I am finding it not so easy to pay homage to The Big Easy. New Orleans could be very easily be placed as one of my top three favorite food cities, and it seems a little bit daunting to write about a city with so many first-rate restaurants. Then again, this is not an unusual problem: I find this to be the case with many of the cities I visit.
So I think I’ll just start with what I love the most: the "po’boy." "What are we gonna feed these po'boys?" You feed them the delicious roast beef po'boy from Parkway Bakery & Tavern, that's what! The French bread is so delicious, fresh, and plentiful. The meat is tender and juicy. Everything about this sandwich just soothes my soul. How did this sandwich get its name? Benny and Clovis Martin were two brothers who owned a restaurant in New Orleans. In 1929, during a four-month strike against the streetcar company, the Martin brothers served their former colleagues (these "po'boys") free sandwiches. This was the most reasonably priced and delicious food I had the entire time in New Orleans. You've got to venture away from your "comfort zone" (i.e. the French Quarter), but I made the trek, which was very well worth it.
Beignets: they never fail to cover me in powdered sugar. And it’s usually at the airport when I am stuffing one into my face. Passengers walk by, see me trying to avoid getting the white fluffy sugar onto my uniform, and somehow manage to make me laugh. And my uniform is dark. So it never fails; I wear half of my beignet. Café du Monde is certainly the most famous venue for the beignet. Established in 1862, the café only serves coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, and beignets. Beignets are a square-shaped French donut, lavishly covered in powdered sugar. Light, fluffy, and flavorful, it is easy to polish off more than one — maybe even five at a time. Yours truly is guilty of doing so.
My visit wouldn’t have been complete without dining at one of John Besh’s restaurants. Each of Besh’s restaurants is dedicated to the cuisine of southern Louisiana. Besh’s flagship restaurant August was out of this world. I firmly believe he may know some voodoo, which NOLA is accredited for. Most folks do their voodoo to cast spells. Besh does his voodoo to create earth-shattering cuisine. At August, I tried the foie gras as an appetizer, which was prepared three different ways. And as an entrée: pork belly ham, with crispy red creamer potatoes and peach mustard. Succulent and hearty, the flavors blended together perfectly. I also tasted my friend’s Gulf shrimp, which was large, plentiful, and grilled to perfection. For dessert we tried the Meyer lemon soufflé. It was light, feathery, and the perfect mix of sweet and tart. The restaurant is very historic, dimly lit, ambient, and cozy. The service is top-notch.
I can’t write about NOLA and not write about Hurricanes, although they are not my favorite drink. his drink debuted at the 1939 World's Fair and was named after the hurricane lamp-shaped serving glasses. Although Pat O’Brien’s gets the credit for launching this drink with both light and dark rum, the best Hurricane is served at Lafitte’s. The Hurricanes there are made of fresh-squeezed fruit juices (not a mix, like many other venues), and plenty of the hard liquor that makes a Hurricane a Hurricane! Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop — built between 1722 and 1732 by Nicolas Touze — is presumed to be the oldest structure used as a bar in the United States. It is a cozy little dark venue, which would be a great place to make out with a date at a dark table in the corner, but not on a night when a ghost tour is going on, because it's packed. (I was there on a ghost tour.) Maybe after a few of the Hurricanes it would still be a great spot to make out with your date. Or not your date. Or just someone you met on the ghost tour. Or a ghost. Or a vampire. Shoot! It's New Orleans — anything goes! After all, it is a city full of spirits. And spirits.
Tag Archives: eating on the run
Remember the days, Gentle Readers, when airline travel was something one dressed up for, and the food on planes was all first rate? Well, neither do I, and I’m sure Orville and Wilbur would have a few choice words about the state of nutrition in airports and on planes. For cross-country flights, it is necessary to eat at some point in the process.
And if you live in the South, and ever fly Delta, it is further necessary to run from one end of the Atlanta airport to the other, clutching your belongings. Don’t ask me why this is part of the process, simply accept that it is.
So here are the Top 5 Ways to Survive Airport Food:
1. Pack a Snack. Can’t over-emphasize this one. I tossed walnuts, raisins, and chocolate chips together before I left for the airport. Try dry cereal, granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, crackers. My trail mix was dinner the night I landed, and it will be a midnight snack tonight.
