Micah's Read of the Week, Vol. 62
Micah Recommends, The Many Saints of Newark, Why food prices keep going up, Recipe Corner, and more.
Hello, and welcome to Micah’s Read of the Week.
This is a newsletter filled with things Micah Wiener finds interesting.
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Go out of your way this week to catch this documentary on twenty years of Pardon the Interruption. It’s very well done.
I’ve long been an avid follower of PTI and the hosts, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. The show absolutely changed television, and it’s shocking to see the early days and realize how revolutionary the show was. It’s still the only debate show worth watching because it’s not a debate show— it’s a relationship show.
I honestly had a hard time finding the documentary on-demand, but it’s re-airing across the ESPN networks, so get busy on your DVR and enjoy. Goodnight, Canada.
The Many Saints of Newark
Wow. I loved The Many Saints of Newark. Watch it. Even if you didn’t watch The Sopranos, you need to see this movie.
Like many, we watched every episode during the pandemic. I had never previously watched the show. The film contains just enough easter eggs to delight fans of the show. The performances are excellent, especially Ray Liotta and Leslie Odom, Jr. The young Tony stuff is fun too. We get answers to a few lingering questions from the show, but there’s still PLENTY of meat on the bone for a sequel or four.
I’m going to go deep on the film this week on my podcast, Mind of Micah. Subscribe now and get the episode when it drops.
Also, check out Back Door Cover, my sports podcast with Brad Kee. We’re breaking down every NFL each week during football season with our professional handicapper Can’t-Miss Mitch. And we’re back each week to break down all of the action in college and the pros.
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We’ve spent a lot of time in this space talking about inflation. Here’s another practical example: food costs. Because it’s 2021, there are other factors in play as well.
Certain industry phrases have underscored rising grocery bills over the past 18 months. “Turbulence and volatility.” “Unprecedented times.” But one of the biggies is “supply chain disruption.”
Food producers have struggled with shortages, bottlenecks, and transportation, weather and labor woes, all of which have caused food prices to rise. The end is not in sight: Inflation at the wholesale level climbed 8.3 percent last month from August 2020, the Labor Department reported Friday, the biggest annual gain since the department started calculating the number in 2010. Those prices are passed on to consumers: Meat, poultry, fish and eggs are up 5.9 percent over last year, and up 15.7 percent from prices in August 2019, before the pandemic.
So, eighteen months into the pandemic, why are there still supply chain problems?
From Gatorade to Lunchables, bananas to anchovies, things still can’t easily get to where they need to be. Across the board, ingredient suppliers see longer lead times because of lack of staffing, ingredient shortages, and the unpredictability of trucking and container ship transport. In many cases, those lead times have dragged out to eight to 12 weeks, with food manufacturers stalled out waiting for ingredients for their products, according to Rifle Hughes, innovation and strategy business partner at JPG Resources, which develops foods for major companies. He says that products in the center aisles of the grocery store — canned goods, snacks, cereals — tend to require many ingredients, often sourced from around the world, and that this year’s extreme weather, labor problems and shortages are leading to “deeper and longer-running disruptions” than even last year.
About 80 percent of traded goods travel by shipping container. The containers themselves cost more. Last year, transporting a 40-foot steel container cost $1,920; today, the cost can be more than $14,000, according to Brittain Ladd, chief marketing officer at Kuecker Pulse Integration, a robotics and logistics automation company in Kansas.
For many food products, it’s not just shipping and ingredients that have risen in price, but also the product packaging.
In Texas, one of the country’s largest producers of plastics, factories shut down last winter because of power outages during an anomalous cold snap, and the country is still short of packaging products because of this, says Michael Swanson, Wells Fargo’s chief agricultural economist. This has caused a spike in the price of the polyethylene used to make milk jugs and vinegar bottles, the PVC used to make items such as tamper-resistant lids and breath mint packs, and the low-density polyethylene for six-pack soda can rings and grocery stores’ produce bags.
Separately, a shortage of wooden pallets, traced to last spring’s coronavirus shutdown at mills, also is still affecting food prices, Swanson says. Last month, aluminum prices hit their highest level in 10 years — higher even than during the trade wars during the Trump administration — and this affects a vast range of goods. And with corrugated cardboard hitting all-time-high prices in February, in part because of the pandemic spike in e-commerce, food companies are incurring higher costs in boxing, canning and packaging their products.
Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight for this perfect storm for rising food costs.
“History shows us that price adjustments are more likely to be accepted in the market when industry-wide and broad-based input cost inflation occurs,” David Marberger, chief financial officer of Conagra Brands, one of the world’s largest food companies, said in the company’s third-quarter 2021 earnings call. “And that’s the environment we see today.”
Translation: They are paying higher prices, they are charging higher prices, higher prices are everywhere.
Here’s one way to eliminate food costs: kill your own. It’s tiny bird szn! Here in Texas, Dove season is underway. And it’s glorious. Growing up, there seemed to be two ways to eat these wild birds. Cut the breast meat off the bone, wrap in bacon with jalapeno, and grill. Delicious. The other is to simply marinate the birds in wishbone dressing and grill. This is good as well.
