Ugly Delicious

David Chang and his “boyfriend” Peter Meehan return to the screen in foodie series Ugly Delicious. I feel a special connection to Mr. Chang as the google search “is david chang gay?” used to have my blog as the top hit [he is not, and we meet his lovely wife in this series]. Now it’s at the top of page 2. Unlike PBS sponsored The Mind of a Chef (which I reviewed hereUgly is a netflix original, which means Chang’s copious F-bombs and other vulgarities are not bleeped out.

I have mixed feelings about the new series. Chang has great stage presence, his bromance with Peter is fun to watch, and it’s addictive as ever watched Chang devour food. The cartoon segues concerning food history are cute. But the pacing is horrible- in the “Tacos” episode we are constantly jumping back and forth between Mexico and Los Angeles, and Chang’s ultra liberal politics are sledgehammered on viewers. In one scene Chang tries to convince a conservative Vietnamese American on open borders. The conservative Vietnamese American politely points out that if they followed the rules, why should not everyone else? Chang later sputters over his failure to “make people more open.” I don’t care what your politics are, but it is ALWAYS a mistake to “lecture” in a documentary. So I take points off for that.

I’ve watched only three episodes so far- “Tacos,” “Shrimp & Crawfish” [squeamish viewers beware, crawfish are cooked alive!], and “Stuffed,” but there is less cooking than in The Mind of a Chef which is a disappointment. There’s more talking in Ugly, mostly food experts and other foodies philosophizing on food and dissing commercialized food. In one scene Chang & Co snobbishly jaunt through a Taco Bell drive-thru, mocking the lowly fare they purchase. Other scenes are just stupid- the xiaolongbao VS tortellini “debate” felt like a badly produced middle school skit.

If I were to give Chang and Meehan documentary advice, it would be to slow the pacing down, focus mainly on the two of them visiting fewer restaurants/ food carts, talking in depth to the chefs and closely examining their kitchens. Drop the blowhard politics. The cartoon segues are cute but don’t overdo them. Stop the silly skits! And show more cooking, especially of Chang cooking.

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Life on Zero Carb: What I Eat

When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes I immediately began eating what would be considered a moderately low carb diet, around 50 net carbs a day. I was able to control my blood sugar without medication or insulin, but as time went on I noticed my numbers creeping up. In response I restricted carbs further and further until I was at a zero, or very near zero carb level of food intake. I’ve been a ‘zero carber’ for two years now, eating only meat, fish, eggs, fats and hard cheeses. If I ever ‘cheat’ it’s the occasional bite of vegetable, and occasionally I fall into a jar of peanut butter. But 99% of my food consumption is of the aforementioned foods.

Turns out I’m not the only one. There’s an online subculture of zero carbers who embrace an all meat diet. They have a subreddit, a facebook page, and various bloggers detail their ‘zero carb journey.’ Vegans hate us!

‘Zero carb’ is a bit of a misnomer. Eggs and hard cheeses have carbs, albeit negligible amounts, less than half a carb per serving. I occasionally eat all beef hot dogs, which have a few carbs apiece. And when I cook meat in the slow cooker, I add vegetables for flavor but discard them after cooking. Probably a few carbs leech in.

A better term would be ‘meatarian’ or ‘animaltarian’ since most if not all of our calories come from animal products. I personally consume mayonnaise and vegetable oils, but many zero carbers do not.

So what exactly do I eat? For the past two days I took pictures of my breakfast and lunch. These are typical meals for me: some meat, some fat, sometimes eggs or egg yolks. I take it easy on dairy, more for taste reasons than anything else.

Clockwise you see: kosher hotdog and slow cooked egg; kosher hotdog mixed with full fat mayonnaise, on the side egg yolks, rotisserie turkey and more mayonnaise; slow cooked pork; bacon, slow cooked egg and vermont cheddar.

Three and a half years into type 2 diabetes my A1C is normal, my triglyceride-HDL ratio is superhuman, my morning glucose is never over 85 mg/dL, I rarely get sick and I maintain a slightly underweight BMI without trying. I am not on any diabetes medications nor insulin.

I sincerely believe this way of eating is saving my life, and may well have saved my young son’s life by sparing me any complications from gestational diabetes while pregnant with him. I have also spared the healthcare industry a tremendous amount of money on medical bills, diabetes supplies and prescriptions.

