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The Food Almanac: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Food Almanac: Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Today's Flavor
Today is National Greek Salad Day. Not only is it found in every Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant in America, but in almost exactly the same form in tavernas all over Greece. Greek salads require a certain critical mass for the ingredients to balance out, so they're usually served in an entree size. Here's what goes into it:

Green leaf lettuce, constituting only about half the salad
Sliced cucumbers
Green onions
Mild green peppers (preferably something like wax peppers, but bell peppers are okay in pinch)
Tomatoes
A great deal of feta cheese, crumbled
Kalamata olives

The dressing should be an emulsified vinaigrette with a significant herb (particularly oregano) component. Dill is essential. And it should also include a significant amount of fresh lemon juice. All of this should be tossed with the salad ingredients, not served on the side or dumped over the top.

Our two Greek restaurants (Acropolis Cuisine and Mr. Gyros) both make good Greek salads. But the best in town is at the Maple Street Cafe (7623 Maple, 314-9003). There it's served in a bowl made from a round loaf of crusty bread.

Deft Dining Rule #920
A really great Greek salad will still have a few chunks of feta cheese and a few olives remaining after all the greens have been eaten.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Olive, Indiana is a schedule point on the Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad, a commuter line whose route is described by its name. A main line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad parallels the South Shore line there. Olive is near the South Bend end, where the cornfields that take up most of the land are giving way to enormous manufacturing plants and shipping terminals. Only a few houses are in the vicinity. And you have to drive three miles west to find the nearest restaurant: Kate O'Connor's Irish Pub in New Carlisle.

Edible Dictionary
manouri, Greek, n.--Manouri is a Greek cheese from the northwest part of the country. It's sort of a byproduct of feta cheese production, and combines the whey left over from feta with whole milk or even cream. Sheep's and goat's milk usually account for the entire milk component. The process makes manouri is less crumbly and less salty than feta, and lends a creamier texture. It's not aged, and comes in rolls from which round slices are cut. It's good on salads and sandwiches.

Food And Drink In War
Today in 1862, in the midst of the Battle of Antietem, a sergeant and one other soldier pulled a wagonload of food and hot coffee through Confederate fire to nourish an Ohio Union regiment. It was the bloodiest single day of battle in the history of the United States, with at least 23,000 soldiers killed. The sergeant was promoted by his colonel to lieutenant for his pluck. The sergeant was William McKinley. The colonel was Rutherford B. Hayes. Each later became President. So, if you want to get ahead, bring the working people some food and coffee.

Eating Around America
Boston was founded today in 1630. It was a suburb of Salem, the original British settlement in the vicinity. Boston has contributed a good bit to American cuisine, although the dish referred to by its nickname -- Beantown -- is not one of them. Boston baked beans are navy beans baked with molasses, the latter a product that flowed in some quantity through Boston in the days when it was a port for sugar from the Caribbean. Seafood in Boston is much better, notably the lobsters, scallops, mussels, striped bass, oysters, and codfish--although the latter is much diminished now by overfishing. Know this about Boston seafood, however: they don't fry with the lightness we do in New Orleans.

Music To Clean Your Plate By
Today in 1939, Frank Sinatra recorded his first big hit. Backed up by the orchestra of Harry James (the great uncle of Clark, the Gourmet Truck Driver, a frequent caller to my radio show), All Or Nothing At All didn't hit the charts until over two years later, after Sinatra had become a star. Coincidentally, this same date in 1952, Sinatra's career hit a low point. He recorded a little known but lovely song Why Try To Change Me Now? It was his last recording for Columbia Records. He'd reinvent himself and make a comeback the following year, and establish himself as the most-heard voice in Italian restaurants in America.

Winemakers On Television
The Smothers Brothers television show premiered today in 1965. Its satirical aspect made it controversial, and CBS got nervous and cancelled it, despite good ratings. Tom and Dick Smothers later opened a winery in Sonoma. Although the wines were good, their reputation as comedians hurt the image of the stuff. So they renamed it Remick Ridge, after their grandfather.

Food Namesakes
Today is the birthday, in 1907, of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. Pro shortstop Bobby Wine hit the Big Basepath today in 1937.

