2014's fast food atrocities
Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.
I don’t like to lie to my children, I really don’t. Lying is wrong, plus I have never been able to keep my own stories straight. So what do I do when my little ones ask me if Santa is real? I say yes. I know, many of you would say that this response constitutes lying. But I love seeing my kids’ excitement on Christmas Eve when they leave a plate of cookies for Santa, along with a handwritten note and a drawing. It won’t last long, their belief in Santa, and I want to hold onto this innocent part of their childhood for as long as I can.
Santa’s cookies usually include a combination of store-bought and homemade. The holidays bring out everyone’s inner baker. Some families have traditional recipes handed down through the generations. For others, it may be as simple as slicing and baking pre-made refrigerated cookie dough. Some communities host elaborate cookie exchanges, and this can lead to the establishment of temporary cookie-baking sweatshops in previously peaceful kitchens. Baking Christmas cookies is all about sharing and tradition, and a whole lot of butter, sugar and flour.
Instead of baking cookies for Christmas, the Mexican tradition is to make and share tamales. It’s a laborious task best shared by many hands, and what better excuse is there to sit around for hours sharing gossip? The traditional Christmastime tamale-making party is known as a tamalada navideña. My fellow SKC enthusiast, Gavin Fritton, shared an excellent depiction of the tamale-making gatherings in his family. In Mexico and in other parts of Latin America, tamales are eaten throughout the year, but they have a special place during the Christmas season. They are traditionally eaten during the religious rituals known as posadas, the reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem that take place in the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve. They are also eaten on Epiphany, or El Dia de Reyes, which follows Christmas.
For years, I’ve been the enthusiastic recipient of a one-way Christmas tamale exchange with my Mexican-America neighbor, Teresa. You may remember her from when I wrote about her recipe for the best rice pudding on Earth. In addition to being honorary Abuela to my girls and an ever-ready and experienced source of advice, Teresa is a wonderful cook of homestyle Mexican food. It’s hard to be grumpy when the doorbell rings before 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning when it’s Teresa, bearing a piping hot plate of just-cooked chilaquiles. And that’s on an ordinary day.
Every Christmas, she cooks up dozens of tamales, both savory and sweet. Savory tamales, such as the ones Teresa fills with pork in a red chile sauce, are the kind most available in restaurants. In Mexico and other parts of Latin America, the variety of fillings is infinite. They may contain meat, chiles, cheese, vegetables and any combination thereof. The sweet ones, called tamales de dulce, are less common, and can be as simple as an unfilled sweetened corn tamale, or perhaps studded with plump, juicy raisins. Sweet tamales, the kind we can’t buy even at our local tamale specialist, San Francisco’s Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, are my favorite. When we get our bags of tamales from Teresa, we know what we’re having for dinner and dessert.
The tradition of making and eating tamales is alive and robust in 2010, but tamales have been around for a long time. Historians trace their origins to Mesoamerica as early as 8000 to 5000 BCE, popular at the time of the Aztec and Maya civilizations. The essence of a tamale is its ground corn filling, called masa, milled from limewater-treated corn, or hominy. The ground, dried corn is combined with lard and broth or water to make a dough, which is then filled and wrapped in a corn husk (or sometimes a banana leaf) before being steamed. This is the basis for both savory and sweet varieties. Sweet corn tamales, tamales de elote, capture the flavor of a fresh ear of corn without the distraction of other tastes.
For my Christmas cookie this year, I decided to try to encapsulate the essence of a sweet corn tamale into a cookie. Teresa and my little tasters were ecstatic with the result, which tastes something like a corn muffin but better, because it’s a cookie. These have chewy centers and crisp edges, to satisfy both camps of cookie eaters. To gild this lily, I’ve rolled the edges in golden sugar, pretty enough to decorate a Christmas tree, and special enough to leave for Santa.
Sparkly sweet corn cookies
Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.
KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.
Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.
Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.
Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.