Wednesday, July 13, 2011

5 Good Things to Watch While Cooking

Okay, I don't have a future as a food photog.
 Here’s the great lesson I’ve learned about blogging this week:

What used to be called “wasting time” can now be referred to as “doing research.”

Last night I had two tasks when I got home from work at 8:00 pm:

(1) Make dinner
(2) Figure out what to blog about today. Wednesday seems like a good day to feature diversions to get you through the week: books, movies, etc. My revelation last night was that if I make television part of the “etc.”, I could accomplish both tasks at once.

See I like to watch TV while I’m cooking. That obviously puts some limitations on what I can watch. It needs to be something that doesn’t require all that much actual watching. It might in fact be better referred to as “listening to television” with occasional forays into the living room to see what’s going on. Subtitles, obviously, are out. On Demand or on tape is best so if I miss something really important, I can rewind. Another criterion is that it’s under an hour, since I like to think that’s how long I’m going to spend cooking on a week night. Though somehow, I always end up eating around 10:30, which means it doesn’t quite work out that way.

So, for those of you who might also like to cook with television, here are my recommendations (for full disclosure, I did not watch all of these last night, but I did watch all of them while cooking this week):

1.  “Friday Night Lights” (48 mins On Demand; series finale is this Friday on NBC). I’m really sad that this series is ending. I’ve always loved teen series – I admit that I even used to sneak peeks at 90210, but this one is above and beyond, in my opinion. Why? I considered this question carefully last night, while checking out the episode where Tami goes to Philadelphia. Because the dialogue sounds real, and the actors have great timing. It doesn’t sound like, “Listen up, here’s the moral.” It doesn’t use cheesy music to let you know something big is going to happen. The story lines don’t all get tied up neatly in a bow at the end of each episode. The kids might be a little perfect, there’s a little too much symmetry between Matt and Vince in the quarterback-with-abandonment-issues-who-has-to-take-care-of-his-parent role, but at least it deals with real issues in a real way and the teachers aren’t always right. If you never watched the show because you don’t like football, be assured, it’s got very little to do with football.

2.  “No Contract No Cookies: the Stella D’oro Strike” (34 mins, HBO On Demand). A moving, though heart-breaking, portrait of striking workers at the Stella D’Oro cookie plant in the Bronx. In 2009 – yeah, just two years ago – a judge ruled in favor of the workers saying the company was bargaining in bad faith. Which seems kind of obvious, since their goal was to bust the union. What I wondered what, why can’t every group of striking workers go to court and win like that? Why can’t the Castlewood Country Club workers, who never even went on strike but have been locked-out for sixteen months sue and win? And then, as soon as the court made the company bring the workers back to work, the company “exercised its legal right” to move out of state and hire nonunion labor. So why do they have that right, but not, apparently, the right to “bargain in bad faith”? Something’s wrong with our labor law, obviously, which I knew (though, according to my friend the labor lawyer, a rare bright spot in Obama’s record is some of his appointments to the NLRB). The film could have delved into that more, but it’s worth watching. Another thing I found interesting is that everyone’s making pro-union movies (Triangle Fire, Made in Dagenheim, ) while unions are being run out of the country. Don’t know if you can get this one if you don’t have HBO; if you do, it’s available on demand until July 31.

3.  “Rookie Blue” (48 mins On Demand; you can also watch it online for free). I kind of hate myself for starting to watch this series, because I had sworn off any new cop shows. But you know, it’s summer and that means re-runs and really really bad reality shows. So I checked it out and I have to say, it’s good. Like, “NYPD Blue” good, sometimes. Maybe it’s because it’s Canadian (Oh, Canada!). Or maybe because two of the three writers are women. The head writer is Tassie Cameron, who adapted Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride into a miniseries. Putting that one in my Netflix queue (but the DVD is not out yet).

4.  Rachel Maddow Show (roughly an hour, 9:00 pm on MSNBC). Okay, sometimes she is really annoying. Like two nights ago, the “Best Thing in the World Today” was this ultra-nationalistic portrayal of the U.S. women’s victory over Brazil in the World Cup (soccer, for anyone who is less sports-knowledgeable even than me).  Apparently she thinks it says something good that U.S. men love to watch scantily-clad women running around a field. But the best thing about TRMS, besides that she sometimes has interesting people on, is that she repeats everything three times, which makes it perfect for cooking because if I happened to be washing the mushrooms or something and missed something, I can pick it up the next time.

5.  “Check Please Bay Area” (30 mins., available On Demand for a week, you can also watch back episodes online). I like to hear about new restaurants, even went to one of them for onion cakes (Red Jade on Church Street) but the best thing is that the people never agree. Well, actually, all three did say they would return to Saha, an Arabic fusion place in the hotel district, which sounds fantastic but pricey ($40 per person without drinks). More fun to listen to/watch than a cooking show, in my opinion, because you don’t really need to see the food.

What didn’t make the list:

From Spain with Love” Cooking meets travel, but not enough of either. You don’t get enough of the country or the people, most of it takes place in the kitchen, but you don’t actually learn to make anything either.

Republic of Cannabis”. Pros and cons on the regulation of marijuana production in Mendocino County. Too many talking heads saying nothing you didn’t expect. Boring.

What was on the menu:
Spaghetti with spinach, broccoli, carmelized onions and shitake mushrooms in a creamy pesto sauce, a glass of organic merlot, garlic bread, fruit salad of nectarines and strawberries (love summer!).

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