Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

You say “tomato”—I say “salmonella”

June 11, 2008

Salmonella is usually viewed as a problem in meat, particularly chicken. But last year, there was the lettuce salmonella and E. Coli scare, involving bagged lettuce. And this year, it’s tomatoes and salmonella.

Yep, just as it’s getting to be prime tomato season, they’re being yanked from supermarket shelves. Fast food chains from McDonald’s to Chipotle have also pulled them from their menus. About 150 people in nine states have been sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes, and at least one death has been linked to the outbreak.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Salmonella is characterized by diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that occur within 12 to 72 hours of infection … While most people do not need treatment, the disease can be dangerous to infants, elderly people and those with impaired immune systems.”

Large tomatoes, including Roma and round red, are suspected of carrying the strain Salmonella sereotype Saintpaul. Red plum tomatoes also may be affected.

So what tomatoes are safe to eat? First and foremost, homegrown tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes, such as cherry and grape tomatoes are also safe. But if you crave big tomato taste, go for tomatoes sold on the vine. As I’ve written before, the vine continues to supply nutrients to the tomatoes in the store, making them more flavorful. I suspect that the vines themselves don’t protect the tomatoes from salmonella; I’m guessing it’s more the growing and processing conditions.

So enjoy your tomatoes this season, but just shop carefully. And as always, wash your produce before eating it.

RIP, The Spindle: Big art in Berwyn dies

May 7, 2008

Last fall I wrote about an unusual landmark in suburban Chicago that was threatened with demolition. Sadly, it fell last week, another victim of progress, if yet another Walgreens can be deemed progress. We learned about it first at Curious Feet St. Louis. Be sure to read this brief, heartfelt post. You’ll also find links there to photos and video of the demolition. Here’s my original post:

We bought a new bed this weekend out in the western suburbs of Chicago. Some assembly required, of course. The two boxes it came in, one of them 76 inches long, meant that even with our back seat folded down, the trunk would be partially open, secured by a bungee cord. To me, that meant taking surface streets instead of the expressway.

And that meant driving through Berwyn, Illinois. Berwyn is a working class suburb of Chicago and the butt of a long-running joke for a local TV celeb and bad horror movie host [I’ll wait while all Chicagoans do their best Son of Svengoolie impersonation: “BER-wyn?!?”].

It’s also, at least for now, home of The Spindle. Created in 1989 by California artist Dustin Shuler, it has given many people a reason to visit less than glitzy Cermak Plaza [to me, the way cool vintage mall sign is another].

But if you’d like to see The Spindle, you’d better visit Cermak Plaza soon. It is likely to be moved—and possibly demolished—soon to make way for a Walgreens. Yeah, we really need another one of those in the Chicago area. The national drugstore chain is headquartered here, and they loooove to build in their hometown. If you walk or drive five or six blocks in any direction without passing a Walgreens—or the site of a future Walgreens—you’ve probably somehow accidentally left Chicago. But for some reason, a Walgreens is urgently needed, right where The Spindle now stands.

The Spindle is not without its supporters, though. There’s a grassroots organization, complete with a Save The Spindle website. And the Illinois State Senate has passed a resolution to save The Spindle. If enough funds are raised, it could be moved elsewhere on the parking lot and have needed restoration work done by the artist. But as with most noble human endeavors, details of any such effort are a little sketchy and more than a little messy—questions of copyright and marketing and control [aka follow the money].

So your best bet is to get out there now and see it. Oh. And while you’re in Berwyn, be sure to check out the world’s largest laundromat, with 161 washers and 140 dryers, a kids’ play area, big screen TVs, a bird sanctuary [speaking of WTF?] and free pizza on Wednesday nights.

Alas, it is now gone. And the world is just a little bit blander.

New, new, new: Dance, art and a restaurant

April 23, 2008

“New.” There’s just something enticing—something promising—about that word.

Last week, we got a triple dose of new, starting Monday with a lucky find in the Chicago Reader.

New Dance. There’s plenty of wonderful dance to be had in Chicago. The always exciting Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has been a fixture here since its founding in 1974. And the Joffrey Ballet made Chicago its home in 1995. Numerous smaller companies also flourish here.

But where do all the new dancers and choreographers come from? Where do they build their skills and try out their ideas? One answer is Dance Chance, a new program produced by DanceWorks Chicago and hosted at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

Once a month, Dance Chance offers three rising choreographers 15 minutes each in a one-hour program to share some of their latest work. The final 15 minutes provides an opportunity for the artists and audience to discuss the performances. At the end of the show, three new choreographers’ names are drawn from a fish bowl for the next performance—hence the “chance.”

The choreographers for the April 14 performance were Christopher McCray, Monique Haley and Dario Gabriel Mejia. Their works and styles were all quite different, but all quite polished. And their dancers did the works justice, displaying poise, grace and amazing athleticism.

Most of the audience of 50 or so seemed to be made up of other dancers and choreographers. And everyone was thrilled to witness all this exciting new work. I know we were. And we’ll be back for the next performance May 12.

New Art. Twice a year, the students of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago get a real gut check on how they’re doing, in the form of a two-day sale of their wares.

