Our morning rocket fuel

We’ve switched away from the couple of brands of coffee that have served as structural support for the first half of our family’s day for decades. Not that we’re saving chunks of change. It’s just been a spell since we looked around and tried new brands, new blends of coffee. We made a Happy Find. That is, Happy Belly. We get it from Amazon.

About the silliest name for a food product someone came up with; but, it’s great coffee as far as our palates, our central nervous system, are concerned. We buy their medium roast – most satisfying negotiated settlement within the Lot 4 crew. Already ground for our array of percolators.

Full-bodied. Satisfying depth of flavor – that survives a dollop of half-and-half for some. Straight-up black for the rest of the household. None of us uses sugar especially for anything. I’ve been known to add a touch of Truvia [a stevia product] to cup #4 in the morning.

Just a note: Ours isn’t half-caff. We’re enjoying some of the latest studies that say an added touch of caffeine in your diet is probably good for you.

The North Atlantic Diet


Vladimir Zuev/Alamy

Although less popular than the glamorous Mediterranean Diet, the North Atlantic Diet is a great option for staying fit and healthy. The North Atlantic Diet is more than just a health regimen; it’s a total health system based on the life styles of swarthy eighteenth-century sea captains, near-insane lighthouse keepers, and stowaways who think only of revenge.

The North Atlantic Diet offers plentiful food options with good fats, whole grains, and lots of cod. Fruits and vegetables are limited to the hardiest types—you can only eat apples that are as tough as the bark on your family tree, or potatoes (the wisest vegetables, as they know to hide underground and out of sight, where the cruelties of the world and its so-called God cannot reach them)…

This diet is a seafood-lover’s bounty: scallops, oysters, and mussels are just some of the many options you’ll find on the North Atlantic table. One daily portion of seafood is suggested, and two daily portions of cod are required. Lobster may be eaten once a week…If necessary, lobster may be replaced with more cod.

I grew up eating everything in this photo…(and even more variety). Never setting foot in a fishmonger’s emporium. My father, my kid sister and I fished every weekend. Pretty much every weekend of the year. Only put off by sea-ice or blowing snow. We were shore-birds; so, never enough cod to match specification. But, cod’s favorite cousin – hake – was a fine substitute. Catchable from pier or breakwater along the New England coastline.

The “rice capital of California” is now a wasteland


San Francisco Chronicle

Normally, by September, the drive north from Sacramento on Interstate 5 showcases vast stretches of flooded rice fields on both sides, farms bustling with tractors and workers preparing for fall harvest.

Not this year, said Kurt Richter, a third-generation rice farmer in Colusa, the rice capital of California where the local economy relies heavily on agriculture. “It is now just a wasteland,” he said.

As drought endures for a third year with record-breaking temperatures and diminishing water supplies, more than half of California’s rice fields are estimated to be left barren without harvest — about 300,000 out of the 550,000 or so in reported acres, provisional data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows. This year, rice is estimated to account for just 2% of total planted acres across the state…

The dramatic reduction in rice acreage will translate to lost revenue of an estimated $500 million, about 40% of which will be covered by federal crop insurance, according to UC Davis agricultural economist Aaron Smith.

Insurance only covers set amounts. Surviving the death of your livelihood, what may be the last breath of spirit from generations of working families, can drive folks away from everything that has been root and branch of their whole lives.

Link Between Artificial Sweeteners and Heart Disease

A potential direct association between higher artificial sweetener consumption and increased cardiovascular disease risk, including heart attack and stroke has been uncovered by a large study of French adults published on September 7 by The BMJ.

These food additives are consumed daily by millions of people and are present in thousands of foods and drinks. The findings indicate that these artificial sweeteners should not be considered a healthy and safe alternative to sugar, in line with the current position of several health agencies…

Because this is an observational study, it can’t establish cause. Additionally, the researchers cannot rule out the possibility that other unknown (confounding) factors might have affected their results.

Nevertheless, this was a large study that evaluated individuals’ artificial sweetener intake using precise, high-quality dietary data. Furthermore, the findings are in line with other studies linking exposure to artificial sweeteners with several markers of poor health.

