Friday, June 28, 2013

June Foodie Pen Pals Reveal

Once again, here we are and once again, I got a great package! I have to say I am impressed that each Foodie Pen Pal box has been so different. It's been a great way not only to share new food items, but also to interact with folks I probably would never have come across in my own sordid, urban life plan. It makes me feel better that I'm sending such weird stuff around the country.

This month, I received a package from Dawn at Bare It All Fitness:

Hey, thanks, Dawn! And that business card rocks! (I have my own logo tattooed on me, but that's harder to use in everyday polite situations).

So, what did Dawn send me?

Sorry for the glare. That summer sun does hit pretty hard in this one window.
There was Old Dominion Chipotle Peanut Squares, Cinnabon Almonds, Some whey protein and energy mixes from Optimum Performance, a Clif Bar, Justin's Maple Almond Butter, agave syrup packs, A Stretch Island Fruit Strip, and a Celsius Sparkling Orange Drink Mix.

And yes, much of this was new to me.

And what did I eat first?

Was there any doubt? I was a little hesitant about a Cinnabon product, as one of those babies can wreak havoc on my Streamlined lifestyle, but the ingredients for these were only almonds, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Fine in any moderate way, and they tasted exactly like the incredibly unhealthy packs of roasted, coated peanuts you find on the streets of NYC, that i used to scarf down every cold day:

Via 9to5travel
These were obviously healthier! The Chipotle peanut squares were also great. It's a true testament to self-control that I can bring myself to share any nut gifts I receive through these food exchanges. But my co-workers did get some of these snacks. This time.

Protein mixes and workout drinks are not something I've dabbled in much. So I tried a few of these before my 5 AM weight training sessions and they certainly do give you a boost! I'm saving the rest for my vacation running in the Alps. (More on that next month).

In fact, this package was perfectly timed to try out some more portable items for my travels. I think most of these would work well as I hike and jog along Les Hautes Alpes:

We shall soon see! (Or "Nous verrons bientôt!")

So thanks and merci beaucoup once again, Dawn! This was a much appreciated Foodie Pen Pal delivery!

I sent my FPP box to Amy in Austin. Check out her site to see what she thought!

And if you're interested in joining the hundreds of folks involved in Foodie Pen Pals, click on the image below. I've been seeing it's hit or miss, but so far I've had a lot more hits than misses. And hey, free food in the mail!

The Lean Green Bean

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Post-Paula fallout, or why I blame TV

I have to disclose that I was a very picky eater as a child. I didn't like fish, beans, most poultry, certain fruit, mushrooms, olives, even certain bread. I realize now that perhaps it was the way these were prepared that turned me off to them until I was older and I finally tasted tasted what they could (or should) be like. I know that's a common story among people, especially those who were brought up on canned and prepped items. 

However, that wasn't the case with me. My parents, like many folks in the 60's, were fans of Julia Child and her cookbooks. They tried very hard to create some of her recipes and did not always succeed. It was the taste of those foods prepared by my folks that I believe made me picky as a youth. 

As much as I can make fun of my parents' cooking, I do credit them for opening up my palate so that now, as an adult, I am willing to try anything, and I do mean anything. And the plethora of cookbooks around the house did encourage me to try my own hand at cooking and baking, which was probably as successful initially as some of my parents' experiments. (There's a tuna-garlic-cheese fiasco that still makes some of my friends cringe.)

But, yes, watching Julia Child on TV was a treat, even as a kid, because I learned how to do so many things: debone an entire chicken, scale and gut fish, chop veggies into different shapes, mix cake ingredients properly. Basically, learn how to cook. Not to sound like an old geezer, but cooking shows back then did show more of that than they do now. For all this talk of "localvores" and "natural ingredients" why don't shows really show you the nitty gritty of cooking, as opposed to just gauze-lit shots of someone smiling over a saute pan? Everything is pre-cut and pre-measured, which I suppose could be an excuse to use more of the time to show cooking, but they don't. It's gone from instructional programming to softcore voyeurism. 

