Category Archives: Food and Cooking

No, you can’t use it to test wedding cake

Not yet in commercial production but promising: a tabletop device that can detect gluten proteins in food at the 5 ppm level in 120 seconds.

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Some links: 71

Catching up on a lot of bookmarks, so this will be a bit of a link dump.

  • Reduced-meat or meatless diets (Mediterranean, pescetarian, vegetarian) are both better for your health and more sustainable for the environment, as David Tilman and Michael Clark find in a recent paper, and as Elke Stehfest summarizes.
  • I am loving Nature‘s new sharing tools. Susannah Locke explains the journal’s move toward more open access.
  • Emily Dreyfuss signed up to give Wikipedia six bucks a month.

    …Wikipedia is the best approximation of a complete account of knowledge we’ve ever seen.

    It’s also the most robust. The most easily accessed. And the safest. It exists on servers around the world so, unlike the library at Alexandria, it can’t be burned down.

    You should chip in, too. kottke.org

  • The Biodiversity Heritage Library has opened an online exhibit dedicated to women in science who began working before 1922. Some of my recent subjects are there, including Florence Merriam Bailey and Mabel Osgood Wright.
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Truth in advertising

Reporting on the recent FDA food labeling standard for gluten-free foods, Allison Aubrey does a great job of unpacking the various consumer constituencies who care about gluten in their diet. The blog post doesn’t dwell on this point, so listen to the audio from the All Things Considered two-way with Audie Cornish. Aubrey identifies three groups:

  • people who are on the gluten-free bandwagon and will fall off eventually;
  • people who experience gluten sensitivity, who do better avoiding wheat and related grains, but can tolerate a little or a lot;
  • people with true-blue celiac disease.

Aubrey identifies the third group as those for whom gluten is a real problem, not just something to be avoided casually. These are the three million people who, in her deft description for radio, suffer from a “chronic auto-immune disorder that can destroy the lining of the small intestine… even a little gluten can make them sick.”

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Al dente

Marcella Hazan, author of one of the two cookbooks that I actually cook from, has passed. She did prickly so well.

When Mrs. Hazan arrived in New York in 1955, Italian food was still exotic, served in restaurants with straw-covered Chianti bottles and red-checked tablecloths….

The culture shock nearly crushed her. She was appalled by canned peas, hamburgers and coffee she once described as tasting no better than the water she used to wash out her own coffeepot at home.

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Three and a half cents a pound

Mark Bittman visits an industrial-scale tomato farm in California, and finds it good.

The tomatoes are bred to ripen simultaneously because there is just one harvest. They’re also blocky in shape, the better to move along conveyor belts. Hundreds of types of tomatoes are grown for processing, bred for acidity, disease resistance, use, sweetness, wall thickness, ripening date and so on. They’re not referred to by cuddly names like “Early Girl” but by number: “BQ 205.”

I tasted two; they had a firm, pleasant texture and mild but real flavor, and were better than any tomatoes — even so-called heirlooms — sold in my supermarket.

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Omnivore no more

Joe Yonan “comes out” as a vegetarian, with no apologies.

And no matter what somebody like [Anthony] Bourdain thinks, I think the absolute rudest thing you can do—even ruder than turning down somebody’s grandmother—is to show a lack of respect for someone else’s decision about what they’re going to consume. Eat and let eat.

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Naola

Audrey Cefaly explains how to cook grits.

Put the directions AWAY, turn the timer OFF. It’s like that scene in Star Wars where Luke kills the death star. You can’t kill the death star with fancy gadgets… you gotta go with your gut…. your heart… (and a little experience doesn’t hurt).

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Some links: 62/a

Two recent articles pertaining to food labeling: First, Gustave Axelson recaps the labels vying for your attention as you shop for bird-friendly coffee.

…coffee sellers don’t always advertise that their coffee is Bird Friendly. “Probably about only 10 percent of coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms carries the Bird Friendly stamp on the package,” said Robert Rice, a research scientist at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

For example, Starbucks and Whole Foods sell some coffee from Bird Friendly certified farms. But they don’t see the need to make room on their packaging for a separate label that appeals to a relatively small—and silent—minority: birders.

