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KCET, Cooking and Me

Me and my mug.
Hello, I'm Kelsey. I'll be e-hanging out here for a bit, blogging about food, farmer's markets and Los Angeles, so let me tell you about myself and then we'll make a cocktail. Ok? Excellent.

I've lived in Los Angeles for the last ten years, but I grew up in Lompoc, California. Yes, it's "Lom-poke" not "Lom-pock." Yes, you've driven through it. Yes, there is a prison there. (Standard responses to "I'm from Lompoc."). But none of that really matters. What does matter is that Lompoc's inside the KCET coverage area, and that a steady diet of late 1980's / early 1990's cooking shows on KCET instilled a lifelong passion for food experiences in me.

My brother and I were allowed 1 hour of television a day, and once we outgrew Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, we gladly spent that hour parked in front of some combination of Yan Can Cook, Ciao Italia with Mary Anne Esposito, and the Frugal Gourmet. I asked my brother what he remembered about our cooking show diet and he reminded me that Elmo guest starred on Frugal Gourmet. He also remembers me becoming totally convinced that I could make tiramisu after seeing Mary Anne do it on Ciao Italia. Ten years later, I would prove myself right by making giant restaurant pans of tiramisu several times a week.

Literally everyone in my family cooks. Mom, Dad, Brother, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. My grandfather is currently on a quest to make great enchiladas. This is not to say that any of us did or do consider ourselves "foodies." The scene has improved, but there weren't many choices for dining out when I was growing up in Lompoc. Getting take out meant someone had to drive into town, as the only meal we could get delivered was Domino's pizza. If we wanted to eat--and trust me, we did--we needed to cook.

My childhood was nearly pastoral in that way, especially as the Lompoc Valley is a largely agricultural district and we've always had farmer friends (recently expanded to vintner friends, to my great delight). But it wasn't all slow food in the McConnell household, especially since the family business is a fast food franchise. (I worked at several of our restaurants when I was kid and let me tell you, I clean a menu board with the best of them). Actually, I think the food culture I grew up within was more Mid-Western than Californian--lots of group meals with cream of mushroom-based casseroles topped with corn flakes or French fried onions from a can. That still sounds delicious.

Because of the professions, potlucks, and picnics that bound family and friends - and the culinary education I got from KCET - food experiences played a pivotal role in my upbringing and continue to bring surprise and delight into my adult life. So it's especially thrilling for me to be able to share a few o my food experiences with you on KCET.org,especially during the mind-blowing festival of produce that is summertime in Southern California. Maybe there's a young girl out there reading this, itching, as I once was (and still am) to experience places and peoples through food. To her, I say, "Hello!" and: "leave the booze out of the recipe below, you're too young." To all the rest of you, I'll hold up that cocktail glass and say: "Cheers! Let's talk food."

Basil Simple Syrup

"Simple Syrup" is just water and sugar combined and cooked down a bit. Adding an herb to simple syrup creates a versatile secret ingredient that adds a certain something to cocktails, mocktails, ice cream, frosting, lots of stuff. Basil is an especially prolific herb and easy to come by, which makes it an excellent candidate for simple syrup.

Combine 1 c of washed basil leaves, ½ c water and 1 c sugar in a small sauce pan. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Strain into a heat-proof container. Once cooled, it can be stored in the fridge.

I feel like basil competes with the herbal flavor inherent to gin, so I suggest you pair it with vodka instead. Add a splash of basil simple syrup to a vodka tonic and stir well. Or squeeze a bunch of lemons into a pitcher, add water and basil simple syrup to taste and serve over ice in a tall glass.

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