Pic of the day


Attack of the Giant Tinned Calamares — Click to enlarge — Tom Janssen

From a collection of Tom Janssen photos of unusual processions and parades in the Netherlands.

Calamari is near and dear to my heart and appetite in spring. Traditional in many springtime festival meals, my favorite is serving chunks and slice of squid in a garlicky tomato sauce. Often with just a little bit too much black pepper for everyone else sharing the meal.

Parasitic payback from a wild bear

A man, 47, presented with a myriad of symptoms that didn’t add up as he rapidly progressed to respiratory failure and a “profound” white cell count, reported Jason Lee, MD, of the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., and colleagues.

The patient presented with fever, swelling, and muscle pain that had worsened over the course of a week, they wrote in Chest. Antimicrobial agents were initiated, but the man’s condition deteriorated to the point of respiratory failure and ICU transfer…

The diagnosis remained uncertain.

After conducting a full patient history, Lee’s group learned of the man’s game hunting hobby, and that he’d killed and eaten a wild bear in recent weeks.

Investigations into potential parasitic culprits led to Trichinella antibodies, and he was diagnosed with trichinellosis.

Trichinella is a roundworm parasite that lives in infected raw or undercooked meat. The parasites release from their cysts upon exposure to stomach acid and pepsin, and subsequently invade the small intestine where they grow into adult roundworms. Once mature, they migrate to striated muscle, such as the diaphragm…

…Recovery from this type of infection is slow and can take several months to years to regain full muscular function…Sometimes you eat the bear; sometimes the bear gets posthumous revenge.

I’ll second that emotion. Poisonally, I don’t believe in hunting other predators.

The first Japanese noodle shop to get a Michelin star

A tiny Tokyo noodle shop has joined the ranks of the world’s top restaurants after it scooped up a star from the respected Michelin Guide.

The food bible gave a nod to nine-seat Tsuta – a first for a ramen eatery – as Tokyo also kept its title as the world’s culinary capital with the most Michelin-starred restaurants…

Ramen is one of the most common fast foods in Japan and small shops serving the soup-and-noodle concoction can be found on almost every corner.

Tsuta – which sells bowls from about £4.50 to £6.50 apiece at its shop in the north Tokyo district of Sugamo – features gourmet offerings such as rosemary-flavoured barbecued pork and soya sauce ramen with a hint of porcini mushroom…

While sophisticated, high-end Japanese restaurants, including sushi and tempura venues, are no strangers to Michelin stars, it is rare for casual cafes to receive the award.

Time to revisit Tampopo.

Tracing the activity of a cancer-fighting component in tomatoes

san-marzano-tomatoes
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❝Years of research in University of Illinois scientist John Erdman’s laboratory have demonstrated that lycopene, the bioactive red pigment found in tomatoes, reduces growth of prostate tumors in a variety of animal models. Until now, though, he did not have a way to trace lycopene’s metabolism in the human body.

❝”Our team has learned to grow tomato plants in suspension culture that produce lycopene molecules with a heavier molecular weight. With this tool, we can trace lycopene’s absorption, biodistribution, and metabolism in the body of healthy adults. In the future, we will be able to conduct such studies in men who have prostate cancer and gain important information about this plant component’s anti-cancer activity,” said John W. Erdman Jr., a U of I emeritus professor of nutrition…❞

❝In this first study, the team followed lycopene activity in the blood of eight persons by feeding them lycopene labeled with the non-radioactive carbon-13. The researchers then drew blood hourly for 10 hours after dosing and followed with additional blood draws 1, 3, and 28 days later…❞

❝”The results provide novel information about absorption efficiency and how quickly lycopene is lost from the body. We determined its half-life in the body and now understand that the structural changes occur after the lycopene is absorbed,” Erdman explained.

❝”Most tomato lycopene that we eat exists as the all-trans isomer, a rigid and straight form, but in the bodies of regular tomato consumers, most lycopene exists as cis isomers, which tend to be bent and flexible. Because cis-lycopene is the form most often found in the body, some investigators think it may be the form responsible for disease risk reduction,” Nancy Engelmann Moran explained.

