Saturday, February 28, 2009

Food Democracy Now UPDATE

This just in from the good folks at Food Democracy Now who were trying to get Michael Pollen to be the Secretary of Agriculture instead of Monsanto toady Tom Vilsack. It's very encouraging that this administration is listening to our concerns, this as a good start. I'd still prefer someone else at the head who was more in touch with real food and the health of the American people as opposed to the health of major corporations, but I suppose that's not a terribly real expectation. I constantly have to pinch myself to remember that this is so much better then anything we could have ever gotten under the Bush/Cheney rule of terror. Rejoice a new day is upon us!

Your Voice has Been Heard! Please forward to all who care about these issues

Congratulations and Thank You! -A Major Victory for Family Farmers

We wanted to thank you and let you know what you’re support has achieved so far!

1. On February 24th, Food Democracy Now! met with Secretary Vilsack in his office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and delivered the first 87,000 signatures to him with your thoughtful comments so he would know how many people care about these issues

Secretary Vilsack was very receptive to the voice that the sustainable agriculture community has put forward at Food Democracy Now! and we were encouraged with his concerns regarding the problems facing family farmers today.

2. We hope that you’ve all heard the good news that Kathleen Merrigan was selected, one of our Sustainable Dozen, to become our next Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. Merrigan is a great choice and a significant signal that the administration has heard your voice.

This is an important victory for our collective grassroots efforts and an indication that President Obama and Secretary Vilsack are serious about creating real change.

Congratulations to Kathleen Merrigan and to those of you who signed the petition. You helped make this possible!

This is the power of the grassroots and a significant accomplishment. We are going to have to continue to be engaged and involved in order to build a sustainable food system for the 21st century.

3. Continue to Send in the Sustainable Dozen!

Now that Secretary Vilsack has a great deputy, it’s more important than ever that the under secretary positions are filled with great candidates.

Please forward this to all your friends to sign the petition to support the Sustainable Dozen, so we can change how the USDA is run. It’s time to make it the People’s Department again

We need to make sure that President Obama, Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Merrigan and have the support they need when it comes time to create serious change

Thanks for signing our original letter and petition to then President-Elect Obama!

Now is the time to organize to create the Sustainable Change that you want. If you’ve already signed, please pass this along to your friends. The administration will need your support to create the change that we all want. Without it, we will not be able to accomplish all that we know is possible

If you’d like to see our grassroots efforts continue, please considering donating as little as $10 or $25. We need all your support to be able to create the change we want at the USDA.

Thank you for registering your vote. The conversation has just begun…

Send in the Sustainable Dozen!

1. Gus Schumacher: Former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture. Boston, Massachusetts.

2. Chuck Hassebrook: Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska.

3. Sarah Vogel: attorney; former two-term Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of North Dakota, Bismarck, North Dakota.

4. Fred Kirschenmann: organic farmer; Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Ames, IA; President, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, New York.

5. Mark Ritchie: current Minnesota Secretary of State; former policy analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture under Governor Rudy Perpich; co-founder of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

6. Neil Hamilton: attorney; Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and Professor of Law and Director, Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

7. Doug O’Brien: current Assistant Director at Ohio Department of Agriculture; worked for the U.S. House and the Senate Ag Committee; former staff attorney and co-director for the National Agriculture Law Center in Arkansas, Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

8. James Riddle: organic farmer; founding chair of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA); has served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force since 1991; appointed to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, serving on the Executive Committee for 5 years and was chair in 2005, Board of Directors. Winona, Minnesota.

9. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan: Director, Agriculture, Food and Environment M.S./Ph.D. Program, Assistant Professor and Director of the Center on Agriculture; Food and the Environment, Tufts University; former Federal Agency Administrator U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service; creator of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, mandating national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation. Boston Massachusetts.

10. Denise O’Brien: organic farmer, founder of Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN); represented the interests of women in agriculture at the World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995; organized a rural women’s workshop for the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, Italy; received nearly a half million votes in her 2006 bid to become Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture. Atlantic, Iowa.

11. Ralph Paige: Executive Director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund; served as presidential appointment to the 21st Century Production Agriculture Commission; participates on the Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee for Trade; the Cooperative Development Foundation; and the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education & Economics Advisory Board. East Point, Georgia.

12. Karen Ross: President of the California Winegrape Growers Association and Executive Director of the Winegrape Growers of America; awarded the Wine Integrity Award by the Lodi Winegrape Commission for her contributions to the wine industry. Sacramento, California.

Whole Foods Response to why they sell Atlantic Cod

So maybe it's just me, but doesn't this just sound like a non-answer? It's pleasant enough and concerned, they reiterate their commitment to the environment and everything, but when it comes down to it aren't they really saying, let's sell this endangered species for a while longer until we find out more about how endangered it is? Or am I just reading into it. For me it's not an answer. An answer to me would have been: "we sell it because it's ground catch from local fisherman...or whatever the reason" or "thanks you're right we shouldn't be selling it and will move forward towards only selling fish we are 100% sure are sustainable".

Read this and tell me what you all think. Am I missing something? Feels like a blow off, here's our website where we talk all about how wonderfula nd concerned we are now quit raising a stink. Talk me down.

