Smug baked goods in Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine is one of this country’s most cherished Smug epicenters and as such one of Smug Scout’s favorite places for a vacation.  As you would expect, Portland has plenty of Smug businesses where it is possible to spend large amounts of money on the correct things to eat, drink, wear, and showcase in your house.  The Standard Baking Co. even sets the gold standard, so to speak, for Smug products in Portland.  Let us consider the most obvious Smug factors:

  • Exclusive bread purveyor for Fore Street, Portland’s epicenter of Smug dining (and Smug Scout’s favorite restaurant in New England!)
  • Predictably “rehabilitated” factory with showy bricks, concrete, and steel
  • Nondescript, non-whimsical name meant to evoke old Americana
  • Native plants in non-native pots flanking entrance

Of course a city like Portland surely has hundreds of businesses with these Smug New England attributes, so you must be wondering what makes Standard Baking Co. so uniquely Smug. In fact, it is because you need to be fluent in multiple European languages to understand the offerings. If you want bread, you do not order a loaf, you order a boule. If you want that small oblong chocolate cake, you call it a bouchon. If you want that pretty nectarine tart, you call it a frangipane. If you do not know ficelle, epi, galette, or financier, just pronounce the name with a native accent and learn what it is by eating it. If Normandy means nothing to you as a type of pain, do not ask and do not be intimidated. Just trust Smug Scout and casually ask if the apples are local. Extra points if you pompously announce you will be serving it with single source artisanal Calvados from a private château distillery. You will silence the Smug Cashier, a rare accomplishment. Smug Scout does get chills, though, when she imagines what would happen if she did not know the proper way to order. Picture this nightmarish scenario:

  • Smug Cashier: Next?
  • Smug Scout: Hi, I’d like to start with two of those breadsticks with cheese.
  • Smug Cashier: We do not carry breadsticks with cheese.
  • Smug Scout [pointing at breadstick with cheese looking thing]: Well, what’s that?
  • Smug Cashier: That is a Fougasse with Asiago.
  • Smug Scout: Fine, give me deux.
  • Smug Cashier: Anything else?
  • Smug Scout: Yes, a piece of gingerbread.
  • Smug Cashier: We do not carry gingerbread. We only carry Lebkuchen.
  • Smug Scout: But Lebkuchen is the German word for gingerbread!
  • Smug Cashier: Whatever you may say, I can only sell you Lebkuchen.
  • Smug Scout: So ein Scheiß!

It appears Smug Scout will need to go to Paris to look for les Cupcakes and les Cookies. She can live with that.

Smug Granola Fail

If you must know, Smug Scout loves granola.  She eats it every morning she is forced to go to work.  She likes it because she can put ingredients (granola, yogurt, and of course local, seasonal, organic fruit) in her German reusable plastic container (yes, made in Germany!) and when she arrives at her desk mix it into a Smug L.A. version of Swiss Bircher Müsli. So she is always looking for appropriately artisanal granola, and when she saw Nana Joes Handmade Granola at the legendary Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco, she had to have it, even though she does not understand the absence of an apostrophe in “Joes.” Let us consider why this granola seemed Smug:

  • Recycled looking brown paper bag
  • Unprofessional looking photo of joyous yet not attractive people
  • Label proclaims “handmade,” “vegan,” and “market fruit”
  • Contains white peaches, which are more elite than yellow ones
  • Has that boastful “SF Made” stamp on the back
Unfortunately, however, these attributes were not enough to give the product Smug stature, and it is all because of the white peaches, labeled ominously on the back of the package as NOT organic. Now Smug Scout has been known to buy non-organic white peaches if she interrogates the growers and finds out that they use organic methods but are just not certified. Okay, so these peaches are of questionable provenance, but the real problem is that these shady peaches were not baked with the granola but instead come in a separate little plastic bag. What is a plastic bag doing hidden in such outwardly Smug packaging? It is clearly there to trick and torment Smug Scout, who had a terrible time getting this plastic bag open.  She is sure it is a very noxious grade of heavy plastic, like the kind used to transport human corpses, because she could not open it with just her hands, and when she went to maul it open with a sharp knife, chunks of sulfite-dried white peaches went flying around her kitchen.  She became especially irate because it was 6 am and very far from an ideal time to be crawling around the kitchen looking for shockingly uniform clearly machine-diced non-organic white peaches.
On top of that, Smug Scout would like to point out crossly, she does not understand the point of crowing about Maldon Sea Salt.  First of all, there is no exotic faraway Maldon Sea. This is just salt from Essex (England, not New Jersey).  She would be much more impressed if the perky (but plain) pair on the bag would harvest their own salt from the Pacific, which would make this granola an honestly, rather than totally bogus, local product.
Does it even matter at this point that the granola was delicious?