2. Buy Something Local To Go. Though I’ve never successfully navigated this one, I’ve never forgotten a veteran traveler’s story of buying a Muffuletta in New Orleans and packing it on the plane. This takes guts, as it is a rather odiferous treat, but she ate it unapologetically and with gusto. I salute her.
3. Make Like a Squirrel. If they offer you free food of any stripe on the plane, accept it and store it if you’re not hungry right then. You never know when a delay of some sort will keep you away from your next meal.
4. Choose the Path of Least Interference. If timing is such that you need to make an airport food selection, find one that has the least amount of interference. I have no idea why food both costs more and tastes worse in the airport, but that seems to be the mandate. Go for a simple sandwich, bagel, or in the case of airports with chains, something recognizable.
Simple Sandwich, Chips for Emergencies
5. Coffee Is Edible, Too. Okay, perhaps this is just me and my latte problem, but with the prevalence of coffee stands in airports, the latte (or other milk-based coffee drink) is a good small meal alternative. You’re getting some energy and some calories, and it’s quick and portable. (*Note that the latte image below is NOT from an airport, but my fave coffeehouse. Can’t wait to get back there.)
How do you sustain yourself for the marathon that is air travel these days? Post a comment here or Tweet away.
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Up next, Kitchen Tool Talk, Three More of My Favorite Things.
- 1 pound red beans (dry)
- 8 cups water (2 quarts)
- 1 1/2 cups onion (chopped)
- 1 cup celery (chopped)
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cup green pepper (chopped)
- 3 tablespoons garlic (chopped)
- 3 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
- 2 teaspoons thyme (dried, crushed)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Pick through beans to remove bad beans rinse thoroughly.
2. In a large pot combine beans, water, onion, celery, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil reduce heat. Cover and cook over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours until beans are tender. Stir. Mash beans against side of pan.
3. Add green pepper, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, and black pepper. Cook, uncovered, over low heat until creamy (about 30 minutes). Remove bay leaves.
Click here to browse Quick Service dining options at Walt Disney World.
Table Service is seated dining where you’ll be waited on by a server. These restaurants typically require (or highly encourage) an Advance Dining Reservation (learn more about ADRs here). Table Service restaurants range from elegant to laid back, so there’s something for everyone. You’ll find Table Service restaurants at all of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts, most of Disney’s Moderate Resorts, in the four theme parks, and in Disney Springs.
Frontera Cocina in Disney Springs
Campy cooking with the 'Surreal Gourmet'
(CNN) -- He calls himself the "Surreal Gourmet," but under his breath, Bob Blumer admits he creates crazy cuisine just to meet girls.
"I'm just a big kid," says Blumer, a lopsided grin spreading like butter across his face.
Does he really stack salmon in the dishwasher and singe cheese sandwiches with an iron all in the name of love? Does he really think the giant, metal Airstream trailer he drives, dubbed the "Toaster Mobile" because of the giant pieces of bread popping out of the top, is a chick magnet?
Whatever the motivation, it is clear Blumer is not afraid to play with his food -- and create tasty, fun dishes in the process.
In his latest cookbook, "Off the Eaten Path," Blumer turns ordinary dishes into surreal meals with his unconventional cooking techniques. What is the secret to preparing a dishwasher-safe fish?
"Make sure other items in the dishwasher, such as silverware, are securely stowed so that they do not fly around and pierce the foil packets," he advises in his book.
A special section devoted to engine cooking holds advice for the speed demon in all of us. "Anyone who can operate a motor vehicle can improve their standard of eating on the road," he says.
His Six-cylinder Trout with Fresh Sage recipe is fancy enough for any well-traveled gourmand, but its simplicity is the driving force behind the meal. All you need is fresh trout, salt, pepper, lemon, sage and butter . oh and foil, lots of foil.
But this culinary cut-up doesn't stop there. Blumer's well-thought-out advice on wine is strewn throughout the book and he even suggests appropriate music for his meals. What should you listen to as you tear down the highway with a trout braising gently on your exhaust manifold cover? Blumer suggests ACDC's "Highway to Hell" or Merle Haggard's "Lonesome Fugitive: The Merle Haggard Anthology."
"I start with a serious recipe -- something designed around the taste," he says, "and I find whimsical ways of preparing them."
While his cookbook could never be called "serious," there is a good collection of recipes underneath the campy cover.
