Foodies…and not

English: The logo of Food Network.My major TV indulgence is Food Network. Most of my TV time comes when we’re in Metlakatla. When Rob covers a weekend of call there, I use the time to catch up with online tasks, and usually have Food Network running in the background. I’ve learned a lot from programs over the years. But some are just painful to watch. The current episodes of the Worst Cooks in America are right up there. I mean, how can anyone be that bad in the kitchen? Really?

With all the websites, blogs, cookbooks, cooking shows etc., offering recipes and cooking how-to advice…to say nothing of friends and family who could mentor…is it really possible to be as clueless as these people are? I mean, get in the kitchen and try something…start banging around, learn by doing. There are YouTube videos that show how to cut veggies, how to bake, how to cook almost anything you can imagine. There’s literally an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources for home cooks.

You could make that argument for a lot of things. But while I don’t have to know how to repair my plumbing or rebuild my car engine, I like to eat pretty regularly. That’s such a mystery to me…how could something as basic as food be unexplored?  I understand some people just aren’t fascinated with all things food (unlike me and most of the rest of the world). But even if it isn’t a consuming interest, everyone has to eat something. Wouldn’t it be better it the something was delicious?

Food games and adventures  for family and friends:

~Get to know a little more about your group’s food loves. Here are some questions to share around the table. Works best if you’re eating something delicious while you share! Work your way through the whole list, or pick just a couple of questions. I definitely recommend including the last one…always good to associate memory with food. You may be surprised by the responses.

  1. What is your favorite food?
  2. Favorite food/dish in a specific category (main dish, finger foods, comfort food, dessert, breakfast…whatever you want to choose)
  3. Favorite restaurant…fast food, local restaurants, chains, diners, etc…
  4. Favorite chef (well-known from TV or author, or someone you know in person)
  5. Who is your favorite home cook? In your family? Among your friends?
  6. What’s your favorite holiday food dish?
  7. Favorite grocery store food item (ice cream, cookies, chips, etc.)
  8. Favorite international cuisine?
  9. Worst thing you ever ate?
  10. Best thing you ever ate?
  11. Bonus question…best memory associated with food

~Family members cook!  Give each one in the family a night each week, or once a month (whatever works) to be the head chef.  Everyone else helps prep or clean up. Each person can showcase their favorite foods, type of cuisine, etc. Have breakfast for dinner, let a child experiment with flavors (that’s how my son invented cinnamon toast grilled ham and cheese…not a flavor combination I would repeat, but it was a learning experience for him); or choose dishes new to everyone to make and taste.

~Mystery food! Let everyone in your family choose a dish or ingredient or cooking method no one has tried. Try it! Have a mystery food dinner night once a month, or as often as you choose. Rotate through everyone’s choices, then start over. Have a prize for the food that is most unusual.

~Experiment with planting vegetables. If you have kids, lots of fun ahead with this! But even if you don’t, it’s great to learn a bit about gardening, and see what you can do, with or without a yard. No yard, no problem! Check out container gardening. Again, there’s a wealth of information and resources online.

~Check out CSAs…Community Supported Agriculture is another way to access fresh fruit, vegetables, and other items from local farmers and producers. Visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ to learn more.

~Visit your local Farmers’ Market. I love shopping at farmers’ markets and buying from local vendors showcasing their products. In addition to fresh produce, you can often find vendors selling breads, honey, cut flowers, herbal preparations, essential oils, simple breakfast or lunch fare, and a wide variety of crafts, jewelry. This is another wonderful way to support local agriculture and eat clean.

~Share the shopping! If you have kids at home, (and they’re old enough) have each one plan the shopping for the week, and participate in the actual marketing. Doing this will give them experience in budgeting, planning menus, checking food inventory, layout of markets, and familiarity with foods they may not know. There’s a lot of education waiting at the grocery!

~Have a cook-off event. I’ve seen this done with local restaurant chefs here in Ketchikan. Just copy your favorite food contest show…choose a set theme or have mystery ingredients; make it a one event evening or a multi-night contest. Have prizes, or do the whole thing just for the fun and glory of choosing a victor.

~Form a dinner / supper club. Make up the rules that work for the group. Meet once a month or once a quarter. Have the dinners revolve around seasons, or events: birthdays, sports, anything you choose. Each host can choose a menu, or put menus or types of cuisine in a dish and draw to see what each host will cook for the group. Or each dinner can be a joint effort, with everyone who attends bringing a portion of the planned menu; rotate the house for the event, and share the cooking duties.

~Plan a progressive dinner. These are retro, but so fun. Great for larger groups, but take some planning. If you’ve never done this, here’s how it works. You have a host for appetizers, a host for the main course, and a host for dessert. Or if you want to come up with more courses, add more hosts, but you need at least three. Guests move from house to house, (or venue to venue…doesn’t have to be hosted in a home setting). The host from each location moves with the group to the next stop, so everyone gets to enjoy the party. You can have an overall theme, or each course can stand alone. I think it’s best to have a theme, but do whatever works for the group. Decide on a budget for the event and have everyone chip in to cover expenses. Just another way to make food fun, and enjoy a night with family or friends. Go a step further and combine the food event with a fundraiser for your favorite charity, school program, youth activity, etc., Everyone wins!

