Consider the Cannoli: Subjective Preferences and Conversations about Geek Media

Janx

Hero
He did declare the entire concept of fried pastry with a soft filling to be fundamentally flawed, though. Which, as someone who has never experienced cannoli, but has risked many a burned tongue on a fast food fried apple pie, I take issue with.
aye, there is that.

I just don't know what to do about the many blasphemies of Snarf. Perhaps it is a matter for the Pastriarchy to decide.
 

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1. The Great Wave of Ricotta.

I often think about cannoli. They occupy my thoughts, bedevil my dreams. Not because I love them, or obsess about them. Nor because the eating of a cannoli opens my mind to a Proust-like reverie. Instead, it's because of my bewilderment and bafflement. There are so many amazing desserts, so many worthy pastries, yet the cannoli has spread like the cicada across our land; and, like the cicada, people constantly talk about eating them, and how they are crunchy, yet ... I find the cicada and cannoli equally appetizing.

Wait, did I put the cart before the horse? What is cannoli? Canonically (cannolionically?), the true cannoli is a fried pastry dough. Within this fried dough in the form of a tube, a sweet filling based on cheese (usually ricotta) is put in. On occasion, you will see the cannoli dolled up with other accoutrements to hide the banality of its existence- chocolate chips here, pistachios there. Sometimes, you will see variations of it- "Look, ma, I stuff my tube with chocolate!" But for my purposes, I am discussing the platonic ideal of the cannoli.


2. Fine Pastry, Clear Morning.

The cannoli conundrum first reared its head when I was in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for some time. Previously, I had partaken of the cannoli, and had observed them to be, at best, unexceptional, and at worst, terrible. Much like most pastries made in America. Yet now I was hearing this continual refrain- "You have to try the cannoli in the North End. It will change your life. It is the best cannoli."

So on I went, trying these various cannoli, over the course of several weeks, from all of the places in the North End. Each time, I expected that moment. That eureka. That lightbulb. That understanding. I wanted to love the cannoli. But the epiphany never happened. I understood that the cannoli I had here was better than that of other places. I timed it to try and get it fresher. But the fundamental nature of the cannoli continued to make it ... fine. Even the best, freshest, North End cannoli was ... fine. I could appreciate the shell, I could appreciate the filling, and I would just think, "This just isn't a great concept for a pastry. This isn't even as good as a mediocre profiterole."


3. Thunderstorm Beneath Pellegrino

Of course, maybe the problem wasn't the cannoli, maybe the problem was the North End cannoli. I quested, looking high and low to find a cannoli that measured up to some mythical, platonic ideal of what cannoli should be; importantly, perhaps the cannoli would be something I enjoyed! If so many people love cannoli, then I must be the one who does not understand the alluring appeal, so I need to locate that perfect cannoli.

After the North End cannoli, I was told that there was another place in Boston that had even better cannoli. It didn't. Then I was told that, by the people in the know, that the only good place to go was Federal Hill in Providence, because the mob doesn't suffer bad cannoli. Apparently, the mafia didn't get that memo- the cannoli wasn't good. I tried cannoli throughout the United States, and was disappointed. I even tried cannoli when I was in Italy, going so far as to sample the cannoli in Sicily. Those were, by far, the best cannoli I had. They were pretty, pretty, pretty ... okay. The best cannoli was ... fine.


4. Under Mannen Bridge Eating Dessert

For a long time, I did not know how to process this cannoli issue. I still remember those times in that Commonwealth, when people would come to visit, and they would ask me... "What should we do?" And I would reply, "Why, we should go to the North End, because they have the best cannoli!" And the entire time I said that, a part of me was screaming inside. I didn't like, or want, the cannoli. They aren't good. What is this weird group-think that makes everyone go and get it? Yet I couldn't stop myself from repeating what everyone knew. I lacked that confidence in my own taste.

One day, I talked about it with friends. I finally voiced that nagging fear that had been with me the entire time. "Hey, um, so, you know what? I think .... I think cannoli are overrated." And I got the immediate reply, "No way! That's impossible! That's .... that's .... that's like saying No-mah will get traded." Yes, the irony is not lost on me. But in addition to the pushback, there was a knowing look in many eyes, and agreement. Turns out that quite a few people also didn't like cannoli. As one of my friends said, "Thank god you said it. I'd rather have Dunkies any day than another fakkin' North End cannoli."


