August 30, 2010

Mushroom Hunting? Watch Your Step!

Hunting for mushrooms in dangerous places, some times in the middle of the night is, shockingly, not a good idea!

A bountiful Italian mushroom season has turned deadly, claiming the lives of at least 18 people in recent weeks.

According to Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, mushroom seekers have been so relentless in their pursuit of their favorite fungi, they have been abandoning safety procedures -- donning camouflage and hunting in darkness in an effort to scout remote, highly-coveted troves....

Eighteen people have died in just a 10-day period. Many of them had forgone proper footwear, clothing and equipment and died after steep falls down Alpine slopes.

August 21, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Keeping it Local Style

Before I get to the local stuff, a quick update on the massive egg recall. Short and sweet: big surprise, the "farm" from which the 380 billion recalled, salmonella-tainted eggs originated -- the ones that to this point have sickened at least 1,300 people -- is run by a guy who is a habitual offender of numerous regulations that ensure food safety, prevent pollution, etc.

Jack DeCoster is one of the most reviled names in industrial agriculture. ... One day, as a group of disgruntled farmers gave me a tour of their CAFO-scarred county, they muttered darkly about DeCoster. They said he had been run out of Maine for the egregious practices of his vast egg factories, and that he had set up shop in Iowa with massive, highly polluting hog factories. He was cited as the owner of several operations as we passed foul-smelling concentrations of hog buildings, sometimes as many as eight plunked down together in a cluster, each containing thousands of hogs and each draining mass quantities of waste into a single fetid "lagoon."

From tainted eggs to something much more pleasant, happenings on the local food scene.

First, Mio in Aspinwall -- where I ate just once, an excellent but extremely expensive meal, due mostly to the purchase by our dining group of a lot of wine -- has closed. It was reportedly "financially successful." But Matthew Porco, the chef/owner, had "lost interest in fine dining." He's opening up pizza shops instead. Sounds to me like PR spin. The last thing this area needs is more pizza shops. Out my way, in the northern 'burbs, at least 5 new pizza places have opened in the last two years.

Next, in the Post-Gazette, China Millman gives a nice rundown on where to get good tacos -- that is, something other than ground beef and cheese in mass-produced shells/tortillas. Notably absent was Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville. Seems like a major omission to me.

Back to north of Pittsburgh -- in this case, fairly far north of the city -- is the recently opened Burgh'ers in Zelionople. It's supposedly all organic and local. Along the lines of north of the city and local food, a recent posting on the Chowhound Pennsylvania board reports the opening, allegedly later this fall, of Echo, which will take over the massive, but now empty, space vacated by Hereford & Hops, a failed steakhouse/brew pub that shut its doors at least a year ago, if not longer. The description sounds a tad... ambitious:

It will feature modern American cuisine using local, sustainable produce and a foundation of traditional western European techniques. The contemporary dining room will offer lunch and dinner as well as artisanal cocktails, craft-brewed beers and an extensive wine list in an upscale casual atmosphere. Additional culinary features of Echo will be on-site charcuterie product made in the restaurant’s meat fabrication facility and breads and pastries produced in-house.

The chef, according to this post, which got its info from a local culinary blog of some kind, worked at Alinea -- considered to be one of the best restaurants in the country -- and Frontera Grill in Chicago. Those are some big names.

This restaurant isn't new, and it's even further north, but I can give nothing but my highest recommendations to North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock. I've been meaning to dedicate a post just to North Country for some time, but have just never gotten round to it.This isn't a fine dining experience. It's a casual, drink a beer, eat some meat, have some old-fashioned fun kind of place. So take a drive, order a pale ale and a "farm-to-fork" burger. You will not be disappointed.

August 19, 2010

Mussel Recycling

I love mussels. We don't make them enough at home. Considering how easy they are, that's truly a shame. But I learned something important about how to properly eat mussels yesterday. Thought I would share, so that you, too, can avoid being accused of poor mussel etiquette.

The Post article includes a few recipes for mussels, and Serious Eats has a really interesting recipe (that also includes clams, but I'd probably skip those) that has chorizo -- freakin' yum! -- and white beans. That sounds like a winner.

August 18, 2010

Check Yer Eggs

By now I'm sure most people have heard about the recall of a bunch of salmonella-tainted eggs -- 380 million of them! As Bill Marler, enemy #1 of the raw milk folks, explains, the folks behind the recall have, well, a shaky history.

It doesn't seem fathomable, does it? Yet another reason to try to get your eggs from local farms that you trust. Best eggs I've had have actually come from Miller's Farm, an Amish-run farm, whose product can be purchased at McGinnis Sisters. The availability isn't always predictable, though.

