I suspect something is wrong with our food, as well as our habits of living.

Reading my father's journals from 1959 to 1970, I noticed in particular something about our eating habits: we ate dessert three times a day. We had lunch dessert, dinner dessert, and bedtime dessert. I remember trying hard to convince my parents that we should logically have breakfast dessert as well, but was overruled. Probably because breakfast in those days was all too often sweet enough to be dessert in itself. True, we didn't have pre-sweetened cereal, but we had sugar in a bowl on the table....

And yet we were not overweight, much less obese. Not thin, but a healthy weight. Moreover, not one of us ever worked out at a gym or had any kind of regular exercise program. Ordinary living kept us in decent shape. My father was an engineer with a desk job; my mother a homemaker.

What made the difference? I can only guess.

I'm convinced that our food was both healthier and tastier. After all, I am older than McDonald's. Milk from a local dairy was delivered in glass bottles to our front porch; it was pasteurized, but not homogenized. Meat came from local butchers; I liked it best from the Jewish butcher, because then I was allowed to nibble on the raw ground beef, as we knew it had not been in contact with any pork products. (Pork was an exception to "food was healthier back then"; trichinosis was still a big problem, caused by pigs being fed raw pork, or so I was told.)

We didn't have farmers' markets back then; what we had instead was nearby farms that sold some of their produce at stands along the road. Their fruits and vegetables were only available in season, but they sure were fresh, and clearly superior to what the grocery stores sold. Our food didn't have nearly the variety we have today, but it was enough, and it was good. There's a blessing in being able to have access to food flown in from halfway across the world, and ethnic restaurants on every corner, but overall, thanks to agricultural mass production, it doesn't have the flavor it once had.

Consciously or unconsciously, we undoubtedly eat more quantity in an effort to make up for lost quality.

The other big difference that I remember in our food is portion size. At home, we always had plenty to eat, but common sense, both nutritionally and financially, kept the portions quite a bit smaller than is common today, even at home. And restaurant portions are ridiculous now! When I was growing up, restaurant meals were very rare occasions, and fast food almost non-existent. Even in restaurants the portions were much smaller than today. I had my first McDonald's hamburger during college; it cost 23 cents and, if memory serves, was half the size of a quarter-pounder today.

One thing we didn't do much of was snacking. Except for a small bit of milk-and-cookies after school, which was primarily valuable for the debriefing/decompressing time spent in the kitchen while my mother prepared dinner, eating between meals was considered unnecessary and even unhealthy.

Did I mention that we mostly ate at home? The food itself was largely home-prepared.  Store-bought cookies, box cake mixes, pre-prepared salads, frozen meals—all either non-existent or considered far inferior to homemade. (Exception: Girl Scout cookies.)  [Update:  Thanks to Porter for catching my egregious misstatement, as I had orginally written "superior"! Not, I assure you, a Freudian slip.]

Then there was exercise. If there were fitness establishments, I never saw one. Gym class in school was for fun, not fitness: tumbling, marching, and playing games (including dodge ball) where winning was not of primary importance. There were no formal team sports that I remember before high school, though pick-up games of all sorts were common in our neighborhood, which abounded with playmates of all ages. Winter or summer, we were outside and active. Avid bookworm that I was, I still spent much of my spare time outside, either playing with my friends or wandering the fields and woods near our house. As I said, my father had a sedentary job, but walked for transport when he could (sometimes wearing snowshoes in the winter), played games in the yard with us and the neighborhood kids who congregated in our yard, and—though not as often as he would have liked—took us hiking in his beloved Adirondack mountains. There was also a good place to swim that was only an eight-minute drive from home, so you can bet that in those days without air conditioning swimming was a frequent summertime activity. Plus, he and my mother (occasionally helped by us kids), spent a lot of time gardening. Not farming, just ordinary suburban gardening, but everything was done by hand. Sawing wood, digging holes, planting bushes, roses, flowers, and even the occasionable vegetables, though the latter were much more efficiently obtained directly from the farms. Then there was mowing the lawn: keep in mind that this is what our lawn mower looked like:

I don't mean to imply that our situation was ideal. We were in a time of transition, and definitely headed in an unhealthy direction, but we were not all the way there yet when I was young. Both society at large, and the medical profession in particular, had already given up on breastfeeding and thought bottle-feeding with a concoction of sterilized water, evaporated milk, and corn syrup was the superior way to go. Someone with more financial sense than taste buds then introduced our generation to the instant orange-flavored drink known as Tang, and as a teenager I downed Carnation Instant Breakfast before going off to school. Unbelievably, these abominations still exist today.

