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?
I grew up with my family going to farmer’s markets on the weekend. Back then though there was only one in San Francisco out on Alemany Avenue that still is there today. Back then things were a little different from what I remember. There was pretty much only fruits and vegetables and they weren’t organic, but they were good quality. My Mom used to buy pickling cucumbers when they were in season by the crate and make Kosher dills and bread and butter pickles [those are the sliced pickles of today]. She’d also get various wax peppers and pickle them too and there was always the fresh fruit for making pies and cobbler. My Mom could cook to say the least.
Now, the farmer’s markets are focused on organic and artisanal products. Stonestown Farmer’s Market is pretty similar to other farmer’s markets around the city that you’ll see. Most of the vegetables and fruits are trucked up for the day from down South and while the fruits tend to be pretty good I can get a crate of strawberries on one of the corners from a hispanic kid selling them before the police chase them away for less. Not that I’ve had a need to purchase a crate of strawberries anytime in my life, but if I did I know where to get the cheap. Generally the fruits and vegetables are a little bit cheaper than in stores, but the vegetables tend to be lacking in quality. Our trip yesterday yielded us not too much other than some baked goods which specializes in pretzel based breads. The time before that our purchase of vegetables ended up having to be thrown out as after we got rid of the outer bits of leaves the inside tended to be molding and rotting. The potatoes we purchased were pre-bagged and were rotting when we opened them up.
That being said, there are some interesting things you can try and purchase at the farmer’s markets. Baked goods, cheeses, olive oil pretty much anything packaged will be good quality, but beware of the term artisanal in front of it. We had some cheese samples that were very good, but when you have it called artisanal cheese expect to pay a higher price. We tried an aged cheese that was washed in beer, but that meant nothing to be as I didn’t get any taste of beer from it. Another was brine washed called salty dog and while there was a hint of salt, it was a longer aged cheese which could have contributed more than the brine wash.
There are also several jewelry, clothing and art retailers there that while nice wasn’t enough of an attraction. There were several food vendors that were tempting me, except we were going out to lunch so I didn’t want to spend money twice and not be able to eat all of the food I purchased. Stonestown’s Farmer’s Market also had weekly bands that aren’t blasting loud, but entertaining and seem to be enjoyed by the children when they aren’t enjoying the bouncy house at the far end. It’s every Sunday until 1pm and I definitely think you should check it out, but keep in mind that not all fruits and vegetables are in season year round.
Being a foodie type of guy I’m not supposed to like stuff that comes out of a package because it’s not artisanal, small farm, organicaly grown eats. Well I had a surprise last night. My lovely wife had been sent free samples of Romano’s Macaroni Grill Chicken Picatta and we just happened to have our noon argument about what we would have for dinner and in the end we decided to give it a try.
Now being Italian I know Italian food. I was figuring this might be passable and most likely better than hamburger helper which I refuse to allow in my house for a second. This really surprised me though. First off they thought about the ingredients and used good ingredients that you can taste the difference in. Plus, you have to add your own chicken and actually cook it on the stove first so not being a stick in the microwave and walk away wasn’t in the picture. It’s basically the pasta and sauce and coating for the chicken. I made it in about 20 minutes which also gave me some time to steam some fresh Italian green beans from the local farmers market (small farm, organicaly grown so there’s the snooty foodie part) while my wife made a salad.
When it was ready and we plated it up I did notice there was sauce in the pan that the box didn’t say anything about pouring over the pasta, so I took it upon myself to sauce up the pasta with it. It was great and it was easy to make and I didn’t have to act like Emeril Lagasse and make all of the ingredients by hand while raising the chickens. The box also suggests that you could use shrimp instead of chicken, but this would go well with just about any kind of meat you wanted to throw at it (venison picatta anyone?) For the ease and price ($4.99) this was a dish that you could tell people was homemade and they wouldn’t know the difference. It’s nice to have on hand and the four different flavors give you good variations to riff on when you’ve got some meat, but don’t know what to make with it.