October 1 is world vegetarian day

In celebration, eat a vegetarian! Just don't make it about speed because they're usually pretty nimble. Instead, use your meat-fueled endurance. If you stalk them patiently, they'll eventually tire and you can make your move.

The North American Vegetarian Society has dubbed October 1 World Vegetarian Day to celebrate the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month, a time to be aware of all vegetarians. Especially in traffic. But don't think the day opens some kind of hunting season. As disappointing as that may be to us omnivores, October is a time to ponder our diets, increase vegetable and fruit intake and eliminate meat, even if it's for just day.

Unless I take part in some kind of slaughter (something I must do one day, seriously), and decide on the spot to eliminate meat, I imagine beef, pork and fish will remain part of my diet forever. It's all far too delicious to do without. However, I am making a concerted effort to reduce the amount of meat I eat each week, especially after seeing Mark Bittman's TED talk and gaining a better understanding of the meat industry's environmental impact. So tomorrow, I'm going to see if I can make it one whole day without eating meat. I've got a batch of lentils already cooked up and plenty of fruits and vegetables in the crisper. If I get really hungry, though, vegetarians better watch out.

What can I do?
Take a day. Do without. And check WorldVegetarianDay.org for more ideas. Who knows? You might just surprise yourself and be healthier for it.

thanks to Slashfood.com


Lovely conversation with Alice Waters

From NYT:

Why do you think involving children in growing food and preparing it can make such a big difference for kids?

My solution is not to try to feed children in the same way that fast food nation does — which is to figure out a gimmick to get them to eat something. It’s to bring them into a whole relationship with food that’s connected to nature and our culture.
No other country thinks about food as just fueling up. It’s always connected to the seasons, to nature, to what’s growing, to celebrations with family and friends. It’s a kind of moment in the day when you collect your thoughts and stop to sit down and to eat. Food is considered precious and vital, and farmers are treasured. We’ve allowed ourselves to be completely indoctrinated into another way of thinking about food in this country.

Spicy Cajun sausage with kale and maple bacon polenta

Cajun-style sausage with kale greens and maple bacon polenta

Several days ago I bought some Cajun sausage. I wasn't thinking about it. In fact, I planned to get a pork tenderloin for roasting, but the sausage was there, all fatty and delicious, and I suffered some kind of pork fugue. I snapped back to reality, sausage in my cart, blinking in the produce section's harsh flourescent lights. I brought the sausage home, stashed it in the back of the fridge, and promptly forgot about it. I never did get that pork tenderloin.

After a stressful week, I was desperate to cook this weekend. Just me, The Walkmen, and my stove. As I sorted through the fridge, I found the sausage. When I checked the date, I knew I'd have to use it for something. It wasn't going to last much longer. I checked with the family and learned my wife and daugther don't much care for red beans and rice or gumbo or jambalaya. What else do you make with Cajun sausage?. I was kind of stuck. I portioned up some of the sausage and used it for my own personal red beans and rice (delicious, thanks), and then set about to cook the remaining links. Pretty standard: place the links in a skillet with enough water to cover them half-way, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Drain off the water, toss the links back in the pan, bring the heat up to medium-high and cook an additional 5 minutes, turning often. Once that's done, I wrapped the sausages in foil to keep them warm.

Thinking about flavors is the part of cooking I love most. There I was, cooked sausage links on hand wondering what to do with them. The meat wasn't really andouelle, but it did have some nice spice to it. I looked for balancing flavors, found the bitter kale in the crisper, the salty bacon in the cheese drawer, and the sweet maple syrup in the pantry. Real maple syrup, not that garbage that's made by adding maple flavoring to high fructose corn syrup. Also in the pantry I found polenta, which I quickly dubbed grits and was happy.

