December 31, 2009

It Bears Repeating

It's hard not to feel like a broken record. Keep reading and writing about these same issues over and over and over again. But that's because they are so important, and they bear repeating.

And it seems, miraculously, that those in a position to help to improve the situation on a more global scale -- that is, members of Congress and in the federal and state agencies that oversee areas like agriculture and food safety -- appear to be finally paying some attention. We'll see, however, how long that lasts.

To the news. First, this excellent article from the Associated Press about the overwhelming use of antibiotics in agriculture and how it is significantly exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows. (emphasis added) Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."


And we're actually hearing the right things from those in a position to affect some change!

"If we're not careful with antibiotics and the programs to administer them, we're going to be in a post antibiotic era," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was tapped to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year.


Also this year, the three federal agencies tasked with protecting public health — the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture — declared drug-resistant diseases stemming from antibiotic use in animals a "serious emerging concern." And FDA deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told Congress this summer that farmers need to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals.

December 23, 2009

Farm Subsidies and Massive Hypocrites

It's my firm belief that everybody is a hypocrite. We all say one thing and do another at times. The most important point about the universality of hypocrisy is the extent and severity of it with respect to each individual.

And as this article drives home, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (Bats@#$t Insane-Minn.) has the high dishonor of being among the hypocritical elite. Rep. Bachmann profits from a family owned farm that has received $250,000 in government subsidies. This is, of course, the same Rep. Bachmann who has railed against the threats of "socialism" that could be brought on by the inept... oops, used my own adjective there... dangerous Obama administration

Bachmann’s financial disclosure forms indicate that her personal stake in the family farm is worth up to $250,000. They also show that she has been earning income from the farm business, and that the income grew in just a few years from $2,000 to as much as $50,000 for 2008.

Do go read the whole thing. There are other elected hypocrites of the highest order mentioned in there as well, all of whom love to rail against socialism and excessive government spending and welfare, blah, blah, blah, but don't mind if some of that welfare lines their own pockets.

Perhaps these people need a little visit from a one Jacob Marley, eh? Although I suspect Marley might actually be scared off by Bachmann...

December 21, 2009

Brewing is Back on da' North Side

Tom Pastorius has offered a cordial invitation to the public to partake in the first batch of Penn Pilsner of "the new era" at Penn Brewery.

Details:

Wednesday, Dec. 30
4:00 - 9:00 p.m.
Penn Brewery
800 Vinial St.
Da' North Side

Pastorius has said he'd like to expand their offerings a bit, possibly offering some "American-style" beers. I'm not sure what that means, exactly. I hope it doesn't mean macro-brew King of Beers/Less-Filling Tastes Great type brews. Rather, I hope that he means, among other things, hop-infused pale ales that are favored by many U.S. microbreweries, even if their origins are not necessarily American.

Either way, this is a great thing to see for this city and for beer. Hopefully the risk Mr. Pastorius is taking will pay off. The challenge, in many respects, will be to win patrons from -- or back from -- Hofbrahaus, which, from my experience, is doing quite well. That will indeed be a significant hurdle.

Good luck, fellas. Welcome back.

December 11, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Twitter Style

I'm pretty much addicted to Twitter, although I am not a "Watching '30 Rock' & Tracy Morgan is freakin' hilarious" kind of tweeter. I tweet mostly to learn about and share information/news on cancer research and food policy issues.

I was alerted to much of the content of this digest via Twitter. For example...

Why is this not a surprise?

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants,

Then there was this tidbit of good news about sugar in cereal:

General Mills, one of the big 4 cereal manufacturers, including brands such as Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Trix, and Wheaties, announced yesterday that it will reduce the added sugar in its products. More specifically, the sugar in cereals advertised to kids will be reduced to “single digit” levels...

But apparently General Mills has math issues, because the company said by the spring of 2010 it will reduce the sugar content of its cereals to 11 grams or less. I could swear 11 was two digits, but maybe I'm looking at it wrong?

Genetically modified (GM) food is something I've been trying to read more about. A contention many critics of GM food products have held is that they have not been studied carefully enough. What does it mean, for example, to be introducing these genetically modified products -- that is, vegetables such as corn that have had foreign genes inserted into them so that they develop desirable traits, such as resistance to a pesticide produced by the same company that makes the GM seed -- into the larger ecosystem? Will they somehow affect other plants? How about animals or insects? Nobody really knows. Because it hasn't been very well studied.

GMO products got the go ahead from policy makers and regulatory bodies with very little of these data. To require such research would have meant "stifling innovation" or some such garbage like that.

So is it any wonder then when somebody does some research on just what is happening to the plants and bugs and animals around fields of GM corn finds this:

...we identified the cp4 epsps transgene [Fillippelli here: "transgene" = foreign gene introduced into the seed] in bulk soil microarthropods, nematodes, macroarthropods, and earthworms sampled within the corn cropping system. We found evidence of the transgene at all dates and in all animal groups. Transgenic DNA concentration in animal was significantly higher than that of background soil, suggesting the animals were feeding directly on transgenic plant material.

The authors admit that they can't say whether what they are detecting are functional genes, but personally I find it a little disturbing that these products may be unnaturally altering the genetic makeup of plants, insects, and animals. I find it hard to believe that's a good thing.


Speaking of gee-whiz technology and food, this doesn't seem like the right cure for the problem:

Jason Timmerman coaxed a balky calf into a chute on his feedlot one recent afternoon and jabbed a needle into its neck. He was injecting the animal with a new vaccine to make it immune to a dangerous form of the E. coli bacteria. ...

While studies have shown varying degrees of effectiveness, many researchers believe E. coli vaccines can reduce the number of animals carrying the bacteria by 65 to 75 percent. That may be enough to prevent the surge of E. coli that typically occurs each summer, when the germ thrives and reports of illness increase.

How about not jamming a gazillion cows into feed lots so they can wallow in their own pooh, stepping up inspections at slaughterhouses, and ensuring safer slaughterhouse work environments? Nah. Just jab 'em all with vaccines. Maybe the taxplayer can help pay for the vaccines, too, since we're already paying for their feed. Then it's a win-win.

I'm pretty sold on the data I've seen about our overly clean environment being linked to the rise in children with allergies, asthma, etc. So we've pretty much been doing this for a while now:

McDade hopes that one day we may be able to safely expose babies to the protective elements of germs without incurring the risks that come with infections. In the meantime, he is taking a less high-tech approach: "If my 2-year-old drops food on the floor, I just let him pick it up and eat it."

After that lovely image
, I'm sure you're ready to eat, no? This approach for oven-smoked ribs from Mark Bittman sounds like it might work. Hopefully I can give it a try some time soon.

November 30, 2009

Muppet Relief

I still love the Muppets...

