Yearly Archives: 2015

Food TV

Look, it’s no secret that I spend a lot of time watching cooking shows, but it’s confusing to some people (like my mother), because they know perfectly well that at home I literally eat only hummus and salad.

So why do I love watching cooking shows? At the most basic level, it has to do with what Stephen Sondheim talks about in the preface to his book: there’s an inherent satisfaction in learning the technical details of a craft even if it’s not your own.

Beyond that, it’s about the personalities, and here’s where I should stop and clarify which cooking shows I like to watch. It’s basically three: Martha, Ina, and the Two Fat Ladies.

Should we investigate why I gravitate towards saftig older ladies? Probably not. But I will talk about what I like about each of them.

Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)


With Ina, it’s her pleasantness: she’s always in a good mood, she uses excellent ingredients, she makes large quantities, and she lives part of every year in France. Do I enjoy seeing the interior of her East Hamptons house and garden? You bet I do. Would I want to live there? Probably not, although if we’re being totally honest, I’m sure I would jump at the opportunity.

I should also take this opportunity to point out that my blog, which I’ve maintained for something like eight years at this point, continues to generate a large portion of its traffic from an appreciation of Ina’s hottie gray fox model friend T.R (the guy who couldn’t catch a fish.)

Jennifer & Clarissa (The Two Fat Ladies)


With the Two Fat Ladies, it’s really the zaniness of Jennifer (whom I like way more than Clarissa) that interests me most, the fact that she’s always liable to break into song & dance, her ring-studded, nail-painted hands, her cigarette and vodka at the end of the episode. She’s basically my grandmother transported to the British Isles. And let’s not forget how lovely the scenery is in every episode, and the beautiful music.

Martha (MSL, Everyday Food, etc.)


With Martha, it’s Competency Porn. There’s literally nothing this woman can’t do. She builds trellises, plants crops, bakes bread, crafts her home decor, and explains it all with such perfect diction that I’m just slobbering over myself at the end of an episode. And though I’m a fan of everything Martha’s done (including her immediate post-incarceration shows where I’m sure she was drunk the whole time) nothing beats Classic Martha: the episodes of MSL from the early-mid ’90’s that I grew up on.

I also love that Martha has an opinion on the best way to do EVERY LITTLE GODDAMN THING, because I am the exact same way. And she never shies away from it – she just tells you that her way is ‘a good thing’; you can figure out for yourself what doing it another way is.

Plus, you all know how much I love homegirl’s social media presence.


Bonus: Yolanda (How to Cake It)

This YouTube Channel is one of my more recent culinary obsessions, and the nature of my interest in it is different – more philosophical. I don’t find Yolanda a very appealing personality. In fact, I think she’s probably one of the most annoying people on the face of the planet.

But you guys. The DETAILS that this woman puts into her cake creations are INSANE. She puts so much time, care, and attention into these cakes. It’s not like Cake Boss (cake boss) or Ace of Cakes or whatever: it’s far, FAR more refined and creative. Look at this freaking pizza cake and tell me it does not look like an honest-to-god pizza. Well it’s not – it’s fricking CAKE.


What I do like about Yolanda is that she ends each video by eating her creations, often just chomping into them without a fork. There’s such an irreverence for her painstaking efforts. When you see her make these cakes, you feel like nobody should ever disturb the finished product. I truly think it’s akin to those Tibbetan monks who make the sand mandalas and then blow them away, and that’s why I like her. It’s actually a lot like music performance: you work and work and work towards a concert, you play it, and all you’ve produced is sound waves, the least permanent thing there could ever be.


The Oregon Trail


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Champaign-Urbana / Bloomington-Normal. Why do both of these towns have two names? I couldn’t tell you the difference between them, and there was no discernible border. Hey Illinois college towns: pick a name! Of note: Babbitt’s Books in Normal, a favorite stomping ground of David Foster Wallace, and some electronic music landmark at U of I:


Madison, WI. Bigger than I expected. Found a decent cafe with a bang-up bran muffin!

Wisconsin Dells, WI. This has got to be the worst place on earth, because it has all the gawdy tourist junk of a beach town without the beach! I guess there’s something naturally beautiful in its environs, but this town is seriously depressing.

Rochester, MN. OK to pretty nice. Must suck in the winter. Single busiest Chipotle I’ve ever been to.

Sioux Falls, SD. This town was unexpectedly interesting. After driving through so many hundreds of miles of cornfields though, anything would be. A very ORGANIZED city, small, but with a spacious feel. There seems to be a large African/Asian immigrant population. I even saw a Russian grocery sign IN RUSSIAN. What kind of KGB spy shit is that?? There is a replica of Michelangelo’s David in a park because why wouldn’t there be?

