Mmmm, brains.

It’s not what you think.

We had our office holiday lunch today at Bistro d’Oc.[1]
Brains were on special.
I got to say to Johanna, “Do you want to split some brains?” to which she replied, “Yeah, that would be great”–not one of your more usual conversations, I think you’ll agree. (Well, outside the context of a zombie invasion, obviously.)
They were lamb brains with lemon and capers and noisette butter, and they were a fine thing indeed.
Johanna cheerfully admits to suggesting Bistro d’Oc for the holiday lunch “because they serve offal.” I was most impressed that several of our less-culinarily-adventurous coworkers tried a little bit of brains (“Can I taste your brains?”). I don’t think they’ll ever order them on purpose, but they didn’t spit them out or anything. (Hilariously, later in the meal, I did have to spit out a little bit of fig spread. I’m twitchy about figs at the best of times, and I was expecting it to be tapenade. Blick.)

[1] I’m kind of mystified by the online reviews of Bistro d’Oc, many of which are savage. We had a 12-person holiday lunch (reservations for 14, but two couldn’t make it). When we arrived, the room was set up with two tables–one of 6 and one of 8. Our executive director asked the waiter if he could rearrange the tables so we could all sit together. He did so. He recommended gorgeous and inexpensive wines and described them accurately. He knew what went into everything on the menu. It’s a bistro, and it does it well. It’s not a high-end haute cuisine celebrity chef experience, but if you know your charcuterie and succulent cheeses and duck confit, it’s good for what ails you . I feel as though a lot of the reviewers don’t understand what a French bistro is; either they don’t like French food, or they were actually looking for a bar.

The joy of variety

Tiny Garnet sweet potatoes are much, much yummier than big ol’ Beauregard sweet potatoes.
Also, re. the “yam” vs. “sweet potato” question: This has bothered me for ages, and this is a summary of my informal research:

YAMS (from Wolof “nyam” meaning “to taste”) are a food plant grown across Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania. The tubers involved are often ginormous, and they have oxalic acid (an irritant) in their skins. They don’t look anything like sweet potatoes to me, except for the general shape and starchiness.

SWEET POTATOES are a food plant grown across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, Asia, and parts of Oceania. Some varieties (mostly the very-orange ones) are colloquially called “yams” in the U.S. and Canada; speculation is that this is a linguistic transfer from kidnapped Africans who stuck the word “nyam” on the closest parallel big starchy tuber widely grown in the American South.

So, it’s not wrong to call a sweet potato a yam; it just might get you the wrong thing if you’re in an international market.

HFCS rant.

Here’s my contribution to the massive blogospheric response to the “Sweet Surprise” pro-high fructose corn syrup ads. HFCS is not a food choice I would make. I think that “food” should be “something you can figure out how to make yourself, in a normal kitchen, starting from pieces of plants and/or animals.” (Admittedly, I don’t know how to make baking soda, but then, I use it mostly as a cleaning product.)

I also feel strongly that food should be artisanal, not industrial. I was waiting for a freight train to pass at the intersection of Seminary Road and Capital View, and I was watching the cars go by, and I got a bit alarmed at one point by the progression of petroleum product-petroleum product-some kinda sulfate-some kinda sulfate-petroleum product-corn syrup-corn syrup. Just kinda freaked me out.

This is a “best of all possible worlds” rant. I’m not naive. I know I’m privileged beyond the dreams of most humans ever in history in terms of the options available to me in choosing food. I don’t think everyone in the world (or even everyone in my neighborhood) has regular, affordable access to fresh fruit and vegetables and protein sources; I just think they should. I’d rather see social changes to encourage that than corporate profit-driven monoculture schemes to feed the burgeoning masses as cheaply as possible, and the stockholders as richly as possible. It’s a giant weird Malthusian/Hieronymus Bosch nightmare to me, the way economics and agriculture have twisted around each other.

The ads say it’s “made from corn”.
Well, yes, in a way.
But it’s not made from corn in the same way as, for example, maple syrup is made from maple trees.
Maple Syrup:
Step 1- Tap tree.
Step 2- Boil sap.

