Monday, September 19, 2011

Pioneer Women – Free Our Kitchens! Free Ourselves!

The Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond

First, for all the Pioneer Woman lovers out there, sorry, but there IS a lot to object to. And for the Pioneer Woman haters, this post isn’t about objecting to PW’s very existence, it’s about her cooking! Well, actually, not completely. I can’t help myself from commenting not ONLY on her cooking, but also on the state of gender relations in the Drummond household and particularly the kitchen.

I kept thinking about last week’s show and I wonder if you’ll think I’m from another planet when I share with you my reading of this episode.

I’m actually kind of worried about Ree. I fully admit I may be overstating this, BUT I don't like the backdrop of male domination that permeates the show (and her family life). Clearly, the man rules the roost. Anyway, that’s the message I’m getting.

Ree starts out by talking about the husband-approved list of foods in her house. Of course, we all have to deal with likes and dislikes - one person likes meat, the other doesn’t and so on. But there’s a difference between food preferences and someone using his food tastes to control the other person. Call me crazy, but that’s how I feel when I hear how Ree talks about her husband.

Granted, I’m lucky that H will eat ANYTHING. (Thank you to the chef in the sky who brought him to me!!!) Wait, I misspoke…no beets…but that’s it. Honestly, though, my thinking is if I’m cooking it, he’s eating it.

The way that Ree proceeds - painting herself as the naughty child trying to sneak forbidden foods into the master’s dishes - also rubs me the wrong way.

She starts by telling us that one of the things her husband really hates is the taste of wine in cooking. So what does she do? She decides to pour half a bottle of vodka in a pasta sauce and get him to taste it without telling him what’s in it. Not only do I disagree with her juvenile machinations, but I also don’t approve of trying to hide that particular ingredient.

I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of sneaking in a stray anchovy here or there, BUT alcohol is one of those things I don’t play around with. I don’t even use vanilla extract if there are any alcohol sensitivity issues.

For all I care, she can pull a fast one with goat cheese (another of her husband’s least favorite things); add rhubarb with abandon or pile the salad high with cilantro, but alcohol? NO, that is one food (or beverage) dislike that should be respected.

Maybe I’m playing both sides of the fence here, sticking up for both Ree and hubby, but playing hide and seek with liquor makes me uncomfortable.

Ree gets him on the phone and tells him to come on down (up?) to the Lodge to taste something she’s made, which is the (shhhh!) Penne al Vodka.

Ree tells us that there’s a place on her website where she lists the recipes her husband “approves” of. Uck! WHAT FOR! Why do we care what some stuck-in-a-rut guy likes (or dislikes)? Not that I’m ever going to spend the hours it would take to navigate the quagmire that is her website, but I particularly wouldn’t search for THAT.

Ree sautés onion and garlic in oil and butter and adds vodka to the pan and then reduces it. Ree says he can detect any wine in a dish, but the vodka has a “cleaner flavor” to it. I have no idea what that means. If she means that with vodka you’re left with basically no taste, but a faint rubbing alcohol flavor, then I get what she’s saying. She adds half a huge can of tomato purée.

Ree says it’s become a hobby to be able to move dishes over to the “Lad approved category” on her website. Does she mean “lad” like a young boy, so she’s infantilizing her husband or does she mean “Ladd”, as if that’s his name? No clue. Oh, it says “LADD approved”. Whatever.

Ree adds a cup or so of heavy cream to the sauce. This is funny. Remember with the sliders she said she added heavy cream “because she could”? Now she says it’s her ”prerogative” to add heavy cream. Actually, I think I get it. The one place where no one can be the boss of her is in the heavy cream department. You go girl!

Ree is also adding crushed red pepper, partially to hide any potential vodka flavor. She finishes the dish with salt and butter and she has confirmed that her husband’s name IS “Ladd”.

The music gets bold (threatening perhaps?) as we see the huge tires of Ladd’s vee-hickle rolling up. What's supposed to happen if he doesn’t like the penne? Seriously, I don’t like the whole vibe of this.

Ree is basically saying she's trying to make something that pleases her picky (and demanding) husband. AND just for good measure, she's going to sneak in alcohol, which she KNOWS he HATES. It just doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.

I understand that catering to someone with persnickety tastes is challenging. Obviously, you don’t want to waste time cooking stuff that people hate. On the one hand, Ree keeps a list of foods that he WILL eat; and, on the other, she’s making stuff that she KNOWS he wants to avoid. What’s up with that?

