"She don't use butter, she don't use cheese, she don't use jelly or any of these…"

by Katie Pizzuto on August 18, 2009

in Cooking

butterAfter a whole lot of soul searching and self-deprecation, I’ve recently come to the forehead-smacking conclusion that most of the chefs whose mantra is “fat is flavor” have that mantra because they’re just fucking lazy. Putting a half-stick of butter in a pan to finish a dish is undoubtedly going to be delicious, but it’s easy—and, of course, fattening as all hell. This isn’t exactly a revelation, but when you’re a foodie that wants to stay a foodie and somehow also lose weight, you begin to rethink everything you’ve ever learned about tasty food until you find yourself standing in your dark kitchen at 2am in nothing but your skivvies, contemplating a life’s worth of meals.

The challenge that presented itself to me is the one that, in the end, forced me to define just how good I am in a kitchen. Exactly how good can you make that chicken breast taste, sister, if you can’t deep-fry it, wrap it in pancetta or drizzle it with a cream sauce, hmmm? That’s exactly the kind of shit I take as a dare, because if I really do know what I’m doing, I should be able to work without that fat crutch I’ve used for so long and still make an amazing meal. If not, I have no business calling myself a serious cook, much less a so-called “foodie.” Don’t get me wrong, I still and always will keep rendered bacon fat, duck fat, lard and butter in my home—I’m a realist after all, not a masochist. The problem for me was never using these ingredients, it was using them too often, because to be quite honest, sautéing the veggies in a little bacon fat was really god damned good!

And so my love affair began anew with the spices and herbs I had previously used as mere background noise. I started paying close attention to the intensity of flavor and texture a dish could attain without dousing it in a bucket of fat. We so easily forget that a world of sensations can be had at the marriage of spices and aromatics, that we dull our palates by simply coating them. To be able to serve a meal at which someone says, “Wow, you put in just the right amount of cream” when you don’t even have any heavy cream in the house is the mark of a true food lover. One that doesn’t substitute the harbinger of culinary sin known as margarine for butter, but instead uses a little olive oil and figures out how to compensate for the butter’s absence. One that doesn’t throw brown rice in a pot and sigh about its blandness, but instead stirs in a few ground spicy cashews in a moment of inspiration.

All this is not to say that I’ve done away with béarnaise sauces, fluffernutter cupcakes and bacon-wrapped pork belly, because to live without those would be to live lesser, and that’s not something I’m a fan of. This is not a discourse on portion control, self control, or any other form of control other than that which we wield when we stand at the stove. We are capable of more than ½ stick of butter, ½ cup of grated cheese and 1 cup of heavy cream…or at least I am. I’ve got enough creative juice in my little head to last me a lifetime of flavor, and I’m willing to test that creativity and push it to its edge at every possible moment so that lazy chef’s mantra doesn’t ever have the chance to weasel its way in.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 kevin keith August 18, 2009

Way to incorporate a little Flaming Lips! Thanks for making me hungry too, BTW!

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2 Russ Lane August 18, 2009

*Cheers!*

One of the things I love most about reading cookbooks is that the best cookbooks aren’t just throwing recipes your way and hopefully one or two stick. It introduces you into a new world, a new philosophy of cooking.

Applying sound cooking to weight loss is a little like that; it’s a different world of cooking, one that I champion. It’s taking a foodie sensibility to cooking without adopting a lot of the foodie attitudes and bad stereotypes. It forces you to be more creative in the kitchen.

That’s how I learned; I’m a food writer for newspapers/magazines and I lost 250 pounds total at the same time.

What’s even better about learning to lend sound cooking to health food is that your relationship with food changes significantly — and with that, there’s no better tool for keeping the weight off than changing how you think about the things that packed weight on in the first place.

Great post *Loves Flaming Lips too*

Best,
Russ Lane
Second Helping: Life, Post Fat Pants
Articles | Recipes | Blogs | Resources

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3 Sasha August 18, 2009

Great Post, and ditto the love for Flaming Lips.

