Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Father's Day: A Short History of Inherited Lunacy

In honor of Father's Day and my daughter graduating pre-K, I am reposting an article from last year's Out & About issue on, er-um...paternal inheritance!  Happy Father's Day!

Turning a certain age as a father, you begin to realize that many of the paternal clichés you grew up with are destined to become part of your life once again.   It’s different than the parental curse.  Naturally, that’s when your kids act just like you did, or worse.  No, this is when you slowly inherit all the traits you secretly snickered at your dad about behind his back as a kid.  It begins with not asking for directions in your 20’s.  In your 30’s, you plan Sundays in front of the TV with precisely the same snack spread as your pop, right down to the favorite stinky cheese and nostril-flaming mustard.  In your 40’s, you can nap on command.  No lie.  Until recently, I never understood how my uncle and grandfather could sleep through what can only be described as sheer mayhem at raucous family gatherings.  And, snoring like only a deep sleep can produce.  Formidable is the only word that comes to mind. 

But, what happens when the parental curse and the paternal curse merge?  I was having a rather unsuccessful morning preparing the little one for daycare when she told me, “N-O, spells NO.”  I said, “That’s MY line!”  Another back-atcha came when I grabbed her to cut some of the roughly 20 minutes it takes to get her into the car seat, and she turned just before I swooped my arms around her.  She said with all the sincerity of a doctor giving bad news, “Don’t even think about it.”  Four.  Years.  Old.

I am, and always have been, I suppose, the Master of Breakfast.  It’s the first memory I have of cooking.  Now it’s my gig, again.  And, good thing, too.  For my daughter, I usually have 7 or 8 viable choices in the morning, all of which can be knocked out in 5 minutes or less.  I was making bacon for her last month and asked, “What would you like with your bacon?”  She said, “Sausage.” 

Not all dad-isms, however, are offspring related.

For example, I confess a certain titillating feeling when I enter the hardware store with a list of only two things to buy, and then I eye up one of the liquor store-sized carts and begin planning an afternoon of ambitious projects as I catch the heady aroma of fertilizer and garden hose rubber.  And, then I remember I only came in for light bulbs and a bungee cord.    

Perhaps the most cliché of all is the myth of our innate penchant to barbecue big pieces of meat.  The steak is a lie.  Well, partially.  Yes, we can barbecue (and barbecue well, thankyouverymuch), but the idea of sending dear old dad out to the back yard for roughly three months of the year to cook was created by the charcoal and lighter fluid lobby headed by an all-female executive board. Stick with me.  They discovered that giving “the man of the house” an important task like cooking dinner and the freedom to do it outside in the warm sun, usually with a beer in hand and the game on the radio- well, let’s be frank: it leaves a rather peaceful and drama-free household for the female sisterhood to enjoy.  I believe in corporate America, they call this the “win-win”. 

So, what else is there to look forward to?  From what I’ve seen, there’s cutting the lawn in black socks and sandals.  Memorizing all the channels on cable.  Boasting proudly about your electric lawn and garden grooming devices.  I’ve not yet been stricken with the thermostat bug.  Though, I hear once you start, you can’t stop.   I’m okay with all of this.  It lends a certain air of lunacy and confusion to your standing in the family.  It might even, if you’re lucky, get you taken off some important (read: annoying) task, leaving you time, of course- to nap.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Salt, Round II

You know summer is coming when news about salt intake and supersized soda banning makes it to the headlines.  Well, here we are!  I felt compelled to re-post one of my favorite tirades about idiocy in our society as it relates to moderation of the intake of everything from fat to salt, sugar, alcohol and even marijuana (Mayor Bloomberg, you sly dog.)

First, let me link you to the story on salt and how they're now saying there is no connection to hypertension and high blood pressure (the rest of the argument falls in line, as far as I'm concerned.)

The second, to the aforementioned Mayor of the Big Apple and his personal crusade to slim down NYC residents.  One Big Gulp at a time.  

Sigh.  Here we go again...

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it any more!!"

When you begin to read daily about idiotic food legislation, especially as it hits closer to home, you can only stay quiet for so long. 

What is with these people?  Assemblyman Felix Ortiz of the New York State Legislature has proposed a bill that would make it an offense for any restaurant in the state to prepare food for public consumption with...SALT.  With each offense punishable by a $1000 fine.  Yes- the calendar is correct- it is NOT APRIL 1.

Seems Ortiz lost his father to a stroke from high blood pressure resulting (or so it's claimed) from high-sodium diet.  Where was Ortiz when Papi was chomping on the pork rinds and soy nuts?  He says high medical costs and poor health is what inspired the bill.  This reeks of special interest groups and backroom funds changing hands.  I mean- salt? Really?