But for a while, in my childhood, we ate nutritious foods full of natural natural flavors, and spent a lot of active time outdoors (without sunscreen). We even survived having regular bedtime dessert.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at 4:09 pm | Edit
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I couldn't resist posting this Future Proof video, because my husband is obsessed with flavored sparkling water, and our grandchildren love it, too—probably because they're allowed to drink more of it than they are allowed soda. Special note to said husband: check out this guy's favorite brand (9:17).

(14 minutes on normal speed, mild language warning. I am, by the way, really annoyed by the objectionable language that finds its way into so many YouTube videos. It would probably be easier to note when there isn't bad language. Good ol' YouTube, for whom "free speech" means you can swear to your heart's content as long as you refrain from expressing unfashionable opinions.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 6:39 am | Edit
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Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

This was not the Sarah Lohman book that first caught my eye. That honor belongs to Endangered Eating: America's Vanishing Foods, which was published in October of last year. But I make extensive use of eReaderIQ to find good prices for Kindle books, and Eight Flavors came up first.

Lohman tells the stories of eight quintessentially American flavors: where they came from, how they get to us, how they became "American" from their widely divergent sources. This is a book my father would have loved, and so, I believe would my sister-in-law, who has in the past given us several similar books.

Eight Flavors is easy and delightful reading. My main complaint is that Lohman is thoroughly immersed in her modern, urban culture, in which heretofore objectionable language is casually used, and worse, historical events cannot be presented without pointing out how oppressive and racist the people were back then. A simple example: In the chapter on garlic, she quotes a 1939 magazine article that remarks on the cultural assimilation of Italian-American baseball superstar Joe DiMaggio with, “He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.” Lohman dubs it "first-class casual racism," even though her chapter clearly explains that garlic, a hallmark of Italian cooking, was still a foreign taste to many Americans. I remember that when we lived just outside of Boston, the train would pass a set of apartments that were popular among people from India; the scent of Indian spices was distinctive and pervasive, even from the train. I'll grant that there's no subtlety in that observation—for all I could tell, the residents might have been Bengali or Pakistani rather than Indian—but there's nothing evil about it.  Noting that one can often tell by sense of smell what food a person has recently eaten is not racist—especially when the flavor is as strong as garlic.

She also reveals her (sometimes understandable) contempt for people who don't recognize that "chemical additives" are sometimes identical to the chemicals present in totally natural products. She acknowledges that the flavors found in nature are much more complex than the primary flavor molecule (e.g. vanilla versus vanillin) but at the same time dismisses the point.

All that aside, it's an enjoyable book. I'll share Lohman's list of delightful flavors to whet your appetite.

  1. black pepper
  2. vanilla
  3. chili powder
  4. curry powder
  5. soy sauce
  6. garlic
  7. monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  8. sriracha
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2024 at 1:52 pm | Edit
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I've long known, and been troubled by the fact that nearly all of our vitamin C comes from China.

It's not that I'm against trade with China. When two powerful enemies have a thriving trade relationship, they are much less likely to seek to blow each other to bits.

On the other hand, China's terrible reputation when it comes to health and safety, environmental, labor, and human rights concerns really ought to be taken more seriously, especially when it comes to what we ingest.

I'm sufficiently convinced of the value of vitamin C in preventing/mitigating illness that it's a regular part of my health routine. As I said to one of my doctors, who agreed that he followed a similar philosophy, "I don't care if it's only the placebo effect—the placebo effect itself turns out to be effective about a third of the time." For that reason, I've been seeking a non-Chinese alternative to vitamin C.

