One of my favorite shows on the Food Network is The Pioneer Woman. For me, she is the television equivalent of taking a tranquilizer. There is something about her calm demeanor, soothing voice and comforting recipes that lulls me into a semi-comatose state where I only care about what cheese she will use in her next dish. But as I watch her and unconsciously wipe the drool that has slowly made its way down my chin, I find I have moments of clarity where I suddenly realize just how much butter she has added to her latest mashed potato casserole. It is in these moments that the tranquilizer wears off (albeit briefly) and I began adding up how much fat, salt, etc. is in her latest dish.
This happened to me last weekend while watching back to back episodes of her show. She was making a hash brown casserole and had added yet another layer of cheese and bacon. I turned to my husband and asked, “Does this seem excessive to you?” “Oh, yes,” was his enthusiastic response as his eyes remained glued to the television. “So why is it okay,” I asked. He finally tore his eyes away from the cheese laden potatoes and said, “Well, I guess it isn’t, but I LIKE her!” Yes, I like her too, but that isn’t the point. Wasn’t Paula Deen vilified by Anthony Bourdain a few years ago for making unhealthy food? So why is it okay when the Pioneer Woman does it again and again and again?
Show after show, recipe after recipe the Pioneer Woman loads her dishes with excessive amounts of fat, butter, cream and fatty meats. Yet not one person has come out against her. Why? Why can Paula Deen be held accountable and not the Pioneer Woman? The only answer I can come up with is it is all in the delivery. While Paula Deen shouted from the rafters, “Yes! More butter!” The Pioneer Woman, quietly and mellifluously, whispers, “Yes, I use more heavy cream in this casserole. If that is wrong I don’t want to be right.” Then with a shy smile and a flip of her long red hair, she pours three quarts of heavy cream into the bowl. Guess what? It works. I find myself nodding my head and giggling as she pours that heavy cream into her dish. Oh, the Pioneer Woman is being naughty again, I think to myself.
The truth of the matter is that the Pioneer Woman’s shows are made up of recipes that would make a heart surgeon go running for the paddles. Her food is simply beyond unhealthy. I know, she supposedly is cooking for her hard-working ranching family that works physically hard from dawn to dusk. The applied logic is that they will burn off the 3,000 calorie lunch she has served them out of the back of her pick-up. But what about the rest of us, you know, the majority of Americans that sit at their desks and then sit on their couches? If we all ate like they did we would easily weigh 600 pounds.
Will I stop watching the Pioneer Woman? No! I will continue to binge on her over the top dishes with my eyes, not with my mouth. I only hope that other viewers do the same.
I normally write about food, but today I’m going to write about something that, for many, is very closely linked to food: body image. Any regular readers of my blog will know I, like many women (and men), spent countless years of my life in a food fight. That is, I loved to eat, but I also was obsessed with fitting in with whatever body type was being exulted by the media at any given moment. So, I wasted so much time on crash diets, hating my body and basically, missing out on many of life’s wonderful moments. I mean, how do you truly enjoy a bubbling hot piece of pizza if all you are thinking about is what it MAY do to your thighs? You can’t. Luckily, with a lot of soul-searching I finally made peace with food and for the most part, my body.
Now, just because I made peace with my body, doesn’t mean society in general did! I am a very thin woman. Yes I eat. Yes I exercise. I am stating this because so many strangers think it is perfectly okay to make comments to me about my weight, what I am eating, how much I exercise, etc. Surprised? You shouldn’t be, considering that body shaming has become our nation’s favorite pastime.
In one week I watched Kelly Clarkson get vilified for not losing her baby weight fast enough and Guiliana Rancic get raked across the coals for being too skinny. I think what bothered me the most was many of those doing this body shaming were women. So much for sisterhood. You would think this was all due to the anonymity that the internet affords, but I beg to differ. Yes, this type of shaming has become more widespread with the advent of social media, but it has been going on for many years, long before we all had various social media accounts.
