Sugar Taxes, or who’s my sugar daddy?

Senate leaders are considering new federal taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to help pay for an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system. The Federal government already adds taxes to alcohol and cigarettes to help pay for health care. So why not tax sugary drinks also? After all, they obviously aren’t good for you. And shouldn’t anything that discourages their consumption, plus adds dollars to our health care funds, be seen as a good thing?

Well, I’d say, not so fast. Oh, let me proclaim loud and clear, that I don’t think people should be drinking so many sugary drinks. It really isn’t good for anyone. And ultimately does just lead to higher health care costs. So, why not tax them to help pay for health care?

Is it really that simple? Make soft drinks cost a few pennies more per serving, and people will cut back. Well, if they do that, it would be good for their health, but then the government couldn’t collect the anticipated tax dollars. Or, let them buy all the soda they want, pay the taxes, and help fund society’s health care cost burden. And perhaps as they continue to pay for sugary beverages, but at a highly price, they will also decrease their purchases of things like fresh vegetables and fruit and whole grains.

Can you tell yet that I’m not really wild about this proposal? I am all for ways to encourage people to not over-consume things like sugary drinks. And fatty meats. And potato chips. And cookies and cake. Yeah. There are all kinds of things you should watch how much you eat. And many of them are really loaded with sugar. Not just soft drinks. So why does the government continue to offer subsidies to farmers to encourage them to grow MORE crops that are used for sugar production? If you really want to influence consumer behavior, why not cut all farm subsidies and let the price of the crops, such as corn used to make high fructose corn syrup, rise to the real price of production. And if that’s more than consumers think it’s worth, then cut back on production. And use the money saved from not paying subsidies to help pay for health insurance. That way all forms of sugar, not just that used for beverages, are affected.

Shrimp lefses, or cooking with Kenny Shopsin

I recently checked a book out of the library that I’d seen recommended somewhere or other.  I can’t even remember where any more, just that I read that it was worth reading, so I put it on reserve at my local library and forgot about it until getting an e-mail letting me know it was waiting for me.  The book is called “Eat Me.  The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin“.
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As I started reading the introduction by Calvin Trillin I realized that it was a piece published in the New Yorker some years ago (in 2002) that I had read at that time. It must have been a good article as I remembered at least parts of it from the first time I read it.

The book is…. interesting. Here’s a review I found on Amazon.

The eccentric and engaging food-lit manifesto, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, collects the wisdom, rants, and recipes of New York’s most legendarily cranky, publicity-hating short-order cook. The foul-mouthed genius of Kenny Shopsin has been captured before, most notably in Calvin Trillin’s wonderful New Yorker profile and the documentary I Like Killing Flies, but Eat Me gives a from-the-cook’s-mouth take on life behind the counter, with the layout of a quirky, illustrated textbook. Chapter titles like “Selling Water, or the Secret of the Restaurant Business” and “The Story of Shopsin’s Turkey, or Why I Hate the Health Department” should give you a taste of what’s in store. Formerly located in Greenwich Village, Shopin’s now sets up camp at Stall No. 16 at the Essex Street Market, where you’ll find dozens of soups, sandwiches, burgers, milk shakes, breakfast plates, and pancakes (from Plain to White Mint Chocolate Chip), along with original comfort-food classics like Blisters on My Sisters (tortillas, cheese, fried eggs, beans, and rice), gracing the crammed 900-item menu. Getting tossed out of Shopsin’s (for whatever offense) has taken on badge-of-honor status among diners–the culinary equivalent of being on the business end of a Don Rickles zinger. Reading Eat Me feels like the next best thing. –Brad Thomas Parsons

Besides the mac and cheese pancakes, this is recipe really caught my attention:

Shrimp Lefses

Ingredients
1/2 pound small shrimp
1 heaping Tbsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 to 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 heaping Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp good olive oil
1/4 cup Salsa Roja (elsewhere in the cookbook) or any fresh chunky salsa
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 ripe Hass avacado, chopped
2 lefses
2 big handfuls or prewashed argula or spinach

Instructions
Put shrimp in 5-inch stainless steel bowl. Stir in the garlic, butter, jalapeno pepper, parsley, olive oil, Salsa Roja, Jack cheese, Parmesan cheese, and avacado. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Invert the bowl on the skillet and cook the mixture with the bowl covering it, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the cheese melts and the shrimp are pink and cooked through.
Meanwhile, put the lefses in a separate large skillet and heat over high heat until warm. Do not turn. Place a handful of arugula or spinach on the side of 2 plates and put one lefse on each plate. Dump half of the shrimp mixture on half of each lefse. Fold each lefse over to make a semicircle. Serve.

First, is the plural of lefse really lefses? I’d never heard it said that way. “Make sure you order a package of lefses.” That just doesn’t sound at all right. (you really need more than that…..) “Hey Becky, let’s make some lefse!” That sounds right. (And also sounds like a great idea, don’t you think?) I think Kenny Shopsin, being a New Yorker and definitely not of Norske background, just didn’t grown up hearing the word used. And probably doesn’t even care.

Next, I really wonder what they taste like. I haven’t tried them (yet). Kenny Shopsin’s daughter Melinda said that they are her current favorite thing to eat at the store (out of 900 menu items…). Other than the lefse, they certainly don’t sound Norwegian! I personally did like the comment in the book that “the dark brown dots on the lefses make them so pretty, so any other decoration is unnecessary.”

