Sky Full of Bacon

If you read this blog, you probably haven’t seen the top-level page since you first found it. It’s a directional page that links you to the blog, the Vimeo page listing all the videos, the About post, etc. And it’s been a picture of downtown Chicago (which I took from an Amtrak train, incidentally) since the beginning— before the beginning, when Sky Full of Bacon was a gleam in my eye and something I was telling friends I was going to do, no really, after I left LTHForum.

Well, I’ve finally changed it to reflect not what Sky Full of Bacon intended to be but what it is. So check it out.

I can allow myself a small measure of self-congratulation for having sensed, when I went to Schwa two years ago, that it was one of those volcanically volatile expressions of creativity where matter was bound to collide with antimatter in a big messy bang sooner or later. (Note my title.) No, I didn’t predict the precisely public nature of the implosion— recounted superbly in Alan Richman’s article— but it had the feel of something that would have a season, then spin apart violently and irreparably, sending its members on to greater things, and giving a few of us the ability to say “Oh, did you eat his food when he was at Schwa? You didn’t? Oh, that was really something…”

Schwa did blow up, and then it reopened, with a new guitarist and drummer, a coat of paint and some nice pictures on the wall thanks to chef Michael Carlson’s girlfriend. And if the original Schwa existed in a fever of creative energy that couldn’t last, the new Schwa seems cooler and more calculated, with the confident assurance of the showman who’s cleaned himself up, cast off the second-rate material and knows how to deliver a precisely timed evening of rock and roll better than just about anybody:

The sense of imminent danger is gone and surprisingly, what Schwa now impresses you with is its delicacy, its refinement.  This may not necessarily seem like a compliment— Carlson wasn’t sure he felt it was, when we said it, and as if to drive home the point, “refined” was sneered at at one point on Top Chef last night— but it is one.  There’s new subtlety at Schwa, even when Carlson is deliberately being unsubtle, as at dessert, which he seems to view (then and now) as a place to probe your point of revulsion by combining sweets with something so strong it’s almost offputting.  (It did put off one of the four of us, but the other three loved it.)  Not to keep ragging on my December visit to Avenues (but I will anyway), but Schwa at little over half the price proved superior in nearly every way— pulling off the same tricks of powders and foams and smears of flavor across plates, yet doing so in a way that respected and preserved the original ingredients’ flavor and textures, and in combinations that opened your mind with the way they made you look at meats or vegetables freshly.  Two months later Avenues seems an indistinguishable blur of dabs and gels no longer recognizable as what they came from, but a year from now I’ll find inspiration in sunchokes and roasted orange or parsnips and caramel or a brilliantly purple beet risotto.

Here’s what we had, the most outstanding dishes bolded:

• Amuse of thinly sliced grapefruit on a honey gelato, with a hint of stronger things— garlic and truffle oil, I think.

Beet risotto, earthy and dramatically colorful, with a streak of taleggio cream adding lushness and horseradish foam (the only foam of the night, frankly, which had a noticeable flavor) adding a light hint of tartness and heat.  Oh, and snail eggs, which are a new new thing, figured in there too.  (They’re like pretty much any other caviar that isn’t top-drawer caviar.)

Sunchoke soup, a savory and robust soup (not that I could ever have said that its flavor was sunchokes) combined with finely shaved bits of sunchoke and roasted orange.  I’ve had sunchokes a lot at Mado lately, where they’re rustic and crunchy, which seems to suit them just right (they’re as unpretentious as potato chips); it was interesting to taste them taken in a completely opposite direction here, as refined as pickled ginger.

Pad Thai, made with amazingly supple and delicate slivers of jellyfish, contrasting beautifully with gritty little bits of peanut.  The showiest of his dishes conceptually, but it’s pulled off superbly.

• Quail egg ravioli, the signature dish of the original Schwa, still a marvel but no longer, to me, the most amazing trick he’s capable of.

• Arctic char roe.  Interestingly, the one dish I don’t really remember from last night— some “noodles” made of white asparagus were a lovely salad, but I can’t recall how the rest of it worked.

