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Collected editorials

I am my own imaginary friend

It all sounds fishy to me

Slashdot reports:

“A recent study by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and Columbia University found that a piece of tuna sushi may not be tuna at all: ‘A piece of tuna sushi has the potential to be an endangered species, a fraud or a health hazard,’ wrote the authors. ‘All three of these cases were uncovered in this study.’ The study, published in PLoS ONE examined 68 samples of tuna sushi purchased from 31 restaurants in Manhattan (New York City) and Denver, Colorado. Some of these were from endangered species, others were not as labeled, and some were not tuna at all. Of these last 5 samples labeled as “white tuna” were from a toxic fish, Escolar, which is a gempylid species banned for sale in Italy and Japan due to health concerns. “It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms range from mild and rapid passage of oily yellow or orange droplets, to severe diarrhea with nausea and vomiting. The milder symptoms have been referred to as keriorrhea [i.e. flow of wax in Greek].” Fraud in sushi is not new; Slashdot also reported study on mislabeling in 2008. This new study shows that some sushi can actually make you sick. The study was also reported in Wired.”
I’m not surprised.

Easy as Pie

I am a chef of sorts – I have various dishes that I prepare from time to time, some of them rather tasty, and some, well, are what they are. However I am not much of a cook. A cook, a real cook, can throw a tasty meal together on short notice. Real cooks have technique. They can bake cakes and pies, make bread from scratch, and make gravy. Real cooks can do things like that. I admire them for that, but my aspirations do not reach that high. I am not a cook.

This summer I participated in the community garden. I put up fence, mulched, watered, planted and picked. Good boy, Richard. At the end of the season the avid gardeners and I harvested what remained. Somehow I ended with three pie pumpkins. That in itself was an enlightenment. I had not previously known that there was such a thing as a pie pumpkin. In my gardening career I’ve never bothered with punkins, squash, and gourds. They just aren’t my thing. None-the-less I ended up with three pie pumpkins.

One thing that confused me about these pumpkins is that they are little. I’m not into pumpkin lore; the only thing I really knew about pumpkins is that they are big and that you carve holes in them to make them look like a jaundiced Richard Nixon. Apparently what I knew wasn’t so. I seem to have that problem a lot. I’m still not clear on the concept. Are there different kinds of pumpkins or is it just that the little ones make the best pies? I trust that one of my readers will enlighten me on this matter.

One day, not long before Thanksgiving, Our Lady of the Large Black Dog informed me that I was making the pumpkin pies. From scratch. None of this pumpkin puree in a can stuff. I had pie pumpkins, and by God I was going to make pumpkin pie. Fortunately she had a recipe for pumpkin pie.

I must admit to using frozen pie crusts. Other than that it was strictly a from scratch proposition.

I cut the pumpkins in half, cleaned the seeds out, and baked them in the oven until they were soft. Then I scooped them out, mixed the orange goop with eggs, dairy products, and sundry spices. I disremember whether there was any sugar – probably since all recipes call for sugar – but I can look it up if anyone cares. Actually I worked with two recipes, one I got from the food channel and one I got from Deb. Since all recipes assume that you are starting from a container of pumpkin puree I had to adjust things here and there. We faux chefs are good at that sort of thing.

Eventually I had enough filling to make two pies. They went into the oven for the specified time and temperature and what do you know – they came out perfectly. Er, well almost perfectly. I didn’t have any powdered cinnamon. It turns out that you can sprinkle cinnamon on top of a cinnamonless pumpkin pie and it’s just as good, particularly if the pie is topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Everybody liked the pumpkin pies. I really getting into this baking thing. When I’m in my eighties I’m going to start making cakes.

If you must be surprised …

Recently the transit people put me through a driving course that included everything from recognizing signs of maltreatment in passengers to defensive driving. My favorite piece of advice is when entering an intersection, first look left, then right, then left again. Why look left twice? Very simply, if someone comes out of nowhere you want to make sure it’s not on your side of the vehicle.