November 18, 2009

A Scrapin' Addendum... An Important One

Two things that should have made it into the previous "digest" posting. Both somewhat sciencey. The latter probably more pressing than the former. The latter has also convinced me to stop eating bluefin tuna.

First, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute perform a cool animal model study -- that is, they did some experiments in rats -- and showed that their brains responded to a steady diet of junk food much the same way that heroin addicts' brains respond to heroin.

Pleasure centers in the brains of rats addicted to high-fat, high-calorie diets became less responsive as the binging wore on, making the rats consume more and more food. The results, presented October 20 at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, may help explain the changes in the brain that lead people to overeat.

“This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neurobiological underpinnings,” says study coauthor Paul Johnson of the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Fla.


Are humans rats? No, but we're not that different.


Second is, to me at least, more disturbing because experts have been warning about this for some time. This sentence sort of says it all.


A recent analysis of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna population by the WWF shows that the breeding population of the species will disappear by 2012 if the fisheries continue with business as usual...

What I find most disturbing about this are the parallels with global warming. I don't claim to understand the science behind global warming. I do understand the basic concept and that the vast majority of scientists who study the subject agree that the earth is warming and that humans are a big reason for that.


And it seems to me that at some time there will be a tipping point, much like there is with tuna now, when the potentially catastrophic consequences of the collective unwillingness to act -- because of politics or greed -- will become clear. And at that point, much like with the bluefin tuna, there won't be much to do about it.

November 17, 2009

Patience Pays Off w/... Lasagna

So yet again I am vowing to make more of what we eat from scratch, beginning with pasta. To this point, I had only done a single experiment with our pasta maker, a consequence of laziness and reticence, the latter owing to the trouble I encountered the first time making an acceptable dough.


So, in the return adventure to fresh pasta, lasagna noodles were to be the output. Should I use the "well" method favored by Mario Batali -- seen demonstrating it here with Martha "Sell the stock, sell the motherf@#$in' stock!!" Stewart -- or the method upon which Jamie Oliver relies in the video below?



For my initial go-round with fresh pasta I tried both. I failed miserably with the MM's more traditional method, so turned to Jamie O. and his food processor approach (struggling, of course, to figure out what 100 grams is in good ol' American! -- Pure snark, I assure you). And with that I achieved a decent dough.

This time around, I started with the food processor and failed. My proportion of flour to egg was definitely off and I was not convinced it could be repaired.

So, after only a single failure, I turned to the well method. I looked at several different recipes for fresh pasta, and the egg to dough ratio was different for each. I ended up going with the recipe from one of our favorite cookbooks, Savoring Italy, which, despite being from Williams Sonoma, is truly an incredible cookbook for classic Italian food. It called for 4 eggs per 3 cups of flour.

The first well was not big or deep enough, and as I dropped the fourth egg into the well, one of its compatriots was quickly jettisoned over the edge like lava. I managed to get a lot of the egg incorporated back into the flour and, remarkably, got a decent looking, if not perfect, dough. I decided to try again (consulting with my wife about the size and depth of the well) and this time it went much better. In both cases I'm sure that I did not knead the dough for nearly long enough (which was really just a few minutes), but we had things to do. So I wrapped them in plastic wrap and let them sit for a few hours while we ran out to do some errands.

When we returned, I set up the pasta machine, got my 4-year-old diva into her lady bug apron, and we got cranking. Despite her stick-like arms, little miss thang was quite adept at cranking. At some point, however, my wife, despite still recovering from the piggy virus, assumed the cranking duties, while I guided the pasta through the machine and oversaw the flouring of the pasta and the thickness setting.

And from this effort were produced a lot of silky pasta sheets. Lightly floured them, wrapped in plastic wrap, and back into the fridge until it was time to start making the lasagna.

This, it turned out, was not a good decision. At least I think the refrigeration was the problem. When I removed the pasta from the fridge, it was stuck together and gummy (comments from any of LBoN's legions of readers - snicker, snicker -- about whether this was the problem are welcome). I was ready to toss the whole lot in the garbage, so frustrated I was. Ah, but the wife had a cooler head. She suggested rolling it all through the pasta maker again.

And it worked. Beautifully. Once again, and fairly quickly, we had perfectly thin sheets of pasta. In the interim we had also made a very simple sauce: half an onion (diced) and one clove of garlic, diced, cooked in olive oil until soft. Added one 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes, plus a little of the "juice" from the can, salt, pepper, cooked over medium heat until thickened a bit. Then a teaspoon or so of sugar and, just because I really like it, some freshly grated nutmeg.

Also in the interim, Sarah had made the ricotta filling, taken from Savoring Italy, which called for 3 cups of ricotta, an egg, a handful of flat-leaf parsley, salt, pepper.

The pasta noodles went into salted, boiling water and, a minute or two later, were drained. Then we started compiling the lasagna: a little sauce at the bottom of the dish, a layer of noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, coating of freshly grated Parmesan, dots of fresh mozzarella, rinse and repeat twice, then finally the noodles, sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella.

Into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

The result was quite fantastic. Light, delicate noodles. Light, flavorful ricotta. Perfectly balanced sauce. (My apologies for the photography.)

Bonus: We had enough leftover rolled out sheets to be cut into tagliatelle for a first course or side dish. It's in the freezer, for use hopefully in the near future.

And some time in the next few weeks it will be fresh pasta round 2: Ravioli.

November 16, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits - Bollito di Manzo style

Gina DePalma's posts on Serious Eats are invaluable. Best known as the pastry chef at Molto Mario's world-famous Babbo, DePalma is in Italy doing research for a cookbook and writing up the occasional delicious recipe.

I printed out this Bollito di Manzo recipe some time ago. Now, with fall in full swing, some perfect grass-fed beef cuts for it in our freezer (short ribs), and most of the appropriate veg from the final week's take from our CSA, it was time to finally make it.

The result: good, but not great. The meat itself was really good: extremely tender with a real depth of flavor. You could tell it was grass-fed. The broth, on the other hand, was a little too tame. Not surprisingly, I did not have any veal bones. Next time (and there will be a next time) I'll add one more rack of short ribs, a few more all spice berries and peppercorns, and I may remove the short ribs when they are tender, strip off the beef and put the bones back in to cook in the pot for just another hour or so before turning off the heat and letting it cool.

In the meantime, I have a good bit of of the broth from this first batch in the freezer. When I go to use that, I think I'll bring it to a simmer for about 30 minutes with a parmesan rind in it, maybe even use it to make some risotto. I'm thinking mushrooms.

I'll admit that I'm slightly torn on this one: whether raw oysters harvested during warm months along the Gulf Coast should be banned. I enjoy raw oysters. I eat them selectively, though, from places that I feel are dedicated to getting the freshest product possible. In these parts, that likely means the northeast coast.