Words To Eat By
"From my table inside I watch the glamorous women outside who are lunching on spa Cobb salads without blue cheese or dressing. The man with the bread basket wanders from table to table, lonesome as a cloud. When he comes to me his basket is full and perfectly arranged. He gives me a smile of sincere pleasure when I tell him I will take both the sourdough roll and the cheese stick."--Ann Patchett, American fiction author.

Words To Drink By
"As you get older, you shouldn't waste time drinking bad wine."-- Julia Child.


Pollan Cooks!

The seven most famous words in the movement for good food are: �t food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They were written, of course, by Michael Pollan, in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the follow-up to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Now Pollan might add three more words to the slogan: 𠇊nd cook them.” Because the man who so cogently analyzed production and nutrition in his best-known books has tackled what he calls “the middle link in the food chain: cooking.”

But Pollan isn’t about to become a cookbook writer, at least not yet. In 𠇌ooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” out Tuesday, he offers four detailed recipes, used as examples to explore how food is transformed: for Bolognese, pork shoulder, sauerkraut and bread, each an illustration, he says, of the fundamental principles of cooking.

The recipes, while not exactly afterthoughts, are less important than his insistence that cooking itself is transformative. Almost as soon as we sit down in my living room, he says: 𠇌ooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: 𠇊nd you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.

“You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”

He points out that it isn’t just that industrially produced meal replacements are cheap they’ve also reduced the cost of the time needed to make food and foodlike products. Some would even argue that you should be working more, outsourcing as much cooking as possible — effectively defining cooking as a waste of time for anyone making more than, say, $20 an hour.

But, says Pollan: “If we decide to outsource all our cooking to corporations, we’re going to have industrial agriculture. And the growth of local, sustainable and organic food, and farmers’ markets, is going to top out if people don’t cook. Because big buys from big, and I have little faith that corporations will ever support the kind of agriculture we want to see. That’s why the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

We know why people don’t cook: because the marketers of prepared food have taken over our kitchens the Food Channel fetishization of cooking has made it look intimidating, especially for those who grew up without parents in the kitchen and people say they don’t have the time — or they just don’t like it.

“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”

And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the �s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even �minist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”

“We need to complete that uncomfortable conversation about the division of domestic labor, which the food industry deftly exploited to sell us processed food,” he says. 𠇋ut if we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking, it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.”

How does that happen? 𠇏irst, we need to bring back home ec, but a gender-neutral home ec. We need public health ad campaigns promoting home cooking as the single best thing you can do for your family’s health and well-being. A tax on prepared food, but not on raw ingredients, is another good idea. And Michelle Obama could use her bully pulpit to promote home cooking, rather than spend her considerable capital persuading food manufacturers to tweak their products.”

With an increasingly progressive population we have the potential to create a gender-agnostic cooking culture. There’s no longer a stigma attached to males cooking, and cooking is not only a democratic pleasure, it is also daily creativity, it’s economic, it’s healthy, and it’s a link to the natural world. And though it may take time, cooking can be about patience and letting things happen. Good things, on many levels.

A version of this article appears in print on 04/18/2013, on page A 27 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Pollan Cooks!.


The Yoga Almanac Aligns the Practice with the Four Seasons and the Astrological Year

The release of Lisette Cheresson’s and Andrea Rice’s book, The Yoga Almanac: 52 Practices and Rituals to Stay Grounded Through the Astrological Seasons, coincided exactly with the outbreak of the coronavirus. The writers scrapped plans to promote the book when it became clear a year ago that the virus wasn’t quickly going away—a shame that it didn’t receive the recognition it merits, as it is a comforting, engrossing guide to have around during a time of international crisis.

Separated into four sections, the seasons and their themes, and subdivided further by the 12 signs of the astrological calendar, the book begins in spring, a time of revival, renewal, and growth, and takes the reader through summer (the time to flourish and thrive), autumn (the time to embrace tradition and find equilibrium), and, finally, winter (the quiet journey inward).

I could certainly have used such a book last March when, holed up at my parents’ home in Wilmington, North Carolina, hunkering down with them and my two-year-old, working remotely, I watched the state shut down and the death count tally up. Yoga, which I was learning to do by following a teacher on a screen rather than in a classroom full of fellow practitioners, helped me relax and clear my mind during a time that was filled with dread, anxiety, uncertainty about the future, and what we didn’t understand.

