Archive for category Food
When I get home from work my usual pick-me-up is to pour two fingers of blended scotch whiskey into a tall glass, add lots of ice and top it off with seltzer. Maybe a lemon wedge. I like this with bourbon as well, with some bitters (to cut the sweetness of the bourbon). But I wouldn’t do this with a good single malt like Glenfiddich or Balvenie (even if I could afford to). God forbid anyone should add ginger-ale or 7-Up! Save that for Seagrams 7.
On a hot day I might switch to a gin and tonic. Now, gins are infused with a number of fragrant botanicals, like anise and coriander but with juniper usually predominant. In order to pick up market share lost in the vodka craze that started twenty years ago, the gin distillers have marketed drier brands. Maybe this makes for a better martini, but these drier gins can be smothered by the quinine and lime of a gin ‘n’ tonic. Again, here cheaper is better, with “lowly” Gordon’s gin considered by many as the perfect gin to marry with tonic.
Back in my restaurant days I used to get a perverse kick out of the bar customer who would order an extra spicy Bloody Mary and then call for a pricy boutique vodka like Chopin or Belvedere. I defy anyone to discern a vodka brand when it’s blended with tomato, horseradish, Worcestershire and Tabasco. You can sort of sense the vodka in there somewhere, but you really can’t taste it. But I’ll take the extra cash from the up-charge, thank you very much.
(Side note: I remember around 15 years ago when inexpensive Barton’s gin, our rail brand, came in seventh place in an international blind tasting of vodkas, well ahead of most of the new, expensive boutique brands. To this day I keep a bottle in my freezer and have never disappointed a martini drinker who hoped to find a more ‘sophisticated’ vodka in the house.)
While sipping on a good old Gordon’s gin’n'tonic I might do some back yard grilling: I love to barbecue. Few things taste better than slow roasted spice rubbed pork or beef, the fattier the better, crispy charred and dragged through a spicy tart tomato or mustard sauce. Ribs, chops, shoulder butts, briskets – just about any cut of meat can be barbecued. But you might not want to do this with a good filet or rib-eye. They are wonderful all by themselves.
So, what’s my point here? Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Sometimes the less expensive is the best choice, especially when it comes to satisfying a strong thirst or hunger. Or when applied as an essential ingredient for a recipe. But at other, more special occasions, the rare and dear will, and should, stand alone. When it comes to quality, simpler is usually better. The reason why we have barbecue (and classical French cooking) is a way to make less desirable (and perhaps not as ‘fresh’) cuts of meat tasty.
Most of us seem to understand this when it comes to cooking or bar tending. The same concept is often applied to the finest of the arts. It doesn’t mean that the subject in question is shallow or lacking in complexity; there is just no need to add-on to the original. We wouldn’t lay a drum machine beat onto Beethoven’s 5th, for example. (Well, most people wouldn’t.) Or paint eye brows on the Mona Lisa.
So what’s with the layers and layers of doctrines and dogma that Christians have encumbered the faith with? How did anyone ever function (much less get saved and make it to Heaven) before they knew all these rules? Why did we feel like we had to ‘improve’ upon the original? It’s almost as if most of theology’s intent is like misplaced barbecue cookery or heavy-handed bar tending. Take the acquired taste of the absolute truth and hide it with the sweeter or spicier ingredients that appeal to the common palate. Or dilute it for easier drinking. But sometimes, like adding grapefruit juice to your grappa or ketchup to your prime rib, the result is…just nasty.
You don’t put Coke in your Glenfiddich and you don’t add Sprite to your Maker’s Mark. So why not try drinking the Gospel straight up for a change.
Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?”- John Adams
What an awful party. At least from my perspective, in the tiny kitchen. I was covered in white crusts of hardened tempura batter. My arms were burned from where faux sausage, popping and melting, splattered unduly in the hot pan. Scorched fingertips desperately tried to turn the dry and crumbly little chickpea burgers that covered the flattop grill which, for some reason, wouldn’t survive the flip of my spatula.
Here is some food for thought: “To each his (or her) own. Live and let live. One’s pain is another’s pleasure. Let them eat cake. Man (etc) cannot live by bread alone.” But where’s the beef?
I am a rabid omnivore. Meat AND potatoes, along with fish, poultry, milk, butter and cheese accompanied by the occasional vegetable, fruit or nut. Oh, and plenty of wine. Maybe some beer and a whiskey or two. Once in awhile.
