Category Archives: Introductions

King Arthur’s sword!

Today I, distant (possible) relative of the famed king of England, removed the Excalibur from it’s box! Box??

image

 

Ah, um yes. In this case what I have is not so much a sword, but a Food Dehydrator! I think an army is supposed to run on it’s stomach anyway, right?

I am totally stoked to get this thing working, and I’m lining up some projects right now.

-sn

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80,000 pounds of walnuts??

In case you missed the wierd news this morning, someone has lifted a total of 80,000 lbs of wlanuts from California. I’m not sure how this “nut-case” is going to fence the goods, but I’m sure gona check my sources before buying nuts again!


Tradition by any other name, would be just as old

What is Traditional Food? (Thanks Abigail C for this question)

I have heard traditional food defined a number of different ways, but one fairly common idea is that traditional food is the food your great, great, grandmother would have cooked.

In the question, two seemingly opposite extremes were mentioned: the great ethnic cuisine, and Pizza. As it happens, both could be considered “traditional”. The Nourishing Traditions cookbook (my reference for traditional foods) has a recipe for Pizza on page 523, as well as many recipes with a more ethnic flair. I think the big distinction between traditional food and the deplorable modern junk, has to do with the amount of processing/purification food undergoes before it is eaten. The core idea is that traditionally, people ate a lot more whole food, like un-refined flour (whole wheat), instead of using a pre-made box of food, like mac and cheese. But, one could make mac and cheese out of ingredients that have not been heavily processed, which would be a traditional food. So then it’s the ingredients that matter, much more so than the dish being made. Also in traditional cooking there are a variety of kitchen techniques, such as soaking grain before making flour, which have been discarded by most modern food manufacturing. These techniques are considered integral to traditional food preparation. Frequently the terms “traditional food” and “slow cooking” are used interchangeably. Traditional cooking seeks to avoid shortcuts of modern preparation, and thus tends to take a much longer time.


One of the great ironies, as the traditional food movement gains popularity, is that you can now buy fully packaged “traditionally prepared” food. The legitimacy of these foods comes from the fact that people have preserved food for ages, but it does muddy the water as far as defining “traditional food” as “that which does not come from a factory”.

Some definitions of what makes up traditional fare (here I borrowed heavily from a list by Stephanie @ Keeper of the Home):

Grassfed/free range animals are traditionally raised, and all animal products in traditional cooking should come from these animals
Sugar is not refined from corn or sugar-cane (un-refined sugar from these plants may be ok)
Grain is fermented in some way before eating (for instance sour-dough bread)
Fats (including cooking oil) come from sources like animal fats, butter, palm oil and un-refined coconut oil… these kinds of oils and fats have a natural balance of fatty acids
Nuts that have been soaked
Sea salt (preferable from a non-polluted source, such as the Himalayas)

So, traditional foods really are the kinds of things your great, great, grandmother would have made. They are foods that have a long cultural history, like many ethnic foods. Some people have also determined a set of food handling practises that are common to numerous ancient cultures, and these are considered traditional cooking methods.

I hope this helps clarify what traditional cooking is!

-SN


Can the impending zombie apocalypse makes for good eating habits today?

   I’m surrounded by science geeks. I know this, because every once in a while I see a coworker wearing a lab coat. Of course, I probably don’t need the visual confirmation, since I have the pleasure of overhearing conversations in the lunch room that go like this:
 
  Normal person 1:    “Would you like one of my sodas?”
  Normal person 2:    “No, I stay away from caffeine. Sodas are not very good for you anyway.”
  Normal person 1:    “Yeah they might take years off your life, but I figure it’s best to live while you’re young.”
  Normal person 2:    “And there’s always the zombie apocalypse.” Normal person 2 is now Geek 2
  Normal person 1:    “That’s true, it could happen any day. How does not drinking soda help?” Normal person 1 = Geek 1.
  Geek 2:    “Well, the first 48 hours are critical. I want to be able to stay alert and awake, which will be a lot harder if my
  body is already used to caffeine. So, if I avoid caffeine for now, I’ll be in better shape when the zombies come.”
  Geek 1:    “Ah, that makes sense!”
 
