Miss Ginsu: About/Bio


FoodLink Roundup: 07.28.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake took a break in the Central Park Sheep's Meadow. (Fine spotting to the Beast and Hazard both.) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

Apizza Scholls: Top Five Pizzeria in America
Slice puts its hands on one of America's best pies. You can bet I'll be stopping by the next time I'm in Portland.

Reviving the Ramapo
"The market is ripe for the return of the Ramapo because there is a sizable group out there that wants their tomato to taste good." It's like finding something useful up in the attic.

Slideluck Potshow
A surprise hit in cities around the world, simply local folks sitting around watching slides and eating potluck food.

A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss
And now, friends, we return to an era of surfs raising premium crops for the lords...

I Hate Cilantro Haikus
Wow... I had no idea this was a haiku genre.

Some good visualizations of individual ingredients in the Nutrition Search widget.

Italy's creative microbrew movement gets noticed
"Outside of the U.S., Italy probably has the most exciting brewing scene in the world," says Garrett Oliver. And yes, he's talking about beer, not wine. That's just crazy.

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Food Quote Friday: Julia Child

Rich Chocolate in Barcelona

"I'm awfully sorry for people who are taken in by all of today's dietary mumbo jumbo. They are not getting any enjoyment out of their food."

Julia Child, as quoted in Esquire

More sinfully delicious food quotes can be found within the food quote archive

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FoodLink Roundup: 03.24.08

Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was romping in Barcelona, España (Yes, Mr. Hazard, you were right on with Spain!) Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Think you know? Post it in the comments.

The Fat Pack Wonders if the Party’s Over
Fellow NYC food blogger Jason Perlow gets diabetes, drops off the pounds and challenges the culture of excess embodied by some food media heavies.

The Myth of Food Miles
A backlash against the UK locavore movement. "The concept of food miles is unhelpful and stupid. It doesn't inform about anything except the distance travelled..."

Putting Dunkin' Donuts Coffee to the Test
I'd always suspected it was a viral marketing scheme (or perhaps an alien brain wave device?) that managed to convince a nation of Dunkin' Donuts coffee superiority.

The Turnip That Stirred Panic
“I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables,” GiaQuinta said. Hilarious.

Leaving Behind the Trucker Hat
It's like a headline from The Onion: American Youth Flee Hip Urban 'Hoods for Country Backwaters.

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FoodLink Roundup: 03.03.08

Cupcake Goes Western
Where in the world is Cupcake? Post in the comments if you think you know...

Recent interesting food news found roaming out there on the world wild web:

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Nibbling at the Front Line

When I returned to the Upper Midwest last summer for a visit, I couldn't help but notice a change in the fields. The vast oceans of wheat and the fields of sunflowers were gone. In their place grew soybeans and corn.

And according to the National Corn Growers Association, spring planting trends will continue to favor corn.

So what's wrong with lots of corn? For one thing, it means that other crops become more scarce as corn prices go up and farmers turn to the big corn payoff.

Films like King Corn have attacked the environmental and dietary risks of our national corn obsession.

And on the topic of corn-fed beef, food writer Michael Pollan says: "The industry can always make the popular arguments, because they certainly make things cheaper. But is it really cheap? Think of the taxpayer, who's actually subsidizing every one of those burgers. All that corn requires an immense amount of fossil fuel. Corn requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other crops. It takes the equivalent of half a gallon of gasoline to grow every bushel of corn. [Almost] everything we do to protect our oil supply ... is a cost of that burger."

A very active athlete, J consumes New York City like Galactus chews through planets. Thus, he's bound to notice the effects of agricultural policy on food costs (and small-scale businesses) a little more quickly than I would.

Herein J reports on how things are going for those on the front lines: old-school vendors on the Lower East Side.

A moist, tasty muffin (for $2.25) from the Tra La La Juice Bar.
1. There's a fantastic dumpling shop in my neighborhood that has sold their pork & chive fried dumplings at 5/$1 for the last ten years. When I went in last night, the price had gone to 4/$1. I mentioned the change to the owner. She said, "flour tripled, $18/bag to $60/bag, and my other ingredients are up too."

