Food Porn

This is usually a blog about food, or conversations around food, gone awry.  This edition is no exception.  The topic is food porn.  The question is why?  Why would someone think it’s a good idea to make their food look, well, like porn.  I can make an exception for cakes…..   Those invite all sorts of artistic license, but general appetizers, main courses, soups and salads….   I think it’s just wrong.

That being said, when it happens to you….   When you innocently order something on the menu at a well loved restaurant.  It’s hilarious.  Wrong, but hilarious.  So when it happened to me, I had to take the picture.  I couldn’t help myself.  And now I have to share it.

spinach tar tar small

We’d gone to a Turkish restaurant.  The Spinach Tar Tar was highly recommended.  We had no idea what we were in for until the wait person brought out two plates with green, breast shaped mounds, each with an olive in the center that perhaps they’d missed something and given us Spinach Ta Tas instead.

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Paula Deen

Paula Deen

I love Paula Deen.  Objectively, this adoration makes no sense.  I shop at Whole Foods.  Dehydration is almost a religion to me.  I ate kale and quinoa years before they were cool.  I don’t eat anything that’s been deep-fried or that ever walked, ran, hopped or flew.  I make grilled tofu that carnivores beg for.   And yet I love to watch her cooking show.

I melt when she says things like, “We’re gonna’ start with an 8 oz. package of cream cheese and a stick of butter that’s been brought to room temperature and we’re gonna’ beat that until it’s creamy.”  Mind you, I can’t even imagine eating the dishes she’s famous for.  The thought of eating something like, Paula’s Fried Butter Balls, Gooey Butter Cake, or the Ladies’ Brunch Burger (a seasoned burger patty toped with two pieces of bacon and a fried egg, sitting between two Crispy Cream donuts*), makes my body reel.

Clearly my love for Paula Deen isn’t about the food.  It’s about the lifestyle she represents – a lifestyle that revolves around comfort.  Even in Paula’s post-diabetes trimmed down world, food is more than just the sum of its nutritional and not-so-nutritional parts.  Food is something you enjoy for the pure pleasure of it. Food is comfort.  And the comfort lifestyle she celebrates is about more than food.  She told Peter Sagal on in an interview on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the NPR quiz show, “I want, when you walk into my house, I hope it says to you, ‘Oh Come in.’ I want people to feel like they’re comin’ home.”

From my vantage point, Paula Deen doesn’t just like comfort.  She radiates it.  Her easy-going style sends a message to my body to R*E*L*A*X – something I struggle to do even in a yoga class.  And even though I’ve never met her, when I hear her voice or see her on TV, I feel welcomed — like all I have to do is knock and she’d invite me in, offer me a Coke or a cup of coffee and I’d be wrapped in her love.   And maybe that’s it – when you are confronted with this sort of no-strings- attached kind of love, who can help but love back?

* Even before she started watching what she ate because of diabetes, Paula Deen said you were only allowed to have one of these in a lifetime.

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Pickle Don’ts

Pickles have always been at the top of my list of favorite foods.  When I was six, I got excited about pickles the way most kids got excited about ice cream.  When I was eight, I convinced my mom to buy the gallon jars because they were cheaper.  And it meant that it took longer for the supply to run out.

I brought my love for pickles into some of my early chemistry and cooking experiments.  I tried making Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Salami and pickle sandwiches,  Heinz Ketchup and pickle sandwiches, and substituted them for peaches on top of cottage cheese.  These, it turns out are “don’ts.”  They also didn’t add much to fried Spam.  These early adventures helped me understand that just because you love something doesn’t mean that it’s always good.

I must not be the only person who loves pickles enough to experiment.  Look up pickles on Google and you’ll find recipes like branston pickle and peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter and pickle pizza, and even dehydrated pickles.  I’m guessing that these are probably “don’ts.”  There has also been an explosion of pickle flavored potato chips and crisps.  Pringles now offers Extreme Screamin’ Dill Pickle Potato Crisps.  One of the more interesting attempts at making pickle crisps comes from a company called Lesser Evil.  They make Dill Pickle Chia Crisps.  Turns out they are a “don’t” with a capital D. If I had read the label beyond the part that says they are gluten free, vegan, Kosher,  and “good for you,” I would never have bothered.  Black beans, chia seeds (as in the seeds you use to grow your Chia Pet) and lots of dill, not so much pickle – this recipe should never gotten past the taste test phase.

