Along the information superhighway, a few truck stops have opened up--cyber-diners, where culinary travelers can drop in to ask a question, find a new recipe or recommend a restaurant.
The journey starts with the Internet, a global collection of interconnected computers that makes up a virtual community. A community with a healthy appetite. Databases have files with a wide range of recipes, and on-line news groups answer all types of questions.
For instance, "I'm posting to get some opinions on the various uses of different kinds of oils," one man recently asked. "With so many different kinds of oils to choose from, one has to have a sense of why one oil is appropriate over another."
Replies included: "A good cannola and vegetable oil blend, low in saturated fat, should meet nearly all your needs unless company is coming and you want to use a little olive oil. Such a simplistic approach is healthy, thrifty and saves space in the kitchen."
And: "Peanut oil is also often used for stir-frying. Peanut oil's high smoke-point makes it good for this."
When a woman posted a message that she was at her wits end trying to clean her stainless-steel teapot, someone helpfully suggested a small amount of baking soda, a "nylon scrubbie" and elbow grease.
When a man wrote that he wanted to keep fresh pesto over the winter, he asked if it was possible to store basil, soaked in vinegar and topped with oil, in a jar in his refrigerator. Several people answering his post suggested freezing the pesto as "pesto cubes," while others affirmed that it was possible to acidify the basil in vinegar and then set it in oil.
In cyberspace, someone seems to have an answer for almost any question. Some cooks have found this out and now are using their keyboards almost as often as their cutting boards.
One of the best ways to start on the Internet is with an alt. or rec. news group. News groups, or users' groups as they are sometimes called, are areas of the Internet used for posting messages. By first accessing a news service program such as NN--a program usually issued by an Internet access provider--a specific address can be used to get to the message list. Once there, the messages appear, usually with the name of the author and the subject of the message.
What's most interesting about computer messages is that they're not just dry questions and answers. Instead, the postings are lively and active--like sitting around a kitchen table with a group of friends. They can be caring, interesting, funny and intimate. There's always a personal tone to them.
When one man asked where to buy 26 pounds of bacon, a woman responded with a cheery: "Say hey Ray! Well, there's that pig meat palace at the Housewife's Market in Oakland. Twenty-six pounds of bacon. What a lot of grease!!! Sooo-weee!"
When he wrote back, he began with the greeting: "Bless your little cholesterol-impaired heart."
Another woman, after posting a long list of her favorite foods, logged off with: "See you in alt.recovery.dieting ."
There is a news group on the Internet for almost any topic or hobby, but the groups can be very specialized, and that can be a problem to the uninitiated. For instance, rec.food.drink.beer is a group that covers ales and beers. Dropping in on their news group is like landing in a different country.
"GB is actually much more boring, and less imaginative than TH," wrote one poster.
"Boring if you don't like Exports and Dunkels and Doppels!" Came the reply from someone else.
Rec.crafts.brewing is a news group that focuses on home brewing. The group answers questions about yeast, making Trappist Ale or, as someone asked on a recent post: "What exactly happens to make beer acquire this unwelcome character of 'skunkiness?' Is this phenomenon specific to green bottles?"
A chemist wrote back: "The skunking reaction is photochemical, and it's real." He said that he only uses brown bottles and described his own experiment when he left a clear bottle out in direct sun for two weeks. "Whew! The odor was not subtle. It smelled like a dead cat."
Rec.food.veg is a news group for vegetarians, and some are quite passionate about their life style. When one woman discovered she had accidentally bought a sausage-flavored vegetable protein round, she said "fifty hail-lentils as penance."
Other news groups include rec.food.sourdough , a group dedicated to baking the perfect loaf of bread; alt.coffee for coffee lovers; and both alt.bacchus and rec.food.drink for wine drinkers. Most groups have dozens of messages posted.
The rec.food.cooking group is a news group that answers questions about cooking . . . any question about cooking. "Has anyone accidentally (or even purposely) put metal in a microwave? What really happens?" One answer: "If the metal is near the side of the oven, the sparks can jump to the wall of the oven and cause damage."