Can Trader Joe's be far behind?
Central Florida now has its very own Penzeys store, in the lovely Park Avenue area of Winter Park. It opened unofficially for a few hours yesterday, and today for real; we walked through the doors an hour after opening. I am so excited.
I know, Penzeys can be considered the Cadillac of spices, as befits the Park Avenue location. You can certainly find herbs and spices for less money elsewhere. But there are times when it's worth paying a little extra for quality, and quality is where Penzeys excels. Variety, too—they have exotic herbs and spices I'd never heard of, plus a stunning variety of their own excellent blends. They even excel in quantity, from tiny jars for the spices you use rarely, to large bags (at a commensurately lower per-ounce price) for greater needs.
It was particularly fun shopping today, as I bought only what I wanted, and in smaller quantities than usual. Herbs and spices lose their potency after a while, but I've been accustomed to ending a Penzeys visit with a large armload, since I either (1) didn't know when I'd have another chance to get to a store, or (2) wanted to make the most of my shipping charges for an online order. Now I can buy small amounts, and when I run out, plan a spicy date: get to Winter Park early enough to find a good parking space, visit Winter Park Honey and other friends at the Farmer's Market, then eat breakfast at Croissant Gourmet while waiting for Penzeys to open. Works for me.
Ever since our visit to Rio de Janiero, where we began each morning with suco de maracujá sem açúcar, out-of-this-world unsweetened passion fruit juice, I have been on the alert for passionfruit flavors. Alas, nearly every version of passionfruit juice sold here is sweetened, which does a serious disservice to the noble fruit.
However, if you're going to adulterate the passionfruit, the Feodora Grand'Or Maracuja 75% Cacao chocolate bar is a good way to go. Porter found this German delight for me in New York City. At 75% cacao, the chocolate loses a little too much of its "mouthfeel" to be perfect, but the maracuja flavor is heavenly. Don't pass this up if you get the opportunity to taste some.
CNN Health reported a study in which rats, allowed unlimited access to bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other high-calorie foods, developed brain changes similar to those in rats given free access to cocaine or heroin. People are not rats, the scientists are quick to point out, but the findings are suggestive. I'm not so happy that their goal seems to be developing a pharmaceutical approach to both drug addiction and obesity, but I found the following thought-provoking:
So...Coca-Cola originally had cocaine as one of its ingredients...now it has high fructose corn syrup. No wonder it's so popular. :)
The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn't entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.
"We make our food very similar to cocaine now," he says.
Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.
According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. "We purify our food," he says. "Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we're eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup."
The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to "eat unconsciously and unnecessarily," and will also prompt an animal to "eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs]," says Wang.
Janet alerted me to Jamie Oliver; DSTB followed up with what is apparently a new show on ABC. It starts next Friday, but the pilot was shown last night; fortunately it's available both at the show site and Hulu, so I was able to watch it. Jamie's attempt to get the people of Huntington, West Virginia to take a healthier approach to eating has the faults of American commercial television (just as does Who Do You Think You Are?), but it's not bad and (so far) is not as over the top as what I've seen of his British shows. If his personality is a little too dramatic for my taste, there's no doubting the sincerity of his preaching and his mission. His gospel is good, fresh food, and in this episode he takes on school lunches.
[Excuse me, school meals. The only meal these children eat at home is dinner. In Oliver's unfeigned horror at the meals served at our public schools, he misses what strikes me as the more important point: Why are all these children eating school food? Why aren't they bringing lunches from home, and why, for Pete's sake, don't they eat breakfast before going to school? If the schools are going to offer food, certainly it should be healthy food, but where are the parents? There's absolutely no need to subject one's children to American public school food, good or bad. The school lunch (and now breakfast) program does serve a useful purpose, making sure children whose parents can't provide meals for them aren't trying to learn on empty stomachs. That's a good thing. But somehow the whole system got skewed; I know that the goal of the school lunch program at our kids' school was to have everyone participate. (We didn't.) I saw not one lunchbox in the show. I hope that while he teaches the adults how easy it is to put together healthy meals, he also teaches the kids how easy it is to make their own healthy lunches. But that's another issue; I know I'm taking on a Great American Icon by dissing the school lunch program.] (More)
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan (Penguin, New York, 2008)
I'm in the middle (okay, the beginning) of two rather hefty books at the moment, Susan Wise Bauer's The History of the Ancient World, and my latest review book from Thomas Nelson, The Chronological Guide to the Bible. It's great to be reading the two of them together, though that means it will be a long time before I can review either one.
And now longer still, as the library e-mailed to let me know that I'd made it to the top of the waiting list for In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan is shaping up to be the next John Taylor Gatto for me: a modern author whose books I simply can't resist and can't put down. Reading was the easy part; reviewing without quoting from every page is the difficulty. The book is bristling with my neon green and pink sticky notes. (More)
Jamie Oliver, a British chef, is apparently a big hit in Europe. (Perhaps here, too; that I had never heard of him doesn't mean a lot.) He has cooking shows, a Tupperware-style home party business, and has taken on school meals in England and the eating habits of an entire West Virginia city. I find his flamboyant style annoying, and some of his information dated or controversial (e.g. demonizing saturated fat without mentioning the more problematic trans fats), but there is still plenty worth watching. (H/T Janet)
Grandchild warning. Forty-five years ago, my British-born Girl Scout leader explained to us some of the differences between the US and the UK when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable language. Some words considered normal here were horribly offensive there, while certain words for bodily functions were unacceptable here but commonplace there. She tried to clean up her language in deference to her adopted country, but sometimes slipped—hence the explanation. Oliver's videos are best watched without grandchildren in the room.
