March 31, 2010

Beware the Giant Chocolate Bunny

Well, at least hide it from the kids! Yes, that's right, my wife -- smart, beautiful, sophisticated, and, most importantly, purchaser of raffle tickets for the 30-pound giant chocolate bunny, Eddie, from our favorite chocolatier, Edward Marc.

And darn it all if she didn't win the thing! And it's not just a 30-pound milk chocolate bunny. It's also an assortment of about 30 truffles (at least!).

So a big thank you to the folks at Edward Marc for Eddie. We -- and no doubt our family, friends, neighbors -- will enjoy it immensely!

March 26, 2010

Music Friday with Elbow

In honor of the beautiful days hopefully ahead with the arrival of spring, a great song from one my favorite bands, the ridiculously unheralded Elbow.

March 23, 2010

Representing the Big Guys

That's what can be said about Blanche Lincoln, the Democratic senator from Arkansas. This post on the Great Orange Satan explains it all in pretty succinct fashion. It's full of things that should disgust most decent people, and it ends with this kicker:

She proposes a slightly modest increase in funding for school lunch programs (half of what the Obama administration has proposed) and pays for it by cutting from other school lunch-related programs, as well as conservation and hunger programs. But subsidies for industrial, monoculture agriculture? Untouched.

Oh, and her family benefits directly from those subsidies, to the tune of nearly three-quarters of a million dollars over the last decade. All class, that Senator Lincoln.

March 21, 2010

Channel flipping and a drink recipe

In a state of disappointment following the Pitt loss in the big dance. Flipping through the channels as I go through some bills while enjoying a drink. My question: Is there anybody who thinks Guy Fieri is funny or entertaining or anything other than really freaking annoying?

As for that drink... this is for fans of the bitter. I am not sure what made me first try Campari, but it is now one of my favorite alcoholic beverages. Throughout the summer my beverage of choice is Campari and soda. More recently I've been enjoying the negroni: campari, gin, sweet vermouth.

More than two years ago, I ran across a post on a food blog that provided a recipe for a campari drink that incorporated blood oranges. Which led to my own blog post on said recipe, in which the many readers of LBoN (tee hee) were treated to a glorious picture of my somewhat freakishly large hands! Talk about a treat.

Well, with blood oranges available in the dominant local grocery chain, I've taken to making a drink with blood orange juice, and equal parts vodka and Campari. For one very full martini glass, I'd suggest using the juice of one blood orange, and 1.5 shots each of a good vodka and Campari. I have to think something like pomegranate juice would be a good substitute for the blood orange juice.

Or, heck, you can just look here, where you can find a ton of Campari drinks. Needless to say, the summer of 2010 will very likely go down as the Campari summer.

March 19, 2010

March Madness and Dan Barber

Shwooooo.... That's me taking a deep breath that Pitt got through the first round of the Big Dance, with relative ease. So now just sipping on an Old Fashion and enjoying a really bangin' game between New Mexico State and Michigan State, and catching up on a few bloggie type things...

Beginning with, this really, really, really great talk by Dan Barber, the well-known chef, writer, and uber local food advocate, at that TED thing. It begins with the memorable line, "I've known a lot of fish in my life, I've loved only two."

From there, it maneuvers to fish fed bits of chicken and then to an amazing fish farm -- three words I'd never thought I'd put together -- in southern Spain. A farm so amazing, so healthy that it welcomes flamingos and other bird predators -- flamingos that fly 300 miles round trip, every day, to eat the farm's quality output.

Also I would recommend reading an accompanying TED Q&A with Barber, in which a few Q&As caught my eye:

So you argue that acre-for-acre, over time, the yield on an organic farm surpasses that of conventional farms.

Yes. The TOTAL CALORIC yield on an organic farm far surpasses a conventional farm. That's on every credible study out there. That's not even an issue.

Let's talk about grain. Because if you're talking about feeding the world, it's really about grain. Now, if you're an organic corn farmer, by definition, you can't grow corn every year. You have to get nitrogen back in the soil. So you'll grow corn, and then you'll grow a legume, and so you'll fix the nitrogen and improve the soil structure. Now, if you're a conventional farmer, you're growing just corn and nothing else but corn. So you might look at this system and say the conventional farmer got more corn. But what that doesn't show is that the organic farmer also got soybeans, switchgrass, vetch, alfalfa ...

And this one:

Your TEDtalk presents itself as a really gentle tale, but it's actually a pretty radical proposition for rethinking food production. Talk to me about where you think agriculture has gone wrong.

When you say that agriculture has gone wrong, it sounds like you're advocating for a system that's 200 years old. I couldn't be further from that; I love technology. But I do think we're heading for a vastly different food experience, in our lifetimes. I think the conventional food system -- which is based on lots of cheap energy, lots of cheap labor, lots of available water, lots of soil erosion -- is going to be a dead man walking 20 years from now. And that's because the things it relies upon are not going to be available.

Watch the video, read the entire Q&A. It's great stuff.

March 12, 2010

Music Friday with The National

The National is one of my favorite bands. They are probably not everybody's cup o' Chai, but I dig 'em. Their last album, Boxer, while it got a lot of critical praise, was not nearly as good as its predecessor, Alligator.

Their new album doesn't drop 'til May, but they previewed it earlier this week on Jimmy Fallon. I recommend giving it at least 'til the 2:00 minute mark or so...

March 11, 2010

Bring on the Junk Food Taxes!

