Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Envelope-Free Curmudgeon Begins

It’s been a full year since I discontinued publishing The Curmudgeon's Home Companion, my monthly food-and-opinions newsletter which after 15 years was beginning to feel like a duty rather than an adventure. I was suffering from a recurrent nightmare of myself stuffing envelopes on my deathbed, licking an envelope and dying like George's fiancee in Seinfeld. After 15 full years, 180 issues, and over 100,000 envelopes stuffed, I went cold turkey.

I stopped for several reasons. First, I was sick of inventing and trying new recipes all the time. I'd lost my lust for the new and wanted some of the old stuff. Second, I had moved to the Berkeley (California) area, where there are amazing independent markets and I could get ingredients that I only dreamed of when I lived in the chic but exceedingly boring Napa Valley. At $39.50 a pound at the local Napa supermarket, chanterelles were way out of my reach. But in Berkeley at the Monterey Market this past fall, chanterelles were between $7 and $8.50 a pound. In Berkeley I can get grass-fed beef, exotic cheeses, and an innumerable other foods not available in wine country. While I was living in the valley and writing the newsletter, I knew my readers in Austin, Ottawa, and Appaloosa couldn't get all those foods either, so it worked out pretty well. When I moved down to the East Bay I felt burdened by the obligation to write for them and use ingredients they could get at the Safeway. But I wasn't shopping at Safeway anymore. Now I can go to a guy who makes pasta for the fanciest restaurants and also sells to the public. So spinach lasagna doesn't have to be a rare treat anymore, unless I'm worrying about calories. And I can choose porcini pasta if I want to make a wild mushroom lasagna. Foodwise it's another world here, and it's a world I like.

As for the the third reason I quit: I'm half German and in 15 years the only time I was late with an issue of the newsletter was when we got flooded out of the house. Every time we went on vacation I had to precede it with a crash effort to make sure I got the newsletter done. I was really tired of being on a rigid schedule to produce what was beginning to seem like a millstone.

Going cold turkey was the smartest way to go. Granted, I would have liked to write about the election, but I knew I would have been rabid to the point of drooling. Oddly enough, I only lost two readers when I called Arnold Schwarzennegger Nazi spawn. I think those Napa subscribers were such dim bulbs that they didn't realize that I was calling his father a Nazi, which Arnold himself admits. And the presidential election just past offered plenty of fodder. But I could have not hidden my disappointment and ultimately unmitigated disgust that there were a mere 6.3 percentage points between the winner and the loser. Though after reviewing the events of the last few months and particularly the first week of the Obama presidency, maybe I should say between the loser and the other loser. It started when Obama voted for FISA immunity for the law-breaking telephone companies, and now his decision to cut the family planning money is out of the stimulus package to please the Republicans, who then gave him not a single Republican vote in the House, makes him look like a chump. Alice Waters said she voted for the first time in 40 years; I think I may have voted for the last time in as many years. Since I knew Obama couldn't help but win in California, I regret not writing in Bill Ayers. Still, I remain hopeful that part of "picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off" has to mean war crimes trials for George, Dick, Don, and Alberto. It worked in Germany, where the Nuremberg trials made the people feel so much better about themselves that they created the famous "economic miracle."

Nonetheless, I regret that I didn't get to speculate about Sarah Palin's diet, even though the dogpile on her didn't need to get any bigger. And poor Cindy McCain was so thin I thought she might disappear completely, leaving just a puddle of venom behind. I was disappointed that none of the candidates seem to have any interest in food. But as I think back we have had quite a run of Presidents who showed no relationship with food, except maybe Bill Clinton, who didn’t care what it was, as long as it was junk and there was a lot of it. I suspect John F. Kennedy was the last president who ever ate a paté without thinking it was under-reheated meatloaf. I can just see Bush Junior saying, "And what's with those tiny pickles? I'm President--why don't I get a big one?"

Well, I can still find solace in food and a few other things for which I still feel real affection. My lovely daughter has come to California from dreary London for a week and has proven her love by setting up this blog (finally). And as a trade I've made a favorite of hers, Lasagne Verdi, and wild mushroom crostini for her and a group of her friends tonight.


  1. Thanks so much for your good write on the Belvedere. We stayed there several times in the 1980s and '90s, and it appears that it hasn't lost its shine. On about our third trip, we showed up on a Wednesday, when it was closed, but the owners recognized us -- and gave us a key to come and go as we pleased, until they re-opened on Thursday morning. We always got the same room, a two-bedroom suite. No TV or phone, but cool, smooth terrazzo floors and real windows with real shutters. The open hearth in the kitchen hasn't changed a bit. And we were so taken with the Belvedere's tortellini that when my wife inquired, the staff invited her to the back of the kitchen where the grandfather of the clan (the Bresanelli family?) showed her how to make it, gently slapping her wrist when she couldn't keep up. It was a magic moment. If you have any more pictures, I'd love to see them.