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Tools of the Colonial TradeTools of the Colonial Trade

Sometimes, if you listen carefully when you think you don’t need to, you learn things.  This happened to me just the other day, when my daughter was cooking using one of my recipes and she asked, “What kind of sugar?” “White,” I said, then added — because I wanted to teach a concept instead of just answer a question — “White is the default.”  She didn’t even pause. “So even the sugar is racist.” It wasn’t a joke, but it […]

Turns out Persistence Counts for More Than SpeedRice: An Enduring Companion

March 3rd, 2018

Marathon Rice

BY Christian Ford

It was a wise architect who once pointed out that the most important quality of sustainable building was loveability. He didn’t mean that a structure needed charm.  He meant that if people didn’t form an emotional attachment to a building, then it was doomed.  That’s because no building can survive long without human caretakers, and if no one has  a stake in one’s existence, then it will, sooner or later, cease to exist. But there’s another way to look at this […]

In a NutshellAlcohol: The Coffee Propagandist ViewCoffee:  The Coffee Propagandist ViewThe Regulars at Lloyd's Coffee House (Modern Version)The Woman of the House Brews (Modern Version)

February 19th, 2018


BY Christian Ford

Howard Schultz’ bet that Americans would abandon their Mister Coffees for Italian coffee has made us a culture readily identifiable by the way its members adorn themselves with tall paper cups.  Others in the food service industry made a different bet, that Americans could be seduced into identifying themselves with alcohol, specifically mixed drinks with their roots in the golden age of the cocktail.  So, for once in this era of overchoice, we don’t have to choose.  We can have […]

Rearranging Deck Chairs Aboard the Good Ship VeneziaPepper:  The Master SpiceVenice Then: Rich & Dry Venice Now: The Umbrella Also Makes a Useful BoatThe Spice Trade ThenThe Spice Trade Now

For me, going to Venice has been the plan since the time I lived in Venice, which is to say that when I lived in Venice Beach, I was  dreaming of Venezia. It’s a long-deferred ambition and there are days when I wonder if that deferral will end up permanent because Venice, as you have surely heard, is drowning. It’s actually drowning twice over, settling deeper into the rising sea while also being swamped by tourists.  Italy recently banned big […]

It's All in the Sales PitchThe German Variety, Complete with Holiday SignifierAgnès Sorel, Last Seen Departing for a Spice-Scented Paradise

December 17th, 2017

Gingerbread Women

BY Christian Ford

I’m baking gingerbread tomorrow. I spent a moment considering cookies, but the cold gray sky outside and the Christmas songbook of the 1940s that I hear every time I go the grocery store somehow brought gingerbread to mind. Of course, when I call something “gingerbread,” there’s ambiguity about what I might really be talking about, so let me define this as a heavily spiced, dark quickbread and the kind of thing that in France would be called pain d’epice, or […]

At the All-Night StoreThe All-Night Store (Local Color Version)Free for the TakingNot So Free, But Just as Holy

A couple thousand years ago, Hero of Alexandria, engineer, author, mathematician, and above all inventor, encountered a problem that needed fixing.  Visitors to a nearby temple were helping themselves to more than their fair share of holy water.  Hero’s solution was to invent the vending machine.  Insert a coin into Hero’s vendo, and the weight of the coin would cause the pan on which it rested to tilt.  This tripped a lever which started a flow which lasted until the pan […]

The Whale is Not What It SeemsCoccolith: Foundation of the Oceanic Food Web and Elegant to BootWolves: System EngineersWhales:  Bigger System Engineers

What you eat is where you are — that’s the lesson of the trophic cascade.  This catchy term is the handle for discoveries that have rumbled through the life sciences in the past decade or so and they’re pretty revelatory. Trophic comes from the Greek for “nourish,”  and the term is a way of talking about food webs, only differently than we usually do.  The typical conception of a food web builds from the bottom up, assuming that it’s the […]

Searching for Serendipity on the Streets of Toyosu DistrictIt's All in the NameSometimes, You Get What You NeedMysterious Doings in Toyosu

If you happened to be in Tokyo’s Toyosu District on the right day last June, you might have come across a pop-up restaurant named “The Restaurant of Order Mistakes.”  All pop-ups need a good gimmick and this one was no exception — all the waitstaff are dementia patients.  Take a seat inside, peruse the menu and before long a smiling gray-haired lady in a waiter’s apron will take your order.  Whether you get what you ordered is an open question. […]

Not Missing the Mod Cons at AllNo Mod Cons to Miss

August 4th, 2017

The Mod Cons

BY Christian Ford

Like a substantial fraction of Americans, I spent part of this summer camping. That’s a pretty broad category, ranging from ultralight hikers bivouacking under a tarp to RV retirees running satellite TV off generators in 45-foot motorhomes, but what all of them have in common is the need to get food on the table, or rock, as the case may be. My variant was in the middle.  Our pack mule was an automobile but our only means of cooking was […]

Inside, a Limited MenuOutside, More Than You ImaginedSometimes a View is More than a View

July 20th, 2017

The Dining Car

BY Christian Ford

If you’re anything like me, you were scarred in your youth by the golden age of travel.  It was the imagery that did me in: glorious ocean liners where the captain dined at your table; overnight trains with immaculate service and possibly a spy aboard; the dawn of transoceanic passenger flight, when flying boats epitomized modernity even as they flew directly to an exotic past. Those days are so gone it’s hard to imagine that they ever existed.  But their […]

Gazing into a Brighter Future with Pinpoint PupilsPervitin:  Panacea in  Vintage Form

July 8th, 2017

High Hitler

BY Christian Ford

It’s a truism that you are what you eat, but perhaps never more so than in Nazi Germany.  Even if the war ended so long ago that certain elements of American society have forgotten that the Nazis were the bad guys, there are still discoveries to be made about the defining cataclysm of the 20th Century.  German novelist Norman Ohler has made a particularly startling one with his nonfiction book Der Totale Rausch, translated into English as Blitzed.  It tells […]

A California Tradition......Meets Another California Tradition.A New York TraditionAn Old TraditionAn Old World TraditionEven a Tradition on the Isle of Malta

Just when I was about to completely despair of the world in which I live, along comes Taco Trucks at Every Mosque, delivering tidings of Feliz Ramadan.  This delightful notion is a riposte to the comments of Marco Gutierrez, the presumably self-hating co-founder of Latinos for Trump.  In September of 2016, Gutierrez catapulted himself to internet infamy (and a Wikipedia page) by commenting “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t […]