Bring on the junk food taxes (combined with more subsidies to help lower the price of healthy food!). Yeah, that's right, pure, unadulterated "nanny state," baby.

This is a good follow up to a study I mentioned the other day. That study found that increasing the price of junk food was a more effective means of improving people's food choices than bringing down the price of healthy food. Now a new study -- this time, not a virtual study, but a 20-year study of actual human behavior -- shows that higher prices for soda and pizza decreased consumption of those items. The bottom line, 124 calories less a day, 2.3 pounds a year.

This has got to be the most persuasive study to date showing that a sin tax on soda or junk food would actually have the desired effect -- and not just aggravate people who care to indulge in an occasional root beer (or threaten their sense of personal freedom). Soda tax advocates may embrace it as proof that their policy goals are justified.

One need only look to the "comments" section of blogs or newspapers to see whining about "nanny state" when taxes on soda or Pringles are suggested. Would they say the same thing about seat belt laws? How about warning labels and PSAs on the health consequences of smoking?

Yes, this not as simple as taxing every bag of Doritos. It's well documented that many people in low-income areas are heavy consumers of soda and junk food. That kind of thing happens when you don't have a real grocery store in your vicinity, don't have reliable transportation, or the cash to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. So there have to be concurrent changes in policies to lower the price of healthy food and make it more accessible. And that is a huge hurdle to overcome.

But the argument can be made that obesity is the #1 public health issue of our time. In that light, taking these policy measures should be a no brainer.

March 9, 2010

Walmart and Small Farms... Does Not Compute

A tip of the ol' Intertubes hat to yumpittsburgh for pointing me to an article in The Atlantic suggesting that Walmart could actually help to support small farms.

In the grocery section of the Raynham [Walmart] supercenter, 45 minutes south of Boston, I had trouble believing I was in a Walmart. The very reasonable-looking produce, most of it loose and nicely organized, was in black plastic bins (as in British supermarkets, where the look is common; the idea is to make the colors pop). The first thing I saw, McIntosh apples, came from the same local orchard whose apples I’d just seen in the same bags at Whole Foods. The bunched beets were from Muranaka Farm, whose beets I often buy at other markets—but these looked much fresher. The service people I could find (it wasn’t hard) were unfailingly enthusiastic, though I did wonder whether they got let out at night.

It's an interesting read. A little uneven. It asks the question of whether Walmart can help to save the family farm, but then evolves into a cook-off using produce from either Walmart or Whole Foods, which I'm not sure has anything to do with whether Walmart can indeed -- pretty much incidentally, as a matter of business, not out of some altruistic desire -- save the family farm.

The writer, Corby Kummer, also enlists his "contrarian friend" James McWilliams, a professor of history at a Texas college who is fond of writing op-ed columns for the New York Times and other publications that are often critical of the local food movement, but in that build-up-a-strawman or omit-important-details sort of way.

In the hyperlinked column above, for example, Mr. McWilliams failed to note that the study about pathogens in free-range pork that was the linchpin of his column was paid for by the National Pork Board -- that is, a nonprofit front for the for-profit factory pork industry. So, for arguments sake, let's say the study was accurate and could be reproduced by other researchers. I'll take the somewhat increased risk of eating pork from smaller, sustainable pig farmers. First, the taste difference -- that is, a far superior taste -- is significant. And in doing so I'm also not contributing to the overwhelming problems of antibiotic resistance and mass pollution caused by factory pig farms. In the latter case, some of those pesky details that Mr. McWilliams always seems to leave out of his writings.

As for the Atlantic article, again, something interesting to read, even if, IMO, the writer isn't really sure what he's trying to say.

Pan on the Stovetop Lessons

Some good tips from a post on Serious Eats for either sauteing or searing. I think I've gotten better at doing both.

Actually, the other night I did both: seared two grass-fed filets on the stove top in a cast-iron pan (that had preheated in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes), finishing them in the same 400-degree oven for about 8 minutes.

Then, while the meat rested on the countertop, loosely covered in foil, I sauteed some mushrooms in a little oil and butter in the same cast iron pan over medium heat. Added some fresh thyme to the mushrooms, some salt and pepper, then when the mushrooms were getting soft, turned up the heat a little, added about 3/4 to 1 cup of cream, and let it reduce down/thicken for a few minutes.

Plated the steaks and spooned some of the mushroom sauce over each, accompanied by some asparagus (tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, a good helping of lemon zest) that had roasted for 15 minutes in the same 400-degree oven. I oversalted the meat a tad, but otherwise it was really good.

March 2, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... 64,000-mile taco style

A collection of items, I'm overdue for a post and yet I'm feeling lazy. Know what that means? It's a rapid-fire Scrapin'...

First, meet the 64,000-mile taco.

Next, a good, quick, and mostly healthy recipe: fish teriyaki with sweet-and-sour cucumbers.

Speaking of Asian food, let me give another shout out to Yama Sushi in the northern 'burbs of Pittsburgh. Good food and great service, particularly if you have kids.

Back on the policy tip: junk food taxes may work better at getting people to eat healthy food than subsidies for healthy food. Why? The savings on the healthy food -- in a simulation -- were used to buy more junk food!

More policy: Bad U.S. agriculture policy = poor public health. Anybody in Congress listening?

Even more policy: Want to call your milk organic? Then you gotta give your cows plenty of room to graze and eat grass. I have to think that this might mean the demise of organic milk with a grocery store brand on it.