The Brown-bagged Sea Bass with Papaya Salsa is tantalizing with a tasty soy-lime-ginger topping. The sea bass fillets are stuffed into brown paper lunch bags that have been saturated with olive oil. The bags stuffed with fish are then baked in the oven. The result is a tender, moist fish. For those who know their way around a Cuisinart, this method of cooking may seem familiar. It is simply a low-brow version of the French technique Cooking en Papillote -- or cooking in parchment paper.
"I am just trying to take the fear out of cooking," says Blumer. "I'm self-taught, so I don't do the scary stuff myself."
Not for the well-mannered, Martha Stewart types among us, this cookbook taunts and titilates. Where else would a recipe for Shrimp "on the Bar-B" include a leggy, plastic doll on the ingredients list?
Many of the recipes make good parent-child projects. For instance, Blumer's eye-catching Pound Cake "Fries" with Raspberry "Catsup" dessert is fun to make, and easy enough for children to prepare with a parent's guiding hand. Try tempting your pint-sized finicky eater with the "Diced" Fish recipe -- where filets of fish studded with peppercorns literally resemble fuzzy dice.
"I can never tell if I am always working," he says, "or always playing." His irrevereant style is not just evident in the cookbooks he writes and designs himself (this is his third), but it is also obvious in the way this chef travels.
In 1991 Blumer took time off from his 12-year gig as music manager for Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry to write and design his first book, "The Surreal Gourmet: Real Food for Pretend Chefs." His imaginitive style quickly drew a loyal following, and his work was favorably reviewed by "The New York Times," "The San Francisco Chronicle," and others.
Three years later, Blumer completed his second cookbook, "The Surreal Gourmet Entertains: High Fun, Low-Stress Dinner Parties for 6-12."
With his latest offering, Blumer has definitley found his niche. Has the sweet taste of success spoiled him?
"Everyday is better than the last one," he says.
Blumer makes very few long-term plans and cannot say whether there will be a fourth book in the "Surreal Gourmet" series. The only definite plan he has for the immediate future is a trip to a French winery, where he will pick grapes for the season.
For now, however, Blumer continues to steer a large trailer that looks like a toaster but is custom-designed with a working kitchen inside. Blumer visits places like San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta and Memphis, and he stops all along the way to cook meals and meet folks.
"People always ask me where I got this (toaster mobile), like I just got it off the rack," Blumer laughs. "I am threatening to auction it off on eBay."
So, has BLumer's plan paid off? Do chicks really dig the chef in the big, funny-looking trailer?
Blumer just smiles and munches on a pan-seared shrimp. He isn't one to eat and tell.
The Camellia Grill
The Camellia Grill on South Carrollton in Uptown New Orleans is the perfect place for a late night snack to cure the cravings natural or imbibing induced. One of the secrets of this grill/diner is their amazing milk shakes. Camellia fills cups up to the brim with rich shakes in a variety of flavors using real ice cream. Sit up at the counter and enjoy one of these or any of their other scrumptious dessert options, many of which are homemade. Besides sweets, Camellia Grill has excellent omelettes and burgers at affordable prices. The friendly staff adds the perfect touch to complete the experience. There's also a location in the Quarter at 540 Chartres St.
Recommended for Best Value because: The Camellia Grill is modeled after an old school diner with prices to match.
Beth's expert tip: Don't feel bad chasing a bacon omelette with a chocolate cherry milkshake.
Mushroom Hunting for Fun and Surprises
You never know what you’ll come upon while on a mushroom hunt. This past weekend my daughter discovered an owl sitting in the middle of a field. It didn’t move. As she drew closer, she noticed one wing looked a little droopy. If the bird was injured, it was potential prey for coyotes and bobcats.
Thinking she might have to do an owl rescue, she came back to the house for a blanket and box. Unfortunately, our friend Lucy (who does dog rescues and more recently a piglet rescue) was not around to assist. So Robin sent a photo of the grounded bird to the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, near St. Louis.
Found in the field: A very serious looking owl.
A Return to the Scene
Hmm . . . Do you suppose the Trip Advisor owl got lost during a fly over? Or was searching for its misplaced bathrobe?
When Robin returned to the field, the owl was nowhere to be found. Even so, from the emailed photo, the sanctuary experts determined it was a Great Horned Owl (or hoot owl) and a juvenile, since no horns were yet obvious. It was probably just learning to fly, they said.
