Fran: This blog’s for you!

I have been meaning to blog about some of my early experiences after moving to the States. I started writing this blog months ago, but it’s taken me a while to complete it!

When I first moved, I was lonely . . . very lonely. In addition to not knowing many people, I was slightly shell-shocked at finding myself married, away from friends and family and missing my job more than I ever expected to (my freelance work had not yet taken off).

I did, what I realize now, a lot of new expats/or newly married women do: I fell into the habit of watching television. I didn’t watch all the time . . . just those times when it was to dark to go out for a walk and when I was bored.

I first became hooked on a channel called The Food Network, or TFN. I aquainted myself to a host of celebrated . . .or more accurately, ‘celebrity’ American television chefs (which is another sub-species entirely).

It did not take me long to realize that cooking skills were certainly NOT a prerequisite for being a host on the shows that this channel broadcasted. Having said that, some of the hosts, such as Ina Garten (pronounced Aye-nah), known as ‘the Barefoot Contessa’, were talented cooks. I watched Ina cook classic stews, roasts, vegetables and cakes and did pick up some good recipes from her. I got to know her husband, Jeffrey, and the various (mostly male) friends who came to dinner, and, as the best dinner guests do, usually arrived hours before the meal to arrange the table decoration and flowers to a professional standard.

Then there was Giada de Laurentiis, who annunciated any Italian terms in a very patronizing way as she cooked. Her show was usually themed – ‘family picnic’, ‘spa day’ and so forth. Any irritations were to some extent forgiven, as I really liked a lot of her recipes (I even went as far as to borrow one of her books from the library!).

Some of my new culinary ‘acquaintances’ had big personalties, which the US audiences seems to like, such as, the extremely irritating (at least in my opinion) Rachael Ray. Rachael, who has coined phrases such as ‘YUM-O’ (translation: yummy), ‘delish’ (translation: delicious) and ‘Ee-Vee-Oh-Oh’ (translation: extra virgin olive oil). Needless to say she now has her own talk show (so much for my opinion! The American audiences and the TV bosses have spoken).

Some of the hosts, were on another plane, in terms of character, personality and culinary skills!

Watching these these ‘chefs’ at work became strangely compelling to me – I’d watch the drama unfold in each episode . . . I mean show (and it was drama, believe me!). I was sometimes disgusted by the food and at times I just knew things are going to get worse, but I couldn’t help but watch!

The two most memorable personalities in this category are ‘Miz’ Paula Deen and Ms Sandra Lee.  I am going to tell you a bit about them, in case you haven’t come across them.

Name: Paula Deen

USP: Southern accent, with perculiar tendency to say ‘Y’all’ as many times as possible. Also known for her propensity to add butter and or extra-heavy cream (UK translation: extra thick, double cream) to everything.

Memorable dishes:
1. Hamburgers – Paula Deen style – you have to watch this on YouTube to believe it! I’m not going to give the game away! It is truly the most disgusting thing I have ever seen!
2. Deep Fried Macaroni and Cheese – Paula made regular mac and cheese, let it cool, cut it into squares, dipped each piece in egg and breadcrumbs and deep friend it!
3. Deep Fried Cheesecake – To make this culinary masterpiece, Paula first cut a slice of ready made cheesecake, which she proceeded to cover with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. She then wrapped the whole thing up in phyllo pastry and deep fried it. As if this was not enough, she served it by dusting it in powdered sugar and topping with more whipped cream and chocolate sauce!
4. Lasagne sandwich in garlic bread – enough said!
5. Donut bread pudding – I wonder if Krispy Kreme Donuts is one of PD’s sponsors. She seems to enjoy using these deep-fried artery cloggers in a lot of her recipes (see Hamburger)!

Paula is still going strong, in addition to her TV shows, restaurant and books, she’s got a line of cookware, food, spices and but when she does eventually retire, she has been training up her ‘bohys’, Bobby and Jamie, to carry on the celebrity chef tradition (they already have their own website and a number of cookbooks)!

The incomparable Paula Deen (Image © lifescript)

Rapidly moving onto . . .

Name: Ms Sandra Lee

USP: Humble beginnings and color-coordinating sets. In the show I watched that was presented by her, Semi Home-made with Sandra Lee, Sandra shared her techniques for “combining fresh ingredients with specially selected store-bought items” to produce wonderful meals (which translates as, how to cheat in the kitchen). And there was ‘Cocktail Time’ on each episode, at which point Sandra always seemed to brighten up considerably. She seemed very fond of those cocktails!

What struck me as strange about this show was that Sandra spent all the time she ‘saved’ by cutting corners with her food, on creating elaborate themed ‘tablescapes’!

Memorable dishes:

1. Kwanzaa Cake – the most hideous thing I have ever seen! A ghastly conconction of Angel Food Cake (store bought), ready made icing mixed with cocoa powder, cinnamon and ready made (fruit) pie filling, topped with pumpkin seeds and acorns. You have top see this to believe it. BTW, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday. created in 1966. Read about it here.

2. Hanukkah Cake – Another hideous cake, also made with Angel food cake. This one’s frosted with blue colored store-bought frosting and filled with marshmallows (non-Kosher), and decorated with faux pearls.

3. Ice cream shaped like a baked potato. Essentially this is store-bought ice cream molded into a baked potato shape, dusted with cocoa and topped it with a ‘pat’ of butter shaped/colored frosting. As Sandra says in the show, ‘I am recreating all of the wonderful toppings for my baked potato in a sugar form’. One question – why would you want to do that?

Memorable decorations and (in)famous ‘tablescapes’:

Grandma Lorraine’s Birthday Cake – a recipe from Sandra’s beloved grandma who worked in a cafeteria and was “a great cook”. It’s made with ready-made cake mix, with juice from a can of peaches and raspberry extract. The cake is put on an upturned foil container and iced with lurid pink and green (ready-made) icing. Watch the ghastly creation take shape here.

– ‘Italian Topiary‘ – skip over ‘cocktail time’ in this youtube clip and have a look at the unforgettable centre-piece on her table. This is the one to watch if ever you need cheering up! This clip made me laugh so much that my stomach hurt!

Sandra Lee (image courtesy of the Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Enterprises Inc.)

I think it was Sandra who turned out to be the final nail in the coffin for my relationship with TFN. I overdosed on those hideous tablescapes and became hooked instead, on a show called , The View, which happened to be on in the mornings when I was at the gym. I also started to get busier with work, so there was not so much time for TV!

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