Blogathon for SSA Week: On FInding the Perfect Cup of Decaf Coffee

SSA week Page Banner

This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 7:03 pm PDT: 439 Donors, $71,703.02
As of 8:06 pm PDT: 439 Donors, $71,703.02

Not sure if these numbers are being updated now that it’s after hours. I’ll check with the SSA tomorrow.

From my piece in The Humanist magazine, In Praise of Frivolity:

What brings meaning to my life? Donuts. Fashion magazines. Costume jewelry. Playing “Cards Against Humanity.” Pretentious overpriced cocktails with a lot of silly crap in them. Fooling around on Facebook. Looking at cute cat videos on the Internet, over and over and over again. TiVoing the Olympics and watching the really obscure sports we’ve never heard of. Coming up with a sexy, gorgeous, wildly inappropriate outfit to wear to the Dyke March. Padron peppers sautéed in hot olive oil until they blister, then sprinkled with coarse sea salt. Sitting on the sofa watching Project Runway and letting cats crawl all over us. The never-ending search for a perfect cup of decaf coffee.

So. About that search for a perfect cup of decaf coffee

I don’t drink regular coffee. I don’t do well with significant amounts of caffeine, especially since I started taking Wellbutrin. But I love coffee — the scent, the flavor, the ritual — and I drink decaf coffee pretty much every day. I actually get cranky and groggy when I don’t get it: I’m not sure if it’s the small amount of caffeine that’s still in decaf (insignificant if you’re used to high-test, not trivial if you’re not), or whether it’s just a Pavlovian thing where I associate the scent and the flavor and the ritual with alertness.

But here’s the thing: A lot of decaf coffee sucks. It’s often not as richly flavorful as regular coffee, and it tends to have a sour taste (I’ve learned that if a pretentious coffee place says their decaf has “citrus” notes, it usually means it’s sour). So I’ve been searching for the perfect cup of decaf coffee. I found it once in a cafe in Amherst, Massachusetts, but that doesn’t do me a whole lot of good here in San Francisco, and I’ve been chasing that lost chord ever since.

Until I realized:

The perfect cup of decaf coffee is the one I make for myself.

red french pressI’ve spent quite a while tinkering and experimenting, and I’ve found a formula that works perfectly for me. The organic/ fair trade decaf French roast beans from Rainbow Grocery. Ground fresh at home each time I make it. Brewed in a French press coffeemaker, which lets me make it as strong as I like (hint: pretty darned strong). Brewed for at least seven minutes. In one of our standard mugs, one teaspoon of brown sugar, and one tablespoon of heavy whipping cream (half and half is fine, but subpar — if I don’t have heavy whipping cream, I often use ice cream instead).

It’s no-joke strong, with definite bitterness. But it’s not sour at all. It’s deeply rich. The bitterness has a bite, but it’s a clean bite. And with the cream and sugar, it all balances and blends into a complex but easily delicious flavor: reminiscent of chocolate, but sharper and less unctuous.

Now, this might not be the perfect cup of decaf for everyone. It probably isn’t. For one thing, a lot of people don’t like cream or sugar in their coffee — and I don’t know what this French roast from Rainbow grocery would be like if it didn’t have cream or sugar. But it’s the perfect cup for me.

I feel a bit like Dorothy in the last scene from The Wizard of Oz. “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” Which much of the time is bullshit: sometimes getting the hell out of Dodge is exactly what you need to do to be happy, and for me personally, a whole lot of my heart’s desire is at atheist conferences and speaking gigs all over the country. But it is kind of funny that it took me so many months of chasing around the city looking for something, while I was literally in process of discovering and creating it for myself.

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Blogathon For SSA Week: Meditation and Breakfast

SSA week Page Banner

This post continues my leg of the Blogathon for SSA Week… now! From now until 9pm PDT, I will write one new blog post every hour. Plus, for every $100 raised during that time, I will post one new picture of our cats! And all donations will be matched by SSA Supporters Jeff Hawkins and Janet Strauss — so whatever you donate, it will be doubled!