Shopsin orders his lefse from a place in North Dakota called Freddy’s Lefse as he thinks making them from scratch would be more work than it’s worth and that’s not the way he cooks. But interesting, he discovered Freddy’s lefse and thought it was very good so decided to find ways to use it. Silly guy. You just butter it, roll it up and shove it in your mouth. All the while thinking ‘mmm, is this good or what!”

erin lefse

You have arrived

So, what goes through your mind when you hear the words “you have arrived’. Sounds to me like you have achieved some lofty goal or place in society. It has a good sound to it, doesn’t it?

I recently got a new toy. It’s a GPS unit for my car. I got a Magellan Roadmate as Costco had them on sale for $99.

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I thought the 3.5″ screen was fine, and have been very happy so far with it.  I’ve mentioned earlier that I am “directionally challenged” and it is quite obvious at times when I am driving.  So I really like that this device both shows me the map – exactly where I am and what lane I need to get in for highway exits – and also has a voice that tells me the directions.  I like knowing that I have a right turn in 200 feet, with a little chime sounding as I should be about ready to turn.  I like that if I miss a turn, the GPS just automatically (and quietly) figures out a new route.  It doesn’t say things like “hey, you bozo!  You should have turned and now you’re in big trouble.”

And when I get to my final destination, it has a very nice voice that says “you have arrived.”  I think sometimes I turn the GPS unit on even when I know my way around just to hear those magical words!

Renny and Sue

I think that we might become good friends….

TOG (my special Uncle Dick) sent me a cookbook that he likes. It is called “The Joy of Eating French Food” by Renny Darling. I liked it from the start. Notice, it’s not called the Joy of Cooking French Food, but EATING French Food. Won me over immediately. But it took awhile for me to pull it out and say “so, let’s get cooking!”. The spirit hit last night and I made Chewy French Bread Sticks with Onions and Roast Chicken Breasts in Tomato & Wine Sauce.

Thumbs up for both. The bread stick recipe came recommended by The Old Geezer. It was a surprise. Mix together a bread dough using the KitchenAid bread hook and without a rising step, shape into bread sticks and bake right away. I am not sure I rolled them as thin as called for, but they looked very charming and tasted even better. The chicken with tomato and wine sauce (including many mushrooms, carrot slices and chopped onions) was also very good. We had just bottled up this year’s BOTE wine with my wine class, so I pulled out a bottle of white wine for the recipe. We all ended up chipping in $50 each for the 46 bottles of wine we each brought home. Hmm. Better than Two Buck Chuck both in economy and taste! Good for cooking…. but also good for enjoying with Renny’s meal.

I know we’ll be eating dinner and other meals together again many times…there are lots of recipes just calling out “Sue… Sue… try me”. And I will.

Greek yogurt… again

So, my attempts at making yogurt are going well.  I have a culture going that when we almost finish eating a batch I save out a few tablespoons and use it for the next batch.  And making the yogurt into Greek style yogurt also is working, at least from the standpoint of ending up with a very thick, good tasting yogurt.  I still like using whole milk best (it obviously just happens to taste better) but have been alternating with lower fat milk, and it works (but just isn’t quite so rich tasting).  

But here’s the part that is bothering me.  Whether I use a thin kitchen towel (as a replacement for cheesecloth) or a coffee filter, I just don’t seem to be able to scrape all that good thick yogurt out and know some of it is going down the drain.  

I did some searching on the internet, wondering how I ever managed before we had it.  Well, I do remember how we managed.  Little instant gratification with answers to questions, no ability to search for products and find the best price.   Not being able to write silly blogs and send them into cyberspace.  

So, in my search, with just putting “yogurt drainer” into the search engine, I located product, called a yogurt cheese maker
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Much as I try hard to not bring more gadgets and junk into my kitchen, this one looks like it has real merit. No more kitchen towels or paper filters covered with thick yogurt, much less mess. And much better recovery of the the yogurt. Well, now it sounds like work…. I spend a lot of time at work trying to improve yields – how much juice we can get out of fruit. Still, I think I’ll give this “tool” a try.

“How the food makers captured our brains”

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A recent article in the New York Times was about a book recently published called “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” written by David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While head of the FDA, Dr. Kessler was active in pushing for food labels to carry better nutrient information, and efforts to investigate and regulate the tobacco industry.  One of his claims was that cigarette companies intentionally tried to make cigarettes more addictive by manipulating the nicotine content.

His book on overeating sounds very interesting. I’d like to read it, as it certainly is a topic of interest to me, someone who also would like to personally find an end to overeating.  One of his main messages is that overeating is not due to an absence of willpower, but a biological challenge made more difficult by the overstimulating food environment that surrounds us.

That makes sense, but the title of the article “How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains” bothered me. I work for the food industry. I guess my job title could be “food maker” rather than research scientist.   I won’t defend everything about the food industry.  There are many things that bother me (and would probably take a year’s worth of blogs to cover). But this NYT article makes it sound more like a conspiracy. It may be true that commercial foods have been carefully optimized to encourage us to buy them and eat more of them, but isn’t that also the goal of many home cooks – to make the food they prepare taste as good as possible?    I know that I certainly have that goal in mind when I cook.

I think the problem is more that we really are constantly surrounded by food and food images.  I look at my coffee table, piled with magazines filled with cooking articles and photos of very delicious looking food.  I have shelves filled with cookbooks, and now can also go on the internet to find recipes.  I open my refrigerator and freezer and see the land of plenty.  Same thing with my well stocked cupboards.   Go for a drive and you generally aren’t far from some place that sells food, be it grocery stores, restaurants, mini-markets.

In fact, right now I am thinking about how good carrot cake would taste after having that thought put in my mind by the cover to Kessler’s book.  Drat.