I turns out that pickle products are no longer limited to food groups.  Many of these are iffy at best.   Pickle Soap, for example, should never have been invented.  Anyone who really loves pickles probably exudes pickle juice through their pores as it is, amplifying the pickle scent is just not sociable.  The same goes for Dill Pickle Mints, and Big Papa Dill Pickle Lip Balm.

The pickle toys are more sketchy.    Accoutrements sells a Battery Opperated Yodelling Pickle – which may be a choking hazard from small children or anyone else who tries to suck on it.


For folks who want a quieter pickle toy, Office Playground sells a Pickle Stress Toy.

I don’t really know if these are “Do’s” or “Don’ts.”  I suppose it depends on what you want to use them for.  I think they might make great gag gifts… but I really don’t what to think about what one might do with one of these toys on a lonely winter’s eve.

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Rice Krispies Gone Wrong

I don’t know what went wrong.  I put marshmallows and butter in the microwave, hit start, stirred frequently and ended up with an icky, sticky mess.  The marshmallows didn’t seem to melt, so I kept nuking the mixture.  By the time the marshmallows all melted, the concoction was thick as tar.  Undaunted, I added psuedo Rice Krispies to the almost flaming goop.  They weren’t mixing in all that well, so I tried pressing the the krispies in.  When that failed, I poured some krispies on wax paper and dumped the glop onto it and tried pressing the glop into the krispies – like when you knead cookie dough into flour before you roll it.  By the time I was done, there were krispies scattered all over the counter and crunching under my feet on the floor.  The results weren’t pretty — my “masterpiece” looked downright shaggy.

Ever the optimist, I thought that perhaps if they had a chance to cool, I could cut them into squares, shake off the excess krispies and they’d be interesting in a good way.   I even thought of drizzling melted chocolate on them in an artsy way to cover up the shaggyness.  That was until I tried a hunk.  It took three hunks before I accepted fate:  they didn’t make the grade.  Not to worry though.  They won’t go to waste.  I’m sending them to work with my partner.  She’ll leave them in the lounge and they’ll be gone by noon.

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Dumpster Diving

It was the mustard that evoked the memory.  I was digging through the garbage in the parking lot at Mohonk Preserve, looking for the membership cards that I’d accidently thrown out with the trash and trying not to touch anything too disgusting.  One card had landed on the edge and was easy to nab, but the other took some work to find.  I picked through leftovers from an Asian mart, empty chip bags, and assorted candy bar wrappers, and finally found it beneath what had been a deli sandwich that had been generously slathered with mustard.

It was the same plain yellow mustard that every burger joint in America uses on their burgers.  The same mustard I’d had to dig through in a busy Whataburger, mortified at being the center of attention, in search of the retainer I’d tossed out with my garbage.  I’d just gotten it and wasn’t used to wearing it, wasn’t used to having to keep track of it.  And I’d taken it out because food would get under it and – well, that’s just gross, and wrapped it in a napkin because it’s also gross to have a retainer sitting on the table.  (I’d already lost its little container.)  I was ready to ditch it but my parents and I had a conversation about how much retainers cost and how many weeks it would take me to pay for it with my allowance.  By my calculations, I could have been wearing dentures by the time I got the retainer paid off, so I opted pick through the garbage.

I found my retainer, but after that experience, I switched to hiding it in my glass of tea (which to my adult brain also sounds really gross).  This didn’t work so well either because I never got good at keeping track of it.  This meant that I had to dig through the garbage to look through empty cups, or at higher class establishments, ask the wait staff to look through the empty glasses for my retainer.

By the time I got to college, I’d been wearing my retainer for years and was at least used to keeping track of it.  Still, I managed to toss it out on occasion.  Usually, I just had to got back to the dish washing area, and there it would be, sitting in a glass waiting for me.  I wasn’t so lucky the last time I tossed.  The dishwasher was down so we were using disposable dishes.  I’d dumped it into the trash with the rest of my tray.  By the time I noticed that it was missing, the cafeteria staff had already tossed out the trash so I had to dig through the great big commercial dumpster to find it.  To say that it was disgusting is an understatement.  I don’t know if it was the humiliation of having to ask my roommate and dorm mates to help me or the sickening smell of milk that was already beginning to sour, but I had a change of consciousness digging through that dumpster.  I never wanted to do that again.  I reasoned that my ability to keep track of my retainer if I wore it out was not likely to get better, so if I didn’t want to lose it, I should stop wearing it out of my dorm room.  I’d pop it in when I went to bed, slide it out in the morning before I went down for breakfast, and leave it in a little box all day.  I never lost it again.

