Archive for July, 2008

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.