Not only have I watched this type of behavior happen, as I stated earlier, I am often the recipient. If I had a dollar for every time a stranger asked me how much I weighed, I would be a millionaire. I would never ask an overweight person how much they weighed and if I did, I would be rightfully considered a disrespectful boor. It is the same intrusion when you ask a thin person how much they weigh. Further, why should it matter? Is the person inside whatever type of body kind, loving, generous? That is what counts.
Even if you have not been personally body shamed, we all feel the pressure. Every week a new example of a woman’s body part is held up as the perfect behind, breast etc. And then, in turn, becomes the new unattainable obsession for so many woman. We are made to feel less than if we don’t have a thigh gap or Kim Kardashian’s behind. Let’s stop the insanity. Let us not only accept and embrace our bodies, but also extend that same acceptance to other women.
Imagine what we could accomplish if we stopped worrying so much about our (and others’) weight, hips, thighs, breasts and behinds. What a force we would be…
No, I’m not suddenly dining with Saudi royalty. I’m talking about the Shahs of Sunset. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a realty show on Bravo that follows a group of Persian friends around L.A. In typical reality show fashion, they fight, they make up, there are scandals and there is gossip. What isn’t typical, is the amount of time they spend either eating or talking about eating. Which, of course, I love.
Now, I’m not talking about an occasional meal or a few catered parties, no, trust me when I tell you, there is food in almost EVERY scene. Really. For example, if one is visiting another’s home, you better believe there will be a spread set out on the coffee table that could choke ten horses. Cakes, fruit, cheese, bread, vegetables, etc. And don’t think it is simply for show or decoration, no, these people dig right in. My husband and I frequently pause the show and go back to watch the camera scan of the food, trying desperately to name everything they are eating.
Also, I am obsessed with dining with them at a restaurant. Why? They order food as if they are preparing for a hundred mile marathon. The best part? They always say to the server, “Oh, we just want a few things to nibble on.” Then they proceed to order half the menu. In last week’s episode, Asa & Mike (two shahs) meet at a restaurant and Asa says to the server, “We are just going to get a few things.” What they ordered was: cheese pizza, Caesar salad, some sort of sub sandwich, another salad and an appetizer (sorry, my husband and I simply couldn’t identify it!). There was so much food, you couldn’t even see the table. And then they ate. All the shahs eat as if there is a gun to their head and the punishment is death if they don’t finish the dish in under five minutes. Asa took such a large bite of her salad (while holding a slice of pizza in the other hand) that she couldn’t even get the lettuce completely in her mouth. Yes, we watched her take that bite ten times.
Parties? Forget about it! Every party has enough food to feed the Duggars for a month! The best part is, they seek it out. The shahs were all at a pool party and the first thing Asa says, “Let’s find the food.” She walks away and up stairs to a patio. Then she shouts down to Reza (another shah) and says, “Reza, come up here, there are nachos!” Yes, you guessed it, Reza came running! Further, at every party or event there are sliders. Yes, sliders. The shahs seem obsessed with them and when they see them, they react with utter joy. GG (a shah) once saw sliders, clapped her hands and squealed. “Sliders!”
I know it isn’t just me that has noticed the shahs great affinity for a good meal. How? Well, at one of the reunion shows, Andy Cohen (the evil genius that runs Bravo) had them seated around a table filled with food. And yes, they all ate through the entire reunion. In fact, at one point, Andy had to prompt Reza to answer a question because he was distracted trying to grab another slice of meat. Trust me, I watch a lot of reality television and have seen more reunion shows than I want to admit, but I have NEVER seen one where they were feasting on a buffet.
So, if any of the shahs are reading this, please, may my husband and I come eat with you? I promise, we will try to keep up with all that you are eating and yes, we will bring sliders.