Smug Farmers’ Market Find: 9/23

As her name dictates, Smug Scout loves to spend her time on the lookout for new Smug treasures at farmers’ markets.  Her local Sunday market in Mar Vista, which began as a small, not very Smug market, has grown into a Smug monster with a ferocious parking scene. Although it is not as Smug as the Portsmouth, New Hampshire market–no others are–Smug Scout was delighted to find a stand that brought her straight back to Portsmouth.  What could have possibly reminded her of Portsmouth?

  • Limited selection of produce
  • Much higher prices than other stands
  • Flowers available, some edible
  • Undecipherable green chalk board signs
  • Run by blonde, blue eyed men with hair in various stages of unwashed (from grimy to dreadlocked) and wearing tattered hemp t-shirts in a color you could only describe as “marijuana”

So imagine Smug Scout’s delight when she was about to pay for her dirty and deformed organic heirloom tomatoes and happened to spot baby patty pan squash with the blossoms still attached!  And she loved the careful recycled cardboard box display: single layer with blooms sticking up like cockscombs!

Then, as Smug Scout was carefully placing these gems in the reusable bag she brought, some weather-beaten rube approached her to ask a question:

  • Weather-beaten rube: Is that squash?
  • Smug Scout: In fact, it is baby patty pan squash, and as you can see, the blossoms are still attached, which you do not see too often with this variety.
  • Weather-beaten rube: [turns and departs]

Alas, not everyone values or even pretends to tolerate Smug Scout’s expertise. At least she got a toothy smile from the young dreadlocked farmer.

Bi-Rite Market and Creamery in San Francisco: the only “rite” place for the Smug

Smug Scout recently visited San Francisco, the Smug Epicenter of the U.S., which presents the problem (not really) of Smugness overload, but a precious little guidebook called Knopf “MapGuide” helped her find the epicenter within the epicenter, a market and “creamery” called Bi-Rite, with these key words:

 

  • hip deli
  • organic vegetables
  • Straus family creamery
  • salted caramel

Smug Scout started at the Creamery,which is just a Smug name for an ice cream shop and has nothing to do with actual cream processing (which always takes place in a lower rent rural location, not in a Smug neighborhood like Mission Dolores).  She was suspicious when she read that many consider the ice cream “the best in the world,” and while she was positive that was a wild exaggeration that had more to do with “creamery,” hip flavors, and high-rent location, she nonetheless wanted to see what the hype was about and especially if it would “taste like the stuff we grew up with” (Bi-Rite’s earnest pledge). Huh?  When Smug Scout thinks back on herself in miniature form, she remembers chocolate ice cream dripping through a cone onto her white t-shirt, not bankrupting her parents to eat double ginger, cardamom, or anything with exotic sea salt.

Anyway, when she and her Smug compatriot, a classic SF resident, arrived, she first wondered if it was also a trendy nightclub because there was a velvet rope that cordoned off a whole section of the sidewalk and even went around the corner.  But no, that was the overflow Creamery line.  Perhaps because the weather was “cold” (low 60s, just freezing), Smug Scout and compatriot could walk right in.  That is good, because Smug Scout does not wait on long lines.  She thinks long lines are for far more egregious suckers than even she is.

So of course she ordered salted caramel because that is the current ultra-Smug flavor of choice everywhere.  After paying something on the far borderline of reasonable, like $5 for one scoop, she received her ice cream in a biodegradable cardboard bowl with a branded wood chip for a spoon.  Then she sat down to eat it on some petite, narrow reclaimed wood bench outside.  It was good, but she did not like how the sustainable wood chip “spoon” kept sticking to her tongue.  It made the flavor more like salted caramel splinter.