We will all go together when we go

According to scientists the Yellowstone super volcano is somewhat larger than originally thought. When it blows it will take out even more of the United States than originally thought. I don’t worry about it though. If Yellowstone blows I’m toast anyway. As the Tom Lehrer song goes, “We will all go together when we go”.

Congratulations, Jacob

As I may have mentioned, the Rineharts are a rodeoing family that specializes in steer wrestling. Deb’s brother Brady was a steer wrestler until he blew out a knee. Sister Barbara has two sons, Randy and Todd who wrestle steers. Randy has been to the NFR, and Todd has set a record for the number of times he has been to the NFR. (The NFR is the National Finals Rodeo, where the cream of the rodeo circuit competes for big bucks.) Barbara’s daughter Jeriann is married to Beau Franzen, another steer wrestler. And then there is Brady’s son Jacob. Jacob has had a wonderful year. He was third highest steer wrestler in the world and did very well indeed in the NFR. (He was beaten out by two former world champions.) They’d better watch out; Jacob is closing up fast behind them.

The thing about steer wrestling is that the less time you spend wrestling a steer the more money you make. I’m thinking of taking up wrestling steers. My policy will be to not spend any time at all wrestling them.

Sugar: The bitter truth

One of the UCTV lectures is entitled “Sugar: The bitter truth”. It’s quite educational but not very reassuring. People tend to think of sugar as bad for your teeth and empty calories. It’s worse than that.

Table sugar is a bond of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. Glucose is fine; it’s blood sugar and it’s a basic energy molecule of life. When you consume glucose your body snaps it right up for use in your muscles and organs. About a quarter of it is sent to the liver where it is converted to glycogen for later use. Your body handles glucose very efficiently. Not only does it digest it efficiently, the digestion process triggers the release of hormones that tell you that you are full.

Fructose is another matter. Fructose goes straight to the liver. The exact pathways are different but the results are similar to metabolizing alcohol. Both are low grade chronic toxins. The body can handle modest amounts. The consequences of consuming large amounts over time are unpleasant. For fructose they include: Obesity, insulin resistance leading to type II diabetes, liver damage, arterial plaque, and chronic inflamation. Oh yes, glucose triggers the satiety response; fructose does not. In fact, it can act the other way, which is why Junior can consume a bottle of soft drink sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and then consume a McMonster burger.

Another endearing thing about fructose is that the end point of the digestion process is that the calories are deposited as fat. This is why low fat diets and low fat foods don’t work. The manufacturers of processed foods replace fat with sugar, HCF nowadays, and it goes to the same places.

What about High Fructose Corn Syrup? The trouble with HFC is not that it is worse than sucrose. After all, HFC is 45% glucose, 55% fructose whereas sucrose is 50% each. The trouble with HFC is (a) it is a lot cheaper than sucrose, and (b) it has properties that are convenient for the manufacturers of processed food. In HFC the glucose and fructose are not bound together. It turns out that free fructose is a good preservative for baked goods. Your bread, your burger and hotdog buns, your muffins, etc, are all laced with HFC so that they will last for days, even weeks or months and still be fresh. The stuff is all over the place.

But isn’t fructose natural? Isn’t it just fruit sugar? Well, yes, it’s natural in the same way that tobacco, alcohol, and deadly nightshade are all natural. Fruit is good for you because you get a little bit of fructose and a lot of fiber. The fiber more than makes up for the fructose. On the other hand, fruit juice is BAD for you – paricularly if it comes in a can. You are getting concentrated fructose minus the fiber.

So now you know. Me, I’m going to see if there is anything left in the candy dish.

Another late issue

This time in no particular order it was driving people to sundry places in South Dakota, Thanksgiving, baking pies, a bad cold, watching Jacob and Todd at the NFR, and going to driving school. One of these days I will get back on track. I swear I will.

This page was last updated December 15, 2009.

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Collected editorials