Corn Cooked in Husk

It’s corn season! I grew up in New England so corn season conjures up vivid childhood memories. Farmstands overflowing with corn, husking it with my beloved paternal grandmother at our kitchen table, my mother boiling it up in cauldrons of water, and biting into ears so fresh it tasted like candy.

Fast forward to my own kitchen, and being the safety conscious freak I am, I’m always reluctant to boil water on the stove top. We have a center island in the kitchen where the stove is located, and the kids love to sit, and pile paper, around that island. This led me to seek alternative corn cooking methods, and lo and behold: it can be baked in the oven, so long as the husk is intact. That’s right: you don’t have to bother shucking corn before cooking it. In fact the husk creates a perfect “envelope” in which the corn can steam.

So this is what you do: Preheat the oven to 350F; trim off any extraneous ends (or don’t, it probably doesn’t make any difference). Line up the corn on a cookie sheet:

rawcorn

… and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes. I had something else going in the oven so it was at 400F for about half the time. No harm, no foul. Once time has elapsed remove it:

cookedcorn

… and you have perfectly cooked ears of corn. Surprisingly, the outer husks cool almost immediately, but to peel off the very inner layers I had to protect my hands with an oven mitt or paper towel. Voila:

huskedcorn

… a perfectly cooked ear of corn. Delicious and juicy, with no cauldron required.

The Accidental Vegan Baby

Back when I was vegan, I never expected my kids to be vegan. I made chicken and scrambled eggs for them on a regular basis, and they devoured blocks of cheese like locusts while I enjoyed my quinoa. In fact, one of my 17 year old’s first words was “cheeeeeeese.” Of course those days are long gone as I’m now a hardcore, low carb carnivore. I rarely crack 30 carbs a day.

Thus it was with some chagrin that it recently dawned on me that my 20 month old has been, essentially, a vegan baby since he weaned. And if breastmilk doesn’t count as “an animal product” he’s been vegan since birth. No, I don’t have him on a lettuce diet. He’s just a terribly finicky little eater, as were all my children. He lives on guacamole, crackers, fruit, and water (he absolutely refuses anything but water in his bottle). Yes, I have offered him milk, cheese, lamb, bacon, chicken, steak, fish and mayonnaise!! He shoves it all away with an annoyed glare.

As you can see, he’s withering away from this plant based diet:

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(Now that I’ve started allow me to spam you with more baby pictures:)

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If gobs of protein are so vital for human growth, why is he robust, beautiful, and healthy eating nothing but grain and avocados? I don’t have an answer, except for an opinion I’ve voiced previously on this blog. I think we humans are more like rats when it comes to food than we care to admit. We can thrive on just about anything- so long as it’s not outright poisonous or carcinogenic, and we don’t go overboard (or underboard (nothing like overuse of parentheses when writing!)).

So go ahead and enjoy your vegan diet, or your meat based diet, or your cookie diet (as long as you’re not diabetic!). Just take things in moderation and go for a long walk every now and then. And don’t forget to occasionally take a bath in the sink.

Costco Caesar Salad Review

Have you ever bought food at the Costco food court? They have salad, ice cream, sandwiches, pizza, the famous $1.50 hot dog, and a few other concoctions. I usually avoid the food court because I’m in a rush to get home, though once, when pregnant with my youngest son, bought a turkey sandwich. It was ok but I slathered the inside with mayonnaise when I got home to make it edible.

Today in line, hungry, I stared at those tempting poster sized images of the offerings. Out of them all the caesar salad looked the lowest carb- or I should say appeared to be their only low carb offering- assuming I left out the croutons. If you’ve never read my blog before, I’m type 2 diabetic and have so far managed to control it completely without meds or insulin by eating very low carb. Case in point the blood work I received just yesterday. I think I deserve a medal for this. Or flowers.

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I’m not even in the prediabetic range; the highest I’ve been, since eating low carb, is 5.6. This, of course, doesn’t mean I’m no longer diabetic, and this a confusion you often get from the general public. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled but not eliminated. If I drank a glass of orange juice, my blood sugar would spike close to 300. All this means is that over the past few months I haven’t ingested more carbs than my body can metabolize, which as far I can tell is around 30-50 grams a day. A non-diabetic can metabolize at least 250 a day, and the average American consumes well over 300 carbs a day.

