Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Poaching Good Recipes

In Eating Is Extreme I spoke about all the foods and methods of cooking them that can kill you. And, of course, as stated in the post, I began to get depressed by my own ramblings. As a foodie who's more interested in health than being a douchebag, I follow Dr. Josh Axe on Facebook, Instagram and generally wherever I see his name. Delivering alternatives to harsh products as well as information on different health ailments, I learned from him that I've likely developed something he terms "Candida Gut" from my many years of eating cupcakes and nothing of real sustenance. As such, Axe states that people who experience the condition often suffer from "damp insides" which can be remedied by foods which are warm and high in nutrients. To some extent I was able to (correctly or incorrectly) diagnose myself with the condition based on the fact that I'm always cold and love soup (as well as a few other symptoms which seem much more prevalent such as anxiety). So, it would make sense that my body craves warm foods to balance the coldness within (ha). And the creation of soups does provide a way to cook foods which is a bit gentler (and healthier) than a searing pan or grill: poaching.

Visuals help.

According to Campbell's (soup) Kitchen, poaching is a cooking method whereby one, "simmer[s] food in hot liquid until... cooked." The same source also states that it is a "gentle" cooking procedure which is also classified as a "moist-heat cooking method." Yummy. So, whereas I was at a loss for foods that were cooked but unexposed to the Maillard-Reaction (see Eating Is Extreme) I was happy to see poaching as a method that could be both healthy and beneficial.

I recently was reintroduced to the poaching method from an ancient Cooking Light periodical stashed in the back of my local nail salon. Gaining my attention with a recipe for lobster, I noticed the chef at Dudley's Refresher in Maine used the poaching method to cook the crustacean. Specifically, she poached the lobster in butter which made me melt like... butta.

And, just like the chef above, one need not solely poach their item in water. Chicken stock (soon to be the topic of a forthcoming article), tomato sauce or even wine can all serve as liquids which can both poach or gently heat an item while simultaneously imparting flavor. Thus below, I've included a few recipes which use the poaching method as opposed to the roasting method for a healthier outcome. Enjoy!

Poached Eggs: Start with the basics, as they say. When I first came down to Washington with my family when I was fourteen, I noticed an option for poached eggs on the menu. "What are poached eggs?" I asked my mother who, being of Irish and Polish descent, cooked eggs two ways: hard boiled when she planned ahead and soft boiled when she was running short on time. But somehow, poached eggs seemed like an invitation to fine dining... where not everything was boiled as fuck.

I think I've heard that classically trained chefs begin by learning to cook eggs. With less danger of disease which can appear in uncooked meat as well as lower costs than prime cut meats, eggs (I suppose) are a great way to learn the basics of cooking; and the same goes here. Learning to poach eggs (as I'm still doing) provides one with the opportunity to play with the temperature of your poaching liquid and arrive at a level of firmness you prefer in your meat- very important to know. So, using the recipe (or link) above, poach some eggs for yourself or a friend... they'll think they're experiencing fine dining ;)

Poached Fish: Since poaching is a gentle method of cooking where heats don't become comparatively high, it's usually used to warm delicate meats... which are generally healthier than the tougher ones anyways. So the cooking method's really a win-win in terms of health. Here, I've included Emeril Lagasse's recipe for poached salmon to show the method's ease of use and because it was the first one that showed up on my google search. Anyways, while the stock initially heats to a high temperature, Lagasse informs readers to turn the temperature down so that it's only simmering when they add the salmon steaks. And while poaching meats is healthy, it often takes some vigilance while it cooks in order to ensure a correct level of "doneness." However, since poaching often involves more delicate meats, cooking times are often quick quick.

Poached Vegetables: While you likely couldn't tell from the post which led to this one (Eating Is Extreme) I really don't like being prosletory about food... telling people to eat (or not eat) one way or the other. In general, I like to inform and let people make their choices from there (not that anyone listens to me). However, I hate to say that the more I read about meat and its effects on our environment and health through consumption, the more unappetizing it becomes. Vegetables, on the other hand, are items which become more intriguing with more knowledge. Loaded with nutrients and lending themselves to a variety of cooking styles, vegetables can be a more indulgent item to poach.

