Why Popeye Popped Spinach, Not Pills: Vitamins Can Be Bad For You

I have been waiting for a study like this to come out.

A research group in Tel Aviv has finished one of the most comprehensive studies of Vitamin E supplementation, which analyzed all other prominent studies on the subject and considered data from over 300,000 people in the US, Europe and Isreal.

They found that, on average, popping Vitamin E pills may negatively impact quality of life.

From the press release: "To explain the meaning of this parameter," says Dr. Pinchuk, "consider a participant who was healthy during the first 10 out of 20 years of the study, but then suffered a stroke and became dependent on others throughout the following 10 years. The QALY [quality-adjusted-life-years] during the first 10 years of healthy life is 10, but after the stroke the quality of life is only half of what this person had before. Therefore, the second decade is considered the equivalent of merely 5 years of healthy life and in sum a person's QALY is 15...
On average, the quality-adjusted longevity is lower for vitamin-treated people. This says something significant."

Other studies have shown vitamins to be ineffective, or to cause birth defects or asthma, or to put undue strain on the kidneys. I think there will be more studies like this one. The body is not meant to be hit with vitamins, minerals or fatty acids in the concentrated form they are found in pills. Why pop capsules when you are better off with something yummy, like a spinach frittata, spaghetti marinara or toast smeared with nut butter.

Good sources of Vitamin E available at a farmers' market:


Wholegrain foods


picture by Dusan Zidar via Dreamstime


Freedom Trail Fruits

Imagine a pilgrimage of ham hocks, smoked turkey wings and fresh black-eyed peas winding up the country, traveling from the South to the cities of the North as if re-enacting the covert operations of the Freedom Trail.

This is exactly what has been going on for generations, according to the NYT. Southerners have loaded trucks full of special white cornmeal, 'sweet meat' and other Southern specialties and driven them up from Georgia and the Carolinas to homesick city-slickers in Harlem, Brooklyn and neighborhoods in Philly and Chicago. They sell the items out of their trucks, with all the benefits of shopping at a farmers' market:

"Because to some cooks, buying ham hocks from a supermarket or a warehouse store isn’t the same. At the trucks, somebody will ask you where your people are from. They will tell you how long to soak the black-eyed peas and when to start simmering the seasoning meat," Kim Severson writes.

"'You don’t have those conversations when you go and buy your pecans at Costco,' Ms. Ferris said."

This is a story written for cultivores -- us voracious eaters who simply want to know more about our food, its culture and the history of our human passion for it. Who want to use food as a window into the world.

In the article Marci Cohen Ferris, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the meaning of food in American culture, "points out that in Ralph Ellison’s 'Invisible Man,' the main character buys and eats a baked South Carolina yam on a Harlem street in the 1930s and is 'overcome by an intense feeling of freedom.'"

I feel the same way when I walk around the block tantalized by halvah, chorizo, camembert, miso, egg drop soup, collard greens, ceviche, bacon cheeseburgers, coconut curry and cannoli.

Intertwined is a lovely argument against being 100 percent locavore. Would okra from upstate satisfy the hunger pains of a Georgia-born Bed-Stuyer? Probably. Would it satisfy her homesickness? Not as much as buying from a traveling countryman.

And I would rather not trust my New Year's Hoppin' John recipe to a Yankee. Not only out of concerns for flavor authenticity, but Northerners tend to leave out the good-luck coin! (Whoever gets it in their serving is guaranteed good luck for the rest of the year.)

Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year.
Rice for riches and peas for peace.
- Southern saying on eating a dish of Hoppin' John on New Year's Day.

photo by Artography via Dreamstime


Inside-Out Apple Pie

Here’s an easy and delicious way to have that holiday treat we’re all craving.

Note: Do not sub in a different type of apple. I know, I know; Granny Smiths are not my favorite snacking apple either. But their sturdy texture is crucial in this recipe; other types break down and become pulp under the heat. Also, don’t worry about the puckered mouth you get when you eat a Granny Smith raw. Here, the sourness is first mellowed by the baking and second, necessary as a counterpoint for the sweet filling and sauce. Lastly, you MUST peel the apples. If you skip that step, all the steam will get trapped inside and turn everything to mush. But peeling them gives a firm-tender apple with a savory-sweet filling -- tasting much like right-side-in apple pie. Maybe even better.

