June 29, 2010
Sometimes, food is so good you’ve just got to sing about it.
When I was younger, I convinced my mother that my younger brothers and I should have “singing dinners,” which would require everyone to sing anything we would normally speak until we were excused from the table. For some reason she agreed. Overcome with joy, I launched into a jubilant ode to my turkey burger (or whatever I was eating) and engaged in a lively call and response about green beans with my brothers.
My mother only let this go on occasionally, as one of my brothers always seemed to confuse singing with screaming at the top of his lungs. But I still find myself singing sometimes as I’m preparing food (in my defense, I was a music major in college).
Thankfully, I’m not alone. There are hundreds of artists who have produced hits with food as their muse, whether they sing about the food itself or a memory associated with it. Here are some of the songs about food that come to my mind, compiled with the help of this list.
“Suppertime,” You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, The Musical: Once upon a time when I was an aspiring thespian, I was the lead dancer in this musical, which meant I got to star with Snoopy in this song as he bemoans the fact that Charlie Brown has forgotten to feed him. Despite the horrible memory of my horrendous costume, I still appreciate Snoopy’s enthusiasm in this song—the dog just wants to eat. “So what’s wrong with making mealtime a joyous occasion?” he asks Charlie, who can’t seem to understand why Snoopy won’t just eat his meal and quit whining already.
“C is for Cookie,” The Cookie Monster, Sesame Street: Though I also think C is for chocolate, I used to love watching cookie monster dive head first into a pile of the treats after he finished singing “C is for cookie, and cookie is for me.” But since then, the song has been changed to “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me,” and he now reminds viewers that “cookies are a sometime treat.” Apparently some producers were concerned about what messages the song were sending about selfishness or obesity (one commenter on a discussion board even called our beloved cookie monster the “evil puppet demon of obesity”). I think Cookie just likes his cookies, and a lot of other people do, too.
“That’s Amore,” Dean Martin: I guarantee if you walk into a restaurant or bar with an older crowd and begin to sing “Whennn theee moon hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie,” your fellow patrons will be able to finish the line of lyrics with “that’s amore.” The food in this song (pizza, wine, pasta) is romantic; the scenery (Napoli, the streets of Italy) is romantic; and the ting-a-ling-a-ling of accompanying bells is romantic (or maybe just charming, but play along with me here). I can’t guarantee that you’ll make women swoon like Dean Martin did, though.
“Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk,“Rufus Wainwright: One of those songs that explores (in the beginning, anyway) how food and cravings make us feel. The sound of cigarettes and chocolate milk together sounds rather unappealing to me, but then again, I’m not a smoker or a famous lyricist. I think most of us can relate to what Wainwright says about jelly beans, though: “If I should buy jellybeans, have to eat them all in just one sitting. Everything it seems I like’s a little bit sweeter, a little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me.”
“Peaches,” Presidents of the United States: Some people have mixed interpretations of this song, but it always reminds me of summer and my favorite farming stands. If I were “movin’ to the country,” I’d eat a lot of peaches too. Sadly, the song also forecasts the only way I’ll be able to find peaches when the weather moves toward winter: “Peaches come from a can, they were put there by a man in a factory downtown.” This song, like a peach, is addicting, in part because it repeats “gonna eat me a lot of peaches” about 16 times, in one form or another.
What’s your favorite song about food? Though the Turkey Burger serenade is among my best work, I’ve been singing another original composition as I make oatmeal-to-go for my morning commute: “Oats in a Jar” sung to the tune of another original composition, “Pants On The Ground,” made famous by a man auditioning for the most recent season of American Idol. I have no explanation for why that happens, but who knows. If people can sing about cookies and peaches, who’s to say a song about oats won’t go viral?
June 25, 2010
I’ve had picnics in the fall, spring, and even, like Amanda, in the dead of winter. (In college, my friends and I tried to make “blizzard s’mores” outside on a charcoal grill. It wasn’t our finest moment.) But I’ve always associated my best picnics with that carefree, summer feeling: a shining sun, running barefoot in the grass, and sipping on lemonade (or sangria) under a large, shady tree.
There’s almost no wrong time to have a picnic, but there are several food items that never feel quite right: foods that will spoil; foods that are meant to be cold, or piping hot, since you can rarely guarantee either; and foods that require labor-intensive eating methods.
Keeping those guidelines in mind, here are, in no particular order, some of the best and worst picnic foods, based on my own experience and some informal polling on Twitter.
1. Ice Cream/ Ice Cream Sandwiches: While picnicking last week, I actually saw a mother pull a box of these out of her cooler and give them to her children. There was a lot of crying, sticky hands and vanilla- and chocolate-stained clothing. I understand the nostalgia surrounding ice cream and summertime. But even if you’re driving straight from home to your picnic site, odds are it won’t make it. Save it for a special stop on the way home.
2. Potato or Egg Salad: This may be biased, since I’ve always been scared of mayonnaise, but eating something covered in mayonnaise that has been out of the refrigerator for a few hours doesn’t sound very appealing. It’s the same kind of reaction people have to warm milk, or that cream cheese your coworker left sitting out in the office kitchen from the morning until you leave at night. Just don’t do it. I have, though, had success with roasting red or sweet potatoes the night before, and serving them with heat-friendly dipping sauces (ketchup, honey mustard) the next day.
