Monday, August 25, 2014

Anti-bacon PC run amok or most successful troll ever?

The right wing news wires along with plenty of mainstream sources are going crazy over this story.  In brief, a local restaurant does some community beautification work and thereby wins the right to post a promotional sign -- like those "adopt a highway" dealies you've no doubt seen.  Well in this case, a Muslim woman becomes offended by the word bacon and the restaurant, valuing the diversity in the community, takes the sign down.  Oops.  The internet loves bacon and lots of people don't much like Muslims.  A huge backlash ensues locally and, now, nationally.

I don't believe it.  Oh, I believe that some restaurant in Vermont is run by people so hippy-dippy that they'd not want to offend someone by the mere utterance of a word for a product which they (still) serve.  That part I believe.  And I believe that a whole bunch of wingnuts completely overreacted to the restaurant's skittishness at being seen as anything but the most diversity-loving company in the world.

I propose that the Muslim woman doesn't exist.  According to the article from WPTZ, the discussion began on something called the Winooski Front Porch Forum.  A message board.  I know a thing or two about message boards and I believe that Sneakers Bistro has been trolled.  There are not many Muslims in Vermont.  There are fewer Muslims in northern Vermont.  There are fewer Muslims still who are offended by the word "bacon."  There are fewer than that who are offended by the word "bacon" and who post on message boards.  But there are lots of trolls.  They live everywhere, even in northern Vermont.

Again relying on the WPTZ story, the people at Sneakers "reached out" to the allegedly offended woman.  I'll bet they did that through the message board.  I'll bet that not a single person has ever talked to the person who made the complaint, let alone confirmed that she is a she, that she is a Muslim and that she is genuinely offended at the mere appearance of a word she can't avoid at the grocery store every week.

The national media should ignore this story, at least until more is known.  Go cover Peru -- they had an earthquake there worse than the one in Napa.  Apparently there's also some sort of to-do in the Middle East and back in Russia I hear that Putin is trying to put the band back together.

The local media in Vermont --  I challenge you to find this woman.  If she exists, she exists.  Tell her story.  Find out why this occurrence of the word offended her when others don't.  Be fair to her.  If you find her.  Which you won't, because she doesn't exist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

35 pounds!

That's what I've lost since I started trying to lose weight and get in shape at the beginning of March. That's a little over a pound and a half a week, about the middle of a healthy range. So far I'm pleased.

A picture purporting to show five pounds of fat (top)
and five pounds of muscle (bottom).
I've lost seven of the former and gained none of the latter.
My shape has not changed by anywhere near that amount
so the fat must be compacted when in use.

However, I think things are going to get more difficult from here.  For one thing, there's less to lose.  I have to imagine it's more difficult to lose the first 35 pounds generally than it is to lose the next 35.  For another, having lost some fat I've decided it's time to gain some muscle, which of course is denser than fat.  I've started a couch to 5K running program. It's this one, in case anyone cares. So far I like it because it lets me play my own music in the background, it doesn't nag or coach too much and it syncs seamlessly with Myfitnesspal, my calorie-counting app.).  I'm also going to be doing some whole-body exercises.  If someone has a link to a good app with videos that demonstrate proper technique I'd be grateful to hear about it.

In addition to the exercise, I think it's time to get more precise about my diet.  I've had good success on the old fashioned "take in fewer calories than you expend" diet without paying too much attention to where those calories come from.  It's true that the vast majority of my reduced intake has come from reducing cheap carbs like flour and alcohol, but that's only because I was consuming such insane amounts previously.  Now it's time to consider the more focused approach I've been hemming and hawing about all along.  I'm still thinking low-carb, but something more along the South Beach method than Atkins, which I tried once before and hated.  I lurves me some vegetables and I don't want to go through those first few weeks of Atkins before getting back to them.

So there we go.  I expect the rate of weight loss to slow, perhaps significantly.  But I'm OK with that.  I'm in this for health and (honestly) looks, not a number.  I do expect my shape to change more significantly than it's been doing.

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

Friday, July 11, 2014

Making yogurt.

I make my own yogurt.  I don't have a special reason to.  In New York State we have some sort of weird milk pricing system that makes milk almost as expensive as yogurt.  But it's fun to make your own, it's easy, and you can control how it comes out.  In addition to resulting in delicious yogurt it's a good experiment for young kids to teach them about microbes, fermentation, and experimental observation.