What a relief! I was not looking forward to holding a boxed owl in my lap all the way back to St. Louis.
Having dodged an owl rescue, Robin resumed the intended mushroom hunt. There weren’t a lot to be found, but enough for a nice side dish of black trumpets and chanterelles. When in the woods, you never know what surprises of nature you’ll stumble upon.
Mushrooms: The Gifts of Spring
Wild mushrooms are deceptive little rascals, that love to play hide and go seek. Can you find the mushrooms in these two photos? There are, at least, a half dozen black trumpets hidden in the underbrush.
This mushroom’s color makes it easier to spot.
This is one of my favorite mushroom photos, because it shows the joy of discovery.
The yield from the mushroom hunt: Black Trumpets and Chanterelles
This yum-doddle recipe is what mushrooming is all about! Serve the fungi on toasted Italian bread, or preferably white sourdough. Make sure the skillet is hot, hot when browning the mushrooms. You want those puppies to brown and not just sizzle in their own juices. Don’t lower the heat until you add the garlic and thyme.
Find out how the locals actually eat.
Everyone has their own definition of what healthy means and traveling is a great opportunity to find out what it means to others. As much as I love the many decadent treats around the world, there comes a moment on every trip when I eventually find myself craving something a bit more nutritious. And sometimes, instead of turning to what I usually like (like oatmeal), I’ll also try to embrace the healthy eating rituals of the people around me. Like in Japan, where I fell absolutely in love with Japanese curry, a traditional home-cooked favorite that’s so hearty and healthy I started cooking it regularly as soon as I got home. I also recommend taking the opportunity to try local ingredients that you may have never tried before. Pro tip: Eat as much fruit as possible in tropical climates. You won’t regret it.
Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch
I was only 8 when “The French Chef” first appeared on American television in 1963, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this Julia Child had improved the quality of life around our house. My mother began cooking dishes she’d watched Julia cook on TV: boeuf bourguignon (the subject of the show’s first episode), French onion soup gratinée, duck à l’orange, coq au vin, mousse au chocolat. Some of the more ambitious dishes, like the duck or the mousse, were pointed toward weekend company, but my mother would usually test these out on me and my sisters earlier in the week, and a few of the others — including the boeuf bourguignon, which I especially loved — actually made it into heavy weeknight rotation. So whenever people talk about how Julia Child upgraded the culture of food in America, I nod appreciatively. I owe her. Not that I didn’t also owe Swanson, because we also ate TV dinners, and those were pretty good, too.
Every so often I would watch “The French Chef” with my mother in the den. On WNET in New York, it came on late in the afternoon, after school, and because we had only one television back then, if Mom wanted to watch her program, you watched it, too. The show felt less like TV than like hanging around the kitchen, which is to say, not terribly exciting to a kid (except when Child dropped something on the floor, which my mother promised would happen if we stuck around long enough) but comforting in its familiarity: the clanking of pots and pans, the squeal of an oven door in need of WD-40, all the kitchen-chemistry-set spectacles of transformation. The show was taped live and broadcast uncut and unedited, so it had a vérité feel completely unlike anything you might see today on the Food Network, with its A.D.H.D. editing and hyperkinetic soundtracks of rock music and clashing knives. While Julia waited for the butter foam to subside in the sauté pan, you waited, too, precisely as long, listening to Julia’s improvised patter over the hiss of her pan, as she filled the desultory minutes with kitchen tips and lore. It all felt more like life than TV, though Julia’s voice was like nothing I ever heard before or would hear again until Monty Python came to America: vaguely European, breathy and singsongy, and weirdly suggestive of a man doing a falsetto impression of a woman. The BBC supposedly took “The French Chef” off the air because viewers wrote in complaining that Julia Child seemed either drunk or demented.
Meryl Streep, who brings Julia Child vividly back to the screen in Nora Ephron’s charming new comedy, “Julie & Julia,” has the voice down, and with the help of some clever set design and cinematography, she manages to evoke too Child’s big-girl ungainliness — the woman was 6 foot 2 and had arms like a longshoreman. Streep also captures the deep sensual delight that Julia Child took in food — not just the eating of it (her virgin bite of sole meunière at La Couronne in Rouen recalls Meg Ryan’s deli orgasm in “When Harry Met Sally”) but the fondling and affectionate slapping of ingredients in their raw state and the magic of their kitchen transformations.
