Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Martha on Trial

Lileks is back to watching his kid. He writes, Back to the dad-at-home routine, and I couldn't be more pleased. "It's a daddy day tomorrow," I said to Gnat, and her eyes lit up. "Yay!" My sentiments, exactly. Why does it always sound cooler when guys stay home with the kids?

Yesterday, after dinner, I gave up. I ran out of steam and couldn't manage the rest of the evening routine. I put on the Food Network since it amuses all. Jonah likes the mixing and the pouring. Ian just enjoys seeing people eat. The three of us sat on the sofa waiting for Steve to come home and be a better parent.

The show on the Food Network was called Almost Cooking or something like that. The woman dressed like she just came home from work in a sensible sweater and flipped up hair. No pretense of being a chef or anything. Which was good, because she explained how to spice up your mac and cheese from a box with an envelope of Taco mix. Voila. Mexican Macaroni and Cheese.

OK, I'm not above mac n' cheese. In fact, we ate it last night, the quite excellent Annie's Organic kind. But I hardly think that mac n' cheese from a box really deserves a segment on the food network.

What is going on? Are we seeing a shift from the Martha Stewart dominated 90s. Is there a Martha backlash? Is there more than Martha on trial right now? Is the whole lifestyle before the judge as well? Hmmm. Mixed feelings.

A friend of mine is a former editorial assistant for Betty Crocker Publishing, which is a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. Of course Betty Crocker is really a team of women, mostly based in the Mid-west, who come up with those creations. My friend nicknamed the cooking writers collectively as the Betties. The Betties had a fondness for canned pineapples, maraschino cherries, and Campbell's soup. Seemingly stuck in the 70s, they had no use for pesto, sun dried tomatoes, risotto, or fresh vegetables.

I know the Betties' cooking well. My mom did it. Once a week, she would simmer chicken breasts, add a cylinder of cream of mushroom soup, and pour the glop over white rice. I liked it.

I'm very interested in cooking styles and tastes and what that says about a particular era. The 70s tuna casserole says easy, efficient, who cares about food when you can smoke a lot. The 90s Martha Stewart 50 steps to perfection cooking says quality, image, wealth.

Does this show represent a new era in cooking or was it just a horrible mistake? My dad has a theory that a decade doesn't really become its own until after three years. 1962 was very much like the 50s. 1972 was still part of the late 1960s. Now that we've hit 2004, we should be starting to see the unique qualities of this decade that separate it from the 1990s. Of course, Dad also thinks that the Beatles didn't really write Sergeant Pepper, so I'm not so sure how much we trust his views on cultural issues.

Things to Read

Check out this cool planned suburb in the Netherlands.

An excellent article on the working poor and the discussion at Crooked Timber.

Tim Burke froths at the mouth over academic journals.

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