Who says you can’t learn from digging through the garbage?

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Ways to Disgust Your Cat

Open a can of refried beans.

Cats have some sort of genetic encoding that recognizes the sound of a can opener and connects that sound to tuna.  And cats are such optimists when it comes to the can opener sound.  They will crawl out hiding or suddenly show up on the front porch, yowling to be let in when they even sense that the can opener is in use.  They do this even when their humans are strict vegetarians.  They may eat a few bites, but ultimately, they will look at you like have tortured them and slink off to pout.

Open a can of tuna and refuse to share.

If you don’t even offer the cat some of the tuna juice, your cat will make you pay.  I’m just saying.

Give you cat salmon or shrimp, after you’ve blackened it.

Cats usually like shrimp and salmon.  They don’t care for hot pepper or garlic and the combination really turns them off.  They expect that when you offer them food, that you will take their tastes into consideration.  When you don’t, they get insulted.  They are likely to sniff the tainted fish or shrimp, push it around with their paw and look at you pitifully, as if to say, “How could you do this to me?”

Offer your cat sauerkraut.

Even if your cat begs for it, do not under any circumstances, give your cat sauerkraut.  Not even if your cat rubs against your leg, tries to hypnotize you, or crawls up your pants to get to closer to your fork. The instant your cat gets a close sniff of the sauerkraut, they will react and it won’t be pretty.  The evil looks spurred by refried beans or hot sauce are nothing like the spiteful glare of a cat who’s just been offered sauerkraut.  It will make you want to worry about going to sleep at night.

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Pop Rocks

Most cats know that they are a species above humans but Sylvester thought he was one of us.  He had the coloring and voice of a Siamese but was long, lanky and easy going.  He was so tall he could stretch up from the floor and rest his chin on the kitchen table.   Though he never begged for food – he had too much self-esteem for that – he did stare us down as we ate as if he were trying to hypnotize us into giving him a sample of whatever we were eating.
My parents had very strict rules about not feeding pets at the table so as long as my parents were around, his charm was thwarted.  But any time he caught me eating anything (and I do mean anything) away from the table, he worked his magic.  I couldn’t resist his hypnotic skills.  I shared whatever I had with him – potato chips, pickles, crackers, even candy.
Once (OK probably more than once) I shared Pop Rocks with him.  Pop Rocks came out in the 70’s and contained carbon dioxide that made it and fizzle and pop as it dissolved in your mouth.  It probably wasn’t best idea but it was funny.  At first bite, he just looked puzzled, like, “Why would anyone want to eat this?”  Then, as it started to dissolve, you could literally see the fizzling move down his throat.  His eyes popped and you could see parts of his neck jump as the rocks did their thing.

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Critter Control

Sammy was a stray, part Siamese cat that Mom brought home from school one day.  When we got him, his tail was broken and he was a little jumpy so I think his previous life was rough.  He had some particularly non-Siamese habits indicative of life on the streets.  He was a little lax with his hygiene and would eat anything he could sink his teeth into.  He managed to maintain his Siamese sense of entitlement and complete rejection of  rules made by mere mortals.  This is to say that he pretty much did whatever he pleased and showed no remorse when someone busted him for his bad behavior.  Our other cat, Misty, only scratched the couch when she thought we weren’t looking and zipped away when she heard someone yell at her to stop.  Sammy would just look at us, narrow his eyes a bit and continue scratching until we got close.  He didn’t even bother to run away unless someone chased him.

The vandalism was annoying, but it was his consumption habits that got him into trouble.  As I said, he’d eat anything and he completely ignored all prohibitions about jumping on the cabinet or table.  In his world, any unguarded food was open game.  Most cats would go after chicken or meat if they thought they could get away with it but Sammy would go after loaves of bread, packages of rolls, cheese, whatever.  And he wouldn’t just eat one piece of anything, he’d take bites out of the middle, sometimes sampling each individual piece.  We had to put the bread in the refrigerator and guard any food we planned to serve keep him out of it.

This sort of vigilance is hard to maintain, and every so often, he’d score some prime human food.  Most notable, he destroyed a freshly baked pecan pie.  Mom had baked it for a church potluck and had set it on the table to cool while she got dressed.  Sammy found it before she got around to putting it up.  He ate the whole pecans out of the middle, leaving noticeable indentations where the pecans used to be.