• Lobster with chestnut and persimmon, and prosciutto— this seemed like a real misfire at first, the lobster might have been a little overcooked but in any case the combination of lobster and pumpkiny persimmon was off, bad, wrong.  Once I kind of thought of it as two dishes, it worked much better— the lobster with a little chestnut puree was a good combination, the persimmon and salty prosciutto was an excellent one.  They just shouldn’t have been in the same bowl.

Pork belly in rutabaga broth, with rutabaga pearls and greens and a beer foam, with a thin piece of something brittle on top— this dish was supposed to be chicken liver, according to the menu, but nobody complained for long, it might well have been the best dish of the night.  The earthiness of the rutabaga and the soulfillingly tender and meaty pork belly combined beautifully, and the brittle— a fellow diner says peanut, I thought it was something else, like rutabaga— added just the right note of sweetness.

• Duck— duck breast atop duck confit with a little brussel sprouts in between, sprinkled with (I think) truffle salt and bitter chocolate.  This was a little bit of an “ennh” dish, would have been better either with more forward chocolate intensity, or just a nice big juicy piece of duck, not the precious little (and lukewarm by the time it reached us) morsels we got.

• Cheese— taleggio under a coddled egg with a layer of crisped honey on top.  This seemed about 3/4 there, okay as a palate cleanser, but not a wow.

Parsnip custard— this was the dessert that wowed three of us and repulsed the fourth, and I asked Carlson if that was somewhat typical of the reaction, which he suggested it was.  I was dazzled by how the almost tomatoey savoriness of the parsnip blended with, first, a richly sober caramel sauce, and second, a psychedelically bright passionfruit sauce.  (There were also some candied sweetbreads, which were almost forgotten next to all that.)  Along with the pork belly, probably my favorite dish of the night.

• Lime tuile with green curry ice cream and sassafras foam— another dish that pushes the dessert envelope, and in this case, he warned us first to eat the ice cream, then down the rest.  I didn’t find it as challenging (or quite as magical), though the lime cone was really nice and an idea worth stealing.

I said I expected that Schwa would last a season and then people would be on to other things; to a large extent that was true, and Schwa 2.0 is a new place, with many of the same virtues (not least, of course, the stunningly good value relative to other places in its class, of which there are a very small handful in town), but a different air that probably reflects Carlson’s life calming down and him finding a better groove to operate in at his restaurant.  Schwa has matured in all the best ways, smoothing off its rough edges but only enhancing its air of adventure.  (Did the music switch coincidentally from hiphop to bebop when an older party of four came in, or is Carlson even taking his guests’ musical preferences into account now?  That would be the real sign that the old Schwa is no more.)  In one of the best quotes in Richman’s piece, one of the cooks calls the group of them “a pirate crew.”  It’s a wonderful image, of topflight chefs beholden to nobody and cooking for their own raucous, pillaging, freebooting pleasure, but it leaves out what a smooth sailing ship the revived, revisited Schwa has become.


Me, pork shoulder.  Photo by David Hammond.

The story so far: David Hammond bought his wife one of the mulefoot pigs featured in the “There Will Be Pork” podcasts.  He agreed to let me try to make coppa out of part of the shoulders, and I also agreed to make him bacon.  Here’s Hammond’s account of the first step of that process, with pictures of me cutting out the coppa muscle and salting/spicing it for a couple of weeks of curing in the fridge.

I was rather proud of the process of removing the coppa muscle. (Think of it as sort of a roll of meat, running roughly parallel to the spine on the shoulder.) Every time I’ve had any interaction with a pork shoulder lately, I’ve poked and prodded it to try to figure this out, and had some guidance from both Nathan Sears at Vie and especially Rob Levitt at Mado, who let me photograph it step by step. Still, I can’t say I was sure where it was…

Then we unwrapped David’s mulefoot shoulder and… hey! There it was, a perfect little cylinder of meat tucked in next to the blade. (If you look at the picture with the laptop in it, look at the end of the shoulder nearest the edge of the computer, and you’ll see an area where it’s sort of round on one end, and then you see meat and fat running long and straight along the body of the shoulder. That’s the cylindrical coppa, basically.)