When you're young, your mother (or father) tells you to, "eat your vegetables so you can have dessert." When you're older, you tell yourself to eat your vegetables so you can poach them in something sweet. By sweet, I mean luxurious. It's true that eating vegetables leaves space for richer dips or a dessert which follows. Having consumed multiple nutrients alongside relatively few calories, veggies can ease the guilt of poaching something in a decadent broth. It's not so much about the strain rich meats and dips can place on our waistlines it's more about the strain it can place on our hearts. So, in honor of balance I've included a recipe (above) for poached vegetables served alongside a caper mayonnaise. Magnifico!

Soy Steamed Chicken: Last year, herbal steams were all the rage. Amy Sedaris was using it and Into The Gloss was writing about it. Indeed, it seemed to be on the radar of every girl with perfect skin. So, as you can imagine, I abstained from the trend. Not to downgrade its effectiveness, I just knew my skin troubles were more than skin-deep and a little steam wasn't going to fix a larger problem. But steam is helpful in opening pores which can lead to a loosing of dirt and oils within their place of residence. And the same can go for food. When we steam something, we're not only cooking it in a way which makes it more tender we're also cooking in a manner that maintains its nutrients.

Although steaming is different than poaching, they both qualify as a "moist-heating method" under Campbell's classifications. And, while I sang the high praises of vegetables in lieu of less healthy meats, I saved the healthier cooking method for the less healthy dish. Marinated in soy sauce and shit, the chicken in the recipe is then steamed atop a bed of cabbage leaves. Make poached eggs for breakfast and this dish for dinner and your friends will claim you a chef extraordinaire. 

Monday, September 19, 2016


They stood on opposite ends of the corner

One headed to the club, One headed to the restaurant 

But that's where their lives would have brought them anyways.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Letting Go

Fall represents a change in pace. Children go back to school and, historically, food gets ready for harvest. Indeed, in the Jewish calendar the New Year is celebrated with both sweetness on Rosh
Hashanah and solemnity on Yom Kippur. In general, Fall is a pivotal time of letting go. We let go of easy days in lieu of a more hectic pace just as the trees lest go of their leaves. And, for myself, I've learned more about the art of letting go in the months leading up to Fall through yoga.

In Just Do It, I referenced difficult emotions which can arise when we let our muscles relax. It's a little like opening a closet which you formerly packed in a hasty manner... when objects tumble out, it can be a shock but it's better to face the clutter so that we can feel peace in organization rather than ignore a closet which can otherwise serve as an important form of storage. It's a little similar with our emotions. As Freud once stated, "life is hard." And the decisions we don't wish make or the events we don't know how to handle can sometimes be shelved in the mind's closet or unconscious where it's out of conscious sight but never really out of mind. 

As Freud said, "life is hard."

I remember once reading in the New York Times that, from an anthropological perspective, when societies become more stratified economically, the inequality between men and women goes up. Indeed, the article looked at wives in Upper East Side addresses whose husbands possess comparative wealth but not much room in the lives of their families. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and the article took a clearly academic as opposed to judgmental stance (you can read it here). Yet one other characteristic of this strange community seems to be its ubiquitous presence of social norms. People of a particular socioeconomic status may attend charm school. There are a million utensils to use and you have to know how to use them. And as this current election cycle has taught us, what you talk about and how you talk about it (i.e. political correctness) differs with one's education and station. The point is, a lot has changed since the time of hunting and gathering when we as a species tended to work less and enjoy greater equality among the sexes. Yet, while we may no longer feel the threat of facing a lion in the hunt, life still presents its stresses no matter how technologically advanced we become. And so though we've changed our surroundings, our stress response has remained the same. 

