Taste the Nation

I first became aware of Padma Lakshmi in a rather odd way. In an effort to save a little money I was borrowing audiobooks from the public library rather than buying them from Audible. This meant that the most recent and most popular titles were checked out and unavailable. Scrolling through the available titles I encountered her autobiography Love, Loss, and What We Ate. I had not been previously familiar with her, but I thoroughly enjoyed her book (which she read herself) in which she describes being born in India and then, as a child, following her mother to the United States after she completed her education and found work as a nurse.

Taste the NationYou may be familiar with Padma as host of the television program Top Chef on Bravo, but if you have been reading this blog you know how I feel about cooking competition television shows. There is a lot more to Padma than Top Chef, however, and after listening to her audiobook I started following her on Instagram. I was pleased to learn that she was developing a television program on which she sampled immigrant food around the country.

The series, entitled Taste the Nation, dropped on Hulu this past spring and is still available if you are a subscriber. It is a real delight. She samples Mexican food in El Paso, German food in Milwaukee, and Gullah food in South Carolina. She cooks Indian food with her mother and samples the food of the one group that does not have immigrant roots: Native Americans. (As one woman makes clear, Indian fry bread is not truly native American. It is what they made do with they were gathered up by the white man, put in camps, and given flour to cook with. True Native American food derives from what can be hunted and harvested in the desert of the American Southwest.)

If this sounds very similar to Marcus Samuelsson’s PBS program No Passport Required, it is. But each show brings its own perspective. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and immigrated to the United States. Padma brings her Indian American perspective. Both programs remind us of what we owe immigrants for the variety of food and culture we experience throughout the country.

Taste the Nation was produced pre-COVID-19, so Padma freely interacts with people, eating in their restaurants and homes. It is a delightful series to watch. I’m happy that a second season has been commissioned.


Dishing with Julia

Here is something tailor made for these stay at home, quarantine, social distancing days. It is a new PBS program entitled Dishing with Julia Child. Simply calling it delightful doesn’t do it justice.

Dishing with Julia ChildThere are six episodes in the series. My local PBS station, PBS SoCal, is airing them in batches of two each Friday evening. If your PBS station isn’t showing the series it is available through your cable provider’s on demand service, or via streaming for PBS Passport and Amazon Prime members. In each episode professional chefs watch an episode of The French Chef and comment on it.

I DVR’d the first two episodes and mistakenly watched the second episode first. In that episode Julia shows how to bake bread. Sara Moulton and Carla Hall comment together, as do Marcus Samuelsson and Vivian Howard. They note how Julia loves butter, sneaks in tangentially-related cooking techniques, and provides alternate methods for doing a given task in the kitchen. In the first episode, which I watched second, Julia demonstrates preparing fish while José Andres and Eric Ripert point out how the camera started and just kept running. The program was not edited; if Julia made a mistake she recovered and went on.

If you’re looking for something to put a smile on your face in these bleak days Dishing with Julia will do it.


oh, that’s very different

Emily LitellaI wrote here not long ago about cutting back on our streaming subscriptions. I dropped Hulu and CBS All Access. That was just before we were all told to stay home except for grocery shopping and medical appointments.

And, of course, the library is closed so that cuts off a source of DVDs for Terry. She asked me to subscribe to Acorn to which I agreed when I saw their thirty day free trial and their very attractive annual rate. (For BritBox fans, I have read that Acorn has a larger selection of shows, both BBC and ITV, and they stream the Lucy Lawless series, My Life is Murder, in which she plays a detective in England, something that Terry wanted to see.)

Given current circumstances I had to rethink dropping Hulu. They do have a great selection: Xena (speaking of Lucy Lawless), seventies comedies such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Bob Newhart, quirky series such as The Mindy Project, and originals like the new favorably reviewed mini-series Little Fires Everywhere. So, sipping a Scotch and Crystal Geyser (my standard weeknight drink) on a recent evening I reinstated my subscription. And bless their technological hearts, everything I had stored in the My Stuff section was there and preserved for me. Thank you, Hulu.

So in the words of the marvelous Miss Emily Litella, “Neevvverrr Mind!”


heading downstream

Roku packageTerry and I first got serious about streaming video when CBS announced their CBS All Access streaming service and the launch of Star Trek: Discovery. Before that we had Netflix and Amazon Prime which we accessed via our Blu Ray players. With the launch of CBS All Access we bought a Roku device, since our Blu Ray devices didn’t know about CBS All Access.

We knew that we both had surgeries coming up: Terry with her knee replacement surgery in October 2018 and me with my gastrointestinal surgery that ultimately happened in February of last year. We added Hulu as a streaming service and bought a second Roku device for the bedroom. After my surgery and then my setback, which meant a second stay in the hospital, I added CuriosityStream.

As it turned out, neither of us watched a whole lot of streaming video during our respective recoveries. Star Trek: Discovery was a disappointment, as was the first episode of the much-anticipated Star Trek: Picard earlier this year. After some initial streaming of programs like The Mindy Project and WKRP, I rarely watched anything on Hulu, and in spite of its quality content I watched very little on CuriosityStream.

