Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Corn, Reborn

At a recent gathering we hit folks with a hipster quiz, to rate how trendy they were. Had they downloaded the hottest songs? Seen the hottest movies? Lost hours of their lives to Trivia Crack?Since those present ranged in age from 14 to 85, you might imagine that trendiness varied widely. In one area, however, just about everyone was in step with the times. Or the times, circa 2014!
Passé on two counts

This area was food trends. I asked if anyone had consumed, within the previous week:

  1. Greek yogurt;
  2. A smoothie with vegetables in it;
  3. Bacon-flavored anything (other than just bacon itself); or
  4. Something labeled "gluten-free."
Scoring was impressive. Except that those trends are supposedly on the wane now.

For that refreshing, "I just ate breakfast" feeling

It's 2015 people, and according to this recent CNN article, we've got all new food trends:

  1. Radishes. Because they're so...radish-y, I guess.
  2. Yogurt with vegetables in it. Because...ick.
  3. Maple syrup. Because all our bees are dropping dead, but there's no shortage of maples in Canada, for the time being. If only the danged trees could make themselves useful and do some pollinating while they're at it.
  4. Sour flavors. The kids had the jump on us on this one. They've been downing sour Gummi worms for years.
  5. Hemp. Because with all that legal marijuana, we've got more seeds floating around. Hemp milk! Hemp in cereals! Hemp--it's what's for dinner, not just what's tying the yacht to the dock.
  6. Old school cocktails. Might be sentimentality over Mad Men ending, but those drinks grandpa drank are ba-a-a-ack!
  7. Eating seasonally, if not locally. Not sure I get this one, since, to co-opt the drinking excuse, it's always summer somewhere.
  8. The end of restrictive elimination diets. Which means that book I reviewed earlier, Smart People Don't Diet, is exactly on trend. Impressive.
  9. Spanish cuisine. Not only is the country a hot tourist destination, but the food is in too! And if you make or eat it in America, you can even eat your dinner before nine o'clock.
  10. And finally, trendwatchers predict fancy cookies on dessert menus. Well, duh.
But supposing you're still clinging to 2014's food trends. Greek yogurt tastes like ice cream, you argue. Or, It may be 2015, but I'm still gluten-intolerant!

It's okay to be out of style. In fact, if gluten still isn't your thing, you may as well go all the way and be 250 years out of style. I've been reading a fascinating little history of American meals called Three Squares, and in one passage, author Abigail Carroll describes how Ben Franklin patriotically stuck up for American consumption of "Indian corn" in the face of English snootiness.

Franklin deemed corn "one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world...its green leaves roasted[!] are a delicacy beyond express;...samp, hominy, succotash, and nokehock, made of it, are so many pleasing varieties, and...Johnny cake or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire [English] muffin."

This impassioned declaration got me to thinking--colonial Americans often ate gluten-free by default. After all, wheat ain't easy to grow, and Carroll notes that wheat didn't take off in America or become widely (or cheaply) available until the end of the 18th century. Instead, early Americans ate plenty of peas and that Native American local favorite, corn. 

So say you're clinging to your retro, gluten-free food trend and want to get back to corn. What are these luscious dishes Franklin references? 

Samp: corn porridge similar to oatmeal, based on a Native American dish nausamp. Plimoth Plantation provides recipes for both here.

Hominy: yes, that hominy--like you find in cans in the Mexican food section. I guess they mixed it with bacon (another ancient food trend!) or ham and ate up.

Succotash: a boiled, one-pot meal in olden days. Zester Daily gives a history and recipe here (and hominy makes its second appearance). 

Nokehock: apparently this recipe has fallen out of favor in the last 250 years, so maybe Franklin was alone in his appreciation for it. Another author of an American food history defines it as "parched corn cooked in hot ashes, then pounded into meal." Uh, yum?

Johnny cake: recipes for corn pancakes have never gone completely out of style, and looking this one over made me want to whip some up. 