Okay, I know I’ve ranted before about the Food Network. About the Stepford Wife type of female chefs on the network, about their series Next Food Network Star and more. Well, here I go again. My question to the Food Network, “Is it too much to ask to have some shows that actually teach people the art of cooking?” From watching the line-up of shows recently, I would have to guess that their answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
See, I still remember the good old days of cooking shows on PBS. Remember Julia Child? You watched one of her shows and you felt like you could run into the kitchen and whip up a perfect souffle. How about Graham Kerr, aka The Galloping Gourmet? He made cooking fun and you always learned a few tips and techniques. Well, sad to report that there really are no Julia or Graham counterparts on the Food Network. I know, there are cooking shows with The Pioneer Woman, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray, but while they do prepare dishes, there is little to no real instruction. Additionally, these shows are in the minority. The Food Network now over utilizes that favorite twist from other popular reality series, the competition. For example, Worst Cooks in America. Now, you would think that this would be a series that could actually teach basic cooking skills. But no, it is more about making fun of these poor souls that literally, can’t boil water. This is just ONE of the aforementioned competition shows. They also are airing: Kids Baking Championship, Cupcake Wars, Cutthroat Kitchen, Guy’s Grocery Games, Chopped ( a show, I must admit, I like) and All-Star Academy. A little healthy competition is good, I mean, look at Iron Chef. But does it have to be all the time? On every show? And does it have to be to the detriment of culinary shows that teach?
All that being said, there is one show that truly teaches, The Kitchen. This was the Food Network’s answer to the ABC show, The Chew. Oh what a disaster of a show! Overly cutesy hosts, strained conversations and Mario Batali, sitting silently, looking like he would rather eat a bug than sit on the stage. I digress, back to The Kitchen. Like The Chew, it there are several hosts, most notably, Iron Chef, Geoffrey Zakarian. Each show has a theme, for example comfort food, and the hosts give tips, recipes and techniques that are all related to the show’s particular theme. Every time I watch it I not only learn something, but I also get excited to get into my own kitchen and cook. Isn’t this the point of cooking shows?
So, Food Network programmers, I beg you, please bring back some good old-fashioned cooking shows. Your audience is hungry (pun intended) for some real culinary knowledge.
I have not spent a holiday with my family for about six years. That was also the last holiday season my Mother was alive… Well, gird your loins (or maybe I should gird mine!), I am spending this Christmas with my family. That’s right, my husband and I are packing our bags , our dog and a cooler full of edible goodies and taking a trip into the land of family holidays. To say I was nervous and stressed would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but like almost every family out there, mine has, well, its quirks.
My brave sister is hosting this shindig of dysfunction at her house. We have already spoken over the phone many times about this upcoming event. Are we talking about family issues, possible problems, etc.? Of course not! We are WASPS, we don’t readily discuss those things. What we are talking about is food. Yes, food. What she is making. What we are bringing. How we will have too much, but we will make all of it just the same. For us, food is not only a comfort but a safe haven for discussions. Why talk about the two sisters, a niece and her new baby, that won’t be attending (they live five minutes away), when you can wax poetic about the onion puffs that go so well with champagne? Don’t even mention the nephew that none of us have seen for years, we NEED to talk about the cheese plate!
As much as I am filled with trepidation about this upcoming trip, I am also feeling grateful. My husband lost both his parents years ago and has one sister who lives in Florida. They talk on the phone, but he rarely gets to see her. Although he knows the craziness that is my family, he is excited to have a family holiday. When my Mother died it really drove home how fleeting our time is together. So why did it take me six years to get together with my family again? A myriad of reasons. Yes, the same things that kept me from my family still exist as I write this, but I think it is time to put all of it aside and embrace the family I was given. That is the thing isn’t it? We can choose our friends, but our families are thrust upon us and we have no say in the matter.
What about the food? Well, we are bringing Ahi , Filet Mignon, confit tomatoes, Caesar salad, black truffle caviar, herb roasted trumpet mushrooms, lobster bisque and too much wine and champagne. And yes, my sister is making lots of dishes too, including those to die for onion puffs. So, bravely I will go home for the holidays and when things get too tense or uncomfortable, I know we can always talk about the food.
