By JAY REED
The end of January can mean many things. Next week is the Super Bowl, the official sad end of football season. If today we are wearing shorts outside, tomorrow we are sledding. And New Year’s resolutions are drawing to a close.
I wonder why so many resolutions bite the dust so early? Ponder with me.
What are the most common food-related goals that show up on those traditional yearly lists? Eat less. And eat healthier. If they are that simple, and don’t even require the cost of a gym membership, why are they so hard to keep? Maybe it’s because they are boring. Boring because they are the same every year. Boring because our minds are trained to associate the words “less” and “healthy” with words like “bland, tasteless and perpetually hungry.” It’s not that they are bad goals. (Wouldn’t it be nice for Mississippi to be the second most obese state next year? And don’t look at me like that — remember, I’m the one who used to fill your Lipitor prescription). They’re just boring goals. But I’m here to help, with a list of exciting food goals for 2013, to replace the boring ones we have already blown.
No. 1 — Try a new dish. It’s official, there are now a kabillion cookbooks on the market (someday I hope to make it kabillion and one), and one of them is written for you. In my cabinet today, we have “The Newcomer’s Guide to Cooking in Africa,” “Gimme’ Some Sugar, Darlin’” and “Recipes From the Garage” (a NASCAR edition) — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Your favorite Food Network celebrity has a cookbook — probably four. I have three editions of our church cookbook. Live in Oktoc? There is a cook book especially for you. Or if you don’t want to buy your own copy, check one out of the library. Just get a cookbook, read through it and find some new things to try.
Similar rules apply outside the house. It’s fine if you really crave chicken fajitas and are inexplicably drawn to the sizzling platters every time they are on the menu. I’m married to that person. But once in a while, you need to get a burger or some barbecue. Please. Better yet, do as I did, and order Restaurant Tyler’s Rabbit Duo appetizer — everybody should try rabbit once. Or step way outside the box and go Canadian. Did you know there was such a thing as Canadian cuisine? The Veranda does. Embrace the Poutine — it will make you happy.
No. 2 — Eat the same dish over and over. I know that sounds contradictory, after I just told you to eat Thumper. (The end of January also means deer season is almost over — I’m trying to take some of the pressure off Bambi). But if you really can’t give up chicken fajitas, then make it your goal to become the preeminent expert on chicken fajitas among your circles of influence. (Same person. Still married to her). Try them everywhere they are available, even if something else looks good for a change, even if it’s a Schnitzel Shoppe. Or if you’re reading this online, perhaps it is your destiny to be the Barbecue Baron of Birmingham, Master of the Meat-and-Three in Nashville or Guru of Grilled Halloumi in Cyprus. Just to inspire you, in my quest to be Satrap of Shrimp and Grits, I recently bought a frozen version from “No Time 2 Cook” for the first time ever, while only hours before I was mentally adapting a new recipe for the same, using a chunk of Tasso ham stored in my freezer.
No. 3 — Make a meal from the Community Market. When the market rolls back into action later this year, make it your personal challenge to create a meal entirely from ingredients found at our local farmer’s market. Talk to the farmers and other vendors about recipes they have tried — they chew but don’t bite. If this summer’s market turns out like the last, there will be everything from pasta to honey to fresh-baked bread. Imagine that you are a contestant on a local edition of Chopped, but with a mystery basket that holds a dozen ingredients of your choice instead of four bizarre ones. Easy peasy. Plus it will taste fresh. Very fresh.
No. 4 — Eat local. As you are filling your basket at the market, take the time to get to know your local farmers. Find out how they farm and what they have to offer. The produce they sell was likely picked in the previous 24 hours and hasn’t travelled much farther than the edge of the county. You can’t beat that. And while you are out, get to know your local chefs and restaurateurs. They work hard to bring outstanding cuisine to Starkville. And order the daily special every once in a while — that’s where their creativity really shines. On top of that, many of them are now using produce from the same local farmers I keep talking about, meaning that those daily specials you are trying are also going to be really fresh.
No. 5 — Watch a food-focused documentary. I am the first to admit that I enjoy much of the programming that Food Network sends through the cable wires, especially the competition shows. They are “real” in their own way. But I am talking about a true-blue documentary, like “Food, Inc.” or “Forks over Knives.” There are bunches of them. Usually there is a particular issue that each film deals with, and you may or may not agree with the conclusion the filmmaker would like you to. That’s okay. But I have found that every time I watch one, my horizons are expanded and my perspectives are freshened. So watch a movie or two. In moderation.
No. 6 — Figure out how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop. Then let me know.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .