Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Pea crabs, the redneck toothpick

leave a comment »

Paul Lukas has an interesting article in Taste:

Back in November, I attended an oyster roast on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where one out of every dozen or so oysters I ate had a bonus treat: a tiny orange crab, roughly the size of a dime, lurking inside the oyster’s shell. Since the oysters had been roasted, the crabs had been cooked along with them. I saw other people eating the crabs whole, so I did the same with one of mine. It was delicious—a bit sweet, a bit briny, and soft with just a hint of crunch.

I mentioned to a guy standing next to me that I’d never seen these little crabs before. “They’re even better when you shuck the raw oysters, because then the crabs are still alive,” he said in a thick Virginia drawl. “I’ll just pop one in my mouth, let him scrabble around in there a bit. That’s what we call a redneck toothpick!” Several other people mentioned that finding a crab inside the oyster was a sign of good luck.

I’d been eating oysters for most of my life—in fact, I grew up in the Long Island town of Blue Point, namesake of the bluepoint oyster—but this was new to me. I soon learned that the little edible creatures are called pea crabs, or sometimes oyster crabs. They enter the oysters (and sometimes other mollusks, like mussels, scallops, and clams) as larvae and then grow to maturity inside their host. Because they’re protected by the oyster, their shells remain soft and slightly translucent. Technically speaking, pea crabs are classified as parasites, because they feed off of the oyster’s food supply, but they don’t harm the oysters.

“The oyster takes in enough food for both of them to be healthy,” says Peter Fu, chef de cuisine at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City. “And the crab doesn’t diminish the oyster’s quality in any way. Really, it’s a sign of a thriving ecosystem.”

If you’re not familiar with pea crabs, there are three likely reasons for that. First, pea crabs are more common in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with the Long Island Sound constituting the northern edge of their range. So if you prefer oysters from colder North Atlantic waters, as I do, or from the Gulf Coast or the West Coast, you’re unlikely to encounter them. Second, pea crabs are more common in wild oysters, not the farmed product that constitutes an increasing share of the oyster market.

But the biggest reason you may not have seen a pea crab is that most oyster consumption takes place at restaurants, where shuckers typically pick out any crabs they encounter. “We just discard them,” says Fu, who estimated that the Oyster Bar goes through as many as 1,000 pea crabs on a busy day. “If we miss one, our waiters are trained to tell the guest that it’s natural, like finding a beetle in your salad greens. One time there was a particularly upset customer, so I went out and explained that they’re harmless and also mentioned that George Washington was a great fan of pea crabs.”

That’s right, George Washington. America’s first president has become a posthumous pitchman of sorts for pea crabs. Many published references to them mention that Washington loved having the tiny creatures sprinkled atop his oyster stew, a story that has gained traction among pea crab aficionados. But Mary Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, says she’d never even heard of pea crabs, much less of Washington’s supposed fondness for them. “It’s true that Washington loved fish of pretty much any kind,” she said. “But we’ve been plagued for years by stories of one food after another that people claim were a favorite of George Washington without citing a period source. Unfortunately, that makes these stories hearsay at best.”

Sketchy George Washington connections notwithstanding, pea crabs have a rich history and once had a much higher profile. A 1913 New York Times article refers to them as “the epicure’s delight” and describes shucking houses saving the little crabs, blanching them, and then packaging them in glass bottles for retail sale. Pea crabs were also commonly featured in old cookbooks. A 1901 volume entitled 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shell Fish features 16 different recipes for them (one of which matter-of-factly calls for 500 crabs!)

So what happened? Why did pea crabs become an obscure footnote in oyster culture? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb

My 4-point breakfast

leave a comment »

Above you see the makings of my breakfast, which is 4 WW points.

I start by chopping, which I in fact enjoy:

Then I heat 2 teaspoons of oil (3 WW points) in my Field No. 8 cast-iron skillet and sauté the vegetables for several minutes, until the mushrooms release their liquid and the vegetables are tender.