Anyone who follows my blog knows I love a buffet. They also know that my husband and I have a hard time controlling ourselves at said buffets (see “Buffets, Too Much of a Good Thing). Although we love them, we don’t go to them nearly as often as our greedy stomachs would like and when we do decide to go it is an EVENT. We talk about it for days before we go, discussing all the food we would like to eat and also what we hope will be included on the buffet. I’m always crossing my fingers for pizza, my husband has his hopes set on chicken thighs. In other words, we are crazy, sick, food passionate people who consider a trip to a buffet a religious experience. I honestly didn’t think that there was a buffet out there that I wouldn’t overeat at and that I would not love. I was wrong. I finally met that buffet and its name is, Hometown.
I admit, my husband and I were sucked in by the huge marketing campaign. We watched Anthony Wedo, you know, the wonky eyed CEO/spokesman, on Undercover boss. We believed him when he talked about the fabulous buffets on his television spots. So, when we passed by one on the way to go grocery shopping (yes, more food!), my husband and I looked at each other and said in unison, “Let’s try it!” It took us about two weeks from the time we first spotted it, until we made it there. In the interim, I looked up available items on their website (they had pizza & chicken thighs!) and my husband and I talked about the upcoming dinner every day.
Finally the day arrived and we excitedly drove to Hometown Buffet. The first thing that put us off was the line. Yes, a line! I turned to my husband and said, “We can go somewhere else. Maybe Souplantation? ” He said, “No! We have been waiting for two weeks! I really want to see what this is all about.” I tried to feel better about the wait by thinking to myself, wow, this must really be good to have so many people waiting! Again, I was wrong. We finally get to the cashier to pay (yes, you pre-pay) and she tells us, “We will call you when your table is ready.” What?! Another wait? Fine. I started looking around, planning what I was going to eat first. I should have known at this point that we were in for a disappointment. Honestly, nothing looked very good. Wilted salad, lots of empty containers on the buffet tables and not a HUGE variety. Still, we had come this far and I continued to hope for the best. We got a table and I immediately grabbed a plate and headed for the Italian bar while my husband went on a search for chicken.
Okay, I must say here that this is the most poorly designed buffet I’ve ever seen. No, really. Everything is on top of each other, so if a person is waiting in the INCREDIBLY long line for the meat dishes (you know, the “fancy” entrees that come in the mini skillets that Mr. Wedo hawks in his ads) you must push through them to get to any of the other items. In fact, the meat line was so long that people were eating other dishes while they waited! Well, once I pushed through the various lines, I was agape. They put the food out in VERY small holding dishes, so maybe two people can get that dish, then the bowl sits empty again for fifteen minutes. The food that was out left much to be desired. For example: one type of sad-looking pizza, over-cooked spaghetti in a sauce that looked suspiciously like ketchup, limp, colorless, water-logged vegetables and a Mexican section that was embarrassing. I TRIED to get a salad. I picked through rusty lettuce, got a few mushroom slices, passed the frozen (yes, frozen!) sliced olives and then couldn’t even get ranch dressing. They were out of ranch, just two empty bins where the dressing should have been. I then took a slice of the pizza, a cheese enchilada, spaghetti and some waffle fries. I put it on the table and went in search of bread. All they had was one dinner sized plate with some oily rolls on it. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I got a coffee cup and put two rolls in it. Why a coffee cup? Because they continually ran out of plates, cups, silverware etc.
The pizza was previously frozen, had tomato paste as a sauce and no cheese. The roll was stale. The cheese enchilada had no sauce, no cheese and was basically a mushy, off-color corn tortilla. The spaghetti was cooked until it was a paste and yes, the sauce was ketchup. My husband picked at some greasy chicken and tried to eat flavorless potato salad. We were in and out in less than 30 minutes, including our wait time.
