Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This is Not Food (Obviously): Part Two

How is it possible to create a soda with ZERO calories? As far as I know the only beverage with zero calories is water. Apparently, I'm behind the curve and old fashioned. I like water. Kind of bland, plain, wet yet still dry (as far as liquids go) and simple. Maybe if you feel like it you can add a little lemon to jazz it up. Today, for those of you who want a drink that has zero calories and "tastes great" reach for a Coke Zero and feel the refreshment!

Maybe you're like me and wonder how they pull off such an amazing zero calorie magic elexir. Here's its secret ingredient list.


Carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzoate, natural flavors, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, caffeine.

Carbonated water. Ok. Caramel color. Eh? Phophoric acid, now were getting somewhere. Also used as a rust remover and sold under the name "rust killer" (no joke). Use caution with this stuff to avoid acid burns of the skin and especially the eyes. It also has been linked to lower bone density according to American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Aspartame. Another miracle diet sweetner also known as Equal or Nutrasweet. Now, I could rant about how this ingredient causes cancer and tell you about study x, y and z but I won't. Based on government research reviews and recommendations from advisory bodies such as the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than ninety countries worldwide. In 1999, FDA officials described the safety of aspartame as "clear cut" and stated that the product is "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved."

BULLSHIT. If you want to go on and believe that, be my guest and eat and drink aspartame all day long. For me you would have to stick a fork in my eye to get me to consume it. I'm not even going to waste my time in presenting an opposing argument or research. Here's my research, the FDA stands for F*cking Drink it America. Drink coke zero, red bull, clear pepsi, pepsi max, slim fast, viagra cocktails, whatever the hell you want.

Moving on, potassium benzoate. In combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium and potassium benzoate may form benzene, a known carcinogen. Enjoy.

Potassium citrate. This is helpful in treating gout. I'm sure it tastes delicious too!

Acesulfame potassium. Another fake sweetner that is 180-200 times sweeter than old school sucrose (table sugar). Much like aspartame it is a "suspected" carcinogen and has been shown to stimulate insulin secretions. Fun.

The Lucky Ones:

If you are lucky enough to live in Venezuela (they actually just banned its sale), Chile, Mexico and some Central American countries you get a special Coke Zero formula we don't get here in the US. Their special blend contains sodium cyclamate, a chemical whose sale has been banned in the US since 1969, when it was shown to cause bladder cancer. Since then, it has been linked to testicular atrophy, a medical condition in which the male reproductive organs diminish in size and may be accompanied by a loss of function. This does not refer to temporary changes, such as those brought on by cold.

Think about it, you could drink this delicious calorie free beverage while sitting on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. Laying in the sun getting a tan, keeping away that pot belly with your no calorie soda (it's not diet soda - that's for chicks; it's cool, it's Coke Zero), get bladder cancer and have your genitals shrink. That would make a good ad to run during spring break. Drink Corona not Coke Zero or your penis will shrink.

If you where lucky enough to google Coke Zero when it first came out a few years ago you might have found a really great blog named The Zero Movement. On it, a guy rants about why life is so full of stuff to do and how it would be so much nicer if there was, well, zero to do. Luckily, there is now, we have COKE ZERO! Well it turns out that guy actually was the Coca-Cola Corporation posing as a 20-something cool guy. No joke, they set up a fake blog. When it was discovered that Coca-Cola set up this fake site, someone decided to start their own blog called The Zero Movement Sucks. Hilarious. Both are no longer up and running but their memory will live on like a Celion Dion song. Top of the world!

Happy drinking!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Food in the Valley: Part 1

For the my first post on food in the Valley I had to write about this place. It makes hands down the best bread I have ever had. Ever. No comparison. Before this place I would have said Semifreddis in Berkeley, CA but there is a new #1 in my book. And it is...

Hungry Ghost Bread!

