Time to go back to culinary school

It’s probably bad form to point out some idiocy happening on the airwaves of my former employer, but really, it’s just idiocy by association.  One of my former co-workers linked to this video on Twitter.  A chef from Cadillac Ranch in Tempe, AZ was on the Fox morning show today with a recipe for Guinness Beef Stew for Father’s Day when the forecast high is 103.

Guiness Stew + Phoenix + June= gross.

I’m pretty sure Dad would rather have a tie than a piping hot bowl of stew.

I have a really hard time believing a chef would come up with this idea.  I’ll take up my twitfriend Gastropoda’s crusade and say this stinks of clueless flackery.  Whoever sold this story idea should be stewboarded.

Snack food nation

American kids snack a lot and some parents are finding this to be a big problem. Snacks seem de rigeur whenever more than two children gather for… pretty much anything.
A recent story in the NY Times questioned the need for snacks at kid events that only last an hour and a half, or events that happen shortly before a standard mealtime. The story partially puts the blame on a society that seemingly pushes snacks on us from every angle.

Maybe because we do have the opportunity to eat pretty much whenever we please, the thought of NOT being able to eat for a couple of hours makes people feel as though they’re planning for end times.

Take for instance the really annoying thread that pops up from time-to-time on the sometimes infantile Craigslist Food Forum: Someone posts that they’re getting ready to take a flight and they want advice on recipes for airplane friendly food that they can pack and take with them to consume on their 4 hour flight from San Francisco (or New York) to Peoria, Illinois. They don’t want to subject themselves to the horrors of airplane food (that they now have to pay for), or what they deem as the unpalatable options at the airport. Apparently, a small bag of trail mix just isn’t good enough. They have to prove to the people in the seats around them that they are so culinarily evolved that even a simple snack food is beneath them.

God forbid they go more than 4 hours without shoving something into their gobs. They might starve up there in the thin air! They act as if there might not be food where they land.

And the author of the NY Times piece wonders why there have to be snacks at every event. The kids don’t demand it; it’s the spoiled parents projecting their infantile desires on their kids.

Mince Memories

When I first moved to Australia I was amazed at how mince tarts were everywhere at Christmas.  When I was a kid, mince pies were something my mom made at Thanksgiving or Christmas to accomodate the old people in my family.  I don’t know that I ever tried my mom’s pie because I was turned off by the word “mincemeat”.

So, imagine my surprise when I tried a mince tart my first Christmas in Australia and found out that- Hey!- I actually liked them. 

Last year, my last Christmas in Australia before moving back to the U.S., I had the privilege of participating in Mince Pie Making Day at Brendan’s house.  He and I worked on a radio show together and every year he invites friends and co-workers to his house to assemble hundreds and hundreds of mince tarts.  Everyone gets to take some of their handiwork home.

Brendan's kids helped show us the way to the "factory".

A lot of butter and a big bowl of mince were there to greet us. Brendan and Nicki's mince recipe is a tightly guarded secret.

Brendan's wife, Nicki, was the pastry roller extraordinaire.

Everyone takes a turn at the table filling their trays with mince tarts.

A tray of tarts ready for the oven.

We kept the oven quite busy. We made almost 60 dozen tarts.

Bruce and Brendan, my buddies from Gastronaut on Radio Adelaide.

The table for the finished tarts. For some reason the kids really enjoyed playing in here!

Chocolate milk wars

Marion Nestle continues to fight the good fight, trying to prevent every single American from becoming a Biggest Loser contestant in waiting.  This time, she’s taking on chocolate milk in schools and she’s taking heat as usual, being accused of being a Food Nazi and trying to tell people what they can and can not eat.

Well, screw that. 

Someone’s got to take responsibility for what’s being shoved down our kids throats if parents aren’t going to.

The milk industry is trying to convince parents that sweetened and flavored milk is about they only way they’re going to get their kids to drink it, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if parents fell for that argument hook, line and sinker.

Do these parents not remember elementary school, because I do. And I distinctly recall that chocolate milk was not an option back in the austere 1970s when the term “childhood obesity rate” was hardly ever used.  We all brought our 5 cents to school and got to choose between whole milk or 2% and we’d drink it every morning.  WITHOUT A SNACK!!

No one died. No one got sick.  No one complained.  We drank our milk because that just what you did.

I always wanted chocolate milk.  I would beg for it.  My mom refused about 99% of the time.  She told me it would ruin my appetite.  I sullenly drank my white milk, because she told me to.  Every once in a blue moon she’d let me have chocolate milk when we went to the local cafeteria and I got to drink it after I ate my dinner.  Once, I gulped it down so fast I threw up.

