Archive for August, 2007

“Are there snakes in your walls?”

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Sensationalism sells.  TV news is notoriously shoddy because most news shows (especially the local ones) comprise sound snippets and taglines with little rigor behind the stories.  How many times have we seen wanna-be-shocking news stories like, “Are playgrounds dangerous for children?”  and “Deadly kitchen appliances?”  Well, OF COURSE kids can get hurt while playing on jungle-gyms, and OF COURSE you’ll get zapped if you drop a plugged-in toaster into the sink while you are washing dishes!

Is banning playgrounds and toasters the answer?  Are toasters and jungle-gyms the new bogeymen of the domestic world; waiting to hurt you and your kids?  I think not, but the preceeding questions sure make for exciting slogans to be used by talking-heads, no?

Ok, where am I going with this?  We are seeing this sort of sensationalism in the food world more and more.  Cases in point: trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  These food-products get tons of bad press.  They are being portrayed as bogeymen by politicians, news-casters, and even food-vendors to misinform the public.  The misinformed public is then further duped into doing what these politicians and food vendors want.  Do I think it’s a conspiracy?  Nope.  I think it’s just people taking advantage of a form of scare-tactics.  I think it’s more like psychic-hotlines (i.e. nonsense), than Watergate (i.e. cover-up).  

People like having a scapegoat of sorts.  “It’s [insert ingredient]’s fault that I am unhealthy.  Never mind that I consume more calories than I burn.  Nevermind that I eat prepared/packaged/processed foods at least once-a-day, everyday.  Nevermind that I drink cola everyday (which is essentially HFCS-juice).”  Taking a larger view is hard, innit? 

Let’s start with trans-fat and the whole NYC ban.  Trans-fat hit the scene in the early 1900’s for primarily one reason: it was a more convenient lard subsitute for bakers/cooks.  It was a fat that was solid at room temperature and had a longer shelf-life than lard.  As time went on lard became the bogeyman of the food world, and people turned to alternatives to lard for more healthful eating.  I read an excellent “perspective article” on the topic in the New England Journal of Medicine (Susan Okie, M.D.; NEJM Vol. 356:2017-2021, No. 20; May 17, 2007).  Here is a trans fat timeline that I pinched from the aformentioned article (click it to enlarge):

fat and all that

Also, a quote, from the same article:

“…studies began to raise concerns about the health effects of artificial trans fats, and by the 1990s, both controlled feeding trials and prospective epidemiologic studies had implicated them in causing undesirable changes in blood lipid levels and raising cardiac risk.”

“…trans fat intake has been estimated to cause about 6% of coronary events in the United States, including about 27,000 deaths per year nationwide and about 1400 per year in New York City. Since New Yorkers, like other Americans, get roughly one third of their daily calories from restaurant  food, Thomas Frieden (New York City Board of Health Commisioner) estimates that eliminating artificial trans fats from the city’s menus should save between 200 and 500 lives per year, depending on the mix of fats that  are substituted.  The benefits could be considerably greater.”  

“It was recently estimated that completely replacing artificial trans fats with more healthful unsaturated fats might avert 12 to 22% of myocardial infarctions and deaths due to coronary disease.”  

Yeah, uh, Freidman, I’m not so sure…

It’s true that trans fat is bad stuff, really bad, and it should certainly not become a regular part of anyone’s diet; ever.  It really is THAT bad for one’s health.  It’s the worst fat you can eat, and for that reason, we should stop adding it to foods and go back to the original bogeyman; saturated fat (but this time from vegetable sources to avoid cholesterol).  

My problem is this: This is what happens when you focus on a single dietary component as though simply avoiding it is some kind of panacea.  You gotta read the article; here’s a quote:

“It’s craziness,” said Mr. Coffman, 45, who says he eats fair food every day but who appears surprisingly trim. “They’re using this for a marketing ploy. It’s a way to convince people that they can eat more — that somehow all of this is safe now and you can eat all you want — when we all know that’s not true.”

Focusing on food bogeymen accomplishes nothing. Although I understand the good intentions of those who are banning trans fat, I think it will accomplish little.  More from the NEJM article:

“Faced with national epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University, “we have to look at the big gorilla in the room, which is total calories” and to reduce saturated fat intake as well.    

“Marion Nestle, a professor of  nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, agrees — and she worries that manufacturers’ aggressive marketing of products that contain “0 grams trans fat” leads consumers to think that they can eat them with impunity. Most people “have no clue that this has nothing to do with calories,” said Nestle. “Guess what? Nobody’s going to lose weight.'”

You can see where this is going with HFCS.  Here’s what’s gets me, HFCS is sugar.  It’s a mix of pure glucose and pure fructose (at different ratios to control sweetness).  These are natural sugars refined from an unlikely source (corn), but natural sugars all the same.  Pure cane sugar is sucrose. 

When you eat even the most natural cane sugar, your body immediately breaks the glycosidic bond and converts the sucrose into glucose and fructose.  Like so. 

HFCS is not, in and of itself, bad for you.  Sure, some people gripe that the ratio in HFCS is not one-to-one as it in in sucrose, but that’s the case in a lot of foods, like apples, melons, and honey, to name a few.  If we want to reduce our risk of type-II diabetes, and other over-consumption-of-sugar related illnesses, we must avoid/reduce consumption of sugar, period.  Here is a nice little article on the stuff from the American Chemical Sociery.  A little digging found this article (and others) to support my point. 

