Archive | September 2013

Marcella Hazan 1924-2103

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FAMILY: MARCELLA HAZAN, INFLUENTIAL ITALIAN CHEF AND COOKBOOK AUTHOR, DIES AT 89 AT FLA. HOME
Associated Press | The Washington Post

She eschewed the American-style Italian food that suffocated mushy pasta in grainy meatballs and tasteless cheese. She begged home cooks to use more salt and once wrote that if readers were concerned about salt affecting one’s life expectancy, to “not read any further.” On the topic of garlic, Hazan took a sharp view.

“The unbalanced use of garlic is the single greatest cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking,” she wrote in her 2004 cookbook “Marcella Says…” ‘’It must remain a shadowy background presence. It cannot take over the show.”

. . . In 2004, Marcella Hazan wrote, “Simple doesn’t mean easy. I can describe simple cooking thus: Cooking that is stripped all the way down to those procedures and those ingredients indispensable in enunciating the sincere flavor intentions of a dish.”

Hazan said the Roman dish spaghettini aio e oio — thin spaghetti with garlic, oil, parsley, chili pepper and nothing else — embodies the simple-yet-complex nature of Italian food. Dishes should nourish and please, she added, not “dazzle guests with my originality or creativity.”

“I am never bored by a good old dish and I wouldn’t shrink from making something that I first made fifty years ago and my mother, perhaps, fifty years before then,” she wrote. “I don’t cook ‘concepts.’ I use my head, but I cook from the heart, I cook for flavor.”

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RECIPE: TOMATO SAUCE WITH ONION AND BUTTER
Giuliano Hazan | Saveur

My mother’s tomato, butter, and onion sauce unfailingly elicits feelings of comfort and well-being. Its ability to wash away fatigue and anxiety is almost miraculous, and its preparation borders on alchemy. Who would think that simply putting tomatoes, a peeled halved onion, butter, and salt in a pot and cooking it with barely an occasional stir until it is reduced, would produce such concentrated goodness? In my freezer there is always a batch, ready to be defrosted and enjoyed in the time it takes to cook some pasta.

MAKES 3 CUPS

INGREDIENTS
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
¼ tsp. sugar
1 (28-oz.) can whole, peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered lengthwise
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS
Bring butter, sugar, tomatoes, and onion, to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld and sauce is slightly reduced, about 45 minutes. Discard onion, and season sauce with salt and pepper before serving.

MARCELLA HAZAN’S TOMATO SAUCE WITH ONION AND BUTTER
Jaden Hair | The Steamy Kitchen
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MEETING MARCELLA AND VICTOR HAZAN
Jaden Hair | The Steamy Kitchen

It’s funny how a little thing like lunch can be a life changer.

For Marcella Hazan, it was when Craig Claiborne of the NY Times came to lunch in 1970….and shortly thereafter, celebrities, writers, chefs and other-important-people-who-can-make-your-career started coming to Marcella’s classes to learn about authentic Italian cooking. Six best-selling books, Lifetime Achievement awards and changing the way Americans cook, think, enjoy Italian food…that’s Marcella.

My life changing lunch was last week.

It was a bit unexpected – I’ve been friends with Lael and Guiliano Hazan (Marcella’s son) for the past couple of years but never imagined that I’d be meeting Marcella. And it wasn’t until Pamela Sheldon Johns swung by the area on book tour that I had that chance. A few emails, text messages and phone calls with Pamela and it was decided that lunch at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota was the plan, and that Marcella would be joining us.

I really didn’t know what to expect, I had heard Marcella was intense and intimidating, but I would have expected nothing less from the “doyenne of Italian cooking in America“…a fervent force of nature, indeed!

Lunch was pleasant, I was on my best behavior and didn’t slurp my Pork Belly Ramen Noodles like I normally would, for fear that a long slingy noodle would slurp-lash rich broth at my dining companions. Conversation flitted between Pamela’s cooking school in Italy to olive oil to cookbooks to book tour to travel.

No, wait. Pamela and I flitted. Marcella listened, at moments her eyes would gaze away and just when I thought we had bored her to tears, she’d smile and cut our sing-song fluttery conversation with her wisdom, bluntness and staunchy opinions.

And that was our lunch.

But that wasn’t THE LUNCH that I was referring to.
read more

MARCELLA HAZAN’S BAGNA CAUDA
Saveur
SERVES 4 – 6

This lusty dish, whose Italian name means warm bath, provides the perfect counterpoint to raw vegetables. This recipe is based on one in Essentials of Classic Italian Cuisine (Knopf, 1992) by Marcella Hazan.

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 salt-cured anchovy filets, rinsed, boned,
and finely chopped
Kosher salt
Assortment of raw, cut-up cauliflower, carrots, celery, radicchio, and radishes

1. Heat oil and butter in a pot over medium-high heat until butter begins to foam. Add garlic; cook for 10 seconds.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low and add anchovies. Cook, stirring and mashing anchovies with a wooden spoon, until anchovies are broken into very small pieces and dip is cloudy, 3–4 minutes.

3. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately as a dip for an assortment of raw vegetables.
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Daily Essentials | Sunday | 29 September 2013

MOON FARMS TO BANISH STARVATION
James Nevin Miller | Mechanix Illustrated | May 1954 | Amanda Uren | Retronaut
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THE SELL BY DATES ON YOUR GROCERIES ARE WORTHLESS. HERE’S WHY

Brad Plumer | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

And, the report argues, those labels may be leading Americans to throw out tons and tons of perfectly good food each year — one reason why the United States rubbishes about 40 percent of the food it produces, or $165 billion in wasted food each year.

GHOST FOOD: A CONCEPTUAL TASTE OF THE FUTURE OF FOOD
Delana | Web Urbanist

GhostFood, a “participatory performance” from Miriam Simun and Miriam Songster (yup, a double-Miriam team) is meant to simulate the experience of eating foods that could soon be extinct. A 3D printed headpiece attaches to a visitor’s face just like glasses and replicates the olfactory profile of certain foods. A substitute edible substance with a texture identical to the “ghost food” is provided. The scent and texture combined trick the mind into believing that the actual food is being consumed.

ROOFTOP FARMING IS GETTING OF THE GROUND
Eliza Barclay | Salt | NPR

The green-roof movement has slowly been gaining momentum in recent years, and some cities have made them central to their sustainability plans. The city of Chicago, for instance, that 359 roofs are now partially or fully covered with vegetation, which provides all kinds of environmental benefits — from reducing the buildings’ energy costs to cleaning the air to mitigating the

Late this summer, Chicago turned a green roof into its first major rooftop farm. At 20,000 square feet, it’s the largest soil-based rooftop farm in the Midwest, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden, which maintains the farm through its program.

HOW EATING DOG BECAME BIG BUSINESS IN VIETNAM
Kate Hodal | The Guardian

Nguyen Tien Tung is just the sort of man you’d expect to run a Hanoi slaughterhouse: wiry, frenetic and filthy, his white T-shirt collaged with bloodstains, his jean shorts loose around taut, scratched-up legs, his feet squelching in plastic sandals. Hunched over his metal stall, between two hanging carcasses and an oversized tobacco pipe, the 42-year-old is surveying his killing station – an open-air concrete patio leading on to a busy road lined with industrial supply shops.

Two skinless carcasses, glistening pure white in the hot morning sun, are being rinsed down by one of Nguyen’s cousins. Just two steps away are holding pens containing five dogs each, all roughly the same size, some still sporting collars. Nguyen reaches into one cage and caresses the dog closest to the door. As it starts wagging its tail, he grabs a heavy metal pipe, hits the dog across the head, then, laughing loudly, slams the cage door closed.

The Revisionist History of Healthier Fries

Here comes the news that Burger King has engineered a lower fat, lower calorie fry. I don’t really care and five will get you ten that whatever they did will make french fries even more fattening and unhealthy . But what got my goat in the article was this:

Roughly a decade ago, McDonald’s began using a soy-corn blend of fats instead of beef tallow to cook its fries in an effort to reduce the trans fats that contribute to higher cholesterol.

What actually happened was this:

At the behest of the Center for Science in the Public Interest that delicious, wholesome (relatively wholesome) beef tallow was replaced with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. That campaign started in 1984 and was victorious in 1990 when the chains abandoned tallow in favor of trans fat laden partially hydrogenated oil.

NPR’s Dan Charles:

But did you know that in the 1980s, health activists actually promoted oils containing trans fats? They considered such oils a healthy alternative to the saturated fats found in palm oil, coconut oil, or beef fat. In 1986, for instance, the (CSPI), described Burger King’s switch to partially hydrogenated oils as “a great boon to Americans’ arteries.”

It wasn’t until 1993, after stampeding the fast food industry into greatly multiplying the nation’s consumption of what may be the single most deadly ingredient in our food supply, the CSPI reversed course and began campaigning against trans fats.

Here’s The Harvard School of Public Health on the dangers posed by trans fats:

Today we know that eating trans fats increases levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol), especially the small, dense LDL particles that may be more damaging to arteries. It lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles, which scour blood vessels for bad cholesterol and truck it to the liver for disposal. It also promotes inflammation, an overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Eating trans fat also reduces the normal healthy responsiveness of endothelial cells, the cells that line all of our blood vessels. In animal studies, eating trans fat also promotes obesity and resistance to insulin, the precursor to diabetes.

This multiple-pronged attack on blood vessels translates into heart disease and death. An analysis of the health effects of industrial trans fats conducted by researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition indicates that eliminating trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent up to 1 in 5 heart attacks and related deaths. That would mean a quarter of a million fewer heart attacks and related deaths each year in the United States alone.

