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The baguette problem

The baguette problem

The baguette problem

Fri, 10 Aug 2007 13:13:35 +0000

The baguette problem

I came to France for the bread. There, I said it.

OK, I had lots of reasons for moving to France, but even though I joke about it, it’s absolutely true: I have what some might call an unnatural fondness for traditional French breads—especially baguettes. I’ve gotten into several arguments animated discussions recently about whether one truly can’t find a decent baguette anywhere in San Francisco. My position has been, and remains, that I personally was unable to find any, despite considerable looking (that is to say, tasting). There were breads that looked like baguettes and even smelled like baguettes, but they Just Weren’t Right. In other words, they made the wrong sound (or none at all); an incorrect texture was simply a natural consequence.

I mentioned the sound of baguettes

on Interesting Thing of the Day, and this summer, in the movie Ratatouille, Colette spelled it out during a lecture to Linguini: it’s not the appearance or smell of a baguette that lets you know it’s fresh, it’s the sound it makes when you break it in half. Right on.

So what’s the problem? Since moving to France

that were excellent, though very different from each other. I’ve had exactly one decidedly substandard baguette (yes, it’s possible, even here). And I’m confident in my ability to distinguish good from bad baguettes. What I’ve discovered I can’t do at all is to discern which of half a dozen great baguettes is the best. On the Baguette Perfection Scale, I can tell the difference between a bread that scored a 3 and one that scored a 7. But when the choices range from 9.1 to 9.9, I’m totally out of my league.

It’s very much like wine: I can tell a lousy wine when I drink one. But my palate isn’t refined enough to distinguish a merely good wine from a fantastic wine. Particularly if I’m trying them on two separate days—side-by-side comparisons are definitely easier.

One of our local bakeries sells two species of baguettes: the “normale” variety (pictured here) and the “traditionnelle” variety, which is shorter, denser, chewier, and more expensive. I like them both equally, for different reasons, and can’t even come close to deciding which is better. Likewise, we’ve had fresh (normale) baguettes, hot out of the oven, from at least four different bakeries. We’ve smiled, we’ve sighed, we’ve moaned. But I am completely unable to compare them in quality. And yet, clearly there are lots of people who do make such evaluations and who, moreover, agree with each other (“Oh, everyone knows X’s bread is way better than Y’s bread.”). How do they do this?

Obviously, I need a great deal of practice.

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The Geeky Gourmet moves to Paris

The Geeky Gourmet moves to Paris

The Geeky Gourmet moves to Paris

Mon, 06 Aug 2007 18:13:01 +0000

The Geeky Gourmet moves to Paris

It’s been quite a few months since posts appeared here on The Geeky Gourmet with anything approaching regularity. Since blog freshness is often measured in hours or days, not quarters, that means this site has been as good as dead—or at least, let’s say, in a state of suspended animation. I feel badly about that. It was never my intention to let the site go, but the simple fact is that I got busy with many other things, and GG was near the bottom of my priority list.

The biggest of the many things I was busy with all those months was moving…to Paris! (You can read about the move and my life here in .) Now that I’m here and settled, and not nearly as overwhelmed with projects as I was for so long, I feel that the time has come to resurrect The Geeky Gourmet. New posts will appear, starting tomorrow, on a respectably frequent basis. (I can’t promise they’ll be daily, but certainly I hope to post multiple times per week.)

Paris, of course, has a lot going on in the world of food. I’ll be mentioning some of that in future posts. I’m not the sort of person who dines out at fancy restaurants every week, though, so look for the same sorts of down-to-earth topics that have appeared here in the past.

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Las Vegas and Diets

Las Vegas and Diets

Las Vegas and Diets

Mon, 02 Oct 2006 14:00:37 +0000

Las Vegas and Diets

When Morgen and I were on vacation in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, we knew it would wreak havoc with our ongoing attempt to follow the . Of course, we already make exceptions for things like parties, testing Thanksgiving dinner recipes, and whatnot—and then, as necessary, go back to the stricter Phase 1 for a bit to reverse the damage. It’s no big deal. So we knew the trip would involve some digressions from the preferred list of foods, but we still wanted to keep with the program as much as we reasonably could.

No surprise: Vegas is an astonishingly difficult place to be on just about any sort of diet, but especially so when the diet restricts starches and sugars. South Beach isn’t completely carb-averse like Atkins (thank heavens!), but when you do eat carbs, you’re definitely looking for whole grains and foods with a low glycemic index (i.e., they raise your blood glucose level as slowly as possible). But everywhere we went the menus were full of pasta, potatoes, and white breads—not to mention excessively fatty foods and very fruity drinks.

We finally stumbled on a fantastic restaurant called

in an obscure corner of the Aladdin’s (soon-to-be Planet Hollywood’s) Desert Passage mall. It’s a Brazilian Grille, and it works like this. Your waiter brings you a basket of appetizers (fried banana, falafel, and pão de queijo—really too good to pass up), and then you start with a visit to the cold bar. They had plenty of healthy, high-fiber/low-fat salad-type things there, as well as , olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and other common South Beach ingredients that pleased us mightily.

When you’re ready to move on to the meat, you flip over a little card on your table, and then waiters start appearing at your elbow every few minutes bearing long skewers of freshly grilled meats; you can choose any or all, and they just keep coming back until you decide to call it quits. We had several kinds of steak, chicken, and turkey—all of which were outstanding. We passed on the pork, sausage, and duck (though I’m sure they would have been delicious too) because of the higher fat content. I lost track of how many different meat varieties we were offered, but it was a lot, and the quality was outstanding.

The price was quite reasonable to start with, and we found a coupon in the back of one of our in-room magazines that gave us, I think, $5 or $10 off per person. (We did pay for drinks and an irresistible dessert—the Chocolate Eruption Cake—but they were worth it.) We left feeling very satisfied, but having consumed only a tiny amount of starches overall. I couldn’t believe how few people were there: this place deserves to be packed every night.

I should mention, by the way, that most of the buffets in Vegas can be quite diet-friendly, as long as you’re able to exercise self-control. We saw roasted turkey, all the good fresh vegetables and salad stuff, and even a selection of sugar-free desserts. As long as you don’t eat all you can, you can do pretty well.

We also walked by the empty lot that was once the site of the Westward Ho Hotel and Casino—and home of the . We observed a moment of silence in its memory.

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