Stress comes to us in many forms. Although we no longer face the pressures of the hunt, we often face the pressures of traffic. While hunter-gatherer societies were often close knit and provided resources for the entire tribe, we are now faced with more independent economic arrangements which are sometimes stretched and as unpredictable as the environmental droughts faced by our ancestors. And even though we've developed a host of social norms and rules to accompany our ever emerging technologies, our fear of falling "out of the tribe" is just as strong as it was when we actually lived in one. Indeed, we define strength in numbers as, "the hypothesis that, by being part of a large physical group... an individual is less likely to be the victim of a mishap, accident, attack or other bad event." So, we have more rules to abide yet the same fear of breaking them as well as general stresses which may not be life-threatening but activate our bodies in a way which can still be detrimental to our health.

When we come up against a stressful situation, be it an impulse from our unconscious or the unexpected sound of a siren, the body often initiates a fight-or-flight response. According to Harvard Health Publications, when the sympathetic nervous system activates this process, the heart rate goes up, the muscles tense and a cacophony of hormones are released preparing us for battle. However, when this response is repeatedly activated, as it often is in today, it can wreak havoc on our systems.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, there is a scene which always makes me feel uncomfortable in which Johnny Depp (playing Walter S. Thompson) consumes pure adrenaline and goes on a crazy trip. I'm not sure if there's any truth to the scene but adrenaline (or epinephrine) which is released during the fight-or-flight process helps us run from a lion but can really mess with us if released consistently. Indeed, the effects of prolonged stress, according to Harvard Health Publications includes an increase in blood pressure, issues with obesity, brain damage which can cause anxiety and a whole host of other issues. So what can we do to help ourselves when faced with the perils of modern stress? The answer may be surprisingly simple.

When I was in college, I had a roommate whose parents collected modern art. So she never really wanted to go to a museum. "I grew up around art," she would say. "I really don't want to go out and look at it." And while I remember confusing conversations about "artists" who spent all day sending shocks through sheet metal, I had a difficult time understanding why she couldn't appreciate the art as much as people who didn't grow up around it. However, while Eastern Religion and meditation has seemed to have swept the nation as of late, I really hold off on trying it because... I've grown up with it.

While I've had to sit through many conversations on meditation, boring as it sounds, there's a group of people who inspire me to try it - vets returning from home from war. The battle field is one of the places left in modern society where fight-or-flight scenarios may emerge on a regular basis. Being exposed to unspeakable horrors, many vets return with confusion (for lack of a better term) as to how and acclimate back into "normal" life. After returning from WWII, my grandfather could not watch the fireworks on the Forth of July because the loud noises brought back painful memories. When woken from a bad dream by my grandmother, she said his first response would be to reach under his pillow where he kept his gun while he slept on active duty. Of course, nothing was there in the states. For most of us inexperienced in battle it's difficult to imagine what it might be like. But that doesn't mean we can't help where needed. And one person attempting such an endeavor is psychologist Emma Seppala. 

Breathing Happiness

So, as you can see from the video above, the simple act of watching one's breath can have profound implications for our health. Indeed, according to WebMD, several benefits of daily meditation include a reduction in stress and/or an improvement of psoriasis to name a few. And, while meditation fundamentally is a simple process, I'm certainly not schooled to teach anyone its key steps. So, in my first attempt to learn about the process, I picked up a book by Jon Kabat Zinn entitled, Wherever You Go There You Are. Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Kabat Zinn is also the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and the Stress Reduction Clinic as well as the author of various tomes. Below, he shares steps for beginning the process of meditation. Enjoy!

Jon Kabat Zinn, ya'll.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Eating is Extreme

The title above is a bit of a misnomer. The act of eating is not actually extreme but the attempt to eat healthy seems to be an exercise in extremity these days. In Sunshine and Structure, I referenced the article, Excuse Me While I Lather my Child in this Toxic Death Cream, written by a tired mother fed up with proclamations of toxicity against everyday goods. But, in my opinion, the reality is that we're surrounded by convenient foods and products that do pose potential health risks down the road. I never really wanted to say this on my blog but I do believe we live in a toxic food environment.