Most of us are omnivores – I don’t know anyone who is really a carnivore, no matter how much they boast. Maybe you won’t find any veggies in an Inuit’s igloo, but that’s not really by their choice.
But I do know a few vegetarians. I think. Vegetarianism can be confusing to the outsider. Heck, even vegetarians get confused -I know lots of ‘vegetarians’ who eat fish. Some even eat poultry. They seem to think that anything except beef and pork is in some way a ‘vegetable’. (Because veggies are ‘healthy’ and so is chicken and fish, while red meat will kill ya, donchano?)
Of course there are stricter vegetarians out there who claim to eat no meat products at all, though you’ll find that they still eat cheese, drink milk and even fry the occasional egg (white). So, they won’t eat animals but they will eat things animals excrete. Eww! I think that these mixed up folk are the ones most of us think of when we think of vegetarians. Even though they are not.
Because the only authentic vegetarian is the vegan. Absolutely nothing animal or made from an animal will pass through their lips (although honey is a kind of a grey area). No milk, eggs or butter. Personally, I think this is just great. Bully for them. The more vegans out there, the more good stuff left for the rest of us to gorge ourselves on. Live and let live, I say.
That was until last week, when I had the pleasure of catering a wedding in which the bride and groom were vegans while none of the guests were. Which resulted in a host of twisted food offerings that were intended to satisfy all palates as well as the sensibilities of the newlyweds.
Concessions were made and compromises agreed upon. Some of the fare was even not too bad. Not great but not awful. Melted brie with almonds in little butter-free pastry shells (why cheese yet no butter?). Butter-free-duxelle-stuffed filo purses. Grilled mini-chickpea burgers on cucumber slices and topped with dilled yogurt (more dairy). And of course fresh fruit, marinated olives and hummus are good any time.
But some of the food was not….food. “Crab cakes” made from blended zucchini and mushrooms, held together with tahini and doused with turmeric and then deep fried. Grilled ‘chicken” tofu strips and very spicy (at least that helped) “andouilles sausage” made from….I’m not quite sure but it was very rubbery. (This type of faux meat product kind of reminds me of cross dressers; they might fool some people and even themselves, but it’s just so…dishonest.)
The worst part was trying to deep fry vegetables in “tempura” using a batter made from rice-flour ,soda water and NO eggs. The only thing the batter stuck to was the fry basket and me.
So….I guess that I am no great fan of ‘vegan’ cuisine. Not that vegans themselves aren’t fine people – the newlyweds were, as far as I could tell, lovely and entertaining folk. And to be honest, everyone seemed to have a very good time (it helped that the M.O.B. insisted on some fresh shellfish to accompany the mock Paella). But….to each his own. Let’s not waste too much time, effort or food trying to appease both culinary camps. The combined result is much less desirable than each of our own distinctly, separate feasts might be.
Halleluiah ! My taste came back last week. In full force. So, I am cooking again.
Last night, Ian, who is on leave from the Marine Corps, had a hankering for Fettuccine Alfredo. Shocked, I said to him; “What?! Are you nuts?! Don’t you realize how bad that dish is for you?”
NOT! Thank God I have come back to my culinary senses, after spending 15 years in the purgatory of “healthy eating”. Which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what it portends to be. Crazy isn’t it? Not only do many of the popular “healthy” foodstuffs taste like crap, they’re killing us to boot.
So we went to the grocer and picked up what we needed for dinner, came home, threw it all together in less than 30 minutes and it was fabulous. In a nutshell, here’s what Ian, Bev and I ate:
2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips and dusted with cracked pepper, sea salt, cayenne, onion powder and garlic then thrown on the grill until the edges began to blacken and turn crispy.
We then placed the grilled chicken over the dressed pasta (no more whole grain, omega-3 and protein enhanced pastas for us-let’s be honest; they taste awful!) The fettuccine was tossed in a sauce made up of one stick of butter, a half pint of heavy cream, a quarter pound of Parmesan, three cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of sea salt and one tablespoon of Liquid Crystal hot sauce. Oh, and I greased the pan with lard first. Not traditional, but not too shabby. We washed it all down with a (real) cheap Pinot Gris. (And even had leftovers for the next day’s lunch).
I really can’t tell you how great it is to be enjoying good, simple food again, after years and years of egg whites, margarine, low-fat sour cream, skim milk and salt-substitutes. Not to mention the past two months with my taste buds all wacked out.
Please guys, life is too short. If all you let yourselves eat is the fodder that the nutritionists, your doctor, the food conglomerates and those idiots at the Center for Science in the Public Interest tell you to eat then you won’t get anywhere near the joys out of life that you could have and should have. Not only is it no fun eating these “healthy” foods prepared in “healthy” ways, but your lives will probably end up even shorter. Tell me if that doesn’t suck.
Take it from me, a guy who will never take flavor for granted again. Go watch “Julie and Julia” (or better yet, read the book). Indulge yourself and throw all that dietary guilt down the garbage disposal. When it comes to food, the only people in white coats whose advice you should be listening to are butchers, bakers and chefs.
Is there a doctor in the house?! Or maybe someone else expert in physiology? Or maybe someone who has experienced something similar to what I am going through right now?
Because a funny thing happened to me two weeks ago; I lost my taste. Now before you start in with the jokes about my obviously pre-existing lack of taste, let me jump in and tell you that I seem to have primarily lost my ability to taste natural sugar. Which really sucks because it changes the flavor profile of just about everything with the exception of things like brussel sprouts, dandelion and chicory. (By the way, did you know that cats, from little kitties to big lions, can’t taste sweet either? Perhaps I should give Fancy Feast a try. Or a Thompson gazelle? )
And before anyone else suggests that I should have my nose checked out, I can smell just fine, thank you. (Please, no jokes!) In fact, foods that are mostly tasted through the nose (like very dry Italian wines, coffee, kimche and boiled eggs) are even tolerable (if not quite palatable) to me. Umami is good, when it’s not linked to sweetness (such as with pine nuts, blue cheese and Parmesan) but we are not presented with many choices there.
Almost all beer is impossible (lots of maltose) although a recent triple hop IPA was marginally drinkable, but still not much more flavorful than your standard Budweiser. Even my beloved bone-in rib-eye (cowboy) steak tastes like cardboard soaked in Crisco. Celery still tastes like…celery. I feel like crying.
I have not been hit on the head, struck ill, had recent surgery or received radiation or chemo-therapy. I am not vitamin B-12 or zinc deficient. I have not burned or cut my tongue. I DID smoke the occasional cigar but have not done so since this has happened. OK maybe a little more than occasionally, but not more than a couple of times a week and I have friends that have been two-packers-a-day for thirty years and they don’t have this problem.
What’s weird is that I CAN taste some artificial sweeteners like saccharine and Xylitol. But not Splenda, Equal or Nutrasweet. Haven’t checked Stevia out yet.
It has been an enlightening (if rather unappetizing ) experience. After having spent my entire life preparing and serving food I now understand the physiology of taste in a way that absolutely no cook (or text) book ever could convey it. I don’t believe this will effect my career adversely – I remember recipes and can still read them, I just need a taster by my side (anyone seen “Tortilla Soup”?) It may even be possible for me to explore new avenues in cooking. Right now some of our cutting edge chefs are introducing bitter tasting foods on their menus, something that other culinary cultures are much more familiar with. Perhaps for me, bitter is better.
There is a silver lining to this gustatory cloud; my appetite is so diminished that I’ve lost about ten pounds. This is the world’s most effective weight loss program. I’m pretty much convinced that the biggest enticement to overeating is that food just tastes so damn good. (There is even an Indian herb and a pill made from it that claims to deaden your sense of taste and has allegedly helped people lose weight.) It’s convenient for me, I guess,that the foods that taste the worst right now are those containing the most sugars and simple carbs, the biggest contributors to weight gain (through insulin resistance). So maybe I really don’t want this problem fixed….Nah! Good food is one of God’s greatest gifts, much more so than sex, fame, money or skinny-ness – believe me!
So, what the hell happened? I know some of you folks have some understanding of the science behind food and eating. If anyone has any ideas or any suggestions….HELP!
In the Robert Wise’s classic sci-fi movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, an alien visits Washington DC with an important message for the world: repent of your evil ways or face annihilation from above.
Which sort of reminded me of the story of Jonah and his warning to Ninevah. In the movie we never are told what the outcome was; did Earth learn it’s lesson or was it destroyed? But the Bible tells us that Ninevah did get its act together so God decided to spare it.
Now, Jonah couldn’t have been more disappointed. Cheated out of the excitement of another Sodom and Gomorrah fireworks display, he began to sulk. Annoyed with his behavior, God points out that Ninevah was definitely worth saving.
And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?
Although these 120,000 Ninevites had sloppy handwriting and a poor sense of direction they had something that really made them special in God’s eyes: much cattle.
Once again, God shows that steak plays a major part in his divine plan.
In an earlier post, Is Your Doctor Killing You? , I mentioned Gary Taubes’ excellent book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”. I just finished it and it is one of the most important books I have ever read. It’s a fairly deep and dense book, filled with large amounts of scientific and epidemiological information. Rigorously researched, full of citations and foot notes, it’s still a good read. Taubes is a skilled writer and knows how to keep things moving. In his epilogue, he lists the ten most important conclusions that his research has revealed, conclusions that he never expected to find. In the spirit of “if only I had known then what I know now”, I ‘d like to share this with you:
1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization.
2.The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis – the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight and well being.
3. Sugars – sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically – are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.
4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes, They are most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization.
5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior.
6. Consuming excess calories does not CAUSE us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger.
7. Fattening and obesity are caused by an imbalance-a disequilibrium-in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceeds the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of fat tissues reverses this balance.
8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated- either chronically or after a meal- we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it as fuel.
9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.
10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.
(page 454 “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes)
The most convincing evidence for these conclusions is the fact that so many of us are fat, hungry, and even sick, no matter how hard we try to follow our doctor’s advice concerning diet and exercise. Or if we are at times successful, why does it never seem to last? Is this an issue of physiology or psychology? Are we really all that lazy and gluttonous, as the nutritionists and doctor’s would have us believe? Really?
As for me, I worked my ass off (and on) for over 15 years trying to stay healthy by following the conventional medical establishment’s advice. Now that I’ve decided to ignore the ‘experts’ and return to a diet more like our hunter-gatherer bodies are designed for, I’m finally seeing significant success. And guess what? It’s EASY!
To those skeptics out there (and skepticism is good, or else I would still be convinced of the benefit of following the USDA dietary paradigms) I give you one word of advice: QUESTION YOUR DOCTOR! And then ask him to read this book
Think about it.
This is happening near my home town:
Restaurant had previously been targeted for serving foie gras
Steve Wecker, co-owner of the Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia, said Monday that no references were made this time to foie gras. But Wecker suspects that the vandals who broke a window and damaged one of the front doors of the Route 108 property were trying to convey the same message as those who spray-painted “Get rid of the foie gras” while breaking several windows and gluing the front door lock on March 23.
Since the first incident, which caused an estimated $3,300 in damage, Wecker has added “Foie Gras Friday” to the restaurant’s menu and has servers wearing T-shirts reading “Got Foie Gras?” — a takeoff on the popular milk slogan.
“I’m sure that they’re mad that we didn’t cave in,” Wecker said, referring to the vandals.
Wecker, who has owned Iron Bridge Wine Company with his brother Rob for the past six years, believes the vandalism is the work of those who are against how foie gras is prepared. The delicacy is made from the livers of ducks and geese that are force-fed grains in order to fatten them up before they are slaughtered. While Wecker and others contend that the centuries-old process, known as gavage, has become more humane, many animal-rights groups have continued to protest around the country. Several cities have banned the dish.
“You can be an activist. You don’t have to be an anarchist or an idiot,” Wecker said.
Read more at the Baltimore Sun
This is too bad. The restaurant is nice, great wine selection and the people are friendly. But what about the birds – the ducks and geese? Is the force feeding of these birds actually torture? (For a fair and balanced response to this question check out this article in the Village Voice.) Certainly there are examples of animal abuse occurring within the foie gras industry but, relatively speaking, there is too little foie gras eaten in America to make this an issue worth going to jail over. I think these animal rights zealots might want to redirect their energies towards other food producing players who are doing significant harm to both the animals and those people who consume them; Big US agribusinesses. There are widespread and serious health as well as ethical problems with the practices of large growers of beef, pork and chicken. Our agricultural system is destroying the environment, other competitve food sources (fisheries) and the health of our citizens. But then again, it is probably much easier to pick on the local businessman than Archer Daniels Midland or Pepsi Cola. (I highly recommend that anyone concerned about the excesses of corporate welfare, environmental protection and the public’s general health read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Micahel Pollan.)