❝”We wanted to understand why there is more cis-lycopene in the body, and by mathematically modeling our patients’ blood carbon-13 lycopene concentration data, we found that it is likely due to a conversion of all-trans to cis lycopene, which occurs soon after we absorb lycopene from our food,” she added…❞

❝The plant biofactories that produce the heavier, traceable lycopene are now being used to produce heavier versions of other bioactive food components…Right now, though, the Illinois-Ohio State team is excited about the new information the lycopene study has yielded. “In the future, these new techniques could help us to better understand how lycopene reduces prostate cancer risk and severity. We will be able to develop evidence-based dietary recommendations for prostate cancer prevention,” Erdman said.❞

Once again, I offer special thanks to the Italian half of my family for continuing the Mediterranean diet they grew up with – after they came to these shores. Passing it along to my mother, to my generation, born here.

Customs coppers save us all from smuggled tamales


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Customs officials announced Wednesday that they seized 450 pork tamales smuggled from Mexico to Los Angeles in luggage earlier in the month.

The traveler, who was not named, admitted having food on a declaration form but denied it was pork products when questioned, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Inspectors then found hundreds of tamales wrapped in plastic bags.

“Although tamales are a popular holiday tradition, foreign meat products can carry serious animal diseases from countries affected by outbreaks of Avian Influenza, Mad Cow and Swine Fever,” said Anne Maricich, acting director of field operations for Customs.

Uh-huh. What’s the first country you think of when you hear about avian flu, mad cow disease and swine fever? I think most times when I’ve blogged about an outbreak of these – it’s been here in the GOUSA.

How much produce is tossed because it’s not pretty enough?

Nobody’s perfect. So why do we expect our fruit to be?

The old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” So why do we do it when it comes to food?

Have you ever noticed how nearly all the fruits and veggies you see in most grocery stores look kinda … perfect? It turns out that not all produce grows into perfect, uniformly shaped foodstuffs. In fact, a good chunk of produce might be considered downright ugly.

But you know what’s truly ugly? The huge amount of food that gets thrown out simply because grocery stores don’t think it looks good enough for us to buy…

Think about it: 30% to 40% of food is wasted (depending on whether you look at post-farmed or pre-farmed). One tomato packing house can fill dump trucks with 22,000 pounds of rejected tomatoes every 40 minutes. And a citrus-packer estimates that as much as 50% of the produce they handle is unmarketable but totally edible.

Estimates show that 1 in 7 Americans do not have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food…

Let’s be real. When it comes to nutrition, looks don’t really matter — it’s what’s on the inside that counts…

This concept is far from new. In 2013, a supermarket’s Inglorious fruits and vegetables campaign in France proved so successful that the availability of uglies for purchase quickly shot up throughout Europe.

Even before the Inglorious campaign I was part of earlier efforts to defeat marketing standards in Europe that made it illegal to distribute and sell unattractive fruit and veggies. Lobbyists from the largest supermarket chains worked with agribusiness growers who could afford to spoil and waste half of what they produced to offer only the “perfect” plum, the sexiest squash.

And the EU made anything else – not allowed.

Inglorious kicked things over the edge and made the difference. Let’s hope we can have as much success with campaigns like @uglyfruitsand veg.

Eating alone is a very American thing

In 1985, The New York Times published a snippet of comforting news for self-conscious solo eaters. “Dining alone,” the newspaper reassured readers, “is no longer viewed as odd.” At the time, eating spaghetti and meatballs by yourself wasn’t exactly the norm. A second article, which ran only seven months later in the Times, chronicled the stigma of solo dinners.

Thirty years later, thanks to a range of social and cultural trends, eating alone has become less of an occasional exercise than a fact of life. Nearly half of all meals and snacks are now eaten in solitude, according to a new report by industry trade association the Food Marketing Institute. The frequency varies by meal — people are more likely to eat breakfast by themselves than lunch or dinner — but the popularity of solo dining is, no doubt, on the rise, and has been for some time…

Indeed, a 1999 survey found that the number of people who ate alone at least part of the time tripled between the 1960s and 1990s. By 2006, nearly 60 percent of Americans regularly ate on their own, according to the American Time Use Survey. Today, that number is even higher.