This post hit close to home in several ways: #1 quite obviously is bacon. Love the bacon, love cooking with bacon fat. Especially when combined with a cast iron pan.
#2 you really are right that throwing in a bunch of butter/bacon fat is, well….taking the easy way out sometimes. In a sense, I feel like olive oil is as well, not because of health issues, but because of a certain richness and taste it easily adds. I like to go with a less flavorful veggie oil (canola?), used minimally and get creative from there.
#3 This tangentially reminds me of a recent “study” or article of some sorts I read which attempted to debunk the long-lived splinter in the minds of health-conscious people who love beer: fear of the “Beer Belly.” For the sake of brevity, I will refrain from recapping the study in a scientific method and paraphrase – Perhaps it is not the beer which gives us the belly, but the “I will eat anything as long as it is deep-fried” mentality that seems oh-so familiar after you’ve knocked down a few…

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4 Evan Dawson August 18, 2009

This is only one of the best food posts I’ve ever read. Seriously ever. I can’t tell you how many cooks use the crutches that you mention — and you’re right when you say the end result is usually really damn tasty. It’s simply worth our time to discover new ways and employ them from time to time.

Recently I told myself, You know, if you really wanted to, you could become a vegetarian and be happy. There’s so much good food out there, so much fresh and real food, that you could live without animals. Of course, I will never, ever attempt this, but it’s nice to know I can go a month without meat almost by accident. The same can be said for the style of cooking you describe here. Cheers. Kick ass.

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5 RJ Flamingo August 18, 2009

Agreed and looking forward to your further adventures…

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6 The Wine Commonsewer August 18, 2009

If we were meant to live without butter God would not have invented the French (or the Greenbay Packer fans).

That said, I’m delighted you didn’t say NEVER.

With certain dishes I have been steadily cutting back on the amount of butter to see just how little you can get by with and still get the flavor (including TWC’s world famous hash browns where I’ve learned that you can swap out about half the butter for olive oil and still get the great taste you expect).

Here at Casa de las Rocas Grandes, we tend to keep to the simpler stuff which includes a lot of grilled veggies. Olive oil and balsamic and herbs.

This comment is falling apart and I apologize for the temporary writer’s block.

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7 The Wine Commonsewer August 18, 2009

Oh and great post. BTW, your blog ate my comment.

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8 The Wine Commonsewer August 18, 2009

Katie has a comment eating blog. Nanny, nanny, nanny, goat.

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9 Linsey August 19, 2009

OOOOOOH!! I love butter, so I manage to resist cooking everything in it … I am trying to lose, not gain.

I like using rapeseed oil – its like olive oil but can be used at a higher temp …

I do like my duck/goose fat to cook roast potatoes in though … only a teaspoons worth though.

Also glad I am not the only one who wonders ‘wtf!’ when the chefs on tv say ‘use a bit of butter in the pan’ then stick almost half a pound in. It may taste nice but just not necessary.

Great post Katie – did leave me with a Homer Simpson drool though lol

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10 Linsey August 19, 2009

btw love the teeth marks in the butter block – glad im not that bad hehe

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11 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2009

First and foremost I am proud to know that my readers are fans of The Flaming Lips! I knew you all had taste!!

@Russ: thanks for being an inspiration. It can’t be easy to keep weight off living in New Orleans!

@Sasha: Got a link for that? I’d love to read it!

@Evan: I’m with you. Though I’d never WANT to live as a vegetarian, it’s nice to know that I COULD, and still be relatively happy.

@Mike: There’s no way in hell I’d ever completely do away with these things. But when you find yourself in a position of having to lose weight but refusing to eat things as banal as steamed chicken and broccoli, you find your creative mojo!

@Linsey: If you step inside most restaurants’ kitchens the truth is that they’re busy finishing loads of dishes with butter…it’s a quick and easy way to yummy up a plate (and fatten it up, too).

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12 Mary-Lynn August 19, 2009

Thanks for this — thoughtful, well said. I love butter, cheese and bacon fat but if I didn’t lighten up once in awhile I’d probably be dead by now! The quest to lighten has introduced my family to so many new flavors and while we hardly eat fat-free, I’ve found really delicious healthier fats; one of my new favorites is coconut oil…

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13 Elle August 19, 2009

That’s some damn good food writing!

As someone who has heart disease running through the family genes, I try to cut back the fat in most everything we eat. And I’m here to tell you, it’s possible! It’s not always fun, but it’s manageable. You can use smaller amounts of the fats you love, and like you said, use other things to add the flavors you’re looking for. All without coating your mouth and arteries in a layer of fat.

And as a recent meatasaur turned vegan, I’m learning even more about cooking, food, and flavors. Not to say that I have cut out all fats, because I haven’t. Not by a long shot. Just changed the things I eat them with.

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14 KAHUNA August 19, 2009

thought the article was great- especially the never say never parts- for me more importantly than cooking “without” is cooking in proper portions- Lets face it you can not make an Alfredo Sauce without butter but you can make a proper serving-

Does every sauce need to be finished with a lump of butter- well no of course not but a little may not be so bad.

