The Food (W)hole dilemma (the health care edition)

Whole Foods C.E.O. John Mackey had an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day where he argued for a rather conservative/anti-Obama/anti-public option take on health care reform.  Mark Maynard wrote about it, there’s a piece in the Huffington Post that goes in great detail refuting Mackey, and Mackey tries to dig himself out on his own blog.

On the one hand, I tend to agree with the critiques of Mackey’s WSJ piece, though to be somewhat fair, Mackey does have some good points on his blog. It was the Journal’s idea to characterize Mackey’s article as a critique against “Obamacare,” and they apparently cut out most of the stuff that Mackey had originally included about the importance of emphasizing good nutrition and wellness.  But it is pretty easy to read Mackey’s piece as the rantings of self-interested CEO trying to minimize his labor costs in order to maximize profits for share holders.  Which, of course, he is.

This is hardly the first kinda creepy thing I’ve noticed about the Food (W)Hole.  In January 2008, there was a local story I blogged about here about a fish guy who was fired from Whole Foods under somewhat dubious circumstances.  Whole Foods has notoriously resisted efforts at unionization.  And other stuff, as this site notes.

But on the other hand, I really like Whole Foods.  They have excellent products and service, and if you know what to shop for or what’s worth spending the extra money on, I honestly don’t even think it’s that bad of a deal.  And I have to say if I boycotted every store that had some kind of political stance that didn’t line up perfectly with mine or that was run by a douchebag CEO, I’d have to revert to a hunter-gather lifestyle.

So I’ll keep shopping there and indulging my yuppie/foodie self.  But I am once again reminded this isn’t Whole Foods Co-Op but Whole Foods, Inc.

Missouri et al trip recap

It’s funny because while I haven’t been here for the last week, I spent plenty of time online here, here, and here. In the real world, I was off on the every other year Krause family summer get together in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.  Here’s a set of pictures on Flickr; here’s a few highlights:

  • Spent the first night in St. Louis, where we enjoyed fried toasted ravioli and red sauce Italian food.  The next day, we went to the Arch (of course) and then City Museum, which I have to say is actually the “must see” attraction of the two, IMO.  There was some fun and funky stuff in St. Louis; I’m looking forward to going back when the CCCCs is there in few years.
  • My parents rented a house on the Lake of the Ozarks for the 10 adults and eight grandkids.  On the plus-side:  the house was pretty much big enough, pretty nice, had great views, and the water was accessible down many many stairs.  On the down-side:  it was down a winding road,  another winding road, a gravel road a gravel/dirt road, and finally a “holy shit, you want me to drive down that?!” gravel/dirt road.  Which meant it was about 35 minutes from the main road, which was where most of “civilization” was located.
  • The other down-side (which wasn’t exactly a surprise) was there was no easy internet access, which made teaching my online classes somewhat challenging for the week.  Surprisingly though, I think I pulled it off with a couple of trips to a Panera’s and the iPhone.  I did finally start playing around with iPhone internet tethering, which worked fantastic for me but which makes me paranoid.  I’m just worried I’m going to get some kind of huge charge added to my bill.
  • We had fun with the family (Will especially had fun playing with the cousins), the weather was much cooler and more reasonable than I was expecting, I got a chance to play golf a couple times, everyone but my father and me got a chance to go out on the water on a rented boat, had a lot of fun going to Ha Ha Tonka State Park, and we had some nice views of the lake.  Having said that, Lake of the Ozarks seems mostly a place to go and get on a boat, drink beer, and go “wooo!”  A little country/hillbilly-ish for my tastes, generally speaking.
  • Then it was off to Chicago.  Went out with Troy and Lisa on Friday, which was great though our effort to get into Frontera Grill was thwarted by a 2+ hour wait.  Maybe next time.  (BTW, fun fact I didn’t know until I visited his web site:  Rick Bayless did at least some PhD work in Anthropological Linguisitcs at U of M.  Go figure).  Instead, we went to Vong’s Thai Kitchen, which was quite nice.
  • Got up the next morning and had a run/walk through Millennium Park as I went and picked up breakfast stuff for Will and Annette.  It was one of those mornings that made me think living in Chicago would be pretty cool.
  • Then onto the Museum of Science and Industry, mainly for Harry Potter:  The Exhibition.  I’d like to tell you to check out the pictures I took, but there was a definite NO PHOTOGRAPHY rule.  Despite that, it was a pretty cool collection of costumes and props and set stuff from the movie, probably more for the “hard core” fan (like my wife and son), but still enjoyable for the likes of me.  One of the tour dudes there told us that the movie makers working on something actually came back to get something from the exhibit, I guess to work on the current film.  The only down-side was we once again were not able to see the coal mine exhibit– or maybe a better way of putting it is we weren’t willing to wait in line for an hour or more.  Again, next time.
  • Managed to spend some time getting lost in some of the less desirable neighborhoods on the southside and near the Chicago Skyway Bridge, got stuck in traffic in Gary, etc.