Southern-style sausage with kale and maple bacon polenta

Ingredients (for two)

  • 2 strips of high-quality bacon (there's a difference)
  • 2 large handfuls of kale or other greens
  • 2 sausage links (prepared as above)
  • Polenta (approx. 2/3 cups, total) You can use grits--they're nearly the same
  • Polenta is made with yellow corn, grits with white
  • Equal parts milk and water (approx. 2 cups, total)
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

1. Start by rendering the bacon fat. To do so, set the bacon strips in a nice-sized skillet (one with a lid or other cover) and turn the burner on medium. Leave the bacon alone and let it come up to heat with the pan.

2. While the bacon heats, start in on the polenta. Mix the water and milk in a medium sauce pan. Add the butter and a good-sized dash of salt. Turn the burner up to medium-high and wait.

3. Check on that bacon. If it's beginning to sizzle, go ahead and flip it. Let it sit almost two minutes on that side, then flip it back over; let it sizzle away about another minute, then bring it off the heat and allow it to drain on some paper towels.

4. Toss the handfuls of kale into the bacon pan. The greens will sizzle and pop, and that's ok. Go ahead and give them a stir in the bacon fat, lower the heat to medium-low and cover the skillet.

5. Back over at your sauce pan, your milk and water mixture will probably be coming to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and begin whisking in your polenta. It should begin to come together pretty quickly. If it seems too runny after a couple minutes of stirring, whisk in some more polenta. If it seems too thick, add some water, milk or even a little cream. You'll want a texture smooth enough to spread on a plate but thick enough to hold its shape. When you get that consistency, reduce to low heat and cover. You'll let this sit about 8 minutes.

6. Stir your kale. When it's just wilted, remove it from the heat, but don't take it out of the pan. It can sit and steam all on its own.

7. Now, crumble the bacon and stir it into the polenta. Give it a taste, add necessary seasoning, then slowly add the maple syrup. You'll be surprised how flavorful the real stuff is, so add a few drops at a time and taste, taste, taste! When you have a good mix of salty and sweet, you're all set.

To plate, spread the polenta first, add the kale, and then nestle the sausage link right on top. To add a fragrant garnish, place a whispy sprig of rosemary on top of everything.

Each bite of the spicy sausage in this rustic, hearty dish blends with the grassy, slightly bitter kale and the wonderfully silky, salty, sweet polenta to delight all tastebuds.


Friday fundamentals: meat rest

Cooked meat has been through a lot. Exposure to heat excites cells, alters secondary and tertiary peptide bonds (science!) and denatures proteins. Makes them contract. It can be messy business and is why a freshly cooked, cut steak spills so much juice on your cutting board. To make sure that juice ends up where it's supposed to--your stomach--let cooked meat rest.

By cooked I mean seared, grilled or roasted. By meat I mean beef, pork or whole-roasted poultry. By rest I mean leaving it alone. When you pull the meat out from under the broiler, off the grill or out of the pan, just let it sit for a while. A pan seared flat-iron steak does best with about five to ten minutes of resting. A whole roasted turkey will benefit most from a thirty minute break. She needs her space; she's probably been through a lot.

If you're baking a sad, skinless chicken breast then don't even bother with the resting. It's bland food and won't benefit. Just wrap it in a pita and take it to your punishment corner.

What does resting do?
Resting enables the meat's juices to redistribute into the cells. Cooked meat suffers trauma. The heat denatures proteins in the cells and fundamentally changes the secondary and tertiary bonds between protein molecules. The most common, immediate change is tightening. The bonds tighten, the molecules contract, and the juice is squeezed out around the newly formed protein core. Once the protein molecules begin to cool however, they let some of those juices back in. Also, as the temperature throughout the meat begins to reach equilibrium, the juices are redistributed through most cells.

What about fish?
Most fish shouldn't be rested. After meat is cooked, it retains residual heat, which will continue warming the meat's center mass. This warming is, in essence, a continuation of the cooking process, and if you've ever had overcooked fish, you know you don't want to risk it. Pan to plate to stomach. Fast as possible.

Resting meat is one of those small tricks they never used to tell us but one that is absolutely essential to enjoying an excellent meal. Now you know why.