This whole thing of having dinner on the table for the man of the house is so retro-esque. The funny thing is that Ree and I aren’t too different in this respect. I often refer to H as The Master, which Ree doesn’t actually say, but she means. I cook (and plate and garnish) H's dinner most nights. You can serve your husband dinner because you love to cook and keep your own identity at the same time. Does that make sense? I guess it’s all in the attitude of the cook and the cookee.

The fact that I have dinner on the table for H doesn’t make me a domestic slave (even though I’ve been known to tell him it does). It makes me a fabulous partner who enjoys cooking and feeding those around me. BUT I’m not standing around having butterflies wondering if H will like it. OH! I haven’t told you about the part where Ree gets butterflies…

She finishes up the penne dish by sprinkling in some parm from a deli type container.

If she’s as loaded as you PW foes say she is, I sure hope that’s fancy freshly grated parmesan from a gourmet grocery store and not Kraft. (It was decades before I realized that Parmesan shouldn’t smell like old socks.)

The door (of the truck) opens. We see boots hit the ground. This really is a throwback. Listen to what Ree says: “Why do I have butterflies? This is not that big of a deal.” OMG. Aside from her strange sentence structure, she is really modeling an unhealthy domestic situation.

You might think I’m making way “too big OF a deal” (sic), but imagine you were a woman in a compromised situation where your safety was in question. Wouldn’t this make you feel uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it give you pause?

Think about the difference between THIS husband/wife relationship and Ina’s and Jeffrey’s for example. Seeing THEM makes me feel all warm and cozy and I have to smile. Seeing Ree quaking in her sensible ranch footwear makes me uneasy.

Okay, let’s see what happens when the Ladd comes in. Do you think the chaps mean anything? I've actually never met anyone wearing chaps before.

Ladd walks in, amazingly mild-mannered. WHAT was I worried about? Ree hands him a fork. I hope he’s not going to eat out of the serving dish. In my book, that’s almost as bad as taking away his wife’s autonomy.

He IS eating out of the big dish. He tastes. He chews. He considers. Ree says “I’m DYING. How do you like it?” He likes it. (Mikey likes it!) He says, “What is it?”

Oh gosh, here it comes. I have to look away. Ree says, (almost in a whisper) "Vodka. I thought you might be a little more receptive to the hard stuff.” “Vodka’s better than wine,” he pronounces as he turns and leaves. (Jeffrey always gives his Contessa at least a peck on the cheek.)

Alright, so what was the big deal? He seemed unfazed by the vodka. Actually, he seemed unfazed in general. I really hope his lack of enthusiasm had more to do with the camera in his face than anything else. Plus I’m not sure I feel sorry for her anymore. Maybe it’s Ree who is drawing these gender boxes in bold relief.

She continues the stereotyping by hosting a girls’ night with “not a morsel of man food in sight”. Did she really just say that? This is 2011. The worst thing is that her kids are being subjected to these stereotypes. Let’s hope all those nannies y’all talk about are giving the kids a wider appreciation of the world.

Ladd (she hasn’t said Papa yet) is going on some kind of a road trip with the kids and lots of cattle, so Mama can have her lady friends over. (I wonder which motel will take them all in.) But wouldn’t you think Ree would deserve a night out at Applebee’s or Hooters or whatever they have in rural Okie? (BTW, did you see this incredible story about Waffle House? What great Americans. I am so going there, if I’m ever where there is one.)

Ree tells us when there are just womenfolk, they like to eat…herbs. Really? I don’t mind a good herb or two, but honestly, I have never segregated my cooking in that way. One food for the guys, one for the gals. I’m really having a hard time with this. I don’t like what it says about the state of male/female relations and I don’t like the message it sends to youth and the not-so-youthed.

Ree digs herself in even deeper telling us she can have the food she’s not allowed to serve to her husband. (Okay, she didn’t use the word “allowed” but that's what she meant.)

Ree is making a goat cheese (hubsters doesn’t like that either) starter. She puts it in the freezer for a few minutes so it’s easier to work with. Basically the entire appetizer is chopped up dill into which you roll a log of chilled goat cheese.

Couldn’t we have a bit more pizazz? How about a toasted nut or two? How about softening the goat cheese, adding some garlic and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, rolling it back into a log and covering THAT with fresh herbs? Her recipes seem to me to be good starting points, but they often need more…a lot more.