Yet I know that when I eat them I am taking a risk. A small one, but a risk nonetheless that I may get sick. Apparently in the Gulf Coast region about 15 people die each year from eating raw oysters. They apparently have a higher risk of being infected with a nasty bacteria when they are harvested during warm months. And the FDA had proposed a ban on them.

After getting push back from legislators in the region and the oyster industry, that ban has been indefinitely delayed.

The agency said it would conduct a study of the issue. “It is clear from our discussions to date that there is a need to further examine both the process and timing for large and small oyster harvesters to gain access to processing facilities,” the agency said in a statement.

There are, reportedly, ways of dealing with the bacteria.

The anti-bacterial process treats oysters with a method similar to pasteurization, using mild heat, freezing temperatures, high pressure and low-dose gamma radiation.

But doing so "kills the taste, the texture," [said Mark DeFelice, head chef at Pascal's Manale Restaurant in New Orleans]. "For our local connoisseurs, people who've grown up eating oysters all their lives, there's no comparison" between salty raw oysters and the treated kind.


For now, the non-anti-bacterially treated Gulf Coast oyster is alive and well.


The health care reform bill -- you know, the one that will end democracy and freedom as we know it (that's snark, FWIW) -- passed in the House includes language that would require many restaurants, including fast food chains, to explicitly post on their menus how many calories are in each dish. It's interesting because the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation just did a study (careful, this is the whole PDF!) that showed providing calorie information at the point of purchase decreased the amount of food people ate during those meals.


Oh, and finally, while as a country
we throw out like 30 percent of the food we purchase and have gazillions of acres of corn to provide feed for cows so we can have cheap burgers at Red Robin, there are a lot of people going hungry:

In its annual report on hunger, the [USDA] said that 17 million American households, or 14.6 percent of the total, “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times during the year.” That was an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, the previous year.

For those in the Pittsburgh area, you can make a contribution to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank here.

November 13, 2009

Action Alert on Food Safety Legislation

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition...


FOOD SAFETY ACTION ALERT!
November 12, 2009
MAKE A CALL TO PROTECT FAMILY FARMS,
LOCAL FOOD SYSTEMS AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE

CALL SENATOR CASEY THIS WEEK!


The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will take up S. 510, the Senate version of major food safety legislation already approved by the House of Representatives, next Wednesday, November 18.

The bill would put real teeth into federal regulation of large-scale food processing corporations to better protect consumers. However, the bill as written is also a serious threat to family farm value added processing, local and regional food systems, conservation and wildlife protection, and organic farming.

We need a food safety bill that cracks down on corporate bad actors without erecting new barriers to the growing healthy food movement based on small and mid-sized family farms, sustainable and organic production methods, and more local and regional food sourcing.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition, have fashioned five common sense amendments to S 510. We need your help to make them happen! The House has already passed their Bill. This is our last best chance to affect the final legislation.

Step 1: Make a Call

Please Call Senator Casey's office at
(202) 224-6324 and ask for the aide in charge of food safety issues. Tell them you are a constituent and are calling to ask the Senator to support the amendments proposed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition to the Food Safety Modernization Act. Specifically, ask your Senator to support the following key changes to the bill:

  • The bill should direct FDA to narrow the kinds of value-added farm processing activities which are subject to FDA control and to base those regulations on sound risk analysis. (Current FDA rules assume without any scientific evidence that all farms which undertake any one of a long list of processing activities should be regulated.)

  • The bill should direct FDA to ease compliance for organic farmers by integrating the FDA standards with the organic certification rules. FDA compliance should not jeopardize a farmer's ability to be organically certified under USDA's National Organic Program.

  • The bill must provide small and mid-sized family farms that market value-added farm products with training and technical assistance in developing food safety plans for their farms.

  • The bill should insist that FDA food safety standards and guidance will not contradict federal conservation, environmental, and wildlife standards and practices, and not force the farmer to choose which federal agency to obey and which to reject.

  • Farmers who sell directly to consumers should not be required to keep records and be part of a federal "traceaback" system, and all other farms should not be required to maintain records electronically or any records beyond the first point of sale past the farmgate.

Step 2: Report Your Call

Let us know how your Senator responded by clicking here http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=iDwJjwNOL9Ow7ubh59KDmnf2vBJtLWG%2B and typing in a brief report.

Step 3: Learn More

For more information on the Senate Food Safety bill, please see NSAC's Talking Points here http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=ZMugpdHrZ%2B5jVzlGNRk2rHf2vBJtLWG%2B and its Policy Brief Food Safety on the Farm here: http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=N0qoiyP9CL10FyBbFnz%2Fjnf2vBJtLWG%2B

November 12, 2009

Fast Food Abomination of the Week

The title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer. Sure, the large version of the new Quiznos Double Cheese Cheesesteak has 1,400 calories and nearly 3000 mg of sodium -- meaning that, in a single greasy swoop, it provides nearly three-quarters of recommended daily calorie intake and 50 percent surplus of daily recommended sodium intake -- which more than qualifies for it this prestigious honor.

But what is more impressive is that Quiznos managed to match up this dietary nuclear bomb with an equally sickening commercial. You know, the one where the two guys are sitting in a bathtub, outside, with a campfire underneath the tub. Something dubbed a "hillbilly hot tub."

Now, I'm no marketing guru, but, as a corporation, do you really want to embed in your potential customers' minds the image of two hairy, slovenly men sitting in close proximity in a dirty bathtub with one of your food products? Is a "hillbilly hot tub" Quiznos' version of "where's the beef?"

Something tells me that Don Draper would not approve.

October 29, 2009

Big Ag in the White House

Sigh. I know that he's got a lot on his plate, but some times I wonder WTF the current resident of the White House is thinking. If, during your campaign, you say you will not hire former lobbyists, then, you know what, don't do that, or at least try.

Some back story from the indispensable Tom Philpott here, including this:

President Obama has nominated one of [Big Biotech Ag's] own as the chief agricultural negotiator at the U.S. Trade Office.

To take the post, Islam “Isi” Siddiqui will have to leave his current perch as vice president for agricultural biotechnology and trade at CropLife America, the trade group representing the U.S. agrichemical industry (member list here). Its mission: to hip the public (and the government) to the ““benefits of pesticides and crop-protection chemicals.”


This is the crew that chided Michelle Obama for daring to opt not to use “crop protection” (i.e., toxic pesticides) in the White House Garden. ...


As the Doha round of global trade talks lurches on, Siddiqui’s position will be an important one. Southerm-hemisphere nations like India and Brazil are pushing for lower U.S. crop subsidies, while the U.S. is demanding wide-open markets for U.S. goods—everything from foodstuffs like industrial corn to agrichemicals. Siddiqui can be counted on to push that agenda hard.


So, if this nomination sounds like a bad idea to you, go here please and type in the requisite info.

October 27, 2009

Au Natural Necco?

Now I have to get a pack to see if I can taste the difference...

