Skip to content

Nutrition Or, Why Am I A Cynic, Continued

I’ve been seeing more and more research on what exactly constitutes a “balanced” diet, and specifically, the amounts of fat versus carbohydrates, and particularly the evil saturated fats.  Gary Taubes has written on this extensively and his two books are on my wish list, Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat.  And this New York Times article quotes him regarding the status of saturated fat, and just exactly how evil it is.

To me, this sort of thing calls into question all of this “settled science”.  Whether it be climate change or dietary nutrition, the bottom line is we simply don’t have all the answers.  We have theories and scientific studies and conclusions…but we don’t know.  And the role that politics and money plays in all of this is huge.  With governments controlling more and more of the funding for research, the pressure to conform to political stances of those in power is great.  Just look at the FDA Food Pyramid.  There is much controversy about it and what has driven it.  And yet, now they’re confiscating kid’s school lunches that they bring from home because they don’t comply with the government’s omniscient prescribed “balanced diet”.  And thank God I don’t live in New York City:

But the FDA will have to work faster if it wants to keep up with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His administration already is spearheading a “nationwide effort to reduce salt in restaurant and packaged foods.” It also has banned trans-fats and smoking in bars, launched a P.R. campaign against occasional smoking, and is in the process of restricting alcohol sales and advertising in the city.

Note that the campaign against salt is nationwide.  So, If I open a restaurant it’s possible at some point in the future that the government is going to tell me how much salt I can put in my dishes?  Seriously?

I don’t pretend to know what constitutes the most healthy diet imaginable.  I just know “they” don’t know either.  So, once again, I guess that makes me a cynic.  My worry is that, the way things are going, it’s going to make me a heretic.  Like I’ve said before, you make your decisions about what constitutes balance for you and I’ll do the same for me.  How else are we both to pursue happiness?

Because happiness to me is using as much salt as I want.

Advertisements

Valentine’s Day!

The Wife got me my first ever chef’s jacket for valentine’s day.  What do you think?

I feel like a real chef in it!

 

So I responded by making her a dinner of Crab Cakes with Remoulade, Duchesse Potatoes and Swiss Chard.  With Bananas Foster for dessert.  It was yummy.

 

Crab Cakes!

 

Drizzling butter on the Duchesse Potatoes

 

Nice plate!

 

Mmmmmmm….

 

Bananas Foster

The Weight Of Being A Restaurateur

On the one hand, I have to, someday, own a restaurant.  First of all, it’s the only way I can get my cooking fix without either putting myself in the poorhouse or on the fat farm.  Second, it’s the only avenue I can visualize that would allow me to do all the cooking I want and have someone else wash the dishes.

However, on the other hand, what a load to carry.  I’m in sales, and have been all my life.  Frankly, I’m not used to working that hard.  Add to that the fact that you’re tied down to it all the time.  And the worry of owning your own business on top of all the rest.  Yeeesh.

But, in truth, I find myself drawn to it more every day.  I try to scare myself off with thoughts of late nights, hard work, constant worry, fear of failure, crises of confidence, dreams that turn into nightmares.  But still, I find my way back to picturing myself doing it.  Cooking for a living.

Which brings to mind another source of doubt.  What of my cousin’s admonition that if you like to cook “don’t open a restaurant”?  I know exactly what he means as I seriously contemplate the possibility.  To open a restaurant is to become a manager.  Blech.  Staffing headaches, shrinkage and security, financial controls, maintenance, etc.  All I want is to make people a nice plate of food and have them pay me for it.

I’ve thought that I would like to start off catering and sharpen my chops, so to speak.  Learn to cook in volume, learn some pricing guidelines, some menu development strategies.  But I wonder how much of that really translates to a restaurant.  And my thinking is, not too much.  And, unfortunately, there’s no real way to ease into the business.  Line cooks make squat, as do “assistant managers”.  I’m too old to start at the bottom of the food industry.

It would be easier to pursue my dream if I knew what my dream was.  Maybe it will become clear.  Or, at least, clearer.  Or maybe it is clear, and I just don’t want to see it.  It’s all so confusing.  I’m going to go ruminate over some leftovers and contemplate my next meal move.

Worst Cooks In America

We watched a marathon of this show over the weekend, with me being under the weather and nothing else to do.  It was better than most such shows, but it did make me realize one thing about being or becoming a “chef”.

If you’ve ever known anyone that was really into a hobby or skill, at some point you thought they were a little crazy.  The extent that people will go, when they get totally involved in something, boggle the mind.  And it matters not what that is…from sewing to gun collecting.  I’ll never forget my utter disbelief at learning one of my buddies who was really into model trains had paid a couple hundred bills for the little engine he was holding up so proudly for me.  Two-hundred dollars?  And that didn’t begin to touch the money he had sunk into all his scenery and tools and whatnot.  Which he was constantly tearing down and re-making.  Crazy.