2. A guy in the local covered market makes muffins. My favorite one has been $1.75 since I moved to NYC. It went to $2.25 a couple weeks ago. Explanation: "All of my ingredients have gotten more expensive. Using corn for fuel was the stupidest thing anybody could have come up with, 'cause now the price of corn — the root of all US agriculture — has shot up, taking everything else with it." He went on a tirade, talking about how biofuel has to be shipped in trucks that burn more biofuel rather via pipelines, &c.

I just stood there, listening and chewing my $2.25 muffin.

Just a little something to chew on the next time you see high-fructose corn syrup in your sports drink or corn ethanol at the gas pump.

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Diet & Exercise, Circa 1900

By now, I think most of us who pay attention to food trends know Michael Pollan's succinct mantra, as stated in the New York Times last year: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

This weekend, J ran across a little gem on Google's online and out-of-copyright book collection that reminded me of Pollan's levelheaded, simply stated health advice.

It's a book on training by a boxer who was perhaps the biggest badass of the late 19th Century: Robert Fitzsimmons, AKA The Freckled Wonder.

Though the word choices are antiquated, I love how well his simple statements have held up over time. A few updates to the prose and Fitzsimmons could be addressing the denizens of cubicle-land today...

Rock Climbing in Central Park


A Simple Diet and Easy Indoor Exercise

HERE is some advice for the business man, the lawyer, doctor, broker, clerk, salesman: any man, in fact, who is kept indoors much of the time.

Most men of this class take on weight. They become big and fat: uncomfortably so.

This advice will show them how they can keep in fairly good trim, notwithstanding the fact that they have practically no available time at their disposal for exercise of any description.

Take the business man who, having reached middle age, is beginning to get stout. Owing to this increase in weight he begins to have aches and pains. His muscles are not trained to support the extra weight which he is taking on.

Here is your diet, and you must adhere to it if you want to obtain proper results.

Abstain from the use of all fatty and starchy food. Eat all kinds of meat except pork. Eat all varieties of green vegetables, fruits, and dry toast, and drink your tea without sugar. Do not eat potatoes, butter, fresh bread, or sugar.

Years before the Atkins plan or modern nutritional research, Fitzsimmons' advice sounds a little South Beach Diet-y, doesn't it? As my mum says, "There's nothing new under the sun..."

At this point The Freckled Wonder prescribes a daily regimen consisting of two exercises to be done in both the morning and evening: paired leg lifts (20 reps) and basic push-ups (ten reps).

My favorite part of this chapter is what comes next: A smart little pep-talk on the power of persistence.
Above all things you must be regular, and do not look for too speedy results.

You cannot hope to stick to this diet and these exercises for two or three mornings and then jump on the scales and find that you have dropped five or ten pounds.

It will be at least two or three weeks before you commence to lose weight. Then you will drop from two to five pounds a week.

You must impress it upon your mind, how ever, that there must be no weakening on the tasks that you have laid down for yourself.

Some cold mornings you will get up, possibly after a hard night, feeling languid and unrefreshed. Instead of taking your cold bath, rub down, and exercises, you may be tempted to say, "Oh! I’ll just skip it this once, and jump into my clothes."

Such weakness is fatal. Persevere!

Yes, dear readers! January resolutions may, by now, have smashed to bits upon the rocks of passing weeks, and a sodden February lull may have taken up their place in your mind, but Perservere! You, too, will find your way to successful harbors.

In the same way that Michael Pollan slimmed down his voluminous dining advice for easy consumption, Fitzsimmons can probably be trimmed thusly:

Avoid simple carbohydrates. Do basic calisthenics daily. Keep at it.

Good advice in 1901. Good advice more than a century later.

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Goal 3: Create Convenience

The problem with convenience food is that convenience is its only attribute. It's there. It's available. It's shelf-stable.