Near daily, I’d end a short yoga practice curled up in Balasana, or Child’s Pose, with which The Yoga Almanac begins and describes as a symbol for “entering into the world in a vulnerable position,” “a shape in which we feel at home in our bodies.” As we move with the book through the zodiac, and the seasons, we’re guided with poses, Dharma poems from the authors, stories, rituals, and activities connected to broader goals and objectives to consider.

Moving ahead to the winter, and the sign of Pisces, described as “the healer of the zodiac”—an “ethereal, mystical energy that soothes and calms”—I think of how apt that description has become for this season, this year. Armed with the COVID vaccines, February and March gave us the first hopeful indications of healing, a promise that the virus that has plagued us for the longest year now is finally beginning to wane.

While accessible to those with even a passing interest in yoga and to longtime practitioners as well, The Yoga Almanac likely isn’t for everyone. If you appreciate astrology, this book is a gem if you’re turned off by the woo-woo stuff, it’s probably best to give it a miss.

Next week, coauthor Rice, who is also a Raleigh-based yoga teacher, ushers in the awakening energy of spring with a virtual two-hour meditation workshop designed around current astrological patterns in partnership with the North Carolina Museum of Art. All skill levels are welcome, and Rice will offer mindfulness meditations and prompts for journaling and self-reflection.

If you missed The Yoga Almanac when it was released last year, now is the perfect time to pick it up and dip in.

Spring, or the vernal equinox, arrives next Saturday at 5:37 a.m., coinciding with the start of the Aries season. It’s “a metaphor for new beginning,” The Yoga Almanac says, “and a cosmic rebirth.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the words from the Dharma in the book are poems written by its authors.

Follow Editor-in-Chief Jane Porter on Twitter or send an email to [email protected].

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Is Gruel Cruel?

I have talked about gruel before, on this blog, but it is a rare (maybe non-existent) food topic that can be exhausted in one short story. Yesterday I delved into an interesting nineteenth century English book of home remedies and recipes called Cookery for Invalids: Persons of Delicate Digestion, and for Children. Given the author’s hearty enthusiasm for the medicinal value of sherry, brandy, champagne, and other alcoholic beverages, I wondered if perhaps she was also upbeat about some of the traditional dishes for invalids – including gruel.


There is often a real kill-joy tone in nineteenth century home medical texts – as if there was a deliberate attempt to be punitive towards the sickly person, or at the very least, to ensure there was no secondary gain in the sick role. The concept of tempting the invalid’s appetite seems seriously at odds with many of the awful-sounding recipes in these books – and ‘gruel’ is the epitome of these.

The word ‘gruel’ is derived from the Old French gruau meaning ‘ground grain’, and in England in the fourteenth century, this is what was meant. Also at this time the word referred to a thin soupy dish made from grain. Gruel could be made from any grain, but in particular oatmeal and barley were used. The liquid might be water, or ‘cow mylke’ - or almond milk for the wealthy, especially during Lent. Depending on circumstances or availability, almost anything could be added to enrich this basic potage – leafy greens, eggs, currants, or wine, for example.

I am sure that some of these early ‘gruels’ or grain potages were delicious as well as sustaining, but by the nineteenth century something had happened to its reputation. Perhaps the Poor Laws had something to do with it, when it became one of the staple foods of the workhouse, its miserably weak character reinforced by the image of Charles Dickens’ Oliver holding out his empty bowl and asking for more?

The word ‘gruel’ instantly evokes the idea of eternally unappeased hunger. It even sounds thin and tasteless. It makes us think of prisons and workhouses, of gruesome conditions and gruelling work, of chronic coughs and wasting illnesses. Doesn’t it?

So, what does the wine-approving Mary Hooper say on the subject of gruel?

The author gives many recipes for gruel made from barley, oats, or fine wheat flour. I give you two of the more interesting versions, for your use when the cold virus strikes.


Restorative Gruel.
This delicious substitute for Groat Gruel is made as follows:-one ounce of rice, one ounce of sago, one ounce of pearl barley put three pints of water, and boil gently for three hours, when the liquor should be reduced to a quart. Strain it in exactly the same manner as groat gruel, and flavour with wine, brandy, or anything else that may be suitable.
If made a little thicker, say with an ounce and a half of each ingredient to three pints of water, a jelly will be produced, which may be eaten cold with sugar, fruit, syrups, or preserve.


