Thursday, April 21, 2011


* I've really tired of hearing about the supposed cilantro gene. It's like the new version of that factoid about the tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy, which by the way isn't true. Blaming everything on a gene feels like the worst kind of pseudoscience to me and I look forward to it going the way of phrenology. John used to hate cilantro and now he likes it. I strongly suspect that many of the people who believe they are genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro are from the Northeast or Midwest, where cilantro is a relatively new ingredient, used improperly and frequently not fresh. (The cilantro I get in Boston is significantly less delicious than what I get in Texas, by the way; same with tomatoes. This means the low-rent pico de gallo sitting out at Taco Cabana in El Paso is probably better than what you get at a nice restaurant up here.) People in the Southwest and California like cilantro because they've been eating it for years the way it was meant to be eaten. (My roommate in college was from outside Austin and disliked cilantro, but she also only ate the whitish part of watermelon and the stalks of broccoli. She was picky and I imagine her tastes have evolved.)

* About a month ago I went into Frivolous Spending Lockdown. But I totally cheated yesterday and bought some perfume. You see, I was at a party on Saturday and met someone who asked me if I'd been to that great new perfume shop on Milk Street. What?! What great new perfume shop on Milk Street?? I had to go, you see; I had to. It was indeed pretty great, and I bought some shit:
  • A big bottle of YSL Nu, a discontinued woody incense scent I've been hearing a lot about lately (see Bois de Jasmin's recent review). There was no tester, but the owner opened it up for me so I could smell it. It's great, and to my nose very similar to Ormonde Jayne Woman in the top notes.
  • A bottle of Giorgio Armani Sensi, which I became semi-obsessed with for about 24 hours a little while back, after watching this video and asking Brian about it. Since he owns every perfume in the universe, he of course just goes to his cabinet and sprays it on and proceeds to tell me how nice it is. (His exact words were "Oh wow I forget how gorgeous this stuff is. It seems soft but is strangely present. It's really lovely.") At the time, I did an online search and only found a three-piece set for $729.99. The Perfumed Court didn't even carry it. Now, however, it looks like a bunch of bottles have flooded the discount market again. Anyway, it's nice, a buttery jasmine floriental, and it may yet explode in value again.
  • A small purse spray of Safari, which is one of the few perfumes I have always remembered the smell of clearly, even though I never owned or wore it. It had a serious cultural moment in the mid to late 80s, and was pretty ubiquitous. Somehow its floral chypre structure just burned itself in my brain. I didn't like it when I was 7 or whatever, but was able to say with confidence I would like it now, even after 20 years of not seeing or smelling it anywhere. It reminds me very much of the previous incarnation of Banana Republic, back when they were catering to a more outdoorsy, outfitter sensibility.
  • A very small bottle of Paco Rabanne pour Homme. I consider cheap, small bottles of classics completely outside of the realm of frivolous spending and permissable in all cases.
In my defense I did pass on many bottles that interested me: a bottle of Jolie Madame of uncertain vintage, Balenciaga Le Dix, Gucci II edp (which I will probably buy eventually; this is just as TS described it, a sweet pink floral with a big savory sage note), Demeter Tomato (passed because he only had ginormous bottles and I'm sure I could get a tiny one online for about $3), etc.


  1. I can attest that cilantro makes everything taste like soap. I don't care how fresh it is. When I did food writing, I tried to write around that horrible taste when a chef included it, but I never could quite get over it. And the way it lingers...
    When I lived in San Diego, I was constantly taking it off my food. It is a terrible, terrible herb. But I don't know if that's my DNA talking. The only other flavor I really hate is black truffle.
    I am also a supertaster - do you think that has something to do with it?

  2. cilantro is that stuff they put in the rice at chipotle. tastes good to me! maybe the soap taste is covered up by the rest of the burrito?

  3. Do you hate coffee and green vegetables? Don't supertasters think those things taste bitter?

    This NYT article has tips on getting over the soap association with cilantro:

  4. i am so easily influenced! this makes me want to go to this shop right this instant (i like that it's on a street called milk).

  5. As am I, clearly. I highly recommend it (it's called The Perfume Corner). And everything is very affordable, assuming you're not on Lockdown like me.