D.C. represent...

Growing up, I remember a sort of infomercial which claimed, "with new information coming out everyday about food, it's hard to know what's healthy." Being raised in a family that put a premium on health, I was lucky enough to know that, yes there are trends but, in general, a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and meats was pretty much the standard bearer of a good diet. And this is essentially true. It might not make you look like Gisele (which leads to an alternate issue in our food-culture) but it likely keeps you healthy barring any unforeseen circumstances. However, even with a balanced diet, there are certain limitations and sacrifices we generally make to be truly healthy. There are also alternative avenues proselytized by the media which sound nice (or like a quick fix) but really lead nowhere. So, in an effort to clear things up, I've drawn up my own plan for health as far as I know - so, you can totally disregard it if you wish. I start with foods that I've found can be completely eliminated from the diet and then get narrower. Along the way, I've tried to point out food trends which are relatively bullshit so as not to make eating so elitist and unappetizing. Like political correctness, it's good when eating works for everyone and doesn't seem too overwhelming. So, below are my (amateur) findings. Enjoy!

Processed Foods
In Candid-dida, I spoke about cutting processed foods from my diet for about a week. In short, the experience was truly eye opening. All of a sudden, my body had the nutrients it needed to get by. My sugar cravings went down as did my anxiety and constant need to go to yoga. Instead of my body shunning food it knew was not good for it, my appetite increased as did my good mood. It wasn't always easy but the results were worth it. 

Of course, with processed foods, there's often the question of price (and access). Food deserts or areas without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables tend to exist in urban areas with lower socioeconomic means. While I believe I've heard the argument that processed foods provide a high amount of calories per dollar the movie Fed Up has told us that not all calories are created equal. And processed foods do possess elements our bodies don't necessarily need. While a lemon simply provides the goodness of a lemon, lemon juice (at least of the Sicilia brand) can contain lemon juice, lemon oil and sulpher dioxide (a preservative). And it is these preservatives which can contribute to adverse efffects on our health including issues with asthma, hyperactivity and heart damage (accoring to Livestrong.com). Furthermore, since processed foods are not exactly concentrated in nutrients (it'd be unprofitble to be so), one often eats more to gain a sense of satiety.

In Candid-dida, I also talked about eating meat and that it became a necessity when I relied more on whole foods. As they say, variety is the spice of life and as you feed your body more natural items, the more it seems to crave a new diversity of foods and nutrients. So while I was raised in a family with a high percentage of vegetarians, I know I need meat. However, meat eating seems to be where we get on the tight-rope wire and become extra careful of our habits. While (I think) one should be free to eliminate processed foods entirely according to circumstance, there have been some trends in the meat industry which can make our heads spin.

Going along with processed foods, processed meats are reported by the World Health Organization to, "increase the risk of cancer," according to the BBC. So this seems to be the first extremity in eating. For you goyim, bacon and sausage are part of the culinary landscape and for school children everywhere, so are lunch meats. However, there are luckily other delicious meats to eat. According to the WHO, however, the next step is to be cognizant of...

When it comes to meat, size matters (hehe). Scientifically speaking, both adult males and females are advised to consume about 6 oz. of meat on the daily (according to the American Heart Association). This, to me, is the second area where eating can become extreme. While 6 oz. of meat generally equals the size of two card decks, restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Arby's and Chili's pride themselves on their large portions for less. In order to reduce this amount, however, the above Association advises building meals around vegetables...

Fruits and vegetables are delicious (I think). Vegetables provide a whopping percentage of nutrients and fruits can satisfy our sweet teeth and make bland dishes more palatable. In one serving of broccoli alone, one can finagle 220% of his or her vitamin C intake. One potato (the unhealthy stepchild of vegetables) possesses B6 to help our hormones and potassium for our muscles. But, within this category, there are concerns as to how such plants are grown and where they are distributed.

