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The Food Almanac: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Food Almanac: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

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In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Restaurant Milestones
Today in 2007, Mr. B's Bistro opened for the first time since the hurricane. It was the last major restaurant to reopen, among those we knew were coming back. The damage was freakishly severe, the result of waterfalls cascading from the parking garage above. Managing partner Cindy Brennan kept most of her staff together through the twenty-month closing, and chef Michelle McRaney and many of the old waiters were there to pick up where they left off. By a wonderful coincidence, Mr. B's brought the number of open restaurants in New Orleans to 809--exactly the number that were open the day before Hurricane Katrina.

Local Food Legends
Ruth Fertel died today in 2002. The world's most successful female restaurateur, she bought the old Chris Steak House on Broad Street in New Orleans with almost all the money she had in 1965. She turned it into the leading chain of premium steakhouses, with over a hundred locations around the globe. Ruth's Chris, as she renamed it, is among the top steakhouses in all of its cities. Although the quality of the beef and the sizzling butter are hallmarks, those were already in place when Ruth came in. She brought to the steakhouse a customer-is-right attitude among all the staff. If you're willing to pay Ruth's top-dollar prices, you could have anything you wanted within reason, without question.

Deft Dining Rule #378 (Ruth's Law):
If you are spending more than fifty dollars in a restaurant, you have the right to remain at the table as long as you please.

Today's Flavor
Today is National Eggs Benedict Day. Eggs Benedict are the best known of the catalog of fancy poached-eggs-with-sauce dishes popular at upscale breakfast places and brunch restaurants. Many stories exist as to who invented it, or who it was named for. All the recipes are about the same, however. Poached eggs rest on Canadian bacon or ham, which in turn are atop English muffins or a Holland rusks. (The latter is a styrofoam-like bread that's resistant to the water that comes off the eggs.) The whole thing is covered with hollandaise and, if you're in a really classy place, some slivers of truffle. We've always thought that the eggs-on-eggs aspect of the dish (hollandaise is mostly eggs and butter) is peculiar, but we can't gainsay the goodness of a well-made plate of eggs Benedict. Main problem: not all cooks know how to poach eggs. The yolks should stand up like spheres, not flattened, and be completely covered with very thick hollandaise. And the ham or Canadian bacon should be grilled.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
When you want a light supper, nothing's as good as a well-made egg dish with a great sauce and something like crabmeat, smoked salmon, or prosciutto

Edible Dictionary
Hamburger Lake, Utah is a permanent water pocket in the mountains sixty-six miles south of Provo. The sparsely-wooded hills, in the Manti la Sal National Forest, are networked with hiking trails, several of which converge on the lake. There's a cleared campground there. There may be fish in the lake, but it's certain there are no hamburgers. To get one of those, you need to hike down eight miles to Fountain Green and Juanita's Restaurant.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Ham Hill rises 446 feet on the eastern side of the town of Centralia in west central Washington State, twenty-six miles south of Olympia, the state capital. The summit of the mile-long ridge is exactly a mile from the Cup Of Mud Espresso Shop. (Really! I thought this part of the world had great coffee.) Some homes with a nice view line Ham Hill Road as it runs along the highest points of this hill, which makes you hungry for as sandwich. You can get that at Jag's Hi-Way 12 Diner, near the Cup of Mud.

Music To Dine By
Composer Henry Mancini was born today in 1924. He specialized in big, lush, romantic arrangements and powerful movie music. Among his many musical works with tenuous food connections are The Days Of Wine And Roses and the score for Breakfast At Tiffany's. His first big hit, Mr. Lucky, was the theme music for my radio show for a number of years.

Food And Medicine
Today in 2004, a large study of men with gout (it's almost exclusively a male ailment) revealed that drinking alcoholic beverages contributes to the formation of uric crystals in the joints. That gives rise to the sharp pain. It seems that the drink that causes the most problems is beer. Wine is the least offensive. It has long been known that men with gout tend to read publications like this one, because they eat and drink well. They also seem to be more active sexually. (I'm not making that up.)

The Saints
St. Drogo (Dreux in French) was a hermit who lived in Belgium in the Twelfth Century. He is the patron saint of coffeehouse owners.

Wine On Television
Today in 1956, the famous winemaking episode of I Love Lucy first aired. In it, Lucille Ball gets into a vat of grapes and starts stomping them. By the end of the scene, she's in a fight with the other grape-crushing women, and all of them wind up wrestling in the grapes (Red grapes, of course.) Hilarious to this day.

Food Namesakes
Bill Spooner, guitarist with the rock band The Tubes, was born today in 1949. Hockey star Gary Galley hit the Ice Of Life today in 1963. Pro golfer Trey Mapleswas born today in 1971--in a food-named place, yet: Wheat Ridge,Colorado. By the way, have you tried Wheat Ridges with a good garlic-and-sardine dip?. British actor Nick Berry walked onto The Big Stage today in 1963. Pro tennis player Dennis Pate hit the baseline today in 1962. Wait--he doesn't pronounce it with an accent on the "e"? Never mind. . Joan Bakewell, a television host and journalist in Great Britain, was born today in 1933. Another British author with bread in his moniker,Mark Baker, had his personal Page One today in 1985. German poetSarah Kirsch had her first stanza today in 1935. (Kirsch is a German cherry brandy.)

