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Airplane Food, Netherlands, March 18, 2004 There wasn't really a non-stop flight option from Seattle to Italy so we had to pick a spot to stop. We ended up flying on Northwest/KLM through Amsterdam to Rome. I have tried to be disciplined about not asking you to spend your valuable time listening  to me complain about airline food. Anyone who deems themselves good enough to get on stage at amateur night in their local comedy club has already covered that material in detail. However, when you eat something good on an airplane you should call it out.

Airline meals are constrained by a series of challenges. You can't really cook anything on the plane, so all food must be made in advance. And then the airline equipment for cooling and heating food appears to have only two settings - frostbite cold, and corona hot. Invariably the wilted lettuce of your salad has some crystallized ice on it, and your hot "entree" looks like the surface of another planet. Just wait a few minutes and both will arrive at a more reasonable temperature. Unfortunately the food doesn't get any better in that time.

And sure enough, our flight from Seattle to Amsterdam on Northwest had absolutely vile food. For some reason, despite the limitations, airlines insist (or customers demand) facsimiles of meals that should only be cooked in a real kitchen. Not warmed in an airplane galley. And yet, why is it that with non-U.S. airlines, I always have (and am often rewarded with) better quality plane food? I can't help but suspect it has something to do with the American obsession around quantity over quality. But whatever the reason, I always expect it to be better on flights originating outside the U.S. Not great food, but at least not completely atrocious. Our flight from Amsterdam to Rome didn't disappoint.

They served us a simple breakfast. There was a box with pre-packaged fruit, yogurt, and muffin. O.K. The fruit was gross, and the cold muffin was too, but the yogurt was fine. But that wasn't the highlight, they also handed out from a basket what they called "cheese blintzes". In actuality they were smaller than fist-size medium brown soft rolls covered with a variety of yummy seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.). In the middle of the bread was a slice of good tasting cheese. And the entire thing had been melted. Basically a simple grilled cheese sandwich, without the grilling, with a half-decent cheese, and a roll with nuts on it for flavor contrast to the cheese. Now this was something the heatboxes on an airplane could cook well. And these simple sandwiches were absolutely delicious. Why airlines think I want some horrifying approximation of pancakes, western omelet, and sausage instead of a simpler dish that might actually taste good, I don't know. Airlines should go with the strengths of their environment as opposed to trying to mask its weaknesses. And by the way, if my flight had departed from an American city, then my "cheese blintz" would have been a slice of orange American Cheese molten between two soggy pieces of a cheap variation on Wonder Bread. Yuck.

One summer at summer camp at a certain point we got sick of the food being served in the cafeteria. We had a popcorn popper in our bunk. This wasn't an air popper, but the old kind that had a hot surface onto which you put oil, and then your unpopped kernels. We improvised and used it as a frying pan to make tuna melts. After stealing butter, bread, cheese, and tuna fish from the kitchen, we had some of the most golden and perfect tasting tuna melts I have ever eaten. All made in our  popcorn popper. Bottom line: go with your strengths, and something edible may emerge.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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