There is a magnitude of difference between the occasional uncomfortable goose or duck and that of the billions of corn fed, hormone injected and antibiotic laced shuffling dead that we call the chickens and cows that feed our nation.
I wonder if these animal loving activists are still buying chicken and eggs from their local grocer?
At least 10 times in the Old Testament, from Exodus to Deuteronomy, you will find reference to a land where milk and honey flows freely. As far as the people of that time were considered, these words described the most exquisite of all things; the best of the best, creme de la creme, the top dog, and the cat’s meow. Apparently it just didn’t get any better than that.
But think about it; what is so wonderful about milk and honey? Why not a land of wine and figs? Plentiful fish harvests and abundant salt? Fruited plains with amber grain?
It occurred to me that there is something that both milk and honey have in common that is very unique; they are both food stuffs that are secreted (yecch!) by other animals. Most of the food that we get from animals are the animals themselves; we eat all or part of them. But milk is a warm viscous fluid that comes out of a living mammal and honey is…a paste?…an ooze?…that comes out of an insect. Again and again. Think about it.
There is also a way in which these two food are very, very different; Milk, If not used promptly, will begin to spoil. If this spoilage is controlled properly we might make us some cheese but usually the milk ends up becoming disgustingly inedible. It is an excellent medium for bacterial and fungal growth.
Honey, on the other hand, will last almost indefinitely ( I just ate some that had been hiding in the back of our cupboard for at least 10 years – very tasty ). It naturally inhibits bacteria and fungus from taking root.
Scripture has a way of hitting upon those foods that are very unique and in some way ‘cooperative’ foods. When we drink milk or eat honey we don’t kill the cow or the bee. The harvesting of these living foods is part of a relationship that exists between the animal and the human harvester. It would be of no benefit to eat the cow that gives the milk or to destroy the hive that provides the honey. But some foolish or ignorant people might do just that, out of greed or fear.
There is something oddly harmonious and peaceful about the harvesting and eating of milk and honey. Neither bee nor cow (or sheep or goat) must be sacrificed in order to to provide for our needs. I can’t think of anything else where this is the case.
In nearly every cook’s pantry there can be found that familiar blue cardboard cylinder with the little girl and her umbrella pictured on the side – NaCl. But unlike modern sodium chloride, which will keep indefinitely, salt prepared in other more traditional ways will eventually lose its flavor. No doubt this is one reason why Jesus chose it as a metaphor for discipleship. (Interestingly, both salt and salvation are related etymologically, but not in the language that Jesus spoke. In Hebrew, salvation is translated as Yeshua.)
But salt, even that which is fresh and sharp, is useless if it never leaves the box. Speaking from a culinary perspective, unless salt is used to season or preserve foods it has no purpose. (At the time of Christ no one had ever thought of using salt to melt icy sidewalks, or thought of sidewalks at all, for that matter. It was used in other less obvious ways, such as in leather curing and in dye making. It also had some purifying properties but if that was Jesus’ thrust then flavor would not have entered the discussion.) There is no benefit to collecting salt for it’s own sake. Salt when combined with nothing other than more salt accomplishes nothing.
As followers of Jesus, we only fulfill our purpose when we spill out of our box, the organized and religious church, and mix with other people, especially those we may consider ‘unsavory’. And like salt, it sometimes is best to share the Word of God in small doses, one pinch at a time, lest we overwhelm the palate. Pouring it on heavily, without taking into consideration the other ingredients that have gone into making up a person, can have quite distasteful results. Too much salt will kill.
Unlike other seasonings, salt is not used to radically change a dish’s flavor, but to enhance it. Encounters with Christians should bring out the best in people, accentuating those qualities that are in common with Christ while gently encouraging people to taste the Living Water. In doing so we experience the blessing that comes from exposure to other human ‘spices’, some quite exotic, that God has seasoned the world with. In creative cooking salt is rarely used alone but is typically combined with other spices. Seasoning only with salt soon becomes tiresome, bitter and unhealthy.
Maybe we missed the boat when we forgot this aspect of our spiritual lives. That like Jesus, we need to be working, eating and playing with ‘different’ people, enjoying them and loving them for who they are, not seeing them as another project for salvation. Perhaps if we had the trust to leave our little boxes, allowing God to pour us out among the rest of the world, then the church honestly could be spelled with that big C.
Why would God want a pantry filled with nothing but…salt?
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4: 5-6