Necco, short for New England Confectionary Co., cranks out about 4 billion of the roughly quarter-sized wafers each year, packaging them in large rolls (36 wafers) and junior rolls (nine wafers). Beet juice, purple cabbage, cocoa powder and turmeric -- a spice often used in curries -- are some of the natural ingredients in the new wafers, which will be phased in at retail stores before and after Halloween.

October 26, 2009

Scrapin' Up A Few Bits... Policy Style

Serious food issues actually in the news. It's not just health care reform and Jon & Kate. Who knew?

Cracker Jacks, which I'll admit I enjoy, would be hard to characterize as a nutritionally "smart choice." But that didn't stop Frito Lay from smacking a "Smart Choice" label on it, as part of the larger, snack-food industry backed Smart Choices Program. [UPDATE: Per a note from a Cathy, who purports to be a Frito Lay employee, Cracker Jack was not included in the Smart Choices program. My bad. And, more importantly, the Associated Press's bad. Which, in turn, means the bad of about a gazillion news outlets, including little ones like the Washington Post, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal...] I guess it's decisions like the Cracker Jack's Froot Loops one that led to the program's voluntary termination.

Industry leaders launched the program this year to highlight foods that meet certain nutritional standards with a green label on package fronts.


The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that such programs may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods, and it told manufacturers it will crack down on inaccurate labeling. It did not criticize specific products or label programs or give a timeline for enforcement.


Froot Loops were also considered to be a smart choice. 'Nuff said, I guess.

And the Obama administration, despite its many challenges on many fronts, appears to be -- with an extra emphasis on "appears" -- getting serious about improving nutrition in schools.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack challenged the nation’s middle schools and high schools on Wednesday to provide healthier meals and more time for exercise and physical activity for their students.

My understanding is that schools often have their hands tied as to what they can serve, where they can procure the food they serve, and, of course, having the kitchen staff who can do anything more than reheat frozen food items.

I mean, don't get me wrong, the "taco in a bag" on the menu at my son's elementary school sounds great. His description is that it's taco meat in a bag with tortilla chips and some cheese. Also called nachos, I suppose. And I would suspect made with the finest factory-farm ground beef -- "slaughterhouse trimmings and mash-like product" and all.

In other words, the very definition of nowhere to go but up.

And speaking of healthy school lunches, Baltimore City schools have implemented "meatless Mondays." ABC News covered it the other evening. And the Center for a Livable Future puts the kaibosh (sp?) on questions about whether these meatless meals are depriving children of much-needed protein.

The United States is among the very few wealthy nations in the world where people derive the majority of their dietary protein from animal sources. The global average is 30% of dietary protein from animal sources, including dairy and eggs, and 70% from grains, vegetables, and fruit.

If Mr. Riter had bothered to contact the Baltimore City Schools he would have found that each meat-free meal contains more than the amount of protein required by the USDA. My guess is that Mr. Riter jumped to his mistaken conclusion after reading misleading quotes from a meat lobby organization, or he really needs to brush up on his basic biochemistry.

October 22, 2009

Gorilla + Drums = ?????

You'll have to wait to see. It's worth it.




A big hat-tip to NPR's Marketplace, which tipped me off to this old commercial, which, BTW, increased sales of Cadbury products in the UK (possibly Europe?) by 10%.

October 16, 2009

Tea

Made an Asian-style soup with curry paste, ginger, lemongrass, lime juice, etc. earlier in the week. It was quite good. At the end of the week, still had some of the ingredients in the fridge.

Which brings me to my point. I've been doing some intense weight training and, along with it, increasing my intake of protein and fiber, among other things, which can leave me with quite a bit of stomach upset.

So today, with said stomach upset in full force, I made a ginger-lemongrass tea. Very simple:

Boiled enough water for a single large mug. When it reached a boil, removed it from the heat and added about 2 tablespoons worth of quarter-inch sliced ginger and a two-inch long segment of lemongrass that had been smashed with the side of a knife.

Let the "tea" sit for about 10 minutes, pour into a mug, add a little honey, stir, and drink.


Within the hour my stomach felt much better. Whether this was due to the tea is really not important, because it was delicious.

October 9, 2009

Pollan Talks Shop w/ Farmers, Jamie O. in the NYT

This is from NPR's "Talk of the Nation."

I'll have to listen to the entire thing soon. Got about halfway through. Really good stuff.

Also, Jamie Oliver's been doing a series of shows about food in America, for the BBC I believe. This lengthy feature about it will also have to be weekend reading.

October 8, 2009

Broken Record Post: NY Times & Beef Safety

The hordes of LBoN readers (snicker, snicker) are familiar with the coverage this blog has given to the safety of one of our country's favorite foods, beef.

As was pointed out on a science journalism blog, just when you thought this territory had been well covered -- that is, that it has been fairly well established that there are some serious problems with beef safety, etc. -- the New York Times' Michael Moss one-ups everybody and rips off this doozy in last Sunday's paper.

It leads with the story of Stephanie Smith, who can no longer walk due to an infection with E. coli that she got from a hamburger. It turns out, Mr. Moss reports, that ground beef, whether it's in a nicely packaged mound or frozen pre-made patties, isn't necessarily always what you think it is...

Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.


The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.


I particularly like that ammonia bit at the end. "Would you like fries with that? Oh, and we're running a special extra-value meal for burgers with extra ammonia. It's a real bargain, I tell you."

So, as I did once before, I'd like to come back to a letter to the editor (scroll down a bit) that came in reply to my op-ed on the subject of beef safety published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. The LTE came from Mr. William R. Henning, the Emeritus Professor of Animal and Food Science at Penn State University.

Penn State has come under criticism from some in the sustainable ag community because of its cozy relationship with the corporations that make up big ag. They have this one professor, Terry Etherton, who apparently believes that anybody who doesn't think pumping cows full of hormones is the be-all end-all of "progress" is anti-science and anti-agriculture. Nice, I know.

Keep that in mind when you read this bit from Mr. Henning's LTE: [NOTE: From this point forward, all bolded text is mine for emphasis]

I'm confident we have a very safe and affordable supply of this important protein. Strict and numerous government regulations along with strong industry leadership protect the safety of our beef.

And then a little later on in the LTE:

For example, each of the 100 million animals that enter the human food supply is closely inspected by veterinarians and trained inspectors. And the inspection system continues throughout the entire process, including careful examination of both raw and fully cooked products.


I tried to wrap my head around how 100 million animals could possibly be closely inspected, even if there was a fully stocked army of inspectors, which published reports have indicated there is not.

In any case, compare the LTE claims with this from the Times' article:

The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.

Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.


It's almost as if Mr. Moss and Mr. Henning are talking about two entirely different worlds, no? In any case, the article apparently caused enough of a ruckus to prompt a response from the Department of Agriculture, from Sec. Vilsack himself no less.

