Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cheese Wheeze

A word on food as it relates to health. Specifically, my health.

These days there's plenty of skepticism about picky eaters disguising their preferences as allergies or the even less convincing "food sensitivities." But I've learned from personal experience that these distinctions are to be taken seriously.

Early this year, I dragged myself to an allergist for help with chronic congestion and wheezing that had become nothing short of scary. Elise's birth mother died from asthma, and so I take having trouble breathing very, very seriously. The allergist told me that there was nothing about my lifestyle or environment that was worth the money or effort to change, and that I needed only to use an inhaler or nasal spray when things got bad. Since they were bad every day, I started doing so regularly.

The drugs were shockingly effective, but I didn't want to be on them for the rest of my life and knew that there was more to the story. I made an appointment with a local acupuncturist/nutritionist to see if I could get to the root of the matter. That root turned out to be dairy.

The acupuncturist, who I now see regularly, suggested that I might have a food sensitivity to dairy. I was doubtful, especially because I didn't think that I ate that much dairy, but decided to see what would happen if I experimentally cut it out.

This is no exaggeration. Within days, I felt as though a weight had been lifted. I completely stopped wheezing, and the nasal congestion that I had come to accept simply as part of being Jewish completely disappeared for the first time in my adult life. Now, in my new, quasi-vegan life, I never use the inhaler and always breathe clearly. No cheese, no wheeze.

Was it because I have a unique sensitivity, or would every adult do better if they cut out the white stuff? Is it genetics, and if I were born a strapping, Swiss goatherd I could eat milk for three meals a day? Is the problem that I was raised on pasteurized milk and so I have an f'ed up immune system? I don't know and I don't care. All I know is that I'm breathing as clearly as a wind tunnel, and I'm not interesting in doing anything to mess it up.

And now, a shameless plug for my acupuncturist. The guy is really, really good (as is his wife, who practices in the same office). Go to him:

George Mandler
Assabet Valley Natural Health
32 Powder Mill Rd, Maynard, MA 01754
978-461-2001 (office)
617-913-5970 (cell)

Image courtesy of Just Clean Fun.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Write About Tea!

I received a request from the blog Tea Pages for original essays about tea, to be featured in an upcoming anthology. If you'd like to submit, see here:

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Stone Tea

Some people dream of owning a house on the beach, but I've always aspired to throwing a rock into a fire and then using it to boil water.

Last weekend, I achieved that lofty goal while camping on the Cape for Elise's birthday (we saw a seal!). Right on cue, heavy mist rolled in as soon as we crossed the Sagamore, and a roaring campfire did wonders to lift our spirits and dry our clothing.

I had a bit of a sore throat and, desperately wanting a cup of tea, I missed the creature comforts of a home kitchen. But then I realized that I had everything I needed right around me. I filled a steel travel mug with freshly snipped pine needles and water, then tossed a walnut sized stone into the blaze.

After about ten minutes, I removed it with a spoon, still glowing, and plopped it into the mug. The water immediately began to boil with fine bubbles reminiscent of a Guinness, which you can see if you look carefully at the above photo. For a strainer, I used my teeth.

The vitamin C-rich pine tea soothed my throat, and I was proud of having made my dreams of a cuppa come so thoroughly true. From now on, anytime I have a fire, there's going to be a stone in it and some tea in my future.

So it wasn't oranges with rosemary and sugar, but it still hit the spot.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Quote of the Day

From a wikipedia entry on biodynamic wine:

"Preparing a vineyard for biodynamic grape growing consists of several preparations... Preparation 505: Oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal is applied to the compost."

I'm sure you can taste the difference.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Worst Tea I've Ever Had, By Far

My apologies: I had no intention of leaving "Meat Thing" up for a week, but after a nasty head cold and some technical difficulties (hence there being no photo with this post), I'm back in the blogging saddle. And what better way to kick things off than with a tale of some truly terrible tea.

I was delighted when I recently received a gift of loose, black tea labeled Fahari Ya from a friend who had lived and taught in Kenya. But when I took a sip, I wished customs had mistaken the tea for drugs and that my friend had been incarcerated when trying to reenter to the country. That way I never would have drunk the stuff.

It was, by far, the worst tea I've ever had. Hands down. I'd take a stryofoam cup of Lipton brewed with hot water from a gas station that tastes like bad coffee over it any day. Bitter to the point of being acrid, astringent to the point of being caustic, I couldn't even swallow it.

Thinking that perhaps this was an acquired taste, I cleansed my palate, broadened my horizons, and took another sip. My gag reflex didn't go off as bad as the time that putty starting running down the back of my throat when my orthodontist took a mold of my teeth at age thirteen, but it was a close second.

I tried different brewing temperatures and various steeping lengths. No cigar. (Though tea made from a cigar would probably have been more palatable).

The last thing Kenya needs is for me to dis its tea, but I just can't help it. Maybe the lingering head cold is making me bitter, though I'm nowhere near as bitter as the tea. In fact, rather than even calling it tea, I'm going to lump the stuff with ipecac in the realm of emetics.

Don't drink it.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Meat Thing

Inspired by Melissa Clark's piece in the Times a few weeks back, I decided to make some free-form sausages. Or rather I continued to make highly flavored mounds of ground meat like always, but now thought of them as sausages.

I went with the Merguez or cigar shape, though it might be compared to something else by a middle schooler. Using ground beef from Codman, I mixed it with almost equal parts onion, plus salt, pepper, and loads of pimenton. We were going to grill them over wood, so the smoked paprika might have seemed redundant. But who doesn't want meat to taste smokier?

It worked. They were so good.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Healthy Soul Food

See here for my latest piece in the Globe, on the new wave of healthy eating in Boston's African-American communities.