Sheetz Market, PA

On the other hand, list of what convenience food is not goes on and on. It's not fresh, not nutritious, not vibrant, not wholesome, not flavorful, not sustainable, not natural...

When we strive to offer ourselves the gift of a better, tastier, fresher, more healthful diet, we need to plan ahead to make the magic happen.

Fruit & Cheese

Sometimes life gives you a beautiful fruit stand. Far more often, the modern world will offer up its shelf-stable candy aisles and its fast food chains. The convenience is there, but you pay for that convenience with your health and your hard-earned dollars.

If you can plan ahead, you'll create convenience on your own terms.

1. Make sure you know where your next meal is coming from.

Most people need three (or more) meals a day. Make sure you know how that's going to happen. Buy groceries with several meal plans in mind. Cook on Sunday and put soups and casseroles in the freezer. Pack lunches or look up in advance the local options for places that will feed you healthful foods. Don't leave your good intentions for nutritious, delicious meals in the hands of fate. She'll turn around and hand you a Ho-Ho.

2. Pack food.

You've packed your ipod, your sunglasses, your book and your sweater. What about snacks? Pack a water bottle. Pack an apple. Pack a banana. Pack a sandwich. Pack a bento box. Pack a hard-boiled egg in a plastic bag with a paper towel. When it comes to traveling (whether that's across town or across the country) it pays to be a little paranoid.

3. Don't leave hungry.

That party that's supposed to offer food? The appointment that's supposed to be a lunch meeting? Don't believe the hype. You never know what the future holds, so don't go anywhere with a ravenous hunger. You'll end up eating whatever's put in front of you, and because you're desperate, you'll probably eat far more of it than you normally would have. Life is uncertain, so make sure you at least eat a handful of nuts or an apple before leaving the house.

4. Make fresh food convenient.

We all have moments when our inner caveman takes over, and we stumble through the kitchen in search of something... anything... to eat. That's a particularly vulnerable state to be in.

When you stock the house with easy, healthy snacks, you offer a gift to your hungry caveman. Make sure you always have healthful supplies on hand. Think fresh fruit, snack-sized vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, granola, etc. Conversely, make convenience foods inconvenient. Keep them away from your home, your office and your car. They're just not allowed.

A box of crackers will sit, inert, on a shelf for years. A banana goes brown and spotty after a week or less.

So yes, eating fresh, nutritious foods takes some effort on a regular basis. But planning ahead for healthful meals and snacks means convenience foods... actually become a little less convenient.

Miss out on previous days? Read Goal 1 and Goal 2.

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Goal 2: Eat like Mr. Miyagi

The good people of Okinawa, Japan, are known for more than mind-blowing karate. Okinawans are also some of the longest-lived people on the planet, and are reported to have the largest population of centenarians in the world.

Of course, our modern era being what it is, that fact that has subsequently spurred the so-called Okinawa Diet, a reduced-calorie plan that's based, for the most part, around veggies and fish. (Gee whiz, Wally... doesn't that sound like the Mediterranean Diet? Maybe veggies and fish really are good for you...)

There's been some interesting research lately into calorie-restricted diets and their effect on longevity. At least in smaller life forms, a calorie-restricted diet really does appear to translate to a slightly longer life.

Although I don't think I could fully enact that notion (I enjoy hot chocolate and French pastries far too much), consuming a diet full of vegetables and fishes seems like it's just plain old good advice.

That said, I think the best take-away from the Okinawa plan is their very savvy skills in portion control.

We live in a land of plenty. More than plenty, really, so it's not surprising that most people in this culture have no idea how much they should actually eat at any given meal.

That lack of skill in deciding what a portion should be is precisely why our nation's nutritionists try to give us visual cues. A portion of banana is half the banana. A portion of meat looks like a hockey puck, not a frisbee. A portion of nuts is a small handful, not a bag. A portion of Ben & Jerry's does not look like a pint container. Your dinner should not look like a plate loaded to the rim at the Old Country Buffet...

Bento Box
Sensei says... give those gyoza away and leave the rice behind.

The Okinawa portion control rule is easy to remember and easy to execute. Just remember 80%.

Step 1: Eat until you're 80% full.
Step 2: Stop eating.

Simple, right?

Now, an enterprising soul could probably go publish an "Everything I need to know about my health I learned from Mr. Miyagi" tome, because there's a lot of solid principles in the Okinawa plan (Enjoy your food, eat vast quantities of vegetables, be a kick-ass mentor, paint the house, wash the car, etc.), but personally, I'm seeking a few small, achievable steps.

Being a karate master takes a lifetime, but being good at 80% is something that can be achieved at any given meal.

This post marks the second of Seven Food Resolutions. Miss out on Goal 1? Find it here.

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Goal 1: Hydration

I love resolutions. In fact, I love 'em so much, I tend to make biannual resolutions, because sometimes the things I resolve in January make less sense six months later.

Thus, I'm embarking on seven days of healthy food resolutions this week.

Each goal will support good health with good food without wrecking one of my other goals: saving money so I can pay down my student loans.

Goal 1: Hydration

One of the cheapest, most sensible tips I've found for maintaining a healthy weight and a happy body is bizarrely simple: Stay hydrated.

There's so many compelling reasons to keep ample fluids in the body. When you drink enough water, you give yourself the gift of nourished skin, better breath, more energy, happy bowels and kidneys, easier digestion, more brainpower and very probably a decreased caloric intake (dehydrated people tend to snack).

There was a period in my life several years ago when I didn't drink water. Ever. I drank milk, juice, sodas, tea, cocoa, lemonade... anything but water. To be honest, straight-up water kind of bored me.

In retrospect, it's not surprising that I also had chapped lips, often felt dizzy and passed out in public places with concerning frequency. (They called an ambulance when I passed out in the Rainbow Foods checkout line.) My doctor took blood tests and did an EKG to try to figure out the fainting spells, but came to no conclusion.

At some point, I realized I'd never really paid any attention at all to that whole "drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day" rule. I gave it a shot (though I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that the experiment was more for the promised energy boost than anything else).

Suddenly, like the forgotten plant on the windowsill... water brought me back to life. Random headaches, swooning, dry skin, constipation and dry mouth? Gone. Turns out I had low blood pressure thanks to a mild, but chronic, dehydration.

I haven't had a dizzy spell since, and I now begin every list of annual resolutions with this one simple statement: Drink more water.

Washable Water Bottle
Your ally in the war on dehydration

There's a few easy ways to make this resolution stick.

1. Figure out how much you need.

Honestly, that whole six to eight glasses of water a day rule might not be right for you. If you exercise heavily, that's probably too little. If you drink a lot of other fluids, six to eight glasses might be too much. The proof is in the loo. Do Is your urine clear or pale yellow? You're probably doing fine. (Though it's important to note that B vitamins and some medications change the color of your fluids.)

2. Get yourself a water bottle you love (and a brush to keep it clean).

Most people are probably aware by now that disposable plastic water bottles are an environmental nightmare, so gift yourself a nice reusable water bottle. I've got a quart-sized Nalgene bottle on my desk at work and a smaller one that goes in my purse. Keep in mind that a bottle brush is key... nobody loves funky water.

3. Bored by water? Cut it with a little juice.

I mentioned this one a few months back in my post on workout foods, but somehow, it's even more valid in the winter. For some reason, I always think water tastes better in the summer. For the winter months, like to I hit my waterglass up with a wedge of lemon, lime or orange.

4. Take pride in your city tap water.

J was on the Staten Island Ferry recently when he overheard a young lady telling her friends, "Omigod, you guys... I am so broke. My parents didn't give me anything this week. You guys, I drank water... out of the water fountain!"

First, it's funny. Then, it's sad. I realize not every municipality has tasty water, but darn it, I really believe New York City has some of the finest water in the country. (In fact, Jeffrey Steingarten had a great chapter on this topic in his book, The Man Who Ate Everything.)

