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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.

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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!

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.

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.

Does this cinnamon roll make my butt look fat?

I have found what could quite possibly be the world’s largest cinnamon roll.  I’m not counting the cinnamon rolls that are made as part of a stunt to get into some sort of world record book or in honor of National Cinnamon Roll day (if there is such a thing, which I’m sure there probably is).  I’m just talking about your everyday,  average, run-of-the-mill cinnamon rolls served at diners, cafes and restaurants on a regular basis. 

I encountered this behemoth, butter-laden pastry at the Rocking Chair Cafe in Conway, Missouri which is smack-dab between Springfield and Lebanon along I-44.  I’d read the cinnamon rolls were big here, but I was not fully prepared for what I saw as the waitress approached my table.  When she saw my face she guffawed.  Other patrons whispered and tittered as I whipped out my camera to take a photo (little did they know that I take pictures of lots of food).

It was so big it was spilling off the plate. This cinnamon roll was 7 inches across and 3 1/2 inches high in the center and about 3 inches around the outside (yes, I actually used a ruler).  And DAMN was it ever good.  Sometimes big food can be really disappointing, but not this time.  They way I figure it, it was at least 147 cu. inches of scrumptiousness.  And I know I’m a hypocrite the way I go on about this cinnamon roll because I’m the first to complain about how gargatuan portion sizes doled out at restaurants are making Americans fat, but in my defense I had to struggle to finish half of it.

I googled for photos of what other people consider the “biggest cinnamon roll” and found a few examples here and here that pale in comparison to the monster at the Rocking Chair.   Are there any other cinnamon rolls out there that can beat this one? I’d love to see it if there is.

Even better than the real thing

Okay.  I know I totally railed on sugar consumption in my last post, but I didn’t say we shouldn’t consume ANY sugar.

That said, who is with me that Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs are so much better than regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? I’m quite certain it’s the higher peanut butter-to-chocolate ratio that makes them so over-the-top to-die-for.  I think they tasted better to me this year than any other because I haven’t had them for a few years.  Although I found Reese’s cups in Australia in specialty candy shops that cost an arm and a leg, I never found Reese’s eggs, so now that I’m back in the good ol’ U.S. of A I’m on cloud nine. I know I should say Easter is all about Jesus and the resurrection, but seriously, Easter is all about the Reese’s Eggs .

Finally, a President who gets it

So glad to wake up and see this, this morning:  President Obama has announced an overhaul of the FDA. 

I’m sure some people (and by some people I mean Republicans in Congress) are going to piss and moan that he’s making the government even bigger.  Really, though, and I’ll have to read more before I weigh in on this, it sounds like he wants to streamline things among several agencies in order to make sure our food is safe.