5. Cushion Pine with Tiramisu

So it goes. I know, deep down, that even the best cannoli will never be something I truly enjoy. That the cult of cannoli is something that, to me, is overhyped and overrated- the crunchy fried shell and soft filling is simply a bad form for a pastry. Best of all, I know that when I can express this opinion, there will be those that finally can recognize that same feeling that has gone unvoiced for so long deep within themselves. You don't have to go with the flow. You don't have to unthinkingly accept the dire hegemony of the cannoli.

Of course, when I voice my opinion about the dread cannoli, there will always be that guy. That guy has heard what I said, but he knows my preferences better than I do. So, inevitably, I will hear about some supposed real best cannoli. Some place has it- a mom & pop restaurant, a modern patisserie started by a celebrity chef, a hole-in-the-wall bodega that specializes in tacos, pho, and cannoli ... some place. And he knows, he just knows, that if I have this particular cannoli, it will change my opinion. And do you know what? I smile, and nod, and then I go and give it a try, because I'm Charlie Brown, and cannoli is Lucy with the football, and that disappointment is part of my life cycle. Besides, I have to honor the chutzpah of someone who hears my cannoli tale and thinks to themselves, "Hey, he just needs a better cannoli!"


6. A sketch of the Sprinkles shop in Suruga in Edo

Some people are all into cupcakes. Screw 'em.


7. Tea House at Koishikawa. The morning after a Netflix Binge.

All of this, of course, goes back to the strong concepts I have long harbored regarding the subjective appreciation a person can have for art. On this forum, it is most apparent when discussing geek media (and, for that matter, D&D, but that's neither here nor there). There are objective things ... facts .... that can be discussed; the names of Star Trek Captains. The director of Empire Strikes Back. But art will affect each of us differently. In fact, sometimes art will hit us differently depending on when we view it.

There are things that I loved as a kid, or as a teen, or as a young adult, that I no longer have the same affection for. There are things that I love now that I would not have loved then. There are preference that I have regarding my media that are important to me, that may not be important to other people.

That said, there is a genuine joy in discussing these topics with other people who share that passion. I like to share the aspects of the things I like, and that I don't; not in the hope that people will always agree with my personal preferences, but rather in the desire that the conversation that ensues is interesting. Is Season ....6 ... of Buffy the best, or at least on par with season 3? Is the Leftovers the best Science Fiction show of the past seven years? If I said the OA might be "in the conversation" with the Leftovers, would I be too crazy, or not crazy enough? If I said I was both giddy with anticipation and dreading the upcoming Dune, because I keep thinking that Denis Villeneuve's movies are visually amazing and yet pretentiously hollow, does that make me too wrong, or too right? I don't know. It's all about preferences.

Like the cannoli. It's a terribly overrated pastry. And yet, assuming they aren't lying to me to keep me consuming something I am not enjoying, some people like 'em ... even love them. Good taste is the excuse I have used for leading a bad life, but I always have to keep myself open to the possibility that Sully, in his Bruins Jersey, still crying over the loss of Tom Brady, clutching his Sam Adams in one hand and his Bova's cannoli in the other ... knows more about pastries than I ever will.

Cannoli aren't to everyone's taste, and I am sure it is like many things: with what you ate growing up having a lot to do with it. If you don't like North End Cannoli, you probably don't like Cannoli (I liked the Cannoli at D'Amicis in Lynn myself, but that is just preference ---it was a nice local bakery overall; we used to get platters of mini-cannoli with a bunch of other pastries). I think of Cannoli as comfort food. They aren't meant to have complex taste or anything like that, they are just creamy and fatty, and, crispy and sweet. For me, I have a lot of associations that come up when I eat them (can't really eat them any more though so past tense I suppose). A lot of Italian food is like that. A good tomato sauce isn't necessarily five star quality, it is how close it gets to tasting like my Mom's or my Aunts sauce.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I have to say, if I want a dessert in an Italian restaurant, I’m looking for gelato first, second and third. To me, even a good cannoli or tiramisu are OK at best, but even an OK gelato is a divine gift.

