Category Archives: Food

New post on the SciAm Guest Blog

The Guest Blog is busy! Another new post today!

See Food for thought: Musings on sustenance and what makes us human by Diana Gitig. Post comments!


The best challah I ever tasted, baked by my daughter.:

Super-secret recipe and special braiding technique: the mother-daughter team produced a work of art tonight

Can Genetically Engineered Crops Help Feed the World?

A new forum at World Science is up. As always, listen to the podcast first, then ask questions in the forum:

This week, India rejected what would have been the country’s first a genetically modified food crop, a transgenic eggplant.
The company that developed it, an Indian subsidiary of Monsanto, claims the crop would reduce pesticide use and boost yields. But the Indian government has decided to do independent assessments of the crop’s potential impacts on consumer health and the environment.
What does this mean for the future of GM crops in India and elsewhere? And does this technology have a role to play in feeding the world’s hungry?
We put these questions to Dr. Lisa Weasel. She’s a professor of biology at Portland State University, and the author of Food Fray: Inside the controversy of genetically modified food. She writes that GM crops are more of “a condiment than a main course” in solving the world’s food shortage.
Now it’s your turn to chat with Lisa Weasel. Join the conversation — it’s just to the right.
* Human beings have been altering plants ever since the beginning of agriculture. Why is genetic engineering any different from the older, more traditional ways of tinkering with crop varieties?
* Is there any scientific evidence of harm to human health from eating GM food?
* Why are small farmers in developing countries especially concerned about GM crops?

Chocolate Poundcake

This is what the Bride Of Coturnix fixed this week – so delicious, it disappeared within a day or two, but I managed to save the picture for posterity before everyone dug in:

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Friday Balkan Food Blogging: Krempita

The Bride Of Coturnix fixed a Krempita yesterday:


Best video ever: Bohemian Rhapsody by The Muppets!

Foodblogging/storyblogging in the Triangle – the first Long Table

Under the fold are some pictures from the inaugural Long Table event at 3Cups in Chapel Hill with Moroccan food prepared by Sandwhich, organized by Anton and Erin Zuiker.
There were about 35 people there. I knew a few of them from before, but it was mostly new people I got to meet. Some people were new even to Anton and Erin as this was a publicly advertised event, open to the first 35 people who sign up. Every now and then, a person would get up and tell a short story related to food and travel, mostly about unforgettable meals in unforgettable places.
I am aware of only one blog post about it so far – by Lenore Ramm – although a couple of other people in the room are known to have blogs or are on social networking sites. We all hope that this will become a regular feature on the local social celandar – trying new venues, new cuisines, and new story topics each time.

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Who are you calling fat, eh?

Wow, the weight-loss topic is still going strong in the blogosphere (see that post for links for several initial posts).
Pal MD has more and some more.
Dr.Isis is on a roll.
Janet is now in the discussion.
Bikemonkey joins in.
Larry’s had something related recently.
It is interesting to see how experts differ on the topic…and the comment threads are enlightening as well. Take-home message: don’t trust a “TV dietitian”…or diet advice in your local newspaper or Cosmo….
As you know, my problem has always been the opposite. How to gain weight?!
The only time I managed to put on a few pounds was when I was working at a horse farm back in 1991/92. I was outdoors for about 13 hours a day. I walked many miles each day catching horses on distant pastures to bring them in, then walking them back to let them out again. I helped feed and muck stalls. I caught, groomed, tacked-up and rode a few young, strong, unruly horses every morning. I taught a couple of riding lessons every afternoon (never standing still – always walking or running along, sometimes hopping on a pony to demonstrate, etc.) and more on Saturdays. So, it was a time when I exercised a lot.
It was also a time when my diet abruptly changed. I just moved to the USA. I had no idea what was what, food-wise. I was also, for the first time in my life, free to make my own food choices. This is also the only time when I ate breakfast regularly – don’t cringe: a big bowl of Coco Puffs, Cocoa Pebbles and Coco Crispies with chocolate milk – I needed all that raw energy to operate! Lunch break was short, so it was either some greasy Stouffers microwaveable crap, or a quick run to Burger King. Dinner consisted of enormous quantities of home-made spaghetti or pizza or steak/potatoes (all very yummy) with a big bowl of salad with lots of cheese and dressing, followed by a beer or two. And in-between those meals I constantly grazed from my hidden stash at the barn: chocolate, bananas and Coke.
What those few extra pounds were – muscle, fat? – I have no idea. They disappeared as soon as I stopped working there and started grad school.
So, some people look at my skinny body and think I am weak or unhealthy – oh, how wrong they are! On the other hand, I wonder how many people who look huge are also strong and healthy. Here are some pictures of top athletes, Olympic gold medalists and World Champions, super-fit, super-strong, super-healthy, yet if you saw them in the street you’d think they were obese – am I mistaken?
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Weight Loss – what works, really?

You may remember Dr.Charles whose blog was here on for a while two years ago. He took a hiatus from blogging, but is now back at it with a vengeance at his new site which I warmly recommend you visit.
Today’s post is interesting – and not just because it is partially about a PLoS ONE paper – Why Exercise is Not the Best Prescription for Weight Loss which fits perfectly within the ongoing discussion about weight-loss and dieting going on a couple of my SciBlings’ blogs right now.
PalMD is going on a diet and monitoring his progress publicly, on his blog.
Dr.Isis tells him he is doing it wrong.
And don’t forget that a couple of years ago Chad went on a successful – and also highly public – diet: see his updates (each with some additional thoughts about dieting) here, here, here, here, here and here.
So, who’s right? What are your experiences? And what can I do with my 6’1″ and 126lbs – weight I’ve had since I was a teenager? Nothing seems to work to help me gain – I eat a lot, actually….

Science Cafe Raleigh – The Science of Chocolate

The Science of Chocolate
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 833-8898

From drinks to desserts, chocolate is a favorite that is loved by cultures worldwide. Can a food as delicious as chocolate also be good for your health? Join us to learn about the history of chocolate from ancient times to modern day manufacturing, and find out what current research is telling us about the science of this special food.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Gabriel Keith Harris is an Assistant Professor of Food Science at North Carolina State University. His research interests involve the functional properties of plant foods. His specific interests include the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoids and related compounds.

‘Special for Bora’

Earlier today I went up the street to Town Hall Grill and saw their white-board where they write the descriptions of Dinner Specials….and there is a new one today with the name “Special for Bora”! Wow! The perks of being a regular customer!
Well, of course I got one, brought it home, re-arranged it on one of my plates and took a picture:
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Deliciously tender fried chicken, corn on the cob and fresh (probably locally grown) vegetables: carrots, squash. onions and broccoli. A very summery, light and delicious meal! Yum!