Anyway, back the caesar salad. It’s $3.99 plus applicable tax, and is made with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken breast, dressing, grated parmesan, and croutons.

costco caesar salad
an actual costco caesar salad, but not my actual salad; croutons not pictured

Once I unpacked it at home I could see there isn’t nearly enough dressing. So- you guessed it- I got out the mayonnaise and in a separate bowl slathered the chicken pieces with it. There wasn’t enough parmesan either- less than in the salad pictures above- in fact so little I couldn’t taste it in the mix. I’m not sure why Costco would skimp on the dressing; apart from the lettuce and croutons it’s probably the cheapest part of the meal. Whereas the chicken, which is definitely one of the more expensive ingredients, is provided in plenty.

The dressing, aside from being too sparse, was too salty, watery and nearly flavorless. I mean it was ok, but the mayo I put on the chicken tasted better. The romaine wasn’t cut finely enough either. I even found a whole, uncut leaf at the bottom of the dish! That is just bad salad preparation. If this were a food show, I’d eliminate the chef.

The cherry tomatoes were tasty and the chicken was absolutely delicious! It looked grilled but tasted poached, so I’m not sure exactly how they prepare it. In fact it was so delicious I may just buy this salad again, but put my own dressing on it once home.

I didn’t eat the croutons so I can’t tell you how they taste. However, my daughters loved them and said they taste like garlic bread.

In summation I’d give this salad a weak 6 on a 1-10 scale. Were it not for the chicken, it would be a 3.

 

Do You Want Something to Eat

Everyone has their own opinion on the homeless. You either walk past them, or throw a little money at them.

One of the nicer aspects of Staten Island is you are typically spared this choice… until the recent inception of the heroin epidemic. These days you see all kinds of beggars, mostly young white kids in areas they would not typically spawn. This morning I ran to the grocery store for a few things and there was a kid, about my oldest son’s age, holding a sign stating his dilemma.

I AM HOMELESS TRYING TO GET OFF THE STREETS.

I dug through my purse as I harnessed my shopping cart, handing him money as I walked past. Then I knelt down, looked him in the eye, and asked (because this has been the purpose of my life for the past 19 years): do you want something to eat?

He looked stunned.

I’m not used to junkies, but there was a nervous, exhausted, desperate look on his face.

“Yeah…” he replied.

“What would you like?” (This is the “mommy monster” inside of me. Because seriously, I’ve been doing nothing but feeding and placating whiny children for 20 years.)

He looked even more stunned here. “Uhh…” he said, confused…. “Anything?”

Now it as my turn to be stunned. My kids are all picky eaters. I mean really, really picky, as in two or three foods, for years, picky. Was this guy really willing to eat anything? This was a novel concept for me… to put it mildly.

“And maybe something to drink,” he added weakly.

“What do you want to drink?” (there’s a liquor store right by the Stop and Shop)

He stared at me incredulous… “Water?” he asked, again, so weakly.

“Just water?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay honey.”

And I walked into the grocery store. What exactly do you buy a homeless drug addict? I felt, in a surreal way, like a mom packing lunch for her kids at camp: it had to be nonperishable, palatable, and high calorie. I settled on a big bottle of Fiji water, a box of granola bars, and doritos. Along with the other items I came there to purchase.

I handed the bag to him as I embarked to my car, knowing I had accomplished no good, but no bad either. “Take care of yourself honey…” but I knew he wouldn’t.

Egg Beaters Taste Disgusting

I’m not one of those people who think cholesterol and fat are bad for you. But one low carb food I never tried is egg whites. Of course I’ve eaten eggs: hard boiled, slow boiled (huevos haminados), poached, frittatas, omelettes, scrambled in bacon grease or butter. But I never tried cooking just the whites. I’m not egg crazy per se, though since eating low carb I’ve grown less egg averse, and my favorite style is poached or slow cooked.

After passing by egg beaters in the costco refrigerator many times, and knowing that egg whites are one of the most calorie efficient forms of protein (I once watched a documentary about an anorexic woman who ate nothing but egg whites and cottage cheese) I decided to give them a chance in my kitchen.

I tried several “mug scrambles” described on the egg beater site. I tried to be creative and poach them, and make omelettes from them. They tasted like mushy soy crumbles (ah, memories from days of vegan). If you took sawdust and slime, liquefied it, and packaged it in cartons, you’d have something akin to egg beaters.

So don’t bother! This product is a sin. If you want to eat eggs without fat, poach some in chicken broth or slow cook them whole on LOW for seven hours in a bath of water. The yolks aren’t bad for you anyway.

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breaking up is not hard to do

I marched these puppies down the Costco return line this morning. Costco is gracious on returns; rarely do they even ask for a reason. But the girl at the counter looked at the egg beaters, looked at me, and asked: What was wrong?

Instead of explaining that these are a vile, disgusting culinary blight, I instead said there was a weird smell when I opened them, and I was afraid to eat them. Which is only halfway a lie.

