Soph•ist•ry noun 1. the use of fallacious arguments, esp. with the intention of deceiving.
This is a good word I discovered several years ago and I’m finding as every day goes by that me being into food, that this would make a great title for an article. As many of you know I’ve developed a huge hatred for the words that have now become meaningless such as gourmet and artisanal. Every week the local paper has a taste test where they put several items together to see which brand tastes best. More often than not the cheapest brand tastes the best. The gourmet and artisanal brands don’t tastes right to the people and they would not buy them. This leads me to believe that most people who purchase said items tend to be purchasing the packaging more than the product.
As many of you have heard me say before, my Mom could cook and she started me early in the kitchen. I know how to cook. I like to have things on hand so I can just grab them and throw them together and make something that will impress people’s or my own taste buds. Is what I do gourmet or artisanal? By some definitions I guess so since I hand make my caramels and fudge and pesto sauce, etc. Organic? Not usually, but you don’t have to be organic to be gourmet or artisanal.
These are two words that today are thrown about by marketing departments to justify charging more for something that really isn’t all that special. I tried a certain local artisanal chocolate that I won’t name recently and it really wasn’t that much if any better than a Hershey dark chocolate bar that I could have gotten four times as much for the same price. To further feed the aforementioned two words you have to add adjectives to further describe said product. It is not a piece of dark chocolate, but an artisan crafted, sultry, smooth and creamy dark chocolate. They need those adjectives so you won’t think that it’s a poorly made piece of dark chocolate that tastes like crap. Besides, I don’t like it when my chocolate pouts.
I shouldn’t pick on chocolate because I like chocolate. I like it a lot. Let me point out another even worse use of artisanal. There is a bar that is in the process of opening in San Francisco that wants to cater to the techie crowd and attract them to a part of the city they don’t normally go to. How are they going to attract them? Our cocktails are going to be artisanal . I’m sorry, but a bartender or mixologist who’s in their 20’s isn’t an artisan. You need to be working your craft for about 20 years to be considered an artisan and last time I checked throwing a piece of basil into a big liquor company’s vodka that you’ve stuffed a handful of basil from the local grocery store into isn’t artisanal.
Please don’t fall for this. It’s sophistry. It is deceiving you the buyer into paying more for something that isn’t really worth that much more if at all. Basil vodka? Interesting idea. Is it worth three times the price? I think not. There are few things that are also thrown around like free range eggs. Does it make them taste better? No, but it might help you feel better about eating that unfertilized chicken embryo if you felt they had more room to run around [note free range chickens while having more room to move about still smash themselves together into a giant mass.]
Personally, for me a treat is a breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs. It’s just swine and poultry and doesn’t need any fancy adjectives to make it taste better. Now can I get some hash browns with that?
This was yet another recipe my Mom was well known for. It’s super sweet, super chocolatey and just plain old super good. Note the melted oleo in the frosting which for those of you who aren’t over 40 is margarine. It’ll definitely add some lard on you ass if you make it too often, but it’s really good.
Mississippi Mud Cake
Cream 2 cups sugar and 1 cup salad oil. Add 4 eggs (two at a time, beating well)
Sift 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt, add to above mixture
Add 2 teaspoons vanilla, 3/4 cup nuts
Pour into a 9″ x 13” greased and floured pan
Bake 350 degrees 30 minutes then spread 7 oz jar marshmallow cream over top while warm.
1 box powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa and mix with
1 cups melted oleo.
1/2 cup canned milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla Stir in
3/4 cup nuts chopped and spread on cake.
Cut in squares and serve like brownies.
I have always been a chocoholic. I have pictures of me as a kid on Halloween stuffing chocolates into my mouth. I was such a chocoholic that in the early 80’s a magazine called Choclatier came out and I was one of the first subscribers. From this magazine I learned about all these new wonderful chocolate makers such as Godiva, Neuhaus, even our old American standby’s Hershey and Nestle had upscale versions that weren’t normally available in stores, but I have to say my fall back was always See’s Candy.
Sees Candy wasn’t actually starting in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles by Charles See in 1921 who wanted an old time candy shop look for the company so he used a picture of his mother Mary See, who never once made a chocolate for the store. See’s Candy moved up the South San Francisco somewhere in the 50’s where it was purchased by the Berkshire Hathaway Group in 1972 with Warren Buffet as it’s chairman [I never expected to find that out]. See’s Candy soon became the staple of shopping malls everywhere in the Bay Area. The best part about a trip to See’s Candy was that even if you didn’t buy anything just walking in meant you got a free piece of candy. When the holidays or someone’s birthday or even if you were invited over to someone’s house for dinner, See’s Candy was the standard to bring. Companies I worked for would receive a 5 lb box at Christmas and my bosses would frequently give out 1 lb boxes to the employees at Christmas time.
When I finally had a chance to sample Godiva and Neuhaus I was impressed, but like so many other people at the malls I headed to Sees when I wanted chocolate. Sees candy is currently $15/pound while Godiva is at $50/pound. See’s Candy in my opinion is much better and diverse than Godiva and that means [in our current economic downturn] that See’s Candy will give you more bang for your buck. My favorite in the boxed variety are the nuts and chews which I could probably much to my doctor’s chagrin eat an entire box in one sitting, but when Easter comes around it is always the divinity eggs that are at the top of my list. Screw the rocky road eggs, I want to bite into chocolate and get to that creamy nutty center. See’s Candy still has the old time candy shop look with only minor updates over the years. The best part about the place is that my mother gave me a very important lesson in stock with See’s Candy. It turns out that if you buy a gift certificate for a 1 lb box of chocolate that you can use it at any time in the future regardless of price increases. Way back when I had more disposable income I sunk my money into 100 gift certificate at $3 each. Now that the price has risen to 5 times that I get a much better return on my investment. I keep the extras in my safe due to their increased value.