Do we limit the fat culprits to butter? What about sour cream in mashed potatoes or Mayo in potato salad- I agree with you lets use different things to expand our food preporations- Hummus would make a great tasty mayo replacement for potato salad or egg salad.

A sign of a well written article is that it makes you think of more than what the author is writing about- which you did!

and you know how I feel about butter and bacon! If I could name my kids Butter and Bacon I would!

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15 The Wine Commonsewer August 19, 2009

Hi Katie. [waves]

Not that anyone asked, I dropped some weight by avoiding the so-called white poisons. Zero sugar, almost zero of anything made with white flour, no white rice, no potatoes or other hi-carb foods. I eat a little whole grain now and again. I have not given up meat or eggs though I have made an effort to eat less food overall. Essentially I’m eating fruits, veggies, meat, eggs, milk, and drinking plenty of red wine. I’m down about thirty pounds and when I look at the old pictures I am appalled that I didn’t realize how pudgy I was getting. Like Louis Anderson used to quip do you think he knows he’s that fat?. I wasn’t obese but the girlish figure had long since vanished.

My two cents (and worth every penny) regards, TWC

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16 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2009

No, butter isn’t the only culprit, Kahuna…I mentioned cream, bacon fat, duck fat, cheese, etc. And part of it is EXACTLY what you said…you can’t make certain recipes without butter or cream or whatever, but you can make them less often. If it were up to me, I’d fry up some pancetta, toss it in pasta with grated cheese and top it with a beautiful egg yolk once a week, but that’s not reasonable!

So yeah, this is more about rethinking our everyday meals and not defaulting to dumping fat on them just for the sake of flavor.

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17 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2009

To be honest, Mike, the only part I can’t wrap my head around is “zero sugar”….how do you sweeten things, honey? Or do you use chemical “sweeteners”?! That’s the dark side I will not go to. That whole Michael Pollan thing, “Eat food…” repeats in my head, and keeps me from picking up artificial sweeteners.

And I’d have paid a nickel, FYI.

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18 The Wine Commonsewer August 19, 2009

I’m flattered. About the nickel. 🙂

I agree, Eat Food is good advice.

I prolly should have differentiated between raw sugar and refined sugar.

Yes I’ve gone over to the dark side but only for my coffee (and cranberry juice).

I don’t use sugar for much of anything else anyway and you can have all my shares of Scooter Pies and Little Debbie Snack Cakes (reg US pat off) and anything with corn syrup in it (thank you AMD, enjoy your subsidies).

This is my rationale: I believe that the human body is not designed to process cane sugar or beet sugar any better than it is designed to process Splenda (which is made from what? Bug spray? Naptha? Dry cleaning solvent?). Keep in mind that humans lived for ten thousand years with little to no sugar and then, Bam, we’re eating it like candy (heh).

I do not believe we can adapt to high levels of dietary sugar in six generations, it isn’t possible. Even though sugar is natural (AND I LOVE RAW SUGAR IN MY COFFEE) I also believe that sugar is fairly toxic to our bodies. So, my choice is nothing in my coffee or Splenda. I’ll take my chances with Splenda.

The secondary consideration with respect to sugar (and honey) is that both wreak serious havoc with your blood sugar levels. Like a Yo-Yo, that’s a set up for long term damage. Those little sugar crystals in your blood are like ginsu knives, sharp as hell, lacerating every capillary they pass through, leaving behind scar tissue that impedes blood circulation.

But, I’m not opposed to sugar entirely, it has it’s place (you cannot make a creme brulee without it) and I will occasionally indulge in something I shouldn’t. But it has to be something that is decadent and sinful and delicious. Or a handful of M&M’s. 🙂

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19 The Wine Commonsewer August 19, 2009

Speaking of food, one of things that absolutely shocks and baffles me as a parent is how many people simply don’t feed their kids. I know it isn’t a scientific study but my son (8th grade) has spent the night at several different friend’s houses and when it comes to meals, there aren’t any. No dinner, no breakfast, no lunch. Pick him up at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon and he hasn’t eaten all day. Or they skateboarded down to Burger King at 7:00 am and bought a coke for breakfast.

These are middle class parents with decent jobs, not crackhead ho’s. WTF is up with this?