But “Julie & Julia” is more than an exercise in nostalgia. As the title suggests, the film has a second, more contemporary heroine. The Julie character (played by Amy Adams) is based on Julie Powell, a 29-year-old aspiring writer living in Queens who, casting about for a blog conceit in 2002, hit on a cool one: she would cook her way through all 524 recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days and blog about her adventures. The movie shuttles back and forth between Julie’s year of compulsive cooking and blogging in Queens in 2002 and Julia’s decade in Paris and Provence a half-century earlier, as recounted in “My Life in France,” the memoir published a few years after her death in 2004. Julia Child in 1949 was in some ways in the same boat in which Julie Powell found herself in 2002: happily married to a really nice guy but feeling, acutely, the lack of a life project. Living in Paris, where her husband, Paul Child, was posted in the diplomatic corps, Julia (who like Julie had worked as a secretary) was at a loss as to what to do with her life until she realized that what she liked to do best was eat. So she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and learned how to cook. As with Julia, so with Julie: cooking saved her life, giving her a project and, eventually, a path to literary success.
That learning to cook could lead an American woman to success of any kind would have seemed utterly implausible in 1949 that it is so thoroughly plausible 60 years later owes everything to Julia Child’s legacy. Julie Powell operates in a world that Julia Child helped to create, one where food is taken seriously, where chefs have been welcomed into the repertory company of American celebrity and where cooking has become a broadly appealing mise-en-scène in which success stories can plausibly be set and played out. How amazing is it that we live today in a culture that has not only something called the Food Network but now a hit show on that network called “The Next Food Network Star,” which thousands of 20- and 30-somethings compete eagerly to become? It would seem we have come a long way from Swanson TV dinners.
The Food Network can now be seen in nearly 100 million American homes and on most nights commands more viewers than any of the cable news channels. Millions of Americans, including my 16-year-old son, can tell you months after the finale which contestant emerged victorious in Season 5 of “Top Chef” (Hosea Rosenberg, followed by Stefan Richter, his favorite, and Carla Hall). The popularity of cooking shows — or perhaps I should say food shows — has spread beyond the precincts of public or cable television to the broadcast networks, where Gordon Ramsay terrorizes newbie chefs on “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox and Jamie Oliver is preparing a reality show on ABC in which he takes aim at an American city with an obesity problem and tries to teach the population how to cook. It’s no wonder that a Hollywood studio would conclude that American audiences had an appetite for a movie in which the road to personal fulfillment and public success passes through the kitchen and turns, crucially, on a recipe for boeuf bourguignon. (The secret is to pat dry your beef before you brown it.)
But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.
That decline has several causes: women working outside the home food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.
Today the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up) that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia arrived on our television screens. It’s also less than half the time it takes to watch a single episode of “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star.” What this suggests is that a great many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves — an increasingly archaic activity they will tell you they no longer have the time for.
What is wrong with this picture?
2. THE COURAGE TO FLIP
When I asked my mother recently what exactly endeared Julia Child to her, she explained that “for so many of us she took the fear out of cooking” and, to illustrate the point, brought up the famous potato show (or, as Julia pronounced it, “the poh-TAY-toh show!”), one of the episodes that Meryl Streep recreates brilliantly on screen. Millions of Americans of a certain age claim to remember Julia Child dropping a chicken or a goose on the floor, but the memory is apocryphal: what she dropped was a potato pancake, and it didn’t quite make it to the floor. Still, this was a classic live-television moment, inconceivable on any modern cooking show: Martha Stewart would sooner commit seppuku than let such an outtake ever see the light of day.
The episode has Julia making a plate-size potato pancake, sautéing a big disc of mashed potato into which she has folded impressive quantities of cream and butter. Then the fateful moment arrives:
“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she declares, clearly a tad nervous at the prospect, and then gives the big pancake a flip. On the way down, half of it catches the lip of the pan and splats onto the stovetop. Undaunted, Julia scoops the thing up and roughly patches the pancake back together, explaining: “When I flipped it, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have. You can always pick it up.” And then, looking right through the camera as if taking us into her confidence, she utters the line that did so much to lift the fear of failure from my mother and her contemporaries: “If you’re alone in the kitchen, WHOOOO” — the pronoun is sung — “is going to see?” For a generation of women eager to transcend their mothers’ recipe box (and perhaps, too, their mothers’ social standing), Julia’s little kitchen catastrophe was a liberation and a lesson: “The only way you learn to flip things is just to flip them!”