Or as my wife often refers to it, Ghost Whisperer Bread, because she loves "TV's sexiest leading lady" Jennifer Love Hewitt (no, I did not come up with that tittle some magazine named her that).
I don't throw around the term "best" lightly. This place is the real deal. Wood-fired oven. Small batches. Sourdough culture. Amazing.

There are a few things that set them way ahead of the pack for bread bakers around here. To start, I love that they focus almost all of there attention on bread. Many bakeries often sell a myriad of offerings, maybe some coffee or espresso, sandwiches, pastries, etc. Here it's bread. That's about it. Yes, they do sell a few other options, which I will get to in a minute because they definitely deserve praise, but it's all about the bread.

Next, they cook the bread till it is dark, crispy and delicious and it picks up a smokey character from the oven you simply can't get with a gas oven. Not just lightly browned on the outside. I'm talking dark. You may even thinks it's burned it's so dark. Then you bite into it and it's soooo good. Moist, aromatic and flavorful. Eating it is a revelation in what bread should and can be.

The building looks small from the outside and when you get in you realize it really is tiny. You walk in and there is some Grateful Dead or Coltrane blasting from the cd player and all you see is the wood oven, a rolling/kneading station and the counter. That's it. Nothing else. Plain and simple. Sometimes it may be a little smokey in there, yes, from the oven.

My personal favorite is the olive-semolina fougasse. I'm not normally an olive or semolina bread fan but this stuff is magical. Crusty, salty, moist, tangy from the sourdough. Perfection. They also make french, 8-grain, spelt, rye, annadama (it's savory but has molasses and cornmeal in it, delicious) rosemary, country, double wheat, raisin and on Fridays after 3:30pm they make Challah (call ahead for this stuff because it sells out quick).

As for the rest of their edibles, they make cookies, brownies, local wheat crackers, granola and a few other assorted items as the oven allows. I HIGHLY reccommend the mocha cookies. The smoke from the oven turns it from a good cookie into something amazing.

The breads cost $5. Now, I have heard some people complain about that being expensive for a loaf of bread. I always tell them if they think so than go buy a loaf at Big Y and they can save themselves $2 and eat glorified Wonderbread from their bakery. I would pay whatever they asked for those heavenly loaves...

Go and eat one today. And tommorrow.

Happy eatting.

TELEPHONE: 413-582-9009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Strawberry too way

There is possibly nothing better than a fresh, local, strawberry. Local strawberries are a good exmple of why local produce is always better than out of season, wherever in the world grown, "food". Most strawberries grown today, that are meant for shipment elsewhere (i.e. Big Y or any other supermarket), have been bred to have a longer shelf life so they can grow them in California and ship them across the globe without them spoiling. Now we can eat strawberries year round instead of just June and July. While this sounds like a nice idea, it has it draw backs. My biggest complaint, aside from all the obvious environmental problems that come with cross country shipping, is the texture. A fresh, local, native strawberry that has never been refidgerated is so soft, sweet yet tart and melts in your mouth. It simply can't be beat.

The problem with these local berries is how to consume them all before they turn to mush. Not that I mind eating a quart a day unadorned but sometimes you need to do something with them.

Two ideas...

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

2 lbs rhubarb, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
1 cup sugar (this depends on how sweet those berries are, adjust as needed, may need more)
1 lb strawberries, quartered
3 tbsp cornstrach
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla

4 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup quick cook oats
3 tbsp grapeseed oil (or vegetable, canola, etc, just not olive oil)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the sliced rhubarb with 3/4 of the sugar and the strawberries with the other 1/4 cup. Let the berries macerate for about 10 minutes. Combine the berries and rhubard and mix with the cornstarch, lemon juice and vanilla. Stir to combine. Put in a 9x13 baking pan.

For the topping combine all the ingredients and using either a pastry cutter or your fingers mix until it looks like large crumbs. Cover the filling evenly, not being shy with all the topping. (it looks like a lot but it won't be too much) Bake for about 1 hour or until well browned. Let cool for 20 minutes before eating. Serve with fresh whipped cream. Feel free to eat this for dessert or maybe the next morning with some coffee. Oh man. Did I just say that.