If your city water is horrible, then buy a tap filter and make it your civic duty to protest loudly, angrily and often. Bad city water needs to be an outrage, not a reason to give more money to Coke or Pepsi (Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani bottled waters are processed from municipal taps).

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Brekkie Showdown: Beans on Toast

J grew up with a basketful of alien habits, thanks in part to his mum, an Irish immigrant.

Cookies are biscuits. Sweaters are pullovers. Tea goes with brekkie, as well as the afternoon biscuit for teatime. Shepherd's pies have lamb in them, dammit. Oatmeal is steel-cut. The instant stuff in the packets is dust (or if he's feeling less than generous, it's shite.)

And beans, apparently, are for toast. Beans on toast? Why not beans near toast? Why not beans beneath toast? These are not valid questions. Beans go on toast.

Not just any beans, mind you. There are beans, and then there are beans. The beans J recognizes as beans (and craves on toast) are, in fact, navy beans.

Internet research told me that BoT is among the world's best performance breakfasts, thanks to its protein/carbohydrate ratio. Gets you going in the morning with lasting energy to power you (and your brain) through to lunchtime. Clearly, breakfast experimentation was in order.

The internet also told me I should use "Heinz Beans with tomato sauce" (a UK import product I ran across at my local Key Food), though "Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans in rich tomato sauce" (an American product) could do in a pinch.

Who am I to argue with the internet? I decided to go with the double-header. Beano a beano.

Bean v. Bean

The Queen's Beans sold for $1.49 but came with a slick pull-tab on the can. The Yankee Beans cost me a mere .99, no pull-tab, no frills. Immediate comparison showed that the Yankee beans sported twice the sugar and a bit more fat. Both products promised a tomato sauce.

J said that when it's part of the Full Irish, Beans on Toast is generally served with fried eggs, potatoes, rashers (bacon) and sliced tomatoes. Sometimes a white pudding is in attendance.

As I was hoping to remain ambulatory after breakfast, we decided to go with bacon, poached eggs and BoT with a side of fresh cherry tomatoes.

Making Brekkie

The contents were immediately differentiated on opening the cans. As you can see, the Brit beans sit like little pearls in their pinky, translucent tomato sauce, while the American variety are darker and the sauce and beans share the same hue.

J didn't see the bean pouring process, so he wasn't aware which bowl of beans was which, but as it turned out, we both immediately preferred the UK version of the Heinz beans. The beans themselves were toothsome ("They taste like beans.") and their sauce was sweetly tangy. Real tomato flavor was apparent.

The Premium Vegetarian Beans were comparatively cloying. They tasted less like beans and tomato sauce, more like salt and sugar.

Beans on Toast with Poached Egg and Rashers

At that point, we couldn't bear to ruin perfectly good toast with substandard beans; we scooped only the tangy, tomato-y UK beans across our toast. Truly tasty, wholly satisfying and entirely worth the extra half-dollar.

J was happy. I was happy. I'd even go so far as to say that beans on toast may very well take up a spot alongside steel-cut oats, granola and power smoothies in our brekkie rotation. Meanwhile, I'll let you know if I suddenly begin rating better on standardized tests.

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Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods

park-side power food

In elementary school, I was always the slowest kid at the track during the mile-run in the annual Presidential Physical Fitness tests. Every spring I'd see all the other kids perched at the edge of the track, pulling up tufts of grass while I puffed my way around the turns to complete those eternally long mile-long runs.

Even my most patient gym teachers grew drowsy watching their stop watches before I poked along into the final stretch.

Thus, it tickles me pink that I'm now a person who runs. I may even be so bold as to call myself a runner.

This month, in fact, I'm in training to run a jaunty little 3.5 miles for the gigantic JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge run in Central Park. I have an official number that'll be pinned to my tanktop. And I'm not just going to complete it, I'm going to run the whole thing.

Yeah, it's no Ironman, but I bet even old Mr. Wolf would be slightly impressed at my bookworm-to-budding-jock progress.