3. Chocolate: Chocolate is the siren of picnic foods. It calls to you with sweet promises of happiness and no mess, but when you get to the picnic with M&Ms and thumbprint peanut butter cookies with Hershey Kisses, it rears its ugly head: your package of M&Ms feel like one of those first aid heat packs, and your beautiful, sugar-encrusted cookies look like a pile of poo. Your brother will tell you so, in even less eloquent words.
4. Fried Chicken: Aside from the dangers associated with cooking meat, cooling it down and letting it sit in the sun for a few hours, fried chicken is just plain messy. Your guests might seem excited when you show up with a bunch of fried wings or drumsticks, but it’s only because they’ve temporarily forgotten what eating those things entails: a whole lot of napkins; discarded, gooey bones; and at least two grease stains on your favorite shirt.
5. Anything you have to cut with a knife: This was the overwhelming “worst picnic food” response in my informal Twitter poll. Cutting food when you’re eating on your lap is hard. Cutting on a paper plate is hard. If it’s windy, even having a paper plate is hard. And cutting with a plastic knife is almost impossible.
1. Pasta or Bean Salad: Despite my rant against potato salad earlier, there are a lot of great salads that make perfect picnic foods. Toss some pasta with pesto, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or salad dressing, and then add some vegetables and fresh herbs. There are endless possibilities. (For inspiration: My favorite bean salad is a combination of pinto, black and kidney beans, corn, tomatoes, onion, lime juice, cilantro and salt. Anyone else want to share their favorites?)
2. Cheese and Crackers or Chips and Dip: Another set of perfect marriages. And if you buy individually packaged cheese like babybel (which my colleague Abby also recommends for backpacking food), it’s even easier.
3. Sandwiches: Tuna, egg or chicken salad probably won’t make the cut. But vegetables, hummus and the classic peanut butter and jelly can all be unrefrigerated for a while. They’re easy to make, pack and transport and even easier to eat. Add in fun things like basil, sundried tomatoes, artichokes, or pesto if you’re looking for something a little more classy. If you’re serving a group, make a few different kinds of sandwiches and cut them into small squares. Finger food at its finest.
4. Vegetable Crudites: Vegetable platters are fairly easy to make. If you don’t have time, pre-made platters are also pretty easy to buy. You can also have fun with different dipping options.
5 Watermelon: Fruit salad deserves to be on this list, but everyone who responded to our little Twitter poll listed watermelon as the best picnic food. Cut at home, it’s easy to serve and eat and is refreshing even if it’s a little bit warm. Plus, then you can have a seed-spitting contest. Just make sure you aren’t too close to other picnickers.
What foods would be on your best and worst list?
March 4, 2010
If you’re like one of my college roommates, who would probably eat tar if it was labeled “low-carb,” you might want to think again before you grab a product based on what it says on the box.
Today, as the Washington Post reported, the Food and Drug Administration sent letters to 17 food producers because the companies were touting health benefits on their products that were misleading, contrary to FDA guidelines, or simply not true.
The FDA gave companies 15 days to come up with a plan to correct the labels or face possible consequences, such as suspension of their product.
Some products on the list include:
- Diamond Food, Inc.’s Diamond of California Shelled Walnuts, whose label claims the Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts can fight mental illnesses, lower cholesterol and protect against some heart diseases and cancers; and Pom Inc.’s POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice, which claims to lower hypertension and reduce or prevent certain kinds of cancers and diseases. The FDA says such health claims are reserved for drugs.
- Nestle’s Juicy Juice Brain Development Fruit Juice Beverage (Apple), which claims it “helps support brain development in children under two years old”—another statement the FDA says only drug companies can make.
- Nestle’s Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Orange Tangerine, and Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Grape, whose labels imply the products are 100% real juice, the FDA says, when neither pure orange tangerine nor pure grape juice are the products’ main ingredients.
- Ken’s Foods Inc. for their “Healthy Options” salad dressings, which the FDA says must be “low fat” (3 grams of fat for 50 grams of food) in order to have a “healthy” label. The Healthy Options Parmesan & Peppercorn dressing, which has 6 g of fat per 30 grams of food; the Sweet Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette, which has 4 grams of fat per 30 grams of food; and the
Raspberry Walnut Dressing, which contains 3 grams of fat per 30 g of food, all violate this rule.
- Gorton’s Fish Fillets and Mrs. Smith’s Coconut Custard pie are both labeled as “0 trans fat” but do not disclose that there are high amounts of regular and saturated fat, as the FDA requires.
Some companies have plans to change the labels, but POM Inc. plans to challenge the FDA, according to the Post.
The recent campaign is one of the largest by the FDA in at least a decade, according to the Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI), though last May the FDA also targeted General Mills for its labeling of Cheerios, which were claimed to lower cholesterol and heart disease.
Just a few months before the FDA’s campaign, CSPI released its own report on food labeling and sent it to the FDA. The report targeted health claims, which were the focus of the new FDA campaign, but CSPI has also asked the FDA to increase its requirements for food labeling (pdf). This would include adding the label “high” and highlighting in red ink certain ingredients—added sugars, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium—if they accounted for 20 percent or more of the recommended daily allowance. The CSPI also urged the FDA to require companies to disclose what percentage of a products’ grains are whole grains and how much caffeine is in the product, as well as other changes that they claim would make food labels easier to read (and understand).
There are probably plenty more food makers out there who aren’t being completely honest about their products. Until the FDA can get all of them to clean up their labeling, I think I’ll follow advice my great-grandmother once gave me (about food and life) when grocery shopping: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.