What’s worse for you, vodka from potatoes or corn?  (<-kindly excuse the parable)  The corn based vodka may be cheaper, consumed more, and therefore blamed for more instances of alcoholism and cirrhosis, but it’s the same stuff; ethanol.  If the corn-based ethanol is cast as the “worse one,” consuming more of the potato based ethanol is not better for you.  Unfortunatley, people lose sight of this; food marketers don’t, and we start seeing all sorts of misinformation.  

I guess what I am saying with all this is: don’t believe the hype, stay focused on the big picture (i.e. total calories, whole foods, limiting meat, maximizing nutrition, exercise). 

That’s why I prefer artificial sweetners, they’re harmless, right?  Uh oh, here we go again

Ok, I’ll leave you with this last piece of data to contemplate:

Now that’s good data.  Source unknown

Share your thoughts.

Twilights, streetlights, lowlights and highlights.

Monday, August 20th, 2007

I haven’t disappeared.  Cati and I have concluded our summer travels.  The few vacation days I have left this year are reserved for Xmas.  Cati spent several weeks with her family in Mallorca, Spain.  I joined her for a week, and we flew back together.  Below are some photo highlights of the trip.  Mouse over for descriptions.

Twilight shots from the site of our friends’ wedding reception:

amazing view, eh?

This place made our reception venue look like a dump!

artsy, eh?

The reception was at Son Marroig in Deiá

We had a great time at the wedding.  The bride and groom looked great (and a bit familiar, no?). 

“Point this way if you look like Paul and Linda McCartney!”

Here’s a nice little streetlight shot of the cool little Volvo C30 I was driving while there:

It’s oh so quiet, shhhhhh

It was the zippiest deisel I have ever driven.  I was impressed with the pick up on that little thing. 

I guess the lowlight of the vacation was the travelling.  Sitting on your rear end for 8 hours can be exhausting:

Leaving on a jet plane.


The view from the backyard in Alcudia

The veiw near Caló Des Moro

Caló Des Moro

How lucky am I to have a wife from this beautiful island?  And how lucky she is to have a husband who moved her to scenic Albany.  I’d call it a fair trade, no? 

No blog entry of mine would be complete without the food highlights either:


langostine and his unclean-food friends; ham and other shellfish.

make no missteak; I like

Dates wrapped in bacon.  About as healthful as a cigarette; sinfully good.

Arroz from Cati’s grandmother.  No one does it better.

Coca de berenjenas.  delish!

delicious, salty, baby potatoes and ice cold gazpacho. mmmm

Ensaimada mallorquina.  Chock full of good.

Read more about ensaimada here.  Note: the origin of the word is related to “pork lard.”  This stuff is about as healthful as a deep fried twinkie

Chocolate, coffee, and quelitas.  Photo likely taken just before a siesta.

Jamón and lomo.


I wonder if Planters is worried about a potential paternity suit against their philandering mascot

Mr. Peanut’s illegitimate son: Mr. Toothpick (scandalous!)

We crammed in so much fun and so many delicious meals (pun intended?).  It was a great trip, but I am glad to be back home.  Nothing like a vacation to recharge one’s batteries and renew one’s focus.   

“When I dip, you dip, we dip.”

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

I made baba ghanoush.  I essentially used this recipe, tweaking some of the components to suit my tastes (e.g. I added more olive oil (~1/4 cup), and garam masala instead of cumin.)  It came out surprisingly sweet from caramelizing the sugar in the eggplant during the baking step.  If you plan to make it, I would probably skip the grilling step as it didn’t seem to add any “smoky” flavor whatsoever, and it’s a pain to start the grill, etc.  I used the blender to mix, and it came out delicious. 

eggplant starting supplies

eggplant 1

eggplant 2

eggplant 3

baba ghanoush (w/o garnishes)

I also made some hummus, again.  I essentially followed my standard recipe as posted here, but I used roasted garlic from the care-package Cati sent (in lieu of raw garlic), and I also added some fresh chives from my buddy Nick’s garden.  The hummus came out great.  Next time I use chives in the hummus (which I certainly will do), I will mince them and add them instead of adding them to the blender as the hummus came out a touch green and unattractive (no offense). 

Hummus 1

Gift from Nick

Hummus 2

I also made some, of what I call, “friend-maker salsa.”  If you take this stuff to a party, it will be popular.  I got the recipe from our lovely friend Esti.  Here is what you’ll need:

  • two firm mangos (don’t buy soft mangos for this dish)
  • juice from 1.5 limes
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ~1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tsp tabasco
  • salt to taste

 red peppers

mango is a pain to cube.

but it can be done

almost there


This salsa is terrific.  It goes great with some nice salty tortilla chips.  Make it.  Make friends.  Enjoy. 

Also, with Cati still being away, I get to realize some of my interests that she can’t abide.  For one, she’s not a fan of swordfish; I am.  So I grilled up a swordfish steak the other night, made a nice butter-based dijon mustard sauce and enjoyed it with some chardonnay.  See below for photos:

swordfish 2

swordfish 3

mmm mm good

Also, not related to food, my wife hates metal.  She just doesn’t “get it,” I think.  Sure, hard rock can be pretty corny, I’ll admit, but I think I’ll always have an appreciation for a face-melting guitar-riff.  Case in point (crank those speakers!): 

The band is called “The Sword,” (from Austin, TX) and the song is called “Freya.”  They comprise equal parts Sabbath, Metallica, and Danzig.  Add to blender, mix, and voila!

Metal is a bit like The Three Stooges (or Beavis and Butthead) in the sense that most gals are repulsed by it.  I think there is a Master’s thesis in Anthropology just waiting to get written here, people (I want second-author on the papers). 

Now, I just have to find a good spot to add “The Sword” to my totally awesome back-tattoo collection.

Suggestions, anyone?