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20 Katie Pizzuto August 20, 2009

So you occasionally indulge in capillary laceration huh?! 🙂

As for the kid thing, I’m with you. My kid is 11, and whenever friends come over I concern myself with making sure everyone gets fed. I couldn’t imagine leaving them w/o food. But I’ve also picked him up @ friends’ houses and asked “did you eat lunch” only to get an answer I didn’t much like.

My other issue is really picky kids. They eat nothing but shit (chicken nuggets, pizza, McD’s) and look at a bowl of salad like it’s kryptonite!

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21 Mark August 20, 2009

Smart Balance or Earth Balance, olive oil and fresh herbs are great equalizers! Going vegan is an option. And if nothing works, screw it and just drink more wine to ease the pain.

In regards to kids eating a lot of shit these days-I agree. But, I was floored a few days ago, when my 6 year old wanted to trade me a salad for a whoppie pie. Go figure…

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22 Katie Pizzuto August 20, 2009

Slow down there, tiger, err, I mean Mark….No Smart Balance in my house…ever try cooking with that stuff? It’s practically all water when it dissolves! Too weird for me! My point is not to replace butter (in my case, of course) but to use it much less often, and in much less quantity. If a product has ingredients I can’t pronounce, I ain’t using it! But the drink more wine, concept…THAT I’m groovy with.

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23 The Wine Commonsewer August 20, 2009

Oh, and I am not giving up the half and half in my coffee, neither. Even if it is pasteurized and homo’d.

BTW, we had breakfast one morning by accident in the middle of back country Utah at a place called Hells Backbone Cafe. Everything was organic. Everything was delicious. This is a 5 star eatery. The kicker was the raw milk fresh from the cow. Haven’t had that since I was a kid and my kids had never had it. Oh man was it delicious! And, the fresh CREAM for the coffee (yes, I put four tablespoons of raw sugar in each cup). MMMMMM.

I’ll eventually get to blogging about it.

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24 Linsey August 21, 2009

got to admit when i stayed in usa i rather fell for half and half – would make some coffee and put that in mmmmmmmmmm

very dangerous to have cream in my home – i love it in coffee – and fools myself that having sweeteners rather than sugar is behaving lol

whats smart balance btw – lower calorie margerine?

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25 Katie Pizzuto August 21, 2009

@Mike…heard a lot of great things about Hells Backbone, actually. And raw milk…YUMMM.

@Linsey…Smart Balance is a “butter substitute” spread. They claim it contains no hydrogenated oil and no trans fatty acids which should lower bad cholesterol and raise the good one, but it’s LOADED with saturated fat (palm oil). In the end it’s still fat, mostly unhealthy fat, and a HIGHLY processed food….if you can call it food.

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26 Mark August 21, 2009

Linsey,
Smart Balance does seem more like margarine rather than real butter. It consists of 50% real butter and 50% of “God knows what” as Katie eluded too. But it claims to have much less saturated fat than real butter. But, Katie’s also right about this stuff disintegrating rather quickly in a hot pan.

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27 Linsey August 21, 2009

Plus isnt palm oil appalling for the environment because tropical areas are being destroyed to grow the stuff?

I know a lot of this ‘messed about’ butter/marg is bad for your health because of what they do to it to get it to spread easy or other claims

i must admit i love butter, but i dont put it in sandwiches and keep it to just on toast – so a pack lasts me a long time – but i would rather have a little bit of butter than marg any day

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28 The Wine Commonsewer August 21, 2009

Palm oil is worse for your body than lard, butter, or any other animal fat you want to name. It is one of very few fats that can make that claim.

Oil palms are farmed like other orchard-type crops. Mostly in Africa and Malaysia. Don’t know if the farmers are slashing and burning to plant Oil Palms or not.

Anybody else remember when the US Government put out a concerted effort to get everyone to switch from animal fats to transfats because animal fat was so unhealthy for you? I wish those boneheads would mind their own business and let the rest of us figure it out on our own.

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29 Linsey August 21, 2009

i have a feeling that places that animals like the orangutans live are being destroyed for palm oil plantations

combine that with bio-fuel and us saving the planet is going to wipe it out ecologically

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30 The Wine Commonsewer August 22, 2009

What about TRUVIA!

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31 Katie Pizzuto August 24, 2009

no, friggin’, thank you. They can keep Truvia, Equal, Sweet n’ Low, Splenda…all of it.

