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Columnist Suzanne Martinson: If wishes were dishes for 2000

Sunday, December 26, 1999

By Suzanne Martinson, Food Editor, Post-Gazette

Purists may not let us call it the millennium, but I do have a Wish List for '00. Sure, there are the usual things -- peace in the world, fiscal bounty for the poor, routes 51 and 28 fixed -- but I also have some food-related sea changes I am hoping for.

First off, I'd like a really good Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood, which is to say, tasty and cheap. We have a good Chinese restaurant, some good Italian joints, and I can make really good mashed potatoes, but my tortillas need work.

I would like to see the government stop standing first on one foot and then the other and come up with some national rules for what constitutes "organic" to replace the hundreds of conflicting rules in different states. Of course, in the olden days, raising crops organically was called "farming." (City people of my childhood didn't call it organic -- they called it "that smelly manure.")

Today, it sometimes seems as if we've got too much technology and too little sense. And, as a produce buyer once wryly told me, trouble is, there's twice as much organic produce sold as there is grown. A corollary to this is figuring out what constitutes "natural," that catch-all selling word that has no meaning in the law. Of course, to do that the lawmakers would have to figure out what makes a product unnatural. Could be tough, but nobody said life isn't hard.

The word exercise should be banned from the language. In its place would be happy, alluring words, such as, "I'm going to take a walk with my dog," "run downstairs to throw in the last load of laundry" or "go to the gym."

Working out will also be verboten. Anything with the word work in it is always going to seem less than desirable.

A permanent farmers' market within the city limits would be great. The municipally sponsored farmers' markets in different city neighborhoods are nifty, but it would be good to have even more access to fresh, locally grown produce. This permanent market could augment the wonderful farm markets that ring our city and are run by individual farm families. While we're at it, let's hope for better prices for the farmers, so they can stay in business and raise things to make us healthier.

I am sick of fat: talking about it, obsessing on it, then eating a second dessert anyway. Let's face it, guys, those nonfat commercials are misleading. Goody! a low-fat cookie. So we eat the whole bag, then we're not satisfied, so we're soon back at the trough. Let's make '00 the year we bury the magic bullet theory of losing weight.

Taste (OK, and moderation) ought to return to center stage of eating well, and sharing a family meal once in a while wouldn't hurt either. We're becoming a society in which we don't eat, we feed. This makes Mom and Dad short-order cooks, with each family member shouting orders like they are at the fast-food window.

It's even spilled over into entertaining. Lou Jane Temple, a culinary mystery writer I recently lunched with, recalled a dinner guest she entertained recently. "He sat down at the table and when the salad course was served, he told me, 'I don't eat salads.' I told him just to keep quiet and push it around on his plate a little."

This persnickety behavior is not a criticism of people who have very real health concerns that need to be followed, but the person whose food preferences seem to dominate every conversation. (The exception, of course, is to talk about your love for chocolate.) As Dan Gasby, who is married to B. Smith, once laughingly told me, "It seems like the more money people get, the more allergies they have." Whatever happened to good manners?

Speaking of money, I'd like to see B. Smith, cookbook writer, TV personality and all-around nice person, and every other Western Pennsylvania product make a ton of big bucks. (You've gotta like somebody who shared her recipe for a great pineapple upside-down cake.)

The last wishes are purely personal. In '00, I hope that at least once a week, good actions will replace good intentions and I will reach for an orange instead of a chocolate. I've made my start with clementines, and I hope to become further inspired by attending the Citrus Bowl in Florida. Some may theorize that we're only attending the game because we're band groupies and our daughter, Jessica, marches in the Michigan State Spartan Band, but that's only part of the reason. The other part must be the vitamin C in citrus. (Will the IRS buy this theory in 2000 any better than in 1999?)

If all else fails, if the team goes south and the only winner is the band, let some of those smart scientists invent the ultimate chocolate: for every one you eat, you lose a pound and gain 10 IQ points.

I need all the help I can get in the new millen ... well, whatever it is.

Related Recipe:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

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