If my children ever read this, I'll deny it, but the truth is, I recently did something really naughty. I watched daytime TV.
I never watch daytime TV. I know all about Oprah, in theory, but I could count on one hand the number of times I've actually seen her show. I don't watch soap operas, either. I also don't watch The View (though the Rosie/Donald Trump thing made it tempting).
I don't even watch morning news shows while getting dressed.
However, one day about a week ago, while making lunch for myself, I decided to take my sandwich into the den and see if I could find a creative idea for dinner by watching a few minutes of the Food Network. When your regular menu includes several dishes prepared with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, you need inspiration every now and again.
I make a turkey sandwich and grab a diet soda and park myself on the easy chair, grabbing the remote as I nibble a pretzel. I don't know why, but this feels like a guilty pleasure, even though my intentions are entirely honorable. (I think about closing the blinds, but the street is empty, so I don't bother).
The TV is still on ESPN from last night, so I watch a few minutes of basketball highlight clips. The announcers are engaged in some inane banter, which I find oddly embarrassing (do they know they're talking about yesterday's basketball games while all across America, hardworking people are doing real jobs?), so I start surfing for a cooking show.
But what's this? HGTV has do-it-yourself programming on in the afternoon. I never knew. I watch a segment of instructions on handcrafting exotic soaps before I realize I'm off task once again. Besides, who has time to make soap? And who really owns the materials to shrink-wrap the soap they have no time to make? (I stay on the program long enough to watch the host blow-dry the shrink wrapping, wondering if this is how they do it at the Ivory factory.)
This is when I remember I'm not a do-it-yourselfer, so I channel-surf some more, still intending to find a yummy recipe from Paula Deen.
But what's this? The Learning Channel offers a program that draws me, making me forget the vacuum I should be operating rather than watching daytime TV. It's called Ten Years Younger.
The show takes a woman with leathery skin and a lifetime of bad habits (smoking, sun tanning, bar hopping), puts her in the ugliest, most unattractive attire it can find and then stands her in a soundproof Plexiglas booth in the middle of an outdoor mall. There, displayed like a defective mannequin, she looks off into the distance while strangers are surveyed with the question: Guess this woman's age.
The average age they guess is 59. When this is revealed, she's devastated. "The big question," says the host, is ""How old are you?" He turns and looks straight at me through the lens of the camera and says, "Stay tuned, and we'll all find out after a commercial break."
Commercial break? I have laundry to do and work waiting for me in the "in" box of my e-mail — and I still don't know what to make for tonight's dinner.
Don't be silly; of course I stay tuned.
She's 48. Poor gal. I thought she looked like she was pushing retirement — the kind with full benefits.
This is when the show's experts kick into high gear. There's a visit with a dermatologist who uses lasers, peels and a few other painful-looking remedies to change this woman's skin from leathery to lustrous.
Next comes the "glam squad," three artsy-looking young persons who work wonders with hair, makeup and fashion.
Before she knows it, our would-be septuagenarian is restored to midlife vim and vigor. She's got golden highlights, a forgiving foundation to even out her skin tone and a dress that clearly cost enough to make anyone look good.
The last step in the transformation is a return to the Plexiglas booth for a second survey. This time the strangers wandering the street guess she's 44, which means not only are the experts on their game, but the show underpromised and overdelivered. The clock is turned back a full 15 years.
By now I've spent 40 minutes in front of the TV, and I still haven't discovered a way to make chicken that won't elicit groans from my family.
My venture into daytime TV land is proving as unproductive as I assumed it would be. Finally, I click the Food Network and wait out the commercial break. Inspiration awaits in less than 30 seconds.
What's this? A new show — Dinner: Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine puts his culinary skills to the test by preparing a two-course meal in an authentic 18th-century kitchen. His challenge is to make 13 dishes using only the ingredients, tools and equipment from 1776. He can't even use his own professional carbon knife set.
I can't turn the TV off now. The laundry will have to wait.
Unfortunately, I don't get any dinner ideas from chef Irvine as he's preparing mutton stew and some sort of oyster dish. I presume this is Revolutionary comfort food, but I'd have a tough time selling oysters to my crew.
But what's this? He's doing something with mushrooms that looks really familiar. Could it be? Chicken with cream of mushroom gravy?
No wonder I never watch daytime TV. There's nothing on.