Wednesday, September 26, 2018

When a Food Network Star Goes into a Black Hole

I like to bake, to get lost in the artistry of cakes or macarons, but cooking...not so much. What I do enjoy is watching other people cook. 
The right people.
I have binge watched almost every season of Food Network Star for this reason. The cooking tips are fabulous, the personalities captivating, and nervous breakdowns more pleasing because they're not my own. 
The Food Network knows what they're doing here: parade a bunch of innocent, fresh-faced, talented chefs in front of viewers. Frame them as the culinary genius, the best on camera, the stupid one, the arrogant one...every reality show stereotype you can conjure. Spice with cool judges like Giada De Laurentiis and chef-stud Bobby Flay. Mix well and bake for umpteen episodes, carefully scooping out the burnt bits. 
Serve up a new Food Network celebrity on a silver platter, garnished with a tv show deal and cookbook publicity. Think: Guy Fieri. 
It's a win-win for obvious reasons, like the American Idol franchise was for 19 Entertainment and Fox Television Network: bring some talented people out of obscurity, let the country fall in love with them, choose a winner and voilĂ  (bam!).
You just created a new on-air personality, guaranteed viewers, a show concept, maybe an aisle or two of merchandise that will create bigger lines at the local Walmart. 
Except.
Except for the ones viewers fall in love with that simply (whoosh) disappear. The stars that are sucked into a black hole.
I developed an emotional connection to Justin Warner over the last two days. He's a culinary Mozart, a wunderkind who appeals both to my inner nerd and quirky-people-lover. Fascinating to behold onscreen, he created dishes from fish bones and bat wings (that may be only a slight exaggeration) that looked and tasted fabulous. He made a modern Caesar Salad with a gelatinous mass that sorta melted over warm greens.
Genius.
Justin Warner
And he was fun to watch. Genuine, witty, dry as a week-old pancake on the beach. I loved him. 
Everybody loved him. 
He won Season 8, and was to have a new series of his own produced by Alton Brown (my cerebral celebrity chef crush).
He went off into a black hole (Black Forest?) instead. You can find no way to watch the mysterious one-hour special he starred in before he vanished.
Word is, he appears in a fairly obscure internet-only series of little video clips titled "Foodie Call." 
Big props for the title, but who has time for that?
Viewers who got all invested and weepy are left to wonder: what the hell went wrong? Why isn't Justin, a self-proclaimed food rebel, starring in an actual Food Network series in my tv every single week with episodes like Rebel with Hot Crab Claws
There's another one, though it's easier to understand: Season 10's Lenny McNab, a "cowboy chef" who aww-shucks-ed his way into the hearts of millions and won with his easygoing personality and stunning food talent.
Until discovery of his old social media posts that would make Harvey Weinstein blush. He apparently even insulted the overrated but beloved Pioneer Woman. (See: Walmart, Aisle 16).
Lenny McNab, reputedly in a black hole near Pluto
Then there are people you love who didn't do a damn thing wrong, deserved to win, and would eclipse that pioneer lady back onto the prairie. Birmingham, Alabama's own Martie Duncan is brilliant. Not only a talented chef, she specializes in parties and fun and laughter and all the things entertaining is meant to be. She represented my home state with grace, beauty and intelligence. Martie should be in my living room on a regularly scheduled Food Network basis, making me feel like I have a caterer, decorator and bartender on speed dial.
She says she can do that, and I don't doubt it for one second.

Birmingham's own Martie Duncan


Just stop it, Food Network. Stop creating stars and banishing them to another galaxy. Viewers like me want more—much more—of fan favorites like Justin Warner and Martie Duncan.

Lenny McNab...well, you can keep him orbiting out there with Pluto. Anything less would cause the little kitchen on the prairie grief, and no one wants that.





Love from Delta.

Monday, September 10, 2018

We.