This article and others associated with it say that there haven’t been any long-term studies differentiating between strictly artificial sugar substitutes and products derived from the stevia plant. Often used to produce sugar alternatives rather than artificial substitutes.

I have to put in a plug here for my own reading – and opinion. The safety and usefulness as an alternative of the herb stevia is one that I’ve decided to make my own choice.

Stevia’s history goes back to ancient times. Grown naturally in tropical climates, stevia is an herb in the chrysanthemum family that grows wild as a small shrub in Paraguay and Brazil, though it can easily be cultivated elsewhere. Paraguayans have used stevia as a food sweetener for centuries while other countries, including Brazil, Korea, Japan, China and much of South America, have a shorter, though still long-standing, record of stevia use…

There are more than 100 species of stevia plant, but one stands out for its excellent properties as a sweetener—stevia rebaudiana, which contains the compound rebaudioside A, the sweetest-flavored component of the stevia leaf. Rebaudioside A acts chemically similar to sugar in onset, intensity and duration of sweetness, and is free of aftertaste. A majority of stevia-sweetened products contain mostly extracted Rebaudioside A with some proportion of stevioside, which is a white crystalline compound present in stevia that tastes 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.

This article is about a decade old and continues to serve as a reliable analysis. Conclusions endorse a number of brands of stevia-derived products. Including, I must admit, my favorite. Though, in practice, my feelings about a healthy lifestyle, nutrition and exercise, don’t especially include cultivating a taste for sweets. My only use is in 2 of the 4 cups of traditionally-strong styles of coffee I consume daily. :-]

Lunch at the Laboratory Kitchen

Bertha Stevenson was born at a time when a woman’s interest in chemistry, or any scientific field, could only be channeled into the limited confines of women’s realm. That was the same era in which Ellen Richards, the first woman admitted to MIT, became “the mother of home economics.”

Even though Stevenson was younger than Richards, she ended up directing her postgraduate study of chemistry to bread making. On the bright side, she was quite successful, not only at marketing bread but also in creating a string of high-quality lunch rooms with prices low enough that young working women could afford them.

She began making bread in Cambridge MA around 1902. Her shop was quite fashionable in a refined way…The following year they moved the bakery to Boston. A lunch room was opened with it, sponsored by the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union (WEIU), a non-profit organization in Boston founded in 1877 to advance the well-being of women.

Ate at Lincoln Street several times in the early 60’s. Every time I was up in Boston for discussions with my peers on the Left we always managed to combine lunch or an early supper at the Laboratory Kitchen. Good food, affordable…and a workingclass spirit that couldn’t be matched.

Rats fed sugary soda for two months = they got stupider

In order to study how cola-based sodas — which were chosen for study due to their prevalence in many modern human diets — might impact the rats’ brains, the scientists first separated the rats into three age groups: 2-month, 8-month, and 14-month olds. Each of those age groups were then split into water-drinking and cola-and-water-drinking cohorts…

Upon examination, the water-drinking rodents were perfectly fine. The soda sippers? Not so much…

During the behavioral tests, the scientists found that most of the soda-drinkers, specifically the 2- and 8- month olds, had worse memories and, generally, lower cognitive function than their purist counterparts — thus causing some serious difficulty when they tried to get around those damn mazes…

A closer look at the rattos’ brains confirmed that the soda groups had all sustained varying degrees of damage to the frontal cortex, which controls vital mental functions like attention, memory, and judgement, as well as the hippocampus, which plays a major role in both memory and learning.

Yeah, yeah. We all know rats ain’t people. So, just don’t feed the sugary stuff to your pet rodents. And think a little bit harder about whether or not you should be consuming the stuff.

Cheesemaking fails in France for first time in 2000 years!

Every year, farmers in France’s central region of Auvergne repeat the same process. During summer and fall, their cows graze in pastures, eating to their hearts’ content. It’s only during this time that farmers can produce salers, a highly regulated semihard cheese with the same buttery depth as a well-aged cheddar.