It was a kind of courage — not only to cook but to cook the world’s most glamorous and intimidating cuisine — that Julia Child gave my mother and so many other women like her, and to watch her empower viewers in episode after episode is to appreciate just how much about cooking on television — not to mention cooking itself — has changed in the years since “The French Chef” was on the air.
There are still cooking programs that will teach you how to cook. Public television offers the eminently useful “America’s Test Kitchen.” The Food Network carries a whole slate of so-called dump-and-stir shows during the day, and the network’s research suggests that at least some viewers are following along. But many of these programs — I’m thinking of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Sandra Lee — tend to be aimed at stay-at-home moms who are in a hurry and eager to please. (“How good are you going to look when you serve this?” asks Paula Deen, a Southern gal of the old school.) These shows stress quick results, shortcuts and superconvenience but never the sort of pleasure — physical and mental — that Julia Child took in the work of cooking: the tomahawking of a fish skeleton or the chopping of an onion, the Rolfing of butter into the breast of a raw chicken or the vigorous whisking of heavy cream. By the end of the potato show, Julia was out of breath and had broken a sweat, which she mopped from her brow with a paper towel. (Have you ever seen Martha Stewart break a sweat? Pant? If so, you know her a lot better than the rest of us.) Child was less interested in making it fast or easy than making it right, because cooking for her was so much more than a means to a meal. It was a gratifying, even ennobling sort of work, engaging both the mind and the muscles. You didn’t do it to please a husband or impress guests you did it to please yourself. No one cooking on television today gives the impression that they enjoy the actual work quite as much as Julia Child did. In this, she strikes me as a more liberated figure than many of the women who have followed her on television.
Curiously, the year Julia Child went on the air — 1963 — was the same year Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique,” the book that taught millions of American women to regard housework, cooking included, as drudgery, indeed as a form of oppression. You may think of these two figures as antagonists, but that wouldn’t be quite right. They actually had a great deal in common, as Child’s biographer, Laura Shapiro, points out, and addressed the aspirations of many of the same women. Julia never referred to her viewers as “housewives” — a word she detested — and never condescended to them. She tried to show the sort of women who read “The Feminine Mystique” that, far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention. (A man’s too.) Second-wave feminists were often ambivalent on the gender politics of cooking. Simone de Beauvoir wrote in “The Second Sex” that though cooking could be oppressive, it could also be a form of “revelation and creation and a woman can find special satisfaction in a successful cake or a flaky pastry, for not everyone can do it: one must have the gift.” This can be read either as a special Frenchie exemption for the culinary arts (féminisme, c’est bon, but we must not jeopardize those flaky pastries!) or as a bit of wisdom that some American feminists thoughtlessly trampled in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.
3. TO THE KITCHEN STADIUM
Whichever, kitchen work itself has changed considerably since 1963, judging from its depiction on today’s how-to shows. Take the concept of cooking from scratch. Many of today’s cooking programs rely unapologetically on ingredients that themselves contain lots of ingredients: canned soups, jarred mayonnaise, frozen vegetables, powdered sauces, vanilla wafers, limeade concentrate, Marshmallow Fluff. This probably shouldn’t surprise us: processed foods have so thoroughly colonized the American kitchen and diet that they have redefined what passes today for cooking, not to mention food. Many of these convenience foods have been sold to women as tools of liberation the rhetoric of kitchen oppression has been cleverly hijacked by food marketers and the cooking shows they sponsor to sell more stuff. So the shows encourage home cooks to take all manner of shortcuts, each of which involves buying another product, and all of which taken together have succeeded in redefining what is commonly meant by the verb “to cook.”
I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that “people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.” Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978 the NPD Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty. (Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.) At least by Balzer’s none-too-exacting standard, Americans are still cooking up a storm — 58 percent of our evening meals qualify, though even that figure has been falling steadily since the 1980s.