Oliver's TED lecture on teaching children about food and good eating habits. He's not a great speaker in this context, but I like the format better than the other videos. He's a little too inclined to look into non-personal (i.e. government and business) solutions, but an important message nonetheless. If nothing else, this one's worth it for the clip at 11:16 where he asks schoolchildren to identify foods in their natural state—and they are baffled by tomatoes and potatoes.
Having made my first New Year's resolution on January 8, it is fitting that I add my second today.
At first glance, resolving to rediscover feasting sounds about as painful as resolving to read more books, but bear with me a moment.
There's a lot of wisdom in the church liturgical year, with its fasts (e.g. Advent and Lent), its feasts (the grandest of which are, of course, Christmas and Easter), and its large swaths of so-called Ordinary Time. For most of our modern, American society, however, it is Christmas Every Day. To paraphrase one of my favorite lines from The Incredibles, If every day is special, no day is. (More)
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan (Penguin, New York, 2006)
My limited knowledge of Michael Pollan prior to devouring this book was primarily his mantra for healthy eating: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. There's a lot of wisdom there — not that I'm very good at following it — but that phrase itself is not found in The Omnivore's Dilemma. It is the beginning, however, of an excellent Pollan article in the New York Times, Unhappy Meals.
I'll admit I was expecting a diatribe, a full-force blast against agri-business and the factory farm, more along the lines of what we hear from the more strident vegans and animal rights activists. Pollan, however, is much too skilled as a journalist and writer for that. If his journeys lead him to both Food Hell and Food Heaven, they also show him that there is no clear, simple, and easy path to salvation when it comes to eating. (More)
Ah, a glass of red wine, bruschetta (made with homemade bread), and a Porter-made salad with spring greens, scallions, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and rosemary and sea salt focaccia sticks with sun-dried tomato spread, dressed with a dressing concocted from balsamic vinegar and a marvellous lemon-olive oil from Italy that was a gift from Stephan's parents.Shakespeare.
Food, Inc. (2008, Magnolia Home Entertainment, directed by Robert Kenner, PG )
I first heard about Food, Inc. seven months ago, and at that time posted the trailer, a couple of links, and my determination to see the movie when it became available on Netflix. Just before Christmas the disk arrived in our mailbox, so we packed it in our luggage and were able to enjoy it with my brother and his family, which was only fitting, as they are the ones who alerted us to the movie in the first place.
Everyone who eats should see this film. Alas, it only touches the surface of the problems in our food industry and doesn't have time to say much about solutions—but it's quite enough to inspire further research. The film's website might be a good place to begin.
V-Fusion, by the same folks who brought you, "I could have had a V-8." (More)
I cogitated upon this video all day before finally deciding to post it. I'm hiding it behind the "more" tag because it's replete with highly offensive words. So much so that it's almost not offensive: nothing is said with anger, or malice; it's as if the man is one of those poor unfortunates who can't speak without using "um" or "like" every other word—only those aren't his filler words of choice.The reason I decided to bear with the profanity is that this comedy routine is perhaps the neatest expression I've yet seen of Purple Ketchup Syndrome. When Heinz came out with purple ketchup, I knew the mental disconnect between what we eat and where it comes from was complete.
(If you watch the video, do it here rather than clicking through to the YouTube site; the comments there are worse than the video.)
I made cheese today, my first effort since succumbing to the lure of Ricki Carroll and her New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. It was not, perhaps, an auspicious beginning, since the never-fail, easy-enough-for-a-seven-year-old mozzarella recipe...failed. Maybe I need a grandchild or two to help.
On the other hand, what I did manage to produce is a great, lower-fat substitute for cream cheese, and if I knew what it was I did wrong, I could replicate it. My biggest mistake was clearly to ignore Ricki's instructions to keep a cheese journal, logging everything from ingredients to procedures to the ambient temperature and humidity. Cheesemaking is an art, and at some point you're bound to create something you'd like to be able to make again; keeping a log doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to, but it greatly increases the odds.For now, I'l enjoy my "cream cheese," and try again with the mozzarella another day.
Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America's Favorite Passion, by Rowan Jacobsen (Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier, Vermont, 2003)
Like chocolate, this delicious book goes down easily, and the facts about chocolate's health benefits are not hard to swallow. At a mere 126 pages from introduction through references, it's a quick and easy read—I read most of it on the way to and from church today—and yet manages to cover the history and production of chocolate, a good deal of detail on why chocolate—which begins as a fruit, after all—should be considered a health food, environmental and labor issues in the production of chocolate, unusual chocolate recipes, and list of great chocolate sources. It is necessary to ignore a few insults to Columbus, the Puritans, and anyone who likes milk chocolate, but on the whole these are minor annoyances. (More)
Making vegetables grow in our nutrient-poor, nematode-rich sand soil is always a challenge. After the initial shock of moving here from a world where one puts the seeds in the ground and stands back, we pretty much gave up on gardens until a couple of years ago. We do a little better each year, but at least financially the balance sheet is still dismal.
One plant that is still thriving, even in the oppressive Florida summer heat, is our lemon balm. We planted it this year for no other reason than that it was available at Lowes (or Home Depot, I forget which) and I remembered that Porter had remarked on how good it smelled when we encountered it at Leu Gardens. We let it grow untouched for a long time, mostly because I didn't know what to do with it, but when a friend mentioned making lemon balm tea, I had my answer.
Now I brew a pot of tea with one regular PG Tips tea bag and a handful of bruised, fresh lemon balm leaves. I don't know how it tastes hot, as we're not in that season, but I can attest that it makes a wonderful iced tea. I generally prefer my tea unflavored, but at least for now I can't get enough of this delicious combination.