(And for the record, I’ve had all three in Italy.)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I have to say, if I want a dessert in an Italian restaurant, I’m looking for gelato first, second and third. To me, even a good cannoli or tiramisu are OK at best, but even an OK gelato is a divine gift.

(And for the record, I’ve had all three in Italy.)

I have to say, if I want a dessert in an Italian restaurant, then I know I didn't eat at a real Italian restaurant, because at a real Italian restaurant the portions are so big that dessert isn't an option- it's a threat.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
(And for the record, I’ve had all three in Italy.)

I went on a trip to Rome and Venice a few years back, and one pice of advice we were given was, "Have gelato every day." It was good advice.

We did also have a cooking class in which we did a variant of tiramisu I actually liked, which is remarkable given that I'm not a fan of coffee.
 

Bagels
Yeah, well, some bread-product-calling-itself-bagel deserves to be treated that way anyhow.

I used to work in a place that did the old school bagels, boiled, then baked. They were great. But there is a style of bagel that is steamed. The bagels come out larger and are pretty good for making sandwiches. I personally prefer the boiled bagel, but I think the other ones are good too.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I went on a trip to Rome and Venice a few years back, and one pice of advice we were given was, "Have gelato every day." It was good advice.

We did also have a cooking class in which we did a variant of tiramisu I actually liked, which is remarkable given that I'm not a fan of coffee.
The last time I hit Rome, there were 3 gelato places on the same corner as our hotel. Each one had killer stuff and we frequently found ourselves hanging out in the street at night, enjoying one last scoop with fellow travelers and locals alike.

And in fairness, somewhat contrary to what I said, I had a tiramisu that trip that was so good it shamed every one I’d ever had in the USA. If more tiramisu here were like the one I had then, I’d be eating more of it. All I can say is that something about that dish was either lost in translation when it hit our shores, or the person who made that tiramisu was taking it to the next level.

Oh, and speaking of coffee-flavored desserts, if anyone lives near a Milwaukee Joe’s ice cream place, their Java flavor exists at the crossroads of coffee & chocolate.
 
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Zardnaar

Legend
Italian one food I don't care about.
Generally I don't believe in paying money for pasta. Make it yourself at home.

Steak meal or some pasta dish that doesn't fill you and they're about the same price. Or you can go get something else for a similar price.

May have gotten to used to spices in Turkish/Arabic/Persian dishes so Italian/French is kinda bland to me.

Gelato is ok but we have great ice cream here. Imported stuff not so great. Foods so subjective as well.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Italian one food I don't care about.
Generally I don't believe in paying money for pasta. Make it yourself at home.

Steak meal or some pasta dish that doesn't fill you and they're about the same price. Or you can go get something else for a similar price.

May have gotten to used to spices in Turkish/Arabic/Persian dishes so Italian/French is kinda bland to me.

Gelato is ok but we have great ice cream here. Imported stuff not so great. Foods so subjective as well.

I'm pretty sure I've told this story before. I was eating at a Japanese restaurant on a date; at another table was a boisterous group of younger individuals. At one point, one of the individuals who was loudly trying to impress the rest of the table about his knowledge of Japanese cuisine (which seemed to go a little further than the California roll, but not as far as sashimi or udon) started talking about how much he loved sushi and Japanese food, and how much better it was than the terribly pretentious food at other places.

At that point, he said, "What have the French ever done for world cuisine, anyway?" Not with irony, either.

That's become kind of an joke with people I know moving forward- the idea that people get so enthusiastic about something that they don't realize the things they still don't know.

I think that food (like most tastes) has both a subjective and an objective component, but we tend to confuse the two things. For example, a dish can be made well or poorly, the ingredients can be fresh or off, the price is what it is and so on.

But whether you like something ... well, some people just don't like certain things. All you can ever do is ask someone to try something. I agree that Turkish/Arabic/Persian dishes are amazing, but I avoid anything with rosewater flavor in it- that's one of the few flavors I just can't enjoy.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
...but I avoid anything with rosewater flavor in it- that's one of the few flavors I just can't enjoy.