But at least some of them have what can be considered healthier or original recipes. And then we get to Paula Deen. 

I'm sorry, but I never got her appeal, as it were. Even in my Retro Ska Librarian Days, where I often cooked with immense amounts of cream, butter and sugar, I found her recipes somewhat gut-churning. And yes, Julia Child was a big fan of butter, but not just slathering it on without an idea of how things work together. Julia showed the different ways you could use butter as an ingredient, from dark and nutty to frothed and creamy. Paula just seems to pour it on.

I'm not blaming Deen's persona, at least not at first. A lot of Chefs have a schtick and hers was "down-home Southern" although I never quite knew if it was real. The late Keith Floyd, who often seemed completely inebriated on his cooking shows, still managed to come across as genuine and showed how to really cook. And two of my favorite cooking shows, Two Fat Ladies and Bitchin' Kitchen are certainly hilarious and routine-filled, but again, both show you how to actually prepare the food, even if it's not something I would normally think of cooking everyday. (Although the Two Fat Ladies Parsnip Puree is now a Thanksgiving staple in the house).

But Paula Deen's food does not do that. What really made me completely dismiss her was the whole diabetes diagnosis. It made me angry that she basically shilled this incredibly unhealthy, unappetizing food, got diabetes and then shilled the diabetes medication. That's just disgusting. 

I think Frank Bruni says it best in his op-ed piece in the NY Times:

"This disclosure was timed not to benefit her fans, who were continuing to follow her fatty counsel, but to benefit her: one of her sons had a new healthy-cooking show that needed promoting, and she herself was stepping out as a spokeswoman — a paid spokeswoman — for a diabetes drug." 

And now her recent escapades in ... I know no other way to put it.... idiocy have actually lost her contracts. Well, it's not surprising. What is surprising is the support I'm reading all over everyone's commentary about how she "a product of her place" and "we all think like that" and "it wasn't that bad." Seriously?

OK, I was born and raised in NYC, the town made fun of by most other parts of the country. NYC is probably one of the most culturally, racially and ethnically diverse places on earth, all scrunched up into a very small space. And I can safely say  that, no matter entrenched we are as a "Blue State City", there's a whole lot of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and the like that goes on here. But you learn pretty quickly that you have to deal with and unlearn those prejudices to survive here. And if you don't, like many here, you should be aware enough to know that you do NOT go around saying things, no matter how famous you are, and expect no one to notice. Because we WILL call you on it, famous or not. 

And here's where her persona really kicked in for me. I suppose she speaks to the general masses with her bland cooking and her cutesy attitude, but she's now managed to create a huge unhealthy swatch of folks throughout our country and simultaneously has the audacity to publicly believe in racial superiority. Why should we find that acceptable? 

I'm not saying that you can't enjoy her type of cooking. But why not try to partake in this culinary lesson with someone who might actually TEACH you how to cook and, as a teacher, might actually know the kind of message they're spreading?

I think the two are connected. 

I really want to see a return to better cooking shows. I want to see accountability for the crap that get puts on the air now. The Food Network has shown accountability by not renewing Deen's contract, but that wasn't for her cooking. We're seeing a huge backlash to the tremendous increase in culinary schools, which we might also blame on these increase of cooking show mediocrity, so perhaps it would be better to start programming a little more thoughtfully and educationally.


Bruni, F. (2013, June 24). Paula’s Worst Ingredients. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dieting on the bias

Oh, so many blog worthy topics in the past week or so! What shall we discuss? The recent decision by the AMA that obesity is now classified as a disease? The declaration by Chipotle that they've openly labelled their GMO ingredients? Dietitians for Professional Integrity posting a petition to change their organization's sponsor affiliations with the big food companies? A Monsanto scientist winning the World Food Prize? The very sudden passing of James Gandolfini?

All issues that deserve mention and most likely will be tackled in later posts. (Although not so impressed by the Chipotle story. Eating "natural ingredient" burritos that still contain more calories and sodium than should be ingested in a day doesn't really make them a healthier fast food.)