Onion Gruel.
This is an old-fashioned remedy for a cold, but can never be recommended unless boiled for at least five hours. The long boiling takes away the pungent odour of the onions and the breath will not then be aflected by them.
Take two ounces of Embden groats and four large onions sliced, put them on in a quart of cold water. Let the gruel boil gently for five hours, stirring occasionally, adding water to keep the original quantity. When done, strain through a fine sieve, salt to taste, and serve with toasted bread. The yolk of an egg beaten up in the gruel
is a good addition.


Bain: Almanac is useful to food lovers

The Old Farmer’s Almanac promises to be full of “new, useful & entertaining matter.” That “matter” extends well beyond weather predictions into all things food.

Witness the peach pie baked in a skillet under a grated pastry crust to create a streusel-like topping. And the pumpkin hummus jacked up with garlic, cumin and chipotle. What a brilliant use of canned pumpkin.

I test-drive both recipes, from the Almanac’s 2011 Canadian edition, for a visit from editor-in-chief Judson Hale Sr.

“I’m not much of an eater,” confesses Hale in the Star test kitchen Tuesday. “If I ate what I wanted to eat, I would be 380 pounds, and it would happen within a month or a month and a half.”

In fact, confides the trim and spry 77-year-old, he was thrown off the Almanac’s recipe testing committee about eight years ago — but not because of his bird-like ways.

“They told me `You’ve never said a bad thing. It’s always `Boy this is good.’ They said they needed a discerning food taster.”

Hale eats small meals, but feasts with his eyes. And, just like the Almanac that he has spent 52 years working on, he finds culinary factoids to be infinitely interesting.

“This is really nice. What’s it called? I’ve learned a lot this morning already. That’s great.”

The fact my husband is a bison rancher?

“Oh wow. That’s very interesting.” (This leads to a joke about how the best time to castrate a bull is while he’s sleeping.)

The Almanac item predicting that sustainable sardines and arctic char will become hot menu items?

“Did you know the last sardine cannery in the United States (in Maine) closed this year?”

How about the nod to a unique oat grown only in Manitoba that’s nicely named “rice of the prairies.”

“That’s interesting. That could be an article next time.” (It’s just one sentence this year.)

“I was not aware of the mention in the Almanac — very cool,” says Scott Sigvaldason, the farmer that first grew and commercialized Cavena Nuda (Canadian Naked Oats a.k.a. “rice of the prairies”) at his Wedge Farms.

“It really is the newest foodgrain on the planet, and it is not a GMO.” (More on these oats in a future column.)

Who knew that the Almanac — selling in Canadian supermarkets, bookstores and general stores for the ridiculously low price of $5.99 — was so on trend, culinarily speaking?

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been publishing since 1792. Its Canadian edition, with 1.5 million readers, started in 1982. Farmers may swear by its weather predictions, but only make up 7 per cent of readers. Gardeners make up 70+ per cent (apparently because of the “planting by the moon’s phase” timetable).

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Did you know that there were 19 per cent more hobby farms and urban edible gardens in 2009, that home canning jumped 45 per cent that year, and that sharing yard space, tools and time for vegetable gardens is all the rage?

“We strive to be useful,” says the Dublin, New Hampshire-based Hale, “but with a pleasant degree of humour.”

I find deliciousness, but no humour, in the “Flavors We Crave” section that honours black garlic, homemade kimchi and Korean fried chicken.

There is humour of sorts in the “Food Fad” item about waffle cones filled with chili, potatoes or macaroni. (A company called Crispycones is trying to bring the Korean concept to North America.)

And the thing about cave-like beds with TVs, sound systems and wine coolers inside is funny in the oddball sense.

“Stuff is interesting or it’s boring,” declares Hale. “The worst thing you can be in a publication is boring, with clichés. We want to make people laugh, cry, be inspired, be informed.”

So how often does he use “ruralpolitan” to define a city slicker who relocates to the countryside?

Never (maybe because it’s a tongue twister?). Hale’s a journalist: “I understand the trends, but I just accept them. I don’t fight trends.”

He also doesn’t fight the readers, who freaked out when he suggested ditching that trademark but pricey hole punch in the Almanac’s top left corner.

Those holes cost $41,000. All so people can hang their Almanacs, in the bathroom, kitchen or wherever they go for inspiration.


Watch the video: lunchables brigade 2007 mini tacos, pizzas, and hot dogs