Younger Daughter is not a cook, much less a "chef," but somewhere along the way she's become enamored of The Food Network, especially cooking competition shows like Iron Chef or Chopped. Or maybe it is that these are the Food Network shows that are being aired when I have lapsed into unconsciousness in front of the TV and my grip on the remote becomes relaxed.
The problem here is that Younger Daughter is involving my wife in these shows. Long Suffering Spouse is an excellent cook, of course, and when Younger Daughter seizes the remote from my lifeless hand and switches over to The Food Network, Long Suffering Spouse becomes interested.
I have lapsed in and out of consciousness during some of these shows. In one of them, the "chefs" are given random and seemingly unrelated ingredients which they must use in an entree or a dessert and whatever it is they have to do in the third segment of the show. I think there's three segments.
And the ingredients are not just random, they're weird. Onions, lemon drops, and seaweed. Hot dogs, peanut butter, dirty sweat socks. Something called "kale."
In both shows there are panels of three food snobs who appear to actually eat the concoctions made from these unlikely things (the "chefs" are also free to add all sorts of other stuff, and do, but I can't pronounce most of the junk they add in either) and sometimes claim to enjoy them. They generally seem to say some encouraging things about each "chef's" effort. But there is also an insufferable moderator (maybe it's the same guy on both shows). Whether it's one guy or two different guys, the moderator's role is the same -- get the judges away from the positive and back to the catty and caustic. The moderator is an über-snob. When I drift back to sleep I dream of him being forced to eat white bread and plain hamburger. It would probably kill him. I would not shed a tear.
Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter get caught up in these shows though, debating the merits of the particular presentations (dipping the peanut butter in liquid nitrogen was interesting, wasn't it?) and trying to predict who which "chef" will prevail.
On both shows there seems to be some reality-TV type backstory stuff as well -- alternate bonding and bitching among the contestants as far as I can tell -- which I guess gives Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter more time to form, and debate, their opinions.
Sometimes, when I wake up during these shows, I protest feebly. The womenfolk ignore me, knowing I will go back to sleep momentarily. "And stop snoring so loud!" Long Suffering Spouse might chide me as I go under again.
Still, the other day, when Long Suffering Spouse was taking me to work, I confronted her. "You always complain when I watch shows about the Roman Empire," I said, "and you're so disgusted by their gustatory excesses. Peacocks' tongues and such. I think that was one of the random ingredients in one of those shows you had on last night."
"It was not," said Long Suffering Spouse, but defensively I thought.
Of course, whatever advantage I'd achieved, I immediately squandered. "Food is fuel," I said, "and all this fru-fru and okra and fried seaweed is ridiculous. It's just as impractical and decadent as a Roman banquet."
"Some of it is very practical," Long Suffering Spouse insisted, recovering her ground. "And you'd like some of it. One chef made bread pudding last night. And what's wrong with food that tastes good and looks good?"
"But it's made of stuff no one in their right mind should eat!"
We were at the train at this point, and I jumped out so she could continue on to work. "If no one told you what was in it, you'd like some of this stuff just fine," she said -- and she's probably right. When it comes to food, I'm strictly 'don't ask, don't tell.' I don't want to know. If I like it, I'll eat it. If it doesn't like me later on, I won't eat it anymore.
I spent some time today looking up some of the more exotic menu items at ancient Roman banquets. Dormice were pretty common. According to a website called Facts and Details:
Romans hosted elaborate dinner parties with hosts trying to top one another with the most elaborate dishes. They ate ostrich brains, unfeathered peacocks, dolphin meatballs, herons, goat feet, peacock brains, boiled parrot, flamingo tongues and orioles. They liked watching birds fly out of featured dishes and ate an electric fish because “it was fascinating.” Sometimes a calf was cooked up with a pig inside it and inside the pig were a lamb, a chicken, a rabbit and a mouse. The Roman Emperor Elagabalus once ordered 600 ostriches killed so his cooks could make him ostrich-brain pies.Wikipedia also has a nice, unappetizing entry about ancient Roman cuisine. An excerpt:
Fish was served only in earlier periods, and it remained more expensive than simpler meat types. Breeding was attempted in freshwater and saltwater ponds, but some kinds of fish could not be fattened in captivity. Among these was the most popular, mullus, the goatfish. At a certain time this fish was considered the epitome of luxury, above all because its scales exhibit a bright red color when it dies out of water. For this reason these fish were occasionally allowed to die slowly at the table. There even was a recipe where this would take place in garo, in the sauce. At the beginning of the Imperial era, however, this custom suddenly came to an end, which is why mullus in the feast of Trimalchio (see the Satyricon) could be shown as a characteristic of the parvenu, who bores his guests with an unfashionable display of dying fish.I will concede that I haven't actually seen any of the "chefs" on the TV food shows cook ostrich brains or rabbit fetuses or pig uteruses. But I just don't see that much difference between these ancient Roman excesses which my wife claims to deplore and the modern TV foodie shows that she and Younger Daughter are starting to watch.
And it's getting serious: Yesterday, I worked later than usual. By the time I got home Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse were already watching The Food Network (spearmint leaf candy -- oh, the über-snob foodie moderator couldn't stand that -- and almond powder and some sort of dumpling, I think).
I'm pretty sure Long Suffering Spouse is not going do anything weird with our turkey tomorrow. (I have to eat more turkey these days since my insides were removed -- it's easier to digest than real meat, like beef, but basically I still see turkey as the sacrifice that must be made for the privilege of eating stuffing.) But I'm going to have to watch her closely in the coming weeks. I'm afraid what may inspire her when she and Younger Daughter watch food shows together.