First there was the rainbow bagel. Then mermaid toast made a brief splash. Now, as I'm sure you're all aware, Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino is dominating the mouths and Instagram accounts of many a millennial in the US. It's all very pretty, but I need a palate cleanser.
Photo by Claire Lower
As a person who kept her pre-algebra homework in a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper — I think mine had some manic dolphins on it — I will admit I get a cheap thrill from gazing upon these multi-coloured creations, but I don't want to ingest them. (It's the same thrill I got when I picked up a pair of jelly sandals this weekend at Urban Outfitters. I almost bought them, but then I remembered the jelly sandal-inflicted blisters of my youth and reconsidered.)
Yes, we eat with our eyes first, but my eyes are tired of rainbow overload, and not quite sure if they're being poisoned or not. (Actually, I would totally drink a Poison Tree Frog Frappuccino. Someone please get on that.) Maybe it's because my grandmother made a lot of casseroles, but my eyes always seem to land on beige, aggressively unphotogenic food. Those dishes are usually the most delicious.
There's also a level of preciousness with these rainbow-infused delicacies that doesn't sit right with me. Like it or not — and I really like it — food is something you have to deal with on a daily basis, and prioritising form over function can get exhausting. I think that's my main issue with this rainbow/unicorn/mermaid trend. It's not really about the food, but the optics. It's all marketing — very good marketing, but marketing still. If you really want a colourful bagel, try topping it with a couple of heirloom tomato slices, or maybe some watermelon radishes. These things add colour, texture and flavour. I've also heard that berries make beautiful beverages.
Beige food may not get you many likes on social media, but it will fill you up and bring you joy. If, like me, you need a break from highly pigmented cuisine, we have some suggestions, and they're not all smothered in sausage gravy.
- Biscuits and Gravy: Make biscuits however you like making biscuits. I'm not a biscuit prescriptivist, but I like these easy and tasty drop biscuits from Serious Eats. For the sausage gravy, keep it as simple as possible, and let the sausage shine. (We're talking about sausage mince, not the cylindrical meat product.) If you start with good sausage, you'll only need two other ingredients: Flour and milk. Brown 500g of sausage over medium-high heat and, once all the pink is gone, sprinkle on 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour. Give that a stir so all the meat gets coated, then slowly pour in three cups of milk, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and cook a little more until everything is nice and thick, season with salt and pepper if it really needs it, and spoon over hot biscuits. Post a photo and dare people to comment on the aesthetics of it all.
- Pork Chops: This will surprise no one, but my absolute favourite way to cook a thick, bone-in pork chop is sous vide. Just season it with salt and pepper, throw it in a bag, and set it in a 60C bath for an hour. Remove it from the bag, pat it dry, and give a quick sear in some browned butter. Serve with apple sauce for extra beige.
- Roasted Root Vegetables: You can actually get a little colourful here if you want — rainbow carrots kind of look like unicorn horns — but roasting vegetables to their maximum level of browned goodness is going to mute some of that colour. Preheat your oven to 220C. Chop a medley of root vegetables into pieces and toss them with some sort of fat — my favourites are olive oil, duck fat and bacon grease. Sprinkle on a good bit of salt and toss to coat. Spread everything out on a sheet pan and get it in the oven. Let the roots roast until they're soft in the centre and browned and crispy on the edges. (Little burnt bits are desirable.)
- Scrambled Eggs: Custardy scrambled eggs you have to eat out of a bowl are visually unappealing, and there's no way around that, but when served with a good piece of thick toast, there is no breakfast more divine. You can sous vide them for a hands-off approach, but they're just as attainable on the stove top; you just have to go low and slow. Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter over low heat, beat about four eggs with a tablespoon of cream, and pour the beaten mixture in the pan. Stir continuously until the eggs form very small curds. They will be much creamier than your "usual" scrambled eggs. Scoop 'em in a bowl, sprinkle on some good salt, and top with chopped chives if you simply must break up the beige.
- Fried Chicken: Order the dark meat. Get red beans and rice as your side.
Obviously, there are a ton of other tasty beige foods you could consume to cleanse your palate of rainbows, but I don't want to keep you all day. If you find yourself getting over-saturated with colour and need relief stat, just melt some cheese on something. Melted cheese solves a variety of problems.