Mark Bittman: what's wrong with the food we eat

A sobering talk from 2007:

It makes me wonder how long a single cow could feed my family and whether or not that option is even open to me. I bet the answers are a long time and no.

Thanks to Cooking up a Story

Food photography lessons from Vegan Yum-Yum

A commenter asked me to a do a food photography tutorial. I'm honored by the request and still plan to put together a short film detailing some of my techniques. Until then, I'd like to direct you to a comprehensive food photography tutorial courtesy of Vegan Yum-Yum. An excerpt:

Plan Ahead

Do as much as you possibly can ahead of time.  Food should be photographed as soon as possible after preparing, which means you’ll need a space for photographing ready to go, an uncluttered kitchen, etc.  Here’s what I do before I start cooking:

  1. Clean up, do all the dishes, clear countertops
  2. Pick out dishes
  3. Set camera up on tripod, pick out background
  4. Clear your photography space
  5. Think about the dish: do you need a garnish? Special utensils? Placemat?

Mise en Place


Prepping all your ingredients neatly will keep your kitchen more organized, cut down on cooking time, and allow you to focus on the task at hand.  And mise en place photographs make for killer filler photos, as well!

There are a few key take-aways from Lolo's post. First, do a little prep work. Being organized and having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish will do much for your photography. Also, use natural light if you can get it.

I have neither time, resources, nor the inclination to purchase a lot of festive dishes. I have white plates and some dark plates and those mostly suit my needs. The one thing I might recommend, if you're really pressed and want to take one step towards a prop closet is a rustic, earthy bowl. I'm thinking of purchasing one--wide and shallow--for soup photos this coming winter.


Let kids farm

Beautiful sentiment from Honest Meat:

I think it is dangerous for kids to live in sterilized worlds thinking that food comes from Safeway. I say, let kids ride pigs, let them jump up and down on hay trailers, let them gingerly collect warm eggs right out from under the hens rump, let them know how our food is produced and where it comes from. Let them know the people who produce the food, let them understand the cycles of life from birth to death of plants and animals. Let them swell with self-confidence as they explain to their friends how to gently collect eggs, how to plant seeds, or why compost simply happens.

I couldn't agree more. When I was young, I spent many summers at my grandparents' farm in Kansas. While much of the culture didn't agree with me, I am only now beginning to realize how valuable it was to see my grandmother's garden, to understand that cattle raised were going to end up as food, to catch catfish, to run through hay fields. To see seasons change and the land crack with drought. All those things combined to form the beginnings of my food understanding, and as I've gotten older, they've stayed with me, informed my recent decisions, and enabled me to be more conscientious of my surroundings and even, I'd argue, a better parent and person.

Genetically modified meat a-ok according to FDA

From Gourmet's Politics of the Plate:

There’s a chance that Aqua Bounty’s genetically modified (GM) fish will arrive at a supermarket near you within the next year—without a label indicating that you are about to serve your family GM seafood.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration took a giant step toward allowing the meat of GM animals into the nation’s food supply when it released a draft of regulations for producers of GM livestock and lab animals. The draft is open for a 60-day comment period.

If you care to tell the FDA what you think, follow this handy link provided by the Center for Food Safety.

This is scary business. I'm not a critic of genetically modified foods, but I'm not their biggest advocate. I understand modifications are necessary and it could be argued that any type of cross-breeding leads to genetic modification. However, cross breeding seems a far cry from gene splicing, and I strongly believe consumers should be empowered to make their own decisions in the market, both economic and grocery.

And if you're not already a regular reader of Gourmet's Food Politics, you totally should be.


Pairing wine with vegetables

Roasted cauliflower soup

In last week's Kitchen Window on NPR, Natalie MacLean provided advice for those who are looking to increase their vegetable intake while still enjoying wine with dinner.

