Category Archives: Food News

Migration at the table

Today is International Migrants Day, and while it’s mainly a day set aside to create awareness about the difficult and complicated issues migrants deal with, according to a paragraph on a U.N. website it’s also a day of celebration:

“Migrants contribute greatly to the sense of cultural diversity in modern societies, and to our appreciation of the oneness of the human spirit. They give us the experience of living in a global neighbourhood.”

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the food we eat.  Immigration is partially responsible for introducing us to so many wonderful new cuisines.  My current obsession is with pho, which is the heart and soul of Vietnam in a soup bowl.  Pho (pronounced “fuh” with a bit of an upward lilt to the end of the word– like you’re saying it as a question) is  beef and noodles in a rich, complex beef broth seasoned with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and fish sauce.  Pho is typically garnished with bean sprouts, cilantro (coriander leaves), thai basil and chiles. 

Pho at the Vietnamese restaurant in Virgina, SA

Pho at the Vietnamese restaurant in Virgina, SA

There is no shortage of places to find pho in Adelaide, but my favorite discovery this year was in a little community near where I live about 45 minutes outside of the city.  Virginia, South Australia is pretty rural and home to many immigrant families who are market gardeners.  In the past, market gardening was the domain of Italian and Greek immigrants, and still is to some degree, but the new generation of market gardeners are typically Vietnamese.  So, tiny Virginia has a pho shop (right next to the bahn mi shop) where you can find workers taking a late morning break and enjoying steaming hot bowls of pho.

When I’m in there, I think about immigrants and the food traditions they bring with them.  Certainly when immigrants open restaurants it’s often a means of helping others like them feel connected to their homeland and the culture they left behind.  Some people might see an ethnic restaurant as a refusal to assimilate.  But I see it as a way of sharing their culture with their adopted country and as a means to gain acceptance.  When we eat that food, we are experiencing a culture in a very intimate way. Food is the only part of a culture that we physically ingest and make  part of our being.  So by eating the food of another culture, either conciously or unconciously, we are sending a message that we think they’re okay; that they are one of us and we are one of them.

Of course, it’s a big leap from acceptance of immigrant food traditions to acceptance of people, but coming to the migrant’s table is a good place to start.

Of Camels and Quandongs

Some Australian scientists are freaking out about camels and say we’ve got to start eating them.  Apparently, there are about a million feral camels living in the middle of this sunburnt country and they’re wreaking environmental and all other kinds of havock.

I’ve done my part to help the cause this year, if purely for selfish reasons since I get perverse pleasure in trying new and somewhat shocking foods.  At the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia (a full review is coming one of these days) I sampled camel mettwurst on a pizza, and a camel sausage from the so-called Feral Mixed Grill Platter.

Let’s just say that both the camel mettwurst and camel sausage had an interesting texture– not quite as toothsome as I’d like.  I asked the woman serving us about the camel and she told me it’s a very lean meat (i.e. tends to be tough and somewhat lacking in flavor), which is probably why it ends up ground into mince and stuffed into a sausage casing with some added fat and seasoning.   From what I’ve had so far, I wouldn’t line up for more. 

But here’s the rub.  These feral camels could cause quandongs to become extinct!  They’re out there in the desert eating this beautiful, tart red fruit and I’ll be damned if they’re going to deprive me of the pleasure of a this quandong pie from the Stone Hut Bakery when I want one:

Oh. That. Pie. 

The quandong filling is really tart on its own, but with a bite of that shortcrust pastry and the cream– it’s a taste trifecta. 

So feral camels take notice.*  Quandong-loving Aussies have put a bounty on your head.  We’re going to find a way to cook you so you’re palatable, and then we’ll chase that camel steak or roast or sausage or whatever we turn you into with a quandong pie.  Now that would be a just dessert.

 

* Note: I realize that this issue is not the camels’ fault. The shortsighted people who brought them to Australia back in the 1800s without realizing the environmental impact they could have are the ones to blame.  I blame the camels merely as a literary device, so please, no one accuse me of not understanding the issue or hating animals.  I’m fully aware of the nuances of this problem.  Thanks.

