Jared Diamond Warned Us....
Also, a great recipe for this moment and a very fun vintage menu.
I just read this extremely alarming piece about the imminent collapse of the global food system. It made me think about a talk I gave in 1992, when I was asked to introduce Jared Diamond who was being honored with the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for The Third Chimpanzee. It’s a wonderful book - readable and witty - with a contrarian viewpoint. Diamond sees agriculture as the root of all human evil and argues that civilizations have, throughout history, been capable of depleting the environment so thoroughly that they never recover. At the time the book left me feeling hopeful that we were capable of change, but at this grim moment that is looking wildly optimistic.
This is what you learn from Jared Diamond’s book: Everything you think you know about the world is wrong. In his universe monkeys talk, elephants draw, ducks are rapists and ants take each other as slaves.
Diamond begins with the premise that we are basically chimpanzees - more like chimpanzees than chimpanzees are like other apes. He then sets out to explore what it is that makes us different. It is not a very pretty picture - and it flies in the face of most accepted wisdom.
We learn that the popular notion of man the hunter as a moving force of evolution may be correct - but only because we have been our own prey. Remember noble savages living in balance with nature? Forget them; human beings have systematically driven other species into extinction and destroyed our own environment. This is a vision of paradises continually lost through deforestation and erosion.
Diamond takes what have generally been considered the great human advances and turns them on their head. He argues, convincingly, that hunter gatherers were both healthier and happier than we are. Agriculture, he thinks, has sown the seeds of human destruction. “Forced to choose between limiting population growth and trying to increase food production, we opted for the later and ended up with starvation, warfare and tyranny. The same choice faces us today - with the difference that we can now learn from the past.”
And that is, ultimately, what is so remarkable about this book. Having walked with us through all of human history, Jared Diamond finds reasons to be hopeful about the future. His greatest achievement is probably that his wonderful book manages to make you hopeful too.
The third Chimpanzee is a powerful plea for ecology - and an argument for humanity. The clock is ticking away as we keep edging closer to our own destruction. But you find yourself putting the book down and thinking how interesting life is - how much there is to learn - and how much fun it would be to study linguistics and archeology and zoology. Above all you find yourself thinking that a chimpanzee smart enough to produce this book really ought to be capable of saving himself - and the earth.
It’s been a dispiriting week. A little indulgence is in order. I think we all need some hot fudge poured over vanilla ice cream.
There are hundreds of perfect pairings—bacon and eggs, peanut butter and jelly, rice and beans—but none is as wonderful as the pure black and white simplicity of hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. It has everything going for it.
Hot and cold. Black and white. Sticky and smooth. But best of all is the way hot fudge makes vanilla ice cream taste more like vanilla, and vanilla ice cream makes the densest hot fudge reveal new aspects of its personality.
Making hot fudge is easy. Nothing you can do in the kitchen offers bigger rewards for so little effort. As for ice cream, there are many excellent brands out there, but ice cream is always at its best when it is freshly made. Here are the steps to sundae heaven.
Use the best, deepest, densest chocolate you can find. In this case, better really is better. You also need cocoa powder for that fudgy taste.
And you need a little bit of instant espresso. Coffee has the magical ability to make chocolate taste more like chocolate. A little pinch of instant espresso powder makes the chocolate flavor leap right to the forefront (and you will never taste the coffee).
Corn syrup has a bad reputation, but you really do need it to give your hot fudge body, shine, and smoothness. Why? Because corn syrup is an invert sugar, which means that it prevents sugar crystals from forming as it cooks.
Whipped cream? Nuts? Cherries? Up to you, of course, but why mess with perfection?
2/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 pinch salt
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix the cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, salt and cocoa powder together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Add half the chocolate and stir, over medium heat, until the chocolate is melted. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth.
Add the butter, remaining chocolate, vanilla and coffee and keep stirring, off the heat, until it is smooth and shiny.
Pour it over vanilla ice cream and revel in the flavor. Or let it cool and keep it, in a covered jar in the refrigerator, for up to a couple of weeks. Makes about 2½ cups
Vanilla Ice Cream (this is David Leibovitz’ excellent recipe)
Makes about 1 quart
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups whipping cream
5 large egg yolks
Stir the sugar and salt into the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. With a small knife, slit the vanilla bean open and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture. Throw in the bean pod as well. When it is warm, cover the pan, take it off the heat, and let it sit for an hour so that the milk soaks up all the vanilla flavor.
Make an ice bath by putting a small bowl inside a large one that is filled, about half way, with an ice and water mixture. Put the cream into the small bowl to keep it cold.
Gently stir the yolks in a small bowl to combine. Reheat the milk, very gently, pour a bit of the warm into the yolks, whisking constantly, and then pour the now warm yolks into the milk in the pan.
Cook, over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat a spatula.
Put a strainer over the bowl of chilled cream and slowly strain the yolk/milk custard into the cream. Stir over the ice until it is cold, and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, until it is completely cold. Longer is better.
Take the vanilla bean out of the mixture and freeze the ice cream in an ice cream maker. Serve right away for the softest, creamiest texture.
I’ve written about this before, but I’m mentioning mango puree again because I love it so much - and if you have any desire to try it, you should probably not wait. India, the world’s largest producer of mangos (they produce more than half of the world’s mangoes), has been devastated by climate change-related problems which has severely damaged the current crop. Read about it here.
There are 1500 varieties of mangos, but the Alphonso is considered the best. This organic puree from Pure Indian Foods contains nothing but mangoes (they say there are about 5 in each jar). There are many ways to use it, but mostly I keep a jar in the refrigerator so I can have a couple spoonfuls whenever I’m craving something sweet. It’s incredibly refreshing. I’ve just ordered enough to see me through the summer.
This long-gone restaurant called itself “America’s Happiest Institution”. After the horror of the last week, I figured we could all use a little happiness.
Les Comiques was in the Hollywood Plaza Hotel, which sat near the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. The hotel was very popular with actors and musicians; Bette Davis lived there with her mother when she first arrived in Los Angeles, and it was also Ava Gardner’s first Hollywood home. Other famous guests included Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Gleason, Harry James… And in the thirties George Burns’ office was in the hotel. The menu below is from 1944.