White wines generally pair better with vegetables than reds, as they often have complementary herbal, grassy aromas. My favorite white for veggies is sauvignon blanc, especially from New Zealand. Its aromas of asparagus, canned peas and citrus dance with greens.

Asparagus, interestingly enough, is one of the hardest vegetables to pair, according to MacLean. Along with artichokes.

MacLean provides solid advice on a wide range of dishes, from sauteed greens to spinach lasagna, recommending diverse whites and medium-bodied reds, which would also work for the dishes McLean forgot: broccoli smothered in cheddar cheese and creamy vegetable soups, one of my greatest autumn joys.

special thanks to Slashfood


Documentary film, Food, Inc., examines modern food production

Via Serious Eats:

The buzz at the Toronto Film Festival this month was all about food. The new documentary, "Food Inc.," premiered at the festival to rave reviews. Entertainment Weekly called it "an important movie, one that nourishes your knowledge of how the world works," the Los Angeles Times labeled it "a riveting cautionary tale," and Variety says it's "a civilized horror movie for the socially conscious, the nutritionally curious and the hungry."

From the film's Web site:

Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of e coli--the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation"), Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joe Salatin, FOOD, INC. reveals surprising -- and often shocking truths -- about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

I might first argue the pork chops we have are far from perfect. They tend to be dry as farmers have bred increasingly lean pigs to combat the growing paranoia about animal fat. The upshot? Unsatisfying pork chops often drenched in high-calorie sauces or pan seared in butter (delicious, I agree, but it should be an unnecessary step when cooking pork). Worse is some kind of ultra-light Frankenstein monster of processed vegetable oil emulsified via partial hydrogenation. Sounds good for you, doesn't it?

We face increasing challenges in our food supply. The oceans are ravaged, agribusiness provides vegetable crops tainted with untested poisons, and meat comes from factories. However, we can ease these challenges by making good food more easily accessible.

Here in Gainesville, I'd have to drive to three different places on at least two separate days to collect food for the week. It's a sacrifice, and I feel appropriately guilty confessing this, I'm not yet willing to make. Can't make, in some respects, as the closest farmer's market is on Wednesday evenings when I'm scheduled to teach, and the Alachua County Farmer's market seems to have been supplanted by the new market far west of town. So yes, I could wake early on Saturday mornings and walk the stands at Haile Plantation, browse for zucchini amid stalls of homemade candles and dreamcatchers, but I really don't want to.

I may need to, however. Eating well isn't easy. I know this and understand it. And as evidence mounts towards the detrimental effects of food either processed or farmed on a large scale, the choice of going to the local supermarket might be one I can no longer conscionably give myself.


Honey lime fish fillets with peppers and plantains

Ginger Lime Fillets with peppers and plantains
This post originally appeared in the September issue of Satellite Magazine

Summer ends this month. It's official. We're back in Florida, exotic locations forgotten, summer travels fading like so many old photographs. But being back in Florida doesn't mean an end to wonderful food. Florida has rich, diverse culinary traditions that range from Old South and West African traditions that migrated down the coast from Charleston as well as incredible Hispanic and island influences that migrated north from the Caribbean and west from Spain. And many farmers throughout the state grow an abundance of diverse ingredients, all Floridian.

When people think of Florida, it makes sense to think of seafood. After all, we're nearly surrounded by water. So this month I bring you a fairly straight-forward seafood dish made with whiting, a native fish you can catch yourself (if you're so inclined), bell peppers you could grow yourself, and plantains, which I assume you could harvest yourself.

Note: If you don't catch your fish yourself and buy fresh, whole fish, make sure the fish has clear eyes and firm skin. If the eyes are cloudy or the skin seems oily or fragile, forget about it. The fish should also smell fresh and clean like the sea, not overly fishy or tainted in any way.

One of the great things about whiting is that it's a fish that normally has very low mercury levels. As healthy as eating fish is supposed to be, many species contain high levels of mercury. Whiting, however, being low on the food chain, doesn't concentrate mercury like many other fish do, such as orange roughy or tuna. That being said, if you wanted to use a firmer fish for this recipe, you could go with amberjack or grouper.