‘Fresh’ trailer (video)

The movie Fresh, about the way we produce (and should produce) food is out. Here is the trailer:

Does anyone know when it will be in wider circulation?

Do you love or hate Cilantro?

If you think that political or religious debates can get nasty, you haven’t seen anything until you go online as see how much hate exists between people who love cilantro and those who hate cilantro. What horrible words they use to describe each other!!!!
Last weekend, I asked why is this and searched Twitter and FriendFeed for discussions, as well
Wikipedia and Google Scholar for information about it.
First – cilantro is the US name for the plant that is called coriander in the rest of the world. In the USA, only the seed is called coriander, and the rest of the plant is cilantro.
Second – there are definitely two populations of people: one (larger) group thinks that it is the best taste ever, while the other group thinks it is awful. The latter group is not simply incapable of tasting cilantro – they can taste it in minuscule quantities hidden in food and describe it as “dirty dish-soap water taste”. People who cannot stand cilantro leaf are perfectly OK with eating the coriander seed. So, it is something in the leaf that makes the difference.
Third – anecdotal information from scouring the Web suggests (“me and my Dad hate it…”) that the type of response to cilantro is inherited. It is also not experiental (those who hate it, hated it when they were kids, those who love it sometimes first tried it when they were already old and loved it at first try, and the response does not change with age, amount, kind of food preparation, etc).
Fourth – there is no scientific literature that I could find on the genetics of this. Is the difference at the level of the gustatory (or olfactory) receptors, or at higher-level processing centers in the brain?
Fifth – there is one paper that shows that the type of response to cilantro taste has nothing to do with the individual being a supertaster or not.
Sixth – There are a few older papers that identified chemical compounds in the leaves of cilantro, and a few about the allergy to cilantro, but no final identification of the compound that makes the difference in taste to the two groups.
So, does anyone else know more about this? Let us know in the comments.
In the meantime, be nice to people who are not your cilantro-type – they cannot help it.

Next Science Cafe Raleigh: Think Globally – Eat Locally

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
6:30-8:30 pm with discussion beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 833-8898
Think Globally – Eat Locally
How much do you know about the food you eat? Were pesticides applied? Do you know where it was grown and how far it traveled to get to you? How much did its transportation contribute to global warming?
What can we do to bring about the revival of locally produced foods and all the benefits they bring – better taste, nutrition, stronger local economies and relationships with local farmers, reduced fossil fuel dependency, and improved land and animal stewardship?
At this Science Cafe we will discuss how to grow our own, how to eat seasonally, and where to buy so that you can leverage your dollars for change. We will also learn about organizations and restaurants supporting this work, farmers looking for membership clients, and Statewide Action Plans that are in the works.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Jeana Myers is a soil scientist at the NCDA&CS soil testing lab in Raleigh, with a lifelong passion for local food systems. Her undergraduate degree in International Agriculture Development in 1979 led to a Peace Corps mission in Zaire, Africa as an extension agent trainer. After returning to the US she received a masters degree in Crop Science and a PhD in Soil Science at NC State then settled in Raleigh with her husband, Will Hooker, who teaches permaculture in the horticulture department. They traveled with their 1½ year old son for 10 months around the world in 2000, visiting over 100 permaculture and organic farm sites in 11 countries. Over the years they have cultivated a mini city farm on 1/5 of an acre in the middle of Raleigh, with gardens, fruit trees, chickens and ponds. She consulted others who wanted to grow more food with her Beautiful Food Gardens business. Promoting the delights and necessity of a strong local food system is her on-going life’s work.

Cholesterol will kill you earlier than you think

Notice the Darwin drum in the background….

Meetings I’d like to go to….Part V

Genetic Manipulation of Pest Species: Ecological and Social Challenges:

In the past 10 years major advances have been made in our ability to build transgenic pest strains that are conditionally sterile, harbor selfish genetic elements, and express anti-pathogen genes. Strategies are being developed that involve release into the environment of transgenic pest strains with such characteristics. These releases could provide more environmentally benign pest management and save endangered species, but steps must be taken to insure that this is the case and that there are no significant health or environmental risks associated with releases. Our conference will foster discussion of risks and benefits of these technologies among scientists, policy makers, and citizens.

March 4-6, 2009
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
This is very soon – I’ll try to go to some of it if I can….


This morning we took it easy – a little shopping for kids, some cakes at Veniero (white is shampita, brown is Napoleon), a little walk, including past the Museum Of Sex (did not have time to go in, though), with the special exhibit about sex in animals (including this, of course). Then a long wait at the new JetBlue terminal at JFK which is nice, big and technically very modern. Now at home, exhausted – tomorrow is a new (work)day!
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The One and Only Serbian Restaurant in Manhattan

A couple of times over the past few years I tried to find if there was a Serbian restaurant in New York City, but Google could not find one. So, I gave up looking and assumed there wasn’t one. And that was true – until recently. Last night at the meetup, Nikola Trbovic told me there is one now – opened just last June: Kafana on Avenue C (between 8th and 9th Street, see reviews here and here).
So, tonight, after watching the amazing August: Osage County on Broadway, The Bride Of Coturnix and I went to ‘Kafana’ to give it a try. And we were not disappointed – the atmosphere was pleasant and the food was great – just like home. Under the fold are some pictures: Cocta (“drink of our and your youth” – rosehip-based Cola), Gibanica (philo-dough cheese pie), Zeljanica (spinach pie), pecene paprike (baked peppers), ajvar (a pepper salad mix), Sopska salata (tomato, cucumber, onion and cheese salad), Sarma (stuffed cabbage), Karadjordjeva snicla (a thin pork steak, rolled with cream cheese, breaded) with cabage salad, and Niksicko pivo (the best Montenegran lager), ending with Reform torte, espresso and a bite of popular “Best Wishes” chocolate:

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ScienceOnline’09 – Friday Morning Coffee Cupping

