I Have The Poison Control Hotline Number Close By, Just In Case

I like to cook new things. I even like to cook, and try, new things on holidays. My dear wife does not. My dear wife likes traditional home-cooked holiday meals. My dear wife has still not forgiven me for our first Thanksgiving together 14 years ago, when we ate at the Jonathan Club because that's where my grandparents wanted to throw a dinner. (The fact that she was relentlessly interrogated by my female relatives may have something to do with it.) If an item of food is not visible in Freedom From Want, my dear wife wants no part of it.

I'm past my free will issues now and at peace with this. So I was somewhat surprised when my dear wife, inspired by an article in the Los Angeles Times, asked me to dry-brine the turkey this year.

I did it last night, using a mixture of kosher salt, diced fresh rosemary, and lemon zest. You clean the bird carefully first, dry it, then rub it vigorously with a generous sprinkling of this mixture.

Now, I really like salt. It's amazing that my blood pressure doesn't have more digits. But this seems like an awful lot of salt even to me. The experts swear that he salt will draw out all the juices and flavors without making the bird taste like the bottom of a pretzel bag. We'll see. If it doesn't work out, I will know who to blame.

Otherwise, I'm making it simpler this year. I'm passing up my mother's yam casserole, and therefore recovering roughly two months of our lives that would be spent by consuming that dish of butter and sugar. I'm going with my favorite stuffing (mushroom and carmelized onion stuffing from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook), a cheddar and chive mashed potato casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, and an cider gravy. Someone else is doing green vegetables and desert. Only 13 people. It will be practically relaxing.

Only in San Francisco #227

Zante Pizza is fusion in the best sense. It is a pizzeria that infuses it's pies with the flavors and spices of Indian food. The smell of the place alone is heavenly. Credit where due, I was introduced to Zante by my friends Scott & Caren, who are vegan, and yet responsible for several of my favorite pizza experiences.

My parents were in town from Texas, and they always like to try new things when they are here, so we made an adventure of it, and got off BART at 16th Street, and walked the mile or so down Mission Street to Zante.

Mission Street (and the Mission in general) is one of my favorite neighborhoods in SF. It has (despite the pernicious influx of gentrification) maintained it's combination of rich Latin American cultural flavor, bohemian SF hipsterism and delightfully shabby mom & pop stores & restaurants. There are very few chain stores or fast food restaurants here. But, there is a taqueria on just about every block (ranging from pretty good to transcendent. If you're ever in SF, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to Taqueria Pancho Villa, with it's long assembly line style burrito assembly. Of course, taquerias in the Mission are like churches, everyone accepts the choices of others, but secretly knows theirs is the best..)

Anyway, I took them down Mission Street where we stopped and looked at several random stores. The architecture along the street is great, even if the beautiful facade of the old Mission Theatre is now a .99 cent store.

Ah, but Zante. You actually smell it before you see it. I cannot describe the combination of  the delicious smell of pizza, mixed with the aromatic spices of India. It just works.

We ordered the Indian meat pizza which comes with a spinach curry sauce, cheese, a mountain of veggies, tandoori chicken, lamb and prawns. We went with an extra large, reasoning that there would be leftovers for the next day. There weren't. The three of us polished off the entire thing.

One of the best things about Zante, is how light their pizza is. As I get older I find that cheese and I have a tempestuous relationship, and pizza is something I avoid. Zante is so light on the cheese that I never have a problem. I had 4 slices (matching my Dad slice for slice) and did not feel bad at all afterwards.

All in all, the combination of the cool multiculturalism of the Mission, the delicious synthesis of Zante and spending a lovely evening with my parents (who reminded me that despite my cynicism about Obama, he's still better than John Cornyn) it was a great night.

If you find yourself in SF, go off the beaten path a little. I assure you the Mission isn't in guidebooks, and there aren't a lot of tours, but there is so much good food there, that it is a must visit when you come to the City.

The Breakfast of 400 Pound Champions

I was visiting a friend in Sacramento over the weekend. The town of Rocklin is like one large strip mall. Really pretty awful. However, we went to the generically quaint Waffle Barn for breakfast on Sunday, and they had a menu item I had never seen before.