Corn Syrup:
Step 1- Mix dried corn kernels with water and sulfur dioxide for a day or two.
Step 2- Grind up the corn.
Step 3- Separate the germ (oily part) from the pulp (starchy/protein/fiber part) using a centrifuge.
Step 4- Filter off the fiber with some more milling and screening.
Step 5- Centrifuge the remainder, to separate the gluten from the starch.
Step 6- Keep diluting and centrifuging the starch mixture up to 14 times to make sure you’ve got just starch. (I’m pretty sure I could handle this recipe myself up to this point, but I don’t have the right screens and I don’t know where to get sulfur dioxide.)
Step 7- Get some bacteria (Bacillus sp., but I don’t know what the sp. stands for) to make some alpha amylase (that’s an enzyme that occurs naturally in saliva and pancreatic juices).
Step 8- Mix the alpha amylase with the starch. This breaks it down into polysaccharides. I guess if you were trying to do this at home, you could spit in it.
Step 9- Get some aspergillus fungi to make you someglucoamylase.
Step 10- Mix the glucoamylase with the polysaccharide solution. This gets you glucose.
Step 11- Get some D-xylose isomerase. (I don’t know where you get this, or how it’s made.)
Step 12- Mix the D-xylose isomerase with the glucose. This gets you a mixture of about 42 percent fructose and 50-52 percent glucose (and some other sugars).
Step 13- Using liquid chromatography, get your fructose level up to 90%. (I don’t think you can get a liquid chromatograph setup for the home kitchen. Not even at Sur La Table.)
Step 14- Blend some of your 90% fructose with the 42% fructose/52% glucose so you have a 55% fructose solution. (SAT mixture problems, anyone?)

So, corn syrup is sort of made from corn. But I’d argue that it’s made from corn even less than Velveeta is made from milk. (Acknowledged: Beer and cheese are produced in multi-stage processes involving bacteria and/or fungus, too. Also acknowledged: I don’t know what liquid chromatography is, and it probably isn’t scary.)

And it makes rats’ hearts get really big. (I couldn’t find a proper scientific study that actually says their hearts exploded, but this study says “fructose feeding induced significant increases in…left ventricular weight.”)

Ecoguilt parameters, continued

Eating local good; eating veggies better.
This article from Science News discusses the various sources of greenhouse emissions in the farm-to-table chain.
Sadly, the online version does not include the fab pie chart from the print version, but you’ll get the idea: eating less beef and dairy does more to reduce your ecoguilt total than only buying local.
I guess it’s time to start phasing out the lattes…

A retraction, and a recommendation.

Retraction: I’d like to take back the mean thing I said about tilapia the other day. Not the “bamboo of fish” part; the “I’d rather eat tofu” part. On Monday I made a dredge out of ground flax seeds and coriander (seed) and orange peel, and dipped the fish in egg white and then in the dredge, and baked it, and put it in the fridge. Yesterday I heated/crisped it up in a frying pan and ate it over a spinach and grapefruit salad, and it was very very delicious. Also, a tilapia filet is a very nice convenient 4-oz portion.

Recommendation: Need any really cool animals made out of junk?

Unlike the Immortal Sablefish?

“It is a slow-growing species, extremely vulnerable to mortality,” says Leonard.


As opposed to all those immortal fishes??

Sure, he’s saying that a species with lots of fast-growing, fast-to-reproduce individuals have less of a problem with mortality, as a species. That’s why no-one is complaining about the overfishing of krill. It just struck me as funny. What with pretty much every known species being vulnerable to mortality, as far as I know.

How this happened: I was in Whole Foods yesterday looking for halibut (because it’s high in magnesium and therefore good for my joints), but halibut’s apparently out of season, and I got suckered into buying some Chilean sea bass because it had a “sustainable fisheries” sticker on it and looked the most like halibut of anything there. Then I felt guilty because of the whole fishing thing in general and the Chilean sea bass thing in particular, so I looked it up and found the above quote which, perversely, made me feel better about the whole thing. I feel guilty about buying fish, generally. Except for the ultra-sustainable tilapia (which I think of as the bamboo of fish). But who wants to eat tilapia all the time? Bland. Not so much with the Omega-3s. A bit on the pointless side. May as well eat tofu. (In fact, I’d usually rather eat tofu than tilapia.)

Plus, today I discovered that despite halibut being at the very top of the “high in magnesium” foods list, there are no other fish on there at all. So the whole magnesium justification is out, and I should just eat spinach instead.