August 13, 2010

Does it Feel Warm to You? Ask Your Food

I know there are those who continue to deny man-induced climate change, either because

1) they are politicians who receive copious amounts of money from the industries who are responsible for much of the polluting that is causing climate change,


2) they are so deeply committed to their partisan political beliefs that they couldn't possibly admit Al "I invented the Internet (but never really said that, the media just keeps saying I did)" Gore and liberal f@#$ing hippies have been right


3) they find some sort of strange amusement in denying that most of the scientific evidence produced suggests the climate is changing and man's activities are a big reason for that, even as a good portion of Russia is on fire, a good bit of Pakistan is under water, and a nice big piece of Greenland four times the size of Manhattan is now floating around in the ocean, just looking for off-shore oil rigs to take out.

So, while, as a country we do very little to lead the rest of the world toward engaging in activities to help at least start to limit the harm we are doing, the impact of climate change on how the world eats is quickly making itself known:

Already the extreme drought and heat has badly damaged grain harvests in Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, the old Soviet breadbasket responsible for one-fourth of the world's wheat exports. Russia's grain harvest could drop from 94 million tons to 65 million tons or less this year—an alarming figure that prompted Moscow to ban grain exports, steps that could be followed by its neighbors.

And it's not just wheat.

Grain isn't the only crop that will under more intense heat. The production of rice—the world's most widely consumed grain, with some 700 million metric tons produced a year—could suffer as temperatures rise, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wheat, rice. Feh! What are those, but just staple crops required to feed much of the world. Screw it. Didn't we get, like, 8,000 inches of snow or something this winter? See, it's all a crock. A global conspiracy. A George Soros-funded plot to make people turn down their air conditioning and ride bikes so that they'll be more tired and more easily succumb to the socialist plot of the dirty hippy liberals to take over the world.
Or something like that.

August 4, 2010

Scrapin' Up the Bits... Gut Bugs style

All the news that's fit to print! Or that I think is interesting but that I'm too lazy to write in detail about. Beginning with...

Gut Bugs, or, bacteria in yer' tummy and other parts of the GI system. There are a trillion bacteria in your tummy, and they are very important for your overall health. The kind of bacteria you have in your tummy, explains science writer/blogger Ed Yong, depends heavily on your diet.

Different cultures around the world have starkly contrasting diets and their gut bacteria are different too. As we grow older, we eat increasingly diverse foods, from the milk of infancy to the complex menus of adulthood. As our palate changes, so do our gut bacteria.

It's worth taking the time to read... and digest (ahem)... the whole thing. More on this subject from a recent New York Times article by Carl Zimmer. Again, I highly recommend reading this, if for nothing else than the first few paragraphs that describe an amazing medical procedure that saved a dying woman's life. Let's just call it a "fecal transplant."

What's next? Oh, yes...

Food labels! People who read them apparently are more likely to eat more ... healthily.

Significant differences in mean nutrient intake of total calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, dietary fiber, and sugars were observed between food label users and non-users with label users reporting healthier nutrient consumption. The greatest differences observed were for total calories and fat and for use of specific nutrient information on the food label. 

And the bags in cereal boxes, which apparently had some nasty chemicals in them.

Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene -- even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years. 

Comforting, no?

As is this, although not surprising: healthy, "nutrient-dense" food is increasing in price much faster than less healthy food.

Over the four-year period, they found that the supermarket price of the top 20 percent most nutrient-dense foods increased 29.2 percent, while those in the least nutrient-dense 20 percent rose by 16.1 percent.

These findings could mean there are added barriers for Americans when it comes to following dietary guidance, they said. And this could prove to be particularly significant at a time when many US consumers are dealing with lost or diminished incomes. 

Which leads in nicely to this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A thousand households in the Hill District will be the subject of a study that researchers say would be the first of its kind in the country to track a grocery store's impact on food-buying habits in a particular neighborhood over time.

Researchers from the Rand Corp., with a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and help from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, will begin tracking food-buying and eating histories this year in anticipation of the proposed 2011 opening of a Shop 'n Save on Centre Avenue near Dinwiddie Street.

I take for granted that I have 4 grocery stores within a 10-minute drive from my house. So if I forgot to buy a shallot for tonight's dinner or we're out of bananas, I can go get them in no time. Not to mention that we can easily do our regular grocery shopping. But places like Pittsburgh's Hill District are often referred to as "food deserts," because the only options for purchasing food are typically convenience stores and fast-food restaurants.

It will be curious to see the results of this study. There are still huge issues, because you're dealing with a relatively poor population that relies heavily on mass transport, both of which would seem to heavily influence the ability to do regular grocery shopping. It's all part of a much larger socioeconomic problem/conundrum, but hopefully having a grocery store in the Hill will do some good.

And, finally, on a lighter, if not somewhat tastier, note, the growing popularity of Mad Men strikes again, raising the all-important question: what's so wrong with a 3-martini lunch? Personally, I'd be toast after three martinis at lunch. One, though, every now and then, say, on a Thursday, around noon, with a turkey club and house-made chips, might not be too bad (cough... not that that's ever happened, boss!).

August 1, 2010

Is It Live...

... or is it Play Doh?