Honey-lime fillets with peppers and plantains (serves 4)


  • Four whiting filets
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper (feel free to use green peppers, there's no difference in taste, just appearance)
  • 2 ripe plantains
  • Long grain rice (enough for 4 portions)

For the glaze

  • 8 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • Two cloves minced garlic (more or less, to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • A couple dashes of salt (to taste)
  • Feel free to add some red pepper flakes for a little heat or some finely chopped cilantro for a little freshness

Begin by mixing the ingredients for the glaze together in a small bowl. To help deal with the honey, you might want to heat it a little bit first. This will make it easier to poor and mix. Once you have mixed the glaze, it's probably a good idea to start the rice (just follow the directions on the bag). This is a dish that comes together very fast, and the fish doesn't hold up very well to sitting around. Once the rice is cooking, it's time to start on the plantains.

Heat about a eighth-inch to a half-inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, peel the plantains and cut them into pieces about an inch thick. When the oil's heated, place the plantain pieces in the skillet on-end. Let them fry for about a minute to a minute and a half, turn them over and repeat. When they're done on the second side, move them to a plate covered with paper towels. After they're cooled, mash them into discs between your palms and fry them again, about 45 seconds on each side. When they're good and golden brown, move them off to a cooling rack and sprinkle with a dash of kosher salt. Dump the oil from the pan and set the pan back on the stove. You should still have a thin coat of oil in the bottom.

Now it's time to move on to the fish and peppers.

Start by cutting the fillets in half on an angle for presentation, and slather one side with the glaze. Let these sit while you slice the peppers in thin strips. Place the sliced peppers in the pan and sautee for about two minutes, then empty them into a bowl. Once the pan comes back up to temperature, it's time to sear the fish fillets. Have your glaze ready, because there's not a lot of time to futz around here. Sear the fish fillets glaze-side down for about 90 seconds. While they're searing, spread glaze over the other side and then flip. Sear another 90 seconds. Use a spatula to bring the fillets out of the pan (using tongs could tear the fish), add a 1/4 cup of water and the remaining glaze to the pan, heat through, and reserve for a sauce. To plate, use the rice as a base, add peppers, and place the fish fillets on top. Place the plaintains on the side, and drizzle everything with a little of the sauce from the pan. Dinner is served!

I would encourage everyone to seek out fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. Buying and cooking local (even if it's as far away as the coast) connects us with the land and our community. It also just might open your eyes to the rich, wonderful diversity Florida has to offer in terms of culture and cuisine.


Truly perfect oatmeal

Truly perfect oatmeal

Starbucks recently updated their breakfast menu. According to news sources, the new menu features items with fewer calories and more protein than their previous breakfast items, coffee cake and Rice Krispies' treats. The new menu contains the Chewy Fruit & Nut Bar, a Multigrain Roll, an Apple Bran Muffin and Perfect Oatmeal. The oatmeal is "finished with your choice of dried fruit, nut medley or brown sugar." And it costs $2.45.

Why anyone would need Starbucks to furnish his oatmeal is beyond me, especially when oatmeal that's equally perfect can be had for pennies. And before you go off saying you can't read directions on the box or that your oatmeal always ends up too runny or cements itself into a gelatinous clump, I'll let you in on a little secret: you can achieve perfect oatmeal by sticking to a 1:2 ratio, oatmeal to water.

Ingredients for one giant serving:

  • 3/4 cups oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dates
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • sweetener to taste
    • (I'm fond of maple syrup, about a tablespoon, but I could also go for a tablespoon of honey or 2 level teaspoons of light brown sugar.)
  • A couple pinches of salt.
    • (You don't want enough to make the oatmeal salty, just enough to liven the flavors of all the ingredients and get them playing together)
  • 1.5 cups hot water, if you're measuring at home

Here's my routine:
I begin by browning the walnuts with butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toss the butter in, wait for it melt, then toss in the walnuts and let them sit a moment.