Obama scorns the much maligned beet

Because Americans are obsessed with the everyday minutiae of our Commanders-in-Chief, today we get this report detailing Barack Obama’s– and the Obama family’s– eating habits.  A quick summation of the article: they dig Rick Bayless’ Mexican food, pizza, handmade pastas, and kicking back with some wine or maybe a margarita.  Much to my annoyance, the article also mentioned Obama eats “boutique salad greens” — a fact that was used in an attempt to brand him an elitist, which is so ridiculous I posted about that a few months ago.  You can’t even go to an Applebee’s these days and not find arugula on the menu.  But I digress.

But the one thing the Pres-elect reportedly won’t touch:  beets.  I know, I know.  Everyone has foods they don’t like.  But beets really aren’t that bad.  

 I think a visit to Australia might be just the thing to get Mr. Obama over his repulsion.  You see, beets (or beetroot as it is known here) are put on the delicacy known as the Aussie Burger w/the Lot.  “The Lot” is shorthand for all the other food they put on the burger which includes the aforementioned beetroot, pineapple, a fried egg, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.  They are a big, sloppy, burgery mess and they are GREAT! Plus, they’re the gateway food to more general beet eating.

So can Australia change Obama’s mind about beets?  YES WE CAN!!

P.S. I’m endeavouring to get a photo of a burger w/the lot.  Please stand by.

A victory for ugly veggies (and fruit)!

I’ve written about the plight of less-than aesthetically pleasing produce before here and here.  Finally, curvy cucumbers and contorted carrots are getting their comeuppance.  Well, in Europe anyway.  The EU has taken the bold step to relax rules put in place 20 years ago that banned the sale of blemished fruit and vegetables.

Personally, I love oddly-shaped specimens.  When I see them at the store, I’ll buy them.  I’m sort of like Charlie Brown when he gets the loser Christmas tree– everything deserves a chance.  Sometimes I’m a bit mean and will laugh at the them, like I did with this eggplant:

Is that a protusion on your eggplant or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a protusion on your eggplant or are you just happy to see me?

Other times I just marvel at their fabulous freakishness, like these webbed bananas:

Fuh-reaks!

Fuh-reaks!

But ultimately, I think the produce is just happy that someone picked it up, took it home and thought it was special enough to take a picture of it before gobbling it all up.

Who else out there buys ugly produce?  Take this poll:

Then, send me your photos of warped watermelons, bulbous brussels sprouts or squirrely squash (ooh, double points for that alliteration) and I’ll post them.  Because every fruit needs to feel good about itself.

Bake sales: The new boogeyman

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

I am all for kids eating healthier and eating less.  But I feel like political correctness has completely prevailed over common sense and a sense of fun when bake sales become the bad guy of school fundraisers.  I’ve seen this gastronomic nanny state at work in Australia and it’s also sweeping some state legislatures in the U.S. according to this article from the New York Times.

First, let me say that the schools are right in saying bake sales shouldn’t happen during school hours.  But the ban on bake sales at schools seems like we’re heading down that slippery slope of banning bake sales altogether, and that would be a shame for a number of reasons.  One is that it forces kids to do those awful holiday gift tins and knick-knack sales.  What a bunch of crap that is.  I used to run and hide at work when parents would come towards my cubicle with one of those order forms.  Honestly, they’d have better luck trying to sell me asbestos earmuffs.

But seriously, when did bake sales go bad?  Schools and other organizations have been having bake sales for decades and I don’t recall seeing any evidence that they made kids fat.  Kids are fat today because of sugary drinks, too little exercise, and a preponderance of crap food made with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  No, bake sales aren’t part of the childhood obesity problem.  In fact, I think they could be part of the solution, and here’s why:

1) They are wholesome.  If I were to bake something for a bake sale, I’d probably make something like the ever popular brownie.  The ingredients:  butter, chocolate or cocoa, sugar, eggs, flour, a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla.  I can pronounce every single one of those ingredients.  I know what they are, unlike some of the ingredients in oh, say, the PowerBar mentioned in the NY Times piece as a “healthy” snack which contains ingredients like soy lecithin, soy protein isolate and fractionated palm kernal oil.  In fact, I think wholesome treats made with real ingredients are actually more satisfying than processed food.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I can easily be satisfied after eating a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookes, but could down practically a whole bag of oreos and still want more.

2) They promote community.  When a school or a club has a bake sale, it usually requires parents to get involved with their kids, with the schools, with other parents, and with bake sale patrons.  It requires communication and organization.  In fact, bake sales are probably more trouble than they are worth, monetarily speaking.  But if a bake sale helps build community relationships, then that’s worth more than every cent raised.  Participating in something like a bake sale can make you realize it’s actually fun to get out of the house and get away from the TV and computer and get involved in life!

