it?)

Where do the Gastrognomes of Minneapolis-St. Paul eat? In many places, as it turns out. Ask a few. They'll tell you. In that spirit, I'll list just a handful of my favorite Twin Cities food spots:

The Midtown Global Market, where you'll now find a killah combination of cheap+tasty, including Manny's Tortas, Holy Land and La Loma, the home of tasty tamales.
920 E Lake St
Minneapolis
612.872.4041

One-stop picnic shop: The Wedge Co-Op, where you can get a loaf of bread, a fresh-pressed fruit juice, an array of treats and be on your way to the Sculpture Garden for lunch.
2105 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis MN, 55405
612-871-3993

The improbable Sea Salt Eatery for fish sandwiches and crab cakes that have no right to be so tasty. Be warned: They're only open in the good months.
4825 Minnehaha Ave
Minneapolis
612.721.8990

Ted Cook's 19th Hole Barbeque — Classic baked beans, cornbread, greens and saucy barbecue. Worth getting lost on the residential streets trying to find it? Hell yeah.
2814 E 38th St
Minneapolis
612.721.2023

Victor's 1959 Cafe Eggs with black beans and fried yuca? Toast with guava jelly? Yeah, I'm in.
3756 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis
612.827.8948

Hell's Kitchen, which makes awesome bison sausage and their signature brunchy treat: the luxe Mahnomin Porridge.
89 South 10th St
Minneapolis
612.332.4700

Emily's Lebanese Deli I've been trying for close to 6 years to make tabbouleh that tasty...
641 University Ave NE
Minneapolis
612.379.4069

Blue Nile I'm a sucker for Ethiopian. Mmm... Stew.
2027 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis
612.338.3000

Surdyk's wine + cheese shop extraordinaire
303 East Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis
612.379.3232

Rustica Bakery Breads, rolls and pastries made with love, skill and a bonus helping of tastiness.
816 W 46th St
Minneapolis
612.822.1119

A Baker's Wife's Pastry Shop Unassuming, inexpensive, impressive. Get a tart.
4200 28th Ave S
Minneapolis
612.729.6898

Coffee Gallery at Open Book. This listing really isn't all about the food. There aren't many things I crave more than Books + Coffee. Open Book is an amazing resource for anyone who loves books and enjoys seeing how they're constructed.
1011 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis
612.215.2626

Bayport Cookery Okay, so it's actually a stone's throw from MSP. But my lord, people... they host a morel fest. It's damn tasty and not terribly expensive. Make the trip. These guys were doing sustainable, local cuisine before it was cool.
328 5th Ave N
Bayport, MN
651.430.1066

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4.29.2007

Got Gloves?

armadillo
Armadillo from "Animalloys: an un-natural history series" at the NYPL

Sometimes you run across a shining gem that requires little in the way of introduction. Case in point: Tips on preparing armadillo from the Field Guide To Meat by Aliza Green.
Preparation:
1. Remove the glands from the legs and back of the armadillo, then clean and cut into serving pieces.
2. Brown in a little oil, covered, until light brown. Stir in enough flour to absorb the oil. Season as desired.
3. Add a small amount of water, barbecue sauce or chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 5-10 minutes or until fork-tender.

Note: Always use rubber gloves when handling raw armadillo, because it can carry leprosy.

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4.26.2007

The Foodie's Apocalypse Kit

With pandemic paranoia pulsing in the press, the time seems ripe to discuss one of the treasures reaped from a recent bookshop foray: How to Develop a Low-Cost Family Food-Storage System by Anita Evangelista.

Sounds dull, right? The low-budget 1940s-era clip art on the cover might not convince you to give it whirl, either. But just wait until you find out what's on page two: Eleven Reasons to Store Food.

