Friday, July 10, 2009

Time to shine at Shrine Mont

Note to readers: This blog will not be updated until Monday, July 13. We're off to Shrine Mont, which is in Northern Virginia near the West Virginia border. I'm down to do a class on cooking and kitchen tips -- I'll post the best of them when I return. I'm also bringing some of my favorite gadgets to demonstrate.

Have a wonderful weekend and eat well!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Living longer, better by eating less

According to a 20-year study on rhesus monkeys, substantially reducing food consumption slows the aging process and leads to longer life spans in primates, an article in today's Science magazine suggests. Ricki Colman and colleagues began their study at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in 1989 by assigning adult rhesus monkeys, each between age 7 and 14, to either a caloric restriction group or a control group. Once the monkeys were assigned to a group, the researchers determined their baseline food intake. The control group continued at this baseline and the diets of the other group was reduced by 10 percent for three months until the desired 30 percent restriction was released. At the end of the study, 37 percent of the control group had died of age-related causes while only 13 percent of the low-calorie group had. This finding means that the control monkeys experienced a death rate from age-related conditions such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and brain atrophy three times that of the low-calorie group.
To read the full story, click here.

Rhesus monkeys are very closely related to humans; it was from experiments on these primates that led to our blood being classified as Rh-negative or Rh-positive.

I've heard of individual scientists who have chosen an ultra-restricted-calorie diet to test this theory, but I don't know of any study of this kind that involves a group of human beings as of yet.

My love is like a red, red tomato

I love tomatoes. I love tomatoes so much that I try not to eat fresh ones out of season because the ones that are picked green for shipping don't taste much like tomatoes even when they do turn red.

Most years I grow a variety of tomatoes, with varying degrees of success.

I hesitated to plant tomatoes this year for two reasons: deer around our new home, and multiple summer vacations. But next year, I plan to try a tomato or two using the upside down method, maybe even making the hangers myself. I found this "how-to" on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's site,

Make your own upside-down tomato system


A bucket with a securely fitting lid and handle, at least 5 gallons;

metal chain, 4 to 5 feet long

2 coffee filters or two 5-inch-square fabric swatches

Metal loop or strong wire

Potting soil

Slow-release fertilizer

Hybrid tomato seedlings, preferably a cherry or other small variety


1. Cut or drill 2-inch holes in the center of the lid and bucket bottom.

2. Cover the hole in the bucket bottom with a coffee filter or fabric swatch.

3. Fill bucket with lightweight potting soil.

4. Lay coffee filter or fabric swatch over the soil, aligning its placement with the hole in the lid.

5. Secure the lid and turn the bucket upside down.

6. Cut a slit through the coffee filter or fabric

7. Remove lower leaves from seedling and plant deeply.

8. Place the bucket in a sunny location, keeping it well watered and fed with slow-release fertilizer.

9. When the plant is 1 foot tall, run a chain through the bucket handle.

10. Hook both ends of the chain to a metal loop or heavy wire.

11. Suspend upside down from a well-anchored plant stand.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Jewels in a jar

Some copy editor has been waiting nearly a year to use the headline on today's Washington Post food section about canning: Yes, We Can.

It's a section worth perusing, if not keeping. The three stories about canning come from three perspectives: The man who learned to can jam from his Italian grandmother, the urban couple who take advantage of their CSA's U-Pick days and can massive amounts of tomatoes in their tiny Adams Morgan kitchen, and the thoroughly modern Mormon who cans basic dry foods to keep a supply on hand that can tide one over for months on end during hard times.

The recipes, however, did not make me want to jump up and purchase $60 worth of canning jars and a pressure cooker: beet-rhubarb jam, apricot-rosemary jam, preserved zucchini, tomatillo sauce. Maybe the apricot. Definitely not the zucchini; there's something about the canning process that puts a slime factor on the otherwise tasty squash. And I doubt the tomatillo sauce could outshine the Herdez version, which is already in a can.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bait and switch veggies

I found a new blog through Twitter the other day, with the come-on line: What "Kitchen Confidential" didn't tell you about your vegetarian entree.

The blog is Almost Vegetarian at

One thing I've learned at culinary school is that vegetarians are in trouble when it comes to eating out.

Big trouble. As in, way more than I ever thought.

Which means there is only one solution if you want a vegetarian meal.

Is your vegetarian meal really vegetarian?
I've eaten at plenty of restaurants, from fast food to fine dining, and when I look for the vegetarian entree, I assume I am getting a vegetarian meal.

After all, how difficult is it to keep meat and other animal products out of a meal?

Very difficult, it turns out.

Those hidden animal ingredients
From gelatin to rennet, animal byproducts sneak into all sorts of products and dishes, from the cheese plate to the dessert tray.

And, while you and I know about these meat-based ingredients, an awful lot of people do not.

Which means your vegetarian meal, alas, may very well not be.

But it gets worse.

Those pesky tongs
Restaurant kitchens run so fast and so hard that it isn't difficult for a cook to grab a vegetarian entree with the same tongs, for example, that were used to, say, cook a meat-based entree.

It's not like they have a separate station that does nothing but vegetarian foods. They don't have the space. And they certainly don't have the time, personnel, and equipment to have a dedicated vegetarian station.

So what is a vegetarian to do?
My best advices is to eat at a vegetarian restaurant. That way, there is no room for mistakes.
Almost Vegetarian also suggested this site to locate vegetarian restaurants:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Suitcase full of surprises

Good news - The Sacramento Bee sent me home with a suitcase full of cookbooks, so I'm going to get started on testing them right away and will be reviewing them soon. Some of the titles: The Scandinavian Cookbook, The Adaptable Table, Cooking Green, Real Cajun and Falling Cloudberries. I'm getting hungry just looking at them.

But today, here are some tidbits I've collected over the past few days from my reading while in airports.
  • Over the past couple of years, 100-calorie snack packs have soared in popularity as a convenient way to control portion size. But sales are falling and, according the Mintel Global New Products Database, new launches of 100-calorie packs have slowed. What isn't known is if anyone lost weight by snacking. I'm betting the answer is no.

  • A piece on NPR over the weekend says that ordinary farmers — the people who grow the lion's share of what America eats — have largely been left out of the mainstream media debate over "Food Inc.," a documentary film about the modern agricultural industry. The movie argues that large-scale agriculture produces inexpensive meat and vegetables, but imposes high costs on the environment and Americans' health.

  • Is your favorite chef touting avocados? If so, he or she may be getting a little gift from the California Avocado Commission. The Packer, an industry journal, notes that the commission's Artisan Chef program has 14 chefs in California, Georgia, Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois. To see a full list of who's on the avocado dole, go to