Real Cooking

At about 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, I finally got around to looking through the pages of the Wichita Eagle that had been delivered to our driveway earlier in the day.

As I flipped through the different sections, I stopped to read my favorite comic strips (Doonesbury, Baby Blues and For Better, For Worse), looked to see what Bob Getz had to say (nothing-he “will return”), and made a note to show Keith the great review on the Equator Cafe (three and a half forks).

When I made it to the Parade Magazine that comes with the newspaper, my curiosity was piqued when I read the headline emblazoned across the cover: “What America Eats: Who Shops, Who Cooks and Which Foods We Crave Most.”

“Ah, possible column material,” I thought. That’s always worth a look.

And look I did, from cover to cover. So here, in a nutshell is what I found. Americans like pizza. And chocolate. And chips-with or without dip.

As a country, we are eating more ethnic foods than we did two years ago and we’re drinking more bottled water. And 27 percent of Americans have had cereal for dinner in lieu of more traditional fare.

Women (surprise), for the most part, do the shopping and women (surprise), for the most part, do the cooking. And 86 percent of moms say that it’s really the children of the family who influence what is served for dinner. (So tell me something I don’t know.)

The pages of the magazine contained reports about nutrition, how to stretch dining-out dollars and tips on how to install your own wine cellar. And the publishers also featured the latest in food or food-related products. Included were items like Chocolate Reddi-Whip, which they suggested squirting into coffee, and the Chef’s Choice Wafflecone Express, which makes “crispy, homemade waffle cones in just two minutes.”

OK. The chocolate-flavored whipped topping might be useful. But I predict that a year from now there will be countless Wafflecone Expresses shoved into the far reaches of top shelves of kitchen pantries across America-a lasting reminder that some people simply have bad taste when it comes to choosing a proper Christmas gift for someone they love.

But of all the information that Parade Magazine had to offer about food, nutrition, and kitchen gadgets, the subject I found most thought provoking were the two paragraphs that addressed the question: “If you could sit next to a famous person at a dinner party, whom would you choose as your dinner companion?”

The magazine’s top-10 vote getters were as follows: Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, President Bush, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Jennifer Lopez, Tiger Woods and George Clooney.

Among men alone, Jennifer Lopez was the No. 1 dinner partner, while the women opted for Rosie O’Donnell.

I’m sure guys chose J-Lo because of her graciousness, her scintillating conversation and her acerbic wit and not because her derriere is reportedly insured by Lloyd’s of London for millions. I’m positive their minds were made up simply by the fact she’s just the kind of gal you’d want to share a tuna melt with.

But aside from that, the article got me to thinking about just who I would choose if I could pick from any famous person in the world to have dinner with. The choices are endless, the possibilities pleasantly puzzling.

I must say that most of the celebrities on Parade’s list wouldn’t interest me. I might consider dinner with Oprah or Rosie-after all, they are in the talk-show business and could probably hold up their side of a conversation.

And I like Tiger Woods, but I know nothing about golf. As much as I admire Colin Powell, he would probably be preoccupied with this whole Afghanistan thing and not up to making a lot of small talk.

President…no. Former president…no.

Which leaves Julia, Tom and George. I’m afraid that if I dined with Julia Roberts I would spend most of my time trying to get an accurate measurement of just how big her mouth really is and not on anything she was actually saying. Tom seems nice and George seems pleasant enough but…. I don’t know.

Not considering Parade’s list, I guess I could go the fantasy route and name on my list Mel Gibson or Brad Pitt, those Hollywood film stars who make my feminine heart go pitter-pat. But what if they turned out to be big jerks? I don’t think I want to risk ruining that illusion.

Queen Elizabeth? Too much protocol. Osama Bin Laden? Language barrier. Not to mention his ever-present carbine rifle.

So whom would I choose? Well, when it comes down to it, right now if I were pressed into coming up with my top 10 dinner companions, the list include, in no particular order: Mick Jagger, lead singer of the Rolling Stones; Kathleen Norris, author of the inspirational “The Cloister Walk”; “Today” host Katie Couric; South African statesman Nelson Mandela; David Letterman, talk-show host; Ann Rice, writer of the macabre; Michael Jordan of NBA fame; British actress/comic/ writer, Jennifer Saunders; NBC anchor Tom Brokaw; and-OK, I’ll run the risk-actor Mel Gibson.

Crazy, huh? Well, who’s on your list?

* * *

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I thought I’d share this pumpkin cake with you so you might have the recipe on hand for the holidays. The cake is good by itself, but even better with the orange-flavored frosting. Be sure to top it with lots of toasted nuts for the best flavor.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

1 pkg. spice cake mix

1 (3 oz.) pkg. instant vanilla pudding

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup water

3 eggs

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ginger

Mix ingredients with an electric mixer set on low speed for one minute. Scrape down sides and increase mixer speed to medium, beating batter for two more minutes. Pour into greased 13×9-inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 32 to 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and frost.

Orange Cream Frosting

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature

1 stick of butter at room temperature

3 cups powdered sugar

2 tbs. fresh orange juice

1 tbs. grated orange zest

Toasted walnuts or pecans

Beat cream cheese and butter with mixer until combined. Add sugar a little at a time and blend until smooth. Add orange juice and zest and beat until frosting is light and fluffy. Top with toasted nuts.

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