Like most people who study consumer behavior, Balzer has developed a somewhat cynical view of human nature, which his research suggests is ever driven by the quest to save time or money or, optimally, both. I kept asking him what his research had to say about the prevalence of the activity I referred to as “real scratch cooking,” but he wouldn’t touch the term. Why? Apparently the activity has become so rarefied as to elude his tools of measurement.
“Here’s an analogy,” Balzer said. “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”
After my discouraging hour on the phone with Balzer, I settled in for a couple more with the Food Network, trying to square his dismal view of our interest in cooking with the hyperexuberant, even fetishized images of cooking that are presented on the screen. The Food Network undergoes a complete change of personality at night, when it trades the cozy precincts of the home kitchen and chirpy softball coaching of Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee for something markedly less feminine and less practical. Erica Gruen, the cable executive often credited with putting the Food Network on the map in the late ’90s, recognized early on that, as she told a journalist, “people don’t watch television to learn things.” So she shifted the network’s target audience from people who love to cook to people who love to eat, a considerably larger universe and one that — important for a cable network — happens to contain a great many more men.
In prime time, the Food Network’s mise-en-scène shifts to masculine arenas like the Kitchen Stadium on “Iron Chef,” where famous restaurant chefs wage gladiatorial combat to see who can, in 60 minutes, concoct the most spectacular meal from a secret ingredient ceremoniously unveiled just as the clock starts: an octopus or a bunch of bananas or a whole school of daurade. Whether in the Kitchen Stadium or on “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star” or, over on Bravo, “Top Chef,” cooking in prime time is a form of athletic competition, drawing its visual and even aural vocabulary from “Monday Night Football.” On “Iron Chef America,” one of the Food Network’s biggest hits, the cookingcaster Alton Brown delivers a breathless (though always gently tongue-in-cheek) play by play and color commentary, as the iron chefs and their team of iron sous-chefs race the clock to peel, chop, slice, dice, mince, Cuisinart, mandoline, boil, double-boil, pan-sear, sauté, sous vide, deep-fry, pressure-cook, grill, deglaze, reduce and plate — this last a word I’m old enough to remember when it was a mere noun. A particularly dazzling display of chefly “knife skills” — a term bandied as freely on the Food Network as “passing game” or “slugging percentage” is on ESPN — will earn an instant replay: an onion minced in slo-mo. Can we get a camera on this, Alton Brown will ask in a hushed, this-must-be-golf tone of voice. It looks like Chef Flay’s going to try for a last-minute garnish grab before the clock runs out! Will he make it? [The buzzer sounds.] Yes!
These shows move so fast, in such a blur of flashing knives, frantic pantry raids and more sheer fire than you would ever want to see in your own kitchen, that I honestly can’t tell you whether that “last-minute garnish grab” happened on “Iron Chef America” or “Chopped” or “The Next Food Network Star” or whether it was Chef Flay or Chef Batali who snagged the sprig of foliage at the buzzer. But impressive it surely was, in the same way it’s impressive to watch a handful of eager young chefs on “Chopped” figure out how to make a passable appetizer from chicken wings, celery, soba noodles and a package of string cheese in just 20 minutes, said starter to be judged by a panel of professional chefs on the basis of “taste, creativity and presentation.” (If you ask me, the key to victory on any of these shows comes down to one factor: bacon. Whichever contestant puts bacon in the dish invariably seems to win.)
But you do have to wonder how easily so specialized a set of skills might translate to the home kitchen — or anywhere else for that matter. For when in real life are even professional chefs required to conceive and execute dishes in 20 minutes from ingredients selected by a third party exhibiting obvious sadistic tendencies? (String cheese?) Never, is when. The skills celebrated on the Food Network in prime time are precisely the skills necessary to succeed on the Food Network in prime time. They will come in handy nowhere else on God’s green earth.
Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining Along Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A
According to humorist and playwright Noel Coward, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
In a beach town with sparkling seas and sugar-white sands you too could be forgiven for venturing out in the heat of the day but, fortunately, the French came up with an altogether better alternative.
Le Dejeuner: Lunch, to you and me
Done properly, this midday repast has always been the star of the gourmands day. It is more than a meal, it is an opportunity to leave the beach, escape the heat, relax, unwind, chat, and laugh. You can do business over lunch, celebrate success, catch up with old acquaintances or treat new friends. And in sweltering climes, finding the perfect ‘al fresco’ patio, rooftop or courtyard from where to indulge has become an obsession.