Hello Mark,

Thank you for writing to us to express your concerns about Whole Foods Market selling Atlantic cod. We take these comments seriously and want to let you know what we're working on to address these types of sustainability issues. We are in the process of developing rigorous standards for all the seafood we sell at Whole Foods Market. In July 2008, after two years of in-depth research, consulting with experts, and farm visits worldwide, we released a strict set of aquaculture standards, which apply to all farmed fish sold at Whole Foods Market. We set the bar high with these standards and hope that they work to transition the aquaculture industry towards greater sustainability.

Now that the aquaculture standards are complete, we are working on updating our quality standards for wild-caught seafood to address all the key sustainability issues in fisheries. Our first project is on wild shrimp fisheries, in which we're focusing on bycatch reduction. As we move forward, we will also be evaluating Atlantic cod. We will certainly look in depth at the status of the various cod populations as well as the fisheries that target them. As a part of that work, we'll talk with the scientists that work on Atlantic cod, the environmental organizations, as well as the fishermen. We have great contacts in Chatham, MA., and we are regulary in touch with them.

We greatly appreciate your inquiry and your support of Whole Foods Market.

To learn more about our enhanced aquaculture standards, please visit

Best regards,

Friday, February 27, 2009

70s Mother Nature *Chiffon* Margarine Commercial

Imagine a time, long, long ago when people actually believed this. I'd forgotten all about this commercial and then in a totally unrelated conversation the phrase "it's not nice to fool mother nature" came up and a friend remembered this margarine ad.
It reminds me of another popular ad of the time "we've come a long way baby" Amen!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Community Supported Fisheries

After years of success with community support agriculture (CSA a term I was woefully unawares of until this week when my friend Pam wrote me to tell me how excited her and her husband George where to have gotten a slot with their local CSA). Now that I have seen the light, I also see that a new idea is emerging, community supported fisheries.

By keeping fishing local, the fishermen get a better price per pound, giving local fisherman a way of being competitive with the bigger trawlers. Read the entire article in the Washington Post

Brooklyn's New Culinary Movement

Readers here will know that I'm giddy about the exciting food culture going on in Brooklyn. Williamsburg alone is brimming with exciting young talented chefs, butchers, chocolate makers, coffee roasters, artisanal cheesemongers and all sorts of other foodie entrepreneurs making, celebrating and selling really fine local food. Food that has it's roots in sustainability, craft and quality made my local artisans (who seem to also be good business people as well).

The New York Times has done a bang up job today in their article Brooklyn's New Culinary Movement. Worth a look.

Off topic, but cool

Made of recycled plastic from water bottles with a solar panel on one side for recharging. Imagine never having to spend 30 bucks on another recharger because you're traveling and left it at home. Here's the full story.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pigs, Cows and Pie

There is an explosion of pork obsession going on here in New York these days that I find mildly disturbing (see above picture of the Bacon Explosion). There is even a guy who is going to spend an entire month eating nothing but bacon.

Sure, pork is delicious and now several sources for humanely raised pigs are available, I hear great things about Flying Pigs Farm at the Union Square market, but have never tried them (living in a kosher household can put a damper on your in house pork consumption).

Here in NYC until recently most high end places would serve Neiman Ranch pork which is from Iowa (which I have seen being sold at Whole Foods). Momofuku uses their pork and as everyone already knows Momofuku makes amazing Japanese style soups.

The new place for pork in the East Village is called Porchetta, a stylish whole in the wall on 7th st between First and A that sells a small, well edited menu of all things involving pork. The roasted potatoes with crunchy pork bits sounds amazing. I'll report back when I've be able to sample the goodies.

The laid back East Village locavoire restaurant Back 40 has a dinner called the Whole Hog every course of the meal comes from some part of the pig. We had a confusing situation there a couple of weeks ago where we were told, after we enquired, that the apple pie we were eating was made with a lard pastry. This was wrong and was refutiated the next day by the concerned owner, who assured us it was made with butter.

At the time it was upsetting to us because my dinner companions the kosher Jew and the macrobiotic were not so into eating lard. And in truth it wasn't such a great crust, which is why we asked in the first place.

Anyway, our obsession with fat is not limited to pigs.

Marlow and Daughters butcher shop is now selling Beef Suet and making pie dough from it which they are serving in their restaurants (I think maybe Dinner as well as Marlow and Sons).

When I read that now beef suet was going to be used I started to hyperventilate and immediately wrote a letter. Oh my God where all of my favorite restuarants forsaking butter? How can it be!

To their credit Marlow et. al., sent me a nice letter back (I'm sure thinking the entire time: "who is this nut case?") assuring me that all their meat fat dessert pies will be clearly marked. I just hope this means they increase the selections on their dessert menu, which one time when I went was 1 item (I'm not including cheese, of which they have a lovely local selection).

My non-culinary school understanding of pastry is that the goal is to get lots of butter in different sizes, not to processed into the flower, it should be lunpy, this is what gives a flaky pastry it's flake. So if you make your lard dough with a nice, not over worked dough you could get flaky, but you will never get buttery. There are still those who mix lard and butter in a pie dough (like you need to go out an buy yet another ingredient?)