Friday morning was really, really cold (for North Carolina), so what better way to start off ScienceOnline09 than at Counter Culture Coffee where about 25 or so participants (and several other people – this is an open event) showed up bright and early to learn about the science (and business) of coffee.
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Coffee is one of those things that you just drink, unthinkingly, at the time of the morning when it is hard to think anyway. So this was quite an eye-opener – learning what happens between the moment the coffee plant is planted and the moment when you taste the coffee. And there are many steps in-between, and each step involves hard decisions as to how to do it as everything can affect the taste of coffee in the end: where to plant, how to plant, when and how to harvest, how to process it after harvesting, how to ship and store the beans, how to roast it, how to prepare the coffee. And we saw the process as well as learned about the effects of different geographies and practices on the final experience.
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Our hosts presented us with three different ‘mystery’ coffees. First, we smelled the dry, freshly ground beans. Then we smelled it as soon as the hot water was poured over it. Then we smelled it at the exact moment when we broke the layer of foam that formed on the surface (and that can be a STRONG burst of aroma!). Then we tasted one spoonful of coffee. Then we waited about half-a-minute and evaluated the aftertaste.
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At each of those steps we tried to do what is probably the hardest part of the exercise – translate the olfactory associations into words. Smell, the oldest sense, the only one that does not get pre-processed in the thalamus before getting processed in the cortex, is incredibly difficult to describe with language – it affects our emotions more than our rationality. It is hard to ‘classify’ smells in any meaningful way. So, it is not a surprise that some of the descriptions of coffee aromas spoken in the room on Friday took quite a flight of fancy, e.g., “barbequing in the forest”, “dirty baby diapers” and “deflated inflatable kid’s toys heated by the Sun out in the yard”….
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After the tasting, we were shown the rest of facility, including the stacks of bags of coffee, from all around the world, all of it either certified organic, or uncertified but known to be organic anyway.
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Then, we were shown the process of coffee roasting. You start with a barrel of unroasted coffee:
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Then, after testing a small batch, decide which one of the three different roasting machines to use, at which temperature, etc.:
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What comes out is a barrel of roasted coffee, ready for grinding and turning into delicious liquid:
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Now, I have to admit, I came to this event with a whole set of handicaps. First, I am, unlike some other bloggers, incapable of writing poetry or even creative fiction. Thus, my verbal descriptions of coffee smells were quite technical and prosaic, unlike some I mentioned above.
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Second, where I come from, the only liquid that can be called coffee is Turkish coffee. Espresso is frowned upon as “too quick”, thin and weak. Everything else is derogatorily called “instant coffee”, to be served only in hospitals. I have never heard of a concept of decaf before I came to the USA. So, for me, the American coffee is just a very rarely used caffeine delivery device, when I need a really fast, strong and short-lived boost of the drug and nothing else is available.
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When I want to enjoy the taste coffee, I fix myself a Turkish coffee (OK, French Roast will do in a pinch), or have a coffee cake, or get a Mocca. So, trying to figure out the differences between three types of liquids that I barely ever drink was not easy – I was quite a novice. Not that I could not make distinctions between them, but it just not do for me what it did to regular American coffee drinkers.
And finally, after two hours of talking, thinking, smelling and tasting coffee on a very chilly morning, it would have been nice to actually drink a cup!
People you can see in these pictures are Erin Davis, Paul Jones, Henry Gee, Anton Zuiker, Cameron Neylon, DNLee, Carlos Hotta, Victor Henning, Paula Signorini, Enrico Balli, PalMD, Janet Stemwedel, Erin Johsnon, Arikia Millikan, Bjoern Brembs, Diana Pauly and Bob O’Hara, among others. Several of them have already (live)blogged the Coffee Cupping with much greater expertise than I ever could, so visit their blogs for their takes.
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More pictures can be found on Flickr and more blog/media coverage here.

Careful! Your honey may not be what it looks like

Honey Laundering: A sticky trail of intrigue and crime:

“………He was suspected of trafficking in counterfeit merchandise — a honey smuggler.
A far cry from the innocent image of Winnie the Pooh with a paw stuck in the honey pot, the international honey trade has become increasingly rife with crime and intrigue.
In the U.S., where bee colonies are dying off and demand for imported honey is soaring, traders of the thick amber liquid are resorting to elaborate schemes to dodge tariffs and health safeguards in order to dump cheap honey on the market, a five-month Seattle P-I investigation has found.
The business is plagued by foreign hucksters and shady importers who rip off conscientious U.S. packers with honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup — or worse, tainted with pesticides or antibiotics……….”

Wow! I never thought of that! I had no idea that there was a shortage of honey due to the hive collapse. Read the whole thing.

Talk of the Defense of Food of the Nation

Michael Pollan will be on NPR’s Talk of the Nation tomorrow to discuss his book Defense of Food.

Michael Pollan on the new Secretary of Agriculture

Michael Pollan will be on NPR’s Morning Edition tomorrow:

I’ll be on NPR’s Morning Edition, talking about the new Secretary of
Agriculture, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.
What can I say? It’s a good day for corn.
Less good for us eaters, perhaps. Perhaps the most disappointing thing
about this morning’s press conference is that neither Tom Vilsack nor
President-Elect Obama uttered the words “food” or “eaters.” Vilsack
does not have the record of a reformer. He supported the expansion of
CAFO agriculture in Iowa (gutting local control to do it) and is much
loved by the biotech industry, who named him Biotech Governor of the
Year. But this is pretty much what you would expect from a Governor of
Iowa during that period, and we can hope that as Ag Secretary, with a
broader constituency, he will take a broader view. There are, too, in
his record encouraging glints: a record of support for local food
systems, and for a meaningful limit on subsidies, with the saving to
be directed toward conservation programs. The fact that he is Tom
Harken’s choice is reason for hope too; Collin Peterson reportedly had
some much worse ideas.
The fact is, real change is never easy and always comes from below/
Now it’s up to us to push him, and Obama, in the right direction. This
is just the beginning.

KRISTOF: Obama’s ‘Secretary of Food’?

In today’s NYTimes:

As Barack Obama ponders whom to pick as agriculture secretary, he should reframe the question. What he needs is actually a bold reformer in a position renamed “secretary of food.”
A Department of Agriculture made sense 100 years ago when 35 percent of Americans engaged in farming. But today, fewer than 2 percent are farmers. In contrast, 100 percent of Americans eat.
Renaming the department would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars….

Secretary of Agriculture petition

If you agree with this petition, sign it:

Dear President-Elect Obama,
We congratulate you on your historic victory and welcome the change that your election promises to usher in for our nation. As leaders in the sustainable agriculture and rural advocacy community we supported you in record numbers during the caucus, primary and general election because of the family farm-friendly policies that you advocated during your campaign.
As our nation’s future president, we hope that you will take our concerns under advisement when nominating our next Secretary of Agriculture because of the crucial role this Secretary will play in revitalizing our rural economies, protecting our nation’s food supply and our environment, improving human health and well-being, rescuing the independent family farmer, and creating a sustainable renewable energy future.
With this in mind, we are offering a list of leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to the goals that you articulated during your campaign and we encourage you to consider them for the role of Secretary of Agriculture.

Michael Pollan – Serious Sustainability

Michael Pollan’s Letter to the President

In this weekend’s New York Times: Farmer in Chief :’

Dear Mr. President-Elect,
It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.
Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign. Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them. Let me explain.

