Thursday, October 8, 2009

Autumn Mix

October.  Could there be anything better?  The air turns crisper, sweaters and coats come out of hibernation, and the most exciting season of the year begins.

Candy season.

Some people mark the passage of time through the change in seasons or the activities of the school year.  I can tell you what month it is by the candy aisle at CVS

Right after the Labor Day promotions burn off the last of the marshmallows, the Halloween Candy comes out.  There’s nothing like Halloween Candy to make you feel fat by delivering increments of chocolate and nougat so small that you are forced to feel embarrassed when you realize you ate 9 mini Snickers (if it makes you feel better, it’s like eating only 3-4 “fun size,” though if you ask me a fun size for a Snickers would be roughly equivalent to the square footage of Delaware.) 

As soon as those Reese’s pumpkins hit 50% off (they’ll go to 75% by Nov 3rd), it’s Christmas candy – birthplace of the Holidays M&Ms. Much like the marshmallow Peeps which originally arose from Easter, only to be remolded, resugared and recolored to adorn every holiday and festival from Valentine’s Day to July 4th, Christmas is the birthplace of the Holiday M&M.  Still the first; still the best.  Before your tree is even down, those crunchy chalky conversation hearts appear, now modernized with phrases like “Fax Me” and “Text Me.”  Beware.  I don’t know how seriously I’d consider the advances of someone whose love letter was a reconstitututed Necco Wafer.  And when those heart-shaped Whitman’s samplers wane, it’s pastel jelly beans and Cadbury mini-eggs until spring.

I can walk into a CVS anytime the daytime highs fail to reach 70 degrees, enter a fugue state, and walk out $20 lighter.  Really, it’s a gift.

However, recent Halloweens have given rise to a shocking development in the extremely disturbed world of OCD candy-eating.  The corn is gone.

Remember those yellow mellowcreme ears of corn that once joined candy corn, Indian corn and the mellowcreme pumpkins in bags of “Autumn Mix” (also know as “Harvest Mix?”  I know.  You’re staring at your screen in minor shock, thinking that it takes a special kind of demented to know the names of this stuff.  And we got there long before “Harvest Mix,” didn’t we?  We got there at “mellowcreme.”)

Anyway, the corn is gone.  I have no explanation.  If anyone from the Brach’s corporation is out there reading this – or one of our intrepid readers knows the answer – please use that comments feature at the bottom, or the little envelope which sends me an email.

(There also used to be maple leaves, but those disappeared a while ago.  Last I saw them was in 1997 when my friend Elizabeth used to swipe two or three from the bulk bins at the Star Market on Comm Ave.  Star Market, if you’re reading, I’ll send you a check for the $1.27 or so she got away with.  Anyway, I like to believe that the disappearance of the candy maple leaf is political statement about climate change, taking a stand on behalf of our friends in Vermont and New Hampshire whose season will soon last from November 3-6.  Some folks say New Hampshire may soon have the climate of North Carolina, which I guess means tobacco.   Which is lousy on pancakes.)

Speaking of Autumn Mix, in law school, my friend Stephanie (oh, crap, I’m not supposed to use real names.  I mean, ummm, Stuffanie) ate an entire bag of it (I hope I’m remembering this story correctly.  I know there’s one where I eat a whole box of Snackwells, but that didn’t turn out very well.)  Anyway, Steph --- I mean, Stuff (this is a horrible nickname – let’s just skip this story.  Really, it’s a wonder any of my friends talk to me at all anymore.)

Before we move on, you may wonder why I’m spending time talking about candy, when I’m supposed to be the guy who talks about better eating, offers great recipes and restaurant reviews, and tells fitness stories, all weaved around having lost 80 pounds and maintained it for almost two decades.

I think the place that most messaging about eating well – eating “healthy” if you will – goes wrong is in its delivery.  The messages should not be about denial, or what you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” eat.  I believe you can eat – and live – great, with lots of fun and lots of flavor, and without saying no.  What I call Sustainable Eating – choices you can make every day – is an empowering way to say Yes without feeling guilty and without gaining weight.  And that even means you can have some candy.

Just don’t eat the whole bag – you’ll feel (bad pun coming) Stuffed.

Now, since we all know my other “thing” is TV – particularly TV hosting – there’s no way we’re getting through this entry without talking about Kate Gosselin.  Who has now gotten her own talk show.  Apparently no one received my proposal for a show with Octomom where the two of them and their 22 kids all move into a shoe.  Instead, it appears she’s joining Paula Deen (do we not LOVE her on the Food Network?  Again: butter’s not a sin; it’s a choice.) Rene Syler, and Bob Woodruff’s wife (who, if the show takes off, will become famous enough that people will stop referring to her as Bob Woodruff’s wife.  It’s the Nicole Kidman Rule.)

We will set aside, temporarily, my jealousy that someone else has gotten a show before I did (I really need to set up a counter somewhere on this blog.)  Instead we will focus on whatever is going on with her and her ex-husband in the news.  And I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it.

Because it’s not news.

It’s not.