Why re-invent the wheel? The point to all this?

I don't want animal fat in my dessert, I just don't.

If you want to make a traditional British Christmas mince meat pie go for it.
If you want to make a suet pastry for your beef Wellington, great!

But leave my fucking apple pie alone.

I want butter and I want whipped cream and I don't want to have to ask the server if the apple pie moos.

The last word I have to say on this is that even when a butter crust is not at it's best it has a shortbread, buttery, sweetness that is so forgiving, the same cannot be said for lard/suet/soy margarine.

Animal lard is not hydrogenated, in this instance it's local, farm-raised, fat from healthy, happy (if now dead) animals. Using all of a animal you kill is very important and I'm glad to see that the the people at Marlowe and Daughters are doing that. Suet is a great traditional fat, with many wonderful uses.

The need to revive old English cuisine by trying to make suet a trendy alternative to butter in pies makes perfect sense to me, it a new twist on an old ingredient that they now have from local cows. I'm just being irrational. I'm a butter fetishist.

My feeling is that lard, of any sort, does not make a good pie crust.
There! It took me a long time, but I said it.

Any time in my life I've had a lard pie crust in a dessert/fruit pie it's been leaden and unctuous. The famous flaky lard pie has eluded me. Lard fans like to say it makes the pie flakier, I don't see it.

So, I'm asking you to talk me down (as Rachel Maddow says) if anyone reading this can tell me why they like lard pastry so much I would really like to know. Convince me that I'm just missing something and help me to understand the true meaning and worth of lard in my pie.

Please and then you'll have to invite me over to have a taste test!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Write to Whole Foods and ask about Cod

On menu's all over town you see Chatham day boat caught Cod, then I see an article in the New York Times from April that says that Cod is no longer something day boats can catch as the fish are to far out to sea to go out and come back in the same day. This is due to the sever depletion of Cod from over fishing. In a previous posting I referred to Cod as an endangered species, which I then clarified after more research to just Atlantic Cod as being endangered and that Pacific caught was still fine.

So what got me started on this again? Well Whole Foods, where I spend far to much time, has had bucket loads of Cod on sale in the last weeks, I see Cod on every menu and it still seems to be the preferred fish for Fish n' Chips. It seems like I have some sort of weird obsession with Cod, but really all I want is a straight answer.

Google offers a lot of vague or out of date info if you search for "Cod endangered species". Seems the Canadian government has been putting Cod on and taking it off and then putting it back on again for a long while. I went to the Canadian department of fisheries website, but there was nothing on it or the related sites that I could find that would definitely tell me what I wanted to know, is Cod actually an endangered species? Can we, should we be eating it with the gay abandon that we seem to?
Further exploration of the Canadian Fisheries site was very interesting to me, here is an excerpt:

Socioeconomic Considerations to Inform a Decision whether or not to list two Populations of Atlantic Cod under SARA

1.1 Importance of the Atlantic Cod Fishery

The commercial fishery of Eastern Canada comprises over 1,300 coastal communities, 43,000 licensed fishers and 35,000 processing plant workers all of whom rely on fishing (all species) to varying degrees. Many communities depend on the fishery as their only source of economic activity.

Historically, Atlantic cod was an extremely important component of the fishery in the Atlantic provinces and Québec. However, in the early 1990’s it became clear that groundfish populations were in distress. Many stocks were closed to fishing in 1992/93. Cod management through the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s focused on the recovery of a collapsed fishery. Moratoria on directed fishing of many cod stocks prevail to this day, throughout much of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Through government assistance and policy changes to respond to the reduced fishery, 40% of groundfish licences have been removed. Cod now represents 2% of the value of the Atlantic fishery (including Quebec), down from 26% in 1990.

Despite the fact that shellfish have dominated the Atlantic fishing industry in terms of value and effort since the collapse of most groundfish species in the 1990s, cod still holds a place of pre-eminence among those who rely on the fishery for their livelihood, as the species upon which the Atlantic fishery was built. The cod fishery is at the core of the cultural roots of many coastal rural communities in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Consequently, any decision that is made with respect to the management of Atlantic cod will likely generate intense reactions. This was certainly evidenced in 2003 when the directed cod fisheries in 4RS3Pn and 2J3KL were closed. These closures resulted in forceful and extended public backlash including that from industry and provinces. The public consultations that were held regarding COSEWIC’s status report and designations for the Atlantic cod populations resulted in a similarly intense reaction from thousands of industry stakeholders.

Aboriginal fishery

In the Newfoundland and Labrador Region the number of communal commercial licences, that may include cod, issued or available to Aboriginal groups is fifteen. On the Island of Newfoundland, the Miawpukek First Nation (Conne River Band), adjacent to NAFO Division 3Ps, holds six licences and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) has three. In Labrador, the Labrador Metis Nation (LMN) has one, the Labrador Inuit Association (Nunatsiavut Government) holds four, and the Innu Nation has one licence reserved for it, which has yet to be issued.

