Our globe tracks a circular route around the sun, and life often mimics that pattern. As does culture. Skirts go up and come down, narrow lapels and three buttons come in and out of style, high-waisted pants unaccountably return to favour from darkest Siberia. And crafts too, come in and out of fashion.
These days, it’s common to see young men and women perusing websites like Craftsy to update their skills in knitting, crocheting, quilting. But sometimes the interest skips a generation: my grandmother and great-grandmother were quilters. So am I. But my mom, a weaver and sewist, has never had the patience for quilting; she doesn’t quite scoff at my habit of cutting up fabric just to sew it back together again, cut it up, then re-stitch it into yet another configuration. Although I have to admit that when she puts it like that, I do see her point. But that’s how transformation happens.
Of course, interest in cooking and food has returned too. The Food Network has played a large role in that. It appeared on our TV sets in 1993 and rolled like a juggernaut across the globe. Soon, “BAM!”, the signature expression of New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse, could be heard on TVs across the continent. Within ten years, Iron Chef and Top Chef had chefs lining up by the multitude to battle for top dog status in TV competitions that all too frequently and routinely included sabotaging opponents.
But food television was not new in 1993. Early adapters included American icon James Beard, first in line with I Love to Cook in 1946. Julia Child first appeared on-air as The French Chef in 1963. I remember watching The Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr (nicknamed “the high priest of hedonism” by TV critics) entertain television viewers in 1969 with his fast-moving, wine-drinking take on enjoying rich food.
In Canada, francophone Jehane Benoit hosted The Young Chefs in 1976, and Wok with Yan originated in 1978. James Barber, whom I met during my time as a culinary student in Vancouver, styled himself as the urbane Urban Peasant, and first cajoled watchers with risqué language frankly equating food with sex in 1989. In 2018, Barber’s natural successor is Anthony Bourdain, a cheeky New York chef with attitude who escorts his audience into markets and restaurants around the world.
From its outset, TV cooking has been about personalities, and later, competition. Chefs on TV entertain taste-buds and appetites; they don’t teach an audience addicted to fast food and take-out the hands-on “how” of actually cooking – unless the observer watches while cooking. But seeing a chef remove the bones from a guinea hen does not equal knowing how to do it oneself. So, yes, imagine yourself going head-to-head with Bobby Flay or cooking in Tuscany with Giada Di Laurentiis, but don’t allow yourself to believe it will magically improve your cooking without effort. The solution is simple: go into the kitchen with a good cook and learn with a knife in your hands. And as in fashion, the basics – good stock, great vegetables, clean meat – are the building blocks.
So much for the rant. Television entertainment can wait. First we eat, this time a simple, stylish soup that goes together quickly – and relies on cooked ingredients from previous homemade meals! Next time: bread.
Chicken Soup with Rice
Perfect to combat flu, broken hearts, headache or homesickness, this broth-style soup depends almost entirely on really good homemade stock.
Making stock is simple: roast beef bones or chicken carcasses (or leftover bones) in a hot oven, then dump them in a pot, cover with cold water and add aromatics: onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and what I call “the Scarborough Fair” herbs – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, sparingly, with a few whole peppercorns. NO salt. Simmer, uncovered, 4 hours for chicken, 12 or so for beef, replenishing water levels as it reduces. Strain, cool and freeze in useful volumes.
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 small carrots, sliced
1 c. finely diced raw yam or sweet potato
1 c. cooked kidney, pinto or Great Northern beans
2 c. cooked wild rice or any other cooked rice
6 chicken thighs, cooked and shredded (Freeze the bones for stock!)
3 lemons, juice and zest
8 c. chicken stock
salt and freshly cracked pepper
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and add the onion, garlic and carrots. Sauté over medium-high heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until tender. Balance the flavours with additional salt and pepper to taste.