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The Best of MTTD………

 

This post originally ran on October 27, 2010.

This recipe originally ran on November 5, 2010

In Praise of Imperfection 

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I was standing in the grocery store line one day last week while the magazine covers  were screaming their headlines at me:

“The Perfect Pasta”

“The Perfect Make-Up”

“The Perfect Kitchen”

“The Perfect Dress”

“The Perfect Hair-Do For You”

Perfect. Perfect. PERFECT. Perfect everything. Perfect marriage. Perfect children. Perfect food.

They all reminded me of a blurb I read in a newspaper 20 years ago. It was titled. “Michelle’s Touched.”

It was a four paragraph little article from an unnamed “Wire Service,” about a then recent magazine cover photo of actress Michelle Pfeiffer. The article stated that if you thought she looked to good to be true it was because…………..well……… she was. 

Her photo had been retouched by a professional photographer. 

The retoucher had:

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*cleaned up Michelle’s complexion,

*softened her smile line,

*trimmed her chin,

*softened the line under her ear lobe,

*added hair,

*added more forehead to create a better line,

*and softened the neck muscle a bit.

Just a little retouch job!

The total cost of the retouch?  $1525.

Seems the real Michelle Pfeiffer does not look like the magazine cover picture Michelle Pfeiffer.

And so it is with just about everything in magazines and on TV today. Everything has to be perfect from our perfectly chemically whitened teeth to perfectly machine-made round hamburger patties.

Today there is an impossible and unattainable standard of perfection being shoved into our consciousness that is impossible for mere mortals to attain.

The same thing is true of food these days. Pictures of food in books, magazines, TV, and on blogs is of perfect food; much prettier than what actually comes out of my kitchen, or your kitchen, or anyplace for that matter.

The camera sees food differently than we see it with our eyes. The camera picture is flat and has no dimension or depth. So the food we see in pictures today has to be retouched, just like Michelle Pfeiffer was retouched.

They call it ‘food styling.’  Items like cosmetic sponges, damp folded paper towels , shortening, museum wax, Kitchen Bouquet, and modeling clay are used to make the food look interesting for a more perfect picture.

I had no idea food was supposed to be interesting, picture perfect, or make a nice picture. I had this crazy idea food was to keep us alive and well nourished. Silly me!!!

Food for pretty pictures,  not for eating.

Food styling makes food in pictures look perfect. Some times it takes days  for the pictures of one recipe to be shot. TV shows have three or more cameras shooting from different angles and heights, and several shoots of each step in the recipe process are shot. Let’s say the TV chef is making a chicken dish. There may be as many as three chickens that are used in the shoot.

Then everything is edited to make it all look like one seamless perfect cooking experience. When have you ever had a seamless perfect cooking experience? And have you ever noticed, the phone never rings when TV chefs cook? I swear people know when I am cooking and that is when they decide to call me.

And don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with any of this.

I love to see pictures of perfect and pretty food too.

Where the problem comes in, like with all retouched photos, is that we often don’t know the picture has been retouched. So we tend to compare ourselves or our cooking efforts to these impossible standards. And then when we do not attain “perfection” we think we are less than.

Same for all those beautiful kitchens we see in magazines. Many times those kitchens are entirely computer generated. They do not exist in the real world. In other words, they are a fantasy. These computer generated kitchens with their cold and balck granite counters and unyielding stainless steel appliances, and everything perfectly laid out in straight rows leave me cold. There is no warmth. No softness. There is no give. There is no life. There is no love.

I see those kitchens and those pictures of perfect food and I think Stepford Wives, the original 1975 movie where the computerized and synthetic women did not bleed, did not laugh, and did not cry because they were robots.

I don’t live in a fantasy world where every hamburger, or every cupcake is perfectly rounded and iced by a mechanized machine mold. And I don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter world. I much prefer to live in the real, if imperfect world. I make my hamburgers lovingly, if clumsily, shaping them with my hands. My hamburger shapes are unpredictable. Like life. You never know what shape they might be. That is why they are so much fun.

You know. I am not perfect. And at this stage in my life that does not bother me one itsy-bisty, teeny tiny little bit!  I am comfortable with my flaws and imperfections. I have lived with them a long time now. They are as comfortable as an old pair of worn out and holey jeans.

No one or nothing on this earth is perfect. You want perfection? I think you have to go to different dimension to get that. And I am not ready to go there yet. I like it too much here. Thank you very much!!

Plus I find ‘perfect’ boring anyway. Flaws bring interest to people, things, and food. Flaws are fascinating. Flaws prove I have actually done something real. Imperfections prove I am human.

