Tag Archives: eating

What’s Your “Back in Time”?

7 Apr

My friend Angwa hipped me to this BBC show called “Back in Time for Dinner,” which I’ve turned into my lunchtime fun time for the week. Each one-hour episode has the five-member Robshaw family living through a different decade, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The first floor of their house is transformed into what a typical house of that decade would look like–kitchen, living room, dining room; they wear the clothes; they do the things; and they eat the food.

In the 1950s, this means that mom’s stuck in the kitchen all day doing amazing amounts of housework. There’s no fridge–you keep things cool on a slab of marble in the larder. The country still is rationing food, so there’s not much meat.

Throughout the years–and some decades have massive amounts of change in a very short time–we see the introduction of refrigerators, freezers, TVs and highly combustible chip pans. Fish sticks, ready meals and Rice Krispies vie for stomach space. Society changes, and therefore the family changes with it–things like women working and kids moving out of the house. World events like the 1970s energy crisis have a major impact on day-to-day life that many of us would find shocking.

It’s fascinating to see how society changed with regards to our food and how we make it, and how our living standards have changed. It got me thinking about what’s “back in time” for me–and what’s not.

For example, the Boy and I don’t have a microwave. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this is an appliance that 90% of Americans have. I remember the magic of getting our first one when I was maybe 10. We could cook hot dogs in 45 seconds! We learned that you don’t nuke foil-wrapped burgers! We got yelled at if we stood in front of it while it was on!

But as an adult, I’ve never really cared about owning one. Last year, when our 16-year-old microwave–the one Ma Jaracz got me because she didn’t know how I was living without it–bit the dust, we decided not to replace it. Heating up leftovers is kind of a pain now, but we manage just fine doing whatever we did in the microwave by using the stove and oven–and have more counter space.

However, about three years ago, I joined the ranks of the 60% who have a dishwasher, and it’s  revolutionized my world. I grew up with a dishwasher, so spending most of my adult life without one was a big step back. Having one has completely changed how much time I spend washing dishes, which changes how much I’m willing to experiment with cooking and baking. If a recipe doesn’t work out, it’s not as miserable an experience to clean it up as when I had to spend an hour washing up the failure.

Even the food trends are interesting to think about–and how cyclical they can be. Consider popcorn. As a kid, it was a big deal to get an air popper. Then we graduated to microwave popcorn. Now I make it on the stove old-school style–but with my fancy popcorn pan.

We also have a lot more packaged food that makes life easier–but maybe isn’t really the best thing for you. When I was a kid, making a cake from scratch was the most difficult thing you, but the Boy’s chocolate cake recipe takes maybe five more minutes than a boxed cake mix. And it tastes much better.

But today we also have so many more global spices and flavors–and this has made our food so much more interesting and allows for a lot more variation and enjoyment.

At any rate, this week I’ve spent a lot of thinking about where our society has been with food and home innovations, and wondering where we’re going. I can’t imagine why I’d really want a smart refrigerator, but in 20 years will it be the norm? What new cooking gadgets will revolutionize our world? What food won’t we be able to live without?

Let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ve got to eat lunch, which today means I’m going back to the 1980s. I hope I see an electric can opener!

 

 

The Ma Jaracz Cookie Train Comes to Town

9 Dec

I’ve got the song “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” in my head and not because it looks like Christmas outside. It doesn’t. Where it’s beginning to look like Christmas is my belly, thanks in part to Ma Jaracz.

Every year my mother sends out a big package of Christmas cookies. She gets her Martha Stewart on the day after Thanksgiving and makes probably 15 different kinds of cookies. Me? I make a mean chocolate chip, and every once in a while I forget what a pain it can be to make cut-out cookies, so I’ll try a batch of those. I like baking, but I’ve never gotten into the same Christmas cookie-making habit.

This week the annual package came. It’s meant for sharing among who’s ever in the household (depending on who’s visiting for the holidays), but due to dietary preferences, no one else does. So it’s me. And the box. Of large samples of 15 different kinds of cookies, packed matryoshka-style, with each batch in their own individual zipper bag, and then those zipper bags are packed in larger zipper bags. I’m sure if Hefty made a super-jumbo zipper bag, she’d pack the jumbo bags in it too.

When the box came this week, the Boy said, “Oh, that’s nice,” and then properly ignored the enthusiasm with which I dug into the bags of butter-laden treats that would wreck havoc on his digestive system. Which means that the embodiment of my Christmas childhood is all mine. Two jumbo zipper bags of mine.

I’ve been carrying them around the house like a security blanket, digging into toffee bars, Special K cookies (this year without the weird red and green jellies! Yes!), a bunch of variations on sugar cookies with colored sugar and more, whenever I can. I’ll look at the Boy with a mouthful of cookies and think, “You poor sap. You don’t know what you’re missing! THIS IS CHRISTMAS!!” And if my brain accidentally talks to my mouth during this thought process, I spray crumbs all over the place. The Jaracz Christmas is known for its classiness.

And while you might think, Well, Jill, it’s kind of obvious that you might have some Christmas belly going on because you’re eating a ton of cookies every day, let me qualify that. If you’re familiar with Ma Jaracz’ cookies, you’d know that eating a ton of her cookies was par for the course.

See, my mother used to be the master of the miniature cookie. If you made a regular-sized cookie–and for argument’s sake, let’s call “regular size” a Chips Ahoy–the Ma Jaracz version would be about a quarter of the size. I’m not fooling. I think in her mind she made teeny cookies for a couple of reasons: She used to give away tons of plates of cookies every year, so small cookies stretched the batch a lot longer; and smaller cookies meant you could try more of them and not stuff yourself (well, you might still stuff yourself).