Inside-Out Apple Pie

*adapted from a Cook's Illustrated recipe for Baked Apples

Serves 4

5 Granny Smith apples

4 Tbs butter, softened and divided

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped

1/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped

3 Tbs rolled oats

1 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1teaspoon vanilla

table salt (dash or pinch, to taste)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup juice (apple or orange) or cider

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel, core and cut 1 apple in a ¼ inch dice. Combine diced apple, 3 Tbs butter, sugar, cranberries, pecans, zest, cinnamon, vanilla and salt in medium bowl.

Cut ½ inch slice off the stem top of each apple; reserve. Peel the apples and hollow out a wide middle hole (about an inch from the apple edge) using a melon baller or paring knife, being careful not to pierce the bottom.

Melt remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet. When butter bubbles die down, place apples into skillet, cut side down. Cook until surface is golden brown, about 90 seconds. Flip apples over and fill with cranberry/oat/nut mixture, packing it down into the hollow and piling it on top of the apple. Place reserved apple caps on top of the filling. Pour maple syrup and juice or cider into the skillet. (If you are using a wide skillet, you may need more of each; you want ¼ to a ½ inch of liquid on the bottom.)

Place skillet in the oven and bake 35 to 45 minutes, basting every 15 minutes. Serve without the caps and generously doused with the syrup sauce.

photo by Nsilcock via Dreamstime


Thou Shalt Not Kill

"I don't eat living things," says a beige-dressed woman at a holiday party.

"Me neither," I agree. "I like them to be killed first."

Beige Woman turns on her heel in a huff and I am left wondering if she meant she is able to
photosynthesize, that she only consumes air, water and sun.

The next time this little fantasy of mine plays itself out, I will be armed with the Natalie Angier's research from today's NYT.

In a nutshell, she says, plants are living creatures, too. Not only do they grow, react and reproduce, but they are complex creatures that have invested much in their own survival.

Humans with chlorophyll-pigmented skin are saints. The rest of us are murderers.

Happy Holidays!

picture by Eti Swinford via Dreamstime


Brussels Sprout Slaw

By popular request, here's my new go-to holiday recipe for brussels sprouts (which, I maintain, are the absolute cutest of the cabbage family. Don't they look like green sleigh bells?) I made it for Thanksgiving but it would make a nice palate-cleansing side dish for any game-heavy meal. I am dreaming of serving it along with some lamb...

The dish also gets a holiday star for its convenience factor. You can prepare the majority of it in advance, it travels well and it doesn't require any space in the oven!

Happy Holidays!

Brussels Sprout Slaw with Maple Pecans
*adapted from Bon Appetit's 11/09 issue
8 servings

cooking spray
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more for seasoning, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (plus more for seasoning)
1/4 cup whole grain Dijon mustard (whole grain is key)
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1.5 pounds of brussels sprouts, trimmed

NUTS: Preheat oven to 325. Spray large sheet of foil with cooking spray and set aside. Whisk maple syrup, salt and pepper in a medium. Add pecans; stir to coat. Spread pecans on cookie sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes before stirring. Bake another 6 minutes, or until glaze is bubbling thickly. IMMEDIATELY transfer nuts to foil or they will harden to the pan. If stored airtight, these can be made a couple days ahead.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add brussels sprouts and cook for about 5 minutes, until "crisp-tender." They should still be a lovely bright green. Drain and rinse with cold water. When cool and relatively dry, slice to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness. Can be made up to 3 days ahead; chill.

DRESSING: Combine mustard, vinegar, lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be made up to 3 days ahead; chill.

An hour or so before serving, coat the brussels sprouts with dressing and mix in some pecans. Garnish the serving dish with additional pecans.

picture by "Egis" via Dreamstime


Ugly Roots make Yummy Soups

One of my favorite vegetables this time of year is celery root, also known as celeriac. Despite its name, this hearty veg is not the root of celery. It does anchor some stalks that are awfully celery-like in appearance, they don’t taste very good and I’d skip putting them in your bloody mary. Still, celery root is from the celery family and the same salty flavor base – so familiar in stocks, hors d’oevres trays and, of course, “ants on a log” – infuses this starchy tuber.

While it is rather homily in appearance, it can add a lot of pizzazz (without being garish about it) to dishes such as gratins, purees, stews – pretty much anything you would use potatoes for. In fact, that is how I think of celeriac: a celery-flavored potato.