Many traditional recipes for baklava include rosewater, which I also cannot abide. So many find it off-putting that many American producers of the sweet will leave it out.

A friend of mine made a baklava replacing the rosewater with orange blossom water, and the result was amazing.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Many traditional recipes for baklava include rosewater, which I also cannot abide. So many find it off-putting that many American producers of the sweet will leave it out.

A friend of mine made a baklava replacing the rosewater with orange blossom water, and the result was amazing.

Orange blossom water sounds good!

I think the issue I have is with "perfume-y" flavors. Whether it's rosewater, lavender, or violet, I get a weird soap-y flavoring.
 

I have to say, if I want a dessert in an Italian restaurant, then I know I didn't eat at a real Italian restaurant, because at a real Italian restaurant the portions are so big that dessert isn't an option- it's a threat.
Leading up to our wedding, my wife won a trip to stay at a estate outside Firenze that housed a culinary school. The individual plates were not big, but we certainly did not have room for dessert. :-D
We did also have a cooking class in which we did a variant of tiramisu I actually liked, which is remarkable given that I'm not a fan of coffee.
I've had remarkably good luck with variations of berry-flavored tiramisu. Raspberry with mint leaves being a notoriously good seller amongst my friends.
Orange blossom water sounds good!

I think the issue I have is with "perfume-y" flavors. Whether it's rosewater, lavender, or violet, I get a weird soap-y flavoring.
My folks brought home some edible lavender from a trip to Seattle (apparently it is a thing) and we've been trying to find interesting recipes. A lot of my friends have balked at the resultant creations. It is strange how something gets associated with medicine or cleaning products (because it is a go-to scent to add to such things). I know lots of Europeans can't abide wintergreen (and thus root beer) because it is a flavoring/scent for their cough syrups and such. Strangely, I don't know anyone who can't abide mint 'because it tastes like toothpaste' or similar.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've had remarkably good luck with variations of berry-flavored tiramisu. Raspberry with mint leaves being a notoriously good seller amongst my friends.

Replacing the coffee with a raspberry syrup, you mean? Then you're basically making a cake with a raspberry filling, which is known to work, sure.

My folks brought home some edible lavender from a trip to Seattle (apparently it is a thing) and we've been trying to find interesting recipes. A lot of my friends have balked at the resultant creations. It is strange how something gets associated with medicine or cleaning products (because it is a go-to scent to add to such things).

So, with regards to lavender, violet and rose the issue isn't just psychological association with perfumes, but actual similar chemical makeup. These floral herbs, along with cilantro, carry a hefty does of aldehydes that some folks are more sensitive to than others. Aldehydes are also a by-product of making soap (fragmentign fats with lye or other alkaline substance), and are present in soaps even if you don't add perfume.
 

Replacing the coffee with a raspberry syrup, you mean? Then you're basically making a cake with a raspberry filling, which is known to work, sure.
I mean, if you consider tiramisu just a cake with coffee filling, sure. I consider the specific arrangement of Savoiardi/lady fingers, mascarpone, and the layering to be a unique enough experience that you can make 'tiramisu, but with ______' concoctions which wouldn't just thematically default back to being a cake, but I suppose that's entirely subjective.
So, with regards to lavender, violet and rose the issue isn't just psychological association with perfumes, but actual similar chemical makeup. These floral herbs, along with cilantro, carry a hefty does of aldehydes that some folks are more sensitive to than others. Aldehydes are also a by-product of making soap (fragmentign fats with lye or other alkaline substance), and are present in soaps even if you don't add perfume.
Yes, but the individuals in question didn't get the change to smell the isodihydrolavandulal, they balked at the very concept of a lavender scone before I even brought them. I deeply suspect it was a psychological association in this case.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Yes, but the individuals in question didn't get the change to smell the isodihydrolavandulal, they balked at the very concept of a lavender scone before I even brought them. I deeply suspect it was a psychological association in this case.

shrug I mean, I'd probably pass on lavender scones, too, based on past experience with lavender. I don't need to taste yours to know I find lavender to be unpleasant.

