Homemade, Semi-Fabulous

I was IMing with a friend last night and we decided that I am the anti-Sandra Lee.

Sandra Lee is the frightening person behind the Semi-Homemade trademark, and host of the self-titled Food Network show in which she illustrates how to live the Semi-Homemade life. Every meal in Semi-Homemade world is garnished just so, served at a color-coordinated “tablescape” that usually seems to involve using one’s extensive collection of cake plates as pedestals for the dinner plates, and is accompanied by an also color-coordinated cocktail (but don’t worry – Sandra always shows how to serve out virgin portions for the kids before finishing them up). Underneath this veneer of gracious homemaking is a collection of short-cut recipes heavy with prepared foods which are then cleverly doctored up to hide the fact that no real ingredients went into the making of the meal.

My identity as the anti-Sandra Lee become apparant to me when describing my version of a quick homemade meal out of stuff in my cupboard – tuna spinach casserole – and noting to my friend that while it looks like a mess, it only takes 15 minutes and the key is to use fresh spinach and whatever homemade vinaigrette you of course have on hand in your fridge. My recommended tablescape – books and newspapers covering less than 50% of the table.

Sandra can’t even put together a risotto recipe without turning to Uncle Ben’s garlic and butter flavored rice and a can of cream of mushroom soup. And that is part of the insanity – every recipe requires some specific packaged food one must make sure to have on hand. Contrast with this simple mushroom risotto recipe that requires: mushrooms, rice, olive oil, butter, a stock cube, and grated cheese. Except for the mushrooms, these are all fairly basic items. Don’t have a stock cube? Maybe you have a can of stock in the cupboard, or could substitute some herbs to make up for the loss of flavor. Have an onion or fresh garlic on hand – chop it up and cook it with the mushrooms. Don’t look now – you made a homemade recipe, in a comparable amount of time, using higher quality ingredients you likely already had on hand, often at a lower cost, and with clearer options for substitutions.

Sandra is clearly tapping into some women’s guilt over not having the time to be “perfect” homemakers, but instead of suggesting ways to efficiently get healthy meals on the table (which, while I’ve got my issues with Rachel Ray always washing her produce in advance, she at least uses real ingredients and is honest about sometimes substituting money for time without compromising quality), Sandra suggests that so long as you maintain the illusion that everything is “fun and fabulous”, you can sacrifice the substance. So that, in the end, Sandra Lee is no friend to those women at all.

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