The complete instructions are below, but here's the TLDR version:

Heat milk to 180F.  
Quick-cool it to 120F. 
Mix in a little bit of room-temperature yogurt.
Store for six hours anywhere from room temperature to 120F.  Lower temperature equals sweeter, thinner yogurt, higher makes more sour, thicker yogurt.
Sample the yogurt and store for more time if desired.
Strain the yogurt to thicken as desired.

My highly sophisticated cooling bath.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Seared Salsa Negra Scallops and Guacamole.

I don't intend to make this a food blog, but this and my next entry will be food related because this recipe is so good that I want to share it, the subject of my next post is also fun to share and involves some kitchen science with observation, and it'll get me back on the blogging horse.  So here we go.

During the summer in a hot kitchen one goal is to have the oven running for a little time as possible.  This is an especially desirable goal in a small NYC apartment, where the kitchen can heat the whole place up.

Seafood cooks really quickly, can be delicious, and fits nicely with my new healthy eating habits.  Scallops are one of my favorite seafoods and this recipe highlights them beautifully along with fresh asparagus.  The recipe calls for white asparagus, which is a little sweeter and less bitter than the green variety, but green will substitute nicely so long as it's well-roasted and feels more summery than something grown in the basement.   Don't be shy; make sure there are some serious sear marks on the asparagus from the broiler.  It requires total oven time, including preheating, of less than 20 minutes.  If you have an outdoor grill, this is even better.  You can take the whole thing outdoors with your prepared guacamole.

Scallops are easy to cook.  There are three tricks.  First, dry your scallops as much as you can.  There should be no water apparent on the scallops' exterior.  Any exterior water will boil, steaming the scallops, and at the same time will take energy from the pan which should be going to sear the exterior of the scallops.   Here, that also means wiping as much of the marinade off as is practical.  The second trick is to get your grill or pan blazingly hot before adding the scallops.  The related third trick is not to overload your pan.  My 10 small scallops seared perfectly in a 12-inch tri-ply frying pan but if you have larger scallops, a smaller pan or a pan with less impressive heat transfer characteristics you may want to work in batches.  The goal of all three of these tricks is to sear the outside of the scallops to a golden brown before the interior overcooks.  3-4 minutes per side should get you that flavorful sear on the outside and a tender and sweet but not raw-tasting center. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hi. I'm testing embedding polls on this blog. Please take a couple of minutes to answer the entirely unserious questions below. Thanks.

EDITED TO ADD: Your responses to this poll are visible to pretty much everyone on the planet so please respond accordingly. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A short lesson in Amish history, which none of them will read.

With spring and summer vegetables starting to show up at farmers markets and grocery stores I've been thinking of making a shoo-fly pie.  The connection is that I associate great summer fruits and veggies with trips to Amish country, where I always try to enjoy a slice or two of shoo-fly pie.  If you don't know what that is, all will become clear.

Looking up recipes something which I should have realized quickly became apparent.  With the exception of eggs and possibly flour, not a single ingredient in shoo-fly pie is indigenous to Amish country.  I suppose some families might make their own vinegar or even shortening but the main ingredients, molasses, brown sugar and (in some recipes) spices all come from far, far away from Lancaster, PA.

It turns out that there's a reason for that.  It turns out that shoo-fly pie was probably invented by the Amish when they had little or no fresh food at all!  The Amish were a group of German settlers invited to help populate the new world by William Penn himself.  Penn wanted to create a religiously tolerant utopia in the land he was given by Charles I after England got control of the place from the Dutch.  (Pennsylvania Dutch is really Pennsylvania Deutsch, for Germans).   By religious utopia he meant that you could be any sect of Christianity you want, but that's a whole nother blog entry.  At any rate, when the first large groups arrived in the 1720s or 30s, they apparently arrived at the beginning of the winter.  There would be no fresh food until the spring so they lived off of what they brought.  And what food do you bring on a life-defining trip across the ocean to a strange land?  Things which last at room temperature.  Flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and spices.   And like a lot of Europeans, they had a sweet tooth.  Combine that with an existing English concoction called a "treacle tart" also made from molasses and there you go.  Shoo-fly pie is a pie made from flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and sometimes spices.  Sweet sustenance to get families through a Pennsylvania winter.  Leave a slice outside on a hot summer's day and the origin of the name will quickly become apparent.