In closing I would aggressively recommend this diet for diabetics, and for anyone who wishes to lose weight. I quickly went from BMI 19 to 17 without trying. If it worked for me at such a low BMI, surely those with more pounds will have even greater weight loss effect. So go ahead and try it for a few weeks! Worst case scenario, you enjoy a few more bunless hamburgers than you would have otherwise.

Thoughts on Fasting

Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent for Roman Catholics. The Orthodox Church has a different start date for Lent- Coptic Lent is already underway, and Greek/ Russian orthodox Lent begins next Monday.

The Catholic Lenten fast is pretty light- you just abstain from meat for a handful of days, and if possible, eat only one meal plus two snacks on those days.

The Orthodox Church is much stricter, requiring a vegan diet for the duration of lent, but is ambiguous about how many meals a person can eat each day. Only the Coptic Church is specific: those who are able to must abstain from all food and drink (including water) until a single evening meal- similar to the Ramadan fast but without the pre-dawn breakfast. Children, sick and elderly are exempt and can eat throughout the day.

I always found the “vegan fast” kind of odd. Having been a strict vegan for many years I know it is entirely possible to eat sumptuously on a vegan diet. I got damn good at cooking “fake meat” dishes- they rivaled the real thing. I could bake mountains of cookies, breads, cakes, muffins and churn out delicious pilafs with quinoa and brown rice. My salads were fantastic- a carrot raisin salad with peanut dressing was my favorite. YUM!

Fast forward to my diabetes diagnosis and I had to ditch the vast majority of vegan foods. Even “healthy whole grains” like brown rice, and the health-food-worshiped bean spike my blood sugar astronomically. Practically overnight I went from a bean, fruit, veggie and grain devouring vegan (I was a “healthy vegan,” having eschewed sugar for years before my diagnosis) to an all out carnivore.

Ironically I find eating a meat based, very low carb diet far more restrictive and spartan than my vegan days. I mean, technically I was following an orthodox Lenten fast for years! Funny, right? I never felt deprived in any way. But for three years now I have eaten nothing but meat, fish, egg yolks (I don’t like the whites) low carb vegetables, mayonnaise and the occasional binge on peanut butter. That’s it, and yes, it can grow taxing being boxed into such a restrictive diet by fate of health.

Another puzzle for me is that without restricting when you can eat, I don’t see where the fast is. Not to be a bible thumper, but when the bible mentions fasting it means NOT EATING! In some cases it means not even drinking water! How is having three square vegan meals a day “fasting?” There is a running joke in the Orthodox Church that people gain weight during the Lenten fast- Greeks are amazing cooks.

As a diabetic I am exempted from the fast, but would like to try the once-a-day eating if I can handle it. I’ve never done that before in my life, so one more thing to cross off the bucket list. Technically this is intermittent fasting which is all the rage these days.

Orthodox Christians are annoying. Try asking one about fasting rules, or what their personal views are on fasting. All you will get is “Ask a priest!!” Jeesh. God forbid you have an autonomous thought.

The 100 Year Old Cure

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, once I got my hands on a glucose monitor it took me three days to determine which foods increased my blood glucose and which didn’t. Meat, eggs, fish and fat had negligible impact. Starches, including beans and ‘healthy whole grains’ put me through the roof. One of my worst readings ever came after an unsweetened, modest meal of brown rice and kidney beans; I found the recipe in a diabetic cookbook borrowed from the library. Oh, the irony.

Feeling like a scofflaw I immediately went against medical advice and began eating low carb. As a former devout vegan this was particularly difficult. I never had much of an ethical problem with meat, I just found it gross to eat something dead. But I’ve eaten a lot of dead things over the past three years and I sincerely believe it is preserving my life.

I wasn’t fat. I’ve never been fat. When I was a kid I was so thin my parents repeatedly threatened to hospitalize me unless I ate. I was BMI 19 when I fell pregnant with my three year old, and had gained all of 5 pounds when diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was BMI 19 when officially diagnosed with type 2, after his birth. I’m currently BMI 17.5… and still diabetic. However I have managed to avoid any medication or insulin by eating a very low carb diet.