I think I've found one: LifeSource Vitamins.

It from no one's recommendation, no advertisement, nothing but a simple internet search on "vitamin c not from China." So this is not a review, nor an endorsement of all they offer. But their vitamins do not come from China, and what's more, they're local (just across town in Winter Park). That was good enough for me to give them a trial. I ordered their 500mg vitamin C, and also decided to try some multivitamins and minerals. The latter is a whole lot more than just vitamins; I reproduce the back label here, not only for your information, but so I can easily read it when I want to; to read the actual label I have to resort to a magnifying glass.

I have no idea what good all these various things are supposed to do for me. (Chlorella Cracked Cell Wall Powder, anyone?) I'll let you know if I can suddenly leap tall buildings in a single bound. I'm more interested in the more ordinary ingredients, and will note that the "serving size" is three tablets (you're supposed to take one with each meal), so if some of these percentages look a little high to you, it's easy to take just one.

And that's another thing I like about these vitamins: they are easy to take, period. I don't generally have trouble swallowing pills, but often have a real problem with vitamin C tablets. For whatever reason, they sometimes stick in my throat, causing me to choke and/or vomit. It's not pleasant to feel I'm rolling the dice everything I swallow a vitamin. These vitamin C tablets, however, don't have the customary rough coating, but are smooth—and slide right down.

As I said, this can hardly be a review of the product at this point—why do companies ask for reviews from people who can't possibly have enough experience to say more than, "Yep, it arrived in good time and the packaging was intact"? But I asked for non-Chinese vitamin C, and I'm grateful to have found some.

So I'm passing along the information the best way I know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 27, 2024 at 3:26 pm | Edit
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The headline was admittedly clickbait: I’m QUITTING Gardening After Reading THIS, So Should YOU. And it caught me. I actually suspected that it didn't mean what it sounded like, and in the process I discovered another interesting YouTube channel.

After his brief rant, we get to see him transplanting fruit trees, dealing with gophers, demonstrating his "weedeater," and more.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 22, 2024 at 6:13 am | Edit
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When we lived in Rochester, New York, one of our neighbors grew red and black currant bushes in her backyard, and shared them with us. Sadly, she moved away soon after we become acquainted, and the bushes were removed. At the time, I thought the new residents just didn't want to bother with them, but maybe they knew something I didn't:

The plants were illegal. Here's the story. (17 minutes at normal speed)

In brief: Plants of the genus Ribes, which also includes gooseberries, are susceptible to a fungus that also produces white pine blister rust, which in the early 1900's was devastating our white pine trees.

Apparently the lumber industry had a more vigorous lobby than the gooseberry family, and our federal government both outlawed the Ribes family and began a massive program of eradication. If it had been the 21st century, gooseberry fans would have been demonetized on YouTube and banned from Twitter.

The federal regulations against Ribes were lifted in 1966, but many states still prohibit or restrict it. My neighbor's yard didn't become a legal site until 2003, and many places in New York still aren't. Here's an interesting list of state regulations. My favorite may be Pennsylvania: "In 1933, Pennsylvania passed a law that limited growing gooseberries and currants in certain areas; however, the law is not enforced. Therefore, all Ribes can be grown in the state."

(It must be pointed out, however, that laws that are traditionally not enforced can still be a threat. if your name is Donald Trump, growing currants in Pennsylvania might still land you in court faster than you can eat one.)

Back in the early 1900's, national governments apparently felt they were faced with a stark choice: save the pine trees, or save the currants and gooseberries. The United States chose lumber; Europe chose food. Both are important, of course, but in hindsight it seems clear that letting nature take its course might have been best. When governments take to using hatchets when flyswatters will do, bad things happen. In subsequent years, better approaches to the white pine blister rust problem have been developed. I suspect these developments would have come sooner if we hadn't decided to commit plant genocide instead.

Because of their great nutritional benefits, Ribes, especially black currants, are making a slow comeback. But I've never seen them in our local grocery store. For that, so far I still need to make a trip to Europe, where currants and gooseberries are easily found.