As of 9:01 am PDT: 422 donors, $68,297.69.
As of 10:05 am PDT:
427 Donors, $69,687.69

So as part of this Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practice that I’m starting to learn, our assignment for this week — is “assignment” the right word? The part of the practice that we’re adding this week is to pick a single task that we do every day, and to work on doing it mindfully: staying in the present moment, experiencing the task fully, noticing when our minds start to wander into plans and fantasies and memories and worries and then bringing them back to the experience of the moment.

Because I have some issues with food (unsurprisingly, I think a lot of people do, food is a large and deep issue), I decided to make my mindfulness task “making and eating breakfast.” And I’ve been noticing some interesting things.

First: I’m noticing how much more difficult it is to stay mindful when performing a task or an action than it is I’m just lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn. If for no other reason: It’s a moving target. Each moment is substantially different from the previous one: that’s somewhat true even when I’m lying still, but it’s more true, or more noticeably true, when I’m moving around the kitchen, or even just sitting on the sofa eating. And of course, doing activities means I do have to pull away from a simple contemplation of my immediate sensory experience, and do things like make sure I don’t burn myself when I pour the hot water over the coffee, or think about where the cheese slicer is.

I’m also thinking, though, that this practice may wind up being more beneficial in the long run than the “lying still and noticing each part of my body in turn” practice. After all, other than being asleep, lying still for forty-five minutes doing nothing isn’t really a part of my everyday life. If I can learn to stay mindful during ordinary tasks, at least some of the time, I think it will have more of an impact on my daily life.

But the main thing I’m noticing is how automatic it is for me to start on the next thing before I’ve finished the last one.

I have a powerful, unconscious reflex to reach for the next strawberry before I’ve finished chewing the last one; to reach for the coffee before I’ve finished swallowing my bite of toast and cheese. It’s being a very difficult habit to overcome: to just experience this strawberry, and not reach for the next one before I finish it. It’s not like it’s a big time-saver or anything — it doesn’t take that long to reach for a strawberry, it’s not like the half a second I save reaching for the next strawberry while I finish chewing the last one will significantly add to my time. It’s just a reflex.

And I know this reflex is a tendency I have in much of my life — not just eating breakfast. I strongly tend to live in the next moment, to live in my plans and hopes and worries and anticipations and expectations for what’s about to come, to focus on the next thing I want to do before I’ve finished the things I’m doing. Even when I’m doing something I’ve been planning and looking forward to for a long time — like a vacation — I tend to slip into thinking about the next bit of fun, rather than experiencing this one.

I’m generally okay with being a goal-oriented person. It’s a major part of how I engage with the world, and I am mostly at peace with it. But paradoxically, I think this tendency to live in my thoughts about my goals inhibits my ability to actually get them done already. When I look at all the things I want to do in a day, when I look at all the emails I want to answer and all the pieces I want to write and all the research I want to do… that’s when I turn into a hummingbird on meth, inefficiently flitting from task to task, or just getting paralyzed by all the things and just blowing it all off and watching “What Not to Wear.” I think this practice will help me focus: if I stay with the one thing I’m doing, instead of getting distracted by all the other things I want to be doing next, I get it done, better and calmer (and in fact, quicker)– and I can then move on to the next thing, and focus on that.

Not sure how to sum this up. Secular mindfulness meditation — neat!

If you like this post — or indeed, if you don’t — please donate to the Secular Student Alliance!

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

New Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Proceed with caution.

hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxyWhen I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.

So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.

But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them.

Ingredients:
Champagne
Vodka
Blue curacao
Sugar cubes
Bitters (we used Angostura)

Ahead of time (you can do this a day or two ahead of time, or whenever you like, really), pre-mix a mixture of:
1/2 blue curacao
1/2 vodka

Also ahead of time (shortly before the party):
Prepare a plate of sugar cubes with one drop of bitters on each cube (this approximates the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger).