Sounds familiar? Or Question #6 here?

Offal is Good

The offal refers to….

….those parts of a meat animal which are used as food but which are not skeletal muscle. The term literally means “off fall”, or the pieces which fall from a carcase when it is butchered. Originally the word applied principally to the entrails. It now covers insides including the HEART, LIVER, and LUNGS (collectively known as the pluck), all abdominal organs and extremities: TAILS, FEET, and HEAD including BRAINS and TONGUE. In the USA the expressions “organ meats” or “variety meats” are used instead.
Offal from birds is usually referred to as GIBLETS.
Another, archaic, English word for insides, especially those of deer, was “umbles”, a term which survives in the expression “to eat humble pie”, meaning to be apologetic or submissive.

Growing up in Yugoslavia, I was a very picky eater. But I absolutely loved offal. I loved liver and, although just a kid, I had developed 2-3 different recipes for preparing livers from various animals: pork, calf, veal, beef, lamb, duck, turkey and goose (I did not like chicken liver). My Mom fixes fantastic bread-battered brains which were treated as a special delicacy in our house. Yum! I loved to suck the marrow out of beef bones. I always picked hearts and gizzards from my chicken soup. When we had chicken, I would often eat necks and feet. Oxtail is fantastic. Beef tongue in tomato sauce is one of the best things to eat ever, in my mind.
Also, whenever we castrated a stallion, that was an excuse to get together for dinner – the fried horse testicles. All the best restaurants in Serbia serve ‘white kidneys’, i.e., pig testicles. I never really liked the blood sausage, but beef knees or pig tongues and ears served cold in aspic were a staple in our household.
So, when I came to the United States, I was quite surprised to see that people here generally do not eat any of that stuff. Not even liver! I was quite excited when I went to San Francisco and got to try the duck fries at Incanto.
A few months ago, when Chris put up braised Kobe-beef oxtail as a dinner special at Town Hall Grill, I had it every day that week – it was that good! – yet Chris said that it did not sell very well. And oxtail is not even offal – it is skeletal muscle, and the tenderest of all as it does not need to move a big, heavy animal around, or chew tons of bulky food – just swat an occasional fly. So, not even here in the Triangle, where there is a powerful food culture, and the locavore food scene is amazing, do people easily overcome their cultural barriers to eating meat that is not steak. And yes, this is a cultural barrier:

The type of offal used in any given culture depends on the favoured meat animal, which may in turn depend on religious dietary laws. Muslim countries use much lamb offal. The Chinese have numerous ways of dealing with organs from pigs.
Offal is a good source of protein, and some organs, notably the liver and kidneys, are very valuable nutritionally. In most parts of the world, especially the less developed countries, it is valued accordingly. In the English-speaking world, however, the pattern is different. In North America, there has been and still exists a squeamish attitude which prompted the title Unmentionable Cuisine for the book by Schwabe (1979). In Britain, where there used to be no, or anyway few, qualms about eating offal, overt consumption has declined in the last half of the 20th century, although the offal is in fact still eaten in processed foods where it is not “visible”.
Squeamish attitudes may be explained on various grounds. Heads and feet remind consumers too directly that the food is of animal origin. Ambivalence about eating certain bits of an animal”s anatomy, such as TESTICLES, is expressed through the used of euphemistic names. Some internal offal has surreal shapes and strong flavours, which are not to everyone’s taste. The meat of feet and ears is characterized by textures which are gelatinous and crunchy at the same time, a combination which is generally disliked in the western world, although appreciated in the Orient.

Another dimension in the USA is historical – for a very long time, whenever an animal at a farm was slaughtered, the owners got the steaks, and the slaves got the offal. Thus, there is a racial differentiation here as well – the whites do not have a tradition of cooking offal and tend not to have family recipes and cookbooks about it, while the blacks do have such a tradition and the recipes come down through generations, from mothers to daughters. I have noticed especially here down South, that the country-club-whites especially look down their noses with disdain at offal dishes and their almost visceral disgust with them has more than a little of a classist and racist tinge to it.
Which is unfortunate. There are many places on this planet in which there is not much money going around, and the environment is not too conducive for raising sufficient amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables to feed everyone. Thus, many (probably most) cultures in the world have to be predominantly meat-eating. And growing animals for food is also not very easy or cheap either. So, it makes sense – economic sense if nothing else – to use every last edible bit of an animal. That way, each animal provides more meals to more people than if just steaks were to be eaten. This, in turn, means that fewer animals need to be grown and slaughtered.
In such places – and I have seen that in rural Serbia myself growing up – there is an almost spiritual connection to the farm animals – the slaughter is not something done lightly. It usually involves the entire large family (and friends and neighbors), the slaughter is performed with utmost care, almost ritually. And the greatest care is made not to let any piece go to waste.
At the time when the food business is straining the economy in the USA, ruining the farmers, endangering the people eating meat, done in a way very nasty to the animals, and using far too much energy (aka Oil), a little efficiency may help, including a change in culture in ways that allow us to better utilize each individual food animal (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this for background and additional information about the economics and politics of food).
It is not a surprise to me that the first cookbook ever to focus on just one type of offal – the testicles – was written by a Serbian chef – The Testicles Cookbook – Cooking with Balls by Ljubomir Erovic:

The Testicles Cookbook – Cooking with Balls is a multimedia cookbook complete with how-to videos on cooking testicle dishes. Including Testicle Pizza, Testicle Goulash and White Wine Testicles, this is a short teaser taken from the full cookbook, written by Serbian testicles chef, Ljubomir Erovic. The full book is available to buy on YUDU in English and Serbian.

Guardian: Cooking with balls: the world’s first testicle cookbook

Everyone’s very excited about a new e-cookbook launched today, by online publishers YUDU. It’s been compiled by a Serbian fellow called Ljubomir Erovic who has apparently been a testicular cook for some 20 years.
“The tastiest testicles in my opinion probably come from bulls, stallions or ostriches, although other people have their own favourites,” says Mr Erovic. He also uses those from pigs and turkeys in his cooking and points out that “all testicles can be eaten – except human, of course”. Glad to hear it Ljubomir.
While the ingredient is fairly challenging, most of the dishes in the book are less adventurous, from testicle pizza, goulash, battered testicles to barbecued testicles and giblets. To be fair though, it doesn’t hurt to keep it simple, and there are a couple of more demanding recipes in there, for instance, calf testicles in wine (white or red but not sweet) and testicles with bourguignon sauce.

Daily Mail: On the ball: Introducing the world’s first testicle cookbook :

Erovic also organises the World Testicle Cooking Championship, held annually in Serbia since 2004. It draws in chefs from Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway and Serbia. One metric tonne of testicles are prepared.
“When not cooking or eating testicles, or helping others to do so, (Erovic) now runs a company involved in the maintenance of medical and dental equipment,” the book says.