Enjoy! And if you have variations…what food adventures do you share with family and friends?… I’d love to hear about them.

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Food done right

Tomato plants in the garden.
Home grown tomatoes

There is a growing awareness in the US today of the value of eating locally grown organic and sustainable foods. This isn’t a new concept, but there are more and more restaurants creating menus from locally sourced produce, dairy, and meats. The menus reflect what is in season at the moment…what is available at the time of year. The reality is that this is simply a return to a much older way of eating…long before pesticides, mass production, and vast distribution systems became the norm in the food industry.

Small and privately owned farms are leading this movement. There is a renewed appreciation for the art, the craft, the science, of food production done well, from the farm to the table. Farmers inspire chefs, and chefs support farmers. It’s a healthy and nutritious approach to life.

One of the goals I have in choosing “next” is to have access to farmers’ markets and to a wider array of food choices. At the local markets in Ketchikan, there is a good selection of ethnic and imported foods. But it would be oh so fun to have even more options. I remember my mom going to Indian food stores to buy authentic curry spice mixtures and other items that were not available at the local grocery. Things have come a long way. But I’m intrigued by the challenge of eating locally, and I want to explore the choices that come with living in a region of the country that has a rich agricultural tradition and more ethnic diversity of restaurants and resources.

Long ago, when Rob and I were first married, we planted a few tomato plants outside our apartment building. My grandmother, one of the greenest thumbs of all time, recommended a healthy spread of chicken manure as fertilizer for the plants. Those tomato vines produced an amazing harvest, and I must say, the only tomato harvest I’ve ever personally produced.

I don’t want to become a farmer. I don’t think my thumb is green enough. But I would love to have access to farmers’ bounty, and to have the opportunity to try my hand at growing tomatoes again. I don’t know if or when that ambition may become a reality. It is one of the things I’m thinking about as I sit dreaming, looking out at the Tongass Narrows. Living “as if, ” thinking, “not at once, but at last.”As  I said to a friend a few days ago, if all my dreams come true, I could spend the rest of my life living in an RV. I highly doubt that will be the case! But I think some adventuring is in order before I think about planting tomatoes or new roots. I’m good with that. I don’t need either of those things at the moment. But some day, maybe I’ll be a proud tomato grower again. And I’ll have a favorite farm stand to visit.

Guilty pleasures

Ok, I admit it: I’m a Food Network addict. I don’t watch everything (I do work and have a life) but I frequently have the channel on in the evening as background noise. This allows me to tune in when there’s a program on that captures my attention.

 I LOVE the Guy Fieri show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s such a great vehicle (no pun intended!) for publicizing the authentic mom and pop type restaurants throughout the country, and I’m happy to see these small operations get great free press. And Guy’s enthusiasm about the dishes he samples is fun to watch. I also like the quick demos that accompany the dishes that are profiled. Even if you don’t plan to attempt a knock off recipe, it gives you a basic idea of what goes into the dish if you want to incorporate either flavor or technique into your own cooking.

 I also enjoy some of the contest shows like Iron Chef America. That’s kitchen theatre! Some of the featured ingredients are pretty standard, but now and then, I’ll admit  there is a theme ingredient that I’ve never even heard of. I’ve learned a lot about cooking methods watching the chefs  and their staff work on the show. The speed  of the preparation and the imagination that the chefs put into their dishes is amazing.

Another favorite program is Chopped!  The premise of this program is that four chefs tackle a surprise basket of ingredients for an appetizer, entrée and dessert. After each course, one of the chefs is chopped from the competition. The variety and increasingly bizarre nature of the ingredients in the chefs’ baskets gives an interesting twist to the show. There is also the interaction among the chefs as they vy with each other for the winning spot (and the $10,000 cash prize). A three judge panel critiques the dishes, and their interplay with the chefs is the best part of the show.

Probably my favorite has to the be Alton BrownGood Eats” series. This is a seriously zany production, to say the least. The premise of the show combines the scientific backdrop of what is actually occurring in the various cooking processes, how the ingredients are interacting with each other, etc., but the really entertaining factor is the unique plot line that Brown uses for each show. Lots of characters, props, and interesting factoids make the show a little off-beat, but ultimately entertaining and educational. And the recipes and cooking methods are given in very precise terms…no chance of getting lost in jargon here!

Most of my leisure for tv time comes in small segments, so I often watch  only a few minutes of these programs.  But this fare is far more interesting to me than traditional game shows, reality shows, soap operas…after all, the main theme of the channel is FOOD, and there’s not a lot that’s more interesting than food that is well prepared and entertainingly presented. Add larger than life hosts, and the formula is magic, as the Food Network has taken to the bank.