No, this post I think will tackle what I sort of intended this space to be: a discussion of research in regards to health and weight maintenance. And today I would specifically like to address confirmation bias in weight loss research. 

We tend to skew towards research that maintains our own beliefs. Even if we're trying to be objective (and it's something I strive to do in my librarian life), finding search results that don't match up to our pre-supposed ideas can often be hard to absorb.

Take that one step further and place that in one's business. Back in my corporate days, very often my clients would come to me with a statistic or result that they WANTED to see and it was up to me to find data that backed it up. And that didn't always happen. In fact, that's often the worst way to go about it. 

On this blog front, usually an article or report catches my eye and then I go searching for other material to create a topic. The reports I quote most often in my blog posts are of course the ones I want to talk about. Or I quote the particular data on which I want to focus. It doesn't mean there isn't a plethora of other studies that might contradict the research I quote, sometimes within the same report. This is especially true when it comes to weight loss research. In fact, weight loss, weight maintenance, diets, and all probably have some of the most contradictory reports. And confirmation bias increases when you consider the amount of non-scholarly or non-professional blog sites out there on this topic.

But there's been one recent incident that is worth mentioning.An article and editorial in Nature addresses the actions and reactions to the results of a recent study showing that being overweight (not obese) might be healthier for you in the long run, especially in regards to our standard BMI. Now this is not exactly something amazingly new. In fact, the results of this report were based on meta-analysis of the existing literature. And BMI is an inexact science, as I've mentioned here a lot. In fact, I even quoted this specific study in one of my earlier posts on BMI.

No, the above linked Nature pieces were written because of the reaction of another expert to this data, a well regarded Public Health official. He refers to these findings as "a pile of rubbish" as it contradicts his data. Not that the data from his reports are often found to be thorough.

There's a lot more to the story including some double standard publishing practices and the whole question of peer reviewed literature. On such a high level, this is truly disappointing. I often comment in my professional life on the "silos" of administration and research that I see, but this is siloing about research in the same field. It's really sad.

But even on a much less formal level, we keep seeing everyone trying to find the "quick fix" or to promote the weight maintenance program that "really works." And then seeing people cherry pick the same report to contradict each other.

I started researching weight maintenance about 2 years ago, once I hit my goal weight. And I was flabbergasted, even coming from a research background, to see such disparate results from almost the same data. Weight loss and maintenance is a subject so many people claim that want to get right, but more often they can also use it to prove why their maintenance did not stick. Or how the food industry has made us fat. Data shows it! It's not our fault! 

Despite all the new reports out there. Despite showing that people can lose weight responsibly and also admitting that most media images we see are NOT healthy and typical examples of body weight. Despite all the fretting about "healthy, organic" food. Despite all this...we still all find the easiest answer to satisfy our personal needs. 

Want to find data on the benefits of juice fasts? It's there! Or 500 calorie diets with excessive exercise and sweating? It's there, too! How about eating only like a Puritan? Sure! (I'm not linking to these, but you can find them).

It's obviously up to each one of us to find what works, and to hopefully try to be somewhat less biased when it comes to finding out what the studies can show us.

Which is why the "rubbish" comment was so disturbing. With all the crazy crap people try to sell as weight loss help, why disparage a peer who is saying that you should lose weight, just not be tied to BMI?

Sigh. That's why we can't have nice results.

My suggestion to those Public Health folks is to take a page from Quincy, M.E. on diets. HIM we listen to!


 AMA Says It’s Time To Call Obesity A Disease : NPR. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2013, from

Flegal KM, K. B. (2013). Association of all-cause mortality with overweight and obesity using standard body mass index categories: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA, 309(1), 71–82. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.113905 

Hughes, V. (2013). The big fat truth. Nature, 497(7450), 428–430. doi:10.1038/497428a 

Pollack, A. (2013, June 19). Monsanto Executive Is Among World Food Prize Winners. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Satran, J. (2013, June 18). Chipotle Starts Labeling GMO Ingredients On Website Menu. Huffington Post. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from