We need to eat and we need to systematically change the way the food industry is organized, but this also means we need to ‘try some new foods’ and be more efficient and less wasteful about it. You can start by frying a testicle or two one of these days. It’s not bad at all, I can guarantee you.

Can you raise sea-water blue crabs in fresh-water ponds?

Apparently yes: Freshwater Farm Ponds Turning into Crab Farms:

North Carolina’s native blue crab population has been at historic lows since 2000. Dr. Dave Eggleston, director of NC State’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST) and professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, looked at various methods for helping the population recover. He hit upon a solution which not only reduces pressure on existing crab populations, but also benefits farmers looking to diversify their crops: using irrigation ponds on farms to grow blue crabs.
Eggleston and his fellow researchers discovered that crabs can tolerate a salinity level of only .3 parts per thousand, which is about the same level found in coastal tap water. They did further work to determine the best set of circumstances for raising crab: population density, food rations, and habitat structure in ponds.
This past July, Eggleston and Ray Harris, NC State director of cooperative extension for Carteret County, had the opportunity for a large-scale test when they stocked a 10-acre lake with 40,000 hatchery-raised crabs, and a smaller pond with 4,000 crabs. The crabs will take approximately 105 days to reach maturity, and so far the endeavor looks successful.
With the rapid rate of growth for pond-raised crabs, Eggleston expects that in a given year, a farm could produce two to three harvests, as crabs don’t do well in freshwater during the winter months.
“If you look at a 2 1/2 -acre pond, you could stock it with 50,000 hatchery-raised crabs and expect to harvest around 20 percent, or 10,000 fully grown crabs. At $3 per crab, that’s $30,000 – and multiply that times three. It definitely adds up.”

Presidential Candidates on Food and Agriculture

In today’s Grist – Politics and the Dinner Table: Weighing Obama’s and McCain’s stances on food and farm policy:

In the end, Pollan is likely right: Whatever the candidates are saying now (or not saying at all), events may require the 44th president to deal with food issues in ways that break radically with past policies. Silly ideas like propping up ethanol production may soon be unthinkable. One candidate has demonstrated openness to the notion of sustainable agriculture and “local and regional food systems”; the other hasn’t. Neither will likely push bold change unless forced to do so.

There are good and bad aspects of both candidate’s proposals concerning the food industry – read the whole thing.

Food Scene in the Triangle

A lovely article in Bon Appetit about the food scene in Durham and Chapel Hill – here are a few short snippets:
America’s Foodiest Small Town:

Imagine a place where foodies not only have a favorite chef, but also a favorite farmer; a place where the distance between the organic farm and the award-winning restaurant is mere miles; a place where a sustainable future is foreseeable. It’s all a reality in Durham-Chapel Hill.
Durham and Chapel Hill–united by an eight-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 15-501–are best known for two things: tobacco and their utter hatred for one another’s college basketball teams, the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. But to many they are considered one and the same. And after spending several days meeting farmers like Stuart and Alice, visiting restaurants and farmers’ markets, and eating up the wildly diverse culinary scene, I was beginning to think food–not hoops–was the area’s outstanding asset.
This partly explains why, while eating a pimiento cheese sandwich at Parker and Otis in Durham, I found myself daydreaming about ditching the big city. How could someone so infatuated with food and restaurants, with chefs and fancy cocktails and plates of oysters at 3:00 a.m., think that these two towns (with a combined population of less than 300,000) would stand up to my hometown, New York City? Had the fresh country air and wide open spaces distorted my thinking? The folks here, when it came to food, were onto something. And I wanted a piece of it.
There are more than 120 small farms within a 50-mile radius of Chapel Hill. You’ll find many of them represented at the area’s dozen or so farmers’ markets. The best is held just across the train tracks from Chapel Hill, in the artsy town of Carrboro. In its 30th year, the market is home to 70 farmers, many of them nationally known for their trendsetting organic practices.
In the end, no matter where I dined and shopped, or whom I talked with, it always came back to the land and the importance of local farmers. I asked Aaron Vandemark, chef-owner at the Italian-influenced Panciuto restaurant in Hillsborough–who estimates that 95 percent of his summer menus are sourced locally–why he supports Alice and Stuart White and other farmers. “I work with them and other farmers because I want to contribute to their success in some way. Because I need them [in order] to do what I do,” he said. “Because their eggplants taste of brown sugar, and their strawberries are little miracles, and they are good people doing important work.” Without them, Vandemark seemed to say, there would be no heirloom tomato salads, no fancy five-course prix fixe dinners, no food at all. The future of any local food movement rests with young farmers
After dinner I asked Dawson, who has farmed in the area for 36 years, what he thought about the state of food in America, and Durham and Chapel Hill’s place in it. “I see a real change in the way people are eating,” he said. “They care about where their food comes from, who is growing it, and how it is being grown. I think folks could learn a lot from the synergy between farmers, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and the community that we have in Durham and Chapel Hill. It’s a model for the rest of the country.”
I couldn’t agree more.

Thomas Friedman lecture at Duke University


Monday, Sept. 22
5:30 – 7:00 PM
Lecture: “Hot, Flat and Crowded”
New York Times columnist and Pulitzer-Prize winning author Thomas Friedman will discuss his new book on the technology needed to address the energy and climate crisis and how America can be a leader in the “Green Revolution.”
Information: Karen Kemp 919-613-7394
Page Auditorium, Duke

Using DNA barcoding to identify illegal bushmeat jerky trade

This is very cool – African Bushmeat Expedition is a project which takes high school students to Africa where they both learn the techniques and at the same time do something very useful – track the appearance of wild animal meat in the market:

Although illegal wildlife poaching is conducted worldwide, the impact in Africa has been devastating. Unsustainable commercial hunting for bushmeat will inevitably lead to species extinction. In turn, localized species extinction impacts the health of native ecosystems. Marketing of illegal bushmeat can also have serious ramifications because pathogens present in the meat may be transmitted, through ingestion, to the human population. The DNA barcoding technique implemented by High Tech High students will provide a useful tool for environmental impact studies by allowing scientists and environmental groups to trace illegal bushmeat back to its localized animal populations.

What is it all about?

In 2005, Jay Vavra of High Tech High in San Diego and Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoological Society collaborated to create a conservation forensics course, instructing HTH students on species identification via DNA barcoding. Students studied African bushmeat trade and focused on identification of simulated bushmeat samples, using jerky from a range of species for the process. Advanced studies included experimental methods of DNA extraction and amplification as well as alternative means of DNA preservation for shipment of DNA from Africa. The next step in the study is establishing partnerships and education programs at Mweka College and other sites by bringing students to East Africa to build this novel conservation education program in Africa and to disseminate instructional material in the United States.