Vermillion, SD. Drove an hour out of my way for this one, and boy was it worth it. You see, the University of South Dakota is home to the National Music Museum, which I first learned of when Easley Blackwood whipped out some serpent pics during my orchestration class (I know how wrong that sounds…)


What an amazing collection – frankly, I prefer it to the Met’s and the Art Institute’s. Amatis galore, including the oldest surviving viola! The well-informed gentleman at the front desk gave me a thorough run-down of the collection. Vermillion is quaint and perfect, but the parking there is actually terrible!

Philosophical Rumination #1. It’s truly amazing how all this infrastructure – telephone poles, farming, roads – exists in the farthest interior of this enormous continent. A skyscraper is one thing, but literally hundreds of miles of planted fields is another. The music of Phillip Glass was excellent company during this portion of my ride; it paired so well with the miles of cornfields that it almost seemed like this is what the composer had in mind.

The Badlands. Driving through SD is very corny until you cross the Missouri river, at which point you cross over on to another planet. The badlands are totally rad. Great hike. Take the long way out along 44 – it’s totally worth it, and you’ll likely be the only other person on the road.


Rapid City, SD. An honest to god frontier town with an excellent pho restaurant and a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Mt. Rushmore. Have you ever stopped to think about how truly weird Mt. Rushmore is? I think we Americans take it for granted as this great national monument, but WTF?? Some rando Hungarian comes over and convinces the U.S. government that what we need is a 12-story high carving of four of our president’s ugly faces blasted into some mountain a million miles from nowhere? Um, OK?

As I stood there contemplating this, a young family came to the main plaza, and the little girl, about three years old, was LIVID, insisting that her father had told her that the presidents were going to talk. She was hella pissed, but she immediately lost interest and sat down on the ground and played with some dirt with her baby sister, to the point where the parents couldn’t even distract them to get a decent picture. This little vignette basically made my whole trip worthwhile.

Did I mention I’ve been checking into all of my hotels under the name Roger O. Thornhill?

A photo posted by willcwhite (@willcwhite) on

Philosophical Rumination #2. Driving this far to start a new life gives the whole relocation an extra weight. Air travel has a hint of magic to it – yes, the flights can be long, but you don’t psychologically interact with space and distance the way you do in a car; driving connects you to the earth. It gives you time to contemplate vastness, and in my particular case, to realize how far from home (where’s home at this point) I’m moving.

Crow Indian Reservation. This is where my trip started to get sad. You can’t see much in terms of town life from the highway, but what you can see is depressing. This really stuck with me.

Gillette, WY. Truly a frontier town (with a Starbucks.) If you want to see some of the most beautiful, rugged scenery our country has to offer, drive through this part of Wyoming (and Montana); you’ll simultaneously get to see it being despoiled. I’ve never seen train cars in such proliferation, all filled to the brim with coal. Oil rigs in the fields. Cows. Listening to lonesome cowboy ballads (read: Lyle Lovett). Other than that, just digging the silence.

Billings, MT. I imagine this is what Ulaanbaatar is probably like.

Bozeman, MT. Well folks, shit gets real once you hit the Rockies. I thought the rest of my trip was just gonna be sad, but honey Bozeman is chichiCHI! Very happening college/resort town with rich people stuff including a stupendously overpriced gourmet market I went to for dinner.

Missoula, MT. From this point on, the trip got depressing again, because the entire Rockies were bathed in a smoky haze from the profusion of wildfires burning nearby. I did stop in Missoula, a surprisingly large city, for a vegetarian “pasty” which is apparently miner food, and was pretty decent.

Coeur d’Alene, ID. This is like a straight people-er version of Bozeman, and would be a decent, if slightly lame resort town were it not shrouded in carbon dioxide.

Spokane, WA. Once again, I’m totally blown away by how big these western cities are. Is Spokane bigger than Cincinnati? No, but it feels like it is, and surprisingly it seems like downtown is really the most vibrant area, but not in a re-vitalized, re-gentrified way, more just like, in the old-fashioned way.

Ritzville, WA. Drought.


Portland, OR. The drive west through Oregon becomes really beautiful as you get into the Columbia river gorge. Then the traffic gets terrible, but that’s just Portland. I’m so happy to be here, but honestly, you do get used to staying at a Hampton Inn. (Speaking of which, guess who straight-up turned Silver Elite status on this trip? This bitch.)

Alright PDX, let’s do this.