Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tomato Love, Interrupted

This is a post about consuming food. Not eating it mind you, but consuming it. There's a difference. Stay with me.

In the early-eighties, I read an article in Harper's (or was it Atlantic?) about the evolution of American agriculture as it specifically related to the tomato.

The article detailed how tomatoes had become big business, and as such were too important to be left to the vagaries of nature. Management was required. And as a result, modern tomatoes bore only a faint resemblance to their previously unmanaged selves.

They shipped better. Lasted longer on store shelves. Were uniform in their appearance. More disease-resistant. And most importantly, matured faster.

Now, that is wonderful stuff. Seriously. I mean, who wants a tomato that can't hack a week in a produce bin? Or whose delicate sensibilities are offended by seventy-two hours in the back of a truck?

Not me.

But unless you're a businessman, you may notice one glaring flaw. One big, giant omission: taste. As in, how did they?

Oh. Yeah. That. Well...we're working on it.

So. We were left with tomatoes that resisted disease and lasted longer on store shelves and were uniform in appearance, but really didn't taste that great. The juicy tomatoes which practically demanded to be eaten in a bath tub appeared to be a relic of my long-ago youth.

Which is why an article in the Chicago Tribune on a Rockford-based tomato-grower named Mighty Vine aroused such interest. They were dedicated to growing tomatoes that possessed, in addition to the many fine qualities imbued by corporate farms, taste.

Could the notion of a functioning congress be more radical?

All was well for several weeks. They were available at the local chain grocery store and I willingly coughed-up a little more than normal for these blood-red beauties. I had forgotten what it was like to slice a tomato and leave a small puddle of juice behind.

They immediately made salads more vibrant. On hamburgers, their undiluted tomatoness paired perfectly with a slice of raw onion, thankfully rendering ketchup irrelevant. Hell, they made everything better.

And then they were gone.

I'm guessing you know this game. It's hide and seek turned inside-out. You search for a product, enjoy it and then the manufacturer/distributor/wholesaler or retailer hides it.

Be it Iguana Foods chile rellenos, the Moroccan marinade I used on pork chops, Pepper Jack Doritos, Whole Foods garlic and Parmesan bread, Mars Bars or Palermo's far too briefly available frozen flatbread pizza topped with pesto and mozzarella, if there's something manufacturers suspect I (and perhaps you) enjoy it will be made unavailable before you've stuffed the grocery receipt in your pocket.

(While not entirely edible, I'm wondering how the Suzuki Kizashi departed these shores without me ever buying one.)

MBAs with too little to do have identified a certain personality type prone to this experience. What they haven't figured out is how not to sell to us. Which in turn raises another question: how will they know when to discontinue it?

So while I am driven to the edges of starvation, the shelves at my favorite grocer remain stuffed with far too many varieties of chicken sausage, gluten-free tea, turkey bacon, wasabi-flavored corn nuts, coconut water and the always-execrable mayonnaise.

Worse is the understanding that by not buying them, I am perpetuating their availability. Must this be so difficult? So horribly and sickeningly twisted?

I remind myself this is about unavailable tomatoes—not a lifetime of grocery store angst. I need to focus. I fight-off memories of Home Run Inn's Plum Tomato pizza and contact Mighty Vine, determined that these won't slip through my fingers also.

The good news is that they haven't ceased production. They are merely rebooting and should be back in my favorite chain grocery store shortly.

My jaundiced skepticism of business-speak and public relations propaganda magically falls away as I begin to understand that these juicy red orbs will again re-enter my life.

Such is the power of the liberated tomato.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Reasonable Crime

I don't often relate to criminal activity, which is probably one of the reasons I have been able to remain blissfully ignorant of all things prison. But the actions of Dany Y. Ortiz are different.

Like you and me, Mr. Ortiz loves pizza. And again like you and me, he wasn't able to have it as often as he would like. Being the motivated individual that he is, Dany discovered the path to more pizza lay in removing spare change from parked cars.

Before you rise up in righteous indignation, know that Dany didn't take your lap-top. Or your tablet. Or your cell phone. No. Dany just wanted your tollway change—for pizza.

Who among us can't find it in our hearts to understand these powerful gastronomical longings? The incessant urges that would drive a man to pilfer loose coinage from a stilled automobile?

I do. I have felt the power of this lust myself ladies and gentlemen. Stood naked and helpless in its attraction. 