I heat my 8″ T-fal pan, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil (1 WW point), and cook the egg over-easy, which allows me the satisfaction of flipping the egg when the bottom is done. (You can practice the flipping motion by putting some dried lentils or beans in the pan and flipping those over the sink (to catch spills).)

The cooked vegetables and mushrooms go into a bowl, the egg on top, and I have my breakfast. A good amount of healthful food for just 4 WW points, the egg and the vegetables all being zero points. (Here’s a list of zero-point foods. I try to make up recipes with these because it’s a good idea to focus on foods that you can eat rather than on foods you can’t/shouldn’t.)

I would say this is a healthful breakfast—and note that it is very low in carbs. For a more general summary of how I’m eating nowadays, see this answer on Quora.

Update: I should say that in addition to the above, I take 2 tablespoons (3 points) or 3 tablespoons (5 points) chia seed in a glass of water—stir well to prevent clumping—along with 1 teaspoon inulin. So my total breakfast is 7 or 9 WW points, depending on the amount of chia seed.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 8:14 am

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Disappointing hot sauce

leave a comment »

I bought some Scotch bonnet hot sauce at the little store across the street. It looked promising: Scotch bonnet peppers are, I think, quite hot… yes: from Wikipedia:

Most Scotch bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville units.[5] For comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale. However, completely sweet varieties of Scotch bonnet are grown on some of the Caribbean islands, called cachucha peppers.

This sauce must have been made from the sweet variety. I was expecting some fire, but… nothing.

I thought of a Charles Addams cartoon:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Trump wants to end warning labels on junk food

leave a comment »

Since junk food seems to be a mainstay of his diet, perhaps he’s just tired of reading them. Azam Ahmed, Matt Richtel, and Andrew Jacobs report in the NY Times:

The contentious negotiations over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement have veered into one of the world’s most pressing health issues: fighting obesity.

Urged on by big American food and soft-drink companies, the Trump administration is using the trade talks with Mexico and Canada to try to limit the ability of the pact’s three members — including the United States — to warn consumers about the dangers of junk food, according to confidential documents outlining the American position.

The American stance reflects an intensifying battle between trade officials, the food industry and governments across the hemisphere. The administration’s position could help insulate American manufacturers from pressure to include more explicit labels on their products, both abroad and in the United States. But health officials worry that it would also impede international efforts to contain a growing health crisis.

Obesity has at least doubled in 73 countries since 1980. Many public health officials, worried about the rapid spread of highly processed foods, have found hope in a new tactic: the use of vivid warnings on foods with high levels of sugar, salt and fat.

Officials in Mexico and Canada — along with governments in Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia — are discussing options like the use of colors, shapes and other easy-to-understand symbols that warn consumers of health risks. They were inspired in large part by Chile’s introduction of stringent regulations in 2016 that include requirements for black stop-sign warnings on the front of some packages.

But the Office of the United States Trade Representative, which is leading the Nafta talks on the American side, is trying to head off the momentum. It is pushing to limit the ability of any Nafta member to require consumer warnings on the front of sugary drinks and fatty packaged foods, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

The American provision seeks to prevent any warning symbol, shape or color that “inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or nonalcoholic beverages.”

Some experts have likened the fight over food labeling to that over tobacco — and the fierce if ultimately unsuccessful opposition and lobbying that industry waged to prevent the imposition of health warnings on packaging. The Trump administration’s position on food labeling reflects the desires of a broad coalition of soft-drink and packaged-foods manufacturers in the United States. .

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry trade group that sits on the advisory board to the trade talks, says it favors voluntary labeling programs. [They like voluntary programs because companies can opt not to volunteer, and they almost surely will. – LG] The group says it “supports a modernized Nafta that will ensure standards are based on science, minimize unnecessary trade barriers, and benefit consumers in all three countries.”

The organization is fighting to keep Chile’s model from being adopted more widely. Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the group — whose board members include executives from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Mondelez International, which owns brands like Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz crackers — said it was concerned about the “evidence and impact” of Chile’s laws.

Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the United States Trade Representative, said she could not comment on what she called “alleged negotiating documents.” In general, she said, “the United States supports science-based labeling that is truthful and not misleading.”

Proponents of more explicit labels said the Trump administration’s proposal and the corporate pressure behind it hold the potential to handcuff public health interests for decades.

“It is one of the most invasive forms of industrial interference we have seen,” said Alejandro Calvillo, the founder of El Poder del Consumidor, or Consumer Power, a health advocacy group in Mexico that was illegally targeted with government spyware when it fought for a soda tax in Mexico. “The collusion between the industry and the government is not only at the level of spying — it reaches the level of the renegotiation of Nafta and the nation’s own policy against obesity.”

The American proposal conflicts with the guidance from Mexico’s national health institute and from the World Health Organization. Both have recommended that Mexico pass regulations to help combat diabetes, which claims 80,000 lives a year there. That is one of the highest rates in the world — and more than double the record number of homicides that the nation suffered in 2017. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Later in the article:

Public health experts have hailed Chile’s rules as a new standard. They include a ban on the use of cartoon characters like Tony the Tiger, but the package warnings are considered the most aggressive of the tactics.

“We have shown that a simple message and a symbol is enough to communicate that you should be consuming less of certain foods,” said Dr. Camila Corvalán, a nutritionist at the University of Chile who helped develop the logos. “There’s nothing misleading about a warning logo, and clearly this is what worries the industry.”

I am sick of the way corporations run the government and ride roughshod over consumer interests. The government is supposed to stand up for consumers, not be a lickspittle for corporations. In this case there is actually a public health crisis of obesity, and so far as I can tell corporations don’t give a damn, just as cigarette manufacturers didn’t give a damn if long-time cigarette smokers died of lung disease, heart disease, emphysema, and so on, so long as they could use Joe Camel to hook new customers in their teens. Corporations are soulless and will do absolutely anything to increase profits. Cf. Facebook.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 4:23 pm

A great story of informed persistence: Virginia vinticulture

leave a comment »

This worth reading. By Eric J. Wallace at Gastro Obscura:

FORTY-TWO YEARS AGO, GABRIELE RAUSSE received a phone call from a childhood friend who told him he had to “drop everything and come to America.”

The phone call was from one viticulturist to another. Rausse was 30 years old and working on a French vineyard. (He had been working in Australian wine, but his visa was revoked on a technicality.) His childhood friend, Gianni Zonin, was president of the Italian winemaking company Casa Vinicola Zonin. The two had grown up together in Italy’s Veneto wine region, and their phone call forever changed the U.S. wine industry.

Together, Zonin insisted, he and Rausse were going to establish the first Virginia vineyard to have commercial success growing Vitis vinifera, the species of grape responsible for fine wine.

“I was worried,” says Rausse. “All I could think was, ‘My God, he’s gone insane.’”

The year was 1976, and at that time, the idea of making premium wine in Virginia was crazy. While Napa Valley was establishing itself as a world-class producer, few had taken the idea of making European-style fine wine on the East Coast seriously since Thomas Jefferson tried and failed some 200 years earlier. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services warned that vinifera varieties would not survive the winter. Even if they did, native pests and diseases would kill them off. According to wine-historian and journalist Richard G. Leahy, East Coast vineyards of the time made beverages that were almost universally “more relatable to winos than wine.” Crafted from French-American hybrids or native grapes that yielded flavors comparable to bubble-gum (think Boone’s Farm), the wines were essentially considered a bad-joke by connoisseurs.

On the call, Rausse debated how to tactfully turn down his friend. But he had a second thought.

“My only plan was to get my visa fixed and return to Australia. Suddenly, I realized going to America would let me practice my English,” he says. “So, I accepted. But with a big caveat. I told Gianni, ‘I’ll help you with your fool’s errand. But once I get my visa, I’m gone.’”

