June 2011

Can Artificial Sweeteners Actually Increase the Likelihood of Weight Gain?

Diet drinks and weight gain.


I openly admit that I it was easier for me to quit smoking than it was for me to quit diet sodas. In the health-conscious area of the United States where I live, drinking a Diet Coke gets me almost as many nasty looks as smoking a cigarette once did. I wrote HERE about my own Diet Coke addiction and the dangers of artificial sweeteners and just read TODAY that drinking Diet Coke or anything containing artificial sweeteners can add pounds to your waistline.

5 Ramen Observations

Ramen: the butt of so many culinary jokes. (And rightfully so.) Ramen is the canonical food of college students: it's cheap, high in calories, and easy to prepare.

1. Cultural Stigmas Re: Ramen and Poverty
For some reason, culturally we stigmatize college students as Ramen-eaters, and not the working poor. The working poor we stigmatize as being consumers of McDonalds and of candy bars. I don't think I've ever heard someone make a ramen joke about poor people. Doritos, Little Debbie, and McDonalds? Sure. But not so much ramen.

Supporting local food initiatives is a necessary trend

Supporting local foods is a trend at which comedians often poke fun.  The series Portlandia created a hipster couple so interested in the chicken dinner’s upbringing they had to move onto the cultish farm to learn about the bird’s heritage. 

All joking aside, supporting local foods is a trendy thing to do, but is also increasingly important.  With the influence of mega-farms, corporatized food production and the obesity epidemic, buying local food gives consumers a degree of control over what they eat impossible with other options.  Threatened by all of the alternatives, local farmers and restaurateurs need all the support they can get.  But supporters of local foods benefit, too; they get to see what goes into their food, notice an improvement in their health and teach their children that the hot dog is not a type of farm animal. 

Here are some of the progressions of local food this year:

Community Supported Agriculture:  For this local produce, families or groups of people sign up to have a box full of local and seasonal produced, usually vegetables and fruit, delivered directly to them a few times each year.  A farmer offers a share to the public and then consumers buy a membership or subscription to receive the goods so many times per year.  Started over twenty years ago, today, more than 4,000 farms in the United States participate in the CSA program.

The Best Kitchen Tools for Fighting Off the Undead

Arm yourself against the zombie hordes with these handy utensils


When the zombie apocalypse befalls us, hordes of desperate survivors will be raiding the gun stores. You, scrawny nerd that you are, won't stand a chance at landing a Glock. Let's face it--when the pandemic arrives, no one is going to be civil about it. It'll be a full-on survival of the fittest hardcore challenge, and you're not going to come out on top by sheer strength. You haven't lifted a weight since gym class in high school and your New Year's resolution to run more often lasted until you realized that it was cold out there in the great outdoors. You're slow and you're weak and you don't even have a car that you're sure can go above 90 anymore. What's a geek to do in the apocalyptic aftermath?

Barbeque causes a groundswell of regional American pride

Which region's BBQ is best?

Perfected everywhere from Texas to North Carolina to Kansas City, barbeque is one of the most American of food traditions.  Smokey, sweet, spicy—creating the perfect blend and the “ultimate” in barbeque recipes is a matter of regional pride amongst barbeque aficionados. What is the history of this epitome of summertime foods?  What is it about this particular sticky, sauce-coated delicacy that inspires so much pride in one’s hometown?  Here’s a brief history of barbeque:

--It must be cooked over a wood fire.  Any piece of meat smothered with barbeque sauce does not make it barbeque.  Some barbequing techniques call for up to 18 hours of smoking. 

--The word might have come from the Spanish “barbacoa,” but nobody knows for sure.  When the Spanish landed in Caribbean, they supposedly coined the natives’ meat slow-cooked over a wooden platform “barbacoa.” Others say the word is Haitian or that it originated from a tribe in Guyana that spit-roasted its captured victims. 

--Pork is the meat of barbeque.  In the late 19thcentury South, pigs and corn were the most prominent ingredients available.  So, pork was used for barbeque and corn bread became the side dish of choice.

--Because the cuts of meat required for it were cheap, poor Southern blacks clung to barbeque.And took it with them when they moved north.  They ate it with fried okra and sweet potatoes.  

--Barbeque is the great equalizer.  In the 19thcentury, politicians used huge barbeques to win over their constituents.  Featuring lemonade and whiskey, voters of all classes would attend these barbeques.

--Barbeque shack restaurants.  Early barbeque restaurants were exceedingly simple, consisting of a barbeque shack with a bare concrete floor and corrugated tin roofs and walls.  These shacks were often only open on weekends, but each “pit man” developed difficult and personal techniques for his sauce and for roasting his hogs. 

--Later in the 20thcentury, three types of barbeque restaurants evolved from the barbeque shacks.  The first was black-owned, the second was upscale urban white and the last were white “joints.” Still, blacks and whites of all classes frequented all three varieties of barbeque restaurant before the 1950’s and segregation.

--Memphis. Memphis barbeque is a pulled pork-shoulder with a sweet, tomato sauce that is eaten either on its own or in a sandwich. 

--Kansas City.The only Midwestern barbeque specialty, Kansas City barbeque consists of ribs cooked with a dry rub. 

--North Carolina.These southerners smoke the whole pig in a vinegar sauce.

--Texas.Texans shirk the pork tradition and grill beef mesquite style.

--The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.  Held in Memphis every year, barbeque chefs from around the world come to Tennessee to prove that their recipe is the best. Visitors can act as judges and eat the best barbeque the world has to offer.  The Championships also host the Cooker Caravan, where visitors can get the latest tips on cooking barbeque, and Ms. Piggie Idol, a men-only beauty contest, in which contestants dress in tutus and pig noses and sing songs with barbeque-related lyrics.   

The Disgruntled Food Critic: 7-Eleven Extravaganza

Philosophers spend their time debating lofty topics like the essence of morality, the existence of the afterlife and the ethics of ecology, which is all well and good, but maybe they ought to turn their attention to certain aspects of everyday life. Take the 7-Eleven convenience store chain. Let it be known that 7-Eleven is the king of all franchise businesses. There is no company in the world with more stores than 7-Eleven, not even McDonald's. There is at least one store in 18 countries around the world and a truly staggering number per capita in its chief markets of its homeland in the United States and the country of its current owner, Japan. As such a pervasive corporate entity, 7-Eleven has plenty of branded products it uses to compete with many of the items in its regular stock. A lot of these are "private label" products, essentially items made by another company and licensed to the retailer under a different name, while others are straight homebrew. Here's a rundown and review of a few of the store-brand items that feed millions of people worldwide every single day.

Yixing Teapots Part Two: Where to Purchase an Yixing Pot

In Part One of this series on Chinese Yixing clay teapots I discussed a some general information about Yixing clay ware and tried to nip some common misconceptions in the bud.  As the series continues, I’d like to explore the sometimes difficult task of choosing and purchasing a good Yixing pot.  To start, let’s talk about some good sources for quality Yixing ware.