Note: The heat excites the oils and the caramelization gives the walnuts a deeper, rich, slightly smoky flavor. The walnuts cant be browned in larger batches and then stored in the fridge.

While the walnuts brown, I chop the dates.

When I have all my ingredients ready, I put the oatmeal, dates, raisins, walnuts, salt and syrup in a travel bowl and head off to work (with my own coffee). Once at work, I use the hot water on the coffee machine to top off my oatmeal. I don't measure, I just eyeball it. If my oatmeal's a little clumpy, I'll add some more water. By the time I'm at my desk and the computer's finished booting up, I have a hot, delicious bowl of oatmeal that's truly perfect, and I didn't have to choose between fruit, nuts or brown sugar.

It's oatmeal, people. Making it at home provides with you more choices and better ingredients, and you can make it in about the same amount of time you'd spend in line at Starbucks hammering away on your blackberry. You don't need some earth-toned, modern-day yuppie bar to give you good food. And you certainly don't need them charging you $2.45 for it. Put down the Blackberry, shut the laptop and grab a knife. You've got dried fruit to dice.

thanks to Serious Eats and Slashfood


Be mindful and plan your menu

give thanks?

A brief, lovely post at The Kitchn offers the following:

Speaking on a panel about the philosophy of Slow Food, [Carlo] Petrini, the movement's founder, exhorted us to "try every day to consume a little bit less." Hand in hand with over-consumption is waste, and we can start to tackle the problem by examining the contents of our own refrigerators. Dig out the "Jurassic Park rabbit" and stash of old parsley (if there's a rotten leaf, just cut that part off), he urged. Cook it, eat it, and share the leftovers with the homeless. Regardless of one's opinion on Petrini and the Slow Food movement, I think waste is something that many of us can pay closer attention to.

Every weekend, I clean out the refrigerator. And every few months I take a look in the pantry to see what's spoiling back there. I'm guilty of over-buying groceries and am guilty of tossing things that look slightly off, or worse, are perfectly good but have passed some kind of internal expiration date in my head.

I'm vowing now to stop. Or try to be better about it.

Teaching myself to cook has involved reading a lot, and a lot of that reading has focused on professional chefs. A well-run restaurant wastes little. A whole chicken might be used for some kind of leg-and-thigh dish (bistro style), a fettuccine alfredo with blackened chicken breast, the wings appetizer, chicken tacos for family meal, and the carcass used for stock (Lifehacker.com provided an excellent link to The Simple Dollar's article detailing just such a process--I'd go with my wife's favorite chicken recipe, however, which involves lemons and garlic in the cavity and an oven roasting to get the skin nice and crispy).

The problem usually isn't with proteins, though. We (my family) use those up (broiled flank steak day one, steak sandwiches with grilled onions on day two). The major problem is vegetables. Our local supermarket chain tends to wrap vegetables in plastic and styrofoam and packages them in portions for...six? Eight? They urge customers to ask for smaller portions, but let's be serious for a second: Who's going to track down the produce guy to ask him for half the packaged asparagus? And he'll just use more packing material re-wrapping the unsold portion.

So I suppose the solution must be two-fold.

First, let's ask for unwrapped vegetables. Supermarkets often claim the wrapped vegetables stay fresher longer as they're not exposed to the open air. This may be the case, but after seeing some of the carrots I've unwrapped, I know they also wrap vegetables to disguise their age. So no more plastic where it's not necessary. If if the only parsnips available are in the little plastic bag? I guess I'm going without.

Second, let's be more mindful in our cooking. The ingredients unused today may (and should) be used tomorrow. This moment, for example, we have green beans, asparagus (yes, the whole package), and zucchini jammed in the crisper. The green beans are being used tonight as a side item for the roasted chicken. The asparagus? The zucchini? I'm not sure. But if I take a moment to plan, to think about the week unfolding before me, I can see the asparagus tossed with pasta on Thursday, the zucchini sauteed and served with steak on Friday, and the remainders of each coupled with ham and eggs in a big, brilliant frittata Saturday morning.