It is the striving to be and the striving to make something the best that I can make it while knowing it will probably not turn out perfect.

Now that takes courage.  And to me that is the epitome of a life well lived.

Featured Recipe    Bok Choy with Shitake Mushrooms

Today I am going to take what could just be a side dish and make a full meal of it by adding some brown rice. As a side dish bok choy is wonderful with pork chops. What I am making today would most likely feed 2, maybe 3 people as a side dish.

I have mentioned once or twice that you can save a lot of money by going meatless once a week or at least several times a month. Not only will you save money you can cut calories and eat a bit healthier. So in addition to spotlighting a vegetable today, I am spotlighting a great meatless meal too.

Bok Choy, also known as white cabbage, is often used in Chinese cooking. So I bet you have had it before, but just may not realize it.

Bok Choy has loads of Vitamin C and A. It is also high in calcium, potassium, B9, fiber, and beta-carotene.

Baby Bok Choy is mild, almost sweet tasting.

The first time I bought bok choy it was an impulse buy. I saw it at the grocery store and I thought, “how cute.” When I got it home I wasn’t sure what to do with it. But I figured since it was a veggie I could sauté it and go from there. I also figured since it was often used in Chinese meals I could add some soy sauce. So that is what I did. That was how I cooked my impulse buy – sautéed it and added a bit of soy sauce. And it was just fantastic!!

After that I often bought bok choy. But I started adding things to that basic recipe till I got to the recipe I share with you today.

This is what you will need per person:

2 baby Bok Choys

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1-2 cloves garlic

4-5 Shitake mushrooms per person

Soy sauce (about 1 tablespoon)

NOTE: Bok choy does not do real well as a left over. So I try to make just enough for one meal. I made it for only one person here. Just multiply for how many you are fixing it for.

For the brown rice you will need:

Brown rice

Butter

Optional for Garnish:

1 green onion per person

Sesame seeds

Here is what you do:

Start the rice first following the directions on the box for the number of people you are serving.

Cut about one-half to one inch off the bottom of the bok choy.

Separate the leaves and wash well. It will also be a good idea to drain the bok choy on paper towels and gently pat dry.

Slice the garlic.

 With a slightly damp cloth wipe the mushrooms clean. Remove the stems entirely. Slice the mushrooms.

While you have the knife in your hand and if you are using the green onions for the rice you might as well go ahead and slice them right now too.  

To make them look prettier, slice the green onions on the diagonal.

REMEMBER to check the rice once in a while so it does not burn. That is one of my favorite cooking tricks – burning rice. When it is done turn off the heat and add some soy sauce and stir. Put the lid back on and keep warm.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium to medium high heat and add the garlic. Stir until fragrant about 20 seconds. Do not burn.

Add the bok choy stirring often till crisp-tender and slightly wilted, about three minutes.

While sautéing the bok choy also watch the garlic. You do not want it to burn. Brown is Ok. The picture below shows a nice brown on the garlic.

But, burn is not OK. If it starts to burn remove it and add back in when everything else is cooked.

When the bok choy starts to wilt add the soy sauce and the mushrooms………

……………and sauté another minute or two. If you removed any of the garlic add it back in here.

Add some rice to the plate and top with the green onions and some sesame seeds. Then place the bok choy and mushrooms next to the rice and dig in.

Very delicious and very filling.

Bon Appetit!!

Cost

2 baby Bok Choys                  $1.83

1-2 tblspns  oil                      $0.07

1-2 cloves garlic                    $0.10

4-5 Shitakes                         $1.30

Soy sauce (1 tblspn)             $0.12

Total cost for 1 person = $3.42

For the rice:

Brown Rice                          $0.20

1 teaspoon butter                 $0.06

1 green onion                       $0.09

Sesame seeds                      $0.01

Total cost rice = $0.36
Total cost entire meal for 1 person = $3.78

Quote of the Day

In spite of the cost of living, it’s still popular. 

 Kathy Norris

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1 comment to The Best of MTTD………

  • Another great post. Food is to be enjoyed. I agree.

    I was watching a show on TV about advertising – it’s one of my favorite Australian shows and this woman said that if they want to photograph a dish that’s steaming hot they wet a tampon and put it in the microwave and then tuck it under the food.

    I went to a food styling presentation recently and it’s all about how it looks so don’t plan on eating any.

    The food on my blog, like yours, is all about food that’s going to be eaten and eaten by me. 🙂 If that means it has a few crumbs on it or it’s a bit out of focus or doesn’t have fancy ribbons or antique forks – that’s just fine. I’m happy to enjoy someone else’s photography but it’s all about the taste for me.