Strawberry Ice Cream

1 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1⁄4 cup sugar
1 1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon

Place milk in the top of a double boiler and bring just to a simmer, about 170 degrees, over gently boiling water over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. Lightly whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into egg mixture, then whisk egg mixture into remaining milk in top of double boiler. Cook slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat back of a spoon (170 degrees again). Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl; stir in heavy cream; refrigerate until cold. Preferably overnight, it will be worth the wait.
Combine strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Mash strawberries really well for a smoother texture or less for a chunkier ice cream, then stir into cream base and pour into an ice cream maker. Process according to manufacturer's directions.Happy eating!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This Is Not Food, Part One: The Bologna Sandwich

Americans love processed foods. For full disclosure, I do too. Some things though are just plain wrong and should not be done. I present to you...the bologna sandwich!

The classic. Wonderbread, bologna and american cheese. Maybe a little yellow mustard or mayo if you want but the trinity for this classic is "cheese", "meat" and "bread". No lettuce. No tomato. That would throw off this culinary trifecta. Salty, meaty and soft. Um hmm. Now why isn't this food you ask?

Bologna: the star of this show

Beef, Water, Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Corn Syrup, Sodium Lactate, Flavor, Dextrose, Hydrolyzed Beef Stock, Autolyzed Yeast, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika

An amazing creation. A processed meat product that is pretending to be a world class sausage from Italy. I'm not sure who came up with the idea to create a cheap, heavily processed, floor scrap "sausage" and then name it after a town in Italy. I think maybe a town somewhere off the Jersey turnpike might be a little more appropriate.

One of the ingredients is "flavor". Does anyone know what that is? I wish I had some "flavor" in my pantry. I don't know what half of those ingredients are. If you don't know what more than half the ingredients are, it is not food.

American Cheese: U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!!

Use of the name "American Cheese" in this country has a legal definition under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations as a processed cheese. It is not a type of cheese, it means processed cheese food. When a product has the word "food" in it's legal name you can be sure it is not a food. When a product is also referred to as factory cheese, government cheese, rattrap cheese, apple pie cheese, and yellow cheese it is not food. Sorry. It's not. It might taste good on a grilled cheese but it's not food.

Wonderbread: so white, so soft

Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Barley Malt, Ferrous Sulfate (Iron), B Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamine Mononitrate (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Folic Acid)], Water, Sweetener (High Fructose Corn Syrup or Sugar), Yeast. Contains 2% or Less of: Calcium Sulfate (Ingredient in Excess of Amount Present in Regular Enriched White Bread), Wheat Gluten, Soybean Oil, Salt, Dough Conditioners (May Contain: Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl, Lactylate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Datem, Sorbic Acid and/or Calcium Dioxide), Vinegar, Soy Flour, Tricalcium Phosphate (Ingredient in Excess of Amount Present in Regular Enriched White Bread), Yeast Nutrients (May Contain: Ammonium Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium chloride and/or Diammonium Phosphate), Whey, Cornstarch, Wheat Starch, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (to Retain Freshness), Soy Lecithin.

Did you read all of that? When did bread become this frankenbread product? Flour, yeast, salt and water. That is bread, or at least that's what I thought. I'm going to pick just one of the dozen (I tried counting them all but got confused) or so ingredients listed there and fill you in on some of it's other applications. The mystery ingredient is...ammonium chloride!

Here are its other uses: Ammonium chloride is sold in blocks at hardware stores for use in cleaning the tip of a soldering iron and can also be included in solder as flux.

Other uses include a feed supplement for cattle, in hair shampoo, in textile printing, in the glue that bonds plywood, as an ingredient in nutritive media for yeast, in cleaning products, and as cough medicine. Its expectorant action is caused by irritative action on the bronchial mucosa. This causes the production of excess respiratory tract fluid which presumably is easier to cough up. It is also used in an oral acid loading test to diagnose distal renal tubular acidosis.