Four First Nations in the Gaspé region of Quebec have commercial groundfish licences that may include cod. In addition, 7 Aboriginal communities on the North Shore of Quebec hold a total of 7 Groundfish licences that were acquired through the Aboriginal Fishing Strategy. These North Shore communities also have access to a total allocation of 79 tonnes of cod for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

What this says to me is politics reigns supreme. The conversation is not, and I suppose cannot simply be: have we over fished and should we stop it by putting Cod (or whatever the fish in question might be) on an endangered species list?

The minute you do that the ramifications are swift, loud and plentiful.

So what do you do? I can see how in this country the right wing nuts will say things like "Cod is more important to these enviro-crazies then people's jobs!" Remember under Clinton the Spotted Owl debacle? Seems some people only see things in black or white, you can have spotted Owls or people, but apparently not both and so goes the story with Cod.

The bottom line, for me, to all this is that we can not wait for the government of any country to regulate a commodity like endangered fish, or genetically modified corn or soy or whatever when the consideration is not about what is right, what is best for the planet, what is the best for us people living on this planet, it's about how much money there is to be made. I know hardly a revelation.

Fishermen and their families who have lived off the sea for generations, where fishing is the main stay of their lives, what are they going to do when they can not longer fish? What are their options? How are they going to live and provide for their families? It's not so easy, you can't just stop, there has to be an alternative for these people. Fish farms are being put in place in some places, in others tourism, but it still isn't enough.

It seems to me, we are all living, right now, in a "now what?" time in history. A time when so many things that have sustained us for so long are no longer sustainable. Now what? What do we do? What can we do? How do we survive? If we left the Cod alone for a decade they might come back, if we don't spoil the oceans too much and make them so acidic or polluted the Cod die of something else other then for our dinner plates.

I wish I had some answers, this is why I'm writing this, to look at how something as simple and easy as buying a pound of Cod for dinner at your local Whole Foods isn't what you might think and even a responsible purveyor like Whole Foods is not always telling you the entire story.

Below is a seafood chart from the non-profit group Environmental Defense they don't say Cod is an endangered species, but what they do say is that it is an eco-worst choice. At the end of the day "food activism" is all about personal choice, we all have the power to make change happen by making informed choices when we go to the market or grocery store. We can choose not to buy Cod, to write to Whole Foods and ask them nicely what their justification is in selling Atlantic Cod? I'm actually interested to know, I'm crazy like that, so I wrote them today! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't, I wrote to my closest store the Bowery so write to the one closest to you. Or not, I'll report back.

I love Whole Foods and spend far too much money there every week, but I do feel they need to be held accountable for what they sell and misleading the public about the sustainability of Cod is not in any ones benefit and certainly isn't helping us to create a healthier more sustainable aquaculture for the future.

Eco-Worst Choice

Avoid or eat infrequently until improvements are made

Eco-Worst choices have one or more serious environmental problems, such as overfished populations, poor management, high bycatch, extensive habitat damage; or come from farms that allow widespread pollution, the spread of disease, chemical use and escaped fish.

We work with many of these fisheries to help them become more sustainable and keep fishermen on the water. As fisheries improve, they are moved up the list.

Many fish on this list have elevated levels of environmental contaminants – such as mercury or PCBs – and should be eaten in moderation, if at all.

Caviar, paddlefish (wild)
Caviar, wild (imported)
Health AlertChilean sea bass
Cod, Atlantic
Crab, king (imported)
Crawfish (China)
Eels, freshwater
Flounder/Sole (Atlantic)
Health AlertGrouper
Haddock (trawl)
Hake, white
Halibut, Atlantic
Lobster, Caribbean spiny
Mahimahi (imported longline)
Health AlertOrange roughy
Paddlefish, wild
Pompano, Florida
Health AlertRockfish (trawl)
Health AlertSalmon, farmed/Atlantic
Sea urchin (Maine)
Health AlertShark
Shrimp/prawns (imported)
Snapper (imported)
Snapper, red
Snapper, silk
Snapper, vermilion
Health AlertSturgeon, Atlantic
Health AlertSturgeon, wild (imported)
Health AlertSwordfish (imported)
Tilapia (Asia)
Health AlertTilefish (Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic)
Tuna, albacore (imported longline)
Tuna, bigeye/yellowfin (imported longline)
Health AlertTuna, bluefin

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Custard Powder?

I mumble at some point on this short video about how instant custard powder is an ingredient in what has become a traditional Canadian treat called Nanimo Bars, a three layer wonder, the first is a no bake brownie with coconut and graham cracker crumbs (recipes do vary), the second is icing sugar and custard powder and a few other things then topped with a nice layer of melted dark chocolate.

My goal is to try and re-conceptualize them so that they have less products in them and more, um, real ingredients.

Watch the video and learn the shocking truth behind Custard Powder.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Alice Waters strikes again

Just in case you missed it Ms Waters wrote a great op ed piece in the New York Times today about the failure of the school lunch programs. Ms. Waters has been a long time supporter of the seed to table program (she actually may take credit for inventing it I'm not sure) and her Foundation Chez Panisse Foundation does a lot of good work trying to make people realize Ketchup is not a vegetable (it's corn syrup flavored tomato paste) and coke and french fries, fried in genetically modified soy bean oil, may not be the best options for healthy children. Then there are the issues of vending machines in cafeteria...