He talks about additional inspections, new guidelines, better record keeping. But something seemed to be missing: The fact that something can be labeled as ground beef and yet really be "a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin."

Anyone else find that unnerving? Perhaps the "strong industry leadership" touted by Mr. Henning from our state's largest (only?) land-grant university will address that?

Right, right. Dumb question.

UPDATE: Speaking of Big Ag influence on land-grant universities, The Ethicurean provides a primo example, this time involving Michael Pollan.

October 1, 2009

H20 & Manure

Otherwise known as

Water...

and ...

Poo.


September 26, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Backyard Chicken style

Jumping right into it...

Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore does some reading and signals the warning bells about farm-raised shrimp:

As the shrimp grow, the water is treated with pesticides and more piscicides, but by far the gravest area of concern is the use of antibiotics to ward off disease. Acutely toxic to other marine organisms, they can cause contact dermatitis in the shrimp farm employees who administer them. When the plug is pulled on the ponds at the end of the growing season, hundreds of pounds of shrimp remain marinating in the toxic mud at the bottom, and pickers have to be hired to scoop up the stranded shrimp. ...

The adulteration of shrimp does not end at the pond... shrimp are routinely soaked in a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate, or STPP, a suspected neurotoxicant, still legal in the United States, that prevents seafood from drying out in transit and boosts product weight. Borax, best known as a hand cleaner and insecticide, is used to preseve the color of shrimp in some countries. The most unscrupulous countries use caustic soda to chemically burn tiger shrimp a customer-pleasing pink.


I only buy wild-caught fish these days, including shrimp, but eating fish has truly become a hazardous thing on a number of levels. It's really sad.


UPDATE: Via Twitter, Richardson responds to a question about whether wild-caught is all right. Her reply: "wild-caught is bad environmentally (it's caught via trawling and 90% of the catch is other species, killed and thrown away)." I'd like to confirm if this is the case everywhere, including in the Gulf.


On another serious note, have you seen these "smart choices" labels on various food items? I'm vaguely aware of them. Not surprisingly, they don't really mean much.


The criteria deciding which products are “better for you” were set by a panel of representatives from companies such as Kellogg’s, Con Agra and Kraft, as well as independent scientists from health organizations and Academia.


However, something strange must have happened in those criteria-setting meetings, if the result was a seal of approval for Froot Loops and other uber-sweet products. Fruit Loops is 41% sugar by weight, contains a rainbow of artificial colorings, and some trans-fat to boot.


Long story short, some folks who realized the "smart choices" were kind of dumb, got together, put some pressure on other signatories to the "smart choices" program, and those signatories, like the American Diabetes Association, are now leaving the program. They are deserving of a Stewie-style "Victory is Mine!"


Ever thought about raising chickens. In video form, writer Susan Orleans gives you the low-down.


We ate at one of LBoN's favorite places in the world, Dinette, over the weekend. Had a pizza with roasted eggplant and "Salsa Di Canella" on it. The salsa was, in effect, the sauce, and its flavor reminded me of garam masala. Our server said it did indeed have some of the same ingredients in garam masala. It was delectable. And now I'm thinking that it might be a good idea to roast some eggplant, throw it in the food processor with a little oil, some garam masala, some type of herb, and put it on some crostini type things.


I think I made one formal request, via email. But I don't like to be pushy. So perhaps I'll beg:


Please, China Millman, add a link to LBoN to First Bites' "food blogs" list.

For beer and Halloween freaks, Rogue has a special growler-sized edition of Dead Guy Ale that reportedly grows in the dark. You can pick one up, along with Oktoberfest and a multitude of pumpkin ales, at 3 Sons Dogs & Suds.

And, finally, I'm all up in this Twitter thing. It's quite addictive. I'm mostly using it for work purposes, at least in terms of my own "Tweets." But I'm needy. I can always use more "followers."

September 25, 2009

Azzeria (Wexford)

Being a true pizza snob is a difficult existence. Simply put, often I'd rather go without than eat an inferior slice just because it's technically pizza. There are times when hunger, convenience, and a lack of options gets the better of me. But, as a general rule, I try to avoid poorly made pizza.

What are the/my criteria for "poorly made"? Well, let's start with the crust, which, remarkably, is the most underappreciated component of a pizza. Think about a crust from a typical chain, whether it be Dominoes or a smaller, local chain. It typically has the texture of damp cardboard, lacking any crispiness or chewiness, and has almost no flavor, with the exception being that of grease.

Next the sauce. Again, the sauce at most pizza joints taste primarily of grease, excessive salt, and tomato paste. There is little actual flavor of tomato or even any herbs. There is also often an excessive overabundance of sauce. The toppings? Mass-produced, tasteless mozzarella, and, again, typically too much of it. Mushrooms? Canned or dried, sad little things that taste like and resemble jigsaw puzzle pieces. Olives. Boring black, likely from a large can. Sausage? Crumbly, dry, closer to bird droppings than a meat product. Pepperoni? Well, pepperoni is pepperoni. The only difference typically is that of quantity.

AZZERIA PIZZA & gelato on Urbanspoon

Which brings me to a relatively new addition to the northern 'burbs of Pittsburgh, Azzeria. Located in the Village at Pine on Rt. 19 in Wexford, this is a second location -- the original is in (or at least on the border of) Mt. Lebanon -- for Azzeria. And I can say without hesitation that the pizza at Azzeria is quite good.

Is it on par with Dinette? No. Then again, few pizzas are.

Generally, though, the pizza at Azzeria is at least two steps above what can be had at most predominantly pizza joints and at other restaurants that also offer pizza on the menu.

The crust could use a little more salt, and often times could use another minute in the brick oven, but generally it has the flavor and texture that you would expect from what is in effect homemade bread, and serves well as a canvas for the toppings.

Speaking of the toppings, Azzeria seems to understand the fundamental importance of moderation. The sauce or cheese or various toppings are not heaped on and seem to be of high quality (even the pepperoni).

The plain red is quite good. Tangy tomato flavor and the fresh mozzarella tastes, well, fresh. The "white," topped sparingly with 4 cheeses, including a whipped fresh ricotta, is also well done. You can taste the different cheeses with no single one dominating.

The vodka sauce pizza, an idea I like, is an interesting offering and mostly successful. The beans & greens pizza, another good idea, is overwhelmed by too much garlic. I suppose this appeals to some people, but I'd rather taste the bitterness of the escarole and creaminess of the beans. My favorites are the white and my personal concoction of sausage and escarole.

Also on offer are some salads, a bit small for my liking, but fairly fresh, and soups, which I've yet to have. The wings, which are doused in herbs and fired up in the brick oven, are smoky and meaty (could be a bit crispier) and a welcome change from the overly sauced and underflavored wings that litter the menus of restaurants across the city/country.