Oh no, that's not all for this "wonder" ingredient. Ammonium chloride is also used for contact explosives, diuretic and systemic acidifying agent. It is used in the treatment of severe metabolic alkalosis, to maintain the urine at an acid pH in the treatment of some urinary-tract disorders or in forced acid diuresis. It is used to luster cotton, in fertilizers, in safety explosions and in dying and tanning.

What the hell? I don't even know what to say about all of that. I'm actually speechless. Safety explosions? At least it's not used in unsafety explosions. Glue? Cleaning soldering irons? Wow.

To conclude, while Wonderbread may not be a food it is helpful in treating urinary-tract disorders and in forced acid diuresis. I'm going to try an remember that next time I'm in CVS and have a UTI.

A bologna sandwich is not food.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I wrote this first entry after having a change of plans. Originally I was going to have my first post be about our (wife, daughter and I) first farm share pick-up and the subsequent amazing meal. I would come home that night and make some completely local and organic meal that was so delicious my wife would fall off her chair and the little one would tell me again, "you're a great Daddy". I would take beautiful farm to table photos for a great first impression on my newly minted blog. Sounds idyllic. Sometimes things don't go as planned.

This past weekend we went to the in-laws and had some of my father-in-laws amazing pulled pork. Since they don't eat leftovers (something I am still confused by) I took home all the leftover pork, including the bone that they tried to throw away (normally I would rant about why I think wasting pieces of food like this is sac religious for a whole host of reasons but I will save that for a later date and entry all its own).

This morning I had about a pound of smoky pulled pork crying out to me from inside our fridge begging to be made into something good. I kept picturing a scene from Ghostbusters and that creature inside Sigourney Weaver's fridge. In my world there is nothing more magical than a piece of pork being smoked for 14 hours so its dark and crispy on the outside and unctuous and tender on the inside, so to not use those leftovers would have been akin to killing a unicorn. I generally keep some canned beans in the pantry for quick weeknight meals, usually involving leftover meat, and some type of canned tomato product for a myriad of uses. Black-eyed peas where in there along with roasted diced tomatoes. Perfect. Leftover chicken stock in the freezer. Check. Beer in the fridge. Check. Here's what I came up with...

1/2 # pulled pork

2 can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 can roasted tomatoes
1/2 bottle of beer
1 qt chicken stock
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1T ancho chile powder
1T ground cumin
1T corriander
1/2 cinnamon stick
salt and black pepper to taste
1 lime and 1/2 avocado for serving

In a heavy bottom pot sweat the onions and garlic till soft over medium-low. Add the red bell pepper, ancho, cumin, corriander and cinnamon and saute for a minute. Turn the heat to high. Deglaze with the beer, bring to a boil, simmer for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, pulled pork and season with salt and black pepper. Let simmer for about 45 minutes uncovered so the liquid reduces slightly. Skim off excess fat as needed. Serve with sliced avocado, lime wedges and maybe tortillas. (I happened to have fresh corn and chive polenta in my freezer which I served with it, yes that is the type of stuff I have in my freezer...)

I want to finish this first post by saying that while most of my recipes won't generally contain canned beans because making them yourself tastes better, is easy and cans have a BPA lining in them now that has been linked to cancer (although garden of eden brand doesn't) I still want to say 'don't be afraid to use leftovers'! Be creative. IMPROVISE. Make something out of nothing. Pulled pork was created out of necessity. People figured out if you smoke cheap, tough cuts of meat for 14 hours it taste pretty darn good. Some of the best food was created through necessity. Making due. Using what you have and finding a way to make it delicious. I could have wasted that pork butt and made some fancy dinner from the vegetables (arugula, spinach, green garlic, bok choy, spring mix and strawberries) I got from my farm share today but I'm glad I didn't. I'll find a use for them tomorrow...