Not that this holds with your folks, just that a lifetime is usually long enough to have experience with stuff.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Rosewater is that one of the flavours in Turkish delight? The soapy one.

Love Turkish food but not a massive fan of Turkish Delight. Baklava is ok along with Fry's Turkish delight which isn't very authentic.

Scones gotta be savory. Pass on lavender ones.
 

shrug I mean, I'd probably pass on lavender scones, too, based on past experience with lavender. I don't need to taste yours to know I find lavender to be unpleasant.

Not that this holds with your folks, just that a lifetime is usually long enough to have experience with stuff.
shrug alright.
Rosewater is that one of the flavours in Turkish delight? The soapy one.

Love Turkish food but not a massive fan of Turkish Delight. Baklava is ok along with Fry's Turkish delight which isn't very authentic.

Scones gotta be savory. Pass on lavender ones.
It is. How about the lemon or orange flavored ones?

I consider sweet and savory scones to be almost different beasts. Kinda like sweet and savory filo creations (I'd take Börek over Baklava most days).

The lavender scones were okay -- even among sweet scones I'd probably prefer something like currants, candied peel, or the like.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
shrug alright.

It is. How about the lemon or orange flavored ones?

I consider sweet and savory scones to be almost different beasts. Kinda like sweet and savory filo creations (I'd take Börek over Baklava most days).

The lavender scones were okay -- even among sweet scones I'd probably prefer something like currants, candied peel, or the like.

They're ok but I don't live them. I'll eat them but won't go out of my way to aquire them.

Used to get a few pieces for free when ordering meals.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I think that food (like most tastes) has both a subjective and an objective component, but we tend to confuse the two things. For example, a dish can be made well or poorly, the ingredients can be fresh or off, the price is what it is and so on.
In my culinary adventures, I have found that, while I have certain foods/flavors I generally don’t like, I have also discovered that in the hands of a truly skilled cook, even things I don’t like can be palatable…even enjoyable.*

For example, I don’t like arugula. But I’ve had it served to me in 3 different places where I enjoyed it, one of which I’d actually go to SEEKING that dish. (Unfortunately, that place closed decades ago when the owner decided to stop paying his rent.)

Asparagus? One Greek restaurant made me forget my dislike of it. Nobody else.

Pumpkin is something I usually eat once very year or two, usually in pie form. But in January of 2020, I discovered a Burmese restaurant that serves a meat (your choice of pork, chicken or shrimp) & pumpkin stew that I’ve now had 3 times. The same place makes a shrimp & eggplant dish that I don’t even need the shrimp to enjoy. (Eggplant is the veggie that is the defining line between veggies I like and those I dislike.)

Five cooks- three still living- have conquered my general dislike of okra with their gumbos. And one of them recently taught me how to make white beans in a way I like.

So even though I’m well aware of my preferences, I haven’t closed the door on trying things I normally dislike when prepared differently from what I have already experienced.



* not including differences in tastes that are genetically hardwired, like those poor souls for whom cilantro tastes soapy. I have seemingly been blessed with not having any of those (or similar) genes.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
In my culinary adventures, I have found that, while I have certain foods/flavors I generally don’t like, I have also discovered that in the hands of a truly skilled cook, even things I don’t like can be enjoyable.*

For example, I don’t like arugula. But I’ve had it served to me in 3 different places where I enjoyed it, one of which I’d actually go to SEEKING that dish. (Unfortunately, that place closed decades ago when the owner decided to stop paying his rent.)

Asparagus? One restaurant made me forget my dislike of it.

Pumpkin is


* not including differences in tastes that are genetically hardwired, like those poor souls for whom cilantro tast soapy.

I generally agree, but also think it can be more complicated.

My rule of thumb is always that people should always try something, but ... well, people are bundles of all sorts of weirdness. Tastes can evolve over time (things you like when you are younger, you might not like now, and vice-versa). Preferences can change as well (I'm really into bitter in a way I wasn't in the past). And how the food is prepared, and in what context, can also matter- there are preparations of okra that are amazing, and some that are just slimy/inedible (to me).

But yeah, the most skilled cooks can do wonders with foods!
 

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