I do believe it was the first time my husband and I EVER left a buffet looking for a place to eat. I do think that the layout, small dishes on the lines, lack of plates, poor food quality etc. is by design. Is this how they plan to turn a profit? Make it so difficult for a guest to actually get anything to eat that the guest leaves without eating too much? And when the guest finally gets a morsel of food, make it so bland and tasteless that they won’t go back for more?
Sigh. We should have gone to Souplantation.
Writing about my surf trips to Baja and the perfect food moments that those trips gave me, got me thinking about other perfect food moments. It’s funny, I didn’t realize I was having many of these moments until years later. In other words, I wasn’t TRULY aware how much a particular meal would mean to me while I was eating it. Oh, I knew it was a fabulous meal, but I didn’t know that I would look back and when I thought about that meal I would hear angels sing. Well this is true about all except for one. During this meal I was very aware that I was experiencing a bona fide perfect food moment. And no, angels weren’t singing, but an orchestra was playing and there were fireworks involved!
This meal happened in my twenties. I was a newlywed and still caught up in the bliss of calling a man, “My husband.” The marriage didn’t last, but the food memory did, go figure. We both worked at California Pizza Kitchen, me as a server, he as a manager. We had a rare evening off together and decided to take some food and wine and go to the Hollywood Bowl. For those of you that don’t know about the Hollywood Bowl, let me take a few moments to explain it. It is an outside venue that offers concerts all summer, everything from jazz to pop. You are allowed to bring food and wine in and most people do, I mean, really, a picnic under the stars? Yes, please. They have expensive box seats right by the stage and in those seats you can have a meal catered, but I always sat in the cheap seats. They were like the long bleacher seats you find when attending a high school football game, except they have an extra wide concourse in front of them, so you have room for all your goodies.
The evening my husband and I went, the L.A. Philharmonic was playing classical music. We decided to bring food from the restaurant, waters and a couple of bottles of Zinfandel. It was one of those perfect summer evenings in L.A. Not a cloud in the sky, warm enough that you didn’t need a jacket, but not so warm that you were sweating. We settled into our seats and began to unpack our food. We had a Caesar salad, a five cheese pizza, a roasted eggplant pizza, bread, ice-cold Evian (in the glass bottle!) and of course, the wine. We were opening the wine and setting out the food just as the music was starting. I can still remember the feel of the metal bleacher beneath me, the sound of the orchestra playing and that first sip of full-bodied Zinfandel. The music played on and we ate a garlicky, lemon bite of the Caesar paired with the smoky gouda on the five cheese pizza. I remember looking up and seeing all the stars and then looking at my husband next to me and I felt as if my heart would jump out of my chest. We shared the eggplant pizza. The eggplant was perfectly grilled and had a slight spicy element to it that accentuated the fruit in the wine perfectly. We were surrounded by people, but I felt as if it were just the two of us, picnicking with our own personal orchestra. It was at this point, with my first large drink of that ice-cold Evian that I thought to myself, “I must remember this!” I was almost frantic with the thought of it and started to hyper-consciously take every moment (and bite) and commit it to memory.
And I did. I often think about this evening and when I do I am transported back to that moment, I can hear the music, feel the warm breeze coming down the Hollywood hills and taste every bite of the meal we shared under the stars. It truly was a magical moment and I’m glad that I was aware of the magic as it was happening. The fireworks? They ended the concert with a fireworks display. Talk about serendipitous!