The weather has made me obsessed with soup. It has been two-soup day every day this week, a feat which was greatly helped by a large pot of the below.

Soothing White Winter Soup

Serves 6 as an entree, 12 as an appetizer

NOTES: 1) don’t worry about knife skills as you prepare the ingredients; you are going to puree everything anyway. 2) An immersion blender makes this dish a breeze to make.

2 Tbs bacon grease

2 shallots, sliced

2 leeks, well cleaned and sliced

1 medium celery root, peeled, roughly chopped into 1-2 inch chunks

4-5 parsnips, peeled, roughly chopped into 1-2 inch chunks

1/3 -1/2 cup fresh horseradish, peeled, roughly chopped into 1-2 inch chunks

1 head romanesco cauliflower (looks like light-green, pyramid-studded sea coral), roughly chopped.

2 ginger gold or honey crisp apple, cored, peeled, roughly chopped into 1-2 inch chunks

6-8 cups chicken broth (more if lid doesn’t fit very tightly)

1 cup cream

sea salt, black pepper

scallion tops, finely chopped (optional garnish)

In a large stock pot, warm bacon grease over medium heat. Add shallots and leeks; lightly carmelize and take off the heat. Add the rest of the vegetables (minus the scallions) and the apples to the pot, along with 6 cups of broth. Cover pot and bring broth to a boil. Allow to boil until everything is very tender, about 40 minutes.

Puree, either with an immersion blender right in the pot, or transfer portions to your standing blender. Blend until soup is all one smooth consistency. Stir in cream and additional broth until soup is desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot, topped with scallions if desired.

picture by Chiyacat


City Council Speaker Sees Great Things for City Food System

Describing Mayor Bloomberg's initiatives, such as serving free breakfast in schools and 'banning' trans fats, as important first steps but ultimately "piecemeal", City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn is about to release a new plan for the entire food system (production, transportation, sales) of New York City.

Looking forward to examining the details!

picture by Michal Jesensky


Grass Dinner or Shot in the Neck? Using Drugs to Fight E. coli

In typical American fashion, Big Agriculture is trying to solve a bad habit with yet another bad habit. Like overdosing on aspirin to continue one's extended drinking binge, the U.S. Agriculture Department is now testing a drug to lessen E. coli outbreaks.

It is like they haven't even bothered to ask why such outbreaks have risen so sharply in recent years. While cow-borne illnesses have been on the rise for decades, according to the NYT, the industry has initiated 52 recalls of beef tainted with E. coli since January 2007, compared with 20 in the three previous years.

“I was looking for anything that could help us because people were getting sick and people were dying,” Dr. Richard Raymond, the Agriculture Department’s under secretary for food safety from 2005 to 2008, told the New York Times.

Why does "anything that could help" seem to always come in the form of a drug?

The primary reason cow-related diseases are on the rise is because most cows are fed corn and animal products. (Yes, they are vegetarians by nature, but who cares about nature when fattening them up is so profitable.) This may not explain the jump over the last two years, but it does offer a better solution than a shot.

Before cows were switched to corn diets, they had neutral pH digestive systems. We humans have acidic stomachs. Therefore, any bug that could live in the cow found the environment of our digestive systems inhospitable to say the least.

When cows are fed an improper diet, namely corn instead of grass, their stomachs become acidic. And over the years, a strain of E. coli has mutated to withstand the cow's acidified rumen. This mutation, which is nothing but our own self-created Frankenstein bug, is what is surviving to kill or paralyze us.

To reverse this trend, microbiologists have found that we can reduce the number of bugs by as much as 80 percent simply be returning cows to a grass diet, allowing the rumen to de-acidify. (Remember, the bad bugs don't like neutral pH environments.)

The vaccine may have comparable efficacy rate, although it is too soon to be sure -- not only about its efficacy but about any potential side effects. After all, we are just now learning about the problems caused by the long-used antibiotics pumped into our meat and dairy sources to keep them healthy despite their unhygienic living conditions.

Grass, on the other hand, has wonderful side effects. Not only is the meat uncontaminated and drug-free, it is full of omega 3s, beta carotene and other nutrients largely missing from the sickly flesh of corn-fed animals.

Grass dinner or a shot in the neck? Easy to see what the cow would prefer, but I am afraid the industry will go for the latter.

picture by Dennis Chudonov