1. Severe seasonal weather, with road closures, power outages, and supermarkets depleted by panic buyers.
2. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, volcanoes, or tornadoes, with supermarkets unable to restock shelves.
3. Ecological disasters, such as the Three Mile Island nuclear facility's failure, and the contamination of foods.
4. The possibility of nuclear holocaust with all food deliveries suspended.
5. Tainted foodstuffs, either by purposeful maniacs (as in the "pain-killer poisonings") or improper processing (as in the glass fragments found in baby foods or the salmonella bacteria in dairy foods.
6. Riots, civil insurrection, collapse of local or regional governing bodies, gang warfare, looting, racial incidents; inability to shop at all.
7. Long-term illness.
8. Loss of employment and inability to secure a new job.
9. Strikes, either by truckers, food processors, food pickers or supermarket employees.
10. Destruction of standing food crops in farmers' fields, either willfully or by natural calamities.
11. Collapse of the currency system, and inability to purchase needed goods.

Wow! Choose your poison — that's enough paranoia for everyone!

Evangelista tours readers through the various practical traditional and non-traditional food acquisition systems (shopping, gardening, foraging, gleaning, etc.) and food preservation methods before pulling out the really fun stuff in Chapter Five: Where Do I Put It?

I was particularly interested in this section, thanks to my teensy New York apartment. What's a budding packrat to do, given a cramped kitchen and no closet space?

The easy answer? Five gallon plastic buckets. The path of dedication? Camouflage your booty by opening up the walls, installing interior shelving, replacing the wall and slapping on patch and paint 'til the evidence is invisible.

I know... you're saying to yourself, "I hate making trips to Home Depot. Why would I bother with all that?"

Ask anyone who's ever worked as a waiter or waitress whether they've found people to be on their best behavior when they're hungry. Now imagine a city full of cranky, hungry people. Now imagine a bunch of cranky, hungry neighbors busting into your nest and rooting for your neatly stored cans of black beans and your tasty treasure trove of apple sauce and your shiny silver cans of Le Sueur Baby Peas.

Good thing you plastered those cases of SPAM and light-syrup pineapple rings into your wall, right? Trust me... You'll thank Anita Evangelista later.

In all seriousness, there really is a chance that avian flu could wreak havoc (it happened in 1918), in which case it's good to have extra water and canned goods stuffed into your limited closets. Here's the Flu Wiki and advice from the Red Cross on all the stuff you should already have on hand anyway.

In addition to a solid first aid kit, a lot of water and all the items from FEMA's boring list of staples, from my personal apocalypse kit, I can recommend:

  • Tasty Bite Dinners.
    Indian and Thai curries! Far more flavorful than the standard shelf-stable MREs.

  • Amy's Kitchen organic soups.
    Soup is good food.

  • Desert Pepper Black Bean Dip.
    Because I'm an addict, okay?

  • Frontera Chipotle Salsa.
    This stuff could make cardboard taste good, and if I'm reduced to roasting rats, I want something nice to dip them in.

  • Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate Mix.
    It's yummy, and disasters are always short on yummy.

  • Orange-blossom honey and fruit jams from Sarabeth's (or homemade).
    Delightful with Carr's water crackers

  • Sardines in Hot Sauce or Mustard (Bumblebee sardines are good).
    Mmm... Sardines. I eat these even when I have fresh food around.

  • Muir Glen Crushed Tomatoes.
    So versatile, so delicious. And the cans are lined, so they don't have that awful "can" flavor.

  • Jars of spicy Spanish olives, oil-packed Italian tuna and jars of roasted red peppers.
    I reckon this'll make for good post-apocalyptic tapas.

  • Praline spread from Le Pain Quotidien.
    Again, seriously delicious. And yes, this stuff would make even my homemade hardtack edible.

  • Quality tea and coffee in factory-sealed containers.
    Lack of caffeine is a disaster unto itself.

  • Aseptic packs of Parmalat milk, Ceres fruit juices and Silk chocolate soy milk.
    Open a fresh container after the spare daily ration of rice and water grows tiresome.

  • Bottles of vodka and bourbon (or your favorite hard liquor).
    Barter with the neighbors for some of their Slim Jims. Disinfect a wound. Preserve fruit. Or just have a consolation drink. Liquor is endlessly useful in hard times.

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3.22.2006