While I still have a strong fondness for Ghirardelli Chocolate that is just plain chocolate, when it comes to filled and enrobed chocolates See’s Candy is still top of my list.
While most people who come to Ghirardelli Square see a collection of shops and restaurants it was originally the home to the Pioneer Woolen Mills before Domenico Ghirardelli purchased it and set up his chocolate making shop. The main focus of the square is the Ghirardelli Chocolate shop that gave the shopping center its name. While the date isn’t properly known, it was sometime in the late 1800’s that Domenico bought and opened up shop in this place.
In the early 1960’s the chocolate making operation moved to San Leandro and there was a chance that the GSQ as they refer to it now would be demolished. Thanks to the hard work of San Francisco Citizens the place was given a makeover adding shops and restaurants and reopened in 1964 with the chocolate shop still intact even if the chocolate wasn’t made there anymore.
For me, I have a fond remembrance of the chocolate shop as a kid because my family started a tradition around Christmas time of driving around the city to see all the big houses that were lit up for Christmas ending the evening with a trip to Ghirardelli’s chocolate shop for a sundae. My favorite was always the Tin Roof which was a basic hot fudge sundae with Spanish peanuts on top.
The businesses have come and gone over the years, but the chocolate shop still remains with the vaguely medieval stone chocolate conche device in the back grinding the warmed roasted cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter releasing the volatiles and acids of the chocolate that gives the room its distinct scent that you’ll never forget.
snobs connoisseurs will argue over what type of chocolate is the best. Most prefer hand made artisanal chocolate that’s made by impoverished South American’s that are paid a fair trade price for their organic beans. I honestly have no idea where this not quite hand made but not quite fully mass produced chocolate comes from, but it definitely has it’s own taste unlike other chocolates such as Neuhaus or Perugina. It’s not of the chocolate truffle variety. It’s just plain old chocolate. Not much fancy added to it, just milk, dark and now they’ve started adding nuts and a few other things to expand their line up. They don’t tell you the percentage of cacao in each bar it’s just dark or milk and it’s damn good chocolate.
I suppose I should talk about a few things there other than the chocolate shop, but that should really be the main reason for going. More recently the shops have become more food oriented to attract the foodie crowd which in my opinion is a good thing. They have a downstairs indoor shopping mart so to speak that is flanked on the sides by snack places serving upscale versions of common fare such as Pomme Frites and Yap’s Wraps. It’s a good place to stop buy for a nosh, but you have to make a stop by the chocolate shop.
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I recently have had the unfortunate experience of seeing quite a few food bloggers on television. This is not a good thing because if they are any indication of what food bloggers are like, I am not a food blogger. Most of them seem to have no luck with the opposite sex, can’t cook and the food they write about while tasty, has them all on high blood pressure and cholesterol meds.
This is not what I am. I love food, I write about food some times, but I don’t write about food I’ve bought at a restaurant all the time, I write about food I cook. Yes, I may have a couple extra pounds on me, but seeing as I’m getting closer to 50 that’s not so unusual and I know people in their 30’s who have more of themselves to love than me.
I grew up in the kitchen. I have a picture of myself at about 3 with an apron on standing on a chair washing dishes in the sink. This is probably because that’s where you always start out — as a dishwasher. I remember around 7 I got to move up helping my Mom mix cookie dough and bake the cookies and at 10 I was helping out my Dad at the BBQ. My family is from an Italian and German background, mostly Italian so it’s always about the food. While I’m a city boy we always spent the summers up in the Sierra foothills in what most city people would call a “red-neck” town. All the guys got a gun for their 16th birthday and you could sit out on the porch in the evening and watch the raccoons, skunks and deer walk right past your house. One of the things I learned from this was an appreciation of nature and vegetables. We used to drive out to Joe Malfino’s farm and get about 10-20 pounds of Italian red onions that his father brought the seeds over from Italy when he came here. Nothing is as sweet as one of those onions and my Dad used to show off to my friends when we’d get back my cutting an onion and having them taste it raw. When we’d be driving home we’d always stop at a place called Sloughouse that had the sweetest yellow corn you could ever imagine. When we’d get back home my Dad and I would plant radishes, carrots and swiss chard out in our foggy back yard which was kind of a way of bringing country life to the city.
I learned a lot from those times growing up. I was a city boy for most of the year, but in the summer I’d have to be a country boy picking the walnuts, figs and apples off the trees at my Aunts house or maybe we’d go over to a cousin’s place were we would be wrestling with the pigs and milking the cows and picking the freshly laid eggs from the hen house. For most of the people that was work, for me it was fun because I got to do something my friends in the city never got to. I remember my Aunt’s friends coming by and dropping off boxes of peaches and other fruits that were maybe off the tree for a couple hours at most.
Now I’m carrying on the tradition by cooking like I learned from my family and adding my own side to things. I’m moving out of the Italian/German comfort zone and playing around with South American, Indian, African dishes just to see what new I can come up with. I’ve wanted to be a chef many times, but some of my acquaintances such as Bruce Hill and Joe Zelinsky have said, “You work long hours, with no overtime and you barely make above minimum wage.” I think I’ll have to pass then, because I want to be able to buy the food I cook at home.