Several years ago a person I sort of vaguely knew and had met once at a party ended up on a reality show, namely Next Food Network Star. A bunch of us decided to watch, because really, we live in a small town, and people we sort of know ending up on major television networks is rather rare. And since then, I find I keep watching the show. Why? I have no idea. Generally reality competitions annoy me to death because you can see how the producers are manipulating the contestants and people get all whiney and backstabby and really, just YAWN. But I keep watching this one.
I think it’s probably because I spend most of the time fantasizing about having my own cooking show. I have no delusions that I’m a talented chef, or even vaguely capable of the type of cooking typically expected on this show. They regularly ask the contestants to do all sorts of things I’m completely baffled by. And making food in that time frame? For a hundred people? HA.
No, I love cooking because I take my time about it and listen to music and drink a lot of wine. Anyone who has watched me cook (or waited patiently for dinner) knows I really, really take my time about it. But if I did, for some reason, have a cooking show, or a youtube channel, or some such, I know exactly what I would do.
You see, on the show, they ask everyone to have a point of view (POV). And every single season, someone comes along and says their POV is farm to table. And every single season, they immediately cook something that cannot possibly be farm to table, at least by my standards. I’m sure they have good excuses- they have a limited pantry available to them, after all, plus they’re in California, where there are many more things available at strange times of the year than we have here in Maryland. But still. It’s the sentiment.
Because farm to table to me, after my limited number of years doing pretty much that exclusively (about 6-8, depending on your definition), means using what’s around- not pulling some recipe out that you always make in the same way, all the time, because that’s just the way you do it.
Farm to table, in my opinion, is being forced to make something with kale because there is so much fucking kale in your garden you don’t really have a choice. Farm to table is going through the random crap at the bottom of your freezer, realizing you have a hanger steak, don’t have the faintest idea what a hanger steak is or how to cook it, and looking it up and making it anyway. Farm to table is endlessly making pickles even though you don’t really like pickles because, well, what the hell else are you going to do with all those vegetables?
On the shows (and by this I really mean just about every show that ever has claimed to do farm to table, or seasonal, or local), they always produce these involved recipes with a ton of ingredients, and every time I’m watching and thinking, don’t have that, don’t have any way to get that, those two things don’t grow at the same time, etc etc. Maybe it’s all fine if you live in California and have access to some kind of specialty store that has fancy things, but here in the more or less middle of nowhere, I a) would have to drive over an hour to get this shit and b) don’t have the money to drive over an hour anywhere, or to buy said shit. When I’m eating farm to table, it’s because someone gave me a ton of green beans and they were free and guess what! We’re having green beans for dinner.
And if I had a cooking show, that’s exactly what I would do. I would have a limited pantry of super cheap stuff that most people either have around already or at least can afford to buy (list to follow), and I’d be forced to make dinner based on whatever I can find. In the summer, that tends to be tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and green beans. Ad nauseam. In the winter, it’s whatever I dig out of the freezer, which can be equally challenging. Example? When I realized I had completely forgotten an unholy quantity of frozen snap peas at the back of the freezer, the week before our snap peas came on (and boy did they come on. I never knew I could invent so many ways to cook snap peas).
That’s the show for me. Hell, that would be the cookbook for me. I am so tired of paging through cookbooks and going, don’t have that, can’t find that, that costs a fortune… even though I generally sit down on Sunday nights and plan meals for the entire week, I still don’t have access to most of the random ingredients recipes call for. Last night I decided to make a cauliflower couscous, because we have an excess of cauliflower, and I knew I had some couscous somewhere in the cabinet (because I can buy it in bulk, and it’s cheap). But it also called for dates and fresh parsley. Dates? Come on, where do you think I live that I can procure dates? Really? At least I’d normally have fresh parsley, but alas, ours got eaten by weeds, and is not really functional for picking. So what did I do? I substituted curry powder (which we buy once a year, in bulk, from a local vendor) and dried marjoram (ditto). Voila. Couscous. What is farm to table? Making the most of what you have, when you have it. And loving every minute of it.
If I had a show (and if someone wants to shell out the money to sponsor my youtube show, please speak up)(or a cookbook), I wouldn’t be preaching recipes. I’d be doing the same thing I did when I started writing a cookbook all those years ago- giving suggestions for what to do with what you can find. It may not read like a recipe, but I’m going to make a broad and likely unfair statement and say that only people with money can follow recipes. For the rest of us, particularly those of us with oversized gardens, we have true farm to table: “Honey, we’re having salad for dinner again. Please eat this god damn lettuce because there’s no more room in the fridge.”
The list of things I would have in my pantry if I had a cooking show (subject to editing):
– Flour, including cornmeal
– Oil, including olive, veg., canola, and MAYBE seasame
– Soy sauce
– Salt, pepper
– Dry carbohydrates, namely bulk rice, pasta, couscous, or similar
– Honey (which I buy locally anyway) and sugar (bought in bulk)
– Lemon and lime juice (wish I could grow these!!)
– An array of spices, including but not limited to vanilla, curry, various chili powders (which I swear I will make one year), cinnamon, nutmeg, garam masala, ginger…
– Vinegar (red wine, clear, apple cider, and basalmic)
– Coconut milk (also wish I could grow!)
What would be in your basics only pantry?