Let's face it coporations who supply the "products" to the "consumers" in schools could care less about anything but their bottom line. So it is refershing, if not down right exciting that Ms. Waters says plainly in this article:

"We need to scrap the current system and start from scratch."
And as all good cooks know nothing tastes better then somehting made from scratch.

Here's the link:

Mead makes a come back

Seriously, can someone tell me how Brooklyn became the epicenter for the new age in food? I guess like everything else in New York it comes down to real estate and Manhattan has over priced itself.

Another set of brothers, Nathaniel and Thatcher Martin (I say another because just last week I mentioned the Mast Brothers who are doing home made chocolate in Williamsburg as well),
have been perfecting Ye Olde Honey Drink and have come up with something wine-like and not too sweet and they are selling it at Astor Wines for $13. I'm going to buy a bottle this weekend and will give you a full update on Monday.

Nathaniel and Thatcher - do you think these guys had crazy English teacher parents? No wonder they grew up and moved to Brooklyn to make mead. Maybe if my parents had named me Trump I would have moved to New York and become wealthy!

Enough silliness. Here's the Mead boys website:

Oh and just because I just now noticed it, see how their URL is MANHATTAN Meadery, not Brooklyn Meadery. Sounds like borough envy to me! ;-)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Susan Sarandon: Take a Stand

I think this is important and that we should all make an effort to get to DC to show the global warming deniers that there are a lot of Americans who actually understand the gravity of this problem and are willing to stand up and do something about it before it is too late.

It's shocking to me that all the comments on You Tube about this is from wingnuts who think this is a made up issue. What will it take before people wake up and see what is going on?

OK so YouTube is officially on my shit list. For some reason fairly frequently videos I post from there disappear from this site and to reload them is weird and a pain and grrrrr so here is the link, this way it's here to stay.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fondue Pizza

The other night I had some no knead pizza dough all puffy and risen waiting to be used, but I had not gone to the store to get fresh mozzarella and I wasn't so keen on the idea of coming home and making home made tomato sauce. Then I remembered that I had the makings of fondue at home. Which is to say Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses. So this is what I did:

Spread out the dough onto a half sheet pan and let it rise until doubled.

I then put my pizza stone in the oven and heated it to 500F.

Then I chopped up 4-6 garlic cloves and added them to about 4-6 tablespoons of olive oil.

Instead of a sauce I just opened up a 14 oz can of my favorite Italian organic tomatoes (bionatura) drained the liquid, squeezed the tomatoes to get all of the remaining water out and roughly chopped them.

Once the dough had risen I slathered the garlic olive oil mixture all over it, then sprinkled the chopped tomatoes, added salt and ground pepper. Then I grated about 1 1/2 cups of each cheese and sprinkled generously all over the prepared tomato, garlic olive oil dough. Popped it in the oven and waited for it to get all melted and brown and bubbling (about 15 minutes). This was the Sicilian version, because I didn't want to be bothered rolling out round pizzas and having to make several. One big one was just fine.


Food Saftey

Great editorial in today's NYT:

Read the comments, particularly one of the very first ones by Kalaresh. It's also the editors pick and is really articulate and good.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday ritual

Every Saturday night our family eagerly awaits Frank Rich (pre-published the night before the Sunday edition), a voice of sanity and intelligence that always seems to cut through all the shit and get right to the point. This week is no different and I know it is a digression, thematically, for this blog, but I can't resist:

"This G.O.P., a largely white Southern male party with talking points instead of ideas and talking heads instead of leaders, is not unlike those 'zombie banks' that we’re being asked to bail out. It is in too much denial to acknowledge its own insolvency and toxic assets. Given the mess the country is in, it would be helpful to have an adult opposition that could pull its weight, but that’s not the hand America has been dealt."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The James Beard nominations

At the end of the list I chat about the places I've eaten and my very quirky thoughts and feelings about them.


Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

April Bloomfield, the Spotted Pig

Terrance Brennan, Picholine

Floyd Cardoz, Tabla

Scott Conant, Scarpetta

Wylie Dufresne, wd~50

Caroline Fidanza, Marlow & Sons

John Fraser, Dovetail

Alexandra Guarnaschelli, Butter Restaurant

Kurt Gutenbrunner, Wallsé

Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune

Gabriel Kreuther, the Modern

Mark Ladner, Del Posto

Anita Lo, Annisa

Michael Psilakis, Anthos

Bill Telepan, Telepan

Laurent Tourondel, BLT Market

Michael White, Alto

Naomichi Yasuda, Sushi Yasuda

Galen Zamarra, Mas (farmhouse)

My silly narrative about the few places on the list at which I have eaten and my very random thoughts about my experiences there:

I feel so out of the loop. I love the Spotted Pig and have never had anything, but brilliant food there. It's more of a pub than a restaurant in it's feel: it is, like so many places in this city, very loud, very small, very crowded, very expensive and Oh such a scene! Obviously for good reason, but I would never think to even try to go for dinner, lunch is fine for me and it is outrageously expensive, I think we had a fairly simple salad at lunch and it was 17 bucks.