All in all, a good trip.  Now it’s a couple weeks of “normalness” at home before the Traverse City experience.

On rodent eating

I saw this article on Boing-Boing and on Mark Maynard’s blog: “To urban hunter, next meal is scampering by
Detroit retiree, 69, supplements his income by living off the land”
from the Detroit News. A quote:

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.

Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet.

“Starvation is cheap,” he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home.

First off, I’m pretty sure that the last thing that Southeast Michigan and Detroit needs in the paper right now is a story about the resourceful use of raccoons as food. “Come to Detroit for the Final Four; stay for the ‘coon.” Ouch. I think I like Mark’s take on this, for the most part.

Second, this reminds me of a time that must be 15 or more years ago now when Sheri Reynolds brought over a muskrat to a party I was having while living at Charlotte’s house in Richmond, Virginia.

I cannot recall the purpose for the party (though I had many parties at that house), nor can I recall the specific purpose for the muskrat. I do remember though that Sheri bought it at some kind of redneck-ish grocery store. It was in in the frozen food section– no kidding. Anyway, she brought this thing over and cooked up a “muskrat bog” in a big pot: lots of rice, onions, stock seasoning, and, of course, muskrat. Stank up the whole house.

I don’t remember what the muskrat tasted like– I imagine a lot like raccoon might taste. But I do recall someone fishing out the muskrat skull from the bog and propping it up on a bunch of beer cans in the kitchen, or perhaps the dining room table.

The Virginia leg of the trip begins…

This morning, I am making a trip down memory lane while simultaneously and electronically clinging to the present. We are staying in the Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, the same hotel where Annette and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner and where family stayed that weekend. But this morning, while Annette and Will sleep in a bit, I am also making some updates to the online classes I’m teaching and I’m listening to Michigan Public radio on my iPhone. In other words, I’m pretty much doing what I would be doing on a Friday morning in Ypsilanti, only I’m doing it in Richmond instead.

Anyway, my internet access has improved and I did manage to upload photos to a Flickr set here. A few highlights/recollections of the last couple days:

  • On Wednesday and almost as an after-thought, we started our day at the National Museum of the American Indian, which I thought was awesome on many levels. They had a great collection of artifacts and information, cool multimedia presentations, and it did an amazing job of emphasizing the subjectivity and “presentness” of history. It was a sort of postmodern museum, in my view. I’d say more, but maybe later. In any event, I’d call this a “must see” for the DC visitor, personally.
  • If you do go to the National Museum of the American Indian, take the tip we took from a guy we struck up a conversation with on the metro: eat lunch in the cafeteria. They had a great mix of quasi-authentic native peoples foods.
  • Went to the air and space museum, which was okay (Will thought it was great, of course), and which was also weirdly empty, which is another tip: going off-season to DC does make a difference.
  • I think the consensus was we were kind of “museum-ed out” by then, so we went back to the hotel, chilled for a while, and then went to Petits Plats on the recommendation of the Concierge. My steak and fries was very good; Annette’s salmon was actually over-cooked for her (and that’s saying something); and Will’s calamari was not fried as he had assumed (though it was quite good). But if ever go to this place, get the mussels. We had an appetizer portion that was fantastic, and they serve dinner portions in giant, heaping bowls. And Monday was “all you could eat” mussels night. Makes me want to stay a few more days.
  • Went to Fredericksburg for lunch with Laura and her friend Jim. A very nice time, and some interesting conversation about the not so bright future of the newspaper business (Laura and Jim work for a newspaper). After lunch and some shopping, we took a tour of an old time Apothecary that was pretty cool.