The expedition just ended and the participants blogged the expedition and their experiences – check out the blog here.

The assembly was greatly interested in and impressed with our work, and the meeting was a great success. It was fantastic to bring together all that we had learned in the classroom the past few years and in the field the past few weeks.

For the Triangle locavores

A special issue of The Independent on local food scene:
The road to real food
Farm to table challenges
Farmers’ helpers
One missing link: organic grains

EuroTrip ’08 – Berlin, lunch at the Institute

After a lovely flight, Catriona met me at the airport. We went to the Institute where I checked in my room, set up my wifi, then went down to meet the people and have lunch: various cold cuts, true Coca Cola, and a cream puff:

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Fried Smelt

This morning I had to get up early to go and give my interview for Radio Belgrade 1, at the same time when my Radio Belgrade 2 interview was on. This one will be broadcast in ten days or so. All the radio interviews will be recorded and placed on the web so I can link to it later. Afterwards, my Mom and I went to visit the graves of my Father and grandparents, did some shopping, and ended up in “Polet”, an ancient and excellent seafood restaurant in the middle of Belgrade, where we had, traditionally, fried smelt (or pilchard):

EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, Easter lunch

Today is Orthodox Easter. Most everyone here will have lamb for lunch today. We did something different….
First, for breakfast I had snenokle (here is a recipe from a delightful Balkans food blog Palachinka) and I ground some chocolate on top of them:
Then, we had eggs. Not just painted on the outside, but simmered for many hours in onion husks, olive oil and a bunch of spices until the eggs were brown to the core:

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EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, beef soup

Beef soup with cream, eggs and lemon – today’s lunch:

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EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, palacinke

Last night’s dinner – crepes filled with a mix of cheese, eggs and sugar, baked in the oven with some sweet cream:

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EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, fish soup

I was kicking myself all day yesterday because I forgot to take my camera with me for most of the day. First, my mother and I went to the bank to do some business which, of course, made us hungry so we stopped by a bakery and got fresh djevrek (no, although it looks like a sesame bagel, it is not – it is much lighter and crispier). Mmmmmm….
Then we went to the main building of the Natural History Museum and made some contacts there. The Director was at a meeting, but the secretary is smart, hip and on-the-ball and will be a great contact for the future as they try to design a new website and attempt to make their collection visible to the rest of the world.
Then we went to the Farmers’ Market, where I really wished I had my camera with me. Among else, we bought some carp from the Skadarsko lake in Montenegro (Danube is full of mercury after the bombing, so it is not a good idea to eat its fish any more).
Then, we got hungry again and stopped by a cake & sweets shop and got a bunch of cakes. By the time we got home and I got my camera out, 3.5 out of 4 cakes were already eaten (krempite i indijaneri) so all I can show you is a very sweet and creamy ‘sampita’ in the process of getting devoured:

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EuroTrip ’08 – Belgrade, more food….

Food is probably the most nostalgia-inducing facet of life….

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Food and Guilt – questions about some extraordinary claims

There is a lot of stuff one hears about food, sustainability, environment, etc., and it is sometimes hard to figure out what is true and what is not, what is based on science and what is emotion-based mythology.
For instance, some things I have heard over the years and have no means to evaluate if they are even close to plausible:
Claim #1: if we used every square inch of arable or potentially arable land, clearing the rainforest, turning deserts into fields, removing cities, malls and highways, killing all the animals, destroying all natural ecosystems, moving all humans to the Moon and planting all of the Earth’s landmass (except, perhaps Antarctica and Mt.Everest), there would still not be enough grain, fruits and vegetables to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #2: if we used all the available technology to maximize the production of fish, shellfish, sea-weed, etc., the entire production on the oceans would still not be able to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
Claim #3: if all of the suitable (and unsuitable but convertable, e.g,. cities, deserts) land was converted into small farms where chickens really freely roam and peck around the yard, there would not be enough chicken meat to feed the entire current human population. True or False? Source?
I guess if any or all of those are even close to true, the idea is that we have to trade-off and compromise: we cannot eat just plants, or just seafood, or just free-range chicken, but have to combine all (plus farm-raised animals of several species raised as humanely as possible, plus a little bit of game meat) of these in some way that can feed all of us without destroying the environment.
So, anyone know any answers, or at even educated guesses as to the veracity of any of the three above claims?

Food and Guilt

…from different points of view:
Anne-Marie: Culinary revelation
Mark Powell: Saving the ocean with guilt or desire? and Does the sustainable seafood movement rely on guilt? (blogfish poll)
Miriam Goldstein: Guilty as charged
Amanda Marcotte: Save your soul with recycling

Open Access Beer!

What is the difference between Free Access Beer and Open Access Beer?
You go to a bar to get your Free Access Beer. You sit down. You show your ID. The barista gives you a bottle. You don’t need to pay anything for it – it’s free, after all. You take your own bottle-opener from your pocket and open the bottle. You drink the beer from the bottle. You return the empty bottle to the barista. You go home.
You order you Open Access Beer online or by phone. You pick what kind of beer you want. It gets delivered to your door really fast. The delivery man opens the bottle for you. You are not carded, nor do you have to pay. That beer is now yours to do whatever you want with it – you can drink it out of the bottle, or pour it into a glass. You can use it for cooking or you can use it to water your plants. You can do a chemical analysis of it in your lab and use the knowledge to produce an even better homebrew.
See the difference?
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as Open Access Beer, or even Free Access Beer. Which, it turns out, may be a Good Thing. For science, at least. Especially if you are Bohemian kind of guy. You need to read this very Grim report (from Emmett, via Kevin):
A possible role of social activity to explain differences in publication output among ecologists:

Publication output is the standard by which scientific productivity is evaluated. Despite a plethora of papers on the issue of publication and citation biases, no study has so far considered a possible effect of social activities on publication output. One of the most frequent social activities in the world is drinking alcohol. In Europe, most alcohol is consumed as beer and, based on well known negative effects of alcohol consumption on cognitive performance, I predicted negative correlations between beer consumption and several measures of scientific performance. Using a survey from the Czech Republic, that has the highest per capita beer consumption rate in the world, I show that increasing per capita beer consumption is associated with lower numbers of papers, total citations, and citations per paper (a surrogate measure of paper quality). In addition I found the same predicted trends in comparison of two separate geographic areas within the Czech Republic that are also known to differ in beer consumption rates. These correlations are consistent with the possibility that leisure time social activities might influence the quality and quantity of scientific work and may be potential sources of publication and citation biases.