I’m starting to think, actually, that when you get something that’s been naturally raised, you’re more likely to find its parts in the proper places and proportions, like on the charts, and it’s only when you get meat that’s been raised by some more artificial process that it seems kind of jumbled, irregular, like way too thin bellies or pork shoulders that each look like some different jumble of hunks of meat. So it was really a breeze cutting the coppa out to produce a nice little roll of meat and, just as importantly, a remainder of the shoulder that wasn’t mangled and abused and would make a nice barbecued pork shoulder, as it did. [Note: Rob Levitt has a more prosaic theory: it was simply butchered with a lot more skill than the stuff that gets hacked and shipped to Peoria or wherever.  Still, I think there’s something to the idea that better raised meat is better proportioned, neater, more like it should be than something that was grown unnaturally quickly.]

*  *  *

So it’s a little over two weeks later and time to hang and dry the coppa.  Here’s how it looked when it came out of the plastic bag in the fridge, like a Stuckey’s pecan roll’s fantasy of transcendence:

30 minutes of rinsing the salt off (that was Rob Levitt’s advice) and then wrapped in cheesecloth and tied off (if Ariane of Top Chef needs any tips on how to tie up meat, have her call me).  Rob recommends cheesecloth as opposed to some kind of casing because you can remove it if it gets bad mold, wash the meat, and replace it.  I also liked the fact that I didn’t have to buy 100 feet of it at a cost of about $30 plus shipping, as was the case with the 65mm casing.

Then hang it in my wine fridge— that’s the lardo hanging above it— and wait a month or so.

Mates, acquaintances, etc. who have done something cool this week:

Michael Morowitz was on 848 today talking about The Local Beet, for which I’ve written.

David Hammond (who’s on 848 a lot) has a piece on Albawadi at The Food Chain this week. (True: they actually asked if I wanted to write about it, and I said, sheesh, I wrote about it at Time Out, LTHForum and here, maybe not EVERY opinion about it available online should come from the same guy? So they got Hammond— but of course, I was there at the lunch when he went. Anyway, I’ll be doing one on a place I’ve never been or written about, probably next week.)

And Kenny Z, who was part of the tasting panel in the Mado/headcheese podcast, took 3rd place, the highest prize taken by a non-professional chef in this mac n’ cheese cookoff.

So, I got two invites from PR folks recently to events. One a meet and greet with a winemaker, one a dinner at a steak house I’d barely heard of before. I’ve gotten them before, but somehow a sports bar in Downer’s Grove was a resistible temptation. These, I’m a little less resistant to, but at the same time, I wouldn’t mind hearing anybody’s feedback as to whether or not I should do these things.

• Could be fun (and one is a definite networking with other food bloggers thing).
• It’s not like I’m getting paid any other way.
• I don’t feel I have to follow newspaper-biz standards of anonymity/objectivity, obviously I’m already compromised to an extent Phil Vettel couldn’t tolerate whenever I make a video about somebody, I figure you’re smart enough to get that I’m not exactly purely objective on a place like Mado or Blackbird, but at the same time, my enthusiasm is clearly sincere to anyone who watches my videos which are plainly sympathetic to how they approach cooking. As long as I don’t write about these places for some publication that demands higher standards, it shouldn’t be a problem.

• Won’t my midwestern good manners make me want to say something ever so slightly nice even about a place I hated, hated, hated? Can I be objective, or am I a bit too much of a conciliator (yes, I often am that in life, no matter how I may seem to be riding a momentum of snark sometimes in my writing).
• Some bloggers have already demonstrated they can be bought very, very cheaply at these things. Maybe it’s better to just steer clear of the whole thing, avoid the taint.
• I’m not really a steakhouse guy. I will probably be ennh. Then I’ll piss off the PR person, who won’t invite to something I’d at least like better. (In other words, don’t sell out now, save doing so for something really good!)

Anyone have any thoughts?