One of the things the newbie athlete (or honestly, anyone who has working eyeballs) can't help but notice along the journey to fitness is all the so-called "power food" on the market. Endurance workouts are undeniably hungry-making, and there's all kinds of products competing to fill your empty belly. Nutrition bars. Performance beverages. Magic athletic potions and powders.

I have a hard time believing that convenient, inexpensive real-food snacks (such as a handful of dried prunes mixed with raw almonds) could somehow be less powerful for an active body than those nutrition bars that run between $1.50-$2 and contain:
Soy Protein Nuggets (Isolated Soy Protein, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Malt, Salt), Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Nonfat Dry Milk, Cocoa Powder, Lecithin, Salt, Natural Flavor), Corn Syrup, Sodium Caseinate, Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Peanuts And Less Than 2% Of The Following: Butter, Lecithin, Gelatin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Ascorbic Acid, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbyl Palmitate, D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Fish Oil, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Chromium Chloride, Folic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Cyanocobalamin.

I don't buy into products with yard-long ingredient statements, and I don't believe anybody's body really needs more high-fructose corn syrup. Thus, I offer my top recommendations for cheap, easy, tasty performance foods that are made out of genuine, old-school food.

My Top-Ten Real-Food Workout Foods:

1. Boiled Eggs. Mankind's original power food. Eggs come in their own biodegradable packaging, offer protein, iron and vitamin A and cost about 18 cents each for the high-end organic variety. Boil a few on Monday for workout snacks all week long.
2. Yogurt-Fruit Smoothies. A tasty, nearly-instant breakfast. Combine, in a blender, a half-cup of yogurt, a cup of plain soy milk, a half-banana (store the other half in the freezer for future smoothie action) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or a half-cup of any fruit you happen to have around. Throw in a tablespoon of wheat germ and a scoop of whey powder for a fiber + protein power boost if you're into that. Blend until smooth. Drink. And feel pleased you've avoided any sticker shock you might experience at the local Jamba Juice.
3. Fruit & Nut Bars. The Clif company recently produced a line of bars they're calling Clif Nectar Organic Fruit-Nut Bars. I'm pleased to report that they're tasty and the formula contains no high-fructose corn syrup... just dried fruit, roasted nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and the like. All certified organic, of course. That's great, but it seems to me that the cheaper route would be a DIY bar made of the same stuff. As it happens, others have already had this idea. So if you've got a blender, an oven and some plastic wrap or waxed paper for easy wrapping and transportation, you're set to make "power" bars on the cheap.
4. Juice + Water. Gaterade? Powerade? Vitaminwater? You're paying dearly for their national marketing campaigns. My co-worker, a Gotham Girls Roller Derby powerhouse, needs to drink a lot of water to keep up her speed and bruiser moves on the rink. She dopes that quart-size water bottle at her desk with juice to keep the hydration task more interesting. Do like the rollergirl and tip in about a half-cup for every quart of water. WebMD recommends you add a half-teaspoon of salt and/or baking soda if you want to give it electrolytes like the ones found in Gatorade or Smartwater.
5. Scrambled Egg Burritos/English Muffins. Fry or scramble an egg in a small amount of olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. Pile onto/into a warmed tortilla or a toasted whole-wheat English Muffin. Fast fiber + protein = yum.
6. Ripe avocados. A hyper-fast post-workout snack. Full of fats? Pshaw. It's all good fat. Do 'em up like my big, strong (and remarkably slim) boyfriend: Cut avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, sprinkle each half with salt and pepper. Scoop into mouth with a spoon.
7. Apple slices with peanut butter. Fuji apples are a good choice, and Smucker's Natural PB has a nicely roasty flavor.
8. Carrots with hummus. Vitamin A, protein, fiber and flavor.
9. Classic trail mix. Throw some raisins or dried currants in a little bag with your favorite nuts. Add some apricot pieces or coconut chips if you're feeling wacky.
10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans. A great source of protein with iron and fiber... but that's not why I eat 'em. They're deliciously addictive when drizzled with the slightest amount of good olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Add a squirt of fresh lemon or some chopped cherry tomatoes if you're into it. Go fancy with some chopped parsley or diced cucumbers if you have 'em around.

