2011 04 15
The discovery of coffee

Posted by in: Food

This totally made me loletiwiaer*, mainly because I wonder this about at least half of the things I eat.

* “laugh out loud even though I was in an empty room” – Just made that up. Think it’ll catch on?

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2008 12 01
Recently read

Posted by in: Books, Food, History, Psychology, Race

Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is an ethically and scientifically informed meditation on food, the modern food chain, and the ways in which the latter has distorted our relationship with the former. Pollan provides a fascinating overview of the highly dysfunctional system of agricultural subsidies that spur the overproduction of corn and a few other staples, and traces the effects of the corn glut through the rest of the food economy. He then explores alternatives to the modern agricultural system, beginning with mainstream organic farming, and moving on to much more radical departures from the mainstream. I thought that the passages on the killing and eating of animals were especially thoughtful.

E.R. Chamberlin. The Bad Popes

I’m not in a position to judge the reliability of the book, but I can say that it has a few entertaining moments, if Popes behaving badly is your thing. In style and tone, this book reminded me a bit, for better or worse, of John Julius Norwich‘s books.

Douglas A. Blackmon. Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II

If the North won the American Civil War, the South surely won the reconstruction. In the years following the Civil War, African Americans did not find themselves suddenly free to enjoy the fruits of the victory over their slave holders. Rather, whites developed a system that permitted them to hold blacks down with the threat of terrible violence, and which allowed them to make use of their forced labour under conditions that were, very often, worse than those endured by many slaves under the old regime of slavery.

Here’s how the system worked, as explained in considerable detail by Douglas A. Blackmon in his Slavery By Another Name: blacks would be arrested on bogus or trumped up charges. These often included “vagrancy,” an all-purpose charge to which any unemployed black man (in an era of massive unemployment) was vulnerable. Sometimes the charge was even forgotten by the time the victim had been brought to court. It hardly mattered. A sheriff or local judge could always be found to find the victim guilty, regardless of the merits of the case — especially because he could expect to profit himself from the proceedings. The victim was then assessed a fine, along with fees associated with the costs of the proceedings. Unable to pay, the victim would be coerced into signing an agreement to work off the sum in the service of a white who would pay in his stead. Entirely deprived of rights, blacks could then be locked up, beaten, tortured, fed next to nothing, traded, sold, and worked under conditions that accounted for the extremely high mortality rates among prisoners.

Every aspect of this twisted system is sickening. Arrest rates rose and fell according to the labour required in an area. The constant threat of arrest served as a reliable way of keeping blacks who weren’t prisoners in line. Any African American not directly under the protection of a white was vulnerable to arrest on trumped up charges. This power also helped perpetuate the widespread rape of African American women by white men. This is the bleak picture of American American life in this period that emerges from Blackmon’s account. If there is one figure that captures all this in a book filled with anecdotes, figures and arguments, it is surely this: that between the years 1877 and 1966 in the state of Georgia, only one white man was found guilty of murdering a black man.

The system also helped wealthier whites to crush attempts to unionize their industries. It’s hardly surprising that these attempts failed when management could always resort of cut-rate prisoner labour in the face of a threat to strike.

Blackmon makes a very strong case that this era of American history is best described as the Era of Neoslavery. It wasn’t until the second World War had begun that the Federal Government moved to begin enforcing laws in the South that it had long chosen to ignore.

This is a superb book, as angry as it is methodical. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand U.S. history. But because Blackmon does such a good job reflecting on the consequences of that history, it’s also essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the present.

Susan Blackmore. Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction

The title says it all. It was indeed very short, and the length of the text made it impossible for the author to do anything more than introduce a few topics in the study of consciousness. But as introductions go, this one struck me as pretty good: clear, readable, and interesting. Lots of good stuff on everything from the latest in philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, and more.

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2008 08 17
Recently read: “Mindless Eating”

Posted by in: Books, Food

Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think

There’s so much about our own eating habits that escapes us, particularly when it comes to the factors that influence the quantity of food we consume. Although many of us think that how full we are has a lot to do with when we stop eating a meal, it turns out that we’re influenced by considerably more than that feeling of fullness. We tend to eat more when our food is framed in certain ways, for example, in larger plates. We drink more from short, wide cups than tall, thin ones. We eat more in larger groups because of a tendency to continue eating (or at least pecking away) until everyone is finished. You can feed people with no short term memory a full dinner about 30 minutes after they’ve just finished eating, and most will eat the entire thing with no objection. They’re eating because the external cues suggest that it’s time to eat, and not because they’re hungry.

Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating is an entire book about the influences that work on us, under our awareness, when we eat. Wansink studies these at Cornell, where he is a professor of Marketing and Nutritional Science. This book is a popular presentation of his more academic work, much of which takes place in his “lab,” which includes a mock restaurant where lucky test subjects eat under close scrutiny.

Before I started this book, I assumed that Wansink’s main recommendation would be to try to eat more mindfully. And it’s true that Wansink does suggest things that we ought to be aware of as we purchase, prepare, present, and consume our food. But Wansink is too impressed with the evident difficulty that most of us have in remaining sensitive to all the forces acting on our food choices to be content with simply recommending mindfulness. Rather, the same mindless eating patterns that cause us to overeat and to eat badly can be brought into the service of healthier diets. So: buy smaller plates, and you’ll eat less without noticing it. Drink from tall, thin glasses, and you’ll drink less without noticing it. And so on. These are just a few examples, of course. The book is full of them, and if you’re interested in this subject, it’s worth checking out.

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2008 08 15
Agedashi tofu

Posted by in: Food

Yoon’s been on a real agedashi tofu kick lately:

agedashi tofu

In addition to being yummy, it’s easy to make.

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2007 11 24
Korean cuisine day!

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

We had some friends over today for our own little Korean cuisine festival. Pictures below the fold.

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Howls of outrage (6)

2007 11 24

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

Below the fold, documentation of a feast!

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2007 08 11
Smoked salmon

Posted by in: Food

Smoked salmon, originally uploaded by Chris and Yoon.

Yoon’s brother gave us a smoker a while ago and this evening we finally got around to trying it out. The salmon is wild caught Alaskan salmon.

We cooked it as long as the instructions said to, but it just didn’t seem done. We tend to be jumpy about undercooking, especially with fish. So we ended up cooking it for too long and it turned out a bit dry. But still delicious! It was a very simple meal: salmon, sauteed arugula, plum tomatoes. That’s it.

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2007 07 15
A simple summer soup

Posted by in: Food

This is pretty simple:

Throw carrots, celery, and onion into a food processor and get them all chopped up very finely.

Then saute the mix in at least a stick of butter and some olive oil.

Saute it for quite a while, but not long enough to burn it.

In the last three minutes of this, throw in some minced garlic.

Deglaze with some brandy.

Pour in lots of chicken stock.

Throw in spices. The most recent time I did this, I put in oregano (grown on my window sill), fresh thyme and rosemary, pepper, and (a bit redundantly) some dried herbes de provence.

Let it simmer for a good long time.

Turn off the stove and wait a few minutes.

Blend it all together with a hand blender.

Strain it through a mesh. Doesn’t need to be too fine.

Now, you can either chill it or serve it hot. It tastes delicious either way.

The first time I made the soup, I also added in a bunch of really hot peppers, along with some homemade buttermilk that I had left over from making homemade butter. Alif Sikkin was coming over for dinner, and I was a bit nervous that it would be too spicy, and Yoon found it very spicy too. It turns out that A.S. doesn’t mind spicy soup, but I didn’t know that at the time.

It seemed likely to me that I had ruined a soup it took me a long time to make. A lesser man, I think, might well have given up in despair. But taking heart from the thought that I will always be a greater man than any man who is a lesser man than I, and repeating analytic proofs in support of this claim to myself, I hit upon a solution: I served the soup alongside a bowl of chilled seedless watermelon cubes. Must unexpected and ingenious! The flavours worked surprisingly well together, and the alternation between spicy peppers and cooling watermelon was highly pleasing. It was, as I remarked at the time, one of the most exciting and inventive dishes to emerge from the kitchen of Chez Chris this season.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 07 07
Homemade butter

Posted by in: Food

Holy fuck! Which is to say: Explananda endorses this.

Update: Oh yeah, and thanks to Kegri for the tip.