Our family has always opposed animal cruelty so discipline was usually pretty lax — startling yells, squirts from a spray bottle, that sort of thing.  But when Sammy snacked on the pecan pie, Mom declared war.  We brought in the hot shot (aka cattle prod) from the barn and the next time she caught him on the table, she zapped him. You should have seen him fly!  And that did the trick.  He’d still jump on the table or the cabinet, but all you had to do was make buzzing noises that sounded like the hot shot and he’d scram.

In retrospect, I don’t think I’d advocate this as a disciplinary method for cats.  We didn’t think about this at the time.  I’d worry that the voltage might cause a heart attack.

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Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham

The Magic of Dr. Seuss

When I was a child, my parents had to bribe me with bedtime stories to get me to go to bed.  I had a small library of books but my favorite book was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  According to family lore, I requested this book every night.  I imagine that my parents grew to loathe Sam-I-Am.


The morning after the night before…. My father was usually in charge of breakfast and he loved to make eggs.  He liked to fry them.  He liked to poach them.  And most of all, he liked to scramble them.  Given my attachment to the book, Green Eggs and Ham, it would be reasonable to assume that I liked eggs and ham.  I did not.  I did not like them, not in the house, not with a mouse, not in a box, not with a fox. I simply despised them.

This was terribly inconvenient because my parents had a rule that I was not allowed to leave the table until I finished my meal.  Our breakfast table, on egg days, was a battlefield.  I tried everything I could think of to avoid ingesting them.  I pouted.  I cried.  I stared down the eggs for hours.  I wished we had an indoor dog who would happily eat my eggs.  Once I even tried sneaking them into the trash can but got caught before the garbage went out.  The scene that ensued was not nice.  The end result is that nothing worked and I usually had to drown my eggs in ketchup.

Warped Humor

Inspiration.  I don’t know about your dad, but when my dad got inspired in the kitchen, the results were often somewhere between questionable and horrifying.  And at some point, Dad got inspired.  We had company visiting from out-of-town.  We also had ham.  You can probably see where this is going, but I’ll fill in the dots anyway.  Somehow, Dad thought it would be funny to make green eggs and ham for me for breakfast.  The other adults – the enemies – thought it was a riot.  I was mortified.  Eggs in general were bad enough, but green eggs, with a side of ham.  Well it was just too much.  And to add insult to injury, he’d poached them so it didn’t even work to cover them in ketchup.  I had to look at the ghastly green things I was eating.


I imagine that Dad thought that this would  convince me that like Sam-I-Am’s ill-fated target, I would fall in love with green eggs and ham.  Or perhaps he just wanted to sever my attachment to the book.  Neither worked.  I simply became more resolute in my hatred of eggs and to this day, I still love to recite Green Eggs and Ham.

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Recipe Guinea Pigs

Ever seen a recipe that grabs your interest but also carries the potential to be a culinary disaster?  You can hear the adventurous part of yourself egging you on, “Go on!  Try it!  How bad can it be?”  But the practical side of yourself usually comes back with, “But what if it’s dreadful?  With all those starving children in China, you can’t just throw it out and you’ll be stuck eating it for at least a week.  Besides, you don’t want to serve this to your family or or friends if doesn’t work out.”

If you’re like me, no matter how loud your adventurous voice is, your practical voice is always louder and has more to say.  So you’re left either throwing caution to the wind and hoping for the best or never trying something new.  That is unless you find a way to experiment without the usual consequences……

My mom was a master at this.  She’d find a recipe in a magazine or cookbook that looked exciting but iffy and just go for it.  The key was she never made it for us or for a dinner party.  She’d wait until the next potluck and sneak it in.  The Methodist church we belonged to had lots of potlucks, so she had lots of opportunities to test new recipes.

The obvious question you might have is, “Didn’t she worry about what people would think if the recipe turned out bad?”  I asked her that myself.  She smiled at me and told me that she didn’t really worry about it.  She never wrote her name on the dish, so if it didn’t turn out, no one had to know.  She only fessed up to bringing the mystery dish if people raved about it.  Either way, we were spared from ghastly left overs.

If you’re not Methodist, fear not, there are lots of other ways to have other people try out risky recipes.  If your office has a break-room or lounge, you can leave the dish in the middle of the table marked as “Open game” or “Please eat me” and it will probably disappear, especially if you are a teacher, social worker or nurse.

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