I was on a judging panel for the Orpheum’s annual “Celebrity and Chef Cook-off” a few days ago. I have graduated from contestant to judge in the last few years, and I have to say that judging is no less stressful, but it is less sweaty, and I smell better when it’s all over. As a general rule, I dislike cooking competitions, particularly the ones on TV, but the live ones are exciting, with ingredients flying around, and the smell and sizzle and quiet cursing just adding to the party.
I have just returned from a wonderful vacation to Sebastopol, California, in the heart of Sonoma County. My dance partner Marta and I went up for a huge bellydance event called Tribal Fest. We’ve been before, so we knew the food would be great, but the ante had been upped since were there last. I have never been anywhere where everything was so fresh and delicious. Even the rest stops had organic offerings, perfumed strawberries, and gluten-free cookies. It was like being on another planet.
I am thankful every day that I am able to afford to buy the food I want to eat. I haven’t always had that luxury. I ate a lot of beans and tortillas when I was in my 20s, and have had to make the choice between gasoline and groceries many times. My financial situation has improved considerably since then, but I know what it’s like to be worried about food.
I finally got a chance try out The Flying Stove, one of Wichita’s non-taco food trucks. I have been web-stalking them since they opened, drooling over their yummy-looking pictures and Facebook posts. I’m happy to report that the food tastes even better than it looks.
Wichita has never been known as a city that favors healthy food. We are most famous for Pizza Hut, delicious beef, and huge portions. Meat is king here and won’t soon be dethroned, but recently a couple of brave, vegetarian-friendly restaurateurs have been making health-conscious dining a whole lot easier.
I was a judge at the Death by Chocolate event this last weekend at Exploration Place. To some, it might have sounded like heaven—table after table covered with beautiful, inventive chocolates, cakes, and cookies. To me, it looked like an uphill marathon I hadn’t properly trained for. We had to taste everything, and that meant about a hundred individual sweets. My teeth hurt after the first 10 offerings. I got the sugar shakes after the 30th truffle. My vision blurred by the time we had finished the gauntlet and I had to sit down. By the time I got home I was as ill as I could be.
All right, pizza lovers, fire up your engines! Picasso’s Pizza has opened and their pies are divine. I usually give a new place a couple of months to settle in before I try it out, but all of my social media friends were posting delicious-looking pictures and tweets, so I couldn’t resist. I met my pizza expert—my husband Wayne—for dinner the other day and we were both immediately hooked.
I grew up in Newton, Kansas, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It goes without saying that there weren’t many fun dining options in our little town. We had a Big Cheese Pizza, a Pizza Hut, a Sonic, The Red Coach Inn, and a Hardee’s. There were a couple of coffee shops and our Woolworth’s had a lunch counter—the old-fashioned kind—but that was torn down and replaced with a thrift store. We had one fancy restaurant, the Old Mill, which featured the first salad bar I had ever seen and served adult beverages, a rarity in our dry county.
I am obsessed with kimchi. I think about the earthy, fermented, spicy pickle all the time. I know that some people find kimchi’s deep funkiness repellent, but I love it. Kimchi is one of the most common Korean condiments and is made with vegetables, chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger and salt. It is lightly fermented, sort of like sauerkraut, and then eaten as a side dish or used as an ingredient in Korean cooking. The kimchi most of us are familiar with is made with Napa cabbage.
Food trucks have always seemed like a good idea to me. You have a cute truck, cook a few interesting specials, and park where the business seems best. Everyone throngs to you when you tweet the daily menu and you work when you feel like it. Trucks have fewer of the brick-and-mortar problems of a real restaurant at a fraction of the cost. I even thought of doing a soup truck at one time, until I was reminded by my best friend that I don’t like to drive, I don’t like small spaces, and I cannot survive without air conditioning. The fantasy of a food truck is nothing like the reality of one.