So this month we did the opposite of cord-cutting. We did some stream-narrowing. I cancelled Hulu and CBS All Access. I also cancelled CuriosityStream, but reinstated it when I got an offer for an absurdly low annual rate. That leaves us with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video along with some free services, including PBS and AllArts, which is pretty darn cool.

That will nearly cover the difference in our higher cable bill as our promotional period comes to an end.


a different Discovery

I wrote last year that Terry and I had given up on Star Trek: Discovery. We found it too gloomy and dark, focused on war and violence. It was the antithesis of what Star Trek should be.

Star Trek DiscoveryAfter the first season ended we began reading about the plan for season two. The producers decided to give up on the war motif and focus on exploration interpersonal relationships. We were hopeful and when season two started in January I re-started our CBS All Access subscription.

After watching the first few episodes, we have not been disappointed. The second season is about exploration, the relationship between science and belief, and the interaction between the characters.

It’s a really nice change.


a simple tech fix

I wrote a while back about buying a second Roku for the bedroom so I could watch streaming programs while Terry was watching something else in the living room. I mentioned that the television in the bedroom is an inexpensive not-smart TV with only two HDMI ports. Since one port is connected to the cable box I had to disconnect the Blu-Ray to connect the Roku.

HDMI switchI didn’t like the idea of the Blu-Ray being disabled, however, and I thought that since there are USB hubs for computers there must be HDMI hubs for televisions. There are. And they’re not that expensive. The HDMI switch I found on Amazon was $9.98 and using my Amazon VISA points the device cost me $1.63.

That means I just punch the button on the HDMI switch to toggle between the Roku and the Blu-Ray.

How cool is that?


adding a second Roku

Roku packageI wrote recently about how much we like our Roku device and how much use we get out of it. But it is attached to a single television – the one in the living room. When Terry is watching one of her shows I would head into the bedroom and watch a show on Netflix or Hulu using the Blu-ray player. But that device is awkward and clumsy to use and didn’t show my full watch list for those services.

A Roku Express is not that expensive, so I decided to get one for the bedroom. It meant disconnecting the Blu-ray, as our cheap bedroom flat screen only has two HDMI ports (the other one being connected to cable) but it’s a fair trade-off. When Terry is watching her DVR’d Supergirl or Black Lightning I have familiar and easy access to my Netflix programs in the bedroom.

That works.


the value of our Roku

About a year ago I wrote that I had bought a Roku device so we could get the CBS All Access streaming service in order to watch Star Trek: Discovery. That series, the first season at least, was an absolute disaster, so bad that I cancelled CBS All Access before the end of the season. (We are hoping for a better season 2 and expect to re-up in January.)

Roku packageThe Roku has been great for other reasons, however. It gives us simple, easy access to Netflix and Hulu. We get access to streaming movies through Fandango, Vudu, and Redbox.

The Roku also provides access to the CBSN streaming news service. I have been watching more news since the democrats won the House of Representatives, and I watch CNN and MSNBC, both of which show a bias against that guy with the orange hair who lives in the White House. That is more than fine with me, but it’s nice to have CBSN for their more down the middle approach.

Then there’s NASA TV. With the excitement around the Mars InSight mission I thought perhaps Roku might offer NASA TV. In fact, they do. How very cool is that?

The Roku was an inexpensive purchase. We are getting more than our money’s worth.


Murphy Brown

Terry and I have been enjoying the reboot of Murphy Brown as we were both big fans of the original series. It’s great fun for us left-liberal types.

Murphy BrownThe first episode was so funny from beginning to end that I had tears in my eyes. The appearance by Hillary Clinton (more than a cameo, really) was priceless. The second episode was a funny story about Murphy, banned from the current White House, finding a way to crash a press briefing. But it had a serious side in that her actions derailed her son, a reporter at a rival network, from being able to ask his planned question. Episode three was a balanced look at the #metoo movement with some funny moments. Last week’s episode in advance of today’s mid-terms was most appropriate and very well done.

I don’t know that we’re going to get more than the initial thirteen episodes as the ratings have been less than stellar, but Terry and I are enjoying it while we have it.


my most popular blog entry

It has been a full year since Marcela Valladolid left The Kitchen on Food Network. I initially wrote here about her departure, saying that she would be missed. When she wrote in some detail in her blog about exiting the show and stated that she regretted not saying goodbye to her fans I wrote “why Marcela didn’t say goodbye.”

The Kitchen logoThis has been far and away my most popular blog entry. It has received over 31,000 views. That is an order of magnitude (or two or three or four) more than any of my other blog posts have received. Seems that it comes up for people doing a Google or Bing search about Marcela leaving the show.

For all those views I haven’t gotten a lot of comments. What surprises me about the comments I do get is how many people are snide and bitter about Marcela and her presence on the program. Those don’t get published. I don’t go for nastiness on my blog.

It’s nice to be read, but I wish some of my other blog entries received more attention.