Got a good real-food workout snack of your own? Throw it in the comments!

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In space, no one can hear you retch

soylent green
Soylent Green: the Malthusian Catastrophe at its finest.

Ever notice how disgusting the food of the future looks? Food that comes in pill form. Soylent green. Food that comes out of a replicator. It's pure nutrition. Efficient fuel. And food love is apparently an antiquated notion to our descendants. With the exception of Captain Picard's cuppa Earl Grey, there's little to no enjoyment involved in sci-fi cuisine.

The supposedly non-fiction news is no better. Consider vat meat. Bland packaged foods that won't wreck the space craft. Overfished oceans depleted of sea life. Molecular gastronomy advances that produce edible paper menus. Genetically engineered hybrid crops developed, owned and distributed by transglobalmegacorps.

And I guess I'm part of the problem, too, having taken part in a low-budget sci-fi spaghetti western that does nothing but subliminally re-enforce the assumptions that the food of the future is, at its very best, bland, packaged and the color of metal. (In Planetfall, the bar drinks are green and the food either arrives in mylar packets or in the form of shiny silver "space potatoes.")

Like it or not, I'd wager that culturally internalized visions like those revealed in sci-fi and fantasy fiction may, in some way, work to shape our collective futures. It's certainly possible that prescient sci-fi writers like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Philip K. Dick only tapped into the trends of their respective times, extrapolating possibilities that happened to crystallize. But isn't it also possible that in the same way individuals use visualization or mantras and organizations use mission statements, a society unconsciously feeds off its collective dreams (films, graphic novels, books, tv shows, etc.) while inventing its future?

I'm not trying to suggest that sci-fi as a genre needs to take up the gauntlet (or pot holder, as the case may be) and lead the media in creating brave new visions for the luscious, fresh, juicy, robust meals of a much tastier future.

And it doesn't need to be writers and filmmakers that invent our culture's dreams for a delicious, sustainable future (and just as a side note, when I say "sustainability," I don't just mean responsible fishing or integrated land management. I'm thinking of the way delicious food is sustainable food. It sustains you physically, mentally and emotionally. Thus, a sustainable diet encompasses meals you want to eat again and again.).

I realize that storytelling is about conflict and drama, not food porn, but wouldn't it be wonderful to see some of the meals of the future depicted in the lush brushstrokes we currently seem to save for our visions of the past? Or are we already too sad and cynical to believe that the citizens of 2050 or 3075 or 3000 would ever sniff and savor and salivate over their suppers?

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Food Quote Friday: Xenophon

Ginger Gold Apple
Ginger Gold Apple at the Midtown Farmers' Market in Minneapolis, MN

"You should watch yourself throughout your life, and notice what sort of meat and drink and what form of exercise suits your constitution, and you should regulate them in order to enjoy good health. For by such attention to yourself you can discover better than any doctor what suits your constitution."

Xenophon, from Memorabilia: Recollections of Socrates

(Bountiful thanks to J.)

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Food Quote Friday: Meyers & Martin

granola and yogurt with fresh strawberries
Granola and yogurt with fresh strawberries from MissGinsu @ Flickr

"...Manson’s violent, antisocial behavior might have been avoided if only he had put some chopped walnuts in his granola."

- Kristin Meyers | Joby Martin in the Monterey County Weekly

Find more crunchy, nutty food quotes here.

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USDA Changes Pyramid to Pie

USDA pyramid
And at the top, you'll find nutritional enlightenment...

Yeah, maybe most of the world has been watching the Sistine Chapel for a plume of white smoke. Meanwhile, my coworkers have been salivating at their screens, counting down the moments to this morning's USDA webcast announcement for the new food pyramid. (Weirdos.)

