Archive for the ‘Country life’ Category

Is Junk Food Taking Over the World?

FoodBuzz Screen Shot

Sweet snacks on my FoodBuzz

As I return to the office after a long season of bidding, planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up after events, I renew my interest in blogging on a regular basis in order to connect with the food community at large. I logged back into FoodBuzz after a long hiatus, noting that my last post was something along the lines of “….too busy to even check in, much less blog and share…” dated somewhere south of last May. As I plowed through the 200+ messages from fellow “Foodies” on the site, I noticed an alarming trend. Recipe after recipe was for gooey, sweet, elaborate baked goods! Are the cookie makers, cake bakers, pie aficionados taking over the world? I searched in vain for a savory recipe, finally working my way down the list to someone’s mother’s wonton soup. Have the food bloggers of America and beyond run out of ideas for delicious foods that are not breakfast pastries, snacks or desserts? Or is something more sinister afoot? Could this be the hand of corporate America, gently guiding the thought processes of these bloggers and cooks by sponsoring bake-off’s, dessert recipe contests and the like? Is this the result of companies giving away sets of baking pans, stand mixers and convection ovens?

A friend of mine recently posted a recipe from CHOW for, of all things, a Thanksgiving Turkey Cake. The recipe calls for baking seasoned ground turkey in cake pans, which is then layered with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pureed sweet potatoes, all “frosted” with more mashed potatoes and topped with toasted baby marshmallows. The entire dish has the appearance of an oversized layer cake with a strangely matte finish. Are we Americans so jaded that we have to turn even our holiday meals into something else?

Now I am all for the elevation of food and eating above the singular status of fuel for our bodies. The joys of sharing the table with family and friends are a big part of what I teach when instructing my cooking students or clients on reclaiming their culinary heritage. I do, however, find the trend toward obesity amongst my fellow foodies disturbing. In subscribing to various food-related news sources, I am bombarded with stories about new and exciting prepared foods, chock full of unpronounceable ingredients and dubious preservatives, all wrapped up in visually appealing packaging. As I prepare to attend the annual Fancy Food Show in San Francisco this January, I continue to be overwhelmed by the increasing number of these types of foods; all are laden with empty calories, but designed to entice volume consumption.

Today’s food scene has become a microcosm of our American economy. We are harangued daily to buy and consume, buy and consume; or face the next Great Depression. Most experts agree that in order to avoid obesity and the associated health risks, we must reduced our overall caloric intake, especially the engineered fats, carbohydrates and sugars that form the foundation of these prepared foods. Yet I see very few food bloggers or celebrity chefs touting the virtues of a perfect whole roast chicken, accompanied by a few artfully prepared seasonal vegetables. Where are the simple preparations that depend solely on the quality ingredients? The other night, my husband and I shared a single small T-bone steak, seared in a cast iron skillet, topped with caramelized sweet yellow onion and served with fresh steamed Yukon gold potatoes mashed with a little bit of truffle butter. The entire dinner took less than half an hour to prepare and cost less then $10 for the two of us, yet was as flavorful and satisfying as any expensive restaurant meal. The added value was that I knew exactly what we ate; a 4-6 ounce portion of lean protein, about ½ cup each of the potatoes and one large onion. The “additives” consisted of salt and pepper to taste, a tablespoon of truffle butter (ingredients: white truffle shavings and sweet butter) and a couple of tablespoons of whole milk. The meal featured simple ingredients, simple preparations; and was a whole lot healthier than the “convenient” prepackaged alternatives.

Our food community must take a more responsible, and albeit frugal view of what we promote. A life of consuming snacks and desserts, accompanied by the latest cocktail concoctions is certainly sexier, absolutely more exciting and promotes the illusion of economic and physical health through excess. A life of balanced, thoughtful consumption is much more mundane and ordinary. I personally promote eating and cooking with all of our senses, and perhaps we should add our common sense as well. I’d love to see my fellow food advocates debate the merits of extra-virgin olive oils, or explore innovative ways to serve locally produced meats and vegetables. The food community has enormous reach, via television, the internet and print media. Imagine what we could do if we use that influence to improve the foods that our fans and readers consume every day. It is not about the next contest we can run to drive a specific number of “clicks” to our websites. It is not about how many “likes” we can collect. It is not even about attracting advertising underwriters to our blogs or selling our concepts to cookbook publishers or the Food Network. It is about being endowed with the gift of influence, communicated by the written word and by images, to impact the health and well-being of those who look to us for guidance.