As guests arrive:

Fill a champagne flute mostly full of champagne, about one shot short.
Add one shot of the curacao/vodka mixture.
Drop in one embittered sugar cube.

Do these one at a time for each guest: it’s pretty to watch, and the embittered sugar cube goes “fizz fizz fizz” in a very dramatic way when it’s dropped into the champagne/ vodka/ curacao mix.

Drink only with people you trust. And beware the plastic cocktail monkeys.

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

This is an old post from my archives, which I’m reprinting now so people can make it in time for for Santamas. Enjoy!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a food post here that wasn’t about weight management, and I just made this pie for my birthday, so I thought I’d share the recipe.

This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is insanely simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.

The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday this year (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.

CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE
INGREDIENTS
1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a tic.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)

A quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy… but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth- feel is insufficiently creamy… but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.

Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes at 450 degrees, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)

That’s it.

No, really.

I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.

I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)

EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE

Make the exact same recipe above, but when mixing the filling, add:

1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

This year was the first time I tried this experiment, and I think it was a big success. It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth. But it also makes it less purely chocolatey. A lot of what makes this pie so yummy is its “pure essence of chocolate straight to the hindbrain” quality, and you do lose that with the spices. You be the judge. You can always make two — one classic, one experimental — and switch back and forth between the two until you explode. (UPDATE: I’ve now served both the straight-up chocolate version and the spiced version several times, and opinions are deeply divided as to which is better. My suggestion: Make one of each. Why the hell not?)

BTW, if you wind up making this pie and come up with your own experimental variations — let me know! I’m toying with the idea of adding liquor, like rum or Kahlua or madeira. (UPDATE: I tried adding alcohol last year, and it didn’t work that great: if you add enough to get significant flavor, the texture gets goopy. I’m going to stick with dry spices from now on.) Cayenne might also be good — I love me some chocolate with cayenne — or maybe rosemary and almond. And I’m considering using vanilla vodka for the crust instead of regular vodka.

Speaking of which:

NOTES ON PIE CRUST

For years, I made this pie with store-bought pie crusts, mostly because one of the things I liked best about it was how easy and fast it was, and making my own pie crust would defeat that purpose. Also, pie crust was one of those cooking tasks that for some reason I found scary and daunting. And it’s true that if you get a decent quality store-bought pie crust made with butter, it will make a perfectly fine pie.

But I was recently taught how to make pie crust by my upstairs neighbor, Laura the Pie Queen… and it is one of the refinements that has elevated this pie from Perfectly Good to Ambrosially Exquisite. I have now become a complete convert — a snob, one might even say — and will have no further truck with store- bought pie crust. And while homemade pie crust is definitely both more time- consuming and more difficult (it reduced me to near- hysterics the first couple of times), like most things it gets easier and faster with practice.

Here’s the recipe Laura gave me. Some of the reasoning behind it: Crisco makes pie crust flakier, butter makes it more flavorful… which is why I like this recipe, which uses both. And using vodka to moisten the dough makes for a flakier crust, as it evaporates during baking. (You want to use as little liquid as you can to make the dough hold together, since more liquid makes the crust tougher: the vodka facilitates this.) This is a recipe for an entire two-crusted pie; since the chocolate pie is open-faced, halve this recipe if you’re making just one pie, or make it all if you’re making two pies. Which I usually do. We will never get leftovers if I don’t make two pies.

2 – 1/2 cups (12 – 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 – 1/2 sticks) cold butter (frozen is good)
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (Crisco or equivalent)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka

Sift dry ingredients together. Cut butter and shortening into smallish pieces, add to flour. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break butter and shortening into smaller and smaller pieces covered with flour, until the little floury fat-balls are roughly pea-sized. Sprinkle in the water and vodka, enough to make the dough hold together and roll out, without making it too sticky. (You may wind up using slightly more or less liquid than the recipe calls for, depending. Don’t ask me “depending on what.” Just depending.) Sprinkle more flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out. Place it gently in the pie plate, flatten the edges over the lip of the pie plate, and prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Proceed.

