Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Don't cooks who acknowledge their kitchen bloopers enhance their general credibility?


Ellie's latest book

by Ken

My mother had a pretty universal peeve about the cooking shows that proliferated in the later part of her life. Oh, she was grateful enough for the Food Network, especially in the earlier years when it really was about cooking, before it began its now-nearly-complete transformation into a network that's primarily for people who wouldn't cook on a bet.

In fact, she first saw Food Network when she was staying with me during a by-then-rare visit to New York. It wasn't carried at all on her Florida cable system, and at that time we still didn't get it until New Jersey Public Television signed off the air at midnight. Eventually we were both getting TVFN in real time, and especially enjoying Sarah Moulton's nightly hour of Cooking LIve, which actually was broadcast live. (Best of all was that period when that great baker and baking teacher Nick Malgieri, who had been a frequent Cooking LIve guest, filled in regularly for Sarah on Friday nights, always ending with his exhortation, "Bake something!" He always inspired you to do just that.)

I might add that even after my stepfather's death, my mother continued to cook her own meals into her mid-80s, and always insisted on sitting down to a properly set table -- not fancy, mind you, but properly set. Her friends thought this was weird; I thought it was highly civilized, and was pleased to be able to mention that Craig Claiborne was an outspoken advocate of doing exactly this, even if what you were eating was just a sandwich. I remember being startled when my mother finally announced that she had "cooked enough meals."

But I digress. I was talking about her peeve with the cooking shows. It was when the dish being prepared was finished and ready for tasting, and the tasting always resulted in rapture. I guess this just didn't square with her experience in the kitchen. Over all those years, certainly a great many of the things she cooked turned out fine. I sometimes asked her if she really expected the TV taster to declare, "Gee, that's really not very good." Apparently she did, at least sometimes.

For us home cooks, even when things turn out OK, they often didn't turn out the way they were supposed to. The invariable effortless triumphs of the TV "chefs" didn't square with my mother's kitchen experience.

Like many viewers, my mother had fond memories of Julia Child's early efforts on TV, when all manner of mishaps occured which The French Chef's crazed shooting schedule and microscopic budget didn't allow for fixing. Over time Julia's unflappability while cooking became a part of her charm, if anything enhancing her credibility among people who actually cooked.

So naturally I pounced on today's e-mail from nutritionist Ellie Krieger, familiar to many as the host of Food Network's Healthy Appetite, who on the show, on her website (elliekrieger.com) in her attractive series of books (Small Changes, Big Results; The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life; So Easy: Luscious Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Week; and now Comfort Food Fix: Feel Good Favorites Made Healthy) offers much wisdom about how to cook, eat, and live healthier -- always dealing in actual food, not the assorted abominations that pass for "healthy" food options these days.* (You can sign up here for Ellie's newsletter of "free recipes & tips.")
*I'm especially touchy about this just now, having just been treated, on a Midtown Manhattan food-truck tour, to a vegan doughnut from a truck that draws massive lines for stuff that you supposedly can't tell is vegan -- assuming you're an imbecile and have never eaten actual food in your life. The fake doughnut wasn't inedible, as a lot of the swill in some of the hellholes Howie has dragged me to has been, but anyone who would voluntarily subject him/herself to a creepy-tasting clump like that, which has nothing but its shape in common with an actual doughnut, is a glutton for punishment.
The new e-newsletter from Ellie, featuring "Funny Food Bloopers," begins:
Dear friends,

TV cooking shows make everything look so seamless, but the truth is we all make mistakes in the kitchen. Don't let the fear of messing up hold you back from cooking. Making mistakes is ultimately how you learn. Besides, you could wind up wth some funny stories to tell, like these that truly happened to me.
In the blogpost to which the e-newsletter links, Ellie explains that she originally blogged about these bloopers awhile back but found herself "hysterically laughing about them recently," and so "thought they were worth revisiting."
$149 Smoothie
Ever make a $149 smoothie? I have, quite recently. Here's how: put some milk, fruit and ice into your good blender. Then, using a stainless steel spoon, add about a tablespoon of almond butter. When the phone rings and you go to answer it, leave the spoon in the blender. Cover and blend on high, forgetting to remove the spoon. You will hear an odd clanking sound; then the motor of your blender will burn out. Blender $145. Spoon $2.50. Ingredients $1.50. Feeling like an idiot: priceless.

Nature's Lip Plumper
When I was first out of college I decided to make my first chili from scratch. The recipe called for chopped fresh jalapeno peppers "to taste," but I had no idea how spicy the peppers I bought were, or frankly if they were even jalapenos. So I had the ingenious idea of cutting one open and rubbing it on my lips to find out. I found out all right! I wound up on the sofa in complete agony, my lips burning, bright red and swollen. I finally got some relief covering them with a cold, milk soaked towel but they stayed inflamed the rest of the night. Come to think of it, I just may have discovered nature's lip plumper. I don't recommend it.

How Do You Say Chicken?
I was 18 years old in Japan (back in my modeling days) and walked in alone to a den-like noodle bar filled with serious looking businessmen in suits slurping steaming bowls of noodles. I didn't speak a word of Japanese and the staff didn't speak English, so I pointed to a bowl of soup and my waiter nodded enthusiastically. I really wanted chicken in my soup but no matter how slowly, clearly and loudly I said CHICK-IN of course he still didn't understand. As a last resort, I stood up and a little shyly began flapping my elbows and clucking. Even the serious suits laughed. I got my chicken noodle soup that night and I also learned a little Japanese: baka gaijin means "silly foreigner."
Now these aren't by any stretch of the imagination the most inspired or inspiring kitchen oopses I've encountered. Still, I have to applaud the spirit.

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