So yes, buy less. Consume less. But also be mindful. Use a menu plan. Part of cooking is figuring out what to do with all the things you think don't belong or what you think you can't use. I might even argue that singular trait is the mark of the best cooks--the most conscientious, the most deserving of our praise.


The cupcake's reign must come to an end

trader joe's cupcake: vanilla
photo credit: jek in the box

While boozing recently in celebration of a friend's birthday party, the birthday girl reveled there would be cupcakes later.  As I'm sometimes wont to do, I tiraded on the cupcake's criminality for about five, maybe ten minutes before a well-tuned waiter asked whether or not I needed another heffeweissen.  "Yes, please," the party said in unison.  

I can get pretty riled up.

However, in this case I think it's with good reason.  The cupcake assumes much of what's wrong with urban America.  At its heart it's a selfish food, a sad food.  The cupcake is lonely.

When we're kids, the cupcake is wonderful.  For Timmy's second-grade birthday party, cupcakes are the perfect solution.  Each child has something uniquely his own.  Little Suzy can grab one, rush off to some dirty corner and return, eyes glazed and wild, lips stained blue-violet from the plume of sugar icing.  And the teacher doesn't have to spend 20 minutes fighting the tide of seven-year-olds as they ebb and flow impatiently, waiting for him to parse pieces of a larger cake.  But at some point we must grow up and engage the world around us.

The cupcake is a lonely food, its single-serving size just the thing for someone on her way home from work. His way home from the gym.  It's designed to reward, to comfort the singular human.  But doesn't it then serve as a reminder of loneliness to the person it's comforting?  The individually sized dome of icing and cake, whether it is simple chocolate or some strawberry-banana-walnut-kiwi monstrosity, stands by itself, separated from the rest of its batter, sheltered in that little paper container.  Each cupcake consumed on a park bench serves as a hat-tip to the isolation we experience even when surrounded by eight million people.

The cupcake is also a selfish food.  It eliminates the need for compromise and communication.  You get your chocolate, I get my vanilla, and the woman behind us gets her cherry-mango-coconut swirl-top kittycake with an extra helping of "You go, girl!" Each of us is happy, but for what reason?  Because we get what we want?  Getting what you want isn't always the best thing, and it doesn't serve as a way to think about the world around you.  First it's the cupcake, then it's the Escalade.  At some point we have to ask whether or not orange-raspberry-mocha right now is the best thing we can do for ourselves and each other.

I'm not saying cupcakes should be eliminated.  I'm not saying they're inherently bad (though I'm kind of saying they're inherently bad).  I am saying they tell us a lot about ourselves, as all food does--imagine a bakery creating amazing cakes portioned for three people--and that we should pay attention to that kind of thing.  And next time you're with a group of friends, see if you can make a cake.  Together.  And if you're alone and headed home from work, make a friend.  Then split something.  Breaking bread is wonderful, even when that bread is sweet and topped with icing.


Corn Refiners Association tells us "Hey, it's ok in moderation."

The Corn Refiners Association, "the national trade association representing the corn refining (wet milling) industry of the United States," has come out with a series of ads and a website aimed at reducing American's growing mistrust towards high fructose corn syrup:

The commercials maintain a couple things. First, that Americans don't really know the effects high fructose corn syrup (HFC) can have on a body, and second, that HFC is the same as sugar or other sweeteners when consumed in moderation. On their site they link to various articles and scientific studies through 2007 to help back their claims.

However, more recent data suggest that HFC does contribute to specific obesity types that put more strain on the body, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the real HFC problem facing Americans is that it's in everything. Perhaps not the ribs you're eating this Sunday, but the bar-be-cue sauce you're going to slather on them. Perhaps not in the ice cubes you're going to use to keep yourself cool, but certainly the soda you're going to pour over them. Not the sensible salad you're going to have on Monday to assuage the guilt from weekend binge eating, but certainly in the raspberry vinaigrette that's just so good.

