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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Food Porn

I have a strange little fetish. It has to do with eating. Or, specifically, reading while I'm eating. I like to read about food while I eat the food.

Now, I happen to think that there are perfect books for any occasion. Literally any occasion. Beach reading is cheap, trashy novels about exotic locations and improbable love affairs. Traveling in general should have at least one book of essays about your destination. Bathtub reading is girly books or film books (I don't know why, but film books go nicely with a bubble bath). Airplane reading is usually magazines, although sometimes I'll be browsing around the bookstore and be suckered into buying a psuedo-business book like "How To Be the CEO of You Life" or "Seven Successful Secrets of Dogwalkers and How To Apply Them To Your Career."

Anyway, when I eat, I like to read about food. I think this harkens back to when I was a child. I was a notorious undereater who did not like to be at the table for any reason. If I had a book, however, it went by less painfully, but my parents thought that was antisocial and wouldn't let me read at the table. The only meal that went by pretty quickly was breakfast, and I think this is entirely due to the fact that I read the back and sides of cereal boxes in great detail. This is where I learned about Riboflavin and Natural Coloring #2 and that [insert cereal name here] is part of a complete nutritious breakfast. (This last part is presumably for lumberjacks, as the breakfast always pictured had milk, orange juice, two pieces of toast and a banana. That always sounded like its own complete breakfast to me. But without the cereal, there would be no cereal box, and therefore nothing to read).

At any rate, many foodies do take food literature quite seriously. My ex, an excellent chef and crazy foodie, had shelves full of literature about food and cooking and various cuisines--you know, the high-brow stuff like M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard and that guy who writes for Vogue. I liked reading those books, but they were lacking something crucial--pictures. And while I like food magazines like Gourmet or Food & Wine (and like to keep a few on hand), they too seem lacking, as the descriptions seem to pale behind long and technical recipes.

My favorite item of food literature is in fact not really literature, but food porn. It is the Williams Sonoma Seasonal Catalog, which someone at Williams Sonoma mistakenly thinks I am affluent enough to receive. Normally the catalog is filled with ridiculously expensive cookware and plates and utensils and useful items like lemon zesters and garlic presses. Since I do not cook, this is of no use to me.

No, what I like in the seasonal catalog is the dozen or so pages of prepared food and seasonings that you can buy directly from William Sonoma. All the food is beautifully shot and carefully described. Thoughtfully, the folks at WS offer both the sweet desserty foods and the spicy cheesy foods, so I can read it for meals or for snacking on cookies.


Witness, for example, the caption accompanying a picture of The Big Caramel Apple: "Each confection begins with a magnificent Washington Fuji apple, a variety prized for its juicy crispness and sweet, slightly spicy flavor. Candymakers double-dip the apple in handmade caramel that’s been simmered in copper kettles to rich, buttery creaminess. The apple is blanketed with a thick layer of Guittard dark chocolate and finished with a drizzle of chocolate." Now I'm not sure what Guittard dark chocolate tastes like or where exactly Washington Fiji is, but doesn't it sound delicious? And look at that thing. It looks like a big chocolate bowling ball.


And how about the one for Lobster Stew: "The hearty melange ...contains cream, butter, milk, spices and more than half a pound of lobster chunks with every quart." That sounds pretty damn rich, and this picture just makes me drool.

The funniest part is that I like to read about the meat and fish as much as anything else. Even though I eat neither, it just sounds so good! Everything is succulent and moist and applewood-smoked or maple-bourbon glazed or Cajun-spiced or sliced paper thin. And they come in flavors! Case in point: the Sausages by Amy can come in Chicken, Mozzerella, Peppers & Tomato (that's one variety) or Chicken with Apple and Gouda or in a half a dozen other flavors.

Who is Amy? ("A third-generation sausage maker") How do you make a sausage taste like apple and gouda? Is there hickory involved? And what is hickory? These are the questions that vegetarians like me wonder about, but I'm happy to have them unanswered. The truth is, I know that once I try one of Amy's Sausages, it will never live up to its description: ("flavors lean cuts of chicken and pork with herbs, fruits and vegetables to reduce the fat without diminishing flavor") and will just taste like...well, meat. Which I find bland and oily unless covered by one, preferably two, condiments.

Of course, my favorite part of the WS Catalog is the cheese. I can read about cheese all the time. For example, did you know that the Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese below is "moist and intensely flavorful" and "revered as one of the world's great cheeses."

And it has its own little aristocratic history: "...made by hand from the finest all-natural ingredients in Emilia-Romagna, the region in northern Italy that also produces prosciutto di Parma and Aceto Balsamico. Following a tradition almost 700 years old, cheesemakers age wheels 12 months or more before initial inspection by the Parmigiano-Reggiano consortium. Wheels that pass the test are branded and aged at least six months longer to become eligible for the consortium's highest rating; our cheese is cut from these vintage wheels. Delicious grated over pasta or risotto." What does this all mean? It means it's a damn fine cheese.

Now, as this cheese goes for about $50 a wedge, I will not be ordering it anytime soon. However, as I read this description while eating my sandwich with melted Kraft 2% American Cheese, I will be very happy and full of cheese-love.

What can I say? Food porn. And proof that there's something to read in any situation.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey - I work there! You know who.

8:50 PM  
Blogger the lawyerwriter said...

yes I know who.
listen, can you send me the latest holiday catalog? Mine is...well worn.

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Blogger Slinky said...

I always end up watching those deceptively innocuous foodie shows they have on cable, like "World's Best Hot Dogs", where they show foot-longs dripping with cheese and minced beef and onion and I always, always have to go out and find out, so I can totally identify.

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