I notice the foodies can get that way too.  I mean, I love food and I love to cook it and eat it and learn about it.  But some of the (at least I consider) over-the-top details can be a bit much.  Take the knife cuts for example.  I realize that there is practical importance to having uniform knife cuts, but it gets a little ridiculous.  And the presentation…things all propped up and made to look pretty.  That is all fine, but sometimes I wonder if it takes away from the taste.  I mean, I find myself muttering as I watch these shows, “put some sauce on it!”.  The scant drizzle with the dots around the plate is pretty and all, but…might I have a little extra on the side?

I don’t think I would last long in the culinary trade because of that.  It all seems a little much.  I’d want to do things my way.  Ladle on the sauce.  Make some room on the plate for the veggies.  That are not cut perfectly but all still somehow managed to cook evenly.  And add a few more spuds than you can get under one chicken breast.  Or better yet, serve it family style.  That’d make the New York and Paris chefs’ heads spin around.  Bon Appetit!  Or, as we like to say in the south…y’all come eat!

Creativity & Inspiration

I have played a little guitar on and off for some years.  I enjoy it, but just never was able to get very good at it…I can play some chords and simple rhythm and sing a little, but none of it to the level you would call “good”.  People would sometimes walk in on me practicing or see the guitar there, and they’d invariably say, “play something”.  And I would get this deer-in-the-headlights look, and couldn’t remember a single song.  Nothing.  It happened to me more times than I can count.  And what happened next was just as inevitable.  The only thing my grasping mind could come up with was whatever tune I was working on at the time…something I only halfway knew.  Terrible.

Cooking is a little like that for me.  I try to come up with something to cook…either something I know or some concoction, and I can think of nothing.  I mean, there are a couple things that always come to mind, and once they take hold I can’t dislodge them.  It’s frustrating.  I have such a good memory about most things, but coming up with dishes I have made and liked in the past just draws a blank.

One thing that helps me is if I go to the pantry or refrigerator and take a look at what I have to work with.  Then I can start to bring something together.  But even then, it rarely brings to mind things I have made in the past.  Also, what about when the cupboard is bare?  Or I just want to lay out a meal plan?  I can never think of a thing.

I’ve tried keeping recipe logs and whatnot, and that helps, but it’s tough to stay on top of.  I think maybe I need to think in terms of some kind of theme, maybe that would help.

Any suggestions?

Holy Mackerel!

Sorry for the corny title, I just couldn’t help myself.  We bought some whole mackerel from Super H the other night and we made that joke about a million times…  What is it that makes mackerel holy, anyway?  Or cows for that matter?

We experimented with filets and whole fish

 

A pan of water in the weber grill for indirect heat

 

A little olive oil…

 

And salt & pepper

 

Voila!

 

Local Oven

People who know me would tell you that I’m passionate.  Intense, even.  Opinionated.  And I will admit to being all those things.  Sometimes too much so.  I try to keep it tamped down, but…  Some of it has probably come out in these pages.  One of the things that I’m quite passionate about is food.  And I believe that my disease has concentrated it.  I love food…eating it, cooking it, talking and writing about it, creating it.

I also seem to be passing that on.  My eldest son (eldest by 1 minute), got up from the table on the spur of the moment the other night and decided he was going to make a sauce.  He began putting it together and it wasn’t bad.  We perfected it the next day and plan on using it for some spicy chicken wings.  He loves the heat.  I’m glad to see him taking to cooking and hope he carries on the tradition.  He’s even getting much better about trying different foods and realizing none of them are going to kill him.  Of course he didn’t go as far as trying the mackerel eyeball that The Wife had me try the other night.  I was proud of myself though, I was able to spit the crunchy nastiness into the trash without the rest of my dinner following it.

Anyway, back to the passion.  I love food.  Which is why I don’t eat a lot of the gluten-free stuff out there.  There’s just no love in it.  It’s like my niece’s husband said upon trying a gluten-free cupcake:  “It tastes like somebody made these then sucked all the cupcake out of them”.  Exactly.

So I have essentially eschewed bread since I was diagnosed.  Other than using some Rudi’s to hold a burger together on occasion, I just don’t waste my time with it.  It’s not good, it doesn’t add anything to my life, and, in the case of the burger, really only serves as a structural component (I’ve tried eating the burgers without bread, but there’s just something about getting that bite with all the fixings together that can’t be replaced.  But I’ve also learned the joy of eating a cheeseburger patty with a little mayo and white rice.  Yummy).