Quick, name the most mundane thing you can.
I'll help. It's folding laundry.
That's what I was doing that morning, sitting on the bed surrounded by faded towels and washcloths. The children were at school.
Matt Lauer still had hair, and he was droning on about nothing of interest.
Until.
Until he and Katie started talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center Tower in New York City, a place so far removed from my consciousness at that moment, it didn't really sink in.
Stuff happens. A plane went astray.
But Matt kept referring to it. Katie started looking less perky and more concerned.
I called my husband at work, because he's a pilot and he knows stuff. "How the hell could air traffic control mess up enough to send a small plane into a building in New York City?"
He basically said that made no sense.
Maybe a pilot had a heart attack or something. It was almost 9:00, and I told him I'd call back if I heard more.
I had absolutely no concept of the kick to my heart that would be delivered in about seven more minutes, as the second plane struck and we all, collectively, lost our innocence.
The single person we became as we watched the towers collapse, the Pentagon attacked. When we, as one, cried because some very brave people thwarted the fourth sky-bombing by forcing their own jet airplane into the barren fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, population 245.
Synonymous now with courage and defiance.
Let's roll.
We.
We, as one, looked into the skies in fear, knowing aircraft were grounded and dreading the sight of one.
We did that for months, long after flights resumed, furtive glances for anything evil lurking in the fluffy white clouds.
We had nightmares.
We held our children closer, longer, and were moved to tears as we did.
We mourned, we raged, we were united in our grief.
How utterly heartbreaking it is to consider that unity was only created in tragedy, and we've lost it.
Except for September 11th, when a ghost of America as One, ephemeral and shimmering, is briefly glimpsed.












Love from Delta.




Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The South 101: Everything You Should Know About Banana Pudding

 

 

Write a blog post, they say. 
Make it connected to your new book's characters. 
Make it captivating.

Okay. Nothing is more captivating than the words "banana" and "pudding" together.


There may be controversy about a few things in The South, but we are in complete accord about banana pudding. Your Aunt Mary Nell brings it to every gathering. Your relations muster some whenever a family has someone in the hospital or loses a loved one.

And in IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, Violet and Ronni both adore it. That may not be mentioned in the book, but they do. Trust me, it's a foregone conclusion.

There are people who will tell you banana pudding originated in the North. Those people are lying. Now it's true, they had bananas when bananas were a luxury for Southerners, but they did unspeakable things with them. Like this.


 
What is HAPPENING here?





Lord.


In 1921, (we refer to this as "The Industrial Wafer Revolution"), a Mrs. Kerley in Indiana or Illinois or one of those I-states contributed a recipe for a banana pudding with Vanilla Wafers to a newspaper, while a Mrs. Smith invented a banana pudding with Vanilla Wafers for the Atlanta Women's Club cookbook, Pastries, Puddings, and Dumplings. And that is a cookbook title after my own heart.


  • Y'all hush. They weren't called Nilla Wafers until later.
  • Mrs. Smith's recipe was way better, bless Mrs. Kerley's heart.


Anyway, in the 1940s The National Biscuit Company (apparently the U.S. was still British enough to call what are clearly cookies "biscuits") published the now-classic recipe on the side of its Vanilla Wafers box, the whole shebang, with one metric ton of wafers, a creamy custard to cradle the bananas lovingly, and a meringue slathered all over the top. Serve it hot or cold. Earn the eternal affection of your family.


This is how it's done, folks, and I guarantee you, Violet would've eaten plenty of this in 1940s Alabama and Ronni is still eating it somewhere.

As for me, I'm a heretic. I like my banana pudding the way my mom and my daughter prepare it (you notice I'm not doing the heavy lifting here): not baked, with chilled pudding.



Here is the most fabulously exciting part of this blog post...my friend Marianne and I are going to the NATIONAL BANANA PUDDING FESTIVAL next month. Yes, this is a thing. Be very jealous, because they have a Puddin' Path, this glorious gift from God where you pay $5 and taste a plethora of pudding.

Grab a hankie—you may have to dab the corners of your mouth—the featured flavors this year include: Moon Pie Banana Puddin', White Chocolate & Caramel Banana Puddin', Puddin' and Pearls Banana Puddin', Caramel Cheesecake Banana Puddin', Eagle Brand Banana Puddin', and many more.

None of these flavors are heretical. They would only be heretical in an I-state (just kidding, y'all).


I fully expect to see some version of Ronni there, and I know Violet will be at the banana pudding festival in spirit. She'd have loved it, and probably would've been crowned Puddin' Princess (I made that up, but they should have one). 



You can follow this link to the Puddin' Path 
NATIONAL BANANA PUDDING FESTIVAL

Meet Violet and Ronni here, in IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU (click the pic)
https://www.amazon.com/All-Comes-Back-You/dp/1519303483/













Love from Delta.  
www.bethduke.com