Generally, inhabitants of Bohemia (western region of
the Czech Republic) are known to drink more beer than
people from Moravia (eastern region of the country). This
difference was confirmed for my sample of researchers:
researchers from Bohemia drank significantly more beer
per capita per year (median 200.0 litres) than those from
Moravia (median 37.5 litres; Mann-Whitney test: U17,17
2.84, p0.005). Therefore I predicted lower measures of
publication output for the former in comparison to latter
group of researchers (I could not include nominal variable
”region” in regression models because of its significant
interdependence with another effect variable, the beer
consumption). Indeed, researchers from Bohemia published
fewer papers per year (U17,172.32, p0.02), were less
cited per year (U17,172.99, p0.003), and showed lower
citation rate per paper per year (U17,172.30, p0.02).

The question is: do you do less science because you drink too much, or do you drink too much because your science sucks? And, is 200 liters of beer per year too much? Who’s to judge? Moravians? Is there a similar correlation with wine and other drinks? Other non-alcoholic social activities?
Or is beer-drinking one of the possible symptoms of the Impostor Syndrome (see mrswhatsit’s series on it: Part I, Part II, Part III, also Zuska, Sciencewoman, Revere, Laelaps and DrugMonkey to learn more about it).

The Science of Baking


Following the smashing success of their previous programs on “The Science of Beer” and “the Science of Chocolate,” the Duke Chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, will present “The Science of Baking” On Thursday, January 31, at 4:30 p.m. The featured guests are Emily Buehler, author of Bread Science: The Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread, and Frank Ferrell from Ninth Street Bakery. The event includes free samples, sandwiches, pastries and drinks. The meeting will be held in room 2002 of the Duke North Building. RSVP ASAP to Mary Holtschneider.

My Stuffed Cabbage recipe has competition!

The 176th Carnival of the Recipes is up on The Common Room and guess what? My recipe for Stuffed Cabbage is not the only one! There is another recipe for it there so you can compare and contrast!

How to Fix an Authentic Serbian* Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage)

Sorry to keep you all waiting so long, as there was other work to do, but here is the method for producing the most authentic sarma. As some steps may be too difficult, I will be adding tips and tricks along the way on how to do it with materials at hand – it will still be good, but you cannot call it “authentic” any more.**
Part A – Making Sauerkraut
The key to good sarma is good Sauerkraut, i.e., the sour cabbage leaves that you will do the wrapping with. And the most important piece of the puzzle for this is:
The StoneTM
Heavy, compact, dense, smooth block of rock.*** Taking one from the side of a pavement or out of a cobblestone street will do fine (but is damage to public property). But it you want the true bragging rights, then you will try, without getting caught, to steal one of the stones from a large (but slowly diminishing, for this very reason) pile of old stones, put there at least a century ago, probably longer, in a little park accross the street from the Parliament (Yugoslav, now Serbian) building in Belgrade. That stone will be perfect in every way – size, shape, density, everything, or so the legend says 😉
If you manage to pass it by customs and take it home, you are ready to begin the process of making the sour cabbage, and about a month later, the delicious sarma.
Once you have obtained a decent specimen of stone, the rest is easy. Next, buy (or have built for you) a barrel. An oak-barrel is the best. Other wood will be fine. And even plastic will do if everything else fails.
Now you have all the equipment and are ready to start.
Next: farmers market. You need to find good cabbage. The stuff in grocery stores is no good, either too pale, or purple, or frilly. You are looking for the old-style cabbage (you may have to ask your farmer friend to grow some for you, if neccessary, or grow it yourself if you have a small piece of land) – rich green, with the very tips of leaves turning slightly red or even brownish. That is the right kind. Get 20kg or so (40lbs+).
Each head of cabbage needs to be washed. If there are some leaves that are starting to rot at the tips or edges, remove them. You know how cabbage has a “core” in the middle? Use a very sharp, pointed knife to cut the core out. The cores are best eaten raw – they are delicious and taste just like kholrabi. The cabbage head will now have a square (actually, pyramid-shaped) hole in it where the core used to be. Put some salt in that hole – you may even want to rub salt into the cabbage from the inside this way.
Put the barrel in a shady place where you can keep the temperature reasonably constant – around room temperature. Thus, people usually use cellars in winter, as summer heat is bound to spoil the cabbage.
Fill the barrel with the cabbage heads. Start pouring in water, also at room temperature. While the water is pouring in, also add: about 1kg (2lbs) of salt – actually what is left after some of it was used to fill each individual head of cabbage. Also add several pieces of fresh, cleaned horseradish, and a whole cleaned and peeled red beet.
If you decided to go with a much smaller barrel for smaller quantity, or if you are using a plastic barrel, it is not a bad idea to also place a couple of large pieces of bread on top of it all. It is a matter of pride NOT to use any chemical preservatives, although the climate where you live, or the microcilmate of your cellar. may force your hand on it. You will gain experience if you do this several years in a row and will adjust all the parameters to fit yoru local conditions.
When the barrel is full of water, put the lid on. The important thing is that the lid has a diameter slightly smaller than the opening on the top of the barrel. Thus, the wooden lid actually floats on top of the water. This is why it needs to be clean.
This is also why you need The StoneTM. Wash the stone thoroughly and place it on top of the lid. The lid will, thus, push down on the cabbage and prevent any contact between cabbage and air – the most important factor in the entire process. This is also why it has to be a solid stone. Wood, plastic and rubber will not press it well enough. Brick, concrete and wood are too porous and thus full of gunk that is impossible to clean – gunk that will make your cabbage rot. Metal will react with the salt and acid or rust, and plastic may leach cancerogenic compounds – both are to be kept away from your primordial sauerkraut. The StoneTM rocks!
The process of souring lasts about a month. You have to, about once per week, replace the water in the barrel. Just open the valve on the bottom of the barrel and let it drain, then add fresh water and place the lid (and You-Know-What on top of the lid) back on. You may need to try the water and/or a little piece of cabbage to see when it is done.
Once it is done, and you keep replacing water regularly, you can just keep the cabagge in the barrel for a couple of more months, if I remember correctly, until it is all gone, or until the weather gets too hot.
Tip: if you have a small barrel and no valve on the bottom, you can probably get away with not replacing the water at all if instead you use a hose to blow bubbles in the water and thus mix the salt and the water thoroughly every week.
Part B – Fixing the Sarma
Now that you have sauerkraut in the barrel, you are ready to fix your sarma.
I. Cabbage: Take a nice, large head of cabbage, with big, healthy leaves. Take all the individual leaves off. Wash them thoroughly in hot water, several times if needed, i.e., if your sauerkraut is too salty or acidic. Drain the water and dry the leaves.
Each leaf has a thick central stem which needs to be carefully thinned (with a sharp knife) so that it can be folded and wrapped nicely. Using one leaf per wrap makes large wraps with a high meat:cabbage ratio (the way I like it). Alternatively, one can cut each leaf in half and use each half to make a small wrap. Just be consistent with your choice: all big or all small.
II. Meat filling: Use 1kg (2 pounds) of ground meat: beef, veal, pork, sausage or – the best – a mix of veal and pork.
Cut up an onion and put it in a skillet with some animal fat (oil will do, if you prefer). Cut up and add some smoked bacon or neck (or other smoked meat). Add salt, black pepper and ground red pepper. When the onion gets brown, add the ground meat, mix well, and fry it for about 10 minutes. At the end, add a cup of raw, white rice (in some places, for additional touch of authenticity, they add barley or oats instead of rice, but I don’t like this as rice remains somewhat firmer with prolonged cooking).
III. Wrapping: Take a large plate and put a single cabbage leaf on it. Put a tablespoon of the meat mix on the leaf, start folding/rolling the leaf at one end to cover the meat and start wrapping to the end. When you have a wrap that looks like a pillow, use thumb to tuck the loose end of the cabbage into the wrap. Repeat until all the meat is wrapped.
How do you know if you have wrapped it well? Wrap one, go outside to the top of a sloping downhill street. Throw the cabbage wrap down the hill. If, when it hits the bottom, it is still wrapped, you have done a good job. If it unravels while rolling downhill, you need to practice more.
IV. Cooking: Take a large pot and put some dry/smoked meat (e.g., ribs or neck) on the bottom. Start stacking the wraps in the pot. Stack them tightly against each other. Place the last remaining cabbage leaves on top. Put a little bit of water in – not too much as you do not want it to boil over and out of the pot.
Get it to boil on the stove. Then cover and place in the oven. Let it cook in the oven, set on Medium, around an hour at least.
Alternative, totally unauthentic method, which works miraculously if you do not have the space or time to make your own sauerkraut at home:
Make wrapped cabbage as above using fresh, sweet, raw cabbage instead of sauerkraut. Before wrapping, place the leaves in boiling water for just a minute until they are just soft enough to wrap, then drain and dry them and let cool off before wrapping.
Buy a bag of string or chopped sauerkraut at the store. Put it everywhere: inside, in-between, under and over the wraps. Cook a little longer than usual. The sweet cabbage becomes acidic in the process. One may also reduce the amount of dry/smoked meat by adding a little bit of vinegar and some tomato sauce instead.
V. Eating: Serve hot. Take the wraps out carefully so they remain intact. Sarma is probably already salty enough, but adding some fresh ground black pepper is usually nice. Serve with fresh, white peasant bread, mashed potatoes and the sauerkraut salad.
Sauerkraut salad? You already have sauerkraut in the barrel. Cut up some leaves, wash them throughly in cold water, add a little oil and ground red pepper/paprika. Add a little ‘raso’ (rah-sol), i.e., the slightly pink-ish, slightly acidic, salty water from the barrel.
A shot of slivovitz is the best thing to have just before the meal, while during the meal, a strong, home-brewed beer is probably the best match with sarma. If you prefer wine, then it should be red, earthy, non-sweet kind.
VI. The next day: Raso (the water from the barrel) is said to be good against hangover in the morning, in case you had a little bit too much slivovitz. Just drink a glass of it. Since it is a salty, somewhat acidic water, it can be used for fixing other dishes, e.g., soups.
The sarma itself gets noticeably better and tastier with each day’s re-heating (the effect I can attest to from just last week’s experience of having sarma for four nights in a row). If you expect important guests, fix sarma the day before, then re-heat it before your guests arrive.
*Sarma is a frequent dish all over the Balkans, with each region having its own variations of the recipe, each delicious in its own way. The recipe described here is largely based on my Mom’s way of doing things.
**There is, as far as I know, no scientific evidence for any of the empirical claims made in this post. Obviously, this field is wide open for future research.
***No stone was left unturned in preparation and writing of this post.