WD 50 is highly praised and I admire Chef Dufresne for his experimental verve, but the one time I ate there I hated the room, had kind of bad service and didn't think anyone at our table of three ordered anything that I would call tasty (in a good way). Neil and I did a tour of some of the finest restaurants in Barcelona several years back when the "look what weird things I can do with food" trend was at it's peak and, for the most part, it was the simple food that got me excited and although some of WD50's was very interesting it wasn't satisfying gustatorially, it was just interesting.

Tabla is a great old standby, Floyd Cardoza has been working hard for years. My favorite time to go is Winter as I think it's best suited for spicy, Indian influenced food. The manager, a wonderful middle aged women is a total charmer and reason enough to stop in.

Prune is wildly inconsistent and the last time I went they placed celery sticks and chemically altered, canned, pitted, black "ripe" olives on the table. Lost me, sorry. Canned, black "ripe" olives are one of my pet hates and for anyone who is even remotely interested in food, to serve them automatically loses my vote, I just think it's irresponsible. I don't by the whole "food as nostalgia" as being a valid excuse for serving something so processed, unnecessary, and down right nasty. And while the bacon sandwich on pumpernickel with marmalade was great, the next week my friend Jane ordered it again and it was inedible and had to be returned. Not the way to run a restaurant. Of all the places I have eaten on the list this seems the one that doesn't belong.

Gramercy Tavern is a classic, and I'm sorry to say it has been way too long since I last went (unemployment will do that to your fancy eating out budget). It's always been one of our favorite place for special celebrations. It's even our mothers' favorites!

Caroline Fidanza and her crew are a force to be reckoned with, I am a big fan. I love Marlowe and Sons although I think it's more about curating then cooking, it's about a cheese course and some oysters and maybe a salad. I find both Diner and Marlowe and Sons to be meat heavy (which is why they now have their own amazing local butcher store), but it makes it hard for me to eat there with Neil. my kosher bf. because, well, he can only eat the one fish dish on the menu and the last time we ate there (for our anniversary) the fish was so over cooked it was inedible and had to be sent back. They were very sweet about it, the servers are first rate. She also gets full marks for dedication to local ingredients. I just wish there were more things on the menu my non-meat/pseudo Kosher keeping friends could eat (small point really as we obviously are not the demographic). \

Oh and more desserts please! At lunch they offer one option. Then this week there was a piece somewhere about how since now they have a butcher shop, they are going to start making lard pastry for their desserts... so have some dead cow fat with your apple filling! It goes against everything I believe in and in my experience I have never eaten a lard/suet crust that came anywhere near tasting as heavenly as butter does. It's overkill and a bad idea as far as I'm concerned. And yes I know that in Ye Olde England they used beef suet for all sorts of things (mincemeat, fruit cake) we've moved on and I for one have no nostalgia for it. I think if you want to make a Beef Wellington with a pastry made of suet that's great, makes sense, but beef fat dessert? Why not add apple pie filling to your roast beef? I recently wrote them after reading about it and asked them to make sure that if they are serving a dessert that can't be eaten by vegetarians or Jews that they had better make sure it is clearly marked on their menu. Apparently a subject I feel strongly about.

Having said all that I think that Ms. Fidanza and her posse are on the cutting edge of the food scene in New York and deserves all the recognition she gets. I wish they had hired me when I applied for a job, but c'est la vie. Oh and Ms. Fidanza I'm still looking ;-)

Lastly, the Modern is a classy, instant classic. I've only eaten there once, at the bar with my friend Ansell, it was great I look forward to having the money to go back for dinner, certainly worth trying out for a special occasion if you live here or are going to be visiting.

Sadly, that's it, apparently I've spent too much time cooking and not enough time eating out this year! Could be worse ;-)

A valentines day sweet for my sweet

My friend Craig has been a big fan of my memory being what it is I thought I had already mentioned them here, but apparently I have been remiss.

It's alternatively hysterical and horrifying. Here is my favorite Valentines Day cake. Who in their right mind would buy half a heart cake? Unless it was a comment on having a broken heart...too funny.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Do you have any fried water bugs? Extra crispy please

This was in the NYT today, the guy who wrote it is a laugh riot. It's short so I'm putting it all here for your ease:

The Maggots in Your Mushroom

You may be grossed out, but insects and mold in our food are not new. The F.D.A. actually condones a certain percentage of “natural contaminants” in our food supply — meaning, among other things, bugs, mold, rodent hairs and maggots.

In its (falsely) reassuringly subtitled booklet “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans,” the F.D.A.’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition establishes acceptable levels of such “defects” for a range of foods products, from allspice to peanut butter.

Among the booklet’s list of allowable defects are “insect filth,” “rodent filth” (both hair and excreta pellets), “mold,” “insects,” “mammalian excreta,” “rot,” “insects and larvae” (which is to say, maggots), “insects and mites,” “insects and insect eggs,” “drosophila fly,” “sand and grit,” “parasites,” “mildew” and “foreign matter” (which includes “objectionable” items like “sticks, stones, burlap bagging, cigarette butts, etc.”).

Tomato juice, for example, may average “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots.” Tomato paste and other pizza sauces are allowed a denser infestation — 30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams or 15 or more fly eggs and one or more maggots per 100 grams.

