Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I did it, but I can't say that I liked it

In searching for a bit of information about my last year's schedule, I looked back on an Ocean post from last October. I was shocked to see there that I had biked to work throughout October. Whereas this year, I take one look at the chilling readings on the thermometer today (low forties) and automatically assume that I should take the bus.

What happened between last year and now? Is someone telling me I should accept old age? Accept the fact that I do not want to bike beyond September 30th? And next year, will I be using a cane? With mittens pulled tight by September 15th? And a hearing aid turned to loud?

Oh, I haven't a problem with any of that. In fact, I'm slowly imagining myself giving Jason notice and embracing speckled gray as the hair color of choice. Old is good. Less fickle, less anxious to please. But old is not good if it means giving up on training for the Olympics or failing to engage in vigorous physical activity. (I mention the Olympics just to let you know that I am waiting anxiously for 12:30 EST on Friday. I think an Olympic biking event in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin would be fantastic!)

So I took the lake shore path to work today. In my black coat. It brings forth an image of a flying nun, or the devil, depending on your inclination toward me, or Ocean, or both. And it felt very very cold.


deconstructing food criticism

I know I’ll get rapped for this post. I always do when I venture into the jungle of “the critically inclined.” But I can't take the safe path here. I feel I should speak out. On behalf of all the cooks out there who try to do the right thing but fail with the unforgiving public, for (according to me) all the wrong reasons.

Here’s my point: it's too easy to lay on the negatives onto a dining experience. Admittedly, we all like to stab away at someone else's craft. It makes us appear that much better at our own.

And we all want to be the ultimate judge, the critic par excellence. We never understand why the newspapers don't want to pay us for our brilliant insights on what we eat. We can find fault! Just listen! (And suddenly we imagine ourselves to be quite in league with those who are paid to come up with something that is off-putting about Le Bernardin (top rated seafood restaurant in NY). We forget that there's good reason why you and I are not paid to offer our opinions on Le Bernardin.)

Maybe you are different, maybe you want the world on your plate every time you eat out. Not me. I want this: I want the cook to use fresh ingredients as much as possible (so I hope you'll feel free to criticize places that use canned or processed foods, unless we’re talking about very cheap meals). I want the cook to offer me something that I cannot easily whip up at home. And here’s the final one – I want to enjoy the meal.

Now, granted, I have been a relentless critic of the American dining experience and so who am I to now plead with others to lay off a bit on the knocks and punches?

I think it’s for this reason: I wish we would be in agreement about the basics! I wish we would judge eateries first and foremost for the ingredients they use (and if the place doesn’t measure up at this level, I wish we would explore the reason why – because often times it says more about us and what we have come to expect, than about the restauranteur). After that, I wish we were more forgiving.

In years of travel, especially within France (you know France: that ridiculously fussy country as far as food goes?), I have rarely seen anyone show signs of displeasure when eating out. Maybe it’s the wine that knocks out their senses, but really, I think it’s something else: the French seem to approach things with perspective. The food's not good today? Well, does the cook shop at the local market? Yes? You’ve seen him there? Then we won't complain. We'll eat and enjoy and look forward to an even better meal tomorrow!

I like that attitude. It’s filled with hope and compassion. Of course, if tomorrow it all tastes wretched again, and the week after he (it's rarely a she, but that's another story) fails yet one more time, then there’s the ultimate revenge – the patron doesn't return. The place stands empty and eventually the cook will try his hand at something else. Maybe basket weaving or velo maintenance. But until that day, he’ll have had the locals stand behind him. Willing him to do better.

Uff. That was hard. I hate to sound so critical, even if the criticism is against those who choose to write critically about the efforts of others. Let me finish off with something innocuous. Like the weather. Sure was windy today. At the bus stop, I watched her amply twirled and twisted hair blow in every conceivable direction.