WTF? What happened to WTF?

September 20, 2008

There have been big changes over at my main blog, Blue Kitchen. It’s bigger, more robust and filled with even more resources for home cooks and two new posts every Wednesday. So with more than a little sadness, I’ll no longer be updating WTF? Random food for thought. or my other sidebar blog, What’s on the kitchen boombox?

As much as I loved writing them, they’ve just never gotten the kind of readership that warranted keeping them going. The second weekly post I mentioned above will pretty much take the place of WTF?, although in a more food-focused, less random sort of way. And every once in a while, when the right piece of music catches my ear, the kitchen boombox will turn up there.

I will leave these two blogs up, however. So anytime you want to poke around in the archives, please come back. I know I will on occasion. Thanks for reading! I hope to see you at Blue Kitchen.

Don’t forget—have a glass of wine

August 27, 2008

By now, you’ve probably guessed I’m a fan of wine. And yes, I liked it even before all the health benefits started piling up. But that’s why I take delight in passing along the latest findings.

The latest is research showing that “compounds commonly found in red wine and grape seeds may help treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.” Wine Spectator‘s Tina Benitez reported last week on the study conducted by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers tested non-lethal doses of grape seed extract on mice that had attributes of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Guilio Pasinetti, professor of neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and research leader on the study, “The grape seed extract was so beneficial that it almost completely prevented the typical characteristics of degeneration of the brain.” Clinical studies on humans will begin in a few months.

And that’s cool. But while I’m waiting for the results, I think I’ll stick to my own study of the benefits of a glass or two of wine a night.

Read the entire Wine Spectator article—“Grape Seeds May Combat Alzheimer’s”—here. Photo by Roberto Caucino.

Cholesterol, schmolesterol—eggs are good for you

August 20, 2008

Yes, eggs have cholesterol in them. But scientists now say that they also have something that blocks the absorption of that cholesterol. Since I’m writing about French toast this week in Blue Kitchen, it seemed like a good time to update this post I did about a year ago.

eggs.jpg

The people over at the American Egg Board need to get on the stick. Studies showed that wine in moderate amounts is good for you, especially red wine. Bingo. That story is everywhere. Winemakers are even trying to get legislation passed to tout the health benefits on labels.

Ditto chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Not only does it deliver antioxidants, which are good for your heart and arteries. Most of the fats in dark chocolate are the good kind like those found in olive oil, and even the bad ones appear to have a neutral effect on cholesterol. The chocolate marketing machine went to work and now, show of hands, who out there doesn’t know—at least on some level—that eating chocolate is actually good for you?

Well, back in 2001, nutrition researchers at Kansas State University published the first evidence that, even though eggs contain considerable amounts of cholesterol, the lecithin in eggs prevents the absorption of cholesterol from eggs and other sources too.

In 2004, a University of Connecticut report went further, stating that eating eggs is not related to body cholesterol levels or cardiovascular problems and recommending that “people with normal cholesterol levels and no family history of cardiovascular diseases should not worry about eating one or two eggs a day.”

How many of you knew that? Yeah, I thought so. The American Egg Board [still touting their innocuous “incredible edible egg” line, but only supporting it with the most timid, tepid information on their website] has been asleep at the wheel for seven years. There’s not word one about the cholesterol-blocking power of eggs. And all that while, we’ve all been quaking needlessly in our egg-white-omelet-eating boots.

To recap: Eggs good, not bad. Low in fat and calories, very high in quality protein. And most important, studies show that the lecithin in eggs actually prevents the absorption of cholesterol—not only from eggs, but from other sources.

So go eat some eggs. Have some dark chocolate. Wash it all down with some red wine. Just do it all in moderation—Oscar Wilde would have wanted it that way.

Coffee, wine and conflicting health stories

August 13, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure here, I don’t drink coffee. I’ve tried to acquire a taste a number of times, but the taste just doesn’t live up to the promise of the aroma. But when I saw a recent article on myths surrounding America’s favorite caffeine delivery system in the Health section of The New York Times, I was still interested.

