If you were to look at the list of programs recorded on our DVR you would see that most of them are shows from the Food Network. No surprise there, right? All of those programs have been promoting the Food Network Kitchen app for some months now. (Not to be confused with my favorite television program on the Food Network, The Kitchen, which airs on Saturday mornings.)
Rising above the cacophony of Black Friday sales was an offer of Food Network Kitchen at half price: $19.95 for a year, as opposed to $39.95. I couldn’t resist. The content is available across all of one’s devices, including the PC, where it is accessed from the Food Network web site. That means that I can save a recipe on my desktop and then access it from my laptop where my recipe software is. That’s a lot easier than the intermediary text file I have been using to save web address for quite a long time now.
The heart of Food Network Kitchen is classes: both live and recorded. These are real-time instructional videos. I believe that the original intent was that these classes be broadcast from the spacious Food Network kitchen facility in New York City. But COVID-19 and corresponding stay-at-home and social distancing orders made that unworkable. So what I have been watching is skilled chefs offering instruction from their own homes. These folks live in New York City (Brooklyn and Harlem, for example) where housing is expensive and apartments are small. A small apartment means a tiny kitchen and we get to peer into these tight spaces. (In two kitchens the toaster oven sat on top of the microwave. In another kitchen the refrigerator door hit up against the butcher block food prep island.) The chefs don’t apologize; they simply show us what great food one can cook in a small space.
There is much that I love about these classes, and at the top of the list is the fact that they are strictly cooking. There is no underlying plot point, as seems to be mandatory on most Food Network cooking (as opposed to competition) shows. (“Aunt Freida is coming over for dinner this evening, so I am making three of her favorite dishes.”)
The Food Network stars on The Kitchen, the Saturday morning television program, have been taping the program from their homes during the pandemic. Jeff Mauro, Katie Lee (Biegel), Geoffrey Zakarian, and Alex Guarnaschelli have let us see their large, fully equipped, to-die-for kitchens. (Sunny Anderson has not let us into her kitchen at home. We only see the outdoor grills on her deck. I’m not sure why.) But the rank-and-file staffers who bring us the live Food Network Kitchen classes from their cramped cooking spaces really know what they’re doing. I am impressed by their skills.
Food Network Kitchen is designed for a tablet. It needs more real estate than a smartphone offers, and the pause and rewind functionality doesn’t work on the PC when you watch a live class. But whatever platform you use, you can type in questions and have a good chance of getting an answer.
I received a generous thirty-day trial and have kept the subscription going. This is cool stuff.
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.
You 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.
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.
There 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.
I 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!”
Terry 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.
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.
After 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.
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.
I 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?
I 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.
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.)
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.
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.
The 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.