In general, you want to work the pie dough as little as humanly possible while still making it a coherent whole. Don’t overwork the dough while breaking up the butter and shortening; use as few strokes as possible to roll it out. And everything that can be cold, should be cold.

Like I said: The pie crust is 9/10th of the work. It’s totally worth it, though. If you can’t bear it, go ahead and buy a crust from the store. Better yet, get your upstairs neighbor to make it for you. (Thanks again, Laura!)

If you make this pie, let me know how it turns out. If you make an experimental variation that you like, let me know what it is. Happy eating!

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

I wanted to link to my recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters in another post I’m writing, and I realized I’d never blogged about it. My bad. Here it is, with the story.

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book coverWhen I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.

So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.

But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them.

Ingredients:
Champagne
Vodka
Blue curacao
Sugar cubes
Bitters (we used Angostura)

Ahead of time (you can do this a day or two ahead of time, or whenever you like, really), pre-mix a mixture of:
1/2 blue curacao
1/2 vodka

Also ahead of time (shortly before the party):
Prepare a plate of sugar cubes with one drop of bitters on each cube (this approximates the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger).

As guests arrive:

Fill a champagne flute mostly full of champagne, about one shot short.
Add one shot of the curacao/vodka mixture.
Drop in one embittered sugar cube.

Do these one at a time for each guest: it’s pretty to watch, and the embittered sugar cube goes “fizz fizz fizz” in a very dramatic way when it’s dropped into the champagne/ vodka/ curacao mix.

Drink only with people you trust. And beware the plastic cocktail monkeys.

Blogathon for SSA: Roasted Vegetables

And for my final non-kitten-themed post for my stretch of the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon: roasted vegetables.

Hey, it’s late. I’ve been at this all day. Give me a break.

I just want to say that roasting has given me a whole new love for vegetables. I now think that almost all vegetables should be roasted. Roasting brings out both the sweetness and the earthiness of vegetables. It somehow both condenses the flavor and smooths it out. And it’s ridiculously easy. Cut ‘em up; drizzle some oil on them (enough to coat them); put some salt or spices on ‘em if you feel like it, or not if you don’t; stick ‘em in the oven at 400; roast ‘em ’til they’re done.

You have to use a little more oil than you do for some other cooking methods, which may be an issue if you’re counting calories. But I’ve found that I eat more veggies if they’re cooked to be delicious — and eating more veggies is a huge part of healthy weight management. So it all balances out. And it balances out in the direction of deliciousness.

This post is the last one of my blogathon for the Secular Student Alliance. Not counting the kitten pics, which will continue until SSA Week is over. Donate today!

I’ve posted some quotes talking about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome, and why they deserve your support. If you have a story or a comment about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome — post it in the comments, and I’ll post it in the blog! Along with kitten photos, of course. Support the SSA!

Blogathon for SSA: Living in a Neighborhood

I’m home now. But I’ve been spending much of my Blogathon day in one of my local neighborhood cafes. It’d feel too cooped up to just be on the computer at home all day… and besides, I can only use the computer at home for about four hours at a stretch, since Comet consistently chews through any charger cord the minute I get it out. (She’s chewed through a total of three now. And yes, I tried putting that Bitter Yuck stuff on it. She sniffed it, and then took a ginormous bite. She loved it. She was like, “Hm — a touch bitter at first, but on reflection it adds a nice layer of complex piquancy to the computer cord, which is delicious but may be just a tad simplistic on its own.”)

Anyway. I’ve been working in one of my local neighborhood cafes all day. And in the few hours that I’ve been here, three different people that I know have walked by the cafe, and have stopped in to say Hi.

I talk a lot about my neighborhood, and all the things I love about it. I talk about the food, and the street art, and the fashion, and the food again.

But honestly? I think the thing I love most about my neighborhood is that it is a neighborhood.