As stated in Eating Locally, Religiously, I was at first confounded by the locavore movement (from a dietary perspective). Of course, locavores like Gwyneth Paltrow seemed to love eating food grown within a 60 mile radius for environmental reasons but we don't all have access to the undisturbed farms of East Hampton. Plus, researchers have shown that eating locally doesn't have a large impact on environmental healing. I do wonder at times however, if it can have an economic one.

As I get older, I like to think more and more about where my dollar is going (probably because I have so few of them). It's not about eschewing Capitalism, it's about using my power as a consumer within the system. Like I said in Techo-Traps, I'm a bit old fashioned and, I guess I enjoy Adam Smith's idea of capitalism where a vendor feels a sense of obligation to a consumer partially because he or she has to "look you in the eye." These days, such an arrangement is hard to find (I know the worker at Chipotle doesn't give a fuck if I like my sandwich) but, at the farmer's market a farmer tends to stand behind the product they've worked to nurture and often develop relationships with the yuppie patrons who like to stop by. For me, eating locally is great but it's also important for me to spend locally. Plus, the idea of eating locally can sometimes give one more to think about in an already complicated process of eating health.

If I was originally confused by the locavore movement, I was a little miffed by the organic one. Eating fruits and vegetables in a sea of more tempting but less healthy options is an achievement in itself. And yes, the presence of pesticides can be harmful but, as I see it, it is just one factor of the farming model. 

When scouring the Internet for seeds several years ago, I came across the fact that farmers often prize soil as their main "crop" from which all other crops derive. Maintaining healthy soil will generally give way to healthy plants the way quality ingredients will give way to a quality dish. To some extent, a small farmer, will be able to tend more to the soil of his or her land than the expansive landscapes of the agribusiness industry. Also, both the small farmer and agribusiness alike must shell out copious amounts for the organic label, causing some to farm organically while giving an FU to the government. So, at the end of the day, pat yourself on the back for eating fruits or vegetables, organically or inorganically.

But while fruits and vegetables are healthy, they're not always tasty on their own (there's a reason kids have to be incentivized to eat their broccoli). And this is where items such as oils, vinegars and other condiments come in although, sometimes, at the expense of our health.

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids which can help lower one's risk of heart disease (according to The Mayo Clinic). Oils, however are processed and not all are created equal. Recently, some speculation has arisen surrounding vegetable oil. After analyzing the substance again, researchers found that vegetable oil, specifically, could lead to rather than detract from heart disease (according to Time). Furthermore, while olive oil has been shown to provide a myriad of benefits, it has also be shown that not all olive oils are what they seem. 

Vinegars are great, but like oils, they are processed. This is not necessarily a bad thing but they are also sold for around 3.99 (a gallon). This often makes me wonder what's in them and how they're made. A book I'm looking to buy is Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila Latourrette's Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. While poking around Amazon for the tome, however, I stumbled upon a New York Times article covering how he made vinegar. Stationed in his kitchen at the Ressurection Monastery in Millbrook, New York, Brother Avila detailed how he began the vinegar making process by boiling a pot of wine. At $3.99, however, I'm skeptical most food companies use the brother's process (or base of wine). And even if they did, wine has its own issues as well.


Every few weeks, my father sends me an email detailing the latest food recall. I kind of can't stand them but I always ensure I reply politely. In one email, however, it detailed that trace but worrisome amounts of arsenic were found in many popular wines. To go back to my point in the introduction, we often pay a price for mass produced products... just not at the register.

When I began to "eat natty", I began to rely more on salt for flavoring. Taking well to anything from meat to vegetables, salt is a natural alternative to heavy dressings or dips. The issue, however, is that our bodies don't need much of it. 

Don't get me wrong, our bodies need salt, just about 1 teaspoon per day, according to the FDA. Beyond that, issues with blood pressure can occur. So, while foods are great salted, if we stick to recommended guidelines, they just won't taste that great. 

