This won’t take long. Although my appetite has stayed strong all my life, I have remained awestruck by how much there is to know about food, and how little of this knowledge I have retained.
Which is my fault, because Americans (most of us) are drowning in food itself, as well as food advertisements, cookbooks (new ones come out every year, I've heard), TV and radio cooking programs, medical advice about diet, and food stories in news media.
The various TV how-to-cook shows are helpful, I'm sure. But many of them are unrealistic, to this extent: Have you ever seen a show that resembles your own kitchen? The TV kitchens usually are 30 feet wide, with counter tops you could land a small aircraft on. The TV cook has access to every pot, pan, whisk, knife and kettle invented in the past 300 years.
In real life, a typical cook often has to cope with no more than 8 square feet of counterspace, six tools, two shelves in which to store all food ingredients and a kitchen sink that is sometimes clogged.
Have you noticed that most TV cooks use the pronoun "we" when instructing, even when she/he is alone? "Next, we stir the eggs and then we add four slices of pepperoni..." I keep looking for the unseen helper. Maybe there's a little person out of view, handing up what the cook needs.
Side comment: my favorite TV cook-instructor is Martha Stewart, for one reason: her voice. It is so soft and pleasant I couldn't care less what she's cooking.
When is the last time you tasted rhubarb? I discovered rhubarb at age 8 at my grandparents' home in Tunkhannock, Pa. They had a patch in the backyard, for no apparent reason. My cousins and I took bites of rhubarb as a means of self-torture. It was so tart. Decades have passed in my rhubarbless life, but Wikipedia tells me you can have rhubarb in pies, jellies and other goodies. Live and learn.
"Think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?" Ever hear that one? It was an old-timey conversational quip, supposedly funny. I don't know where it came from.
Like many families in the Depression-World War II years, my parents tended to follow the hamburger-potatoes-pasta trail. With time, I learned to enjoy fancy foods, but I don't have the skill or patience to prepare them. I sometimes resolve to broaden my cooking outlook, but I'm daunted when I look at the list of necessary ingredients, some of which I've never heard of.
Such as quinoa. I asked my gal Carolina Moon, "What is kwin-oh-ha?” Her response, "It's pronounced keen-wah, dummy." It is a nutritious seed eaten for thousands of years by animals and humans in the Andes region of South America. It was sort of rediscovered a few years ago in the rest of the world, and now it seems to be a cooking rage.
"Damn, that's good!" was the comment of a man biting into a Burger King Whopper as part of a recent TV commercial. A result: hordes of mothers protested the use of a cussword in advertising. Moral of this story: when you're in public and taste any food that delights you, stay safe. Simply say, "Not bad, but I've tasted better."
All my life I've been amazed by people who say they'd like to operate a restaurant, or even a small diner. Preparing the food would probably be the simplest part of the equation. But then you've got the customers, the food inspectors, your employees, your suppliers, food spoilage, your competitors — the list goes on. So I salute anyone who owns, manages or works at a restaurant in any capacity. They're in a tough business.
To close this culinary narrative, let me pass along a food-related tool I often use to boost my spirits when I get depressed. Before I begin a meal, I think of a load of refugees in a leaking boat, crossing the Mediterranean to escape the hell that has enveloped their homeland. They have no food, water, toilets, and little hope. After one minute of my holding that view, my own supposed troubles vanish.