I love that almost everything I really need and want is in walking distance — and that it’s a pleasant, delightful walk. I love that when I walk in my neighborhood, I run into people I know. I love that some of the people I know in my neighborhood are friends, who I know from the usual “friends of friends” sources — and that some of them are merchants, barristas and clerks, cafe owners and donut mongers, people I’ve met because I live here and who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I love that, when the Giants won the World Series and we all poured out into the streets, Ingrid and I ran into the people who do our taxes.

I think neighborhoods are a little like locally grown and produced food: something that used to be a classic and even conservative piece of American life, and that are increasingly being swallowed by corporate monoculture. And I think this is sad. I think neighborhoods are neat. They shouldn’t belong to a handful of relatively privileged, middle-class urbanites. They should belong to everybody.

If there’s a moral of this story, I guess it’s this: Urban planning matters. Boring moral, I know. Hey, it’s ten at night at the end of a long blogathon day. What do you want from me, anyway?

This post is part of my blogathon for the Secular Student Alliance. Donate today!

I’ve posted some quotes talking about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome, and why they deserve your support. If you have a story or a comment about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome — post it in the comments, and I’ll post it in the blog! Along with kitten photos, of course. Support the SSA!

Blogathon for SSA: Cardamom and Language

I was making cardamom simple syrup for a cocktail (recipe here), and having an imaginary conversation in my head where I tried to explain why I’m so obsessed with cardamom… and I was realizing that I don’t have good language for flavors. There are the obvious ones, obviously — sweet, sour, etc. But I was trying to describe in my head what cardamom tastes like, and realizing I had no idea how. It’s sort of sweet, but not quite; it’s sort of pungent, but not quite. It’s a Middle Eastern spice that goes equally well with sweet and savory dishes: it somehow makes sweet dishes more savory, and savory dishes subtly sweet. But that’s not very descriptive. Thoughts? And thoughts on how we use language for flavor? I can think of a zillion ways to describe what things look like, but very few (apart from the obvious ones) to describe how they taste.

BTW, it turns out you don’t have to shell a zillion cardamom pods by hand to make cardamom simple syrup. They do sell pre-shelled cardamom pods. Wish I’d known that for my 50th birthday.

This post is part of my blogathon for the Secular Student Alliance. Donate today!

I’ve posted some quotes talking about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome, and why they deserve your support. If you have a story or a comment about why the Secular Student Alliance is so awesome — post it in the comments, and I’ll post it in the blog! Along with kitten photos, of course. Support the SSA!

In Defense of Pretentious Hipster Douchebaggery, Culinary Edition

“No, I do not want a beer. I just got back home to San Francisco after a week in the South and the Midwest. I want a ridiculous, pretentious, overpriced cocktail with a lot of stupid crap in it.”
-Greta Christina

Yes. When it comes to food and booze, I am one of those pretentious hipster douchebags. I’m one of those people who creams in her jeans when she sees the word “local” on a menu. I’m one of those people who pisses themselves over artisanal everything: artisanal bread, artisanal donuts, artisanal ice cream, artisanal coffee, artisanal chopped liver. I’m one of those people who gets all excited about weird flavor combinations that seem like they were randomly grabbed out of a hat: donuts with chocolate and rosemary, ice cream with bourbon and corn flakes, salted lavender shortbread, gazpacho with strawberries, raspberry and red pepper sorbet. I’m one of those people who will happily pay twelve bucks for a cocktail if it’s made with basil and cardamom bitters and a single-barrel whiskey I’ve never heard of. I’m one of those people who will happily pay eight bucks for a chocolate bar if it has smoked salt and was produced by a worker-owned collective. I’m one of those people who will walk an extra ten blocks to Rainbow Grocery for coffee, because they have decaf French roast that’s fair trade. I’m one of those people who wants the bartender — excuse me, the mixologist — to invent a cocktail for me on the spot, based on my suggestions of base liquor and flavor profile. (Typically “bourbon” and “spicy.”) I’m one of those people who grills the waitstaff (politely, of course) on the exact provenance of the meat, and whether it was raised and killed in a manner that befits my ethical standards. I’m one of those people for whom “Portlandia” is a documentary.

