Posts Tagged With: Americana

Retiring the modern hearth: Good bye to the stove

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Shiny, warm, and fragrant from baking chocolate chip cookies, the stove replaced the hearth as the center of the kitchen if not the home.  It is lovingly scrubbed by fryers of chicken and simmerers of tomato sauce.  Novice bakers of muffins for a Girl Scout meeting, veteran omelet cooks, and amateur gourmet chefs preparing ratatouille all pay their respects with their attentive stances before the stove.  Of course, these comforting household routines would not be possible if the presence of the stove wasn’t an expected part of every household.  Despite central heating and fast food restaurants, whether we inhabit an apartment or a mansion, there’s a stove in the kitchen.

Given the length and importance of the relationship of the stove with abodes and their inhabitants, what is the future of the stove?  Fast food meals have enabled walks right by the kitchen door.  Digital relationships have moved eating from the kitchen to the desktop.  Our working friendship with the stove has been usurped by the computer.  Cooking and baking have been replaced by tapping and clicking.  While the stove’s stolid appearance has a certain technological charm, its chunky mechanical dials and elements can’t complete even visually with the sleek, minimalist style of a laptop computer.  Of course, working with a computer imbues us with an air of intelligent accomplishment, too.  The audios, videos, and multiple screens are all commanded by the agile glide of our fingers over the keyboard.  Melodious sounds and erudite talk issue into the surrounding air.  Working with stove affords us a more visceral appeal.  Our production of nourishment, warmth, and taste suggests that not only our minds, but also our hearts are engaged.

Despite our longings, though, the demands of the information age will draw us away from the loyal companionship of the stove.  Our collection of cookbooks will make way for the overflow of paper goods from the wholesale shopping store.  Repeated foraging for meals at the drive through window will become habitual.  Our memories of cooking and the flavors of home cooked meals will disappear with our bottled herbs and spices.  Like the exercise bike that serves as a hanger for clothing, the stove will first lose its luster due to a slight covering of dust.  Our initial inattentions will be replaced with takeout menus, piles of paper napkins, and packets of sugar and ketchup.  Eventually, it will be donated to a family who appreciates its bulky sensibilities, despite its lack of cachet.  Future generations will want kitchens equipped only with microwave and toaster ovens.  Their elegant portability and just-in-time performance will speed the stove into obsolescence.  Good bye, old friend.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Snacks 2.0: Bytes not bites

Lee LaGlitzer. Flickr. December 18, 2008.

Lee LaGlitzer. Flickr. December 18, 2008.

For many of us today, cookies are the identifiers left on our computers by the web sites we visit.  Unlike grandmother’s brownies or dad’s scones, they are hidden and questionable gifts.  The soft sweetness of these treats has become subject to greater scrutiny since grandmother’s youth, though.  Despite carob powder, honey, and whole wheat flour, there’s now concern about calories, saturated fats, and glucose.  Purchased, packaged cookies must have detailed labels of their ingredients, portions, and calorie counts.  Like digital cookies, they are now viewed with suspicion rather than smiles.

Will apples, pretzels, and nuts be not only the preferred, but also the required snacks of the future?  The absence of cookie jars from contemporary kitchen counters, homemade chocolate chip cookies from grade school bag lunches, and macaroons from the dinner table may be popularly attributed to the demands of paid work on parents’ time.  An inventory of kitchen cabinets, pantries, and grocery lists is required to test this hypothesis.  Further investigation of grocery receipts and glove compartments may be necessary.  Perhaps, cellophane packages of sandwich cookies, cardboard boxes of ginger snaps, and waxy bakery bags of sugar cookies are now reduced to guilty impulse purchases.  That is, they are plunked into a shopping cart only under the duress of a whining toddler or hungry adult.  Eaten quickly and surreptitiously in the car, the only remains are a few indistinguishable crumbs.