Happily, there are plenty to choose from along 30A. There are white-tablecloth spots with sophisticated wine lists and those with paper napkins and sauce bottles in plastic baskets. Others have gulf views or bay views, and there are even those hidden away from the crowds where the locals go.
Below are just five you may want to explore next time you decide you too want a break from the midday sun.
Vue on 30A is the clubhouse for Santa Rosa Beach and Golf Club and it took me too long to realize it was open to the public. What sets this apart is the proximity to the water, nowhere else along 30A gives you the white tablecloth lunch experience with uninterrupted views of the Gulf of Mexico. The food is memorable too. Chef Isley Wight brings a little taste of his Jamaican homeland to dishes based on the best things Northwest Florida offers – fresh fish, gulf shrimp and melt in the mouth crab cakes. With a private club feel and relaxed atmosphere it is no surprise there is also an outstanding wines and champagne list which both pair wonderfully with the food, but also tempt you to uncork another bottle, sit back and take in the view.
If you can live without a gulf-view but won’t compromise on the food, take a seat on the porch at Chanticleer – a New Orleans-style bakery, deli and sandwich shop in North Grayton. The menu is a mix of salads, sandwiches and Louisiana-influenced dishes like Jambalaya and Krioyo Pasta.
With so many mouth-watering options, choosing just one can be difficult so locals in the know opt for the ‘half and half’ menu where the delicious Southern Summer Salad can be matched with a Chanticleer Grilled Cheese on fresh home-baked Rosemary Sage bread. With an on-site bakery there are mouth-watering desserts and cookies to linger over and a stellar wine and cocktail list can turn a light bite into a lazy afternoon.
Also based in Grayton Beach, just north of the 30A, is Grayton Corner Café. Here the menu changes daily but revolves around comfort-food favorites like meatloaf, meat and two, fried chicken, and vegetarian offerings. Mason jars of sweet tea are on every table and there is a surprisingly good wine list, offering some high-quality wines for little more than supermarket prices. Order your food, pick a bottle, and pull up a chair at a table in the shade outside. Here you can eavesdrop into the conversations of the many developers meeting with their architects, brides-to-be meeting photographers or local community leaders plotting their next campaign. Tasty food, fabulous wines and animated conversations are the hallmarks of this local’s lunchtime secret spot.
Dock-Seating at Stinky’s Fish Camp
Further West in Dune Allen is the venerable Stinky’s Fish Camp. Despite its name, this is a lunch spot of high regard for regular visitors to 30A. With only a limited amount of space on the rear porch and no reservations allowed – it is first come, first served – if you do score a waterside table be prepared for a serious treat. The lunch menu includes a wide array of oysters, sourced locally, prepared to order on the half shell, Rockefeller or redneck shooter-style with a cold PBR. With a Raw Bar, Tacos, Po-Boys and fresh gulf fish blackened or grilled there are plenty of choices for every appetite. They also make good cocktails and offer a weird but wonderful frozen drink called Stink Juice. It tastes like an orange cream popsicle but it isn’t for the kiddies!
Sometimes you want a lunch that is not just the center of your day but the focus of your entire vacation. If that’s for you, then I recommend you dress up in your designer daywear, fresh from the barbershop or fly from the beauty salon, and head for the Havana Beach Rooftop at the Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach. There are no reservations at this uber-luxe Cuban-inspired location but if you want that Old Havana or Miami Beach vibe you can reserve a pool-view rooftop cabana for that special occasion. Veranda seating is also available at Havana Beach Bar & Grill with views of the Gulf and of Main Street
Safely settled in the shade, lounging on the pillows, it’s time to explore the menus and enjoy living, eating, and drinking well. The AAA 4 Diamond restaurant offers a range of dishes that are tagged Gulf Coastal American with the provenance of many of the ingredients being nearby farms, fisheries, and farmers markets. The cocktail list is extensive and, if you time it just right, you can graciously drift from a gossipy lunch accompanied by Pink Champagne and bottles of ice-cold Pouilly-Fume, through a late-afternoon of Hemmingway’s Daquiris to catching the sunset with a house specialty Free The Oppressed cocktail in hand.
Gordon Gecko was wrong – Lunch isn’t for wimps, it’s for those who love the finer things in life. Like life on the 30A.