And yes, I will grant you just about every criticism you care to make, trivial or serious, about this pretentious hipster douchebag culinary culture. Yes, it’s pretentious (obviously). Yes, it’s smug and full of itself. Yes, it’s relentlessly trend-hopping. Yes, it often takes itself way too seriously (although to be fair, most of the pretentious culinary hipsters I know have a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing). Yes, it has more than a whiff of classism and snobbery about it. Yes, the hipsterization of food contributes to gentrification, and thus to pricing poor and working-class people out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for years. (I once read a definition of a hipster that was so scarily accurate it made me cringe: “You complain about gentrification even though you’re one of the people responsible for it.”) Yes, in a blind taste-test, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.

I will grant you all of that, and more, with no argument. I will simply ask you to grant me this, or at least to consider it:

Pretentious culinary hipsterism is one of the few forces pushing back against the relentless corporate monoculture that’s demolishing local food.

I spend a lot of time traveling around the country doing public speaking. When my hosts ask, “What kind of food do you like?”, I typically answer, “If there’s a local specialty, I’d like to try it. If there’s a great local barbecue joint, a local diner that’s been here for decades, something along those lines… I’d love to go there.”

And all too often, they look at me blankly, and take me to a chain restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for their hospitality, and the company is the main point anyway. And I don’t blame them for taking me to a chain. Because in much of the country, that’s all there is. In much of the country, there is no local diner anymore. In much of the country, when you go out to eat, your options are Chain Restaurant A, Chain Restaurant B, Chain Restaurant C, or Chain Restaurant D. In much of the country — especially (and tragically) in the South and the Midwest — local food culture is being crushed into the ground by the gargantuan Godzilla foot of corporate monoculture.

And in much of the country, when there is an alternative to corporate monoculture restaurants, it’s the pretentious hipster place.

These are the places that are supporting small local farmers. These are the places that are networking with other small businesses. These are the places that are reviving and perpetuating local specialties. These are the places that care about tradition, and ritual, and the ways that food connects us to our homes and our ancestors. These are the places where the waitstaff doesn’t turn over every three months; where the waitstaff sticks around long enough to get to know your name, and for you to get to know theirs. These are the places where the waitstaff are often the owners. These are the places that are building neighborhoods. These are the places run by people who give a damn about serving their customers a fresh, delicious, nutritious, high-quality product. These are the places run by people who think food should be prepared, and eaten, with love.

It’s funny. These used to be classic American values. Old-fashioned, conservative, Norman Rockwell values, even. I’m not sure when they turned into the hallmarks of pretentious urban hipster douchebaggery. Probably around the time that sucking the dick of multinational corporations became the hallmark of American patriotism.

And that’s exactly my point. Somewhere along the way, “American patriotism” mutated into “abandoning everything that actually makes America special and kind of cool.” Somewhere along the way, “American patriotism” started to mean “handing everything over to our corporate overlords, so they can grind it into a mass of indistinguishable mincemeat and sell it back to us at three times the price.” And pretentious as it is, smug as it is, self-conscious as it is, artisanal locavore hipster food culture is pushing back against all that.

If the choice were between the artisanal hipster place serving locally sourced cheese plates with spelt bread and pepper jam, or the unpretentious family-owned diner that’s been serving the same pancakes and fried chicken for three generations… this would be a different conversation. But increasingly, that’s not the choice. Increasingly, the choice is between the artisanal hipster place, and Applebee’s. Bennigan’s. Boston Market. T.G.I. Friday’s. Increasingly, the choice is between homogenized, manufactured hominess… and the unique flavor of a place, self-conscious though it may be, that actually turns a location into a home.

I’m not going to pretend that eating lavender shortbread is a revolutionary act. I’m just saying: I’m happy that this choice exists. I’m happy there are people making this choice available. And I want to give them their props.

Preferably with a rosemary garnish.