Here is a recipe for shoo-fly pie which purportedly matches that made by Mary Jo Hess at the Central Market in Lancaster, PA.  If I go ahead and make some, I'll probably spice it up a bit.  That's apparently less authentic but I don't much care.  I don't know whether to go the obvious direction with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or allspice or take it in a different direction with ginger, cloves, cardamom or something else. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Congress on the verge of doing something smart! You can help!

It's almost unbelievable when one hears so much about gridlock and increasing partisanship in the US Congress, but from time to time they get together and actually do something bipartisan and good for the country (two things which do not always correlate).   A couple years back they passed some really good bipartisan reforms to patent law, for example.  More is needed but they did it. 

Last night the House of Representatives approved an amendment to a bill the effect of which would prohibit the federal government from interfering with states' administration of medical marijuana laws.  Democrats overwhelming supported the bill; Republicans were mostly against but a quarter of them got on board, which was enough to put the amendment over the top.

The Senate version of the funding bill at issue does not currently have this provision, so either it would have to be added by amendment or at some point the two houses will hash (hah!) it out in a conference committee. 

The truth is I could don't care about marijuana, medical or otherwise.  But I do believe in federalism and even more I believe in allowing people to make their own choices.  This amendment is a step on both of those directions.

If you have a Republican Senator in your state, email him or her and state that you support this amendment (if you do, of course) and that you expect him or her, as a defender of states' rights, to support the initiative whatever he or she feels about marijuana personally.  If you have a Democratic Senator, email him or her too.

Also, drop an email to your Representative thanking or criticizing him or her for the prior vote on the amendment and asking him or her to stay or get on the right side of history if the funding bill goes to a conference committee.  Here is the tally of votes so you can see how your Representative voted.  Don't know who your Rep is?  Here is where you can find out. That last link will also take you straight to your Representative's page where you can find the appropriate email address.

Monday, May 12, 2014

So why *are* ramps such a big deal?

In my last post I wrote a little bit about ramps, the wild leek which is among the first edibles of spring and is very much the "in" thing among foodies. 

Why are they such a big deal?  They taste good but they're not transformative like saffron or a really good truffle.  If they were on grocery store shelves year-round they'd be just another allium to choose or substitute at will.  Someone could certainly be forgiven for thinking that ramp enthusiasm is just another passing fad, that people like them because a few influential other people like them or, even worse, because so many other people don't know about them.  There's doubtless at least some truth to this school of thought but I think it's also somewhat unfair.

Ramps are popular because they're ephemeral.  Because they have a season. Ramps are here, and then they're gone until next year.  If you were industrious you might have some pickled ramps to last you until the following year but there is no source of fresh ramps once they're gone in June. 

I grew up in Maryland in the 1970's.  This was after canned and frozen fruits and vegetables became ubiquitous but before great fleets of ships and trucks brought fresh produce from all over the world to even low-end grocery stores.  And back then, there was enthusiasm for lots of crops.  In Maryland it was strawberries in the spring and Silver Queen corn in the summer.  

Freshly picked strawberries are as different from that giant plastic red thing as fresh tomatoes are from their grocery store equivalents.   This is not a result of some conspiracy by large growers and packers but rather an artifact of biology.  Strawberries are among those fruits which cease creating sugar as soon as they are picked.  They will "ripen" in the sense that their colors will change, long-chain sugars might break down into shorter ones and the fruit will soften but there's no new sugar.   Combine that with the fact that with the cultivars available back then Maryland strawberries were too soft to ship very far in any event  and the result was a few weeks of the sweetest strawberries imaginable for a tiny price.  You waited all winter for spring strawberries, they came, and then they were gone.  They didn't have an internet back then to make things go "viral," but they did have strawberry festivals, strawberry queens, and all the local chefs had their special strawberry dishes. 

Silver Queen corn was a similar story.  There have been pretty drastic advances in the production of corn cultivars recently so just about everyone has access to fresh sweet corn for most of the second half of the summer.   Not so in the '70s.  Sweet corn would lose as much as half its sugar in just 48 hours after picking.  That meant that there was no such thing as high quality sweet corn from Illinois or California or Mexico; by the time it got to Maryland it wouldn't be sweet any more.  Same with Maryland corn -- you couldn't ship it to Massachusetts or Florida because it wouldn't be special by the time it got there.  So again, for a few precious weeks at the end of the summer Maryland would be flooded with some of the best sweet corn in the world and then it would be gone.