Canned mushrooms may have “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams of drained mushrooms and proportionate liquid” or an “average of 75 mites” before provoking action by the F.D.A.

The sauerkraut on your hot dog may average up to 50 thrips. And when washing down those tiny, slender, winged bugs with a sip of beer, you might consider that just 10 grams of hops could have as many as 2,500 plant lice. Yum.

Giving new meaning to the idea of spicing up one’s food, curry powder is allowed 100 or more bug bits per 25 grams; ground thyme up to 925 insect fragments per 10 grams; ground pepper up to 475 insect parts per 50 grams. One small shaker of cinnamon could have more than 20 rodent hairs before being considered defective.

Peanut butter — that culinary cause célèbre — may contain approximately 145 bug parts for an 18-ounce jar; or five or more rodent hairs for that same jar; or more than 125 milligrams of grit.

In case you’re curious: you’re probably ingesting one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites each year without knowing it, a quantity of insects that clearly does not cut the mustard, even as insects may well be in the mustard.

The F.D.A. considers the significance of these defects to be “aesthetic” or “offensive to the senses,” which is to say, merely icky as opposed to the “mouth/tooth injury” one risks with, for example, insufficiently pitted prunes. This policy is justified on economic grounds, stating that it is “impractical to grow, harvest or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects.”

The most recent edition of the booklet (it has been revised and edited six times since first being issued in May 1995) states that “the defect levels do not represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products — the averages are actually much lower.” Instead, it says, “The levels represent limits at which F.D.A. will regard the food product ‘adulterated’ and subject to enforcement action.”

Bugs in our food may not be so bad — many people in the world practice entomophagy — but these harmless hazards are a reminder of the less harmless risks we run with casual regulation of our food supply. For good reason, the F.D.A. is focused on peanut butter, which the agency is considering reclassifying as high risk, like seafood, and subjecting it to special safety regulations. But the unsettling reality is that despite food’s cheery packaging and nutritional labeling, we don’t really know what we’re putting into our mouths.

Soup merits little mention among the products listed in the F.D.A.’s booklet. But, given the acceptable levels for contaminants in other foods, one imagines that the disgruntled diner’s cri de coeur — “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!” — would be, to the F.D.A., no cause for complaint.

E. J. Levy is a professor of creative writing at the University of Missouri.

(My 2 cents below)

Yet another reason not to buy corporate processed food. Although, to be honest, you may have noticed my obsession about wanting to grind my own wheat. Well, in my research, I found out that all wheat has some sort of parasite in it and that if you buy a bulk 40 pound bag of hard red winter wheat you do indeed need to use one of several techniques to insure that you kill the little critters before they hatch and take over your kitchen.

Having traveled a fair amount in SE Asia where bugs are synonymous with bar food I'm not so freaked out by this, but it is a little jarring to my consciousness as I believe that things in cans and jars that come from a grocery store to be "clean" and to not include anything other then what it says on the label.

Just another reason to buy whole food from farmers! Yikes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why You Are Fat

You gotta love the internet. Some crazy people have started a website called, with lots of pictures of food you wish you hadn't seen.

Diet Soda

My friend Pam sent me this article , here's the link or you can just read it here ;-)

As a diabetic I have been watching as scientific papers have come out saying the fake sweeteners are no good. I tried to use them for a while, but they never tasted right. Ditto diet drinks. I don't get why people desire them, because for my taste buds they just taste funny, in that not good what-is-that-funny-flavor way.

One of the perverse pleasures of spending too much time in airports is getting to people watch. I put on my "anthropologist from Mars" glasses and pass the time by staring at strangers, watching what they eat, read and how they struggle to nap in uncomfortable positions. This morning, while waiting on a very delayed plane in the Portland airport, I watched a woman perform yoga by the gate.

But if I really were an anthropologist from Mars I'd be most puzzled by something else that people in airports do: drink lots of diet soda. I write this in the San Francisco airport, where I'm sitting on a bench with five other people, all of whom are sipping some sort of beverage with artificial sweetener in it, from Diet Snapple to Pepsi One.

This is a bizarre ritual, no? We're deliberating duping our tongue, enjoying the illusion of sweetness without the thing that the sweetness is supposed to represent: metabolic energy. What I find most ironic about these diet colas is that there's good evidence that fake sugar actually leads to weight gain. Consider this recent paper in Behavioral Neuroscience, which found that rats fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than rats fed actual sugar:

Animals may use sweet taste to predict the caloric contents of food. Eating sweet noncaloric substances may degrade this predictive relationship, leading to positive energy balance through increased food intake and/or diminished energy expenditure. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were given differential experience with a sweet taste that either predicted increased caloric content (glucose) or did not predict increased calories (saccharin). We found that reducing the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods using artificial sweeteners in rats resulted in increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity, as well as diminished caloric compensation and blunted thermic responses to sweet-tasting diets. These results suggest that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.

There's also some tentative evidence of the same effect in humans:

Splenda is not satisfying--at least according to the brain. A new study found that even when the palate cannot distinguish between the artificial sweetener and sugar, our brain knows the difference.