Although the ample variety and number of colorful packages in the cookie aisle at the local mega food mart belies these concerns, consider the strident advertising of their manufacturers.  If we increasingly ignore their saccharine flavor innovations, discounts, and reduced calorie counts, we may become slimmer and healthier.  Our culture, though, will have to change some cherished rituals.  Will auntie dole out boxes of raisins rather than oatmeal cookies for good behavior?  Will the local bakery specialize in vanilla biscotti and peanut butter bread sticks rather than snickerdoodles?  Will Santa Claus have to share Rudolph’s carrot and celery sticks?  Like cell phone manners and texting slang, the future is ours to embroider.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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T-shirts: Style meets substance

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Methodshop.com. Flickr. June 22, 2012.

Even for those of us who grew up without the web, it may strain the imagination to remember life without it.  Prompts might include black vinyl bound photo albums full of shiny black and white photographs in a hall closet.  There may be a rotary telephone in the attic, although the landline cord has disappeared.  Stacks of vinyl records, though, are likely remembered, dusted, and cherished.  Popular music tends to accompany important events and fondly remembered relationships.  As its performers fade into an obscurity that eludes Beethoven and Mozart, reminiscing necessitates those LPs.

The t-shirt has retained a similar place in our affections.  Before Twitter, it was the only place that one could proclaim one’s identity, beliefs, values, politics, school loyalty, or favorite restaurant.  In much less than 140 characters, but with accompanying illustrations, you could become a walking billboard.  Of course, you had to supply your own animation.  That became relatively easy to accomplish as the wearing of underwear in public became socially acceptable.  In an earlier era, the formerly white and cotton men’s undergarment was only glimpsed at the necklines of men wearing their button-downs with the collar open.

Today, of course, men, women, and children wear t-shirts solo and in a great variety of hues.  Businesses that will assemble a t-shirt with your favored colors and slogans have been profitable for decades.  Such t-shirts are so ubiquitous and popular that people give them routinely and receive them gratefully.  For some, they constitute a treasured and unworn archive of achievement.  The road runner who has finished multiple marathons in several states memorializes his or her stamina, if not speed with a collection of race t-shirts.  The vacationer who has visited every American state brings home an illustrated, if not shiny t-shirt trophy from each one.

Will the popularity of Twitter and the burgeoning mobility and decreasing cost of web access bring about the demise of the t-shirt?  Twitter features that permit the attachment of photographs and video offer more sophisticated visual appeal.  There’s no need to squint at your neighbor’s disappearing back or cast sidelong glances at your co-worker’s torso, either.  Without world travel, your illustrated message can reach far beyond your own community, too.  Still, there’s no wrapping oneself in a soft, if colorful Twitter message.  Like blue jeans, t-shirts will become stylish, that is, created by fashion designers and illustrated by professional artists.  Their lines, fabrics, and colors will reflect where they are worn and the taste, not the politics of their wearers.  Which designer t-shirt will you wear to your next dinner party?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Ethnic authenticity: No hyphens allowed

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Concern with authenticity isn’t necessary to serve or eat ethnic foods in America.  The savvy restaurateur caters to local tastes.  Without his or her innovations, there would be no Tex-Mex chili, chicken chow mein, vegetarian sushi, or Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Assimilation would demand American breakfasts of cold cereal, lunches of hot dogs and apple pie, and dinners of steaks and baked potatoes.  Accommodation welcomes new citizens with friendly interest in their cultures if not their languages.  Just as friendship necessitates finding commonalities and sharing experiences, Americans have adapted ethnic recipes to suit their own tastes, ingredients, and customs.

Our best intentions have brought us nachos comprised of tortilla chips, Velveeta cheese sauce, hamburger, and pickled peppers for lunch.  Pasta, of course, is readily assembled from packaged noodles, canned tomato sauce, and hamburger.  Chocolate chips and chocolate cream cheese transform bagels.  This disguise renders breakfast as richly sweet as dessert.  Plenty of salt and fat as well as sugar suits American tastes.  An abundance of meat and cheese is important to Americans, too.  Fresh herbs and spices and unprocessed oils aren’t missed; they would be overwhelmed by all the fatty meat and melted cheese.  Even more, rather than reserve all this rich abundance for holiday celebrations, Americans enjoy it daily.