ZONIN HAD CONSIDERED ESTABLISHING AN American vineyard since visiting Napa Valley in 1961. He hoped to create a distribution center and further Casa Vinicola Zonin’s reach. He also worried that his family’s 11 vineyards might be nationalized by communists who seemed capable of winning elections in Italy. After inheriting the company presidency, the sixth-generation scion set out on a grueling survey of “every American viticultural region willing to build a winery.” After traveling to Oregon, New York, and California, he visited an Italian-born friend at the University of Virginia.

The visit coincided with the bicentennial of Jefferson breaking ground at his Monticello estate. Charlottesville was celebrating.

“I remember studying Jefferson’s attempts to cultivate vinifera in Virginia,” says Zonin. “I was fascinated by the idea of a president being a viticultural pioneer.”

Touring Monticello and the mountainous countryside surrounding Charlottesville, Zonin was reminded of his home in northern Italy. “It was so beautiful and somehow familiar. I was falling in love with the area,” he muses. He began to ask questions about soil, rainfall, and climate.

Then he learned of Jefferson’s enlistment of one of the 18th century’s most prestigious wine personalities, Philip Mazzei, an Italian, to manage his experimental vineyard. He also learned of Jefferson’s assertions that the venture would have succeeded if Mazzei’s vines had not been trampled by horses during the American Revolution. Says Zonin, “I began to think, ‘Maybe they chose this place for a reason.’”

Zonin returned to Italy, but Charlottesville stayed on his mind. In his spare time, he studied the region’s microclimate and traced the city’s latitude across the globe, comparing the data to that of sister regions in Italy.

“I noticed the average rainfall and temperature were nearly identical to areas in central Italy,” says Zonin. Virginia had long summers and mild, extended falls that often featured low rainfalls—ideal conditions for growing grapes. “That’s when I knew I wasn’t going to establish just another California vineyard. I was going to do this in Virginia.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2018 at 9:31 am

An oddly detailed article on how to avoid sugar

leave a comment »

David Leonhardt has an odd article in the NY Times explaining how to avoid sugar in one’s diet. The article seems much ado about very little. It seems to me he’s making something simple become complicated. There are really just three things you need to do:

  1. Do not add any sugar to food as you cook (i.e., no granulated sugar, no syrup, etc.) or eat it.
  2. Look at the nutrition facts label of foods you buy. If the product contains sugar, don’t buy it.
  3. When you eat out, don’t eat anything that you know has sugar in it: desserts, sugared drinks, and so on.

I personally also avoid any foods made with flour, which has many of the same weaknesses as sugar: too quickly digested, too little food value. On Quora I summarized my dietary advice:

Sugar, along with other simple starches (white potatoes, rice, and foods made with flour—bread, bagels, pasta, pancakes, boxed cereals, etc.) disrupt the metabolism, as described in Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes.

I follow a diet that severely restricts carbohydrates and totally eliminates the simple carbohydrates mentioned above. Unlike fats and proteins, there are no “essential carbohydrates,” so minimizing their intake runs no risk of a deficiency disease. The calories lost by eliminating the carbs are replaced by calories from fat, which is digested more slowly and thus prolongs satiation, meaning that one tends to eat less and/or less often. See A low-carb diet for beginners – Diet Doctor and A Low Carb Diet Meal Plan and Menu That Can Save Your Life for an introduction. If you’re concerned about eating fats, I highly recommend the book The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. (Both book links are to inexpensive secondhand copies.)

update: I should note that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which is why I switched to a low-carb, high-fat diet. That did in fact put my diabetes in remission and I have maintained an HbA1C of 5.7%-5.8% for years now. /update

However, the LCHF diet is not intended as a weight-loss diet; its purpose is to address metabolic issues. Weight-loss diets require calorie restriction. Many do lose weight on the LCHF diet, but not everyone, and I was one who did not. However, when I combined that with the online Weight Watchers Freestyle program, the pounds are dropping away easily. I like that program because I can do it online (no meetings) and I have to do very little counting because an enormous number of foods have zero points (though obviously one should not be a glutton in any event).