In “Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions,” Jane E. Brody takes on a number of misconceptions about coffee and health, from hypertension to cancer to bone loss. And she gives it a refreshingly clean bill of health. Read the complete article here.

Wine and breast cancer:
The jury’s still out

I’ve written a number of times here about the various health benefits of drinking wine in moderation, from reduced stress to improved memory and heart health. But one troubling area has been the possible link of even moderate wine consumption to increased risk of breast cancer in women.

A recent article in Wine Spectator shows that the jury is indeed still out on this one. That the headline of the article by Jacob Gaffney, “Two Studies Look to Red Wine for Breast Cancer Prevention,” is followed by the subhead “Another study, however, finds drinking raises the risk” says it all.

While the one study “found that women who drink between one and three drinks a day had a 24 percent increased risk of breast cancer compared to nondrinkers,” two other studies point in the opposite direction. In fact, a report published in the July 2008 issue of Cancer Prevention Research found that “resveratrol [found in red wine] suppresses the metabolism of estrogen, thereby protecting cells from becoming cancerous, in one of many anti-breast cancer activities the red wine chemical exhibits.” Read the complete article here.

Photo credits: Coffee photo by Michael Kempf; wine photo by Bruce Shippee.

Food blogs: A deliciously masochistic pleasure

August 6, 2008

No one warned me when I started writing a food blog that one danger—as you write, talk and think about food more or less constantly—is a low-level hunger that is also pretty much constant. It always seems worst when I’m reading other food blogs. Even though I mainly try to do this during lunch, I can still feel ravenous, even as I’m stuffing my face.

Here are a few things some of the folks in my blogroll have tormented me with lately. The photos are all by the individual authors; blame them for any hunger pangs.

It’s been hella hot here in Chicago lately [and to all my friends in St. Louis, yes, I know it's worse there]. So when Susan over at Food Blogga made these gorgeous and reasonably guilt-free Skinny Berry Parfaits with fat free vanilla pudding, orange scented berries, and a crisp oat and almond mixture, I was so ready to dig in.

I gotta be honest with you. I’m not usually a big fan of lobster—too much work for too little pay off in my book. But when Jennifer over at Last Night’s Dinner said the magic word bacon as she discussed her Lobster Chopped Salad, I was hooked.

Was there ever a nobler, more versatile beast than the pig? Just think. From a single source, we get the aforementioned bacon, ham, chops, roasts and a dazzling array of sausages. We also get these amazing sounding Pork Paillards with Summer Tomato Sauce, as prepared by Christina over at A Thinking Stomach.

If you’re even a semi-regular at Blue Kitchen, you know we love spicy here. And as much as we try to take it easy on fried food, when it’s done right there’s nothing better [in small doses]. Mike over at Mike’s Table does it right, with his Creole Beer Battered Fish Fry.

And finally. I started with something sweet and I’ll end on another sweet note. Blueberry pancakes by Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. Deb not only gives you a recipe for these beauties—she gives you ten tips for making pancakes. Pancake 101, as she calls it.

I’ve not even scratched the surface here. Prowl all the links on my blogroll. Then prowl the links on theirs. Just make sure you’ve got something to eat close at hand.

Dancing like crazy can help keep you sane

July 23, 2008

Marion and I like to dance. A lot. So imagine my delight when I read that it’s good for you too. Even goofy dancing, like Matt Harding’s. And I’m not talking the expected cardio benefits. According to an article by Tara Parker-Hope in The New York Times, a “2003 New England Journal of Medicine report showed a lower risk for dementia among people over 75 who regularly danced during leisure time.” And even more surprising, “other types of physical exercise didn’t affect dementia risk—dancing was the only physical activity that made a difference.”

So read Ms. Parker-Hope’s “Dance Even if Nobody is Watching.” Then do it. And if you need a little proof that even you can dance, watch this wonderful video.