We’re quick to give credit as well.  While Italians may wish compliments neither for Snooki nor for “Italian” beef sandwiches, they are legendary in the United States.  Swedish pancakes served at American family restaurants are probably about as well known to Swedes as Dolph Lundgren.  Chinese fried rice and Bruce Lee offer similar dubious compliments to the long history of Chinese civilization.  American pride in these adulterations of ethnic foods and culture does acknowledge their hyphenated or hybrid nature.  After all, credit is due to Americans for their development, if not their taste buds.

If only the same devotion afforded to recipes for apple pie and potato salad accompanied forays into tacos and Thai noodle dishes.  Treasured recipes for flaky crusts include prescriptions for specialty ingredients and their temperatures.  Selected varieties of apples are recommended for fillings of the best texture and flavor.  Traditional family recipes for potato salad call for particular types of mustard and varieties of potatoes and onions.  The ingredients of their dressings, accompanying vegetables, and temperature at serving are diverse and detailed.  Respect for other cultures would be improved by respect for their cuisines.  In our global society, there’s ready access to unfamiliar ingredients and authentic recipes via the web if not your local grocery store.  Unlike learning another language, eating authentic ethnic foods offers fun with much less exertion.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Chowing down: Fast as a way of life

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Fortification for the demands of the day is economically, geographically, and nearly instantaneously available to Americans.  There are toastable frozen waffles, packaged breakfast bars, or yogurt cups from one’s own kitchen refrigerator.  Drive-through windows at local restaurants offer complete and handheld breakfasts.  Even if purchased, not cooked oneself, the substance of bacon, eggs, and toast used to require a fork, knife, and plate.  The preparation of even popular, comfort foods has become the province of people who are formally educated and paid.  The rhythms of a lovingly handmade, hot breakfast enjoyed in a warm kitchen in the convivial company of loved ones are gone.  Americans are so enamored with mass production that the value of amateur proficiency in the kitchen has declined precipitously.  Slowly preparing meals from fresh ingredients and family recipes has little meaning.

Still, how is it that fast preparation requires fast consumption of meals?  Eating while driving, working, and watching television is an expected part of multi-tasking for Americans.   Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, and burritos can be dispatched by the mouthful, too.  They constitute a handful; a double cheeseburger or a beef burrito dwarf finger sandwiches in size and weight.  Energetic chewing may be required, but table manners needn’t stand in its way.  Neither a dining table nor dining companions are found in a car, office, or den.  Large chunks of food are readily swallowed with the help of large volumes of beverages.  Straws encourage gulps rather than sips.  It isn’t enough for food to be fast, so must the diner.  The goal is to assuage hunger and finish a meal; minimizing the time spent eating is as important as minimizing the time spent cooking and cleaning up after the meal.

That doughnut or fried chicken leg need not be memorable as long as it is edible.  This minimal standard for taste enables the purchase of doughnuts or chicken legs at any restaurant.  For Americans, a valuable meal has become more food or drink per dollar.  Fast food restaurants compete by lowering prices or increasing portions rather than by improving taste or nutrition.  Their customers seek savings in time, effort, and money rather than enjoyment of their meals and the companionship of family and friends.  Changing these values would dramatically change not only the American diet and physique, but also the American identity and way of life.  Race you to the grocery store?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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At a museum near you: Vintage foods

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

The era of sauerkraut and sausages, rice and beans, pasta and tomato sauce, and turnips and potatoes is behind us.  For those of us on a budget, the dollar menu at McDonald’s is not only as economical, but also efficient and labor-saving.  The time from stomach growling to dinner time is approaching equivalence to the time required to say, “Millions served”.  When was the last time you ate pickled beets, cream of rice cereal, or beef tongue?  Molasses and prunes are now worthy of a museum exhibit.  They used to constitute important ingredients for cookies and cakes.  Ginger cookies, spice cake, and prune Danish pastries rendered the consumption of iron and fiber not only painless but also sweet.