Oh, Ree said one good thing. She said to leave the chopped dill on the cutting board for a few minutes to dry out a bit. THAT makes sense. (I hope Ree distributes little compacts to her friends at the table, so they can pick out the monstrous amounts of dill that will be in their teeth.)

She tells us again, “LADD does not like goat cheese AT ALL, so this is perfect for a girl’s dinner.” I’m sorry, but I can’t help reading more into that. I’m really hoping there is no undue friction that leaves mama a’scared.

Next Ree makes sangria. You will not believe WHAT GOES INTO HER SANGRIA! It’s shocking. First she puts in diced red and green apples. Not that they’re verboten in sangria, but they are the first fruit to get soft and brown and, really, does anyone LIKE apple skin? It’s certainly not the first thing I turn to for a festive drink. Then green and red grapes go in. DITTO.

PINEAPPLE is next. Huh?!!! If she adds Kool-Aid, I’m leaving! Orange, lemon and lime slices are added. That’s okay. BUT LISTEN TO THIS – OMG! She adds chilled RED wine AND THEN chilled WHITE wine. No me digas! Seriously, I am offended and I don’t have a Spanish bone in my body. (Actually, both my children are, or could have been, Spanish, since they were both born in the heart of Madrid.)

This is sounding like the worst sangria ever. Next Ree adds orange-flavored rum. Truthfully, I’ve never even heard of that. She got the orange flavor right, but the rum? Is that perhaps why she added pineapple?

This IS entertaining, though. I really like watching something that I have never seen before and could never even have imagined. AND there’s more. Next is the orange-flavored VODKA.

Listen, Ree, add what you want to your punch, JUST DON’T CALL IT SANGRIA. Call it Garbage Pail Punch. Sugar syrup goes in and it goes into the refrigerator.

We see Ladd driving cows around a field and there are children on horses without helmets. That is objectionable.

Next Ree makes pizza. I’m happy she’s making her own dough. The addition of FOUR tablespoons of olive oil, though, does seem a bit much. It’s also interesting that she leaves it in the fridge for up to FOUR days. That’s called a cold rise and it’s a good way to develop the flavor. But I’ve always frozen it if it has to be unattended for that long, and, remember, it becomes harder to handle the longer you leave it. I would give it 3 days at the max. Ree rolls out the dough as thinly as she can. She’s making a fig and arugula pizza.

Ree spreads fig preserves on her rolled out pizza dough. What a fantastic idea! I have to give Pioneer Woman her due.

I LOVE the idea of the fig jam on pizza. I rarely serve brie without it. I’ve added it to the bottom of little tarts (often with brie on top). I’ve served it on French bread underneath sausage rounds. I’ve substituted it for mango chutney, but I’ve never put it on pizza. What a great, socially acceptable way to eat more jam. How did I never think of that before?

Ree finishes up the pizza with fresh mozzarella slices. She bakes it at 500° F for 10 minutes and tops it with prosciutto and arugula afterwards.

Ree toasts her gal pals and says it’s nice to not to have consider the guys for once when cooking. They serve themselves the goat cheese. Then Ree serves the pizza. She calls it a “girl friendly pizza”. They all like it, but their sangria glasses are left half-filled. I don’t blame them.

One of the guests feeds the (male) doggie something and says to him, “Can you say girl power?” FINALLY, someone has gotten the message.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

I added some dabs of fig jam to my last pizza, which had chorizo, sautéed mushrooms and onions and mozzarella. It was a fabulous addition. It went well with each ingredient separately and melted into the pizza beautifully.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Consiering that her penne vodka recipe has been on her blog for YEARS I have to say that much be one of the most ridiculously staged episodes ever (and I didn't even watch it). That just makes me think less of this crazy show (although the calf surfing I heard about from last week's episode doesn't help either - I hear some people called PETA on that one).

She has often defnended her use of parmesan in the can saying it's the only parmesan available in her little hometown market. She has also defended the green can saying it tastes perfectly fine.

I'll give her this much, she doesn't put chicken stock in her penne vodka - unlike some ridiculous TV cooks. I read once that penne vodka is actually a bastardization of "penne vacca" - the "cow" being the cream. She doesn't have to justify her use of cream either.

You are on fire lately with your show reviews! Keep 'em coming!