Oh, and if you need something to dance to right now, head on over for a mini-Blue Kitchen dance party courtesy of YouTube at What’s on the kitchen boomox?

101 picnic dishes, mayo safety & food memories

July 16, 2008

Here’s a quick look at a few food-related things I’ve read recently:

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman calls himself the Minimalist. But he’s anything but minimal when it comes to his popular lists—his favorite number seems to be 101. Take, for example, his latest list, just in time for summer picnics, “101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics.”

As with all his lists, these are not 101 full-blown recipes; Bittman just gives you the basic idea for a dish and leaves you plenty of room to make it your own. Here is the complete entry for combining tomatoes and peaches for a lively sounding salad: “TOMATOES AND PEACHES Toss together sliced seeded tomatoes and peaches, along with thinly sliced red onion and chopped cilantro or rosemary. Dress at the last minute with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.”

It’s a long list, but he helpfully breaks it up into 10 bite-sized chunks, including Raw Vegetables, Fruit, Seafood, Sandwiches and Desserts. There’s even a Printable List of all 101. I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to mine this list all summer long.

Mayonnaise: It’s not part of the problem, it’s part of the solution.

Summertime is a time for potato salads, chicken salads and other yummy foods all calling for mayonnaise. And with all the aforementioned picnicking going on, with it’s relaxed approach to refrigeration, it’s also a time to worry about food safety.

For just about forever, mayonnaise has been thought to be a culprit, a germ factory promoting and accelerating all kinds of nasty bacterial growth. Well, according to a recent article by Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times [brought to my attention by a post on SnagWireMedia—thanks!], mayo can actually help fight the growth of bacteria. That’s because most commercial mayonnaise contains vinegar and other acidic ingredients which may help protect against spoilage. According to the Times article, “One prominent study published in The Journal of Food Protection found, for example, that in the presence of commercial mayonnaise, the growth of salmonella and staphylococcus bacteria in contaminated chicken and ham salad either slowed or stopped altogether.”

That’s not to say that you should set all your perishables out in the full sun, then head off to play beach volleyball for hours [I'm personally opposed to playing beach volleyball under any circumstances]. But you don’t have to treat dishes containing mayonnaise like hazardous waste. If anything, it’s good to know that the mayo’s got your back.

Food: Eat, Memory

If food were only about fuel and sustenance, there wouldn’t be chefs or home cooks. Or food blogs, for that matter. There would just be armies of nutritionists creating vacuum-packed, vitamin enriched food cubes.

But food is much more than fuel. It is, as renowned food editor Judith Jones so rightly said, “one of the greatest gifts of life.” Ann over at A Chicken in Every Granny Cart first made me aware of the above quote. I immediately printed it out and stuck it on our fridge. I read it almost every day. And I believe it thoroughly every time I do.

Marion recently shared an article in The New York Times Magazine with me that absolutely shows the power food has to evoke memories, to reach down inside us and to open us up to new experiences. Allen Shawn’s moving essay, “Food: Eat, Memory—Family Meal,” isn’t a saccharin Norman Rockwellian remembrance. It begins with a very non-sugar coated statement: “For my sister, Mary, who has lived in a Maryland institution for the mentally retarded since she was 8, there’s no hiding the fact that food is central.”

Shawn goes on to tell of Mary, now 59 and suffering from autism, mental retardation and elements of schizophrenia, anticipating and reciting the menu of the birthday lunch she expected each year, unchanged since her teens. In 2005, their mother was near death and unable to travel to the summer home that had been the unchanging venue for the birthday lunch. So Mary was brought to the family’s Manhattan apartment for the first time since she was eight, and in addition to the expected menu, some new dishes were added. Everyone prepared for the worst. Instead, they got what Shawn called a miracle. He was right. Read this wonderful article.