Essentially, they've divided the hierarchy into vertical slices of varying widths to represent relative consumption. The slices are color-coded, and you have to check at MyPyramid.gov to get your own, personalized recommendation on what the government thinks you should be eating.

The reactions among the troops here?

"It's stupid!"

"It's terrible information design! The image isn't sufficient on its own. They don't provide labels for the sections, so it's just confusing"

"They tipped the pyramid over and spilled it out all over the place. It's like they're saying, 'hey you figure it out' "

"It's a food pie"

"Well... it takes into account individual people's needs."

"It doesn't tell me why I'm supposed to eat all these grains."

Overall, there's confusion and disappointment. Our nutritionist was the most cautiously optimistic among us.

The bottom line? Eat whole grains, vary your vegetables, focus on fruits, find calcium-rich foods, eat lean proteins, know the difference between fats, and exercise every day.

I haven't yet found a mention about remembering to floss and getting eight hours of sleep every night, but I'm sure that's in here somewhere...

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Dear Miss Ginsu: Why All the Different Salts?

Dear Miss Ginsu,

I'm confused. What's the difference between sea salt, kosher salt and iodized salt? Are any of these salts better for a salt-reduced diet? And why do some recipes have unsalted butter?

— Brine on the Brain

Dear Briny,

That's a lot of questions! Let's number them as we go along...

1. What's the difference between all the salts on the market?

All three are variations on the same compound: sodium chloride. The difference between these salts is found in the flavor (from trace minerals) and the crystal size (from the manufacturing method).

The salt we use in kitchens comes in in several crystal sizes, from very fine (almost powdery salt used for popcorn); to fine-grain or granulated salt (like table salt); kosher salt (flaky, larger crystals); and coarse (the crystal size you see on pretzels). There's also rock salt, but that's only really used for making homemade ice cream and thawing your sidewalk, as far as I know.

Iodized salt is generally a table salt, which has a small crystal size that's meant to slip out of your shaker with ease. When compared directly with non-iodized salt, iodized salt will have a slightly bitter taste. It also makes your pickles go dark if you're doing cucumber pickling. Iodine was included for reasons of public health and not for culinary artistry, and that's why the top chefs never use iodized salt.

Chefs sometimes use sea salt because it has additional minerals that give it subtle flavors (and sometimes pretty pastel colors). These other minerals tag along when the salt is harvested from the saltflats in one of a handful of exotic areas around the globe. The very expensive sea salts should only be used as a sprinkled garnish, because the delicate flavors would be overpowered in most dishes.

For everyday kitchen use, I find that chefs generally prefer kosher salt, which has larger, flake-like crystals that make it easy to pinch, measure and sprinkle in a dish.

As a side note, you shouldn't measure out table salt (iodized or not) in a dish that calls for kosher salt. Because kosher salt crystals are larger, you'll use too much salt in the recipe if you substitute table salt.

Table salt's very small crystals actually fit together tighter in the teaspoon than kosher crystals, which leave some space. So you end up salting more than you'd reckoned on, and the dish can be too salty.

In short, it's most efficient to use a table salt (iodized or not) in your shaker, kosher salt for cooking, salting meats, etc., and sea salt for extra-fancy garnish.

2. Are any of these salts better for a salt-reduced diet?

Technically, no. But you might end up using less salt in a dish if you're using kosher salt, because it's easier to control.

Those "lite salt" mixtures are usually potassium chloride mixed with the standard sodium chloride. I personally feel that fresh herbs and spices, vinegars and citrus juices are better flavoring options for salt-restricted diets.

3. Why do some recipes have unsalted butter?

Again, that's about controlling the flavor of a dish. If you're using unsalted butter, you're responsible for how much salt you want to add, not Land o'Lakes or Hotel Bar.

Long ago, salt was added to butter as a preservative, but thanks to modern shipping and refrigeration, that's not generally necessary these days.

Incidentally, the salt level in a stick of butter varies from one dairy to another, so it's difficult to put a firm teaspoon amount on how much salt you're getting in a stick.

Hope that helps!

Miss Ginsu

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