Post by Julia Conway on November 11th, 2010



Where do I look to find more time? One of the reasons we moved to the Mendocino Coast was to pursue a more manageable lifestyle. Today, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to keep up with the schedules I maintained when I was urban. That was then, this is now. Then, I had a one hour minimum commute to work; now I work in a home office most of the time. Yet, I don’t seem to have been able to recoup that hour. Then, I worked 8-10 hours a day, not counting travel time. After work, I worked out or met my running group for a couple of hours on the trail. Sometimes I even squeezed in an appointment with my chiropractor. Dinner was something I grabbed on the run, on the way to an evening meeting. Weekends were consumed with picking up dry cleaning, grocery shopping, haircuts, or maybe a facial or massage; and let us not forget the weekly Saturday morning ritual of housecleaning. Today, I work 10-12 hours a day, mostly at the computer and on the telephone, at least during the week. Weekends are for catering events during the season, which runs May through October. Workouts, grocery shopping and other errands are sandwiched in on weekdays, usually mid-morning to noon.

When I lived in the city, I managed to still cook 2-3 dinners per week from scratch, bake bread on the weekends, and even make home-made biscuits for the dog. Now that I live a “relaxed” country lifestyle, I can’t seem to find the time. Perhaps it is some cosmic law that we are destined to fill every single minute of every single day given to us.

Not that I am complaining, really. Today I work for myself, in a business that I love. Since I spend a lot of time talking about, writing about and preparing food for others, I am often too tired to cook for the fun of it. When you own the company, you are the salesman, the manager, the receptionist, the janitor, the purchasing agent, the inventory specialist, the bookkeeper, and the publicist. In my case, I am also the chef, the handyman, the delivery driver and the dishwasher! No wonder I can’t find any extra time. This time of year, there are a lot of menus and proposals to work on for catering customers, blog posts to write, ongoing work for consulting clients and the periodic conference call or meeting. Add to that ordering, shopping and prepping for the week’s events and an entire day can get away from you in no time at all. I hear the little dog start barking, look at the clock on the computer, and am amazed to see that it is after five and my husband is home from his job and wondering about dinner.

I still yearn for the “country” life that I fantasized about before moving here. I dream of leisurely hours spent puttering in my garden, a sunny afternoon spent picking wild blackberries, fabulous Italian-style late lunches on the deck with everyone pushing their chairs back to sip Prosecco and nibble on freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil. Instead I am eating yoghurt from the carton in front of the computer. I suspect that no matter what I am doing or not doing for a living, I would find it difficult to sit around and do nothing. I am slowly learning to take large blocks of time off for myself. Perhaps, at some point, I will find all those hours that appear to have slipped away like so many unmatched socks in the dryer. Then, I might find myself reminiscing about the joys of working every day.

I live in a place where others come to spend their vacations. Ironically, when they are vacationing, I am most often the busiest. Yet, I adore my work. Every new event or job I book, I am as enthused and energized as I was the first time. Sharing all that is special about this place with my clients and their guests is undeniably rewarding. We manage to bring the food, the wine, the setting, and the people who are the living spirit of the community together to give our clients a memorable experience. Yet, at times, I yearn for the predictability of a “day” job; the ethereal “nine-to-five” that seems to exist only in the imagination and on daytime soap operas. But, if I were really given the choice, I know that I would not be tempted to go back. If I did, I would be forced to return to the reality of trying to fit my work style and personal clock into someone else’s template, harder, I think, than squeezing my size ten body into size six clothes. It is less about how it looks on the outside and more about how it feels. And, if I did, I certainly would not be sitting here contemplating time!

Post by Julia Conway on August 12th, 2010