Is Our Food Mania Getting Out of Hand? : Now Even Grade Schoolers and Truck Drivers Are Into Recipes

These days everybody is interested in food and cooking. Yes, I know people have always eaten and most have enjoyed it pretty well, but not with the mania that is being shown today. Has it begun to border on the excessive or compulsive? Are we going around the bend and off the deep end into food mania?

Just take the other day when I was late getting my garbage can out to the curb. As the truck roared up, the driver saw me schlepping it down the driveway and kindly waited for me to get to the street. As I dragged it along, bumping and banging against my legs, the loader stood, hands on hips, talking to the driver. Dressed in a torn sleeveless muscle shirt, biker boots and all the rest of the tough-guy gear, he directed his voice up to the driver who sat astride the big battered truck.

I caught the last of the conversation as he said, "Man, I just marinated 'em for four, five hours--no more." As his hands lightly sketched cooking movements in the air, he continued, "And after that I sauteed the little rascals about four minutes and they were exquisite--just exquisite." With this, he kissed five fingers in the air, took my garbage can, swung it into the truck, hitched onto the back and they roared away.

I stood there with my mouth open at this unexpected conversation, my curiosity killing me. I wanted to run down the street after the truck, yelling, "Sauteed what for about four minutes?" You can be sure I have a very different picture of my garbage collectors now. Somewhere this very minute, they are probably marinating or sauteing or filleting something that is just exquisite.

Jarred Back Into Reality

Riding the cross-town bus the other day in a semi-comatose state, staring vacantly at two grade-school boys, I was jarred back into reality by their raised and angry voices. Their argument concerned whose dad was the better gourmet cook. Now children don't use the word gourmet a lot, do they? How many 8- and 10-year-olds do you hear bandying that word around? Mind you, there was none of that old "my dad can beat up your dad" stuff. One boy yelled that his dad put a can of cream of mushroom soup in his meat loaf and it was the best in the whole world. The other one countered with the fact that his dad used at least five different kinds of canned soup when he made his famous spaghetti sauce and it was the best in the universe and that included outer space. When they got off the bus three blocks later, words like "gourmet hot dogs" floated back from their furiously quarreling little mouths. Well, gourmet is what you make it and where you find it.

This food mania has Debbie, a 30-year-old stockbroker in my neighborhood, frantically courting her old great aunt. She had managed to pretty well ignore her aunt for years--actually, she had avoided her like a plague--but one day she heard family members murmuring about the entertaining Auntie and Uncle Raul used to do on their ranch in Northern California and what an inspired cook she was. The talk had it that they were famous all over the West for the food they put out.

So now why is Debbie spending all this time with Auntie, earnestly following her around with a pencil? She intends to get those early California recipes for braised boar or bear, or maybe it's bird. Whatever, she hopes to spring these on her fiance and his food-oriented family.

This May-September duo whizzed past me the other day, Auntie loaded into the sports car, muffled to the gills, hands clutching the side of the car, Debbie hunched grimly over the steering wheel, strained expressions on both their faces. Auntie has not had so much attention since Great Uncle Raul sold the Model A just before being routed off to gentleman's prison for tampering with bank funds.

This craziness has even spread down home. At Thanksgiving and Christmas time, women who have stuffed turkey the same way their mothers did are opting for something more elaborate, much to the dismay of grown children and grandchildren who want things to remain the same back home. These women are boning that bird and stuffing things under its skin.

You thought Mom looked flushed and rosy as she baked pies and basted the turkey? Just look at her now: Red is the key word for the face--forget flushed. You'll know red if you try lifting up the skin of a turkey (which is tight since there are no loose-skinned gobblers), go placing something lumpy like dressing under its skin (not a lot of room under there), and finally through falling tears of frustration (that are salty and burn), trying to fit the skin back on. This seems impossible and is work that sends the nerves skittering straight up the kitchen walls and leaves Mom desperate. Once is usually enough for one of these capers, and the next holiday finds the dressing back where it belongs in the turkey's cavity.

Just where this food madness will end beats me. I think the times are out of whack and out of sync. People are running amok among the recipes, but I can't worry about it. I have troubles of my own. I cannot find my recipe for Mormon French Toast. I have looked everywhere and cannot put my hands on it.

Single-Minded Pursuit

The only thing I can do now is to call a friend who lives in Salt Lake City, whose cousin gave me the recipe. The trouble is this cousin married a Mormon and moved to the outback of Utah to live on a sheep ranch. She can only be reached by radio telephone on a clear day, provided the radio waves are bouncing right and she feels in the mood to talk.

Nevertheless, I am determined to get this wonderful toast recipe back in my files. I have to. A mob of critical eaters are coming to brunch next Sunday and I have promised them the ultimate French toast, of which there is none other. My considerable reputation as a cook is resting on this recipe and it gives me brain fever just to think I might not be able to serve it.

Well, three days have passed, and I have been saved. My friend in Salt Lake kept the radio waves bouncing and the telephone lines humming until she reached her cousin who had just come into the house for a drink of water after four hours of shearing sheep in the barn.

Get ready for nonstop compliments and start making copies because everybody is going to want the recipe.

MORMON FRENCH TOAST

3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups milk

3 beaten egg whites

8 slices bread

Beat egg yolks until foamy. Add sugar and salt and stir well. Blend in flour alternately with milk to make batter consistency of pancakes. Fold in beaten egg whites. Dip bread in batter and deep-fry in fat at 350 degrees in electric skillet, 2 slices at a time.

Batter will puff, bubble and turn golden brown, covering each side of bread with light, crusty covering. When both sides are browned, remove and drain on paper towels. Place on heated platter and keep warm. Serve as soon as possible. Toast will remain crisp and hot much longer than regular French toast. Serve with fresh fruit or melon, crisp bacon, jam or berry syrup, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

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