At the University of California, San Diego, 12 women underwent functional MRI while sipping water sweetened with either real sugar (sucrose) or Splenda (sucralose). Sweeteners, real or artificial, bind to and stimulate receptors on the taste buds, which then signal the brain via the cranial nerve. Although both sugar and Splenda initiate the same taste and pleasure pathways in the brain--and the subjects could not tell the solutions apart--the sugar activated pleasure-related brain regions more extensively than the Splenda did. In particular, "the real thing, the sugar, elicits a much greater response in the insula," says the study's lead author, psychiatrist Guido Frank, now at the Univer sity of Colorado at Denver. The insula, involved with taste, also plays a role in enjoyment by connecting regions in the reward system that encode the sensation of pleasantness.

The essential lesson is that the brain doesn't like being tricked. When you give us sweetness without the caloric energy, we end up craving calories more than ever.

And because he is so cute, young and successful here is the picture and profile of the author ;-)


Jonah1.jpg Jonah Lehrer is an editor at large for Seed Magazine. He's also written for The New Yorker, Nature, the Boston Globe and is a contributer to Radio Lab and Scientific American Mind. He's the author of Proust Was A Neuroscientist. His new book is How We Decide.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Two Zen masters, a Yoga guru, and a meditation teacher/recording artist walk into the room...

What do you feed them?

Monday the 9th 2009

House Roasted Almonds
with sea salt and rosemary


Napa Cabbage Cole Slaw

Corn Meal Coated, Deep Fried Smelts
with malt vinegar and salt

Onion Gratin

Blue Hubbard Squash Fricassee
with walnuts, raisins and balsamic vinegar

Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes
with sea salt and rosemary

Sauteed Almond Crusted Long Island Striped Bass
in a capers, onions, white wine and lemon sauce

Homemade Bread
Whole Wheat and Rustic White

Selection of 3 local Sheep's Milk Cheeses

Chocolate Walnut tart
with whipped cream
(for their teachings, click on...

Chef's call for labeling of GMO foods

Clearly, telling the consumer what it is they are actually buying is something that most corporate food companies shy away from. Even Whole Foods, who was an industry leader in telling consumers where each product was from and whether it was "conventional" or "organic", still does things like: "from California or Mexico" on some of their products (pecans in this instance).

It's a start, but is there some reason you can't separate out the ones from Mexico and the ones from California? Same with produce, I'd consider buying citrus from Florida or Texas as it isn't shipped from so far away and for the most part is shipped by train or truck not plane, but if you muddle the equation by saying Florida or Chile or whatever the combo might be, it makes the choice much more difficult and, it seems to me, sort of defeats the point of doing it in the first place.

Anyway, I've said here before that if someone doesn't say their popcorn is made without GMO corn I am going to assume it is GMO corn. I mean it's a no-brainer, right? It is either GMO or not and if it is not why not advertise the fact so that people know what it is that they are getting?

Why is it still a radical concept to actually be forthcoming to consumers about what it is you are trying to sell them? Like telling you wants in it and where it is from?

At the swearing in of Tim Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture a bunch of high-power chefs from NY and all over the country convened in DC to cook, celebrate and urge Obama to do all sorts of good things like label foods that contain GMO's amongst others. I wish them much luck, I think all food should be labeled as to where it comes from and if it is a GMO or not. I hope Vilsack turns out to be great and prove me wrong.

Read the article for yourself. The more I read it the more it actually kind of annoys me. I'm happy the first family is eating well and that they are interested and engaged with food. It's great that we have so many smart and passionate people at the table to work on making urgent change to this countries food production and it's people's eating habits.

But it's unfortunate that the makers of Round Up pesticides are at the head of the table poisoning the meal.

Global Warming

The people over at have put together a list to counter all those folks out there who think that Global Warming just means it's getting warmer and what could be so bad about that, as winter is such a drag. They have put together a list of 4 scary surprises about global warming and it's devastating affects. Here are my two favorites:

  1. Global Fish Kill
    One of the oft-overlooked, but possibly most devastating consequences of global warming is the acidification of the oceans. Oceans suck up huge amounts of CO2. And as the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, so does the amount absorbed by the world's oceans. Unfortunately, when the CO2 enters the water, it creates carbonic acid. So, over the last hundred years or so, the acidity of the ocean has increased so much that it is literally eroding the shells of mollusks. Unfortunately, these mollusks are the base of many marine ecosystems, important to everything from salmon to sperm whales. The possibilities of an oceanic mass-extinction are on the rise.
  2. Global Hunger
    There is a massive amount of infrastructure in place to create the world's food. And that infrastructure depends on a fairly stable climate. We expect the rain to fall where and when it has always fallen, we expect the thaw to come where and when italways has. But global warming does more than change the temperature, it changes the climate. Projections show more rain in dry areas and less rain in wet areas, the result of which could be the need to completely re-create much of our farming infrastructure. In the meantime, while that infrastructure is being created, we should expect that a lot of people will be very hungry.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Koala Rescue in Australia

This is such a wonderful picture, a beleaguered Koala escaping from the forest fires gets a drink from one of the volunteers. I saw this story over at one of the blogs I check daily

I wonder what the narrative is in the Koala's head? I'd imagine he was really pissed off that these stupid humans had gone and burnt his home down and that the very least they could do was give him/her some water!
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