Shades of grey. (2013). Nature, 497(7450), 410–410. doi:10.1038/497410a

Stop junk food giants from taking over nutrition programs. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2013, from

Top Science Journal Rebukes Harvard’s Top Nutritionist. (n.d.). Forbes. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from

Monday, June 10, 2013

Well, if famous people eat it...

if you've followed my blog, you see I rarely give exact measurements in my recipes. I am definitely one of those "let's try some of this!" kind of cooks. Even in baking, which is more of an exact science, I tend to see what I can change in a recipe to make it denser/sweeter/crumblier/cheesier/healthier/different. Like so many people, foodies-or-no, I like to peruse recipes. I don't necessarily follow any recipe, but I do look to them for inspiration.

Which of course leads to endless research on websites and blogs for recipe ideas. Certainly among my secret passion, the Registered Dietitians, you will find endless recipes and recipe memes. Just check out the Nutrition Blog Network. It's basically a 3:1 ratio towards recipes, which makes sense as one imagines RDs do a lot meal planning in their various jobs. 

But perhaps it's the Librarian in me, because I still love actual printed cookbooks. I actually collect cookbooks. (And I am lucky to live in a city that has not one, but two bookstores specializing in nothing but!) Many of them are on a food topic or region that I find interesting or wish to learn more about. (For example, cookbooks from other countries are a great way to help learn the language). But I also concentrate on the older books from the late 19th/early 20th century. (Strangely enough, this is also the era of which I am most fond of in fiction.) 

And while these books come from the era where you really were COOKING and not just adding pre-packaged food together, I don't find myself running out to try these dishes. I don't collect these to necessarily make the recipes therein, but rather to see what people thought about the food. For example, this is a great book that's a blast to read:

But I'm not about to risk them in my oven. And here's one of the earlier diet books:

It's a fascinating take on calorie counting, even though the lunches consist of 6 stalks of celery and a small slice of cornbread. (Cornbread is "patriotic", although the author does mention that if you're feeling patriotic and constipated, a bran muffin will suffice.) And it also includes the most honest way to have dessert: just eat half of your husband's! Ah, those jazz age reducers! 

In all these cookbooks, I rarely have any that are "celebrity" books. There are some by famous chefs (Julia Child, Lidia Bastianich), but I tend to shy away from those. This is not to say that there isn't a huge amount of chefs out there who seem more famous for being on TV than for actually cooking anything. An interesting article on such a phemonena from a few years back shows that a lot of the books out there, particularly those by the male TV superstar chefs, don't actually show one how to cook. Hmmm...

But I'm not actually as surprised at that. TV Chefs are famous for .... being chefs. Rather, it's those cookbooks written by people otherwise famous that really seem to bother me. It appears that food is something everyone feels that they can talk about and share. Cookbooks are the latest step of celebrity publishing after children's books. 

Of course the ones that seem the most popular are the ones that also seem the least like a decent cookbook. Gwyneth Paltrow is already a pretty easy target, but her latest cook book, It's All Good, seems even more ridiculous than ever. Pseudo health science wrapped up in celebrity oddity? I hope she's taken out back and beaten up by dietitians.

The best take on why this book is medically unsound can be found here. (A tip to Sarah Emily at Tangerine & Cinnamon for leading me towards that. Her site rocks!)

But then you see names pop up that you'd never imagine would be cookbook bound. One of my idols from my punk adolescence, Lydia Lunch, has made forays into a variety of media, but she, too, has a cookbook called The Need to Feed

Now despite my appreciation of her, I still was not ready to accept that she had any right to be peddling a cookbook, any more than Paltrow. However, I did not find it as eye rolling as I thought I might. Her recipes are interesting and actually have a variety of ingredients but don't require tracking down artisinal honeybees and slaughtering them yourself or raising your own chili peppers in a hydroponic terrarium under your sink. 

In other words, it's real food. There is a few pages on smoothie detoxes (oy!), but nothing head smackingly bad. 

Do her recipes inspire me? Not as much as her other writing. I'm still not sure why yet another non-chef celebrity might need to do this. Obviously she's marketing to another fan base than Paltrow.