Moving on to the store, Smug Scout was very pleased to see produce and flowers in wood crates right in front of the door just like a roadside farm stand.  Here is how she knew she found the epicenter within the epicenter:

  • The aisles are so narrow that anyone who enters in a wheelchair, in a state of morbid obesity, or pushing a car-sized European baby carriage will need the jaws of life to get back out.  Despite the obvious fact that the revenue from this breathtakingly expensive store could permit expansion, the crowded, cramped conditions convey exclusivity.  Too much space is gauche anyway, like the moneyed lower classes who live in McMansions.
  • Local is the law here.  The store boasts local coffee “delivered to us by bicycle,” local honey “from our own hives on the roof of the Market,”  and a slew of local products bearing the proud stamp “SF Made.”  This is very reassuring.  Smug Scout wonders if the bees appreciate that their address is more exclusive than that of many of their honey buyers.
  • Most signs and advertisements are entirely (or at least partially) handwritten and offer a lot of friendly detail. The faux folksy charm of this practice is intended to distract from the prices, Smug Scout thinks.  Your sticker shock will be less paralyzing as you think of the Smug local people who have crafted these signs to help you.
  • You get a tremendous amount of information about the produce: what its exact name is, where it was grown, how it was grown, and probably even why it was grown. This store even has its own “family farm” in Sonoma.  Stickers on the handwritten signs proclaim “WE GREW THIS.” Sold! Smug Scout admired the summer squash called “Zephyr” and “Costa Romesco” and selected the least attractive ones.

Still, if Smug Scout has one complaint (and let us face it, she always does), it is that the store provides only non-compostable plastic bags, which is very ecologically hostile for a city that does not recycle any plastic bags.  She had to point out this fact at the cash register after she whipped out her own cloth bag.

  • Smug Cashier: Thank you for bringing your own bag.  That’s just great.
  • Smug Scout: I always do, but it’s especially important in San Francisco since you don’t recycle plastic bags here.
  • Smug Cashier: That’s just great.  Enjoy your local goat cheese with organic herbs and artisanal pink peppercorns!
  • Smug Scout: Even L.A. recycles all levels of plastic!
  • Smug Cashier: Have a wonderful evening!  Come back soon!

Oh, yes, Smug Scout will return soon.  If she could marry a supermarket, it would be this one.

A few thoughts on reclaimed wood

The Smug Scout has been spending a lot of time thinking about reclaimed wood of late.  Please do not offend her by deeming this occupation preposterous. What should she think about? World misogyny? Global climate change? The possibility that a large buck could impale Paul Ryan with live, rather than decorative, antlers? No, no. While she would love to picture Ryan bleeding to death from an antler hole while a deer family contemplates a rare non-vegetarian dinner, instead she is having apolocalyptic visions about the future of reclaimed wood.  With all of the buildings, furniture, household objects, and useless, expensive, unidentifiable knickknacks made from reclaimed wood, she wonders how soon there will be a shortage of unclaimed wood to reclaim.  She believes that Smug fans of reclaimed wood have a fantastical vision of the reclaiming process.  It involves a logger dressed up in a Brooklyn hipster costume, which itself was drawn from actual blue-collar loggers but now incorporates fair-trade flannel and “water-less” jeans, roaming forests in the Pacific Northwest.  It involves this sustainably dressed logger carrying an antique buzzsaw (please do not expect the Smug Scout to be technically accurate about tools) and occasionally stopping to forage some wild chanterelles.  It involves this hip and happy logger smiling as he carefully rescues dead trees from their sad fate of rotting and regenerating in the forest and places them in his hybrid logging truck.  It finally involves this Smug logger driving, of course a short distance, to a wide variety of artists and artisans, who will chop and slice the logs in an artistic and artisanal, if also absurdly profitable, way for sale to the country’s Smug suckers.  This is indeed a vision of tender and moving beauty.  The Smug Scout, however, sees it differently. She imagines that the future of reclaimed wood is in forests “reclaimed” from the pulp and paper industry as that industry realizes there’s more money in “reclaimed” wood than in institutional toilet paper, cereal boxes, and particle board.  Maybe Smug Scout is just too cynical.  Maybe Smug Scout needs to calm down.  Okay.  Just put a reclaimed wood cutting board with some foraged chanterelles in front of her, and she will stop.

Smug chairs

You know an object is Smug when you see reclaimed wood, but you do not have a clue why someone would want it or what the fuck it even is.  These look like chairs to your perplexed Smug Scout.  They look like ugly and uncomfortable chairs.  They look like lamely shaped chairs that would only feel at home in a room filled with antlers and pretentiously arranged “exotic” tchotchkes.  But before you even go into that, you may ask how the Smug Scout knows the wood is reclaimed.  She knows because she saw these unsightly creations in San Francisco and is sure she doesn’t have to tell anyone what a Smug Epicenter that is.  You can’t even find furniture there that’s made from wood without multiple past lives.  It would just be young and obscene and vulgar, like a five year old trailer park beauty queen.  She imagines a brief conversation taking place in a room that could have been featured in “Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table.”