Mark Bittman is a New York Times writer and the author of some highly useful cookbooks which bridge the gap between real cooking and modern lifestyles. So Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating seems at first as if it might be a more practical (“With More Than 75 Recipes!”) version of Michael Pollan’s food-system polemics like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (the cover of which it especially resembles):

It certainly starts out like the work of a New York Times writer:

Two years ago, a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) landed on my desk. Called Livestock’s Long Shadow, it revealed a stunning statistic: global livestock production is responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases—more than transportation.

Unfortunately, the New York Times writer this mainly sounds like is Thomas Friedman, whose standard breathless lead-in was mocked recently by Matt Taibbi: “I was in Dubai with the general counsel of BP last year, watching 500 Balinese textile workers get on a train, when suddenly I said to myself, ‘We need better headlights for our tri-plane.'” Everything about this paragraph throbs with self-importance: the report didn’t come in the mail, it landed on his desk at the Times, with an urgent thud (“Bittman! Friedman! I need global greenhouse gas statistics— that means now, ladies!”) The report doesn’t contain, it reveals a statistic, which stuns Bittman (though it shouldn’t be that surprising to a leading food writer that modern agriculture uses a lot of fossil fuels). And all that’s just in the opening paragraph. At this rate, by the third chapter he’ll be spraying cranial fluid every time a carrot arrives in his inbox, demanding action.

Indeed Bittman soon reveals that his is no mere feelbad meditation on food, but an actionable diet plan with truly planetary consequences. And not just in the sense that yo’ mama so big, when she rubs her legs together, it makes global warming:

If I told you that a simple lifestyle choice could help you lose weight, reduce your risk of many long-term or chronic diseases, save you real money, and help stop global warming, I imagine you’d be intrigued. If I also told you that this change would be easier and more pleasant than any diet you’ve ever tried, would take less time and effort than your exercise routine, and would require no sacrifice, I would think you’d want to read more.

He might think that. You might be thinking, how do I get away from this relentless huckster before I wind up with a timeshare in Florida and a complete set of ShamWow?

Cutting through the hype, Bittman’s basic premise is that if we eat less meat and more greens, the pounds (and the planet) will take care of themselves. Eating less meat may seem a simple choice, but only in the sense that “Stop drinking” and “Relate to hot girls as people” are simple choices, too, which often prove devilishly difficult to carry out. Eating less meat is no sacrifice only if you find Pan-Cooked Greens With Tofu and Garlic (p. 211) every bit as satisfying as steak. The change is easier and more pleasant only if you have the time to devote to learning new ways of meal-planning. And so on. It’s not that these things aren’t true, possible or undeniably beneficial, it’s that Prof. Harold Hill keeps selling us on all the fabulous benefits of having a band while gliding over any mention of the need to practice.

Most of all, there’s that reference to global warming. I expect publishers have been trying for years now to find a way to make global warming into a diet book, thus bringing two of today’s hottest trends together, and Bittman does valiant work in connecting the dots between industrial agriculture and global warming. Again, it’s not that any of this isn’t true, necessarily, it’s that it’s hyped so breathlessly to make this the most important, most impactful, most earthsaving diet book in the history of mankind:

Could improved health for people and planet be as simple as eating fewer animals, and less junk food and super-refined carbohydrates?

Helpful tip: never answer “no” to the question “Is it really this simple?” in Bittman’s book. For baby boomers, who can turn any personal choice into an issue of planet-sized portent, it’s no longer enough to lose weight to save your arteries or your sex appeal; only the prospect of rescuing an entire celestial body will keep you away from the donut cart.

To be fair, having pounded the podium into organic mulch in his first few chapters, Bittman does tone it down in in the next 100 pages or so, with a more temperate run-through of our present food system that will be familiar to Pollan readers, especially those of In Defense of Food. Familiar, that is, but not comparable in its impact or interest— Bittman does essentially none of the reporting Pollan does, never taking us to meet food scientists or feedlot operators; he’s saving the planet without leaving his desk. (He even explicitly prefaces a section on factory farming by saying he’s going to “skip most of the deplorable stuff,” as if dramatization would get in the way of self-dramatization.)