"Biologically speaking, salt (sodium) plays a major role in human health. It not only feeds nutritional mineral elements to our cells, it also dissolves, sanitizes and cleanses toxic wastes from our system. It is this latter function that makes salt such a healing substance.  All classic biology textbooks refer to salt as the cleanser of bodily fluids."  From "Everything you ever wanted to know about salt"
 Okay- so, if we're on the same page that salt is not the evil killer of restaurant goers, let's get on the same page regarding seasoning with salt.  For a cook or chef to not season with salt (and pepper) is like a swimmer who tries to do laps without getting wet.  Salt goes in the water your pasta is cooked in, it goes in the water your veggies are blanched in, it goes on the thick cuts of meat that get braised to permeate and season throughout for FLAVOR.  FLAVOR, folks.  Salt is a naturally occurring substance (you know, like on the periodic table of elements??) in foods.  Fish live and thrive in salty water.  I don't want to hear any flack from neo-hippies about raw veggie, no-salt diets.  You're wrong about flavor.  Seasoned food tastes better.  Period.  If you have issues with your salt intake, YOU deal with it, but keep your legislation off my pots and pickles! 

Salt is a necessary (albeit tiny) component in baking.  The baking process NEEDS salt.  Are you going to tell me now that the great bakeries of New York City are going to have to cut salt from making their breads?  NO salt= no bread.  Idiots.  Before we had commercial bakeries and bread was only made by hand, salt wasn't added because the salt from the hands of the baker and perspiration was all the bread needed to complete the chemical process of yeasts, sugars and salt, also known as fermentation.  
  • Salt slows down all the chemical reactions that are happening in the dough, including calming fermentation activity to a steadier level.
  • Salt also makes the dough a little stronger and tighter.
  • Salt impacts the shelf life of baked goods, but its effects depend on weather conditions. Salt is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs water. Consequently, in humid climates, it will trap moisture from the air, making a crisp crust soggy, and therefore shortening shelf life. In dry climates, however, the salt helps hold water in the bread longer, inhibiting staling, and thus extending the bread's shelf life.
  • Salt, of course, adds flavor to baked goods. It also potentiates the flavor of other ingredients, including butter and flour.

But enough about salt.  Let's talk about legislation in schools.  The same progressive city of New York is now sticking their heads in public schools and dictating not only how many bake sales can be held a month (ONE), but what can be sold ("Taking the Bake out of Bake Sale")  Otherwise, only fruits and vegetables and any of 27 packaged items that meet city Health Department guidelines on calories, fat and sodium (again with the sodium) can be sold at schools.  I'd love to know what those 27 packaged items are, who came up with them, and what connections those people have to the companies that produce, market and sell them.  More Nanny State b.s..  I don't see the State or City Legislature going after McDonalds.  And you know why?  Because they have too much money and political influence- and they can squash just about anyone.  

Now Philadelphia has become the second city (guess who's first) to ban trans fats from ALL restaurants.  Not some.  All.  It starts with things that are fried in trans fats and any spreads.  Then after September 2010, it goes to all trans fats in foods of any kind in restaurants.  

To say that education is the problem seems both obvious and unpopular.  So let's break it down.  This country is too damned lazy.  There is a reason more than half the population is considered "obese".  There is a reason pre-packaged, hi-sodium, high-trans fats foods exist in tremendous abundance today: we are too god damned lazy.  We want it fast, we want it convenient and we don't want to make it ourselves.  And companies know this and create products because of the "need".  Gives disgusting a new meaning.

If we took an interest in our health, our family's health and our impact on each other, awareness would more than serve as a balance.  We are at a point in history with technology and information where practically everything is at our fingertips.  Why do we need ridiculous laws to govern the ungovernable when radio, news and television could do stories on these "dangers".  Why are they only covered when someone tries to pass widespread legislation that hamper our civil rights?  I know there are documentaries out there.  But people pay to see them.  It's like preaching to the choir.  Why not put an hour long special on prime time television about salt and show people why it's necessary, how too much can harm you, a little bit of history, and throw in some boobs to keep people interested.  This country has gone over the edge, I tell ya.

Do we really need to connect the dots for some people?  Do we really need to narrate a not-so-unbelievable scenario that has people buying soggy, taste-free bread because we're unable to trust ourselves with intake?  Do we really want to go into restaurants and ask for the salt shaker (to apply the salt ourselves) before we ask for a menu or cocktail?  Do we really want and need ANY agency to tell us what we ingest, how much and to what degree?  The answer of course is "NO" to all the above.  We don't want or need those scenarios, but they are not far from becoming reality if we don't do something and say something about it.  

The French must be laughing their asses off at us.  "No salt in zee food?! Ahaaahaahahaahaaa!  What next?  U can cook only in purified water?!? Ahhahahahahhaaaaa!"  

I'm certain the bottled water lobby has a plan on the table already.

Listen- I'm not a fanatic.  But this is just people in positions of power making STUPID laws because they think WE are stupid.  And unless we say "no", it's going to continue.  It starts with awareness and needs exposure and education.  And how about some responsibility?  A dash of common sense?  Are these fanatical concepts?  Nope.  They just keep us from looking...well, stupid.  



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