But I was puzzled. My primary care physician told me to eat potatoes and brown rice when I was diagnosed. These foods spike my numbers astronomically! Why didn’t he simply advise me to eat low carb, or to avoid carbohydrates altogether (I have gone long periods eating zero carb, or close to it)?

It’s been a real alice in wonderland situation. Armed with nothing but a glucose monitor I figured out how to control my diabetes; I have a perfect A1C and a ‘superhuman’ hdl – triglycerides ratio by eating a virtually zero carb diet. But the entire medical establishment is unable to assist the countless millions of people out there with diabetes without pharmaceutical intervention? What was going on?

I’m still unsure what IS going on: are diabetics unable to stick to a strict low carb regimen? Does big pharma have a vested interest in diabetics being dependent on medication and insulin?

Imagine my shock when I stumbled across a book written more than ONE HUNDRED years ago: The Starvation Treatment of Diabetes:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/26058

The book is a series of diabetic case studies who were treated with nothing but a very low carb, high fat diet (remember this was before insulin was even an option). All the patients, except one already in a diabetic coma, leave treatment with normal blood glucose levels by doing nothing other than eating a carnivore centered, low carb/ high fat diet. In case I have to spell it out for you: it has been known for more than a hundred years that a meat based, low carbohydrate/ high fat diet controls diabetes, but for whatever reason this has been dismissed by the medical community.

Not long ago I was in costco and stopped in my tracks. I realized I was surrounded by foods that would kill me: cereals, dried fruit, beans, candy, breads, cookies, desserts, sacks of potatoes and huge bags of rice. But it was the animals keeping me alive and sparing me medication and insulin dependence. Those animals were sparing my vision, my limbs, my organs, and quite possibly preserved my pregnancy with my youngest son: he’s babbling away happily today because I ate those ‘dead things.’

Instead of guilt I just felt incredible gratitude. Gratitude to have access to meat, gratitude all those animals were preserving my life, my health, and granting me years to care for my children.

So once again I will implore any diabetics out there, both type 1 and type 2, to consider a very low carb diet. 100 years of knowledge can’t be wrong. Even if you just try it briefly, what do you have to lose beyond extensive medical hassles?

 

Costco Pizza Review

Despite being a member of Costco for years I never bought their pizza. I figured it would get cold by the time I reached home, plus we have a local pizzeria we normally buy from (they are good but not great). A few weeks ago my 14 year old daughter accompanied me to Costco and requested a pizza slice while we walked. I agreed, she devoured it and pronounced it DELICIOUS. So it was with only mild trepidation that I splurged on four cheese pies to feed my kids for dinner tonight.

I waited patiently as the pies were prepared. The dough was pressed by machine, as was the tomato sauce measured. Cheese is weighed by hand and distributed over the pie which is then placed in a large oven. About ten minutes later the pies are sliced (one guy used a metal guide to cut it) and boxed. I should note, you can select either 8 or 12 slices per pie- same price.

The pies were still hot when I got home, but as I served the food I immediately saw there were issues. The pies were all too browned. While I know some people like their pizzas roasted, many do not. And it wasn’t a fluke; all the other pies I saw prepared were likewise excessively browned. Had I cooked this pizza myself I would consider it burnt.

There are HUGE problems with the crust. Both in depth and texture. It wasn’t a thin crust, nor sicilian. It was just sloppy. While it had the appearance, especially around the edges, of sicilian, it wasn’t thick enough to be considered as such. But it was too thick to be thin crust. The bread was tough, chewy, and difficult to slice. I’m pretty sure this is due to not being properly rested or cultured, plus being cooked improperly at the wrong temperature.

A few of my kids liked it but most hated it. Two refused to eat it on sight. Even though I am diabetic, for the sake of this blog I ate half a slice. Here is my verdict:

The dough is horrid. Chewy, tough (but not crisp), dense. Either it wasn’t properly rested, or it was simply ill-prepared. The sauce was bitter and metallic, with no trace of italian flavorings. There was too much sauce, especially near the edges. The “burnt” taste only added to the bitterness, and with the thickness of the crust made me feel like I was eating soggy burnt toast. It was actually worse than frozen pizza!

So this pizza gets an ardent thumbs down. Unless you like mushy pizza crust, too much sauce, and burnt cheese, Costco pizza is not for you.

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.

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.

aic

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.

eggbeaters
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.

pretzels

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!