Between stress at work and the holiday business, I’ve had a little trouble with inspiration for creative meals and post topics for this week. (On a side note, the ‘business’ in that sentence was intended to convey that things were busy. I started to type it out and then went, ‘Wait a minute? How do you spell business then?’ (Business as in where you work). So I looked it up. My desired use is apparently obsolete. How rude! I don’t want to have to use ‘busy-being’ or something cutesy sounding like that in my sentences. I want to use business! Well then, there was holiday bus-i-ness!) A few weeks ago I signed up for Plinky, which sends you questions that are supposed to spark your creativity and help you get past writer’s block. At first I was thinking that pretty much none of them were in any way relevant to my food blog, but after a while I decided that actually, it might be kind of fun to use a few of them, modified as necessary for food, in a post. Whether or not anyone else finds this fun or interesting, remains to be seen. So here we have it – some Plinky questions, and my answers:
Q. What drives you crazy?
A. The answer to this one came to me nearly instantly, as it’s been bothering me for over a year now. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I started looking at the stickers on produce (or the signs next to it), to see where it originated. When it’s available, I buy produce from Colorado. When I have to, I buy produce from California, and failing that, I will by produce from Mexico or Canada (obviously bananas and other tropical items are only available from Latin America, so I always give in on that). But over the past year, I’ve been astounded and horrified that the bell peppers in grocery stores almost all come from Holland. Something around 4800 miles away, as the crow flies! And I’m pretty sure it’s not crows transporting these guys over the pond – it’s petroleum based, whatever method it is. I know that peppers can be grown domestically, as I bought them all season from 2R’s Farm at the Boulder Farmers’ Market. So what gives with the Dutch bell peppers in grocery stores? Really? Seriously?
Q. What are the top five websites you’d hate to live without?
A. Well, technically it’s a search engine, not a website, but my first choice is, without a question, Google. I look up a huge amount of cooking information on Google. I search for how to choose, store, and prepare vegetables, cooking techniques, recipes, ingredient substitutions, spice combinations, you name it. I also use Wikipedia more than I would have thought. It has some surprisingly thorough information on vegetables, fruits, spices, and herbs. More often than not, when I search for a recipe and find one I like, it turns out to be on Allrecipes.com. Besides being a huge repository of recipes, it has some great search functionalities. You can enter ingredients you want in recipes, as well as ingredients you don’t want. There are advanced search options which let you filter to show just the course you want, as well as specify special dietary considerations such as low-fat, vegetarian, gluten free, and many more. There is even a filter you can use for preparation time. Next would probably be OpenTable. I always prefer to make dinner reservations online vs. calling – I just find it more low-key with more immediate results. And the really nice thing is after you book enough reservations, you get a dining check you can use at any restaurant on OpenTable. (Granted it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend dining out, but hey – free money is free money). And last, but not least, would be Zagat. You can’t trust Zagat blindly, since the reviews are largely user provided, and in smaller towns the highest ranking restaurants will be your Olive Garden or your Applebee’s. But in larger, more cosmopolitan cities, where there’s a bigger dining scene, the results are fairly reliable. When we go to a city on vacation, my routine is to do a search on Zagat for restaurants in the neighborhoods we’ll be in (or can get to via the subway), which have a food rating of 24 or above (out of 30 – I think I’ve only seen one 29 in my searches). Then I use the link on Zagat to the restaurants’ websites, and check out the menus. This method has worked remarkably well for us, and I’ve found some pretty great places.
Q. Make a list of movies you believe everyone should see at least once.
I’ve got several food-themed or food-centric movies that I highly recommend. First and foremost is Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. This is a wonderful Taiwanese film by Ang Lee about a chef and his three adult daughters. Gradually each daughter becomes involved with a love interest and leaves home. Meanwhile the chef is dealing with his loneliness as a widower, as well as the loss of his sense of taste. The truly beautiful part of this film is the gorgeous, elaborate, and mouth watering banquet he cooks for the family each weekend. I was completely fascinated by how gorgeous the food was (and very hungry after seeing it). An American remake of the film, Tortilla Soup features a Mexican-American family, many parallel plot themes, and food that is different, but just as visually compelling as that of Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. What’s Cooking is a very engaging film about four families celebrating Thanksgiving in LA. The Vietnamese, Latino, Jewish, and African American families have unique cultural roots, but the tensions around each table, as well as the eventual resolution, reveal more similarities than differences. And it’s Thanksgiving – so there are wonderful spreads of food that are enchanting to look at. Of course any food movie list must include something with chocolate, and indeed my list features Chocolat, the mystical, sensual, and gorgeous film based on the book by Joanne Harris. It’s got a wonderful story, and who doesn’t like looking at a huge array of chocolates!
Q. Are there any reality TV shows you’d try out for?
A. Ha! There aren’t any I’m remotely qualified for. (Hopefully that goes for ‘Worst Cook in America’ as well as all the shows with actual chefs.) At any rate, that answer works for all non-food related versions as well. I’m a bit of a planner, so the last thing I would need is people filming me in real-time!