View From Lodi, CA: No More Rachael Ray!
November 17, 2006, 04:00 AM
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I refuse to let Rachael Ray ruin my Thanksgiving.

No matter how many books and magazines Ray has published, how often she appears on the Food Network or on her Oprah Winfrey-produced "The Rachael Ray Show", how many kitchen gadgets she touts or how many boxes of crackers carry her image, on this Thanksgiving I will leave Ray out of my kitchen.

But eluding Rachael Ray, for anyone interested in food, is no small task

Ray has nearly 4.5 million books in print, a $6 million book contract with the Random House imprint Clarkson Potter, and has four shows in the regular Food Network rotation.

In addition to "30 Minute Meals," she cooks with celebrities on "Inside Dish" and offers inexpensive food travel tips on "$40 a Day" with a companion show, "Tasty Travels," that aired last August. In the network's 12-year history, only "Iron Chef America" debuted with higher ratings.

Last fall, Ray's food and lifestyle magazine, Every Day With Rachael Ray, went on sale with more than more than 800,000 copies pre-ordered for stores and newsstands.

In November 2005, Ray introduced her 11th book,  365: No Repeats, which takes the 30-minute concept and offers a different dish for each day of the year.

When Ray first appeared on Food Network, destined to replace the popular but less effusive Sarah Moulton, I confess that fundamentally, I liked Ray. She's cute, high-energy and Italian.

But Ray is now ultra over-exposed. And, more importantly, if I spend a half-hour watching a food show, I fully expect to learn a skill or insight I can use in my kitchen…minor though it may be.

Good luck. Case in point: last night while "researching" my column, I turned on Food Network randomly and sure enough, found Ray putting together a dessert designed for the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Ray's concoction: a couple of stale brownies piled on top with commercially prepared ice cream. Then Ray added a homemade chocolate sauce made with crushed espresso beans (which she left in the sauce!) For the final curious touch, Ray added honey-coated Spanish peanuts.

Even for me who never passes up dessert, Ray's is too ghastly to consider.

I miss the old Food Network that featured chefs instead of food "personalities."

One of my favorites from the early Food Network days was David Rosengarten who taught viewers the simple secrets to preparing classic coleslaw and to putting together a terrific bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

By contrast, Ray offers eleven coleslaw recipes—none of them any good.

But Rosengarten—as well as Moulton—is long gone. And going is another favorite Mario Batali.

I'm sorry that Food Network has so radically shifted gears since, as it happened, it played an important part in my life.

In 1993, when the network began, my mother's health took a turn for the worse. Soon, she was bed-ridden.

We idled many hours away watching the Food Network. Eventually, I took up chef Emeril Lagasse on his challenge that if he could do it, I could do it too.

And whenever Mom, who existed on frozen dinners, showed an interest in a dish, I'd go into the kitchen to whip it up.

Before very long, my attention turned to baking…cakes, cream pies, and brownies.

I took my new hobby seriously. I used only the best ingredients and professional equipment.

The enjoyment my mother got from the baked goods I made for her during visits and sent to her from Lodi elevated my spirits about her failing health.

Mom's gone now. But my devotion to baking is unabated. I've had great fun with it, winning prizes at the California State Fair and the San Joaquin County Fair.

And I've made a lot of new friends.

Sad to say, I don't think Ray inspires many novices. Her specialty is opening plastic bags of pre-washed vegetables.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.