Nor is his account as well organized as Pollan’s critique, flitting about semi-randomly from topic to topic as long as every factoid he flings supports his general thesis.  That opening statistic about agricultural greenhouse gases returns at the end of chapter 2 as if we’d never heard it before; every activity is reduced to its measure in fossil fuels consumed—as if efficiency alone weren’t a numbers game that industrial agriculture is destined to win.

And not to sound like I’m shilling for the American Michael Pollan Council, but in contrast to Pollan’s coolly incisive dissection of the problems, Bittman’s anger often runs ahead of his grasp on logic:

It doesn’t take a genius to see that an ever-growing population cannot continue to devote limited resources to produce ever-increasing amounts of meat, which takes roughly 10 times more energy to produce than plants.  Nor can you possibly be “nice” to animals, or respectful of them, when you’re raising and killing them by the billions.

Like a soy burger, this looks like it has the meaty fiber of an argument, but crumbles at the first touch of a fork. Set aside the sloppy writing (that first “produce” should surely be “producing”), and it’s a logical muddle: how much meat is taking 10 times more energy to produce than what plants, the meat we eat now or the ever-increasing amounts? And is it the killing or the numbers that make raising meat not nice? Are we talking my individual niceness (hence the second person), or society’s (hence the billions), which are presumably two different forms of niceness? A fiery but confused paragraph like this doesn’t exist to inform, it exists to keep you wound up enough to keep turning the page. Bittman is to Pollan on nutritionism what Dan Brown is to Graham Greene on Catholicism.

Okay, but even if Bittman’s book is a clip job, doesn’t it serve a purpose if it calls more attention to the very real problems in our food chain? I think not, because the lack of nuance in Bittman’s account extends not only to the problems but to the solutions. Because ultimately he’s writing a diet book, which is to say a book preaching hope and salvation for those who follow the one true path, he ignores and even flatly contradicts himself on the sticky dilemmas that Pollan wrestles with.

Pollan recognizes that food prices will have to go up to support better forms of agriculture. But Bittman preaches that you’ll be saving money in no time (and his factoids have food prices shooting up in one chapter and falling, thanks to industrial efficiency, in the next). Bittman pushes buying less meat as a way to reduce the impact of meat on the planet, but never considers the irony that that’s likely in the short term to increase the market share of industrial meat, as the conscientious people support their local farmers less and the unconscientious ones buy 48-packs of lamb chops at Sam’s Club.

Which leaves only the second half of the book, the recipes. How are they? They look all right, in a Mediterranean-diet-with-a-touch-of-Asian kind of way. The breakfast and lunch ones are simple and pretty attractive; there’s no question that Bittman has a genuine knack for idiot-proofing contemporary flavors so that the harried, not-all-that-culinarily-skilled yuppie can turn out something respectable that matches modern tastes in a fairly short amount of time.

The dinner ones are more problematic, because they look less like a change from anything anyway (when Bittman suggests a 40-minute cassoulet containing a pound of sausage or pork chops, he’s not making a healthful cassoulet, he’s just mucking up a classic dish with bad technique), and because many of them are too vague to really help the cook who has no clue what to do with a kohlrabi or a squash. Telling people they can use any old vegetables they want in a stir-fry isn’t likely to be news to them, and it isn’t likely to lead to terribly good stir-fries, either.

And that’s the problem with what ought to be the most useful part of this book: there’s not enough depth to it. Are 77 recipes, even ones that teach basic skills, enough to put my family and the planet on an entirely new basis for eating? It seems unlikely.

To put the comparison in Bittmanesquely reductive terms, at a shipping weight of 1.2 pounds per book, a case of Food Matters uses as much fuel (according to calculations that just landed on my desk) as a 733-mile road trip.  Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone weighs in at a much heftier 4.3 pounds, which is as much oil as 3.6 sperm whales, but it contains over 1400 recipes, making it approximately 20 times as efficient to take those sperm whales on a road trip. Can it really be this simple, that if you want to take Bittman’s advice, you can get all you really need of it from this review and then spend your money more wisely on a comprehensive vegetarian cookbook like Madison’s— or, indeed, Bittman’s own How To Cook Everything Vegetarian? Yes.