Recently my husband “discovered” Dos Equis Lager, you know, the one in the green bottle with the clever marketing campaign that includes “the most interesting man in the world”? Well, as he sipped on his beer and talked about how much he loved this “new” beer, I had to laugh because some of my best memories involve Dos Equis Lager…
In my twenties I traveled to Mexico quite often. This was before the cartels, when groups of young Americans regularly visited Mexico to surf, drink and eat cheap lobster dinners. I loved spending a weekend in Rosarito, San Felipe , Ensenada or Puerto Neuvo. My friends and I would load the car with surfboards and head over the border at least once every couple of months. I loved everything about Mexico: the people, the beaches, the food, the affordability (back then, you could spend a weekend for under 100 bucks!) and of course, the Dos Equis Lager. At this time, you couldn’t buy the Dos Equis in the green bottle (what we all called it) in California, so we would drink cases of it during our long weekends. We rationalized our eight a.m. drinking and said, “Well, we can’t drink the water, so we HAVE to drink beer!” There was nothing like coming out of the water after a long day of surfing and sitting down at one of the little fish shacks that dotted the beach. They were really no more than a couple of pieces of plywood, a few mismatched chairs, a cooler (or two) and a grill, usually fashioned out of an iron grate set atop some rocks on the sand. The friendly man who ran it would pop open ice-cold Dos Equis Lagers, jam a wedge of lime into the top of the bottle and pass them to us. We were still wet from the sea and covered in salt and sand. That first sip was always the best, the salt from the ocean, still on my lips, would blend seamlessly with the tart of the lime and the crisp, nutty flavor of the beer. Heaven! We would sit on the rickety chairs, our feet in the sand, drink beer, watch the ocean and recount all the great rides we had that day. The entire time we were talking, the tempting scent of grilling fish wafted around us. As we drank, the man who ran the shack was grilling his catch of the day. He would fill paper plates with grilled fish, fresh salsa, guacamole and warm tortillas. We balanced this deliciousness on our laps and devoured everything he put in front of us. It was one of those perfect food moments when the stars aligned and everything simply “worked”. The sand in our toes, the waves breaking on the beach, the scent of a hot grill, the taste of smoky fish against spicy salsa and of course, all washed down with the beer in the green bottle.
I’ve had a few of these magical food moments in my life, but I must admit, that this has to be my favorite. Watching my husband enjoy his first Dos Equis Lager with lime brought all of this back and put a smile on my face the rest of the day. Food and drink is so much more than just nourishment for our bodies, it is also what fuels our souls.
Let me start by saying, “I love pizza.” I know what you are thinking, “Who doesn’t?” Well, let me rephrase my statement, “I am completely obsessed with pizza.” If pizza were a person, I would be maniacally stalking him and end up profiled on one of those shows on the Investigate Discovery channel. I fantasize about pizza during the day and dream about it at night. Some girls perfect date would include a handsome man, fancy restaurant, flowers and candlelight. Mine? Alone with some red wine and a large pizza. Further, when I see other people eating pizza, and I’m not, I get jealous, like my steady boyfriend is cheating on me. And when I die, I would like to go to a heaven where there is an endless supply of pizza and I could eat as much as I wanted without ever gaining a pound.
So what is it about this food that has me so crazy? Oh, where do I start? To me, it is a perfect food. The perfect combination of carb laden crust, tang of tomato sauce and melted, awe-inspiring, mozzarella. Simply writing that made me drool. I could eat pizza every day at every meal. No really, I could. I once watched an episode of the show, My Strange addiction and one of the people profiled would only eat pizza. I of course was jealous of this person and VERY upset when they “cured” him. Leave the pizza lover alone, I thought.
Now some pizza lovers are VERY particular about what type of pizza they eat. Some like NY style (my favorite), others go for deep dish and some think Pizza Hut is the best. While I do have a favorite, NY style with cheese, a sprinkle of garlic, red pepper flakes and Parmesan, I will never turn down a slice of ANY kind of pizza. Why would I? It’s pizza! My husband would argue that point with me and say, “That is NOT pizza!” He is a pizza snob from New York and though he says he loves pizza, he will only eat pizza from two places. I, on the other hand, have been known to buy Tony’s frozen pizzas and happily eat three of them for dinner.
All this being said, I don’t eat pizza nearly as much as I would like. Unfortunately I have not made it into my pizza heaven yet so I am burdened by things like health and calories. Sigh. So, until I get to my heaven, I will have to be content with eating pizza once a week and fantasizing about eating it the other six days.