3) They are a good learning tool for kids.  There is little value for kids in the yearly Christmas knick-knack sale.  Parents take the order forms to work and that’s the last the kids ever see of that project until they hand the order form back in.  On the other hand, bake sales can be used to teach kids cooking skills, math skills (converting recipes, counting change for customers), and customer relation skills when they help man the bake sale table.  As far as healthy habits go, learning to cook is a great way for kids to get a concept of what goes into their food, which is key to healthy eating.  Let me tell you, when I bake and see all the butter I put into a batch of brownies, I’m much more likely to take a small portion because I know just how many calories are in them.

So let’s quit vilifying bake sales.  They aren’t an every day event.  They are not responsible for obesity. Come on people.  Get a life and get baking.

The upside of rising food prices

More bad news today about the cost of food.  Some economists predict prices will go up at least 7% in the U.S. next year. 

But is this really bad news?  For people who are struggling to put food on their tables now, it is bad news.  But for those addicted to cheap food– and I admit to being one of them– this cloud has a silver lining.

The main reason for the rise in prices is the cost of grain which is skyrocketing because a large percentage of the grain crop is being used to make fuel.  Much of the rest of that grain crop goes to feed cows, pigs and chickens.

Until lately, grain has been a cheap way to to feed and fatten livestock.  Now that it’s getting more expensive, the playing field between mass-produced feedlot meat and grass-fed and naturally-raised meat is being leveled.

To most people it’s natural to go to the store and want to buy the least expensive item.  When one package of chicken is $2.99, why would you pay $5.99 for an equal sized package?  But if the prices of conventionally-raised meat and free-range, natural meat come close to (or even achieve) parity, why WOULDN’T you buy meat that was raised the way God intended? 

Also, if the cost of meat goes up, maybe we’ll eat a little less of it and make room on our plates for more vegetables, grains and legumes.

As food prices go up, we’ll start to see the REAL cost of food.

The way I see it, this is great news for the small farmers and ranchers who raise meat humanely, it’s good news for the animals that may not have to spend their lives packed into polluted feedlots, it’s good news for the environment because of the pollution caused by the feedlots both directly and indirectly, and it’s good news for anyone who eats because we won’t be forced to make a choice between what’s healthy and what’s cheap.

Well, crap…

This is not good news.  Should I have another cup of coffee or be flatter than Kansas? Coffee or Kansas…. coffee… Kansas…

Next thing you know, scientists will tell us eating lots of cheese will make our butts big.

Bush was right about food aid

According to former President Clinton, he and the U.S. blew it on food aid to developing countries.  In the story he also says that President Bush was right in asking that 25% of U.S. aid be in cash rather than commodity crops.

First, let me point out my headline.  I said “Bush was right.”  I could easily have written it as “Clinton says U.S. blew it on food aid”, but I didn’t.  I credited Bush with being right, even if it pained me a little to do that.  It just shows that journalists can be fair and unbiased.  So there.

And I’d like to take Clinton’s remarks a bit further.  Not only are we wrong for requiring countries to drop crop subsidies from their own government in order to get aid from the U.S., but the global captains of industry are wrong when they encourage farmers in developing nations to quit growing their own native foods they could use to feed themselves in order to plant more crops  they’ll never eat because it will all be sent to the U.S. or other Western Nations to feed our desire for cheap food.

Furthermore, when they do start growing their own food again, it should be with seeds of their own choosing, not GMO terminator seeds manufactured by companies like Monsanto or Cargill and sent as a “gift” by the U.S.  Some gift.  “Here, have some seeds, that will grow crops this year, and this year only.  After that, you’ll have to pay a behemoth U.S. company to get them.” 

Finally, treating food as a commodity isn’t just a problem for developing nations.  The big commodity crops (corn, wheat, rice, soy planted in giant monocultures) are anathema to responsible agriculture and a big reason Americans are so fat.  All these commdoties are pulled apart and reassembled into crap food like cereal straws, Cheetos (which I love), and Oreos (which I also love).  Basically, most of the “food” in the middle of the grocery store is made up of some reformulated commodity crop.  Yet the U.S. government continues to prop up farmers who grow these crops, and even punishes them for trying to grow anything else like tomatoes or carrots.  This is why it’s cheaper to buy a Little Debbie (which I also love) than, say, an apple.

