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monsegur-lostsign.jpgThe sign that is no more.

As we approached the tiny hilltop village of Montsegur-sur-Lauzon in northern Provence, my mouth was already watering in anticipation of the bread at the one and only boulangerie (bakery) there. I'd been looking forward to this for months, ever since last November, when we'd made one last stopover to load up on bread to sustain us for the long drive back home and a couple of days beyond.

I've written about my love for this boulangerie before. The bread there was the best I've ever had - bursting with flavor and character. Even when the loaves turned a bit stale after a couple of days, they were still so good. I was convinced that if the baker, Monsieur Metaud, was in Paris, he'd be world famous.

It was a Sunday, and there was a small queue of people waiting for their bread in the tiny store. Neither of the two people behind the counter, a young man and a middle aged woman, were Madame or Monsieur Metaud, but that didn't concern us - they had other people selling bread there before, especially on weekends. But as we shuffled closer to the front of the line, something seemed a bit off. The collection of exotic teas that used to line the wall shelves were gone. The pretty display of confections was quite pared down.

The comments on the post about whether vegetarian restaurants should only be reviewed by vegetarians have been really interesting - if you haven't read them yet, please take a look here. This has made me decide to do a small experiment. I'm here in Provence for three weeks, and I'll be cooking most of our meals (that's why we like to rent a place with a kitchen whenever we come here, as I wrote about last year). So, I'm going to make all of our meals in-house vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarian to be precise, since not having any of the delicious cheeses here would be too much of a sacrifice and the self-proclaimed 'bovo-vegetarian' in house will rebel before we've even started. We will be giving up eggs though (a hardship in itself since I love eggs), and meat and fish. (We might have a bouillabaise once at a restaurant.) I'll also try to stick as much as possible to locally produced food, though I'm not going to be as strict there. (E.g. I will use spices and things like lemons from elsewhere.)

Admittedly, here with all of the glorious locally produced fresh produce it should be a breeze. I doubt it will change my palette much but it will help me concentrate on coming up with different and tasty vegetarian dishes. The better results will be posted here of course!

The Guardian, one of Britain's finest newspapers, recently installed several blogs to which their staff writers contribute, including a food blog. Last week one of their restaurant reviewers, Jay Rayner, wrote a negative review of a well known London vegetarian restaurant - which upset quite a lot of vegetarian readers. He defended his review, and several commenters bit back. One opinion expressed was that, since the critic is not a vegetarian himself, that he did not have the palate to judge vegetarian food, and that only committed vegetarian or vegans should be reviewing vegetarian restaurants.

That's an interesting point of view. While I doubt that main stream media outlets instituting such food-specific critics and such, in the wide world of blogs it is theoretically possible - so someone might choose to only trust restaurant reviews from a vegetarian blogger. Is it plausible though? Is an omnivore disqualified from judging what's good vegetarian food because his or her tastebuds are tainted by a fondness for meat? Should vegetarian food only appeal to non-meat eaters?

As someone who has gradually increased the percentage of vegetable based food in my diet in the last few years, but is not a vegetarian, I'm really curious about this. I do like the taste of meat. but I love the taste of fresh vegetables too. If I gave up meat products totally though, would my palate change that much, so that I enter a magical realm which is reserved only for vegetarians? Will meat become totally inedible? I'm a bit skeptical about this, since so many vegetarians seem to at least occasionally crave a 'meaty' taste.

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The disaster zone kitchen has been largely cleared up now. The kitchen table is still piled up with foodstuffs that need to be re-housed, but otherwise things are mostly back to normal. Except that is for my general will to do some serious cooking. There is something about throwing away bags of ruined flour, sugar, and formerly dry pasta that damages ones will to live, er, that is cook with a light heart.

What I did discover though is that I am a hoarder. With a small household, there's no need at all to have so many things stockpiled. Why did we even have 6 bags of sugar and buy flour by the ten-pack anyway, when it's not even cheaper to do so? I don't bake that much, and I only need sugar in large amounts during jam and preserve making time, which is still weeks down the road. Likewise, we have still 10 cans of tuna when we barely eat the stuff at all.

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Keep reading The hoarding habit →

After writing my previous entry about The Sushi FAQ site, I received a very nice email from Warren, the site owner (which I especially appreciated since I wasn't totally positive in my review). One question he raised which got me thinking is where he should go from here to get more information and knowledge about sushi. I think this question can be extended to all areas of life, but keeping it in the food realm: how far should you, and do you, go to gain knowledge and experience, especially about food and cuisines you didn't grow up with?

Let's say you fall in love with Thai food as it's served at your local restaurant. You might search out for other Thai restaurants. You might buy some cookbooks. That far I think almost anyone remotely interested in food will do. The next step might be to take a class in Thai cooking. So far, so good. A trip to Thailand? Maybe, if budget allows.

What beyond that though? Would you move to Thailand for an extended period (more than a few months) to immerse yourself in the food, language and culture? Would you learn Tagalog? Would you apprentice with a Thai cook? How far would you go?

I've gotten to to the trying various restaurants and buying cookbooks stage on numerous cuisines, and the travel level on a few more. I've gone to the learning-language and living there level too. I didn't do this just for the food, but my decision to take French for three years in college certainly had a lot to do with the fact that I fell absolutely in love with the food I ate at small, inexpensive restaurants around Paris the first time I went there by myself.

Years later I ended up living here in Switzerland, which wasn't a food based decision, but there's no denying that living here gives me great access to great cuisines around Europe. And there's the great cheese and chocolate of course...two of my favorite foods in the world.

I have a feeling that I am much more obsessive than the average person in this way, but surely I'm not alone...

The place and cuisine I'm most interested in immersing myself in at the moment is Hawaii. Spam musubi, here I come! (One day, soon I hope.)

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Yesterday, I found out that one of the most talented sushi chefs I've ever known had died. He was still relatively young (in his 50s). He was at one time one of the itamae at the late, lamented Sushisay in New York.

The authorities are investigating the cause of his death. They have to do this, because his body was found in his bath, at least a month after he had died.

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On the New York Tiimes Diners Journal blog, which is no longer just written by Frank Bruni, Julia Moskin writes about a Japanese food symposium held at the Japan Society. She reports that "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto called the Japanese government's plans to certify "authentic" Japanese restaurants "nonsense". Now, fans of the original (and best) Japanese version of Iron Chef may remember Chef Morimoto's ongoing "battles" with chefs who cooked "authentic Japanese"; while a lot of it seemed like fake drama for the cameras, perhaps there was some truth in it after all. He did make some pretty outrageous, not to mention downright odd, things under the guise of "nouvelle Japanese" on occasion, which seemed to get some more "authentic" Japanese chefs rather upset. If we assume that the standards of 'authenticity' might be dictated by such chefs, people like Chef Morimoto, not to mention Nobu Matsuhisa, may not pass muster. Not to say they don't produce good, even great, food. (Though I must admit I'm not a big Nobu fan. To be fair I've only been there once, years ago, and had a 'server problem' which clouded things. And I've never been to a Morimoto restaurant.)

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Recently there was an article in the Washington Post about some attempts by the Japanese government to set up some kind of authenticity certification for Japanese cuisine served abroad.

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I often find blogs that are new to me via my referer logs. If I see an unfamiliar URL, I will usually go and check it out. (I'm much less likely to go check out a site that's just emailed to me, so the best way to get my attention is just to link to this site somewhere.) I've discovered quite a lot of great food blogs that aren't that well known yet that way.

One thing that isn't always on some new blogs is an about page. I would really love to know even a little about who is behind the blog. It doesn't have to be as long as the one on this site but - just a little bit. Like, where do you live? Where are you from? Who do you cook for, and why? What do you like to cook or eat? Why did you start a food blog? What's the objective of your site? Just a couple from that list would really bring your blog to life for readers.

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Hi there, intrepid PR person who wants to get in on this new "blog marketing" and "viral marketing" thing. I have some free advice for you, especially if you are trying to sell some kind of packaged, manufactured thing that only vaguely resembles real food.

Don't try to get food bloggers to try your stuff. Or let's put it this way: the owners of any food blog with a following, a reasonable backlog of articles, and enough traffic and Alexa ranking etc. to matter for you, is likely to be a Food Snob. That's the kind that your clients dread: they use real food, worry about seasonality (tomatoes in February make them gag), and, worst of all, actually cook. Or if they don't cook they eat out at places that serve real food.

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