 

 

 

 

Pretzels From God

I’ve been making homemade pretzels for the kids recently. No, not the kind you heat up from the freezer. The kind you make from strange items like flour and yeast.

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My fourteen year old said they taste like they were made by God. Well, if ever a cook has received a compliment, that is it! I used Alton Brown’s recipe but tweaked it a little. I used vegetable oil instead of butter, paid more attention to the dough texture than his ratio of ingredients (the texture is incredibly important since you have to shape and boil these) and eventually shaped them differently– the above picture shows Alton’s method. Good but not great.

My picky eaters devoured them like locusts and my oldest daughter has begged me to make them every day.

The irony is that I can’t eat them, as I have type 2 diabetes! I did try one bite to verify their verdict, and yes they are delicious. So go ahead and give these a try, you’ll never buy regular soft pretzels again!

Calories in Squirrel Meat

[essentially spoiler free]

Early in season 5 of The Walking Dead we see Daryl enter stage left adorned with a mantle of dead squirrels. This made me wonder: exactly what caloric or other nutritional value does squirrel meat offer? Even a fat squirrel is a small creature, so how much nourishment could a single squirrel provide our band of survivalists?

Most meat has roughly the same caloric and protein content: about 50-70 calories, and 7ish grams of protein per ounce (interestingly, the same applies to a single chicken egg). Squirrel meat, according to the internet, is no different- clocking in at approximately 50 calories per ounce.

But how much meat does a squirrel yield? There are a surprising number of sites dedicated to the slaughter and preparation of squirrel. And eyeballing some of the pictures, like this one:

squirrel
(source)

…I’d guestimate it’s 4 ounces of meat, maybe closer to 3 when you pick out the bones. (I’ve been weighing everything I eat for two years now, I’m a good gauge of portion size.)

So poor Daryl expends all that effort, and all those arrows, for 150 calories per squirrel. I bet he uses more energy hunting those critters than he obtains from them. Also I’m fairly certain his manly crossbow would rip apart a squirrel on contact, but his squirrels are perfectly intact and bloodless

All this begs the obvious question: if squirrels can flourish in the zombie apocalypse, why not other animals like bears, boars, deer, rabbits, even cats and dogs! Hell, buffalo could make a comeback with their prairies no longer relegated to modern agriculture. Surely Daryl could utilize his epic crossbow skills to conquer larger, more practical game? One is reminded of Little House on the Prairie where a single bear sustained the family through winter.

Fed Up

I finally got to watch the much touted documentary Fed Up, co-produced by Katie Couric, yet another film about the obesity epidemic in the United States and its supposed causes. Maybe because the film was so hyped I had unrealistic expectations, but I came away disappointed because not only is this a poorly executed documentary, but we get the same confusing and contradictory information that The Weight of the Nation and A Place at the Table offer.

Fed Up decides to place the obesity blame squarely on junk foods and the sugar they contain. “Sugar is immediately converted into fat!” quoth the film. Gary Taubes (who is surprisingly dorky and a tad creepy, that disappointed me too) is briefly interviewed… why I’m not sure, because the film doesn’t explore, much less endorse, low carb diets. And once again we’re told that “real food-” lovingly grown organic fruits and vegetables- will keep the populace thin and fit.

There have already been several refutations of the “science” presented in the film, such as this one by Harriet Hall. To be clear, no one, including me, is claiming sugar is a health food, only that sugar cannot be pinpointed as the sole cause of obesity over the past 30 years. I’m increasingly convinced that the junk food vs. real food debate is status signaling not based in real science. To call pizza junk, while enjoying your quinoa-cherry tomato-goat cheese salad signals to everyone around you that you are erudite and classy, even though both dishes are the same at a nutritional level: grain, tomato, cheese and olive oil. Even the first lady famously scoffed at the notion of tomato sauce in pizza being considered a vegetable, and Couric makes the same mocking reference when interviewing a senator in Fed Up. Yet the few tablespoons of sauce on each pizza slice contain at least an entire tomato (remember sauce is reduced in volume during cooking, so is essentially compacted tomatoes), and cooked tomatoes are considered healthier than raw tomatoes due to their increased lycopene content. Tomatoes are technically a fruit anyway, but I digress.

Another food in the Fed Up cross hairs is infant formula. It’s too sugary! Babies are being conditioned to inhale junk food! Couric must not have breastfed her kids, because human breastmilk is extremely sweet with a higher sugar content than cow’s milk. Out of curiosity, I’ve tasted a couple drops of breastmilk over the way too many years I’ve spent breastfeeding, and it tastes like sugar water. In short, babies are supposed to consume sugar, and infant formula manufacturers are copying the content of human milk.