Howls of outrage (8)

2007 06 30
Drink Hemp, Love Life

Posted by in: Food

The hemp-is-a-miracle-substance movement of the last 15 years or so mostly passed me by, but yesterday I was feeling adventurous, and so bought some hemp milk. It was surprisingly good! It tastes more like sunflower seeds to me than anything else, and I’m guessing that it tastes best cold, which is how I drank it.

(The title of the post is a Canadian in-joke.)

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 05 29
Big burger sandwich

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

Big burger sandwich, originally uploaded by Chris and Yoon.

Lunch was yummy today.

Howls of outrage (6)

2007 04 26
Braised pork ribs

Posted by in: Food

I made braised pork ribs the other day. Although Yoon and I have made braised pork ribs before, I had never made them on my own before this occasion. Also, I sort of made up this recipe (with a bit of glancing at other’s recipes, of course), so I’m proud of myself. Extremely vague recipe follows.

First, prepare the rub: Lots of brown sugar, salt, pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, chilli powder, coriander, thyme, toasted cumin, ground mustard. Put it in a largish container with a lid.

Cut up the ribs into manageable pieces (one or two ribs per piece), throw them in a colander and rinse them carefully under running water. Pat dry.

Throw the ribs in the container and shaka, shaka, shaka until thoroughly coated. Then leave sitting in the fridge for a few hours.

Wait, wait, wait.

Now, 3 hours before the meal is to be served, spring into action again.

Get the braising liquid heated up and ready to go: In a pot of its own put beef broth, apple cider, just a wee bit of maple syrup, 2 sticks of butter, and worcestershire sauce. I also put in homemade ketchup (tastes nothing like store ketchup), which Yoon had made a while ago using the recipe from this excellent cookbook. If you don’t have any of this handy, you could wing it by throwing in other yummy spices that strike your fancy.

Get that braising liquid heated up.

While it’s heating, take a large pot with a lid. Coat bottom of pot with olive oil and heat for a while. Then throw in the ribs and brown for about 10 minutes on high heat. Throw in chopped garlic halfway through.

After 10 minutes, deglaze the pot with white wine. Then pour in the braising liquid. The ribs ought to be completely submerged in the braising liquid. (So when you’re preparing the braising liquid, you should anticipate that you’re going to need enough liquid to completely cover the ribs.)

Put the lid on and simmer at very low heat for about 2 hours. The meat should be just about falling off the bone when it’s done.

Remove the meat from the braising liquid. Let sit for 5 minutes on a cooking tray, and then put in a closed container so that it doesn’t dry out.

Now, turn the heat up on that braising liquid and boil the shit out of it until it gets reduced to a thick sauce. It should smell great at this point, since now it also contains essence o’ pork.

After the sauce has been reduced, turn the broiler in your oven on. Place the ribs on a cooking tray, liberally coat them with the sauce, and then stick them in the broiler. Please note that this is the point at which you’re most likely to fuck up the meal: They’ll burn to a crisp in the broiler if you’re not very careful. I only needed 3 minutes to finish mine, but you should just use your own eyes to judge things, checking very regularly.

Remove from broiler, add a bit more sauce, and serve!

Since the sauce is a bit sweet, I chose to serve the ribs with a salad lightly coated in a slightly sharp dressing, for contrast. It’s also nice to have some yummy bread that you can use to mop up all that sauce.

Howls of outrage (4)

2007 03 21
Di Fara Pizza, again

Posted by in: Food

OK, not good: Di Fara Pizza, of which I’m very fond, is in a bit of trouble for mouse droppings. That the place was filthy I already knew – so filthy that mouse droppings don’t really surprise me. I record my three main reactions to the news here, if only to demonstrate why I would never make it as a food reviewer:

1. Ew!

2. Hey, I wonder if the lines will be shorter now!

3. Those may be mouse droppings, but I’ll bet they’re the tastiest mouse droppings in the whole city.

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2007 03 12
Turkey burger (with cheese, arugula and guacamole)

Posted by in: Food, Pictures we took

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 01 28

Posted by in: Food

It’s true. This baklava is just mind-blowingly good. I meant to post about it a while back, but never got around to it.

Howls of outrage (3)