There is also delectably creamy and locally made gelato, made by Mulberry Creamery. Among the many flavors on offer, the "Death by Chocolate" lives up to its moniker and the pistachio tastes like pistachios. An excellent way to end a visit here.

The setup at Azzeria is a little atypical. There is no wait staff. You place your order at the counter and a few minutes later they call your name to pick up your food. Herein can be a problem, because let's say you need to get an extra drink or some gelato or, heck, another pizza, you have to wait in the ordering line, which, depending on how busy things are, can take 5-10 minutes. Yes, typically you'd have to wait for your server to get any of things, but at least you'd be sitting.

It's also BYOB, with small wine glasses and corkscrews available. Unfortunately, there is no liquor store in the plaza. The new Giant Eagle in the same plaza will soon have a liquor license soon, though. The restaurant itself is wide open, with a few booths and tall two- and four-top tables, and garage door-like walls that open up to ample outdoor seating for when the weather feels like cooperating.

Overall, I'm a big fan of Azzeria and am glad it's here. With so few good dining options in this neck of the woods, it's nice to know there is a kid-friendly place where we can have an affordable, quality meal in a comfortable environment.

September 22, 2009

First Futbol of the Year

After a rocky start to the Serie A season, this makes two wins in a row for my Giallorossi. Forza Roma!!


September 21, 2009

I Was Right

Like I said, I thought this prosciutto-wrapped chicken would make a great Sunday dinner.

And it did.

Some tips in preparing it, though. First, you don't need heavy cream or as much butter for the broccoli puree. I used half and half and a little less butter than it called for and it was still quite rich. Further reductions in butter and the amount of cream could probably be made with little lost in terms of flavor.

Second, if you happen to get truly plump chicken breasts, you'll likelyneed to roast it for closer to 20-25 minutes in the oven.

Third, the carrots in this recipe are really just a poor man's version of the classic carrots in
Marsala. Which is what I ended up making. Per Gina DePalma, here is how they're made:

Carrots in Marsala

  • One pound of carrots, cut on the angle into quarter-inch coins
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1/2 cup of Marsala
  • Water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt
  • Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat, add the carrots and toss to coat.

Add the Marsala, let it come to a bubble, add enough water to mostly cover the carrots. Add the sugar and pinch of salt and give a quick stir.

Bring to an easy simmer and cover. Cook until the carrots are tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove the cover, turn up the heat a little, and let it cook until most of the liquid is gone and all that's left is a nice glaze on the carrots, 10 more minutes.

Remove from heat, toss with parsley and serve.

The Size of My Fist...

... and crisp and tasty as ever. The Honey Crisp apples that is.

They've had them now at McGinnis Sisters for a few weeks.

They are from PA, significantly cheaper than any apple variety at the Giant Local Grocery Chain, and taste fantastic. And, to boot, they are ridiculously large. Seriously, they are as big as my fist, often bigger.

And that's saying something, 'cause I've got fairly sizable hands (scroll down)! [And you know what they say about guys with big hands? Clumsy in the kitchen.]

But even Honey Crisps that are inferior to these in size and cost are still typically the bestest apples ever.

Our Lovely Factory Farms @ Work

This time it's factory dairy farming, part of the NY Times' excellent series on water pollution. An example of the impact of dirty water?

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

“Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet,” said Lisa Barnard, who lives a few towns over, and just 15 miles from the city of Green Bay.

Tests of her water showed it contained E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure. Last year, her 5-year-old son developed ear infections that eventually required an operation. Her doctor told her they were most likely caused by bathing in polluted water, she said.

Runoff from these farms is very poorly regulated, the Times' Charles Duhigg explains. And they seem to skirt around the regs that do exist. And then there's this:

And regulations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush allow many of those farms to self-certify that they will not pollute, and thereby largely escape regulation.

Wow. There's some tough regulation. Self certification. Seems a bit like asking a murderer to remain in his house for a prison sentence, as long as he self certifies that, honest, he won't leave the house or kill anybody ever, ever again.

Despite what many, including many family farmers, think, regulation in and of itself is not bad. Excessive regulation is bad, as is the practice of purposefully not enforcing regulation.

The biggest problem, in agriculture, though, is probably that big ag pretty much writes the regs. As a result, they get the veneer of being a "heavily regulated industry," when in reality the regs are chock full of loopholes large enough to accommodate the space shuttle, but loopholes that really only benefit the big guys.

It's a terrible system. One most legislators seem perfectly willing to maintain.

September 16, 2009

Cooking Stuff

There is some policy-related news that I've been meaning to get to (perhaps tomorrow), but in the meantime, some actual preparation and consumption of food items.

I can't remember the last time I made anything with chicken breasts -- my preference being, of course, the dark meat -- but this sounds really good, and although it's a tad labor intensive, it would probably make a really good, and healthy, Sunday meal.

And I'm not sure if lobsters are still really cheap (relatively speaking, that is), but this lobster tale (pun intended) got me thinking back to the most recent New Year's Eve, and a decadent meal that I would highly recommend trying to emulate.

We picked up some lobsters from Penn Avenue Fish Company and intended to use it as part of a pasta dish using some fresh pasta we got from Penn Mac in a saffron cream sauce. For the latter, I did some searching on the Intertubes, found one that seemed to meet our needs (tablespoon or two of shallots sauteed in a little olive oil, add half-cup of white wine and reduce in half for about 5-10 minutes, cup or so of heavy cream, pinch or two of saffron, salt, pepper, stir over medium low heat for a bit, finish at the very end with some chopped herbs, parsley or tarragon. I forget the exact details, to be honest - try the aforementioned and you might be surprised.).

Having never done anything with lobster in our kitchen, I followed the instructions in the first hyperlink above:

''The best way to kill them, according to animal welfare agencies, is to put them in the freezer first for 15 minutes,'' he said. ''It slows their metabolism.''


After that, Mr. [Trevor] Corson suggested, put the lobster on its back and slice lengthwise through its soft underbelly.


From that point, you put them in the boiling water.


We had purchased two lobsters. I put them in the freezer for the prescribe time. I removed them. Unfortunately, for the lengthwise slicing of the first lobster, I used our chef's knife with the rounded tip, which precluded me from getting a good first incision into the large crustacean, thus defeated the entire purpose -- that is, humanity -- of this approach, as the poor thing wriggled its antennae and claws as if it were indeed feeling the pain. It was not enjoyable.


For the second lobster, having learned a hard lesson, I used a more traditional chef's knife, and the lengthwise cutting went very quickly and smoothly. No wriggling this time.


We boiled the lobsters and when they were done, my wife extracted as much meat as possible while I made the cream sauce and got the water for the pasta boiling. When the pasta water was ready, folded the lobster meat (most, not all, because there was a lot!) into the sauce, cooked the pasta, combined it all in large bowl and it was fantastic. We enjoyed it tremendously with a lot of red wine before watching the Big Night. A perfect desert to our meal.