As for the palm oil, that’s the problem with all these “healthy foodstuffs” that hit the market. Most consumers just behave like the sheep they’ve been trained to be and buy whatever they are being told is better for them. Until they’re told it’s not so good 🙂

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32 Linsey August 24, 2009

Anyone notice that the diets that usually work in the end DOESN’T involve low cal processed stuff that is mass produced – more like 3 basic meals that are balanced with natural foods, simply cooked etc

ie – The Mediterranean diet, the Wartime diet etc – these diets will use fats etc but in moderation

reminds me also of a previous blog you did Katie of buying produce in season (and locally preferably) not strawberries from Spain, apples from the other side of the planet, chicken from Thailand, etc

I can remember supermarkets not needing to be giant warehouses of food because the produce was much simpler – now you look just in the freezer ready meal section and its overflowing – and most of it tastes blaaaaaaaah!

give me home cooking any day!

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33 Katie Pizzuto August 24, 2009

Even better than 3 meals, Lin, is 6 small ones each day…keeps your metabolism constantly on the go.

Anyhow, interesting article I just received, since we were discussing palm oil:

http://tinyurl.com/klt427

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34 Linsey August 24, 2009

There was a tv show on tonight – its mainly about the way food is used around the world – but one part centred on an area of India. There a biofuel crop is being planted – except its on land (gov land) that was used for crops by the local people. They were thrown off and now they are starving and living on handouts rather than being self-sufficient.

In another part of the show in Kenya crops of beans etc were being grown for European markets in the middle of the worst drought in the area – 1/3 of the crop was rejected for not looking perfect and ends up as animal feed – there is something freaking wrong here… big time!

Meanwhile in the UK apple farmers were going out of business because apples were being brought in from the other side of the planet…

wtf happened to sanity?

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35 Bee August 27, 2009

Is weird to be over the bacon fad, or to feel like bacon’s popularity is a bit over rated, just like how the girl who puts out is awesome for that, but not much for anything else? Just saying. Will I be fined for saying this?

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36 Linsey August 27, 2009

But are you talking about USA style bacon or UK style bacon – because they are so different.

With the uk one you get a really meaty section of the rasher – and that in a sandwich is really really nice.

I didnt really like the rock hard crispy USA style of bacon. It snaps like a potato chip… totally useless for a sandwich lol

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37 Katie Pizzuto August 27, 2009

@Bee…at least with bacon, you’re talking about more than fat. It adds salt, smoke, umami, etc. But yeah, bacon is definitely prom queen right now and it’s a little crazy.

@Linsey…You just had poorly executed US bacon, first of all…mine never snaps like a potato chip. Not to mention that, for the most part, that’s pre-sliced US bacon. We’ve got some great slab bacon as well, that you slice yourself.

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38 Linsey August 27, 2009
39 castello August 31, 2009

We never ever get bacon like Linsey shows us. It’s allmost all fat. I’d love to see more UK style or irish bacon. What kind of bacon is that Linsey?
Refered by Kahuna! Love your writing and can’t wait to try your vanillatini.

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40 Katie Pizzuto August 31, 2009

Come back often, Castello! I think Linsey needs to stash some of that bacon in her suitcase on her next trip across the pond! LOL.

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41 castello August 31, 2009

That would be the bees knees.`

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42 castello August 31, 2009

More about sugars. They now make a sweetener from the agave plant. It’s liquid sweetness that may be healthier than even raw sugar.

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43 Linsey August 31, 2009

Castello – its called back bacon here – it is actually the normal every day classic bacon you would get

best sort though is the dry-cured – that does crisp up when cooked because its not filled with a curing liquid

duchy originals do a great one (prince charles’s own brand)

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44 Linsey August 31, 2009

Katie I wish I could bring over meats and dairy products – so you could try some of our cheeses – mmmm red leicester

customs wont allow it though – spoilsports – would have loved to take back some meats like the ones from Arthur ave home and cannolli (omg i love them)

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45 castello September 1, 2009

Arthur Ave! I just looked it up and that looks like deli heaven. I’m wishing I was in New York for Arthur Ave and the awesome tennis.

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46 castello September 1, 2009

@bee. That’s a fantastic analogy. Too bad the double standard makes bacon look like a whore. Canadian bacon on the other hand looks like a hero.
You may be fined if you don’t respond.

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47 Katie Pizzuto September 1, 2009

Arthur Ave is a Mecca. Here’s a link to a post I did a while back about it:

http://tinyurl.com/cszudw

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48 Linsey September 1, 2009

I love arthur ave – the fish shop, that deli with the meats hanging, the butchers ……. homer droooling right nowwwwww

so many memories flooding back… the scallops and skatewings mmmmm the cheeses

damn why does christmas have to be 4 months away!

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