Party like a Lob-Star!
Coley and I shed our claws within minutes of meeting on Food Network Star, foreshadowing her coastal POV as we bonded over Phish. (Elusive sea creature to some, jam band to many more.) Over the course of filming, our friendship grew steadfast in what felt like a real life version of the Hunger Games. Except of course, there were no lethal weapons, and well, it just wasn’t real life. Real life was happening in front of the screen this past Sunday evening, in a beachfront Brigantine home packed with Coley’s family and friends.
Food Network Star was our crash course. At the end of a grueling day of filming and competing against each other, Coley and I were still giggling and splitting food orders the way I do with my twin sister and husband. We already felt like winners for the friendships we’d stirred with our fellow finalists, and particularly lucky that geography would be on our side back home. We’ve watched Episode 2 and 6 together, both times navigating the unchartered waters of our everyday lives. And damn, we’re good shipmates!
Coley’s community felt kindred: welcoming, adventurous, tightknit and generous. Her husband is downright wonderful, and it was refreshing for Bobby to be in cahoots with another Food Network Star hubby. Can you imagine what they’ve endured?! It was special beyond belief to have my twin sister, brother-in-law and nephew, and two of our best friends join the party, showing up with their fresh-baked sourdough and an apple-pound cake for Steve’s birthday. Shanti even brought her own blowtorch to toast the merengue.
We feasted on lobsters, clams and side dishes before cozying up for Episode 6. Our commentary lightened the heavy air when the desperate musical notes made our skits seem pathetic, and we paused the show for an hour to watch Atlantic City’s firework display across the bay. DVR is a time machine, and it felt good to hold the show for the real performance outside. When the last sparks fizzled, we sang at the top of our lungs “hi-ho the dairy-o it’s time to cut the cake!” and paraded inside for a slice of Shanti’s tantalizing pastry.
When we finally tuned back in to Food Network Star and scraped through elimination, Coley and I flung our arms in the air and raised every last fan from the couch, jumping and cheering “we’re goin’ to Vegas baby!” Because even when you’re on the bottom, life goes on and Atlantic city would still be standing in its neon gown beckoning us to take another gamble.
Beets, Beets are Good for your Heart!
For many people, including my stepdad, beets are floppy, watery, tasteless discs from a can, or beeten senseless in boiling water. But to me, beets are one of those vegetables that remind us that the world is made of magic. MAGIC! I never tire of the beauty awaiting me when I slice into a magenta or sunflower yellow orb, patterned with tree rings and candy-stripes. They are sweet; IKEA carries beet syrup in its cafeteria. They are forgiving. Overboiled? Make a dip or borscht. They are meant for snacking, crisped like chips. They shred raw into salad or roast heavenly with olive oil and herbs. They color American red velvet cake and always fancy themselves in a pickle.
Which is precisely why I set out to make “Emm-A-Zing Cardamom Pickled Beets” on Food Network Star. It’s true that beetroots are commonplace where I live. They’re made to grow in the Finger Lakes’ soil and store well throughout the winter (which is all very well because they keep our digestive tracts moving when our diets shift to hearty stews upon stews upon stews). But even my neighbors suffer over yet another delivery of beets in their weekly farm-share. Pickles are a superb way to preserve and transform beets into a range of flavors. They’re chock full of good bacteria to power your immune system, and leftover pickle juice makes a prime base for salad dressing or braising brine.
So, thank you Bob Tuschman for letting America vicariously taste that “addictive” pickled beet through your applause. Tomorrow I’ll share the recipe so you can fall in love with pickled beets at home.
In a Paris Pickle
The other pickle I served up on Episode 6 was less intentional. It was the perplexing pickle of whether to be an American or a faux-Frenchwoman in Paris. Justin Warner jogged my cartoon memories in his recap: “If bad French accents were not generally entertaining to us, there would be no Pepe Le Pew.” Well, I was certainly trying to break free of the “boring, subdued” persona in which the judges had come to perceive me. But my comedic approach ended somewhat like this:
In retrospect I get it. They didn’t want me to put on a cowboy hat and Frisbee-sized belt buckle. They wanted me to be … more me! I could have run up to the balcony, gawking over the view and said something like “Gee whiz, I can’t believe I’m in Paris, where some of the world’s best cuisine has its roots! But you know what folks? I’m going to serve you a pickle that tastes just as good as if it were being savored off a silver platter in the culinary capital of the world. Try my addictive Cardamom Pickled Beets – this is food with roots close to home! And don’t forget to make your kitchen the center of the culinary universe with the recipe for Pickle Juice Dressing on the back.” Blammo.
But instead, I got to throw baguettes into the green screen and tip my beret, and my magic beets saved me from saying “au revoir” this week.
On a more poetic note, I must share a beautiful poem my friend sent to keep my spirits high:
The artist who dances on the edge
You are brave.
Such a generous soul, someone who doesn’t hesitate to leap when others shrink in fear. Your work means so much to you and to the people you share it with, we can’t help but be inspired at the way you make your magic.
You’re a warrior in the service of joy and you never seem to stop standing up and speaking up and doing your very best work.
Sometimes, a particular audience doesn’t deserve you. But that doesn’t matter in the long run, because of your relentless generosity in sharing your gift.
I can’t wait to see your next work, and the one after that.
Long Live Reubencito
Mi hermanito. My lifeline to the chunk of my heart and mind that will always live south of the border.
Though I imagined there would be a Latino on our season representing the grand majority of our country, Reuben caught me by surprise. Over forty percent of millennials are first-generation American, and Reuben admirably represents a population steeped in diversity. He is perfectly bilingual, despite the judges dismaying inability to understand him. (Apparently this is a theme.) At the ripe age of 27, Reuben is fearless and embracing the American dream with several restaurants and businesses under his belt. His machismo extends as chivalry, though Reuben will be the first to admit he can also be fiery. He’s Cubano after all, and he’ll drink rum and dance salsa with me ‘till the cows come home. Reuben’s energy could not be tamed, and I believe it will be the spaceship that eventually launches him to stardom.
I found such solace in being able to speak Spanish with Reuben while filming. It was an escape for me, and a reminder that Food Network Star is a story amongst many I’ll live to tell – surely one of the biggest. In 2008 I stood at 19,344 feet on the summit of Volcano Cotopaxi in Ecuador (the closest point on earth to the Sun). With my head in the clouds, I couldn’t have foreseen the peak I would be attempting to conquer this summer. But in my quest to climb to the top of Food Network Star, I’ve felt short on oxygen more than once. After Reuben’s trip to the moon, it feels like my tank is running low. Thankfully, we’re both still on planet earth and have many more meals and adventures to share. Suerte querido, and remember the Rrrrreeeses!
While in suspense, enjoy these links!