Sugar is particularly bad. See The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer’s and watch this video:

Note that food cravings can be driven by the makeup of your gut microbiome. If you eat high starch food, the microbiome tilts strongly toward microbes that process such foods, and the microbiome can drive food cravings if those microbes become hungry: Why you’re still hungry: 6 obstacles to healthy eating

By sticking with the LCHF diet, in time your gut microbiome will change to favor other microbes, and carb cravings will dwindle. Dietary fiber is an important food source for gut microbes, so pay attention to it—see How probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut. I take 1 tsp of inulin and 2 tablespoons of chia seed in a glass of water each morning. Chia seed has benefits beyond fiber, of course. (And BTW, in the LCHF diet, one counts net carbs: total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber. Chia seed has very low net carbs: 2 tablespoons has 13.1g carbohydrates and 11.2g dietary fiber, so only 1.9g net carbs.)

Dietary fiber is not just for weight loss: it’s vital to our health. See Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.

The NY Times quotes a research study that is consistent with the above recommendations: The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds.

Plateaus: Plateaus are important in weight loss. They are a time when the body makes changes: shrinking the skin, rearranging things internally, etc. Those who get bariatric surgery achieve rapid and significant weight loss without plateaus, but then cosmetic surgery is generally required to remove the floppy skin that results. My daughter knows a woman who did have bariatric surgery and then had to have cosmetic surgery to remove excess skin on thighs, tummy, and arms.

Knowing that the plateaus serve a purpose makes them easier to endure. She also said that, in general, each plateau lasts twice as long as the previous one. In my current weight-loss regimen, I hit my first plateau at Day 47, and then for 11 days my weight stayed at 208.x, going up and down within that range, before resuming a steady loss. I expect my next plateau will last around 22 days.

Lately I’ve also been eating about an ounce of oyster mushrooms cooked with my breakfast egg, after reading this article.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2018 at 2:42 pm

Rapid evolution of salmon size

leave a comment »

Take a look at this photo:

The caption: “A photo taken in Astoria, Ore., circa 1910. It was stated that the chinook on the left weighed 116 pounds and the one on the right weighed 121 pounds.”

Why did Chinook salmon so rapidly evolve to a smaller size? The usual reason: strong selection against large Chinook, and not just from people. John Ryan reports at NPR:

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it’s hard now to believe the old photos in which fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.

“This has been a season of unusually large fish, and many weighing from 60 to 70 pounds have been taken,” The Oregonian reported in 1895.

Now, more than a century later, “it’s not impossible that we see individuals of that size today, but it’s much, much rarer,” University of Washington research scientist Jan Ohlberger says.

Ohlberger has been tracking the downsizing of salmon in recent decades, but salmon have been shrinking in numbers and in size for a long time. A century’s worth of dam-building, overfishing, habitat loss and replacement by hatchery fish cut the size of the average chinook in half, studies in the 1980s and 1990s found.

Dam-building and fishing have tailed off, but chinooks have been shrinking even faster in the past 15 years, according to a new paper by Ohlberger and colleagues in the journal Fish and Fisheries. Older and bigger fish are mostly gone.

Few fish are making it to old age, which for a chinook salmon means spending five or six years in the ocean after a year or two in fresh water.

“The older fish, which normally come back after five years in the ocean, they come back earlier and earlier,” Ohlberger said.

The trend is clear; the reasons, less so.

Two species eat more chinook salmon than any others: orcas and humans.

The 2,300 or more resident killer whales in the Northeast Pacific Ocean eat about 20 million pounds of chinook salmon per year — roughly equal to the annual commercial catch of chinook in recent years, according to the new study.

“There is a large number of resident killer whales out there that really target chinook, and they target the large chinook,” Ohlberger says. [Selection pressure. – LG]

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Balcomb points to overfishing, habitat loss and salmon hatcheries that have diluted the gene pool of wild chinooks.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2018 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Evolution, Food, Science

%d bloggers like this: