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Originally published January 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 6, 2007 at 3:45 PM

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Taste of the Town

Rachael, Rachael, Rachael: Enough already!

A few weeks ago, I was cruising the cracker aisle at my local supermarket, looking to score a box of Ritz, when I stopped dead in my tracks...

Seattle Times restaurant critic

A few weeks ago, I was cruising the cracker aisle at my local supermarket, looking to score a box of Ritz, when I stopped dead in my tracks: There was Rachael Ray, smiling on box after cracker-filled box.

When did America's best-friend-in-the-kitchen become the cardboard cover girl for Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Chicken in a Biskit and my kid's beloved cracker? I mean, I know "everything's better on a Ritz," but five times on one box — come on!

Anyway, there she was, hoisting a plate of "Ritz Clubs" (that's a mini-club "sammie" to her fans), promoting "Express Lane Meals" (one of her umpteen "30-Minute Meals" cookbooks) and showing not a little décolletage (take that, Nigella Lawson!). And while I stood there, searching in vain for Rach-free Ritz, all I could think was: "Hey you! Get offa my box!"

Excuse me while I get on my box — the one with the soap in it — and go off about the Rachael-izaton of America for just a minute:

1) Her 13 (!!) cookbooks are flying off shelves while talented cookbook writers without TV shows are spurned.

2) She also has three Food Network shows, a monthly magazine and a daytime talk show.

3) And now, another signature product, E(xtra) V(irgin) O(live) O(il), whose darling catchphrase abbreviation will appear in the new edition of the Oxford American College Dictionary. What's next? The definition of "Bam!"?

4) Plus, she is the Gen-X cross between Martha, Emeril and the Breck Girl. But that might be beside the point.

What the point is, is that while strolling the supermarket aisles this week, I found, as promised, Rachael's 100 percent Italian "cold production" olive oil, hanging out right there with the Crisco and the Wesson and making its "delish" debut at $10.49 for a 17-ounce bottle. The Rach version was stocked next to the Colavita, which, as far as I could tell, is the same stuff distributed by the same company. (For the record, I purchase my "Everyday" E.V.O.O. at C.O.S.T.C.O., and pay half as much for four times as much — so sue me.)

You can call me a less-than-conspicuous consumer, too, but the way I see it, some faces belong on food products, and some faces don't. And I'm not talking about Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker and the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Open my fridge, and you'll find Paul Newman's baby blues staring right at you. I don't mind spending $2.49 for a carton of Newman's Own Lemonade. I like knowing the actor uses his celebrity to sell food products whose profits — after taxes — have raised $200 million for thousands of children's charities. Open my freezer and say hello to Ben & Jerry. Yes, I'm aware they sold out to The Man, but I won't hold it against them: They're The Men who brought me Cherry Garcia.

Leson on KPLU


Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants air Wednesdays on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m., and on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. (This week she talks about kids in the kitchen.)

Leson's commentaries are archived on KPLU's Web site, www.kplu.org, and may also be heard at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants

Better yet, take a peek in my kitchen cabinet, and you'll find a box of Heidi's cottage cheese pancake mix. I wasn't sure who Heidi was, but "her" mix sports a photo of a woman, who, let it be said, looks like the Poster Mom for a Woodinville soccer team.

After sampling Heidi's pancakes at a store demo a couple of years ago, they became a house staple. The kid loved them and so did I because they tasted (allow me to quote my Catholic husband) "like a Jew's idea of pancakes." Damn straight: That's why I buy the stuff. Blended with cottage cheese and an egg, it tastes just like my mother's homemade cheese blintzes — especially when garnished with sour cream and cherry preserves.

Anyway, in the name of journalistic science, I got to wondering if the woman on the box is, indeed, Heidi. And if so, did she have a last name? So I called the phone number on the product's Web site, and guess who answered? No, not a TV producer, a cookbook publisher, a magazine editor or a PR maven: It was Heidi Acuff, a former stay-at-home mom on a pancake-making mission.

"Wait a minute," she said, from her Coeur d'Alene pancake kitchen, where she was mixing up a batch of her product. "I have to turn down Dr. Laura." And that — alone — was enough to make me want to run out and buy a case.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com.

More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

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