But more later– now it’s on to breakfast at Joe’s.

Mardi Gras party fun (and a recipe for Fatty-club Gumbo)

We had our annual Mardi Gras party last night. I say “annual” because we’ve had it three times now, which I guess makes it an event that is more than a one time deal. Basically, Annette and I throw two big parties a year: the “Indian food party” and the Mardi Gras party. The Indian food party tends to be smaller, a dozen people tops, and it usually features as a “guest of honor” a new hire in the English department. The Mardi Gras party is the bigger, more blow-out of the parties.

Here’s a set of Flickr picts.

Of course, one of the main attractions is food, mostly food that I make. This year’s menu was pretty typical: stuffed jalapenos, fancy cheeses, and veggies and fruits, but mostly New Orleans (esque) fair. Most of my recipes came from a site I like a great deal, The Gumbo Pages. This year’s recipes from that site included a vegetarian version of red beans (I grilled up some andouille sausage for a side with this, all of which immediately disappeared) and King Cake (which is actually an Emeril Lagasse recipe and, with its cream cheese filling, was excellent). I also made my version of a Lagasse shrimp cake recipe that is too complicated to recount here, and a gumbo that I make on a fairly regular basis that I will describe:

Krause’s Fatty Club Gumbo

This is my interpretation of a gumbo recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook we have. The original WW recipe features a fair amount of crab, which a) I’m not all that crazy about in a soup, and b) is kind of expensive. Gumbo purists will probably turn our their noses at this version since it does not involve a roux. But it is easy to make, it’s mostly healty, and it seemed to be a hit the other night.

Like all gumbos, this is one of those recipes where there is a lot of room for substitutions and modifications. But this is the basic version that has worked for us around here.

1 or so tablespoons of olive or veggie oil
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 an onion, diced
6 or 8 green onions, sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1/2 of a ring (I guess 1/2 a pound?) of low-fat turkey or pork kielbasa sausage,* cut into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 package (16 oz I guess?) of frozen and sliced okra, defrosted
1 can of diced tomatoes (15 oz)
1 quart of chicken stock
1/2 cup rice
1/2 pound to 1 pound of frozen raw shrimp with the tails on, defrosted and cleaned to your preferences**

  • Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large pot (I like to use a dutch oven for this), and sweat green peppers through sausage. The idea here is to “cook” all of this stuff without browning it too much.
  • *I generally like to use turkey sausage for this, but when I made this for the party recently, I used a low-fat pork sausage that I liked a great deal. In any event, the choice of sausage here is up to you. If you use something like andouille or chorizo, your soup will be a lot more spicy and a lot less fatty-club friendly. But hey, that might be pretty good too.
  • Add cajun seasoning (I use Emeril’s– you know, BAM!– but there are many others on the market), thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and okra, and cook for a couple of minutes. Don’t skip the okra because it really is an excellent vegetable in this recipe and it thickens up the soup in a pleasant way without the roux.
  • Add the chicken stock and the canned tomatoes, bring up to a simmer (just barely a boil) for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Add the rice and keep simmering for about 8 or 10 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and keep simmering for about 8 or 10 minutes.
  • **My preference for the shrimp is medium to large shrimp that are cleaned but with tails on, mainly because I like the little extra flavor the shrimp tails give the dish, but I am too lazy to clean fresh shrimp for this, and I frankly don’t think it’s worth it. On the other hand, I wouldn’t use previously cooked shrimp because I don’t think they taste as good in a dish like this. In any event, the choice is yours.
  • Serve with your favorite hot sauce and bread and whatever else you want.

The annual cookie post (with bonus recipies)

Reading through some of the local-yokel blogs I follow, I noticed that at least two area bloggers have also been making cookies. Well, this week it was rounds two and three for cookie making.