You might enjoy the post I wrote 13 years ago about my visit to a farm near Basel, Switzerland, where I was allowed to taste freely of gooseberries, three colors of currants, and other marvelous fruits that are difficult to procure here.

UPDATE 1: I have it on good authority that there's at least one farm in New Jersey where I can pick gooseberries and currants if I'm passing through at the right time. It would be interesting to know if "currants" listed on their website also includes the black variety, which New Jersey still heavily restricts—that is, if the Wikipedia article is correct, which is a risky assumption, though less so with currants than with current events).

UPDATE 2: Do not be confused by what are called Zante currants, which look like mini-raisins and are made from small grapes. You can find Ribes black currant products on amazon.com, but a search is more likely to misdirect you, if that's what you're looking for.

UPDATE 3: In the United Kingdom, Australia, and no doubt some other parts of the world, purple Skittles candies are black current flavored. In the United States, the flavor is grape. Not content with trying to eradicate the plant itself, we seem intent on eradicating America's taste for the fruit.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 24, 2023 at 9:39 am | Edit
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I've featured the Lex Fridman podcast once before, his interview with former Soviet spy Jack Barsky. Fridman's podcasts are an amazing experience, not only because Fridman is both very intelligent and very interesting, but because he features guests who are the same. I'm not sure if he just choses exceptional guests, or if his interview technique makes them interesting. One thing I love: he lets them talk. No sound bites here. Fridman brings up a question, and he lets his guests run with it. Unfortunately, the side effect is that his shows are three hours long. But at least they work well split up into parts, which is what we usually do.

This video is from his interview with Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. Of course it is all interesting! But what I'm highlighting here is Peterson's personal diet, probably contrary to his wishes, since he says he doesn't like to talk about it and doesn't generally recommend it. The relevant part of the video is 2:03:06 to 2:10:19. This segment was introduced earlier, when he was asked if he started his day with coffee, and he replied, "Steak and water."

All this is very interesting, but the real point of this post is this steak that our oldest grandson just made with his new steam oven:

And this, also made in the steam oven, is why I'm not excited by Jordan Peterson's diet, even with infinite steak.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 12, 2023 at 6:21 am | Edit
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Everybody knows and loves bagels. But would you believe I'd never eaten, seen, or even heard of bagels until I went to college?

My foodly-wise roommate from Providence, Rhode Island was shocked at my ignorance, but I learned in this video, with its brief history of bagels and interview with an old-time bagel baker, that bagels were largely unknown outside of the New York City area during the 1970's, and didn't really take off in the rest of the country until the 80's. Gong to college put me ahead of the game because of where I went to school. The University of Rochester is in Upstate New York, but it attracted many people from New York City, and in particular many Jews. Lox and bagels came with them.

I've written about the Pro Home Cooks YouTube channel before. This video is from its earlier days, and still fascinating. In it Mike Greenfield recreates the bagel-and-lox sandwich that was his childhood staple, and he does it almost entirely from scratch.

He makes the bagel.

He makes the lox.

He makes the cream cheese.

If he were making this show now, he would no doubt have grown his own tomatoes and onions, and for all I know pickled his own capers, but he's not there yet.

It's a cooking show with a side dish of history and culture. I hope you enjoy it. (22 minutes, works well at 1.5x speed)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 at 8:05 am | Edit
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It's been a while since I've shared a favorite YouTube channel, and this one comes with a warning: It will make you hungry!

The channel is Pro Home Cooks, founded by Mike Greenfield. I've been salivating over it for some time, but the video that directly inspired this post is This Fried Chicken Recipe Took Over NYC (9,000 Waitlist) (16 minutes).

You can easily find lots of good cooking videos on the channel, so to round out this post I'm choosing a couple that show a little more about the life behind the shows. The first is a 17-minute "day in the life" video.

Finally, this is a very short (one-minute) video in a different format, but it gives a view of his very enviable garden.