Those issues aside the film just is not good. The pacing is choppy, neither here nor there, and bounces between different pundits seemingly randomly. The obese children featured in the film, while heartbreaking, are not examined in depth nor are their diets. We get glimpses of what they eat and see a few grocery trips, but it’s unclear how much of exactly what kinds of food got them to their large girth, nor what factors compel them to overeat. If the film had dropped its preachiness and instead examined their histories exhaustively, it would have been better overall and more informative.

Thoughts on the Mouse Experiment

A few months ago I blogged about a weight loss experiment where mice were fed the same amount of food over different time windows. One group of mice was restricted to 12 hours a day, while the other group of mice was allowed food access 24 hours a day. The seemingly surprising result was that time restricted mice lost weight while their open access peers did not, despite the fact that both groups consumed the same number of calories. That latter group also exhibited signs of diabetes. At face value this appears to refute the calories-in-calories-out theory.

As I lay in bed last night it dawned on me: the restricted mouse group was probably more active, thus burning more calories, than the open access group. Animals fed a restricted diet (at some point over those 12 hours the mice were bound to be hungry) are known to be more energetic and active than more generously-fed comparison groups. This has been documented in calorie restriction experiments on monkeys and is a natural reaction to hunger; if an animal is agitated and energetic it will put more effort into foraging or hunting for food. The same could be said of humans: people who fast often report an initial “burst of energy” before the eventual onset of weakness and lethargy.

The explanation of excess energy expenditure is so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t brought up in the nytimes article. As far as I know, researchers didn’t adjust for activity level in the described study.

But the takeaway for dieters might still be salient: make sure you go a certain stretch of time not eating such that you feel at least some hunger. This will probably trigger increased physical agitation even if you’re not aware of it. “Fidgety” people burn as many calories as joggers- so intentionally putting yourself in a restless state might have a positive (or, negative as the case may be) effect on the scale.

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Time Restriction for Weight Loss

The NYtimes recently reported on a study where time restricted eating (TRE) produced interesting results when applied to mice.

Mice fed a high fat, high sugar diet were divided into two groups: one that could eat whenever it wanted over a 24 hour period, and another that could eat as much as it wanted over just 12 hours.

While both mouse groups gained weight on the high fat/ sugar diet, the mice allowed unrestricted eating gained twice as much despite eating the same number of calories. These fatter mice also developed symptoms of diabetes while the time restricted mice did not. Even more remarkable, the obese mice lost weight when a TRE was applied to them, even if they continued to consume the same number of calories! This certainly flies in the face of the calories in/ calories expended model, which I’ve always thought was the most legitimate explanation for weight gain or loss.

There has been much speculation over rising obesity statistics, with couch potatoes and high fructose corn syrup typically targeted as usual suspects. Could it be, though, that the loss of traditional family mealtimes has been the primary cause? Once upon a time families ate together at set times, with meals prepared by the women of the house. With mom “guarding the gates” people were restricted to what they could eat and when. Fast forward to today, with less food being made from scratch and more women applying their efforts outside the household, and snacking and convenience foods have increased exponentially. Convenience foods like chips, crackers and packaged cookies are easy to snack on, whereas a homemade dessert served by mom after dinner doesn’t lend itself as well to around the clock snacking. And once mom closed up the kitchen after dinner, it was lock stock and barrel. Not so much anymore, and definitely not in my house. People grab what they want, when they want it, and we have no set mealtimes. However as I’ve mentioned before, my children are strangely effective at regulating their own food intake and none are overweight.

When I was a young child my mother was very strict about food. Diving into the fridge or cabinet for a snack was unheard of, and if I didn’t want what was put on the table I didn’t eat (and indeed I didn’t eat much of the time). As I got older, though, they lightened up and let me eat between meals and allowed different foods beyond the main course. For me this was a good thing as I’d grown quite underweight, but I can see how a kitchen gatekeeper might be beneficial for people prone to obesity.

So how should this translate for adults who want to lose weight? I don’t think it needs to be too complicated- just make sure you go 12 hours out of any given 24 hour period without food intake of any kind (except water, obviously). What I’d like to know is if the 12 hours can be staggered, or if the body needs a straight 12 hours without calories to replicate the mouse study effect (I’m going to assume the body is forced into brief ketosis during this period without food; this is why we can go to bed hungry but wake up feeling full).

I’ve always had a rule with myself that I don’t eat between 12 noon and 5pm. Sometimes I go 11am to 5pm without so much as a lettuce leaf. In addition I try not to eat after 7pm, so I’m technically restricting more than 12 hours- probably 17 to 18 hours a day. But I sleep a lot- and eat heartily when I do have a meal, so I’m not eating low calorie by any means.