But the thing that is newsworthy is how they’re using the news media to communicate with each other.  Look – I’m a child of divorce.  And my parents spent so many years hating each other like poison that they once went an entire decade only appearing in public together twice (and the second time was my law school graduation where we nearly got thrown out of a restaurant.)  They communicated through us kids, the few remaining mutual friends they had (most of the friend took sides.  Classy.) and through an elaborate array of bad language and hand gestures that briefly made me popular in Junior High School.  But they never would have dreamed of using a public medium to communicate private issues.

I know our relentless infotainment culture and thousand-channel cable universe has created an industry of celebrity and pseudo-celebrity that robs ordinary people of their privacy.  I have a lot of sympathy for the fact that they have to live this painful episode of their lives out in public – and a great deal more sympathy for those kids.  But they chose this.  They put themselves and their family on television; they invited the celebrity.  But just because the spotlight is on them doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to leverage it as a way to communicate with each other.  And it’s certainly not news.

The same goes for David Letterman.  I don’t know that your show is the place for paeans to your wife (though, who else is with me when I say that, of all the famous men who’ve been caught sticking their chocolate in someone else peanut butter in recent years, Letterman is the only one who actually seems sorry?)

So here’s my plea to the fourth estate, particularly network television: it’s only news because you’re covering it.  These were one news-cycle stories.  We still have 45 million Americans without health insurance, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, horrific human rights abuses of gays in Iraq and women in China, and a pretty nasty employment and economic picture.  You get half an hour, five days a week, in the evening and a couple of hours in the morning (that also need to include how to make a school lunch, how to survive an avalanche and what to wear for both activities).  You have better stories to pick from.

Moving on.  Did you see the New York Times Dining Section this week?  All about Fried Chicken.  The latest hot comfort food to break through. Does this mean mac and cheese is finally over?  Thank God.  Remember when everyone put it on their menu?  My arteries were closing. 

I love comfort food as much as the next guy but – seriously – gourmet burgers, hot dogs.  Who decides what gets to be next?  Someone reading an old hot lunch menu from my grammar school?  If fish sticks and tater tots start showing up, I’m done.

Oh – and Mark Bittman had a recipe for a flourless tart.  Pulverized almonds, egg yolks, sugar, cream and butter.  Boy, good thing he got that heavy flour out of there.

Seriously, no one – NO ONE – needs this dessert. I know I’m the food is balance; food is choices guy.  But no one needs this dessert.  I feel weighted down just thinking about it.

For something really great to eat.  Try this: it’s a four-step Chicken Fettucine, and I reference it at the end of my hosting reel.  It was inspired by Melissa D’Arabian, who won this year’s season of The Next Food Network Star (more on that in a second) and, in her pilot episode, made a four-step chicken recipe that’s easy to change up, fun to cook, and always satisfying. 

For four-step chicken fettucine, all you need to remember is:

  1. Pasta
  2. Protein
  3. Vegetables
  4. Fat, Flavor and Flair

Like this:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add some olive oil and a box of fettucine.  We use the spinach fettucine.  (You can replace the fettucine with pretty much any pasta you like: penne, rigatoni, linguine).  Cook to al dente and drain.  Don’t rinse.
  2. In a large skillet or, preferably, a wok, heat 1 Tbsp Olive Oil over high heat.  Add 1 chopped shallot and 3 cloves garlic, minced.  Add one package boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved and sliced into strips about ¼ inch wide.  Saute about 5 minutes, until not quite done. (You can use sausage, shrimp – pretty much any protein works.)
  3. Add 3 different things that grow in dirt.  Sometimes I’ll use yellow squash, Chinese broccoli and orange bell pepper.  Sometimes its kale, onions and mushrooms.  Aim for three different colors.
  4. Add in the pasta. Then add something wet, something with flavor and something with fat. (The fat and the wet can be the same thing.)  Often I’ll add a little more olive oil, salt, hot red pepper flakes and grate Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Or a little chicken stock, some butter, and fresh herbs.  Or a can of tomato paste, shredded mozzarella and fresh oregano.  Heat 2-3 minutes and serve immediately.

Well, that’s it for now, folks.  I know you’re awaiting my review of the Standard Grill, and the story about buying Neil a reamer (ok – really quick – our friend Robert has one and uses it to juice lemons for Gimlets.  I introduced Neil to the drink when we started dating and now it’s his favorite.  I bought him a fantastic Oxo Great Grips Reamer from  For the gimlet: in a shaker, place 2 shots of vodka, the juice of ½ lime, and 1-2 tsp of powdered sugar with ice.  Shake.  Strain over ice. Repeat as necessary.)

Anyway, the review of The Standard will have to wait.  Today my friend Olivia gave me the ultimate gift: a tour of the Food Network.  That’s right, from the test kitchen to Studio A, a trip to my own personal Jerusalem, Mecca, Disneyworld.  I felt like one of those Make-A-Wish kids.

Without the terminal illness.

And that’s my next entry folks.  Stay tuned.


DO THIS, New York:

  1. Rock some Autumn Mix.  Even without those weird corn, it’s a tasty October treat. 
  2. Go ahead, watch the Kate Gosselin talk show when it comes out.  I may be jealous it happened so quickly for her, but I love me some Paula Deen.
  3. Make that Chicken Fettucine. 

DON’T DO THIS, New York:

  1. I’d keep your personal life out of the news cycle.  If it accidentally gets there, don’t take part in its perpetuation.
  2. I’m not feeling that egg and nut tart.

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