However, Ma Jaracz has gotten older, which means her vision’s going a little bit. Now she’s making the large print version of her cookies. The jelly in a jelly thumbprint cookie is actually the size of a thumbprint and no longer the size of a pencil eraser. A toffee bar is four bites instead of one. A melting moment melts in your hand because you have to take so many bites that your body heat starts disintegrating it before you can pop it all into your mouth.

After a few days of eating cookies, my stomach is protesting, but I’m having a problem being reasonable and putting some in the freezer for later. I want my security blanket of Christmastime, and I want it now. I’ll deal with the weight gain sooner (preferred) or later, of course, and once they’re gone I’ll definitely cut back on the–Wait. Is that a snickerdoodle? Score!

THIS Is Steak Dinner

12 Mar

My sister-in-law was in town this week on business, so the Boy and I met her for dinner. She suggested a steakhouse near her hotel, which triggered the mantra of Yes! Steak Dinner! in my head. Steak Dinner is one of my favorite types of meals, probably because I don’t have it all that often. For starters, the Boy doesn’t eat beef, which is not really a deal breaker because there are always other meat and non-meat options at Steak Dinner. However, Steak Dinner also gets expensive and there’s planning involved, so it turns into more of a special occasion meal (though Steak Dinner in and of itself is a special occasion). And there’s the fact that Steak Dinner can be a highly calorific meal, so it’s best to keep it in moderation. A couple of years ago I had Steak Dinner four weekends in a row, and while it was heavenly, at the end of the run my wallet and waistline said, No more! I’m salivating just thinking about it though.

By now you may have figured out that Steak Dinner is a particular kind of meal, much like Fancy Dinner or Nice Dinner, and thus it cannot be classified as such unless it meets certain specifications:

  1. Steak Dinner takes place at a steakhouse. If, for some unfortunate reason, you’re in an area where a steakhouse isn’t available, the restaurant menu must have multiple steak options. This is important. You’re primarily there to eat an expensive steak, so the restaurant should specialize in it. Service at steakhouses is also top notch, and that element can really make the meal.
  2. Dinner should include a cocktail and/or wine and/or a digestif. You don’t have to drink, but it helps. Savor the alcohol and you shall savor the meal.
  3. There shall be sides. I’ve eaten at enough steakhouses now to know that if your dinner includes its own sides (choice of potato, standard vegetable), it’s not going to be among the best steak dinners you’ve eaten. A la carte sides are expensive, yes, but they are meant to be shared, which gives your dinner a more communal, jovial feel. If you have a large group for Steak Dinner, it’s recommended to have a voting protocol for your side selections, because that makes life much easier when it comes time to order.
  4. Dessert should be a factor. Dessert should always be considered, but it doesn’t have to be ordered if the options don’t meet your personal specifications. For me, Steak Dinner should always end with a slice of cake as big as my head. If the restaurant doesn’t offer that option, I am likely to decline.

For me, the rituals help make Steak Dinner what it is, and beyond the points above, I just flat out fucking love a good steak. I realize that’s kind of sweary, but I will often say that phrase in my head throughout the meal–I don’t mean to; it just happens. Peruse the menu and make my selection? I fucking love steak. Take a bite? I fucking love steak. In fact, the steak can be so delicious that at times I will tune out of portions of the conversation because the steak is so fucking delicious and I love it so fucking much. Even just writing this, I fucking love steak.

So that’s what Steak Dinner is. Let’s dissect this dinner, shall we?

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My Official Celebration of Food Begins

14 Jan

tempura

Happy Belated National Tempura Day! How did you celebrate? Did you make your tempura, or did you buy it?

Wait–you missed National Tempura Day?! How is that possible? Everybody celebrates it! You didn’t get my card? Oh, um, oops. Guess that got lost in the mail.

Well, maybe not. During the day-after-Christmas-family-trip-to-the-bookstore, I decided to pick up Steff Deschenes‘ book Eat the Year, which, based on her Almanac of Eats blog, lists food holidays for every day of the year–including leap year, which happens to be National Surf & Turf Day. I’m guessing it probably takes a good 4 years to save up for the surf and the turf at a decent restaurant and/or forget how difficult it was to cook it all at once the last time you made it.

Anyway, I bought the book not just because it’s winter in New England and I’m looking for excuses to get the house warm by turning on the oven, but because I’d like to cook a little bit more creatively and I thought this book would be a little inspirational. Besides, I like the “it’s this National Food Day” because that’s an excuse to eat. Now I can plan my excuses. That’s a win all around.

I’m not going to do one of those projects where you make everything in the book and/or celebrate every food day possible in a year. I’m not touching National Caviar Day, and I’m not sure anyone should have a party to celebrate National Eat Beans Day. Also, some days have multiple holidays–for example, August 8 is both National Zucchini Day and National Frozen Custard Day. What pressure!

That said, January 7 was National Tempura Day. I celebrated a couple of days early when I went out for Japanese food with some friends, and then I celebrated again last night when we ordered Chinese food. Good stuff! Yes, I could have made it, and it’s actually not terribly difficult–I do have a tempura batter recipe–but like anything, there are good versions and bad versions. Last time I made tempura, I liked it but it was a bit heavy on the batter. This holiday, I took the opportunity to test a couple other versions and see where I can improve. I might need to test some more though. And practice. Yeah, practice. A lot. Next year, I’ll be ready for it. Now that you’re aware, maybe you will be too.

If you plan to celebrate any food holidays, drop me a line. Perhaps we can celebrate together. Also, stay tuned to this site, as I’ll probably post about my food celebrations from time to time.

Incidentally, if you’re reading this today, it’s National Hot Pastrami Sandwich Day. I’ve got Chinese leftovers so I won’t be celebrating, but I do give you an honorary tip of the sandwich if you are.

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