McDonald’s and Burger King didn’t remove trans fats from their menu until 2008.

Michael Jacobsen’s obsession with saturated fat caused the organization to tout the benefits of partially hydrogenated oils well after their dangers had been established. This didn’t stop them from changing course when the dangers of trans fats had been exposed without apology or acknowledgement. The history of trying to engineer low fat, low calorie foods that make us fatter and sicker is a long one, but CSPI has been there every step of the way. The trans fat french fry debacle was just the pinnacle of their blundering.

Mary Enig at The Weston Price Foundation traces the twists and turns of CSPI’s position on saturated fats and partially hydrogenated oils:

By 1988, the adverse effects of trans fats were well known. The article points out that stearic acid has no effect on blood cholesterol levels, yet CSPI continued to accuse beef tallow, which is rich in stearic acid, of “raising cholesterol and increasing the risk of heart disease.” As for the tropical oils, they do not need to be hydrogenated!

Blume was at it again in March 1988 with another article, “The Truth About Trans .” “Hydrogenated oils aren’t guilty as charged. . . . All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent.. . . . As for processed foods, you’re better off choosing products made with hydrogenated soybean, corn, or cottonseed oil. . . ” This article was widely disseminated; Michael Jacobson provided it as a handout to members of the Maryland Legislature during hearings when the University of Maryland group tried to introduce labeling of trans fatty acids in the State.

But by 1990, CSPI could no longer defend the indefensible. In October of that year, Bonnie Liebman, CSPI Director of Nutrition, published an article “Trans in Trouble” which referred to recent studies by Dutch scientists showing that trans fats raised cholesterol. “That’s not to say trans fatty acids are artery-cloggers,” she wrote, “. . . the fats in our foods may affect cholesterol differently than those used in the Dutch experiment. . . . The Bottom Line. . . Trans, shmans. You should eat less fat. . . Don’t switch back to butter. . . use a soft tub diet margarine. . . . ”

. . . The revisionism began in December 1992 when Ms. Liebman wrote: “We’ve been crying ‘foul’ for some time now, as the margarine industry has tried to convince people that eating margarine was as good for their hearts as aerobic exercise. . . . And we warned folks several years ago that trans fatty acids could be a problem. . . . That’s especially true now that we know that trans fatty acids are harmful, but we don’t know how much trans are in different foods.” Of course, CSPI had issued no such warning, but had been defending trans fats for more than five years. And there’s no apology for falsely demonizing traditional fats. “Don’t switch back from margarine to butter,” wrote Ms. Liebman, “. . . try diet or whipped margarine. . . use a liquid margarine.”

In November 1993, Bonnie Liebman coauthored an article with Margo Wootan called “The Great Trans Wreck,” which would have been in preparation well before Michael Jacobson’s infamous press conference, in which they asked, “Why do companies love hydrogenated fat if it’s so unhealthy? . . . . despite the claims on many packages, most companies switched not to vegetable oil, but to vegetable shortening. And that created a problem.”

You can read the whole sorry tale of hubris and revisionism at the Weston Price Foundation. The fruits of that revisionism can be seen in the statement above from The New York Times.

SNAP READER | 22 SEPTEMBER 2103

In thinking about writing a piece on the SNAP battle going on in Congress, I put together some of the most interesting stuff I’ve read this week. I thought I’d share it.

LAWMAKERS “REPRESENTING” MOST OF THE HUNGRIEST COUNTIES VOTED TO CUT SNAP
Environmental Working Group

If you live in one of America’s 100 hungriest counties, there is a one-in-three chance that you rely on food stamps.

There is also a pretty good chance that your member of Congress just voted to kick you off food stamps.

And, if you live in Haywood County, Tennessee, or Shannon County, South Dakota, you can be sure your representative not only voted to kick you off food stamps but also voted to give him- or herself more farm subsidies.

Sadly, two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent America’s 100 hungriest counties voted yesterday to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion over the next ten years.

What’s more, the same legislators voted last month to increase unlimited subsidies for the largest farm businesses at a time of record farm income.

FOOD STAMP FIGHT: GREAT FOR GOP BASE. NOT GREAT FOR OUTREACH
Frank James | NPR

President George W. Bush isn’t fondly remembered by progressives for much. But anti-hunger advocates credited him during his administration for strongly supporting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the formal name for food stamps) and other policies to help unemployed or low-income workers and their children escape the fear of not knowing where their next meals would come from.

Under Bush, . When I fairly early in the Bush administration, they were already praising Bush for doing more than President Clinton to directly respond to the food insecurity crisis affecting many people.

