Hello, everybody—nice seeing you again.
I was reading a social history of housework, because that's the kind of thing I do for fun, and in the chapter on cooking the author said that now that a whole generation has grown up eating Hamburger Helper, that's what Americans think home cooking is. They associate a good, home-cooked meal with Mom dumping the contents of a box into a pan and mushing it up with some ground beef. This made me feel very un-American, because I'd never eaten Hamburger Helper in my life. Then one night I happened to have a pound of ground beef in the Kelvinator, and it was a night Sluggo wasn't going to be home for dinner, so I decided to experiment. I walked to the store and, mirabile dictu, Hamburger Helper was on sale that week. There were a lot of flavors; I hadn't expected that. I didn't know which was the correct, all-American flavor to get, but there were empty spaces on the shelf so I figured probably the "regular" flavor was already sold out. I wanted to do my experiment, but I wasn't so committed to it that I was willing to get a raincheck and another pound of ground beef the following week, so I finally chose "Oriental" because its name seemed more politically incorrect, and therefore more all-American, than "Stroganoff."
Well, it was dreadful. The predominant flavor was salt, apparently as an attempt to disguise the bizarre chemical flavors of the other ingredients. I like salt—I sometimes snack on sea salt straight from the box—but Hamburger Helper was too salty for me. I am sorry for the Americans who eat this stuff, but on the other hand I'm not a foodie, either. Foodie food is peculiar in its own way. For instance, foodies are responsible for blubber chicken. For hundreds of years, American cookbooks have advised folks to roast a chicken by letting it sit in a 350-degree oven for an hour or two, depending on the weight of the bird. It was delicious, and it was fool-proof—but unfortunately it wasn’t foodie-proof. Pick up any new-fangled foodie cookbook, and you’ll discover that you should be putting your chicken in a 500-degree oven for a while, and then lowering the temperature for another while, and then you will wind up with a nasty, undercooked, blubbery bird which apparently you are supposed to pretend to enjoy because if you don’t you are an unsophisticated rube who only wants your food to taste good.
I tried the new, improved, emperors-new-clothes chicken-roasting recipe, and when I ended up with blubber chicken I thought I’d done something wrong. When I tried it again, with the same result, I thought maybe my 1925 oven just wasn’t up to baking something at 500 degrees. But then we went for dinner at the home of a card-carrying foodie, who proudly served us blubber chicken from her zillion-dollar fancy imported European oven, and I realized it wasn’t me, it was them. Or rather, it WAS me, it’s that I’m an unsophisticated rube who only wants my food to taste good. How gauche is that?
The last straw was probably the pie contest at my day job. Every so often our office has these little competitions that are supposed to help morale or something, and a few weeks ago they had a pie-baking contest. Or at least I thought it was a baking contest. I am the little queen of Iowa pie. My Grammy Carlton taught me how to make a pie crust, and I yield to no one in my shao-lin pie skills. So I stayed up until midnight the night before the contest, baking Sluggo’s favorite apple-cranberry-walnut pie with local baking apples (Ida Reds, mostly) from the farmer’s market in our village. There were 9 pies entered the following day—and every one but mine had a boughten crust. One woman brought an entire boughten pie, still in the bakery box. The fillings were various things dumped out of cans or reconstituted from packaged powders—those pies weren’t baked, they were compiled. I felt like I’d been misled, and I made a little fuss about being the only person who’d actually baked anything. (“You see,” Sluggo says, “this is why they shun you at work.”) Everything else was so sweet it made my teeth hurt, and of course eating a bite of caramel-sludge-chocolate-waxy-chip-glop and then following it with a bite of apple pie with a tart cranberry in it was like eating a piece of candy and then drinking a nice glass of grapefruit juice. My pie didn’t even come in third. Of course I hate to lose, but I hate it even more when I’m not even playing the same game.
Clearly my tastes are too snooty for Americans, and too low-brow for foodies, so I guess I’m just a middle-class cook. But I’m staying home from work on Wednesday to bake apple-cranberry-walnut pies for Thanksgiving dinner, and when we eat them I will give thanks that at least I know what tastes good.
Thanks for reading my blog post this week, and have a happy Xgiving.