I hope you enjoy Pro Home Cooks as much as I do.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 28, 2023 at 7:25 am | Edit
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I've admired Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farms for a long time, but many years have passed since I first read Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal.  I'd lost track of him in the ensuing years, but he recently popped up after another YouTube video, in this Hillsdale College lecture.  I hope you enjoy it; that man is right about many things.  (15 minutes)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 2, 2023 at 6:18 pm | Edit
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Sometimes you have to post about all the terrible things happening in the world, and sometimes you just have to post about ... chocolate. Ann Reardon and How To Cook That present, "How big companies RUINED chocolate!" (17 minutes—have a taste!)

I don't remember where it was; Porter is sure it was somewhere in Switzerland, but neither of us can recall the city, let alone the store. What we do remember was that we bought several large bars of chocolate from specific countries, such as Venezuela, Panama, Ghana, and Cuba. If we'd known how great an experience that would be, we'd have bought a lot more, that's for sure. Porter's absolute favorite was the chocolate from Cuba; unfortunately, on our one adventure to that country, they were all trying to sell us alcohol and cigars, not the Good Stuff.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 7:00 pm | Edit
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For much of my life, chocolate meant either Nestlé or Hershey. Nestlé tasted better, but Hershey gained points after I moved to Pennsylvania.

Eventually, Nestlé fell out of favor because of the way they push their infant formula, especially in third-world countries. Not to mention the fact that they suck massive amounts of water out of our Floridan Aquifer for their bottled water.

Hershey fell out of favor because, well, because Swiss chocolate is just better, period. And my chocolate budget grew bigger.

Now Hershey has given me more reasons to stick with my Toblerone, Ovomaltine (NOT the Americanized junk of similar name), and other amazing Swiss brands. I've also grown fond of Ghirardelli, though it doesn't pay to look too closely at their corporate values, either. I try to judge products by their quality rather than their politics, as long as the company's political views aren't shoved in my face.

Annoyed as I am with Hershey, which is doing just that, they've also, albeit indirectly, given me this comedy sketch, so I thank them. (And it's not even the Babylon Bee this time.)

However, I'm not going to be shopping at ihatehersheys.com. My chocolate budget isn't that big.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 6, 2023 at 12:00 pm | Edit
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A year ago, I picked and washed some fruit from our Page orange tree, then used a vegetable peeler to obtain thin slices of peel. These I put into a glass jar, which I then filled with plain vodka. That, plus time, produced an awesome orange extract.

It's not something I would drink—I wouldn't drink vodka anyway—but as a flavoring I say it's great, and I have the dark chocolate orange fudge to prove it.

This year's harvest is now mellowing in its vodka marinade, and I'm trying another as well, using peel from the Meyer lemons that were a gift from a friend. (The Meyer lemon, by the way, is a hybrid, 25% pomelo, 25% mandarin, and 50% citron; the Page orange is 25% grapefruit and 75% tangerine.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 16, 2022 at 8:50 pm | Edit
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Being a household of two, we can't keep bread goods out on the counter as we once did; all too often they spoil before we can finish them. Thus, when I bring them home from the grocery store, they often go directly into the freezer, to be thawed as needed.

That's a mistake, I've discovered. The directly part, I mean. Perhaps you've known this trick all along, but if it's new to me, it's undoubtedly new to someone else, so worth publishing.

Now when I come home with bagels, or English muffins, or anything else I might want to use by parts, I divide them before putting them in the freezer. It's only a matter of seconds to cut a bagel in half, but what a difference it makes when I want to have one for breakfast, if it comes from the freezer pre-sliced. I can take just a half if I want (when did bagels get so big, anyway?), or pop two halves directly into the toaster instead of waiting for them to thaw enough to be sliced. Even bagels that come (mosty) presliced in the package can benefit from this treatment, as I find they're inclined to stick together too much without it.

This is a great convenience, and if there's a down side I haven't yet encountered it. Perhaps the additional exposed surface is more prone to drying out, but I've not yet had the problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 at 7:12 am | Edit
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Who says vegetables have no feelings? That's a hug if I ever saw one.

I thought "caduceus," but Siamese twins is another possiblity. All body parts were intact; unfortunately, I was unable to separate them without damage.

Heartless omnivore that I am, after my unsuccessful surgery, I ate them.

They were delicious.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 18, 2022 at 6:57 am | Edit
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