One thing that bugs me about foodie films is when the world revolves around food so completely that it seems unnatural. That may seem odd coming from someone whose world plainly does revolve around food, but in some of these movies it just seems forced, when food is so completely the music of love. I want to see the role food plays in life, not a life in which food seems to be playing every role.

There’s an excellent example of the kind of foodie film I like in theaters right now, though you’d never guess it: Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. As you may know, it’s basically Clint’s version of The Karate Kid, grouchy, bigoted old Korean War vet living in neighborhood surrounded by Hmong becomes something of a father figure and something of a protector to the Hmong kid next door. And what was striking and completely believable to me is that food is the thing that first breaks down the barriers between Clint and his neighbors (who are initially no more fond of the last white guy in their neighborhood than he is of all the Asians taking over his neighborhood).

The movie begins with gatherings at both houses, in which food plays a natural role— and you can almost see him thinking theirs looks better than his. When he scares off some toughs threatening them, they bring him gifts of food, which he initially tries to reject but soon has to admit smells and tastes better than the single-guy dinners (a pack of beef jerky and a six pack) he’s living on. At a party, he breaks down their barriers by being a cheerful and appreciative guest for the clearly competitive ladies pushing their food on him in the kitchen. And so on.

There are no extravagant poetics about food here, indeed the role food plays is hardly even discussed explicitly, but it proves to be a natural and realistic picture of how food is almost always the first avenue of communication and exchange between strange cultures.

“The always superb Sky Full of Bacon video podcast from Chicago’s Michael Gebert serves up a tour of Oriana Kruszewski’s orchard which contains Asian pears, paw paws and black walnuts trees. Kruszewski’s knowledge, enthusiasm and perseverance is inspiring.” —

Ever wonder about the farmers who grow and sell the produce at your local farmer’s market?  In this Sky Full of Bacon podcast, we meet Oriana, the Asian pear lady at Chicago’s Green City Market, and travel to her orchard in western Illinois.  She may not look like your typical midwestern farmer, but her challenges (from weather to pests) and her joy at making things grow are universal.

Sky Full of Bacon 08: Pear Shaped World from Michael Gebert on Vimeo.

Here’s another podcast shot while things were still growing, to help keep your spirits up through the long winter!  If you visit Green City Market in the fall, you’ve probably seen Oriana Kruszewski showing off whatever interesting thing she happens to have picked that week along with her trademark Asian pears— paw paws, persimmons, watercress, Asian herbs, ground cherries.  Oriana has some 500 pear trees at her farm near Galena; I visited her in October as the freeze was approaching and she was picking the last of her fruit for storage.  She’s always interesting to talk to and I think you’ll enjoy the chance to see what all lies behind the produce you buy at a farmer’s market.

For more information about Green City Market, go here. And as you may know, another fruit vendor at Green City had an entire blog about his experiences.

Mike Sula wrote about Oriana a couple of years ago; he fills in more of her personal history.

Josephine at LTHForum first posted about Oriana’s black walnuts in this thread; be sure to read Pdaane’s post about black walnuts in his Wisconsin home town.  (I’m in there too, eventually.)

Here’s a tart I’ve made a couple of times for Christmas using Oriana’s black walnuts:

About Sky Full of Bacon
Sky Full of Bacon #7: Eat This City
Sky Full of Bacon #6: There Will Be Pork (pt. 2)
Sky Full of Bacon #5: There Will Be Pork (pt. 1)
Sky Full of Bacon #4: A Head’s Tale
Sky Full of Bacon #3: The Last Brisket Show
Sky Full of Bacon #2: Duck School
Sky Full of Bacon #1: How Local Can You Go?

Please feel free to comment here or to email me here.