However, it’s time to expand your tiny bird horizons. For those without access to tiny birds, this recipe would work very well with chicken.
2 tablespoons annatto seeds
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 medium garlic clove
1 whole clove
7 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for grill grates
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
8 (about 3 1/2-ounces) semi-boneless quail
1 medium-size fresh jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
1 cup mesquite wood chips (2 1/2 ounce), soaked in water 1 hour and drained
6 medium-size firm-ripe peaches (about 2 1/2 pounds), halved and pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lovage or celery leaves
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Combine annatto seeds, coriander seeds, oregano, peppercorns, garlic, and clove in a spice grinder; process until very finely ground and mixture forms a paste, about 30 seconds. Transfer spice mixture to a medium bowl; stir in 3 tablespoons oil, orange juice, and 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice. Add quail, and rub with marinade until evenly coated. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours or overnight.
Process jalapeño, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, remaining 1/4 cup oil, and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice in a blender until mostly smooth, about 45 seconds. Set aside.
Transfer quail to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, leaving as much of the annatto mixture on quail as possible. Season quail all over with remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, open bottom vent of grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with briquettes. When briquettes are covered with gray ash, pour them evenly on bottom grate of grill. Scatter soaked wood chips over hot coals. Adjust vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450°F to 500°F. Coat top grill grate with oil; place on grill.
Brush cut sides of peaches evenly with 2 tablespoons jalapeño oil. Place peaches, cut sides down, on oiled grate. Grill, uncovered, until charred and slightly softened, 2 to 4 minutes. Cut each peach half into 2 pieces, and toss with remaining jalapeño oil. Set aside.
Place quail on oiled grate, and grill, uncovered, until slightly charred with some grill marks, about 4 minutes. Flip and grill until quail is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Cut quail in half lengthwise.
Place quail and peaches on a serving platter. Drizzle with any residual jalapeño oil left in bowl. Sprinkle with lovage, cilantro, and flaky sea salt.
It’s starting to cool down a little bit, which means it’s finally ok to turn your oven back on. Tell me this doesn’t look incredible.
1 cup honey
1 Tbsp. Diamond Crystal or 1¾ tsp. Morton kosher salt
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large head of cabbage, outer leaves removed, cut into 6 wedges
2 slices bacon, cut into ½" pieces
1 andouille sausage, cut into ½" pieces
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup cilantro leaves with tender stems
½ cup parsley leaves with tender stems
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Warm honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in salt, paprika, and cayenne. Remove from heat; whisk in 1 Tbsp. water. Set aside.
CABBAGE AND ASSEMBLY
Preheat oven to 300°. Generously season cut sides of cabbage with salt. Place wedges, cut sides up, on a rimmed baking sheet; pour 1 cup water into pan. Cover with foil; bake until tender (a paring knife should slide through easily), about 2 hours.
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook sausage in same pan, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Return bacon to pan and add cabbage, cream, and broth. Cook 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cabbage to plates. Cook liquid in pan until reduced by half, 10–13 minutes. Spoon sauce over cabbage.
Toss cilantro and parsley in a medium bowl. Drizzle oil and lemon juice over and season with salt; toss to coat.
Scatter herb salad over cabbage and drizzle ½ cup hot honey over.
By now, you know I’m not eating carbs at the moment. But I’m also already thinking about sweets two weeks from now. Time to bring dessert back.
Softened butter (for the pan)
8 whole graham crackers (120 g)
11 digestive biscuits or 4 additional graham crackers (60 g)
2 (14 oz/397 g) cans sweetened condensed milk
3 Hass avocados
1 pound (455 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
Pinch fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter the inside of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan.
Make the crust: Crumble the crackers and cookies into a medium bowl. Use a pestle or the bottom of a heavy bottle to crush them into fine crumbs. Add ⅓ cup (75 ml) of the condensed milk and stir until very well combined. (You can grind the crumbled graham crackers and mix them with the condensed milk in a food processor if you prefer.) Press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake until the crust looks a little darker and smells sweet and toasty, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool the crust in the pan on a wire rack.
One at a time, cut an avocado in half lengthwise. Twist the halves to separate them. Hold the half with the pit in one hand. Holding the knife in your other hand, rap the knife blade into the pit to lodge it there. Twist the knife to loosen and remove the pit. Use a large spoon to scoop the avocado flesh onto a chopping board, discarding the skins. Coarsely chop the avocados.
Add the chopped avocados, cream cheese, remaining condensed milk, and salt to a food processor. (You can combine the filling in a blender instead but you may need to work in batches.) Grate the zest of 1 lemon and set aside. Squeeze the zested lemon and the limes (you should have about ⅓ cup/75 ml lemon), reserving the remaining lemon for garnish. Add the juice to the avocados and process the mixture until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Spread the filling in the cooled crust and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest. Cover the pan and freeze until the filling is firm, at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.
Let the frozen cake stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before slicing. Dipping a thin knife into hot water between each cut, slice the cake into wedges and serve, topping each serving with freshly grated lemon zest.
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