Words To Eat By
"He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart."--C.S. Lewis.

Words To Drink By
"I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast."--W.C. Fields.

U.S. Engaged in Torture After 9/11, Review Concludes

WASHINGTON — A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 600-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

It describes in detail the ethical compromise of government lawyers who offered “acrobatic” advice to justify brutal interrogations and medical professionals who helped direct and monitor them. And it reveals an internal debate at the International Committee of the Red Cross over whether the organization should speak publicly about American abuses advocates of going public lost the fight, delaying public exposure for months, the report finds.

Mr. Jones, a former ambassador to Mexico, noted that his panel called for the release of a declassified version of the Senate report and said he believed that the two reports, one based on documents and the other largely on interviews, would complement each other in documenting what he called a grave series of policy errors.

“I had not recognized the depths of torture in some cases,” Mr. Jones said. “We lost our compass.”

While the Constitution Project report covers mainly the Bush years, it is critical of some Obama administration policies, especially what it calls excessive secrecy. It says that keeping the details of rendition and torture from the public “cannot continue to be justified on the basis of national security” and urges the administration to stop citing state secrets to block lawsuits by former detainees.

The report calls for the revision of the Army Field Manual on interrogation to eliminate Appendix M, which it says would permit an interrogation for 40 consecutive hours, and to restore an explicit ban on stress positions and sleep manipulation.

The core of the report, however, may be an appendix: a detailed 22-page legal and historical analysis that explains why the task force concluded that what the United States did was torture. It offers dozens of legal cases in which similar treatment was prosecuted in the United States or denounced as torture by American officials when used by other countries.

The report compares the torture of detainees to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. “What was once generally taken to be understandable and justifiable behavior,” the report says, “can later become a case of historical regret.”

Pollan Cooks!

The seven most famous words in the movement for good food are: �t food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They were written, of course, by Michael Pollan, in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the follow-up to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Now Pollan might add three more words to the slogan: 𠇊nd cook them.” Because the man who so cogently analyzed production and nutrition in his best-known books has tackled what he calls “the middle link in the food chain: cooking.”

But Pollan isn’t about to become a cookbook writer, at least not yet. In 𠇌ooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” out Tuesday, he offers four detailed recipes, used as examples to explore how food is transformed: for Bolognese, pork shoulder, sauerkraut and bread, each an illustration, he says, of the fundamental principles of cooking.

The recipes, while not exactly afterthoughts, are less important than his insistence that cooking itself is transformative. Almost as soon as we sit down in my living room, he says: 𠇌ooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: 𠇊nd you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.

“You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”

He points out that it isn’t just that industrially produced meal replacements are cheap they’ve also reduced the cost of the time needed to make food and foodlike products. Some would even argue that you should be working more, outsourcing as much cooking as possible — effectively defining cooking as a waste of time for anyone making more than, say, $20 an hour.

But, says Pollan: “If we decide to outsource all our cooking to corporations, we’re going to have industrial agriculture. And the growth of local, sustainable and organic food, and farmers’ markets, is going to top out if people don’t cook. Because big buys from big, and I have little faith that corporations will ever support the kind of agriculture we want to see. That’s why the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

We know why people don’t cook: because the marketers of prepared food have taken over our kitchens the Food Channel fetishization of cooking has made it look intimidating, especially for those who grew up without parents in the kitchen and people say they don’t have the time — or they just don’t like it.

“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”

And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the �s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even �minist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”

“We need to complete that uncomfortable conversation about the division of domestic labor, which the food industry deftly exploited to sell us processed food,” he says. 𠇋ut if we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking, it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.”

How does that happen? 𠇏irst, we need to bring back home ec, but a gender-neutral home ec. We need public health ad campaigns promoting home cooking as the single best thing you can do for your family’s health and well-being. A tax on prepared food, but not on raw ingredients, is another good idea. And Michelle Obama could use her bully pulpit to promote home cooking, rather than spend her considerable capital persuading food manufacturers to tweak their products.”

With an increasingly progressive population we have the potential to create a gender-agnostic cooking culture. There’s no longer a stigma attached to males cooking, and cooking is not only a democratic pleasure, it is also daily creativity, it’s economic, it’s healthy, and it’s a link to the natural world. And though it may take time, cooking can be about patience and letting things happen. Good things, on many levels.

A version of this article appears in print on 04/18/2013, on page A 27 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Pollan Cooks!.

Meet the Author

Tori Avey is a food writer, recipe developer, and the creator of She explores the story behind the food – why we eat what we eat, how the foods of different cultures have evolved, and how yesterday’s food can inspire us in the kitchen today. Tori’s food writing and photography have appeared on the websites of CNN, Bon Appetit, Zabar’s, Williams-Sonoma, Yahoo Shine, LA Weekly and The Huffington Post. Follow Tori on Facebook: Tori Avey, Twitter: @toriavey, or Google+.

Watch the video: Παγωτo με Merenda


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