  • Smug Host: Please make yourself comfortable.
  • Perplexed Smug Scout: That is just not possible.
  • Smug Host: What’s wrong with you? I have beautiful architectural seating crafted by a local driftwood artisan.
  • Perplexed Smug Scout: I’d rather sit on your sweaty yoga mat.

Make it a Smug visit to the farmers’ market

Some people treat a visit to the local FM like a trip to 7-11 that can be accomplished in a few minutes (aside from the thirty minutes you spend circling the parking lot, angrily stalking exiting Priuses, which does not tend to be part of the convenience store experience), but to make it a Smug experience, you need to plan on an hour so that you will have plenty of time for the following crucial practices:

  1. Eye the superior produce and local artisanal products (why buy the suspiciously beautiful and underpriced $6 three pack of strawberries when you might come across the misshapen organic strawberries for $12?).
  2. Interrogate the farmers about their location (because you saw that NBC “undercover” investigation about produce traveling from too far away [i.e. Mexico] and being described “illegally” as local).
  3.  Boast to the farmers about how you always eat the beet greens and other things “ignorant” people refuse (extra points if you can honestly admit to eating carrot tops).
  4. In fact, offer to take someone else’s abandoned beet, radish, or carrot greens and state casually: “Oh, these are just delicious.  You just need to sauté them with organic Californian olive oil and heirloom garlic.”
  5. And one step beyond number 4 is to “rescue” produce that has fallen to the ground.  That carrot under the table, that cherry tomato rolling across the street, that peach some clumsy moron dropped, that radish that was almost under your shoe…take them all.  This is farmers’ market Fruitarianism!  If anyone expresses shock that you picked something up off the pavement and plan to eat it, simply say: “If you are eating factory farmed meat, you are eating a much more contaminated product than an organic carrot I just happened to find on the ground.”
  6. Find the market organizers and complain that some stands still offer you a plastic bag (“I thought they were all banned!  It’s just disgraceful that a market in this part of town allows plastic!”).
  7. Plan how to stretch your $100 so you can get everything you “need” (if you didn’t know you needed Oaxacan “living food,” such as raw meatballs made with nuts, then you need to re-examine your priorities).
  8. You may not leave without buying flowers.  You may NOT.  Look for the wild looking flowers in a (hopefully repurposed) Mason jar that are much cheaper than all of the coarsely beautiful bouquets.  If your market is not Smug enough to have flowers in Mason jars, go for whatever looks kind of odd (read: ugly).  That way, when you have visitors, they will know that you didn’t purchase supermarket flowers that came to this country in a shipping container.

Here are some more tips to make your produce purchases more Smug:

  1. Look for the wildest and most unidentifiable looking greens.  If you think they look like the weeds growing near that abandoned, not-yet-reclaimed property or next to a concrete freeway divider, so much the better. If they look dirty and inedible, so much the better.  If you can’t imagine how they could possibly be part of any meal you would eat, that is precisely when you know they are the right ones.  Ask what they are and how to prepare them.  The answer will be something along the lines of “sauté them with organic Californian olive oil and heirloom garlic.”  Buy them.  Remember the name.  Announce on Facebook these are your new favorite greens even if it took you an hour and a bottle of wine to digest them.
  2. When you buy any bushy greens or tall bunches of herbs, make sure you hang them over the side of your reusable bag or hand-woven (probably by poor Haitians) basket.  As they say on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” be sure to “zhoozh” them so they fluff out at attention and show everyone that you buy overgrown greens but never suffocate the poor things in a plastic bag.
  3. Look for vegetables that come in “wrong” colors.  You want these.  Some examples are purple asparagus or Brussels sprouts or string beans, burgundy carrots, black or white radishes, green or yellow or purple cauliflower, yellow figs, and multi-colored, splotchy squash or bell peppers.
  4. Look for fruit and vegetables with obvious “deformities.” You want those tomatoes and eggplants with phallic protrusions.  You want those Siamese twin carrots. You want that summer squash that seems to have warts growing on it that would nauseate you on the flesh of a human. You want that corn with the resident worm gnawing away at the kernels (if the worm likes it, you know it’ll taste good, and if the worm didn’t die, you know it was grown without pesticides!).  You want all of these things because you know they would be too “ugly” for a supermarket.
  5. Look for anything with a long and complicated name.  For example, you may have thought you saw some ordinary hydroponic sprouts, but you know you have to have them when you find out they’re called Black Oil Sunflower Greens.