SNAP NOTES
Paul Krugman | The New York Times

To the extent that there’s any rational argument here at all, I think, it rests on the observation that while SNAP enrollment did fall during the boom of the 1990s, it was flat or rising during the expansion of the middle Bush years. This supposedly shows that the program’s use was being driven by things other than economic factors.

But there’s a crucial point such analyses miss: the “Bush boom,” such as it was, never did trickle down to lower-income Americans — the kind of people who might use food stamps. Here’s a chart comparing income, in 2012 dollars, at the 20th percentile (left axis, inverted) with the percentage of the population on SNAP:

 photo incomesandsnap_zpsf0140464.png

The Clinton expansion led to a substantial rise in incomes near in the lower part of the distribution, and was accompanied by a sharp fall in SNAP usage. The Bush expansion never did reach many Americans, so it’s no surprise that SNAP use didn’t fall. And then, of course, SNAP use surged in the crisis, which is what is supposed to happen with a safety net program.

MORE SNAP JUDGEMENTS
Paul Krugman | The New York Times

Spending as a percentage of GDP was no higher in 2007 than it had been in 1990. It then soared when we experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — which is exactly what should have happened. True, spending didn’t fall during the Bush-era economic expansion, but as I’ve already explained, that expansion didn’t trickle down to the people who use food stamps.

You also want to bear in mind that we used to have another major poverty program — AFDC — which was replaced with TANF, which has virtually withered away. In 1990, spending on AFDC was 0.3 percent of GDP; by 2011, it was down to 0.07 percent of GDP. So food stamps were, in effect, picking up some (but only some) of the hole left by the end of traditional welfare.

THE FACTUALLY CHALLENGED MORALLY QUESTIONABLE ASSAULT ON FOOD STAMPS
Jonathan Cohn | The New Republic

The 2002 and 2008 laws re-authorizing food stamps streamlined enrollment, eased the asset test, and made other changes that both boosted benefits and boosted participation. Conservative publications are full of anecdotes that suggest food stamps are fostering dependency and, I’m sure, some beneficiaries live up to stereotypes of lazy people living on the dole. But the percentage of SNAP recipients who are working has actually risen steadily for two decades. It’s up to about half. (See the next graph.) And the program’s design actually arguably encourages work, for reasons the Center on Budget details:

the SNAP benefit formula contains an important work incentive. For every additional dollar a SNAP recipient earns, her benefits decline by only 24 to 36 cents — much less than in most other programs. Families that receive SNAP thus have a strong incentive to work longer hours or to search for better-paying employment. States further support work through the SNAP Employment and Training program, which funds training and work activities for unemployed adults who receive SNAP.

More generally, 95 percent of SNAP participants have incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or about $30,000 a year for a family of four. Forty-four percent have incomes that are less than half the poverty line, or about $12,500 for a family of four. SNAP doesn’t seem plagued by waste or fraud, either. Ninety-two percent of the program’s funding goes to actual benefits. A 2011 report from the General Accounting Office found that program errors, including both people getting too much assistance and people getting too little, affected less than 4 percent of recipients.

See also:
Jonathan Chait – REPUBLICANS: WE WERE TOO NICE TO THE HUNGRY, BUT WE FIXED THAT
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities – CUTS IN HOUSE LEADERSHIP SNAP PROPOSAL WOULD AFFECT MILLIONS OF LOW INCOME AMERICANS

A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS ON STEPHANIE STROM’S GLYPHOSATE PIECE IN THE TIMES

This piece has gotten fairly wide circulation and deservedly so. I have a few quibbles and observations.
1. You really need to disentangle biotech seeds and problems relating to the pesticide use associated with specific seeds before you explain how they are related. To someone who isn’t already on top of the issues, they are hopelessly conflated in this piece.

The local differences over glyphosate are feeding the long-running debate over biotech crops, which currently account for roughly 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States.

While regulators and many scientists say biotech crops are no different from their conventional cousins, others worry that they are damaging the environment and human health. The battle is being waged at the polls, with ballot initiatives to require labeling of genetically modified foods; in courtrooms, where lawyers want to undo patents on biotech seeds; and on supermarket shelves containing products promoting conventionally grown ingredients.

This is the opposite problem from what Amy Harmon was criticized for in her citrus greening piece. Many felt that she did not provide enough context. I disagreed with that criticism. I thought Harmon was wise not to attach a giant boilerplate rehash of the entire GMO debate before moving on to tell the story that she had chosen to tell. Balancing the proper amount of background necessary for clarity and context is tricky.

2. Strom’s choice to use the term ‘biotech’ without ever using ‘GMO’ is an interesting and loaded choice. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is there a move a foot at The Times to tell these stories in a less polarizing way? Not enough data. Stay tuned.

3. I’m sure that this story will fuel Monsanto Derangement Syndrome but it’s not clear to me that there are any clear policy takeaways other than the need for funding independent ag research at our public universities to make sure farmers get the information they need to make good choices.