The Spring Art Sale last Friday and Saturday featured the work of more than 120 current students, all for sale, in the school’s historic ballroom on South Michigan Avenue. The work was diverse—a mix of jewelry, paintings, sculpture, photography, prints, multimedia and even fashion. Some of it felt like the kind of stuff produced for class assignments, but some was genuinely exciting, work that gave you the sense of a young artist actively pursuing his or her vision. And the prices were quite reasonable—sometimes even bargain basement.

There were of course any number of things that caught our eye. But in the end, we narrowed it down to this piece of ceramic sculpture by Erin McGarry. Not sure if it says more about us as ornithology lovers or pigeon haters.

New Food. Does anyone need to be told that the restaurant business is a risky one, that more new restaurants fail than succeed? So it’s that much cooler to see a wonderful place like mado get off to such a great start. When we went there on Friday night after the art sale, it had been open exactly two days. I know it takes a while to work out all the little bugs in any new endeavor, especially a restaurant. So I was prepared to overlook them. Only none happened. The food was impeccable; Marion called the lamb loin with toasted garlic and olives, cooked on their formidable wood grill, the best lamb she’s ever eaten. Of course everything our party of four ordered was perfect. The service was friendly and welcoming, the atmosphere relaxing and conducive to conversation.

mado is owned by a husband and wife team of self-professed green-market dorks, Rob and Allison Levitt. Their menu states simply, “At mado, we strive to use responsibly raised local products; mado proudly supports Chicago farmers’ markets.” And they mean it. When we ordered ramps as one of our appetizers, we were told that the farmer was stuck in traffic on his way to the restaurant with them. Our server later let us know they’d arrived; even though we were mid-entrée by then, we ordered some. It was worth the wait.

As impressive as the food was, so were the affordable prices. By the time the four of us were done, we’d ordered four appetizers, four entrées, four sides, four desserts and two coffees. The grand total before tip was a modest $125. They don’t have a liquor license yet, so you can bring your own wine, making meals an even better deal.

If you’d like to know more about mado and Rob and Allison Levitt, there’s an excellent article in a recent issue of New City Chicago. The article is why we were there on the second night they were open. The food is why we will be back again and again.

mado 1647 North Milwaukee, 773/342-2340

1.67 cents for your thoughts

February 20, 2008

lincoln-penny.jpg

Next year will be the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. It will also be the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, first minted in 1909. If it lives that long.

Lately, there are renewed cries for its demise. First, I saw an article in the New York Times last week. Then there was a commentary on NPR this week. And their arguments are sound enough, I guess. First, what can you buy for a penny these days? Nothing. In fact, the government can’t even buy a penny for a penny these days—in the last fiscal year, it cost them 1.67¢ to produce one.

But while I’m the first to admit I hate it when too many pennies find their way into my pocket change, I’m not so ready to see them go away. First, its demise would be license for everyone in the retail supply chain to round up their prices. A little plastic doodad that a manufacturer charges a distributor 32¢ for, for instance—think he’ll round down to 30¢? Right. Then the distributor rounds up as he marks it up for the retailer, who rounds up as he sells it to you. Suddenly, the death of the penny has cost you a dime.

And if the penny goes away, what’s to protect the nickel? This 5-cent piece currently costs the government 9.5¢ to produce, an even worse bargain than the penny.

On a less practical level, but just as important—and maybe more so—I like carrying around a portrait of our greatest president. It’s nice to have this constant, tangible, reassuring reminder of great leadership, particularly these days.

By the way, that building on the back of the penny is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. You probably knew that. But did you know that if you look at it closely with a magnifying glass, you can see the seated statue of Lincoln in the middle? When I first found that out as a kid, I thought it was really, really cool. I still do.

But even if the penny survives, that feature is doomed. As the Times article states, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, “The United States Mint plans to issue four new designs for the penny’s reverse side, each representing a different phase of Lincoln’s life.”

Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the penny after all.

Drink to your health. Really.

August 15, 2007

wine_spectator2.jpgFor those of you who’ve been living in a cave the last few years, it turns out drinking wine in moderation not only isn’t bad for you—it’s good for you. For the rest of you who already knew this, here are some specifics I’ll bet you didn’t know.

The folks at Wine Spectator magazine, being no fools, have paid close attention to the whole health benefits issue concerning wine. At their website, you’ll find article after article on the topic. You can even sign up for their Wine & Healthy Living email newsletter. I did and here are some of the things I’ve learned.

The best wines to fight heart disease. All wines offer some benefits in fighting heart disease—so do all alcohols, for that matter. But it’s generally acknowledged that the tannins in red wines provide the most benefits. This Q&A explains how to choose the best reds for the job.

Sulfites in wines. Nearly all wines contain sulfites, some of it naturally occurring. They prevent bacterial growth. Unless you’re among the tiny percentage of the population allergic to sulfites, they shouldn’t pose a problem. This Q&A has more information.

Moderation, moderation, moderation. More than one or two glasses of wine a day quickly erodes any health benefits—and can indeed create health risks. But how much wine is a glass of wine? With all those supersized wine glasses out there these days, it’s hard to tell. This Q&A spells it out for you.

And finally, gargling with merlot? According to recent research, both red and white wines kill bacteria that cause tooth decay, periodontal disease and strep throat. And unlike Listerine, you don’t have to rinse and spit wine. Read the complete article here.

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