Yup, I had sarma for dinner tonight. It’s been a while since the last time I had some, but Mrs.Coturnix fixed it today, inventing her own recipe along the way. It was delicious!

OK, I like bacon, but…

this much?
This is the source of the very funny bacon flowchart, discovered by Dr.Bacon.

Science Debate 2008 – my Question #5: Food

To keep the conversation about the Science Debate 2008 going, I decided to post, one per day, my ideas for potential questions to be asked at such a debate. The questions are far too long, though, consisting more of my musings than real questions that can be asked on TV (or radio or online, wherever this may end up happening). I want you to:
– correct my factual errors
– call me on my BS
– tell me why the particular question is counterproductive or just a bad idea to ask
– if you think the question is good, help me reduce the question from ~500 to ~20 words or so.
Here is the fifth one, so comment away!

Back in 1973, Earl Butz (working for President Nixon) enacted the new Farm Bill. Up till that time, food prices were supported through loans, government grain purchases, and land idling. The Farm Bill changed the system to support food prices with direct payments to farmers. The direct, long-term result of this policy is overdependence on corn, monoculture with its gigantic need for fertilizers/herbicides/pesticides, inability of small/local/organic farmers to compete due to artificially low food prices, industrial-lot production of corn-fed beef (bad for cows, bad for us), enormous volume of oil used for food transportation and fertilizer production, and Big Agra control over legislation regulating food production and food safety (as well as workers’ safety inside food industry) further consolidating food production in the hands of a few megabusinesses.
Agribusiness is now one of the strongest lobbies in the country, yet people are increasingly looking for alternative sources of food in local sustainable farms, farms that are extremely difficult to start and run due to regulations written into legislation by the agribusiness lobbyists. And naturally in such environment, food and nutritional science is greatly focused on improvements in productivity of food production within the existing system instead of exploring the alternatives. Would you reverse the 1973 Farm Bill and what else would you do to restructure and reorganize our food-production system thus ensuring the availability of safer, healthier food, making it possible for small farmers to support their families with small farm business, and greatly reducing the use of oil for food production and transportation?
Science Debate 2008 – my Question #1: Scientific Advice to the President
Science Debate 2008 – my Question #2: Science Funding
Science Debate 2008 – my Question #3: Global Warming
Science Debate 2008 – my Question #4: Who has Scientific Authority?

Now this is a serious crisis!

Workers in the Ivory Coast, producer of about 40% of world cocoa, are on strike! As chocolate is the Fifth Food Group, this may lead to global malnutrition of cataclismic proportions (how big are your hidden stashes?)