Word on the street: Sidewalk poetry

July 9, 2008

Like most big cities, Chicago has its share of graffiti. Most of it is mindless tagging, the annoying human equivalent of animals spraying their scent to mark their territory. Only this is done with spray paint or markers or—in the latest defacement innovation—acid that actually etches into plate glass and has to be ground and polished out. This is vandalism, pure and simple.

But there’s a much more creative side to graffiti that, if it doesn’t exactly make me ready to forgive taggers, maybe causes me to adopt something of a philosophical “take the good with the bad” attitude. Most famously, graffiti has given us artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It also gives us random poignant moments like this piece, spotted downtown last winter, near Columbia College:

And on a grander scale, this piece done with stencils and spray paint by graffiti stencil artist Peat Wollaeger:

Most recently, graffiti gave me a bit of street poetry. Well, sidewalk poetry, to be more exact. Walking up to the Bucktown offices of the ad agency where I work one morning, I saw a seemingly random word stenciled onto the sidewalk. And then another. And another. When I explored later, I discovered there were 38 words in all, in 29 groupings, spaced out over two city blocks. Someone or a group of someones had cut out these stencils and, in the wee-est of the wee, small hours of the morning [Bucktown and neighboring Wicker Park are infested with late night bars], had applied a poem to the streets of Chicago. Here it is:

Small Bites: Drink, eat, look and watch right

July 2, 2008

Need a reason to drink more tea? How about 33 reasons?

One of the cool things about food blogging is that you don’t always have to find stories. Sometimes they find you. Recently, Fiona at NursingDegree.Net wrote to tell me of an article that had been posted on their blog, “33 Health Benefits of Drinking Tea.” Their impressive list includes some of the usual suspects, like the fact that teas contain antioxidants and can create a calmer but more alert state of mind. But did you know that tea can lower stress hormone levels, protect bones, lower cholesterol and help keep your skin acne-free? I didn’t.

Read all 33 reasons to drink more tea—you’ll find some big surprises and even bigger benefits. Then go drink some.

Breaking news from The New York Times: We don’t eat as healthy as we should.

In Monday’s Health section, Tara Parker-Pope tells us about The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating. This is a short list compiled from nutritionist Dr. Johnny Bowden’s The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why. And while the list includes hardworking choices like cabbage and beets, it contains some fun foods, like pumpkin seeds and cinnamon.

Look good while you cook, eat and drink right.

For no reason I can think of, we only just discovered the Chicago Antique Market last weekend. Held the last Saturday and Sunday of each month May through October, it offers an amazing array of antiques and collectibles at reasonable prices. It’s also home to the Indie Designer Market, where we met Peg of TAYGA. They say successful companies find a niche. TAYGA’s niche is aprons custom tailored from designer fabrics. A more fashion-savvy eye than mine [Marion's] recognized some of the fabric as being from designer Amy Butler.

These are no Auntie Em aprons here. They have cleavage, for crying out loud. And they’re reversible, so you get two looks for the price of one. I’m happy to report they also make cleavage-free versions for men and kids. You can check them all out here.

Emeril returns with a “Bam!”

Being quite possibly the last person in the known universe who doesn’t have cable, I didn’t know that Emeril Live had been cut from the Food Network last year. But now Sienna from Fine Living Network has written to let me know that Emeril is returning to TV—”Bam!” and all. You can catch new episodes seven days a week starting July 7. In the meantime, you can catch some preview clips and videos right here.

A simple, elegant, summery dessert

June 25, 2008

Summer entertaining is all about light, easy and relaxed. But the meals you serve your guests still need to have style. So today I’m revisiting a simple, stylish dessert that I posted sometime back, Rosemary Apricots. Think of it as a second helping.

Apricots are in season right now. With a little sugar, a little water, fresh rosemary and about ten minutes in the kitchen, you can turn them into a light, sophisticated French dessert. I adapted the recipe from Laura Calder’s French Food at Home. And while it’s a delightful finish to a summer dinner, I like it so much that I’ve been known to overpay for apricots out of season to serve it in winter.

You’ll find the original post and recipe right here.


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