Now that Hostess has stopped creating rich variations in the color and texture of sugary snacks, will people revert to canned fruit cocktail, toaster pastries, peaches in heavy syrup, and frozen cookie dough?  Their sweetness and convenience offered a surfeit of taste and expedient satiation.  Their popularity is now rivaled by hamburger, chicken parts, and cheddar cheese.  Given the great variety of foods available due to mass transportation and global trade, why are Americans satisfied with such a repetitive diet?  Fast food and family restaurants serving burgers, cheese burgers, macaroni and cheese, pizza, beef and cheese tacos, barbecued chicken, and chicken wings densely populate many communities.

What happened to pancake houses, delicatessens, and fish shacks?  Blueberry waffles, pastrami sandwiches, and fried clams offer the aromas and flavors of regional and ethnic America.  The preservation of tradition and variety requires experimentation.  Kippers for breakfast would wake up American taste buds.  Boredom would be banished by sushi or chorizo for lunch.  A supper of goulash, kimchi fried rice, or a prosciutto frittata would require dinner time conversation.  Heirloom status should be awarded to recipes, not just tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Food and cultural diversity

Carol Moshier. Flickr. February 6, 2009.

Globalization with ready accessibility to mass transportation has expanded the menus if not the palates of Americans.  Although authenticity has suffered, pizza, fried rice, tacos, and grits are readily and quickly available to many Americans.  For more adventurous eaters, gyros, bagels and lox, and ravioli abound.  Still, our culture of efficiency and economy has constrained the American diet.  If it can’t be located, purchased, prepared, and eaten quickly and economically, it has less value to Americans.  No wonder French food in America is defined by fries and mustard.  Similar reasons have prompted the celebration of beef sandwiches, deep dish pizza, and heaps of mostaccioli as Italian food in America.

Authentic French and Italian food are defined by the purity of their ingredients, the complexity of their dishes, and the slow pace of their service.  The time and expense required for its enjoyment prevents many Americans from preparing or eating French cuisine.  Italian fine dining in the United States has been diluted by large portions, packaged pastas, manufactured cheeses, iceberg lettuce, and house wines.  Unlike Italian families or first-generation Italian-Americans, Americans prepare frozen lasagna, serve boiled spaghetti with canned marinara sauce, and drench pale tomatoes in bottled oil and vinegar salad dressing.

For the hesitant, but courageous diner, fruits and vegetables offer inexpensive adventures in eating.  Their simplicity requires minimal risk.  Their purity rivals the finest restaurant meals.  Sampling kiwi fruit, jicama, lychee nuts, and papaya, is possible due to their availability and affordability.  Even plum tomatoes or tomatillos offer flavors and textures that distinguish them from American tomato varieties.  Consider expanding your dinner menus to include a fruit or vegetable novel to you once per week.  Incorporate your family’s favored ones into meals regularly.  You’ll have a chance to learn new recipes or presentations.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Bar codes: The beginning or the end?

Veiss1. Flickr. June 6, 2009.

Americans value their independence as much as their time.  Self-service check-out at grocery stores attempts to rival the efficiencies of fast food restaurants.  For those who dread the new or the chatty cashier, the parent shopping for a family of ten, or the customer with a pile of coupons, salvation has arrived.  Not only is check-out expedited, but the process is under the shopper’s control.  There’s no negotiating paper or plastic money or bags.  Any worries about missing items are mitigated by the stern, automated voice emanating from somewhere near the coin return.

Bar codes, of course, are key to the success of the customer/cashier.  Without them, shoppers couldn’t qualify for this role.  If only all packages, packaging, and bar code locations were similar.  The 40-pound bag of dog food, the colorful box of raisins, and the plastic bag of carrots each constitute unique challenges to the dignity and efficiency of the self-checker.  The annoyed sighs of waiting shoppers, the strident orders of the automated supervisor, and the absent beeps of the scanner require a focus on bar codes.

Now that there’s an “app” for mobile bank deposits, can an “app” for grocery check-out be far behind?  Imagine that invisible robotic cashier simply demanding payment upon your arrival at the self-check-out lane.  Perhaps, grocers will provide human baggers to further expedite check-out.  Certainly, jobs for human cashiers will be needed.  Already, their work has become more physical and technical due to bar codes.  There’s no more entering the numbers of prices into a cash register or calculating change.  Perhaps, their future is as technicians.  People will be needed to maintain and repair all those self-check-out computers.