Before going to Iowa for Thanksgiving, I made Grandma Krause’s Pepper Nuts, which regular readers should already know about. I screwed up that batch; they were edible and everything, but far from my best batch of Pepper Nuts, and not up to my late grandmother’s standards for sure.

Then on Thursday, I found out that we were supposed to be bringing two or three dozen cookies to Will’s school for a thing that parent’s association does for teachers. Not having a lot of time to screw around with something like sugar cookies, I called my mom up and asked her for the recipe for “those cookies you make with the Hershey kisses in them.” I’m sure you’ve seen these before; they often have those Brach’s chocolate star candies in them. Here’s the recipe she emailed:

Chocolate Stars

1 3/4 cup flour
1 t. soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup peanutbutter
1 egg
2 Tbs. milk
1 t. vanilla

Mix together and roll into balls. Roll balls in sugar. Bake @ 375 for 10-12 minutes. Press kiss in while warm. Enjoy!

It really was pretty much that simple, and I’d recommend them of course. But the big surprise/big hit was a sort of non-recipe Mom passed along, Rolo/pretzel cookies or candies. My mom didn’t actually have a recipe– she just said they were really good– but thanks to the Internets and a search engine, Annette and I were soon able get some more specific guidance. Here’s a web site complete with pictures of the candies; the recipe author, Mary Ann Ross, says she makes for funerals at her church. Not real Christmas-y, but there you have it. Here’s my rendition of the recipe:

A bag of mini round pretzels

A bag of Rolo Candies

Some pecan halves (and presumably, you could substitute another nut of your liking)

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees or so. You will see in a moment that the exact temperature really doesn’t matter; in fact, I bet you could just make these in the microwave in a pinch.
  • Put some pretzels on a cookie sheet covered with foil or parchment.
  • Place one Rolo Candy in the middle of each pretzel. Be sure to unwrap the Rolo first.
  • Bake this for just a few minutes– four, tops– until the candies soften.
  • As soon as you get them out of the oven, squish a pecan nut half onto each of the candies to flatten it out.
  • Let them cool to firm up a bit. Eat them or store them like candies.

I thought this was the goofiest thing I’d ever heard of, but they were darn good.

The Village Cafe: I doubt thee, Guy Fieri…

I’m watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network, and let me go ahead and apologize for that. My only excuse is that there really isn’t anything on Monday nights. In any event, one of the restaurants that Guy et al are featuring tonight is Richmond, VA’s The Village Cafe. I must say I am a little flabbergasted, and I’m feeling a little old.

Now, I moved away from Richmond a long LONG time ago– 15 years ago– and I am aware that things have changed around there. In fact, even the location of The Village changed; sometime right before or right after I moved (I can’t remember), it moved from across the street– Harrison Street, that is. It stayed on Grace Street. In any event, when I first moved to Richmond (gulp) 20 years ago, I lived about 2 blocks away. This was before VCU bought up a lot of the property around there and expanded toward Broad Street. In those days, the Village had pretty decent food but was still a skanky dive. I mean, it wasn’t completely and utterly scary, but it was right across the street from a porn theater (for the youngsters out there: pornography used to be in public theaters and not readily available on the internets), there was some much more scary bars down the street one way, and there was an intersection notorious for crack dealers and transsexual hookers in the other direction.

In short, the Village was not exactly a, um, wholesome destination. In fact, since I generally ate there after more than my fair share of “party beverages,” I cannot accurately attest to the quality of the food one way or other, at least not with a clear or completely sober conscious. Further, in the handful of trips I’ve made back to Richmond since I left for PhD studies (since Annette’s parents moved in 1998 or so, I think I’ve been back briefly twice), the Village is not even remotely on the radar. I realize that area of Grace has improved quite a bit in the last 20 years and the Village Cafe looked at least a bit cleaner on TV this evening, but Annette and I have so far have made Joe’s Inn our Richmond Fan restaurant visit.

So maybe the Village Cafe is really good right now. Or maybe not. After all, Guy and his little show featured Blimpy Burger not to long ago, which is far from my favorite place to get a burger around here. But regardless, it brought back some memories. Maybe we’ll stop by the next time we’re in RVa.