That seasonal cycle remained uninterrupted for over 2,000 years until last week, when salers became the latest casualty of severe heat waves wreaking havoc across Europe, where human-caused climate change has intensified temperatures. France’s severe drought shut down the cheese production that had continued through two world wars, collapsed monarchies and the fall of the Roman Empire…

The decision to halt the cheesemaking was based on two factors: the meadows’ utterly parched state and the rules that regulate salers’ production…

Salers is what’s known as an AOP good, or a product carrying the European Union’s Appellation d’Origine Protégée label. The designation signifies that a good originates from a specific region and has an officially established reputation — similar to champagne or Kalamata olive oil. But carrying the label also means the product must meet strict standards — and that’s why the drought has been such a problem.

The sophisticated world is coming to a sad end. A complete life requires cheese. Good cheese. Something with character and history.

A war won with Spam

Hormel Spiced Ham, the “father” of Spam, was created in 1927 as an inexpensive luncheon meat to help housewives stretch their budget dollars. But when the combination of cheaper competition and the Great Depression caused sales to drop, company president Jay Hormel decided in 1936 to relaunch the product with a glitzy marketing campaign and a new name.

At the New Year’s Eve party held at his home he announced a name-the-product contest with the prize winner receiving $100. The 65 guests attending had to “purchase” their drinks by completing a contest entry. Hormel recalled, “Along about the third or fourth drink they began showing some imagination.” Finally, the butler brought to Hormel a sheet of paper containing the word “Spam.”…

With the signing of Lend-Lease in March 1941, shipments of Spam were included in the aid transported to Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It was gratefully accepted by both the military and civilian populations…

When America entered the war, Spam became both the boon and bane of troops. Because it was so easy to transport in large quantities, and had a long shelf life, tons of it—ultimately more than 150 million pounds—accompanied them. Though the services purchased luncheon meats made by other companies, all looked alike. As Spam was the most famous of them, all such meats came to be called Spam. It wasn’t long before the troops, seemingly served Spam three times a day, seven days a week for the duration, got thoroughly sick of the stuff.

Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef —
Worse you couldn’t buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy’s jam,
But armies on their stomachs move —
And this one moves on Spam.

—Anonymous World War II poem

Going wild in the city

At first glnce, it’s a scene that plays out daily in cities across America. A U.S. Postal Service carrier wearing a royal blue bucket hat steps out of his mail truck and strides across the street, letters in hand. That much is unremarkable. But this postman either doesn’t notice or doesn’t seem to care that a hefty black bear, likely a young male, is sitting on his haunches a few yards away, vigorously scratching his shedding winter coat.

Immediately to the left, Interstate 240 roars behind a chain-link fence, apparently just white noise to the bruin, which eventually lopes down the sidewalk deeper into this neighborhood barely a half mile from downtown Asheville, North Carolina…

While Black Bears have reclaimed about half their former range and now live in some 40 states, coyotes—native to the Great Plains—have taken the U.S. by storm in recent decades. They now can be found in every state except Hawaii and most major cities. The metropolis most synonymous with the urban coyote is Chicago, home to as many as 4,000 of the animals…

Sarah Benson-Amram presented raccoons, coyotes, and skunks with a box equipped with a button or foot pedal that, when pressed, releases food. After the animals figured out how to get the food, the researchers would switch the buttons and pedals, forcing them to tweak their strategy. Most of the raccoons solved the problem on the first night, while only one of six coyotes engaged with the box—and not until the 44th night of testing. Once the coyote was comfortable engaging with the object, it could win the prize just as well as the raccoons and skunks…

Until recently, urban wildlife was mostly ignored in scientific research. This is partly because such species are considered pests unworthy of our attention—or not wildlife at all.

“We live on a planet that’s rapidly urbanizing, and it’s silly for us to say, Oh, we don’t care about animals in urban landscapes,” says Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. “Whether we like it or not, we live with wildlife.”

Time to start learning how to get along with your new neighbors, folks!