I guess I'm seeing it as non-offensive static. It seems it's just another venue for publicity. I don't see any of these having the historical potential of 1918 diets or 1911 bag cookery. That could be my own snobbishness.   

But rarely do I find these celebrity recipes galvanizing enough for me to run to my stove and see what I can whip up based on that. And I guess to me that's the sign of a good cookbook: It not only teaches you, it gets you to think.

I'd love it if celebrities actually took the time to write books on more complex subjects: "Wayne Gretzky views on stochastic theory in relation to Kant's Prolegomena"  or "Members of MTV's the Real World deliver a scathing review on the latest theories of limiting reagents vs. electron affinity."

Until then, there's always this:


(In full disclosure, years ago I was presented with the Alice's Brady Bunch Cookbook written by Ann B. Davis as a gift, but that certainly was never read with cookware nearby.)


“It”s All Good’? Actually, Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook borders on quack science. (April 2, 2013). Retrieved June 10, 2013, from
Mitchell, C. M. (2010). The Rhetoric of Celebrity Cookbooks. The Journal of Popular Culture, 43(3), 524–539. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00756.x

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Historically malnourished

This past week's heatwave made for some last minute impulse shopping at the local South Asian goods store:

Hmm...a sweet but puckery taste to be added when I don't want to use the oven or even the stove?

How about:
1 cup pistachios
1 cup cashews
2 cups medjool dates
tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
some splashes of this orange blossom water
Toss in processor until done
and voila!

Streamlined Sticky Date Balls!

Wow, it even matches most of the diet plans I sort of josh about: gluten free, raw, vegan, even paleo, provided you assume the cavemen managed to somehow find all these disparate ingredients in their non-cultivated lives.

But aside form being easy to make, cool and tasty (and evidently hip), they are also packed with protein, fiber, potassium, etc. Yes, they're not the lowest calorie treat around, but a few of these in a baggie make for a nice change of pace from my usual snack of an apple or pear and it's still better than running down the street for a scone or muffin.

But before I can do my little smug superior dance of food intake, I am told once again by the NY Times that I'm still sub-par. A recent article shows that we, though the centuries, have deliberately modified our food to taste better but be less nutritious.Yes corn as it originally was thousands of years ago was not the like the corn that the Pilgrims found when they arrived in the New World and then that in itself was different from the very sweet, sweet corn many of us favor today. 

Once again, our modern ways have destroyed...hey...wait a was already heavily modified by 1620?? 

You enablers! No wonder Europe sent you away!

Yup. The breeding of crops to produce enforced mutation has been going on since the beginning of agriculture. I'm not talking about GMOs, (although there are parts of that do not include adding non-plant DNA), but rather basic crop science. And part of that, like so many things, has been the creation of new "breeds" to gain a new market share and perhaps name a fruit after yourself. But also, a tastier food becomes more popular.

If we REALLY wanted to be back in the paleo days, the selection of fruits and vegetables people are assigned to eat would be much less available and, most likely, much less palatable.

But while I'm not saying the article here is false, I find it disheartening that it's almost presented as a "FAIL!"

OK, so fruits and vegetables of 2013 (and 1713) are not as healthy as they were back as they originally were. But why should we shy away from them? We still need to focus on healthier eating and that does include fruits & veg.

Should we be eating more towards dandelion greens and collards and blue potatoes as opposed to iceberg lettuce and yukons? Yeah, we should. But that does mean we should give up F&V? No.

And we also should not fall back into supplemental "faux food" because someone said this produce is "unhealthy." It may not be what it was, but let's not forget that it still is some of the best stuff out there for the stuff we need. And I say that as an unrepentant carnivore.

I also recommend you read Nathaniel Philbrick's fascinating history, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War. The Pilgrims had no compunction against just emptying out huge stockpiles of corn that they found when they landed. As if it belonged to no one. 

Not exactly the best role models when it comes to food.


Robinson, J. (2013, May 25). Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food. The New York Times. Retrieved from