A day or two later, we made lobster rolls with the unused lobster meat. As good as they might be on a pier in Nantucket? Probably not, but man were they tasty.

September 10, 2009

More Bits Scraping

I typically don't like to follow a "Scraping" post - known in blogging venacular as a "digest" - with another "Scraping" post. But I'm all about breaking the rules these days.

To begin with...

This is the thing that is no good about having a young child involved in soccer: Games are always on Saturday, which interferes with our semi-occasional ritual of trips to the Strip District.

And now I have yet another very good reason to make it to the Strip: Peace, Love, and Little Donuts. According to the PG's China Millman, these little donuts are quite good.

And, it's official: I have a mad addiction to Extra Cheddar Flavor Blast goldfish. The snack crackers, that is.

I also have an addiction to beer. Among my favorite, most styles from Dogfish Head. Which reminds me, I need to pick up a 6 of the Punkin' Ale before it's gone.

In any case, the crazy guys at Dogfish have a new brew in the works. It involves purple corn... and human saliva. It's called chicha. The NY Times was there to watch it made. And thanks to the wonders of the Intertubes, you can too.



Speaking of the Times, Michael Pollan, per his usual, has a thought-provoking piece on how health-care reform is inextricably linked to food policy reform.

The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.


When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.


While it has its logic, I'm not sure I'm buying it. First, it assumes that, at the least, some weak form of reform will pass whereby pre-existing conditions are a thing of the past and there have to be standard rates. No one is saying those have to be affordable rates. Without some type of competition to bring down rates, would it be any surprise if rates for insurance just got higher, and priced out a lot of people (even if some form of subsidies are made available)?


And I don't see the insurers taking on Big Ag and the like. They would just find an easier way to keep their profits high. That's how they roll.

August 28, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Good Weed Style

A beneficial weed? It's called kudzu...

The study found that a kudzu root extract had beneficial effects lab rats used as a model for research on the metabolic syndrome. After two months of taking the extract, the rats had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels that a control group not given the extract. Kudzu root "may provide a dietary supplement that significantly decreases the risk and severity of stroke and cardiovascular disease in at-risk individuals," the article notes.


A double take from the PG. First, a great profile on a small farm in Carrick.


She talks about why each plant is placed in the garden: Nasturtiums nestle among squash, providing an edible flower for her customers, bringing in beneficial insects and providing ground cover. For similar reasons, Brussels sprouts share space with radicchio; thai, cinnamon and lemon basil are neighbors to tomatoes.

Radicchio? That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!

And next from the PG is this nerve-wracking little bit: Pennsylvania's Secretary of Agriculture, Dennis Wolff, is resigning, effective early next month. You remember Dennis Wolff, don't you, of milk-labeling fame?

The trend these days is to provide more information on food labels: "no trans fat" "free-range" "no preservatives." Mr. Wolff concluded in this case, however, that by stating what was not in the milk, these dairies were misleading consumers into believing their products were safer or healthier, something he dubbed "absence labeling."


But Mr. Wolff provided no evidence to support these claims. No public hearings were held or scientifically valid surveys conducted to assess consumers' feelings about the labels. A Food Labeling Advisory Committee reportedly held a single meeting to discuss the matter, but who was on that committee, or what they discussed, has not been revealed.



We try to limit our use of plastic bags for our kids lunches, relying very heavily on little Tupper Ware or Glad containers for fruit, applesauce, pretzels, etc. And when we do use plastic bags, we do our best to reuse them. Looks like these Lunch Skins will make things a whole lot easier...


And, finally
, Kevin Sousa -- the talented chef who is getting all sorts of praise for those fancy tacos at Yo Rita on Pittsburgh's South Side -- has had it up to his taste buds with food bloggers.

The more "foodie" blogs i read the more frustrated i get. These simple sons (and daughters) of bitches and their self righteous "reviews" of restaurants that are nothing more than yet another form of hipsterism that is spreading like shoulder pads all over my fair city. These jagoffs just want to be noticed...and have their meals comped in exchange for a good "review" as if the skinny leather tie and vest with no shirt weren't enough to make people say "hey, did you notice that dipshit with the w.a.s.p. painter's cap?"

I'm not sure if I qualify as a foodie or if my blog is considered a foodie blog. I'd like to think that my tens of adoring readers come to good 'ol Lusty Bit for more than just my adaptations of others recipes! I'd like to think that LBoN is a little bit... deeper ... than that. Heck, I'm writing about weeds and milk labels and all kinds of mixed up, crazy stuff, no?

And I've never gotten comped a freakin' thing, that's for sure. Guess you need more than tens of readers for that to happen. That said, I did eat recently -- finally -- at Yo Rita. And here is my review:

Yo Rita has good food. Yo Rita also has good drinks. Our mussels ceviche was, hmmm, all right. It had this foam on top of it that didn't really do much for the dish. The mussels seemed to be very fresh. But, overall, I was a little disappointed. IM(unpaid)O, they needed a little heat or just more depth of flavor. Perhaps the idea was to let the mussels' flavor shine through. But I tend to think that mussels do best when they are paired with bold flavors, e.g., white wine with garlic and herbs, curry and coconut milk.

My watermelon margarita was good, as was my wife's pineapple margarita. Could have slugged down a few of those in the time it took to put that foam on our mussels. My classic margarita was better. It was exactly what a margarita should be, you get the tequila, but you also get the tang of the lime and a little sweet from the liqueur.

We had four tacos. The chorizo was excellent, and, man, that chorizo was truly kickin' the heat. The duck taco, also very good. The braised pork, enjoyable, but, to be honest, the pork, which was shredded, was a tad dry. My favorite: the black-eyed pea. The peas combined with some exceptionally creamy goat cheese was a perfect combination.


I'll definitely try to make it back to Yo Rita. And hopefully nobody will confuse me for a foodie.

August 27, 2009

Pesto, Potatoes, Green Beans

An Italian classic: spaghetti with pesto, green beans, and thinly sliced potatoes.

Whenever we have this dish, I always think of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Big Night. A woman has ordered risotto...

Woman: I just don't see anything that looks like a shrimp or a scallop, but I get a side order of spaghetti with this, right?


Secondo: Well, no.


Husband: I thought all main courses come with spaghetti.


Secondo: Well, some, yes. But you see, risotto is rice, so it is a starch and it doesn't go, really, with pasta.


Woman: But I don't...


Husband: Honey, honey, order a side of spaghetti, that's all. And I'll eat your meatballs.


Woman: Yeah, he'll have the meatballs.


Secondo: Well, the spaghetti comes without meatballs.


Woman: There are no meatballs with the spaghetti?


Secondo: No. Sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone.


Secondo goes to the kitchen

Primo: Why?


Secondo: She likes starch. I don't know. Come on.


Primo: How can she want... maybe I should make mashed potatoes for on the other side.