One of the most interesting things about the movement is that, while there's a lot of new energy around these issues, it isn't coming from nowhere. Of course I couldn't tell the whole story in 800 words, so here's a peak at some of the historical context that didn't quite fit. Special thanks to cultural historian Fred Opie for his help.

Morris and other advocates of improving African American cuisine are part of a legacy largely born out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's and 70's. One of the most well known participants of that era is comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who is still active today and whose feelings on un-healthy soul food are quite clear and quite negative.

In his book "Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' With Mother Nature," he wrote: "I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a people is to put them on a soul food diet."

Gregory was famous for promoting awareness about nutrition and hunger by running daily marathons while consuming nothing but water, juice and a personalized kelp based supplement blend he dubbed "Formula X."

Faith-based sources for nutritional reform include the food laws of Rastafarianism known as Ital (from "vital") and the dietary guidance of the Nation of Islam, whose former leader Elijah Muhammad wrote a two-volume series titled "How to Eat to Live." The effects of such rhetoric are still felt today. In the hip-hop community, rappers such as Busta Rhymes and Gift of Gab have often written on the topic of avoiding pork: "fly cuisine food poisoned cause you eatin' the swine" (Rhymes).

Inspired by figures such as Gregory, whom Opie dubs "food rebels," many African Americans have begun to regard what they thought was their traditional cuisine with skepticism. In "Hog and Hominy," Opie references a 1981 Black Collegian article saying African Americans believed they were eating "native food, but it is nothing more than slave food. Add to this slave food the chemicalized, refined, sugary, fast, convenience foods of our modern society and you have quite a deadly combination."

According to Opie, the African American diet hit its low point not during slavery but with the highly processed foods available today.

Again, the article:


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Romertopf: Does It Actually Do Anything?

I love the concept of the Romertopf: a moisture-promoting clay baking vessel that you soak in water and then start in a cold oven. Despite these idiosyncrasies, I'm not sure that using one is that different from not using one.

I'm babysitting a Romertopf for some friends who don't want to move with it (imagine it bouncing on the middle seat of a U-Haul), so I recently gave it a whirl with a roasted chicken, pictured above. Ever since reading a Cook's Illustrated article about poulette en cocotte, I've been dying to sacrifice crispy skin for a new level of juiciness and flavor, and it seemed like a perfect time to do so.

But let's be honest. No chicken I ever make will surpass bird I got from Lionette's and then roasted, uncovered, in a good old fashioned iron skillet. When it comes to roasting chicken, I peaked at age 28, and I'm okay with that.

However, I only tried the Romertopf once, so perhaps I haven't given it a fair shake. And there are a few things that I really like about it, even if it didn't blow my mind on that single occasion. One is that, because it's made from clay rather than metal, it's in keeping with the Rastafarian food laws known as Ital. The other is this recommendation from the 'topf website:

"Workout with your favorite celebrity, play with the kids, or soak in the tub for the 45 minutes to an hour the Romertopf needs to cook your meal to perfection."

Maybe that's what I did wrong.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Wine and Food?

As you'll notice, the beverage in title of this blog is not the one most commonly associated with fine food.

Largely it's that I'm too poor for the pour. I recognize that wine expresses so much of what I love about things I can put in my mouth: slowness, tradition, regionality... But I can rarely bring myself to fork over the cost of a day's worth of food for a single bottle of wine. (One of the reasons I'm draw to homebrew t'ej, pictured at top.)

But Eric Asimov's article in this week's NYT food section made me think twice. Consider the following:

" my scattered tastings of 2007 Chablis here at home, mostly straightforward village-level Chablis at that, I’ve found the sort of beautifully etched wines that can send even the most unimpressionable Chablis lover floating up among aromas and images of oyster shells, crushed rocks, limestone and chalk."

He continues:

"With its pale yellow color, bordering on green, and its chalky aromas, the Servin brings to mind images of earth — white earth — the sort of limestone soils and fossilized oyster beds found in the best Chablis plots."

Chalk? Limestone? Oyster shells? It makes my teeth hurt. I want it.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

From a recent NYT article on inventing new pieces of meat:

"In one tenderness test, researchers cooked muscles to medium, punched out half-inch plugs of meat and set them in a machine that measures the force it takes to shear them in half. Promising cuts were given names like the Sierra, the Western Griller and the Petite Tender."

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Leftover Braising Liquid Flatbread

After braising two of the now dubiously cool Niman Ranch lamb shanks, I found myself staring into the pool of leftover liquid, thinking "now what?"

We served the shanks on the bone, in the center of the table, with in-apartment tortillas to cradle the hand-torn meat. The lamb was great, but so much of its umph was left behind in the juices it had cooked in, and there was only so much of it (lots) that we could spoon over our meat.

As I gazed into the bowl of orange juice, fennel seeds, onion stock, whole peppercorns, garlic cloves, and lamb fat, I suddenly had a vision of incredibly flavorful flatbread.

I made Bittman's socca, a staple in my kitchen, but instead of water I used the rich slurry described above. The lamby liquid worked perfectly with the slightly sweet chickpea flour, and the flatbread/pancakes were studded with mashed potato-soft chunks of garlic and onion. My test batch was so good that I made a whole stack of them for company the next night, simply mixing the braising liquid with the chickpea flour and pan frying on the range.

I'm thrilled to have found yet another way to close the kitchen loop. Often my braising liquid is made up of odds and ends anyway, so the thought of stretching it out into one more meal really tickles the stingy environmentalist in me. Luckily, it also appeals to my inner glutton.

And what else are you going to do, throw it out?


Recipe: Leftover Braising Liquid Flatbread

Simply follow any of Mark Bittman's recipes for flatbread, substituting leftover braising liquid for water.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Ant Food

I don't know what's more exciting, foraging for wild chiles or getting to eating something that an ant made:

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