How do you prefer to pay for your groceries?  Would you miss your friendly human cashier if grocery check-out became fully automated?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Dairy foods: For the love of Americana

Brown Eyed Baker. Flickr. July 22, 2010.

The creamy goodness of ice cream, cheesecake, macaroni and cheese, and pudding aside, dairy foods are known as abundant sources of protein and calcium.  Even the most devout fans of soda pop drink milk and eat yogurt.  It may be chocolate milk and strawberry yogurt; thanks to the imaginations of major dairies, there’s an ample variety of flavored and sweetened milk and yogurt at the grocers.  Alternate sources of protein and calcium can’t compete.  They aren’t an integral part of American culture like milk and cornflakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and cheese burgers.

Baked beans, spinach salad, and steamed broccoli don’t offer the texture and rich taste of hot, melted cheese.  Roasted nuts can’t provide the silky flavor of chocolate pudding.  How would American culture have to change to facilitate the consumption and enjoyment of nondairy sources of protein and calcium?  At birthday parties, what would be the favored accompaniment to cake?   Would you care for some lemonade with those chocolate chip cookies?  It is truly American culture that prescribes a dairy-centered diet.  Residents of other parts of the globe focus their meals on aromatic and textured grains such as jasmine and sticky rice, polenta and masa harina, and flatbreads such as injera, chapatti, and naan.

No one need sacrifice the Americana of public snacking at block parties, ball parks, backyard barbeques, and playgrounds.  Consider a focus on the fruits of the land rather than denizens of the pasture in preparing those snacks.  Why not enjoy frozen juice pops instead of ice cream custard ones?  Wouldn’t scoops of tutti-frutti sorbet be cooler and more refreshing than an ice cream sundae?  Prepare potato salad with nutrient-rich olive oil rather than macaroni and cheese.  Instead of grilled cheese sandwiches, offer your children classic peanut butter and banana on multi-grain bread.  Bake corn muffins with sprigs of chopped greens for on-the-go snacking.  Sweeter wheat muffins might include walnuts, raisins, blueberries, or grated carrots.  Limiting dairy foods needn’t leave one bereft of nutrition, flavor or culture.  It just might prolong the enjoyment.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Stadium food: “A” game needed

Rob Rob. 2001. Flickr. March 7, 2001.

Major league ball park menus acknowledge human dietary requirements with the inclusion of a solitary salad.  It stands out among the hot dogs, hamburgers, and submarine sandwiches.   Cultural diversity is represented, if poorly, by French fries, pizza, calzones, nachos, bratwurst, and Italian beef sandwiches.  If an ethnic recipe can’t be fried, buttered, salted, sweetened, or served with melted cheese or on white bread, then it isn’t all-American.  Recognition is widely distributed, but respect for authenticity is not.

Must fans of cultural integrity, adequate nutrition, and educated palates dine out before the big game?  Not at all – stadium restaurants might even draw more fans by offering authentic ethnic snacks and street foods.  What could be a better introduction to the all-American pastime of baseball than snacks like mother and father used to make?  Polish pierogi, Jewish bagels, Thai spring rolls, English pasties, Lebanese hummus, Greek spinach pie, Israeli falafels, and Mexican burritos are all filling, delicious, and nutritious.  If that weren’t enough, they are finger foods that can be decorously enjoyed in public according to cherished American sports fan custom.

Gourmet season ticket holders could feel comfortable in the company of two-fisted eaters chowing down behind home plate.  Parents could dismiss their cognitive dissonance about the pairing of healthy athletics with the consumption of fatty, salty, and high calorie snacks.  Families could enjoy a picnic repast that rivals Sunday dinner.  Fans might attend games to sample novel and appealing dishes.  People who attend to drink too much beer might be outnumbered.  Dating couples and sales executives with clients might choose baseball over ordinary al fresco dining.  American culture might begin the support of healthy eating needed to bring down the rate of obesity.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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