Secondo: Primo, look, don't, okay, because they are the first customer to come in two hours.


Primo: No. She's a criminal. I want to talk to her.


You would think that the potatoes would just lead to starch overload in this dish. But they don't. They add a nice layer of texture, and when you get a bite with pasta, green bean, and potato, there's really not much better.

And the great thing about this dish was that the basil came from our garden (which, after some much needed maintenance, has recovered somewhat), the potatoes from Farmers @ Firehouse, and the green beans from the farm.

August 20, 2009

One can dream

Seriously, this is the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

August 19, 2009

Some Music

I only listened to the new album once and I kept hoping for some more upbeat tunes. Nevertheless, Neko can belt it.



August 12, 2009

Scrapin' Up the Bits... "Mad Men" style

The third season of Mad Men returns to AMC this Sunday. Admittedly, season 2 was not as good as season 1, and season 3 almost never happened, so hopefully there was no rush to crank out less- than-stellar material. This show has gotten raves for its quality of course, its influence on fashion, and, now, its devotion to getting its cocktails right...

Liquor is not only an integral part of many plotlines (last season, it played a pivotal role in a car crash, a divorce, a rape and two career implosions), but often a telling sign of character. When it comes to choosing a character’s poison, Ms. Perello said, many people have input, starting with the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner: “Matt will say, ‘I want them to have a brown liquor.’ And I’ll go, ‘Let’s do a nonblended Scotch, because this is a person who would appreciate that.’ ”


The cocktail historian David Wondrich, 48, thinks an old-fashioned is a conservative choice for the young Draper, but considers his preference for Canadian Club “exactly right. We’d had years of destruction of the American whiskey industry up until then. So the Canadian stuff was viewed as being pretty good.”


Another month, another recall of hundreds of thousands of pounds of beef. I'm a little late to writing about this, but it certainly did not get the coverage previous recalls have. Guess people are just so used to it by now...


I'm more than happy to put in my fair share of time for delicious food, but several hours of serious prep time and two days in total just is beyond my limits, even for something as delicious sounding (and looking) as Sicilian style square pizza.


Finally, and happily, there is a chance that beer might once again be brewed in the hallowed tanks of the Penn Brewery. Tom Pastorius apparently did not like what was being done to the business, and the beer, he worked so hard to make a success.


Tom Pastorius, who founded the brewery in 1986 and sold most of it to Birchmere Capital in 2003, is working with a group of investors who have negotiated to buy back Birchmere's stock. They've applied for a $300,000 Urban Redevelopment Authority loan for working capital as part of a plan to fix up and return brewing to the building.

The obesity rescue berry?

Maybe you've heard of miraculin. I haven't. It's this little berry, resembles a cranberry apparently. You chew it up, get all of the pulp and seeds out, swirl around in your mouth, and dispense. Now put a lemon in your mouth. It will taste sweet. Miraculin makes anything acidic taste sweet. It's used for "flavor tripping parties" in the Big Apple and elsewhere.

Mr. Aliquo greeted new arrivals and took their $15 entrance fees. In return, he handed each one a single berry from his jacket pocket. ... He ushered his guests to a table piled with citrus wedges, cheeses, Brussels sprouts, mustard, vinegars, pickles, dark beers, strawberries and cheap tequila, which Mr. Aliquo promised would now taste like top-shelf PatrĂ³n.

But could it be used to combat obesity? Hmmm....

But with miraculin, would anyone be able to tell the difference between tofu pudding and creme brulee? Since it's nearly impossible to change someone's taste, perhaps what's needed to get Americans to eat better is literally to change their perception of taste.

Could miraculin really do that? Perhaps?

At the very least, some folks see a business opportunity.

Some companies have been attempting to create flavor-modulating compounds that mimic what miraculin does naturally. Two of those are Senomyx and RedPoint Bio, which are also developing bitterness blockers and exploring the pathways that translate to salty.

Both have partnered with or are in talks with food companies who are trying to reduce calories in their products by adding taste enhancers instead of sugars or sweeteners.

If these products reach a wider market, more and more patients might be eating foods with the same taste but just a fraction of the calories -- and they likely won't be able to tell the difference.

As this blog post points out, perhaps it could lead people to eat lower-calorie foods, but would it fill them up, or just lead to them still taking in as many calories as before by consuming more?

Paint me intrigued, but extremely skeptical.

August 6, 2009

The Angry Robin Cometh

We have an Angry Robin in our backyard.

I don't know why it is angry. But it expresses its anger by dive bombing those who go near the garden. Well, everybody except my 7-year-old son. When he goes out to the garden, the Angry Robin remains esconced in our unruly apple tree, spouting disgruntled chirps. My theory is that it's the two missing front teeth. Heck, I'm scared of that mouth these days...

The Angry Robin may be the female robin that has reared at least two batches of babies in a nest under our deck this summer. Perhaps she is exacting revenge for all of the times we made her evacuate the nest by daring to walk past the nest down to said garden.

Conversley, it could be her mate. Maybe it's a new beau who is trying to show up the other male robins in the vicinity. "This is how you treat humans, you losers. Grow a pair!"


Not sure why our garden is even very attractive to the Angry Robin. It has tanked big time. The zucchini plant is already tapped out. The few cucumbers we got were scrawny and curled. The lettuces did all right until the rains came. As did the tomato plants, which have also succumbed to the nibbling of bunnies -- amazingly, our first ever problems with animals. The jalapenos are doing well. And I'm hoping the poblanos and red chiles recover. And the Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.

I think our garden problem is multi-fold. We planted too much in too little space. We failed to keep the tomato plants under control. And, of course, the copious amounts of rain.

In any case, if there is another run in with the Angry Robin, it will no longer be met with girly screams and scampers back up the deck stairs. From this point forward, it will be met with awe-inducing force. A suburbia WMD, if you will.

This secret weapon?

The garden hose. On the "shower" setting, of course. I promised my daughter I wouldn't really hurt it.

August 5, 2009

Grass-finished beef here! Get your grass-finished beef!

China Millman, the Post-Gazette's resident restaurant critic (I'm not sure what the heck to call that "Munch" guy), dishes on some options for local grass-finished beef. Grass-fed, I presume, should be reserved for cow's that truly do eat nothing but grass their entire lives. Grass-finished are those that aren't sent to CAFOs to be "finished" for the last part of their lives on grain-based feed (and to get all hopped up on antibiotics and growth hormones -- partaaaay at the CAFO!).

In addition to helping consumers find local options for grass-fed/finished beef, there is something else I found particularly welcome about this article: the reserved way she describes the potential health benefits of grass-fed/finished beef.

Preliminary research suggests that grass-finished beef may be more healthful than grain-finished beef. It's leaner and lower in calories. It also contains higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and conjugated linoleic acid, which health professionals believe may have cancer-fighting properties.