   So, at least in this case, one positive outcome of the impending zombie apocalypse is good nutrition decisions. It remains to be seen if this kind of good sense will catch on, but we can always hope. Maybe I could start a rumor about soaked dried nuts being a good emergency food to have on hand…

The blogger who came in from the cold

No, this is not a 1960’s cold war movie, I just haven’t posted for a while. Ok, more like a year or so. I blame my lack of presence here on homework, housework, and the (very) occasional real work. But in fact, I just haven’t had a lot to talk about. My weekly menu has rotated about the various dishes already on this blog, and I still don’t eat greens in the winter. I could branch out to do more product reviews, but the truth is I prefer to help people make stuff on their own, not buy it at a store. So, dear reader, if there are any of you still listening and interested in/confused by any of the techniques for making traditional foods you have encountered, please reply to this post with a question about it. If it’s something I have done, I’ll try to answer, or if I’ve never seen it before we can explore together.

-sn

ps., please distract me from graduate Astrophysics. I think I like food more than studying.


Salt of the Earth

Artist's concept of Aquarius

At 7:20 AM (west-coast time), NASA finally merged two objects of my affection: astronomy and sea salt. With the launch of the Aquarius satellite, NASA will study sea salt around the Earth.

I, of course, like to eat sea salt.

Now NASA is not, unfortunately, going to study the health benefits of sea salt outlined in Nourishing Traditions. Salt is mentioned in the subject index 21 times, but a good discussion of it’s health advantages starts around page 48. The unrefined variety of sea salt, such as Celtic type farmed in the salt marshes of Brittany, frequently contain traces of marine life that carry minerals in a bio-available form. It is the trace minerals that give sea salt one of it’s primary benefits, but the sodium chloride (largest component of sea salt by percent) is also important to the health of our brain, nervous system, and vital to digestion. Of note is the necessity of chlorine (the chloride part) to the making of hydrochloric acid, a favored tool of the stomach.

Alas, the science geeks (like me) are in fact searching for variations in the concentration of salt in the water of our oceans. Salinity traces the currents of water in the oceans, giving researchers a tool to understand how the water moves, or does not move, around the globe.

Even if NASA is not yet blasting rockets into space to investigate traditional cooking methods, at least they’ve taken one small step in that direction. So here’s to the salt of the Earth!

(Now go put some on your food)

*Image of salt taken from Celtic Sea Salt® brand website, as it is the source of salt I currently use. Artist concept of Aquarius spacecraft property of NASA, all rights reserved.


I’ve been chopped!

If you like food, and you like hearing what others have to say about food, you’ve probably grazed on the offering of the Food Network.

As two self proclaimed foodies, my wife and I enjoy following a couple of shows. One of our favorites is the extremely entertaining show Chopped.

In case you are not familiar with the show, here’s a quick overview:

Four chefs walk into a kitchen… oh wait, that’s a different joke. No, here:

4 chefs cook in a timed competition to make the best food. They have 20 minutes to make an appetizer, 30 minutes to make an entree, and 30 minutes to make a dessert. There is a basket of mystery ingredients, which usually has about 3-4 items each chef must use in the final dish. Plus there is a stocked kitchen so they can grab additional things like spices.

In my own fun version, I was hungry. I had about 20 minutes to eat before we needed to go someplace, and I had the following items in my “basket”:

Tortilla Chips,

Raisins,

And Sardines.

Since I considered this to be an appetizer round, I naturally decided to make a quick salsa of Raisins and Sardines, with a bed of crushed tortilla chips. Finding some fresh Cilantro in the fridge with some Mustard, I raced against the clock to bring the elements together– carefully dicing the cilantro, and arranging it all together to form a very tasty appetizer!

Now for the judges…

How did I do?

Food critic one: “I thought the presentation was quite nice, a small colorful bowl, and the cilantro and raisins really coordinate well.”

Food expert two: “I agree, but what I really like the flavor this dish brought out, the salty sardines, and the sweet raisins with the freshness of the herbs, a very good start to a meal.”

Grumpy food person: “But for someone with a background in slow food methods, can we really give him a pass with only 20 minutes of preparation?”

Food expert two: “Good point, I think that using Mustard out of a jar was just a cop out.”

Food critic one: “I disagree Two, I feel the use of fresh herbs like Cilantro is perfectly in line with slow food principles, and it’s not really possible to cook slow food fast.”

And whose dish is on the chopping block?

Judges?

Grumpy food person: “Well, we thought that your flavor combination and presentation were spot on, but that using a prepackaged Mustard instead of making your own was not adequate for you to move on in this competition, and so for those reasons, you’ve been chopped.”

Exit interview:

Me: “Though this is a crushing blow to my own ego, I must say that just being here and making this amazing salsa has been it’s own reward.”