So what happened to those days? Why aren’t parents today insisting their kids drink plain milk and not viewing chocolate milk as an occassional treat?  My short answer is that parents are lazy.  It’s much easier to give into your kids who are always going to pester you for something sweet– it’s in our biological make up to want sweets.  And that is why kids are fat and getting fatter.

Someone needs to be a parent. Right now, Marion Nestle and the others who are fighting back against this chocolate milk propaganda campaign are the only ones with the balls to do it.  Call them Food Nazis if you want, but know that term is really just another term for being a grown up.

Eating to combat climate change

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There are so many things I could write about that are food related for the Blog Action Day theme of climate change.  I’m sure a lot of food bloggers are writing about eating less meat, eating local and organics, and that’s all great.  But I’m going to focus on something a lot of people probably wouldn’t think twice about when it comes to their food: packaging.

When I lived in Australia, I began buying more fresh food than ever in my life because of the abundance of fresh food/farmers markets and fruit and veg shops.  Most butcher shops there didn’t use styrofoam packing trays for their meat, although the grocery stores did.  What I noticed quite quickly was how little trash my husband and I were creating because we ate so much fresh food.

There were very few cans, boxes and bottles in our garbage.  What few I did use, made it into the recycle bin because South Australia had a wonderful curbside recycling program.  We’d get to the end of another week and have only a puny bag of garbage to go in our great big wheelie bin.  It made me feel virtuous.

So the moral of this story is that fresh food is not only good for you, it’s good for the environment, too, because it cuts down on the packaging filling our landfills that will hang out there for who knows how long.

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

Apparently celebrity farmers are the Next Big Thing.  And while a humble Sonoma County vegetable grower probably isn’t going to achieve the cult status of say, Joel Salatin (who was popularized in The Omnivore’s dilemma), Leonardo Urena was a Rock Star (captial R, capital S) at the Harvest Fair yesterday.

About a dozen people surrounded him as he told the tale of his 1110 pound pumpkin which took first place in the annual pumpkin weigh-off.  He grew it organically, kept it shaded and watered, and even cut chunk out of it to prevent mold from spreading and destroying his prized pumpkin.

Watching him answer questions made me realize that for every celebrity farmer, there are hundreds- if not thousands- of others who will live their lives in relative obscurity, and it makes me glad there are competitions like this at state and county fairs because it gives these quiet people a chance to shine before they come back down to the earth to which they’re so connected.

No more flavorless tomatoes

It’s tomato season and I should be happy about that, right? Certainly I am, but tomato season brings with it the disturbing reminder that most people don’t have a clue that tomatoes even have a season, a fact that was reinforced for me twice yesterday in a most ironic way.

First, I read this great piece about workers who pay the ultimate price for our insatiable desire for tomatoes and what one woman is doing to change that.  Then, I went to dinner last night at a nice restaurant that claims to use “the freshest possible local ingredients”, and while it served me grass-fed beef, it also served a firm, flavorless tomato that was barely pink -all the hallmarks of an industrially produced tomato-with a salad.  Why on earth, when tomatoes are everywhere right now, would a chef serve this abomination to local food?  Perhaps he chooses to cut that corner because he thinks that since most people are willing to eat that kind of tomato in winter, they’re willing to settle for it at any time of year.

How is this possible? Every summer I hear the same thing: people oohing and ahhing over fresh homegrown tomatoes and how wonderful they are and how much better they taste than tomatoes they eat in the winter.  You’d think people would get a clue and quit wasting their money on tomatoes in the winter.

I finally clued in a few years ago during my gastronomy course when our professor used the term “esculence”, which technically means suitable for eating, but her usage implied not only suitability, but perfection or a peak ripeness.  Learning that word was a game changer for me and I gradually quit buying fresh tomatoes during the winter.  And you know what? It was liberating, culinarily speaking, especially when it came to making salads.  In place of fresh tomatoes I used pears, dried cranberries, sweet mandarin slices, and-yes- even sundried tomatoes that were preserved when tomatoes were at their peak.  All of these fruits helped make the salads a wonderful change of pace from the run-of-the-mill garden salad with lettuce, tomato and cucumber that is ubiquitous because it requires so little thought.

But the best part about my wintertime tomato ban is looking forward to this time of year when we’re inundated with tomatoes of all different colors, shapes and flavors.  This summer, because Iwasn’t lulled into complacency by insipid winter tomatoes, I was one of the first people in line at the farmer’s market to buy the first homegrown tomatoes of the season.  I can honestly say I’ve savored every bite knowing that I’ll never eat a flavorless tomato again.