Just got this from Nance Klehm, star of my foraging podcast:

swap seeds and enjoy a bowl of organic vegan posole! (BYOB)

2446 south sawyer avenue (little village, chicago)
sunday, feb 15th 3-7pm

3-5pm SWAP n’ STORE
please bring seeds that are healthy, viable, open-pollinated, and true to variety. if you have no seeds come anyway and learn about sowing, growing and saving seeds!

we will cover seed starting techniques, timing of sowing, issues of cross-pollination, seed collection and storage of seeds.

a seed’s potential is only released through the cycle of sowing and saving. to keep future generations of heirloom and wild seed in the hands of the public we need to plant them and pass them on.

The SEED ARCHIVE is housed in chicago. it is a public archive of healthy seeds collected from many places and people. seed is loaned for free to those who are commited to growing them, enjoying them and returning some of the next generation of seed back to store at the seed archive.

Questions: [email protected]

Left to right: Louisa Chu, coon dinner, Peter Engler.

1. So Anthony Bourdain did his Chicago show, and after the obligatory “Hey, you’re no Second City!” pat on the head every New Yorker seems compelled to offer, it was plenty good, full of weird stuff mostly brought to media prominence by LTHForum foodies.  So a big bow for creating a Chicago defined by, not Pizzeria Uno, Al’s Italian Beef, and Lou Mitchell’s, but Hot Doug’s, Moto and Calumet Fisheries. (As Samuel Goldwyn once said, “I’m tired of the old cliches. Let’s have some new cliches!”)  The only thing I found weird about it was… how green the backgrounds of the driving-around shots were.  It’s like they drove around Bensenville to show us what’s between L2O and Hot Doug’s.

And the Mother-in-Law!  It cracked me up no end to see a TV star dragged on one of Peter (Rene G) Engler’s expeditions to eat the fascinatingly awful Mother-in-Law, cheap Depression food extraordinaire.  Now, how plugged into the zeitgeist is your faithful Sky Full of Bacon correspondent?  Saturday night, I was shooting at a certain dinner in Wisconsin, and two of my dining companions were… Bourdain on-screen guides Louisa Chu and Peter Engler.  And what dinner was it?  The raccoon dinner in Delafield, WI… where Cathy Lambrecht got the raccoon, which she gave to Homaro Cantu of Moto, thus inspiring him to create on the spot the very “road kill” dish seen in last night’s episode (now made with duck, alas).

So prepare to learn more than you could ever hope to about le cuisine raccoon in an upcoming Sky Full of Bacon next month or so.

2. Here’s the most interesting link the foraging podcast has gotten to date:

those aren’t just distasteful shrines to opulence piled up in places like Mountain Village — those are also resources held in reserve for a day not far away when we’ll need all that stored wood, all those spare parts, all that housing space. Just think: that single-family tens-of-thousands-of-square-foot weekend getaway spot my friend squatted in could one day be … a hostel for dozens of trekkers … an indoor village for some future self-styled traveling-buddha-like career-bumming class of wayfarers … or a series of studio apartments for the future dwellers in some Rewilded West.

3. Remember all those stories during the Olympics about how Michael Phelps ate 26 eggs and two rashers of bacon for breakfast every morning, and all that.  Because he was so hungry from… swimming. Riiiiiight.

4. I read that John Robbins, one of the big proponents of veganism going back to his 1998 book Diet For a New America, lost his fortune in the Madoff scandal. I find this weirdly satisfying.  Not that I think there’s an exact analogy between being a pious preacher of radical nutritionism and being a Ponzi scheme operator promising financial miracles, but read this and see if you don’t think Robbins was ripe pickings for a pyramid scheme:

He said that he had a few words for those of us who might be concerned that what we were doing on the planet was not important. He held his hands in a V-form with just the tips of his fingers touching and told us that our job was simply to stand and smile, that each of us who could stand and smile would be holding the wedge open for 10 more vegans behind us and 10 more behind each of them and so on until the wedge could grow big enough and strong enough to move over the face of the earth and help heal the earth.

Just sign here!  As it happens, I’m reading a book which I plan to rip into shortly for exactly this sort of Elmer Gantryesque approach to nutrition, so stay tuned.