If you really hated yourself, you could get a bacon waffle. A waffle with bacon baked (grilled? ironed?) right into it. I didn't order it, but I was sort of tempted.

Deconstructed Chicken

I've seen a lot of criticism of the Double Down Chicken Sandwich at KFC, which uses the chicken as bread, and is currently being test-marketed in Nebraska. I guess KFC assumes that nobody in Omaha cares if they get fryer grease all over their hands while eating. It is pretty heinous looking when you see the actual sandwich instead of the glossy advertising photo but I'm at a loss as to what the big story is.

It isn't that I don't get the problem. I've written about fast-food monstrosities before, and continue to think that there is a special circle of hell for Colonel Sanders, Ray Kroc and the King of Burgistan for what they have wrought. It just doesn't strike me as anything new under the sun.

The chicken-as-bread is a gimmick. A gross gimmick, but a gimmick all the same. If the KFC PR guy is to be believed, it is a 590 calorie sandwich – high, but not out of line for fast food. If the combo meal were simply called the Two Patty Platter – or even if they surrounded the double-chicken with bread, increasing the calorie count – I don't think anyone would have mentioned it at all.

In the end, under the guise of being horrified by the fattening of society by the evil fast food companies and their ever-more-devious ways of packing more calories into a meal, all of the critics have instead served as a gigantic, free marketing campaign for a fairly ordinary sandwich.

It isn't that the fast food companies aren't evil and ever-more-devious; they are. I only wish that people would do a better job of picking their battles.

Via a lot of places but mostly Chris

All Of A Sudden, I Am Interested in Twitter

Sorry Chris, but this is going to be another "how cool is living in SF" post. The other day I was walking around and found a little trailer selling some incredible crepes. I talked with the folks there briefly, and they let me know that San Francisco has a great tradition of "street food" and that most of it is now coordinated by Twitter.

Turns out, you can get everything from curry to tamales to goat tacos, on the streets of San Francisco (sorry, I couldn't resist..) in conveyances ranging from the classic taco truck to a guy on a bike. And, they use Twitter to tell you exactly where they are going to be. They also give you hints as to what's on the menu.

Acting as a guiding force in this is an organization called La Cocina. They are helping street vendors deal with city ordinances and permits, acting as incubators for food ideas and even offering kitchen space for aspiring street vendors. Here's a map they put together of some of the many choices around SF.

I'm not usually one for the Twitter/flashmob/social networking sort of thing, but (probably because I love food like I love oxygen..) this whole thing just seems very cool to me. It's almost enough to make me sign up for Twitter and follow a bunch of these folks in hopes they make it to my neck of the woods. Especially those bacon wrapped hotdogs!

In Days Before The Internet

Kimberly Block's ADA lawsuit against Squeeze Inn might have ended differently.

The Sacramento woman who sued the tiny Squeeze Inn hamburger restaurant over its lack of wheelchair access has dropped her lawsuit.

Kimberly Block, 41, filed a civil rights complaint July 6 against the Squeeze Inn under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the lawsuit, Block claimed she suffered "embarrassment and humiliation" when she tried to eat there last November.

For reasons set forth in our previous post and comments on the topic, Block's suit seemed a classic shakedown, the sort of abuse of a well-meant law which gives a bad odor to anyone who attempts to use it for legitimate purposes.  While I support the idea behind the Americans With Disabilities Act, abusive or ill-founded suits like those filed by Block (her fourth this year) and individuals like Thomas Mundy give me, and many others, pause about the law.

Still, the internet does get the word out.  When the ADA was enacted, the internet was limited to people who could afford dollars a minute for access, or university systems.   A suit like that filed by Block and her attorney, Jason Singleton of Eureka California, would have proceeded in silence with barely a voice raised in protest.  And months later, people in and out of Sacramento would wonder whatever happened to the cramped cheeseburger joint on Fruitridge Road?

3 Ice Cream Sandwiches Were Not Enough to Make Me Like the DH

I survived all you can eat seats at the ballpark. I definitely got my moneys worth, but I also didn't leave feeling like I was going to die (of course, that may say more about me than it does any sense of moderation..)