I would urge everyone to perform a simple refrigerator survey and see how many items contain high fructose corn syrup. From the bagel you ate this morning to the bread you eat at lunch to the pizza rolls you'll scarf at dinner, high fructose corn syrup is in all kinds of different things.

Is the Corn Refiners Association misleading us? I doubt it. HFC, like most foods, is probably just fine in moderation. It's being able to make the choice to consume it moderation that has become so difficult.


Wednesday news bites for September 3, 2008

There's nothing quite like school lunch....
Photo credit: Bookgrl

Farm to school programs improving quality of school lunch program
Nutritiondata.com reports on a University of Minnesota effort to bring better foods to the nation's children by "introducing fresh local produce into school cafeterias..." It's a banner idea and one I think should be implemented everywhere. If Alice Waters can make it happen in Berkeley, then why not where you live?

Slaughterhouse Series: Part One
Rebecca Thistlewaite, "a farmer, non-profit consultant, and mother of one entertaining three-year-old," begins to examine some of the problems inherent in the United States' current meat production and packing system. It's pretty grim and needs saving.

America's Most Endangered Foods
Forbes.com details Gary Paul Nabhan's efforts to save America's endangered food species. This is a great project and a wonderful movement. Food is history. It tells us where we come from. Food is also inherently practical. By using forgotten recipes we'll begin to learn forgotten techniques. Techniques previous generations had to use to get the most from their food. We're a nation of wastrels. By appealing to our sense of history, perhaps Mr. Nabhan can move us to greater efforts of care and conservation.

How to Cook and Use Every Part of Whole Chicken
Speaking of conservation....
From Lifehacker.com

Is Locavorism Practical Where You Live? Freaknomics States the Obvious
A "no duh" moment from the fine folks at Seriouseats.com (thanks for the stickers!). If eating local isn't practical where you live, don't expect yourself to be able to do it all the time. The secret? Do it when you can. Make solid choices. Be mindful. It really is that easy.


A new take on egg salad makes for a delicious, nutritious breakfast

Simply delicious- a new take on egg salad

I love traditional breakfast foods. They're fantastic--fatty, sweet and so, so bad for you. One of life's fantastic thrills is breakfast for dinner. Who doesn't love it? Waffles with the nightly news. Eggs and bacon on an evening patio.

But breakfast at breakfast time? Forget it. If it's a weekday, I have to go to work. And on the weekends I have other things to do. I like to get a good start on the day, get things done, and then luxuriate later, knowing I have nothing pressing in my mind's forgotten corners. Thus, a simple egg salad has become my weekend breakfast of choice. Easy, simple, and utterly delicious:

  • Heat 1/2 tablespoon of high-quality olive oil to medium, medium high in a skillet with sloping sides
  • While the pan is heating, set an egg on the counter where it won't roll away. Like other proteins, it helps if the egg is allowed to warm some after coming out of the fridge before going into the pan.
  • Also, get a bowl, some greens, and something to cut the oil. I use capers and a bit of their brine, which I love, but you could use anything that will provide a little bite. Seriously, though, a teaspoon of capers with brine works so, so well, I would question whether or not to use anything else.
  • Put the greens in the bowl, then fry the egg, about two minutes on each side.
    • Note: the time you fry the egg will depend on preference. I like my yolk gelled, not firm, but not too runny. It allows some yolk to mix with the olive and brine and act as emulsifier, bringing the dressing together.
  • When the egg is done, just slide it from the pan on top of the greens, letting the olive oil drain into the bowl also. Top with capers and brine and a little chopped parsley.
  • Dig. In.

I really like this for breakfast because I can make it while the coffee brews, and the flavor combination of rich egg and olive oil combined with the fresh and bitter taste of the greens and the wonderful saltiness and brightness of the capers is amazing. Try it yourself next Saturday.