So, certainly, let’s work to make the food aid we provide to other countries more appropriate, but let’s not forget to tend our own gardens while we’re at it.

I eat arugula and I vote

I even grow arugula

I even grow arugula

The 2008 Presidential election has taken the politics of food to a whole new level, albeit a low one.

Ever since Barack Obama mentioned the high cost of arugula at a campaign event in Iowa, he’s been branded by some as an elitist who’s out of touch with regular people.  He apparently further cemented that image by turning down a cup of coffee at a campaign stop at a diner and asking for orange juice instead.

Now, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has taken issue with the Obama camp’s orders for the food that will be served at the upcoming Democratic convention:

He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food… The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines… bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.)

Somehow, in Maureen Dowd’s world, eating healthily makes Obama humorless and thus potentially unelectable.  What is so off-putting about good eating habits?

Of course, Americans have been quick to revere less-than-healthy Presidential dietary idiosyncrasies:  we loved that President Reagan loved Jelly Bellies, that George H.W. Bush hated broccoli, and, although he took a lot of flak for his penchant for McDonald’s fries, we felt like Bill Clinton was just like us because he gave into Mac Attacks, too.

In this era of rising obesity rates, the threat of a diabetes epidemic, and pediatricians reccomending putting kids as young as eight years old on cholesterol meds because so many of them eat like… well… crap, how great would it be to have a President who’s also a gastronomic role model?

Like the Reagan era when Jelly Belly sales skyrocketed, maybe there would be an Obama effect at farmer’s markets and produce sections across America.  People would think twice before single-handedly polishing off the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse.  And parents could have the power of the President behind them in that eternal dinner time battle.  “Don’t you want to grow up to be the leader of the free world?  Then eat your veggies because President Obama does!”

So THIS is what “Bottomless Salad & Breadsticks” means!

Well, actually, topless would be more like it.  Playboy likes to keep its nudity above the waistline, sunshine.  The magazine that people “only read for the articles” has just released an online pictorial called the “Girls of the Olive Garden” (I’m not linking it here for my own reasons, but if you can’t find it by googling, you’re just not trying hard enough).

While The Olive Garden doesn’t have the most stellar reputation in serious food circles, tens of millions of Americans looooove it, and I remember it being quite popular with the post-church Sunday lunch crowd.  So I have to wonder how this Girls of the Olive Garden will go over with the Church Ladies.  I’m guessing more than a few will get their slips in a twist.

I also wonder if this means Olive Garden will run a special to coincide with the spread.  Pasta Puttenesca came immediately to mind (which translates to “whore’s pasta”), but I’m guessing it’s probably a little too bold and spicy for average OG goers.

I know Hef and his lady love du jour came up with the idea because of their love of OG breadsticks and the fact that they claim to spy a lot of hot servers there (huh?), but it seems they could have come up with some restaurant chains with names that tie in much better to a Playboy spread.  Hooters is almost too obvious.  How about Le Peep, Fuddruckers, Sweet Tomatoes or does anybody remember Rax?  My own personal favorite, though, is In & Out.  I left a few off the list because I thought they crossed the line (although I think I might have with In & Out), but I’d love to see what others come up with in the comments section.

And you know what?  Just for kicks, here’s a recipe for Pasta Puttanesca.

8 oz. penne rigate pasta (spaghetti seems to be more “traditional” but I like this sauce with penne rigate)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

3-4 anchovy filets, roughly chopped

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1 15 oz can of crushed tomatoes (or chopped, or whole that you crush yourself)

2 Tbsp. of capers

10 (or so) black olives, pitted and chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh Parsley, coarsely chopped

Torn fresh basil leaves

Freshly grated Parmesean cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water

2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add garlic, crushed red pepper and anchovies until anchovies melt, about 2 or 3 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic- it gets bitter if you do.

3. Add tomatoes, capers, olives, and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper and bring sauce to a bubble then turn the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes to let the flavors come together.

4. While sauce is cooking, pasta should be done.  Drain it and put into a large serving bowl.

5. Toss sauce and 1/4 c. of freshly grated parmesean with pasta and garnish with chopped parsley and a few torn basil leaves.  Pass more parmesean at the table and serve with hot bread and a simple green salad.