Articles / Bitty vs. The Oscars, Plus: Reruns are Fun!

Bitty vs. The Oscars, Plus: Reruns are Fun!

Published January 25, 2023

David Sedaris, environmentally friendly coffee, and amatriciana


Hey, friends. It’s Wednesday, which means it’s Food with Mark Bittman day, and we thought it’d be fun to rerun one of our all-time most popular episodes, which is, unsurprisingly, with adored writer funnyman David Sedaris.

“When I cook, I want to put everything in the oven, and then I want to take a bath for half an hour, and then when I get out of the tub I want everything to be ready.” — David Sedaris

Our interview with Sedaris was a while back, and since some of you may have missed it — or want to revisit it — and because David has since published a book, last year, Happy-Go-Lucky, which has a terrifying cover, by the way, we thought we’d revisit his episode.

Sedaris and I talked about bathing while cooking (him), growing up with a dad who came to the dinner table basically naked every night (him), and the do’s and don’ts of Jell-O (also him). It’s a beaut. 

Please listen and subscribe, and please review on Apple if you’re so inclined. Thanks for listening — and read on for this week’s links.

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CHECK IT OUT

*** This article from the Washington Post is headed, “Single-use coffee pods have surprising environmental benefits over other brewing methods.” Well, not surprising, because they barely have any coffee in them. I wrote a piece for one of our earlier newsletter forms that noted that if you want to get good coffee out of a pod, you have to use two pods per cup. I learned this strategy while spending my time at the Times, which had those odd envelope coffee machines; two envelopes make much better coffee than one. Just as two teabags are better than one, unless you like weak tea.

This Post article notes that instant coffee may be the most environmentally friendly. Actually, the best part of the piece was the original sub-head: “Less coffee = fewer emissions.” Since they changed the sub-head, I guess some editor understood that this is the kind of thinking that leads people to become breatharians, or to argue that the world would be a better place without humans. This might be true, but think of all the beauty (and the coffee!) we’d miss.

*** I don’t want you to read this link – it’s about an internet shitstorm in which yet another extremely flawed analysis of food quality was propelled by a combination of ignorance, malevolence, and naivete into a center stage “example” of how nutrition “experts” are getting it wrong and how government is trying to sabotage our diet. Which, don’t get me wrong, is true enough – they do get it wrong, and they do sabotage our diet — but that’s not the point. The point is that whenever you see a nutrition system, the best thing to do is to avert your gaze and study something else. Oh, a tree! A poem! A child! A hockey game! You will learn more about life from any of those than from a system of nutritional analysis.

Nutrients matter, of course, but not as much as the answer to the question “Is It Food?” If it’s food, which is most easily defined as “stuff they ate before the twentieth century,” or “stuff you can grow yourself, or you can make with things that other people grow without first altering them much,” then it’s probably good for you, at least in moderate quantities. If it’s junk, or ultraprocessed food, or an “edible food-like substance,” then just don’t do it. (Of course almost all of us have cravings, but these must be somehow controlled.) Thus Lucky Charms may contain more nutrients than a banana, but we all know which is the better food.

I could go on. But the federal government has never gotten food recommendations right because half of USDA’s mission is to sell the stuff that American farmers grow, and the other half is to tell us what a good diet is. And the stuff that American farmers grow is often processed into junk. So to the naked eye it appears that USDA is confused, or evil, but it’s just doing its job. Its sister agency, the FDA, is responsible for food labeling, but is so busy trying to if not please than at least not piss off its corporate friends (it is an agency linked to the corporate world by one big revolving door) that it can’t simply print on the labels of ultraprocessed food, “Consider buying a bunch of grapes or some rice or really anything that’s actual food instead of this.” Which would be the honest way to go about it, instead of saying “Honey Nut Cheerios have more nutrients than broccoli … draw your own conclusions.” Which is just about the message we get.

All of this, except the recent brouhaha, is discussed in greater detail in my book, Animal, Vegetable, Junk, which many people found worth reading. (Here’s the Times review.)

*** I like this piece very much: No one is safe until everyone is safe. It’s by a former archbishop of Canterbury, FWIW.

COOK IT

For the first time in a little while, I cooked for myself exactly once this week. Sunday I was traveling, and my kind and wonderful and talented partner

Kathleen cooked for me when I got home. Monday, we went to see Descendant, which is too complex for me to write about right now, but which is on Netflix and you should watch next time you feel like learning something about racial and environmental history and justice while also admiring the strength of many humans. (For some reason beyond me, it was not Oscar-nominated, but it is Bitty-nominated, which is more important, really.) Also worth noting is that some of its wonderful music was written and performed by one of our podcast guests from last year, Rhiannon Giddens. We then ate in a bar.

Tuesday Kathleen and I took Kate and Nick to Porterhouse for a birthday celebration, and the food was good and we ate way too much. Wednesday a friend who shall remain nameless took me to a restaurant which shall remain nameless that was candidly terrible; the rapidly declining quality of many restaurants might be worth writing about at some point, but not now. Thursday … what was Thursday? … we got take-out. No excuse; I got home late from NY, or something. Friday, we went to Boston, visiting daughters and friends and partners there and en route, we ate in an oddly enjoyable restaurant. Saturday I was home alone and cooked. As is often the case, when alone and watching football (tragic Giants football, in this case), I made pasta. One of my favorites.

In fact – stop me if you’ve heard this one – the first time I went to Rome, in 1976, I was instructed by friends who’d been there to try the amazing dish called spaghetti carbonara, and when I got there, a new Roman friend told me, “Yes, that’s very good, but it’s not as good as bucatini amatriciana.” So just in case you don’t know it. (This recipe is adapted from the most recent version of How to Cook Everything.)

Bucatini (or Rigatoni) Amatriciana

Makes: 1 serving, multiply as you like
Time: 30 minutes, max

Ingredients:

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • A small handful –two ounces or so, or 50 to 75 grams, of guanciale (best) or pancetta (good) or even bacon (a good substitute, if not too sweet), chopped

  • 1 ½ cups chopped tomatoes (let’s say two or three tomatoes—I got mine from the freezer—or 1 small can diced)

  • 100 grams (roughly 4 ounces) rigatoni

  • 1/2 onion, chopped

  • 1 dried red chile

  • Grated pecorino Romano cheese, optional

Instructions:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put the oil and meat in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta is crisp and browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set it aside. In the juices left behind, add the onion and chile and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is quite soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, with their liquid, and cook, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the sauce become too thick, but reduce it so that it’s no longer watery.

2. When the sauce is just about there – figure 10 to 15 minutes, Cook the pasta until it’s tender but not mushy. Add the meat back to the sauce.

3. Drain the pasta, toss it with the sauce (you can undercook the pasta very slightly and finish cooking it in the sauce if you like, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if necessary) Taste and adjust the seasonings; sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper. Add cheese if you like (I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is traditional), and serve.

The Best.

— Recipe adapted from How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition

Bucatini (or Rigatoni) Amatriciana
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