Sue said...

Hey Rach,
That's interesting about the penne recipe. Since I can't make heads or tales of her blog, I didn't know it was an old recipe.

Seriously, if all I had was processed nasty Parmesan cheese, my dish would go cheeseless. Has she never heard of the concept - Don't throw bad ingredients after good?!!

Ah gee, thanks...PW does makes it so easy to have an opinion...or twenty about her show.

Anonymous said...

You're making me glad I haven't watched this show, Sue! (I'll save my FN-watching-at-the-gym time for Ina or Anne.) This episode sounds awful. Making that fake tension about her husband's food likes is revolting, and really insensitive to people who have been in genuinely fearful domestic situations.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention, the first time I saw fig jam on a pizza was (gasp) one of the few times I ever saw Sandra Lee's show!

Sue said...

The problem is I’m not sure it’s FAKE tension. I sure hope it is though.

I do wonder if I’m the only person who picked up all that misogyny stuff from this episode. Am I insane?

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME ABOUT THE FIG JAM!!! Well, you know what? It’s a great idea and if it came from Aunt Sandy, then so be it. That’s all I can say, because I fully intend to add it to every pizza I EVER make again.

khintx said...

New reader...... and thanks. That whole episode kind of gave me the creeps. If that lady giggled to the camera and told us how "naughty" she was being one more time, I think I would have screamed.


Abandoned By Wolves said...

Very good review, and it nails down my disgruntled bemusement with TPW. Neither Giada or Ina or Jacques Pepin (or,hell, Rachel Ray) ever needed to introduce this kind of "fake" tension into a show. They just, you know, make stuff. And if it looks good,you get inspired and go make it yourself.

I dunno...maybe it's a little game she plays with herself to make things spicier. It sure doesn't work in a "live" TV format.

Speaking of inspired, that pizza looks incredible. I make have to go make some myself.

Tracy said...

I still haven't seen this show. I'm going to have to Tivo it just to see it for myself.

I'm kind of in the same boat with a picky husband. It's not that he's the boss, but it's just demoralizing to see him pick at things I cook. I do like having friends over and taking food to parties because I have a chance to use foods he doesn't like.

Emily said...

GAWGEOUS pizza! That does sound really good. Maybe I'll make a figgy pizza tomorrow night?

The sangia does sound awful. Gag. Yes, I'm really surprised she didn't add Koolaid to it. Or orange soda.

I don't see the point in adding vodka to a sauce.

Sue said...

Hi Khintx,

That was no lady, that was Pioneer Woman…just kidding. Her whole naughty schtick was uber-annoying.

Hiya James,
You’re so right. And those other shows don’t need a fake narrative happening in the background to grease the wheels of the show. It’s fine to have (or pretend to have) a specific occasion for which you’re cooking, but this whole “lifestyle” thing is ponderous, whether it’s real or not.

Hi Tracy,
I want to know what you think after you’ve seen it.

I know it’s a pain to have people not eat what you cook. The funny thing is when H doesn’t like something, all of sudden it becomes (to me) the best thing I’ve ever cooked. I’m not going to go out of my way to cook something people hate, BUT really, at some point, I would be tempted to just say, “Cook dinner yourself!” and you’re a saint NOT to do that!

Thanks Em,

Orange soda would be have been a GOOD addition, compared to everything else she added.

Vodka in a sauce? I dunno know, people like it. I prefer to maximize its effects and put it in a cocktail glass with lime and cranberry juice and Cointreau and call it a Cosmo.

Heather said...

Now I want a pizza with fig jam...maybe this weekend...

I didn't watch the episode but I trust your instincts (of course). I do the cooking in my house because I like to cook and I like to eat. CS offers to cook occasionally, but I prefer he stay out of my kitchen. Everyone gets whatever I cook and I frequently try out new recipes on the 2 and 4 year old. I don't make seperate meals for anyone and if CS doesn't like it, he certainly CAN cook dinner himself. Lucky for him, he eats anything and is actually less picky than me.

The "man food" "woman food" thing irks me. When I'm in my hometown,my friend invites me over for dinner and cooks steaks for the two of us and peels the veggies for his vegetarian wife in the meantime. Less manly for cooking and peeling? I'm not womanly for eating yummy steak? Whatever.

I'm with him on the goat cheese though - gah! If I keep going, she might take away my 'woman card'.