And I am not ashamed.

I know only too well the feel of a warm slice of pizza on my fingertips. The gorgeous, diabolical promise being offered as I bring it to my mouth. The comforting crunch that accompanies the first bite. 

The riotous symphony of warm, gooey cheese, fresh-baked crust, herb-laden tomato sauce and smokey pepperoni my overwhelmed taste buds struggle to take in.

I chew again, pressing the luminous and erotic mix of flavors into my sensory organs. Take! Eat! For thine art pizza! Behold thy glory! Know thy power! Remember the pizza and keep it holy!

"Take a chill pill" my dining companions sometimes suggest. 

But there is no chill pill for pizza. Ask Mr. Ortiz.

Those schooled in the fine art of geometry have attempted to instill in me the belief that a circle has no beginning and no end. That it is, in a sense, infinite.

And yet, as someone schooled in the fine art of pizza, I can assert with some authority that a pizza is not infinite. It has a beginning, a middle and sadly, an end. The emotional devastation that accompanies a pizza pan suddenly bereft of its reason for being is the proof.

As any mathematician worth his or her mozzarella should be able to tell you, the end is, well, the end. Despite its shape, pizza is finite.

This is the lurid and unspeakable truth behind Dany Y. Ortiz's depravity.

Let me be the first to petition the court for leniency. It was not the dark force of evil that propelled Dany to perform these acts, but a mere longing for the multi-faceted deliciousness that is pizza. Is this not entirely and easily understood?

We need to advocate for this young man, not punish him. If punitive action is called for, if only to satisfy the victims of these insignificant thefts, let us create a charge as benign as their motivation.

Does the justifiable pilfering of unsecured coins work?

And if the court finds that incarceration is indeed required, I beg of you: let it be a facility within the delivery zone of a four-star pizzeria.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


When it's not baseball season, the Chicago Bulls are my favorite team. I have lived and died with them repeatedly. The way all fans do.

Dating back to the days of Walker, Boerwinkle, Love, Van Lier and Sloan, I have relished their traditional emphasis on defense, and was thrilled to see it resurrected twenty years later, headed by some kid from North Carolina whose name escapes me at present.

Another twenty years later, hope again spiraled out of control when a young nucleus of Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah produced the NBA's best record over the course of the 2010/11 season. 

It was hard to believe the glory days weren't back.

Of course, the season's first three and four-game losing streaks in the midst of the Eastern Conference Finals put an end to that. Add a career-altering knee injury to Rose one year later, and the glory days were something for other people to enjoy.

In other words, the ephemeral and capricious nature of championships had become startlingly and painfully clear.

With that team now scattered to the four winds, the rebuilding has begun anew—kind of.

With a stated goal of becoming younger and more athletic, the Bulls used this year's first-round draft pick on Denzel Valentine, a talented and promising guard from Michigan State.


Then free-agency opened. You should know the Bulls have done notoriously poorly for a team of their renown, with just Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol to show for their extracurricular wooing.

Until this year.

The Bulls have evidently changed course, and decided they're a team on the cusp of a championship. In one week, they have successfully pursued (and signed) thirty-year-old Rajon Rondo and thirty-four year-old Dwyane Wade.

Now, Mr. Wade is a player as talented as his name is misspelled. A sure-fire Hall of Famer. The winner of three NBA championships. The lineage is faultless.

Mr. Rondo is also highly regarded, named to numerous all-star teams and the winner of an NBA championship with the vaunted Boston Celtics. He is a triple-double waiting to happen.

Either could be the tipping point that pushes a team on the verge into serious contention.

But the Bulls aren't. In the words of GM Gar Forman, they're retooling. Getting younger. More athletic. Aren't they? 

It's hard to see how the additions of two guards in their thirties constitutes a youth movement, unless we're competing in an over-fifty league at the YMCA.

The glut at guard is unfathomable. Do the Bulls have a secret? Are they going to trade Jimmy Butler? Move him to small forward?

Who knows.

It's hard to admit The Man matters. But he does. Look at the Cubs under the custody of Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein. I can only hope the Bulls' brain trust of John Paxson and Gar Forman knows what the hell they're doing.

Jerry Reinsdorf obviously does.

But as the folk who let Deng, Gasol and Noah walk away virtually scot-free, and who replaced one of the league's premier coaches with an untested—but servile—lapcat, you have ample reason to wonder.

And I do.