The seats (the only upper deck seats not tarped off by the almost minor league at this point A's) were nice enough, and it was a gorgeous day for baseball. The usher told us to sit where ever we wanted, so we grabbed great seats behind home plate.

There was one concession stand that featured 7 items, all of which were free: hotlinks, hotdogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, sodas and ice cream. There was also beer, but mercifully for all of us, it was not free. The hot links were quite good, but the regular hot dogs didn't look great. The nachos were gross (although, some people like the fake cheese, I guess..) The popcorn was surprisingly good and you can't really mess up an ice cream sandwich, can you?

So, the final tally was a minor sunburn, 2 hot links, 4 sodas, 1 bag of popcorn and 3 ice cream sandwiches. It was fun, and if a real team had been playing, it would have been even better. Oh, and if that guy behind me hadn't screamed everytime the opposing pitcher threw a pitch. Did he think he was going to throw off the batter?

Ballroom 003

Speaking of the American Diet…

Saturday, I will be attending an Oakland A's game. Now, the A's are terrible, play in the hated AL, have a rotten stadium and use the DH. So, why would I go? Well, I just have to try out some very special seats

I don't see this going well at all. Check back Sunday or Monday for the full report.

One Size Fits All: Not Just A Good Idea; It's The Law.

At least that's Kimberly Block's interpretation.

The Squeeze Inn, known for huge mounds of melted cheese on its burgers, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, [a] lawsuit alleges.

Kimberly Block, who says she has severly [sic] limited use of her legs, argues she suffered "embarrassment and humiliation" and that her civil rights were violated because of inadequate access inside the Fruitridge Road restaurant.

In addition to its cheeseburgers, the Squeeze Inn of Sacramento California is also noted for its cramped spaces and limited seating.  Get it?  "Squeeze in."  The restaurant is famous, having been featured on Food Network and in a number of other media.

The charm is evidently lost on Kimberly Block, who is suing the Squeeze Inn and its owner, Travis Hausauer, for alleged violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a well-intended law that has produced an unusually high litigation burden for small restaurants and businesses.  But one wonders whether Ms. Block visited the Squeeze Inn last November to order one of its famous cheeseburgers, or to just to get a settlement check, hold the onions.

Why?  Well according to a search on Justia, this isn't the first time Ms. Block has suffered embarrassment and humiliation so severe she felt compelled to sue a restaurant.  It's the third time this year. While Ms. Block hasn't yet filed enough suits to place her in the company of famous serial ADA litigants like Thomas Mundy, her lawyer Jason Singleton, like Mundy's lawyers at Morse Mehrban, has made an industry out of the act. No doubt Block will get there in time.

Of course if Block's suit is litigated rather than settled or defaulted, there's room for a defense attorney to move here.  According to its owner, Squeeze Inn had already altered its patio dining area to accommodate the disabled, making the outdoor area less "squeezy."  Did Block ask for a patio seat?  Did she order to go?

According to Block's suit, she's a longtime resident of Sacramento who routinely travels into the restaurant's neighborhood for business and pleasure.  So the question arises: what did Kimberly Block know about Squeeze Inn, and when did she know it?  Hadn't she heard of the diner famous for its packed seating and cramped aisles before she visited?

Or did she visit the restaurant not for a cheeseburger, but for the express purpose of suing it?

Unfortunately those questions may have to remain between Ms. Block and her consience, rather than a jury.  The owner says he can't afford the renovations Ms. Block demands (renovations which would, not coincidentally, remove much of the Inn's weird appeal), and insurance typically doesn't cover or defend ADA suits, for which defense costs are high.

So while cheeseburger fans and lovers of whatever funky local character remains in Sacramento may be out of luck, their loss will be Jason Singleton's gain.  They'll always have McDonalds.

Update: See comments for more on Jason Singleton, and see this profile of the attorney from 2001.

So Apparently I'm the Highlander

Great news:

Health experts have long warned of the risk of obesity, but a new Japanese study warns that being very skinny is even more dangerous, and that slightly chubby people live longer.

People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found.