Cooking Methods
In the Spring, Shape and a bunch of other publications reported that the healthiest method of cooking food was... steaming. Unfortunately, such publications were followed by summer - the season of grilling. But exposing foods to high temperatures can be detrimental to both the foods and ourselves.

According to Eating Well, "[t]here's no evidence that grilling causes cancer. But cooking meat at the high temperatures you use to grill... causes heterocyclic amines [HCAs] and polycyclic amines [PCAs], compounds linked with some cancers." When we don't reach for salts or oils to season our foods, heat can be the next best thing to bring out flavor. High fluctuations in temperatures however, are just as problematic for foods as they are for other materials. I remember watching a video in which Jamie Oliver claimed the best way of searing meat on the stove was to first let one's pan reach a really high temerapture, and then allowing the meat to form a caramelized "crust" while its internal flavor remained "locked in". While, Oliver did instruct the viewer to not cook cold meat over high heat, it was said more for the sake of textural over health-related reasons.

"Lots of salt and lots of pepper," according to Mr. Oliver.

When meat browns, it undergoes a process called the Maillard Reaction, which is responsible for providing many browned or "toasted" foods such as breads with a, "favorable flavor," according to Wikipedia. The issue, according to the same source, is that when temperatures climb too high, "a potential carcinogen called acrylamide can be formed." (The same process can be indirectly used to create artificial flavors). Acrylamide is found in many things, not just food. Paper towels and food packaging are just a few of the goods which possess the substance. Accoring to the National Cancer Institue, however, while, "the [FDA] regulates the amount of residual acrylamide in a variety of materials that come in contact with food... there are currently no guidelines governing the presence of acrylamide in food itself." And, at this point, I'm starting to get depressed by my own blog post.

Despair not, young'uns, there are superfoods that can save the day! Only, in my opinion, many superfoods in stores today are stupid. As stated earlier, while I certainly had my confusions as a youngster, I was generally aware of what was healthy and what was not (usually it was the things I was eating). With two parents who preached the value of common-sensical health, I never once heard the words "ashitaba", "astragalus" or "cordyceps". Perhaps they weren't of the hippie-variety or perhaps they didn't want to drop $50 on a single food item but they always maintained that relying on natural foods was the way to go.

Last Spring, I actually wrote about superfoods in a post (Compararive Curiosities), noting their reported benefits. As I see it now, an emphasis on superfoods is a little like the organic movement with women in Lululemon pants touting the benefits of Eucommia bark (which retails at around $55 a pop). I'm not saying such products don't maintain their reported benefits, it's just that I wonder if they provide a way of consuming nutrients sans calories. Additionally, many benefits and nutrients we can obtain just fine from whole foods (the product, not the store). Spending a fortune on specialized goods is fine if you can afford it but should not stand in as a substitute for good habits. Again, if we pay collectively for health care as a society, we should make healthy eating available to everyone, not just the elite.  So, this is where we return to balance. Simply eating when we're hungry, foods that are naturally and nutritious, help our bodies and minds (and maybe the economy). As I referenced in Techno-Traps we often become our parents and, I've found their endless preaching to be true: that we don't need fancy remedies or unique trends to be healthy, we (conversely) need what's simple... just what the Earth and farms give to us. As Occam's razor tells us, "the simplest solution is often the right one."

So there you have it... a long winded way of saying that yes, there are many temptations out there and ways to eat unhealthy are both tasty and convenient but can generally harm us in the long run, both as individuals and as a collective society. So where does all thing information leave us? The truth is often found in the middle and, to no surprise, the foods featured in the middle of the article are the ones that seem best for us. One not need rely too much on processed food for survival but can eat meat and produced not dressed too heavily in sauces and condiments. And one eventually notices the complexity of natural foods that have a depth well beyond the immediate hit of a sugar-laced item. And there are food trends that come and go, but at the end of the day, I've found our own bodies have way more knowledge than the evening news and can, on its own, inform us what's right and what is not. Trust Thyself and treat yourself well.