I'm not going to to minimize the undeniable and large benefits of a growing and shipping regime which has made fresh fruit and vegetables available year-round at reasonable prices,  but I think something has been lost when we lost seasons for a lot of foods.  Having a mediocre version available all the time is good nutrition but not necessarily for the soul.  Some of the appreciation we had for the fruit of the land has been lost.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

An important website for you.

I'm not normally one to pass along every good website I run into; in fact those websites that are AMAZING because fact number 23 will BLOW YOUR MIND are pretty annoying, in my opinion.   So I guess that means in the modern web environment I'm doomed to a low Klout score.  Oh well.

But this is too good not to pass on.  The lesson imparted by a long, fun slog through this website is among the most important a person can learn, whether one is deciding what to eat, which scientists to believe, what political stance makes the most sense, how to save and invest your money, or anything else.

Sourced from but not endorsed by pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ramps! Ramps for spring! Ramp recipes!

Following a long winter in the northeast which delayed almost all early-spring growth, it is finally the time when ramps appear in farmers markets in the NYC area. 

If you found this post you probably know what ramps are -- you probably searched for something like "ramps recipes," "ramps NYC," "ramps cultivate," or similar.  In case you don't know, ramps are basically wild leeks.  They like to grow in the shade, so they're mostly grown naturally in the woods as opposed to being planted in nice rows on a farm, though there are doubtless exceptions.   Now that they're the "in" vegetable again, this makes them pretty expensive for what is basically a weed.(1)  In North America, they're most prevalent along the Appalachian mountains. 

They have a short season, shedding their fragrant, tasty leaves and growing flowers by the time June rolls around.  Because they were generally among the first edible plants to appear in the spring ramps were considered a welcome harbinger of the food to come both by the early European settlers and the Native Americans who preceded them.  Chicago is named for a Native word for ramps -- the area was crawling with the things when La Salle showed up. 

Ramps have a small scallion-like bulb at the root end, a short thin stalk which can turn purple or burgundy and broad leaves which appear large relative to the size of the plant.  They are extremely pungent and both smell and taste like a happy combination of yellow onions, scallions and garlic. 

As part of the overall movement to better food, people are rediscovering local foods which for one reason or another have not been cultivated by the huge farms and even more huge food companies.  Ramps fit squarely into this trend. So all up and down the northeast you see ramps in farmers markets, on the menu of local restaurants and endless celebrations of them in the press, both dead-tree and internet-based.

How do you use ramps?  Basically as a substitute for any allium.  You can get  a nice taste of spring and a fun different taste in almost any recipe which uses garlic, onions, leeks, scallions or chives.   You have to earn them, though.  Ramps are dirty like leeks.  The way to clean them is to cut off the root and then wash them one or two at a time under running water, pulling off a thin membrane which covers the stalk and bulb.

They roast very nicely, getting a good char on the leaves just as the bulbs become tender when sauteed in your choice of fat.  To get the full spectrum of ramps' flavors, simply heat up a thin layer extra virgin olive oil or butter, throw a few ramps in and cook without turning until the leaves start to get a char on them.  Alternatively, brush the oil on them and toss them right on the grill, which you've doubtless been waiting to fire up all winter.  Serve them alone as a side dish or ramp (hah!) them up by putting them on a bruschetta with some buffalo mozzarella - Mario Batali's version was terrific, but I'd skip the tomato part and just let the ramps and toast stand with the mozz.  Tonight I made a ramp risotto based on a recipe from my favorite chef-scientist, J. Kenji L√≥pez-Alt at  They're also apparently outstanding with eggs; I'll probably pick up another couple of bunches this weekend and try them in and on an omelet.  Heck, throw them in a glass of Gin for a ramp Gibson!  Really, though, just think of whatever onion or garlic-heavy dish you enjoy most and swap in some ramps.  Like to cook Italian-American food?  Use the ramp bulbs to make ramp bread instead of garlic bread, toss the leaves into a green salad, and chop the stems like scallions and sprinkle them on the pasta sauce.  Prefer Indian?  How about a garlic curry but with ramps?

As it happens, I didn't set out to make this entire entry about ramps.  I intended to write about strawberries.  But this is getting to be a lengthy piece by blog standards.  So my next entry will address ramps, what makes them "in" right now, why you read way too much about them given that they're basically a weedy onion, and strawberries.  

(1): Morel mushrooms are apparently impossible to cultivate, much like truffles.  That accounts for the expense. 

(2): Today I learned why people prefer their vegetable stock to be on the clear side.  I took a picture of my ramp risotto, which was delicious, but it looked like something Linda Blair spit up.