To prepare for the New Year, I did what all conscientious food writers do. I Googled food trends and although a bit blown away by the more than sixteen pages, I scrolled through the litany of food trend predictions. This meant wading through a pea soup fog of what was hot and what was room temp, evaluating which cuisine would waft aromatic in 2018.
This is a requirement of being a food writer. Food trend predictions are expected busywork for the ten day span during the holidays for any writer worth their salt — which is out this year, per my inability to find salt blocks on any Top 10 list. Late December is slated for reposting old blogs and sipping eggnog — which is perennially IN. Don’t tell me otherwise, unless you’re angling to be labeled “Grinch”. And early January is only for cleansing, which means that reading time is scarce, limited to available slots between bathroom breaks.
After all this prep work, including a gander at a paper version of the venerable Farmer’s Almanac where I learned the winter of 2018 will be cold and wet and spinach would trump kale, I feel competent to make this similarly all-encompassing pronouncement:
Food trends are a fallacy.
Realize there was some work involved to make this statement. Note taking was required for meal concepts to discard. This included drab, uninspired dishes bereft of exotic Middle Eastern spices and any food stuff that had traveled farther than ten miles from where it had been raised or cultivated. Anything presented on a large plate was also decreed “out.” All of these concepts are so leftover from yesteryear they are only ripe for the trash can.
These trends are what we cooks and eaters all want confirmed. It establishes we’re in the know and on top of the foodie mountain.
But there is no such thing that can predict a food trend with success. The problem is a trend is temporary, never becoming ingrained in our collective conscious. Trends are not traditions; they evaporate into the ether when the next trend is spotted.
Given this truth, I decided my time was better spent reviewing the year’s photos to see how I can improve both as photographer and recipe creator. It’s an educational exercise I’m willing to share with you.
So, here are the top 5 reasons why I decided my time could be better spent improving what I do, rather than chasing what may not exist tomorrow.
1. Don’t try so hard that you lose sight of the essence of good food.
When I scored a bottle of cheap Muscato that I knew I didn’t want to drink, it was a clear signal that a recipe was in the making. Unwisely, I ignored the wine connoisseur’s mantra, “Only cook with wine that you’d drink,” instead researching options to the nth degree for what to prepare with it. The only foodstuff I could come up with was lobster. Who knew that one of the world’s most romantic foods could be paired with cheap wine?
Hours later, I had concocted a dish that drowned two lobster tails in clam juice, deluged them in the cheap Moscato and disguised it all with a swiff of crystalized ginger. The poached lobster tails perched delicately atop exotic rice noodles accessorized by (trendy) micro greens, swirled with a beurre blanc sauce.
While it tasted fine, anyone worth their salt can see that the butter saved the day!
Which is why, on second thought, the dish left me wishing I’d just broiled the lobster tails and served them up with drawn butter with a hint of lemon juice and a nice, green salad. Sometimes the classics really are better.
2. Don’t lose sight of why you’re cooking and for whom.
Nearly 35 years ago, I gifted Dr. K with a Betty Crocker cookbook in response to his question, “What do other people cook for dinner?” That simple guide started my pursuit of all things culinary, beginning with two batches of charred and blackened picnic chicken because common sense was won over by a mistaken belief that it was necessary to follow directions as written.
Over the years, I’ve learned that recipes aren’t always correct and it’s more than fine to alter them to meet your family’s preferences. Particularly if there’s a burning smell coming from the oven.
3. Don’t attempt this at home.
When Dr. K — who is the King of all gadget whores — decided he “must have” a sous vide machine to play with, I looked the other way. I was hopeful his experimenting with low temp cooking for hours on end would either become tedious or he’d realize some things are best left to the professionals who spend their days in the kitchen. It isn’t that the food tasted bad. It just took forever to prepare. When you’re trying to get dinner on the table, simmering a filet mignon for hours in a water bath set at 133°F can get old.
I played along and developed a sauce which required flames. Face it. With dinner on tepid, I was in need of some kitchen heat.
Dinner was wonderful, the filet butter-tender. But he hasn’t played with his sous vide machine since last Valentine’s Day so the jury is out on the sous vide stick in our kitchen. I think the recipe rocks. Let me know if you try it.
4. Shrimp wontons aren’t happening — I recommend ordering takeout.
The hottest food trends — if you do take it seriously — are supposedly all things ethnic. For me, that could encompass a broad spectrum, from my mother’s beef brisket to dal. The idea behind the trend is inclusivity and learning about other cultures’ cuisines. I’m all in and plan to showcase as much that isn’t white bread and mayo on Feeding the Famished in 2018 as possible. But that goes without saying. If you browse through my recipes, you’ll see there’s very little white bread. Probably zero. So, we’re on track to continue the theme.
Nevertheless, some things are — once again — better left to the experts. While these shrimp wontons with lettuce tasted great, they’re not particularly pretty. Yes, practice makes perfect, but perfection can be found in under 30 minutes. All I need to do is order take-out from my favorite Japanese restaurant.
5. When photos get artsy
Our big trip in 2017 was a vacation in England and Scotland. Friends weighed in: to haggis or not, that was the looming question. We were intrepid haggis eaters, trying to find its best version. After tasting 4-star haggis elegantly plated and sauced, haggis egg rolls — also known as mush encased in fried wanton wrappers —, haggis and fish balls at a seafood spot, and haggis and eggs, we retired from the quest valiantly.
All that remains of the attempts to like haggis are these tilted photos, an artsy statement that they were destined for the trash can.
After reviewing the nearly 9,000 photos I took last year, I’ve decided the best advice is to cook what you like. Experiment and explore when you’re inspired. Take time out of your day to make meals happen. You can take the trends that make sense and turn them into healthy traditions to create the foods you and your family love to enjoy together.
The bottom line is, there is no one answer to what tastes great. It’s up to you to discover it.
Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.
Interested in reading Emily’s new award-winning novel, Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage? Find it on Amazon and in Indie bookstores.
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