  6. I do like cilantro now, Elisa!!! Old cilantro still smells like dirty dishwater, but I've evolved to love it fresh. Still prefer the stalks to the florets, and hate ANY overripe fruit, though. There may be something to the supertaster thing--I'm sure you recall I have always hated coffee. Congrats on Best Poet, btw!!!! xoxo K8

  7. Kate!!!! Ha ha ha, that is wonderful, thank you for the update on your feelings about cilantro. I had a feeling you might have converted over. What about raw tomatoes? :) And yes, could never forget about the coffee thing OR your belief that ripe fruit is in fact "overripe." LOVE YOU!

  8. I'm getting there on raw tomatoes. I grow them now in my garden, and while I still won't just slice one up and eat it (well, maybe a slice of a Lemon Boy, they are fantastic), I love a chopped Roma on pasta or in pico. I like some greens now too, like chard and collards, if prepared well. No mushrooms yet (I still try them once a year, just to check. Maybe 2011??) LOVE to you too! xoxo

  9. Oh that's right, mushrooms were a no-go too. Anyway it sounds like you've made real progress. :) Maybe I'll see you for our 10-year reunion? Yes, holy christ, 2012 will be 10 years...

  10. Shit, didn't our 10 year high school reunions just happen? Anyway, yes a million times yes I will come if you will. Really anytime you are in TX (well, perhaps not El Paso, doesn't really count!), let me know and we'll try and get together. You have two kidlets to meet!

  11. This supertaster thing is fascinating to me -- this is the first time I've encountered the word.

    I also find that many green vegetables taste bitter to me (broccoli, spinach, etc.), though I do like asparagus. I don't actually know if I think coffee tastes bitter -- I've never drunk coffee, not so much as a sip. It always smells like I wouldn't like it -- it smells bitter. (The three or four times I've tasted tea I didn't care for it, tasted too bitter.)

    Same with raw tomatoes, though I'm slowly creeping up on them. Mushrooms are okay, though it took me a long time to come to like them.

    Years ago I knew a man who was a professor of Genetics and Cell Biology at the U. of Minnesota. He taught a class called Heredity and Human Society, which was all about the uses and misuses of labeling human traits as "genetic" or "hereditary." In a conversation once, he said that to prove scientifically that a particular trait is genetic in origin, two kinds of proof are needed:

    1. You need to show that the trait recurs in succeeding generations with mathematical predictability, allowing for standard variables and margin for error -- the old fruitfly experiments of many years back;

    2. You need to show the specific detailed chemical pathway that causes the trait in question: the specific change in the DNA, that causes the change in the RNA, that causes the change in the three-dimensional structure of the cell molecules in the affected parts of the body, which manifest as the physical trait.

    One example he gave was how a particular change in a certain gene starts a series of chemical changes in the body that result in the substitution of two specific proteins in the hemoglobin molecule (two proteins out of several hundred) with two other specific proteins, which causes the hemoglobin molecule to be shaped differently, which causes the red blood cells to be shaped differently -- the condition known as sickle cell anemia.

    He said that some people make the mistake of assuming that the first kind of proof alone is sufficient -- they assume that if a person shares some trait (e.g. mathemical ability or musical ability or whatever) with other family members, then it must be genetically caused; but, without also identifying the specific chemical origin of a trait, then you haven't proven it's genetic, and it could be caused by any number of other (environmental) factors.

    I saw a T.V. news story a couple of years ago about research that had identified a similar chemical pathway from DNA to the taste buds, which results in some people (people who have the gene) having a particular taste receptor on some of their taste buds -- which people without the gene don't have -- that causes broccoli (among other things) to taste bitter. The research found that if one of a person's parents has the gene, it's likely that the person will find broccoli and similar foods somewhat bitter; if both parents have the gene, it's likely that the person will find broccoli etc. very bitter.

  12. Good information Lyle -- I think we have a tendency to assume everything has a genetic cause because the people around us (be it our family or other Americans) are experiencing the same things, but environmental causes could explain the phenomena just as well.

  13. Dear Elisa,
    I love the taste of coffee, but admit to preferring it with milk and sugar, like a good cup of Cuban coffee or cafe au lait, and hate how bitter the espresso is at Starbucks.
    I love green veggies but also admit to flavoring them up - for instance, I used to cook brussel sprouts in orange juice and like sweeter things like a little balsamic or orange vinegar on my asparagus.
    It's weird that I like the smell of fresh cilantro, but that taste is just awful, awful, spit it out of my mouth bad. The worst I ever had was a broiled piece of salmon with a pretentious "rhubarb and cilantro" foam. First of all, they shouldn't have ruined a good piece of salmon with a weird foam like tht, and second, rhubarb and cilantro? Just a terrible combination. I still get nauseous thinking about it, and I ate it like ten years ago.
    I can taste differences in tap water really strongly - not sure why that is - too. California's water was a mess, even when I ran through a filter. Washington water is better, though the best I've ever had was up in Whistler.
    This has been an odd digression from your friendly neighborhood supertaster. (I knew I had a superpower with all those mutations!)

  14. I hate the foam trend. Keep your foam off my food.

    I also always drink my coffee with cream and sugar and prefer medium roast to really burnt French roast type stuff, and I love sweet flavors as a complement to my vegetables, but I don't think of that as a supertaster thing -- I think I just prefer bitterness in balance with other flavors, as opposed to straight.

  15. Austin city water is soooo good. When we lived in our apartment in Austin city limits, my sister used to come fill jugs from our sinks so she didn't have to drink her Pflugerville water. Now that we're in Cedar Park, it's OK, but I often think longingly of Austin water.

  16. Kate is your email address still the same? I sent a note to your gmail account yesterday :)

  17. Cilantro is deeeeeelicious: and I love how it is essential to numerous geographically distant cuisines: Mexican, Indian, eg. I've never understood the cilantro as soap trope. I fairly recently ordered a beet salad with kumquats and endive and charmoula and there were leaves of cilantro and I wouldn't of thought beets and endive wld work with it, but mmmmm it did!

    LOL: I am cool with foam; I think it may work better than "air," which although it's tres more contemporary doesn't have enough substance.......tho I suspect in the hands of a genius it cld be superfly.

    I am quite sad that I will not get the chance to eat at El Buili now that it's closed!

    I am very pro pomo food: WD 50 in NYC!

  18. Congrats on the Boston honor, Elisa. Wow, I've never heard of anyone -- well, at least a Westerner -- who hasn't at least tried coffee. Anyway, I had a question: is there a market for old perfume, like a collectible. Would an unopened bottle of Sensi "trade" somewhere, as you see at wine auctions?

  19. Rare perfumes can go for a pretty penny on eBay for sure.

  20. Adam, I love it too. Ever since my first encounter with it.

  21. Cilantro tastes like soap. I've never been to a restaurant fancy enough to encounter foam on anything. I've become addicted to Bustelo Cuban espresso which is the smoothest espresso in the entire world. I had some really great espresso at The Farm in Portlandia before a reading and was unhappyily surprised to find out what too much caffeine can do to your voice/throat/vocal chords. I couldn't help it though. And they kept bringing me free shots.

    I still wear the same perfume I did 20 years ago even though I tried that one I told you about. I am babbling. Hmm. I watched The Tourist and it was terrible and I watched The Social Network and it so sucked and I watched Marwencol maybe 15 times and I can't believe how amazing it was is.

    I'm going crazy.


  22. ps. I forgot to add that I fell asleep during The King's Speech.

  23. Heh, we tried to watch The King's Speech last night and I went to sleep after 10 minutes. Oscar bait!

  24. I haven't had any great urge to see The King's Speech -- I've had the feeling that once you've seen the trailers in the ads (plus whatever clips they've shown when the cast members have been on talk shows) you've pretty much seen the movie.

    I just saw Super, the current/recent movie where Rainn Wilson plays a kind of homemade low-budget super-hero and Ellen Page plays his sidekick. I had hopes for it, and it was okay, though not as good as I'd hoped. The acting was generally good -- Rainn Wilson was well-cast for the part, Ellen Page was outstanding, Kevin Bacon did nicely as a quietly menacing bad guy. (Liv Tyler played a character who's supposed to be a sensitive insecure drug addict, though the script didn't give her much to do besides look hurt and stumble around groggy.) I was thinking the movie would be a comedy, and it has funny moments, though toward the end it becomes deadly serious and tragic and highly violent.