That brings us to the topic at hand.  I attended the Gluten Free Expo last year in Dallas.  I took a baking class (one of two men in attendance) and toured the booths with The Wife.  They even had a buffet lunch.  The fact that I was able to walk into a hotel ballroom and walk up to the buffet and begin eating, without hunting down servers and handing them my little card explaining my condition so they could take it to the chef and he could come out and I could explain it to him so he could tell me what I could and could not eat…  Well, it was quite profound.  And the whole time I was filling my plate, I was, in the back of my mind, thinking, “I can’t do this”.  It was quite inspirational.

Among the booths were makers of beer, bread, pasta, cookies, and even more obscure marketers such as cleaning products and magazines.  The big boys were all there, of course; Rudi’s, Udi’s, Kinnikinnick, Bob’s Red Mill, etc.  Few of them really made an impression on me or The Wife.  However, there was one…

Local Oven was there with a small oven and handing out samples of their hamburger buns.  Their tag line was “there’s no gluten…and no one knows”.  Now, first of all, that caught my attention, because that is what I’m all about.  I’m not interested in foods that are “good for being gluten-free”, I’m interested in foods that are good.  Second, the sample of the bun was good.  It was a very small cube, and I’m quite skeptical, but it was good.  I was in no way convinced, but they certainly had my attention.

Now, when we went there, we were already toying with the dream of a gluten-free restaurant.  And when we found them we told ourselves at the time that it would be great if we were able to source a bread product that would satisfy the “regular” eaters.  We were also pleasantly surprised to find they really were local, located in a suburb of Dallas.  Of course, Dallas being what it is, their suburb was about a two-day drive from ours, but still, they weren’t on the west coast or something.  Then they told us they were in the process of relocating to an area of town very near us.  Hmmmmm.

We had kept them in mind all this time, and a few weeks ago, I looked them up to check their status and found a business article that they had rented space about a half hour from us.  Then, a few days ago, we got an email from them.  Apparently we had given them our contact information at the expo.  They were open for business.  A couple days later we were there.

We bought some hamburger buns, baguettes, bread crumbs, croutons, and tried some biscotti while we were there.  Now, I never was a huge fan of biscotti, so that wasn’t really the best way for me to judge their products, but I must say, it was like I remembered it, which was a good sign.

But what I want to talk about is hamburger buns.

I’m a big man.  And of big appetite.  Think John Goodman, the cyclops in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, except with two eyes.  And the gluten-free bread that I was used to, and especially the hamburger buns, wasn’t big enough to cover a White Castle burger.  And I remember being hopeful about Subway announcing they had gluten-free buns.  We stopped by to buy a bun (which we couldn’t do, of course – we had to buy a whole sandwich, even though I wasn’t going to eat it) and then went to Five Guys where we had them make me a burger without the bun and a large order of their killer fries.  I couldn’t wait to get home and eat a real fast-food burger again.  When I felt the bun in its little cellophane wrapper, I knew I was in trouble.  Hockey puck.  And when I took my first bite of the burger, the bun crumbled into a million pieces.

Last night, my son grilled some burgers for us (with his sauce!), and they were, by the way, excellent.  I took out my bun from Local Oven and toasted it with some butter (my experience has been that you need to give gluten-free bread as much help as possible).  I put some mayo on it and my cheeseburger patty.  Nothing else.  I wanted to test the bun.  Could it hold up?  Would it crumble under the pressure?  Would it detract from the juicy burger, or enhance it?  No help from any veggies, just a plain burger with mayo.

First, and most profound, was the feel of the bun in my hand.  It was soft.  I was able to hold this burger in my hand, squeeze the bun around it…and it felt like fresh bread.  If you’re not gluten-intolerant, you cannot begin to realize how incredible this moment was.  And I can’t explain it to you.  I felt guilty…afraid…like I was indulging in the most sinful, self-destructive act imaginable.  If this description seems over-the-top, stop eating bread for a couple of years, except for whatever frozen loaf you find at the health food store, and you’ll be able to relate.

Last night, I ate the first real cheeseburger I’ve had in two years.  The bun was big enough to cover the burger.  It was soft.  It tasted like bread.  And for the first time since I was diagnosed, I ate all the bread on my plate.  It wasn’t there just as a structural component, it was a part of the sandwich.  It was, in texture, taste, mouthfeel, and overall satisfaction…bread.  It was good.

I have heard or read so many times about so many things in the last two years, statements like “just as good as…” or “can’t tell the difference in…” relating to some gluten-free food or another.  And time and again these statements have proven so ridiculously absurd as to not even register anymore.  So I won’t use these turns of phrase that are so worn and hyperbolic.  I will only say that their tag line is absolutely true.  If you were to serve a guest a hamburger on that bun, they would never guess it was gluten-free or in any way different from the bread they are used to.  I cannot think of a higher compliment to bestow.  Thank you, Local Oven.