Next, Mark Bittman proposes labels for packaged food that put the information you need right up front. A caption to the print version of the story recommends scanning the standardized list of ingredients in today’s packaging, not necessarily reading it in full:

…if the list of ingredients spans an entire paragraph, chances are you don’t need it.

I like Bittman’s red-yellow-green color codes, and I like the prominence of the Welfare measure. It would be nice to give more visibility to ingredients to which various consumers are allergic or intolerant.

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Urban extremophile

Daniel Mosquin points to an exceptionally well-written piece by Adam Rogers for Wired: it tells the story of James Scott and a mysterious black mold that beset the neighborhood around a distillery. The fungus, a barrel-shaped beastie now named Baudoinia compniacensis has been known to science since the 19th century, but much of Scott’s task was isolating and culturing the organism and giving it a proper scientific name. Props to Rogers for explaining how binomial nomenclature works.

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Handmade

already goneLeta’s pecan and chocolate pie, made for holiday dinner, was quite the hit. The GF crust performed very well.

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What’s cooking?

The New York Public Library has launched another crowdsourced digital transcription project of analog source materials, similar to the North American Bird Phenology Program. The NYPL is seeking volunteers to extract information from its store of historical restaurant menus. So far, data on more than 170,000 food items offered for sale has been pulled from more than 2,800 menus. There is lots of work yet to do:

With approximately 40,000 menus dating from the 1840s to the present, The New York Public Library’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts…. The New York Public Library’s menu collection, housed in the Rare Book Division, originated through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), who, in 1900, began to collect menus on the Library’s behalf. Miss Buttolph added more than 25,000 menus to the collection, before leaving the Library in 1924. The collection has continued to grow through additional gifts of graphic, gastronomic, topical, or sociological interest, especially but not exclusively New York-related.

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The good coffee

A new online source for bird-friendly coffee, with some notes on the agriculture and biology behind it: Birds & Beans.

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Complexity

Francis Lam takes on the canard of household spice rack turnover:

“Six months?” [Jane Daniels] Lear said, with a genteel indignation. “Some food Nazi probably made that rule up. Or someone from a spice company who just wants you to throw out all your spices twice a year.”

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The recipe project: 2

For our family Thanksgiving dinner, I was asked to bring my spicy cranberry chutney. I’m not sure whether this is because it’s about the only holiday dish I know how to make, or because it’s the only one that my friends trust me with. At any rate, I follow this recipe from an old number of Gourmet (November 1987), which rests on the top of a short stack of similar magazines in my kitchen. It’s on the same page as a recipe for tasty cranberries in chocolate sauce that I haven’t made since my Susan days. The chutney doesn’t take too much time to make, especially if you are like me and you skimp on the chopping. I like big chunks of fruit in my chutney. Below, my paraphrase of the recipe:

Cranberry Chutney
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped as fine as you care to
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced (1/4 inch or so)
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger (to be found probably somewhere in the produce section at your supermarket), chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

Grate the lemon rind to make about 1 teaspoon. Squeeze the lemon to make about 1/4 cup of juice.

In a saucepan combine the apricots, the brown sugar, the raisins, and 1 cup water. Bring the liquid to a boil, stirring, and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Add the cranberries, the apple, and the lemon rind, simmer the mixture until most but not all of the cranberries have popped, about 15 or 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, the ginger, and the red pepper flakes.

Serve at room temperature or chilled. Makes about 3 cups.

This last time out, I was unsure of the state of my spice rack, so I was inclined to add more pepper. But Leta took a quick taste test and assured me that half a teaspoon of pepper is good.

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Conscientious inconsistency

In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, for the Times Magazine annual food issue, Jonathan Safran Foer explains his bumpy practice of vegetarianism. Although most of his qualms run along the lines of not wishing to hurt animals, he also mentions the reason I try to avoid eating terrestrial vertebrates:

According to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. and others, factory farming has made animal agriculture the No. 1 contributor to global warming (it is significantly more destructive than transportation alone), and one of the Top 2 or 3 causes of all of the most serious environmental problems, both global and local: air and water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity… Eating factory-farmed animals—which is to say virtually every piece of meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants—is almost certainly the single worst thing that humans do to the environment.

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