Add a dollop of Greek yogurt, some bacon-flavored maple syrup, and wash it all down with a kale smoothie, and it'll be like 2014 all over again!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Jekyll and Hydes of Food Approaches

This about captures it
Last night we watched the movie The Maze Runner. If you've never heard of the film, think of the recent slew of YA dystopians and you've got the idea. This time unknown Dylan O'Brien played the role of Jennifer Lawrence/Shailene Woodley/Brenton Thwaites and Patricia Clarkson took on the role of Donald Sutherland/Kate Winslet/Meryl Streep. Kid under pressure takes on crazy regime led by creepy, heartless adult.

I mention this decent but ultimately pretty-darned-familiar movie because it reminded me of one of the food books I read this week:

Here again we find the now-very-familiar no-carb/ultra-low-carb recommendations, although the author structures his book differently: 1) what you should be eating; 2) what exercises you should be doing; and 3) the science behind his recommendations. The first few times I read books recommending animal fats and accusing carbs of crimes against humanity, I devoured them, so to speak. But now, while fully believing the science and the claims, I've decided it's better to eat some carbs and sugar because 1) life needs some joy, and 2) people on weird, unsustainable, expensive diets get on my nerves.

Let's get real: no matter the science involved, I'm never going ultra-low-carb or no-carb unless imminent death is the only alternative. I'd rather live ten fewer years and get to have bread and pasta in moderation and the occasional sweets. I have no intention of giving up fruit or potatoes. Yes, the Inuit and the Masai tribe do just great on diets largely 
of fat and animal products, but no one has ever envied them their diets.

Author Petersen did, however, have some good reminders to cut back on seed oils. Not to mention some great exercise ideas with helpful illustrations! (I did two Russian push-ups after finishing the book.)

The most jarring thing about Eat Bacon, Don't Jog was reading it right on the heels of comedian Jim Gaffigan's snicker-ful new book

Gaffigan's loving, loving relationship to just about all foods other than seafoods contrasted violently with Grant Petersen's eat-to-live-lean-and-mean approach, and after just a few pages it was clear to me who I'd rather hang out with. Because, really, aren't people who get zealous with their diets just so tiresome? Wouldn't we rather spend our few years on earth enjoying a cheeseburger, fries, and some birthday cake with someone who loves them as much as we do?

Consider the following quotes. First, Petersen's bizarre and disturbing confession:
In the old days when I feared fat and had swallowed the [you-need-lots-of-fiber] Kool-Aid, I'd eat peanuts--shell and all--hoping to surround the fat I consumed with fiber and make it less accessible. At my worst, I'd eat only the shells.
Are you kidding me? This guy needs professional help because that sounds like a textbook case of the newly-diagnosed Orthorexia Nervosa, the eating disorder where you get so freaked out about "eating healthy" that you can barely get enough to eat.

Petersen goes on to give this current advice that he would still stand by:
At your next picnic, if you're given a cob of corn, slather it with butter and slurp it off. Do that a few times, and then drop the yellow menace in the dirt, so you don't have to be sneaky when you toss it in the trash, where it can't hurt you. 
If I were the hostess at that picnic, I think I'd far rather he just said, "No, thank you," when I offered him the cob of death.

Gaffigan, on the other hand, opens his love story thus:
I can't stop eating. I can't. I haven't been hungry in twelve years. Once a writer at Entertainment Weekly described me as a human garbage can, which I think he meant as a compliment. Last night, I had the following train of thought: Ugh, I'm so full. I guess I'll have some cheese. Hmm, I don't even like this cheese. I guess I'll finish it. I know it's not right. On more than one occasion while eating something, I've thought to myself, Maybe this will make me hungry. It's either that or feel my feelings. Jeannie likes to point out, "You know you are only eating your feelings." I always respond, "Yeah, but these feelings are delicious."
He follows up that honest introduction with what amounts to a transcript of a long, often hilarious stand-up routine that covers everything from appetizers to desserts. I spent a lot of time reading and giggling to myself and thinking, I should look this guy up on YouTube!

All of which is to say, if you're on a crazy low-carb diet (for as long as you can hold out), read Petersen for inspiration. But don't read Gaffigan because he'll not only make you hungry, he'll also make you take the whole food thing way less seriously.