Breakfast has undergone the most significant transformation. Roughly 53 percent of all breakfasts are now eaten alone, whether at home, in the car, or at one’s desk, according to the latest report.

Lunch meanwhile is nearly as lonely these days. Some 45 percent of midday meals are had alone, according to the report.

Dinner is the only meal that is still largely communal. Roughly three quarters of all suppers are still eaten with others today. But even that is changing…

One of the clearest reasons for the shift is something that has been happening to American households, gradually, for decades: They have been getting smaller. Over the more than 40-year span between 1970 and 2012, the percentage of households that contained a single person grew from 17 percent to 27 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

“Only 13 percent of households had one person in them in the 1960s,” said Seifer, who credits marriage and family trends with the rise of the single person American household. “People are either delaying marriage or putting off the formation of families after they get married more and more these days.”

People are also eating alone because they’re pressed for time.

But for all the hoopla about braving the restaurant world alone, the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners being eaten without companions these days aren’t happening at fancy eateries or fast food chains. Most of them, in fact, are being eaten in the comfort of one’s home. What that has meant so far is more delivery, which has been a boon for services like Seamless, and prepared foods, like Trader Joes’ Indian meals, which are selling exceptionally well.

The food industry understands this, which is why restaurants across the country have signed up to delivery services in droves, and, in part, why companies like Maple, a delivery-only restaurant based in New York City, exist.

Work stresses and scheduling are part of the equation – in households with couples. The years my wife and I were both working demanded separate breakfasts. She left for work a couple hours earlier than I. Retirement for me made it easier for the two of us – and now that she’s retired, as well, we’ve managed to build a new schedule that allows for “convening” even when we’re not sharing the same tastes.

The “take-it-home” meals for one are a phenomenon we noticed a decade ago when we were silly enough to think we could afford to shop at Whole Foods. The space they dedicate to attractive take-out was a real surprise. We see the same process on a smaller scale at Sprouts – and just as much dedicated display space at our local Trader Joe’s.

Nothing we ever sample, of course. We both happen to be good cooks.

Americans are finally eating less – Phew!

After decades of worsening diets and sharp increases in obesity, Americans’ eating habits have begun changing for the better.

Calories consumed daily by the typical American adult, which peaked around 2003, are in the midst of their first sustained decline since federal statistics began to track the subject, more than 40 years ago. The number of calories that the average American child takes in daily has fallen even more — by at least 9 percent.

The declines cut across most major demographic groups — including higher- and lower-income families, and blacks and whites — though they vary somewhat by group.

In the most striking shift, the amount of full-calorie soda drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent since the late 1990s.

As calorie consumption has declined, obesity rates appear to have stopped rising for adults and school-aged children and have come down for the youngest children, suggesting the calorie reductions are making a difference.

The reversal appears to stem from people’s growing realization that they were harming their health by eating and drinking too much. The awareness began to build in the late 1990s, thanks to a burst of scientific research about the costs of obesity, and to public health campaigns in recent years.

The encouraging data does not mean an end to the obesity epidemic: More than a third of American adults are still considered obese, putting them at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Americans are still eating far too few fruits and vegetables and far too much junk food, even if they are eating somewhat less of it, experts say.

But the changes in eating habits suggest that what once seemed an inexorable decline in health may finally be changing course. Since the mid-1970s, when American eating habits began to rapidly change, calorie consumption had been on a near-steady incline.

RTFA for lots more: details, trend, suggestions, analyses, food for thought as well as the foodie in us all. Long, detailed, enjoyable chunk of information.

Of course, if the Koch Bros bought Kraft Foods – instead of Warren Buffett – you could be certain their lobbyists would have Congressional Republicans denying the existence of calories, declaiming any thought of Americans responsible for weight gain under any circumstances. The NRA would require members to increase their uptake of candy bars. Every family values hustle this side of Colorado Springs would add a cooking show to their TV lineup featuring coconut cream frosting on everything from hot dogs to your morning coffee.

Eat that hot stuff — live longer!


Spicy chicken curryFotolia

Regular consumption of spicy foods linked to lower risk of early death: Data suggest most benefit from eating spices regularly throughout the week…

Previous research has suggested that beneficial effects of spices and their bioactive ingredient, capsaicin, include anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation and anticancer properties.

So an international team led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences examined the association between consumption of spicy foods as part of a daily diet and the total risk and causes of death.

They undertook a prospective study of 487,375 participants, aged 30-79 years, from the China Kadoorie Biobank. Participants were enrolled between 2004-2008 and followed up for morbidities and mortality.

All participants completed a questionnaire about their general health, physical measurements, and consumption of spicy foods, and red meat, vegetable and alcohol.

Participants with a history of cancer, heart disease, and stroke were excluded from the study, and factors such as age, marital status, level of education, and physical activity were accounted for…

Compared with participants who ate spicy foods less than once a week, those who consumed spicy foods 1 or 2 days a week were at a 10% reduced risk of death (hazard ratios for death was 0.90). And those who ate spicy foods 3 to 5 and 6 or 7 days a week were at a 14% reduced risk of death (hazard ratios for death 0.86, and 0.86 respectively).*

In other words, participants who ate spicy foods almost every day had a relative 14% lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week.

The association was similar in both men and women, and was stronger in those who did not consume alcohol.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, and this was more evident in women than men.

Fresh and dried chilli peppers were the most commonly used spices in those who reported eating spicy foods weekly, and further analysis showed those who consumed fresh chilli tended to have a lower risk of death from cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and diabetes.

Of course, the first [small] point of correction/disagreement is spelling. In New Mexico, the word is “chile”. Aside from that, as a science geek, I understand more study is needed before correlation becomes causation. Still I’m pretty happy that one of the main condimentos in my version of Mediterranean cuisine stretches East to Vietnamese-style garlic-chile sauce. My fave being Tuong Ot Toi Viet Nam from Huy Fong Foods.


The big jar is the 8.5 lb. size — woo-hoo!

How the Army designed the world’s weirdest meat

Can the United States Army claim credit for the McRib?

That bizarre fast-food creation has long been the subject of cultish adoration and surprisingly credible conspiracy theories (like the one that speculates its mysterious appearances are timed to low pork prices).

But the best speculation about the McRib may be a new theory about its origins: that it’s part of our lives thanks to the United States Army’s quietly revolutionary food lab, located in Natick, Massachusetts…

“What the Army develops is the backbone,” Anastacia Marx de Salcedo says. “The private companies make it more palatable for the consumer.”

She’s the author of Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat, a new book that tracks Army food research’s wide influence on the culture at large. It’s a rollicking, yet encyclopedic, look at the Army’s role in everything from industrialized meats to energy bars. And that includes the restructured-meat masterpiece known as the McRib.

So, who gets credited for developing restructured meat?

…Marx de Salcedo identifies Dr. Roger Mandigo as one contender, who told Marx de Salcedo that in 1970, “the project was funded by the National Pork Council with the pork producers check-off fund … our original restructured pork was shaped like chops; McDonald’s adapted them for their McRibs.” Marx de Salcedo also notes the work of Dr. Dale Huffman, a professor who developed a restructured pork chop in 1969 that he originally tried to sell to Burger King.

But the most interesting contender might be…John Secrist, a food scientist at the Natick Soldier Center for Research and Development. That’s the place where the US Army develops its groundbreaking food for the troops as part of its Combat Feeding Program…Secrist told Marx de Salcedo that in the ’60s, Natick asked him and his team to develop a cheaper version of steaks and chops.

The Army then partnered with a meat flaking company in Ohio in order to break down meat and reassemble it into the meatlike blobs that are familiar today in the form of the McRib. Natick enlisted many meatpackers to do trial runs to see if the technology was viable, and as a result, it made its way to the private sector. “Denny’s used our restructured beefsteak in their restaurant,” Secrist said, “and McDonald’s McRib is as close to our product as you can get.”

The Army didn’t sit in McDonald’s kitchen and tell the chefs how to season their gloriously weird ribs. But Marx de Salcedo argues that they did provide the driving force to make restructured meat a commercial reality. Even Mandigo, the food scientist often credited with the McRib’s technology, told Salcedo that “the military allowed us to use the processes they developed.”

At least we can forget any stories about the McRib being developed at Area 51 from extraterrestrial technology, alien animals.

Or is that what we’re supposed to do?