Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shortage of Strawberry Shortcake

Photography skillz. I don't have them.

I haven't found a GREAT version of Strawberry Shortcake in any restaurant since eating Howley's strange version in West Palm Beach, FL a year ago. They served up a pint of sliced strawberries and freshly-made whipped cream on two huge buttermilk biscuits, and yes, it was phenomenal. Since then, I've always had to make my own, which usually didn't end well.

Case in point: I forced a foodie friend of mine to make me a quick strawberry shortcake a couple of weeks ago, the result which is pictured above. It's a terrible photograph, but you get the idea. We used those little pre-made cakes found next to the strawberries in most grocery stores, and just cooked half a pint of strawberries with a bit of sugar. She pressed the mix through a sieve and poured it over the rest of the berries. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a proud moment in baking history, either.

I'm rather close to embarking on an epic pilgrimage across the South to find "The Best Strawberry Shortcake in the Land" this summer. Partly for the love of the shortcake, and partly for penance.

In the meantime, I've made myself feel better about already breaking my Spring resolution (you know, try to stick to seasonal produce) with this little gem:

(1) The term "artificial flavor" or "artificial flavoring" means anysubstance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is notderived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetablejuice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plantmaterial, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentationproducts thereof. Artificial flavor includes the substances listed in172.515(b) and 182.60 of this chapter except where these are derivedfrom natural sources

This is for those who consume McD's strawberry milkshakes, or Fruit Roll-ups, or strawberry-flavored candies. Have fun with those artificial flavors, 'k?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

America's Largest Bake Sale?

Expensive Marble Swirl Cupcakes from

After writing for a couple of hours, I wanted a quick little visual pick me up. I usually go to one of several food pr0n sites, but I did a random search on Google and found what appeared to be a cute little website for people who want yummy carbs and a happy conscience on

It's the bake sale gone national. Anyone in the States can order baked goods from the vendors listed on this site and have 10% of that purchase go towards a non-profit that the vendor has selected.

The idea seems sound initially, but I think Dough4Charity may be over-complicating things. I'm specifically referring to the $15.99 flat delivery fee, but there's a bit more. None of the vendor profiles are up, and isn't a bake sale essentially a local activity where kids and non-profit groups connect with their local communities? Their motto, "America's Largest Bake Sale", is a little misleading.

I'd be more forgiving if more than 10% of purchases went to the chosen non-profits. Why not 50%, or even 20%? It appears that a lot of these vendors are established bakeries, so they must turn a profit.

I looked up more online bake sales and found something a more viable. "Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale" doesn't have the delightful photographs of cookies and muffins of Dough4Charity, but it's an interesting concept and a thorough website. It also has the backing of the Food Network, Family Circle, and Domino Sugar, to name a few.

It's simple to donate to their "No Kid Hungry" cause. Seems all you have to do is sign up to host a bake sale, map that bake sale on the site, and then donate the proceeds. Simple and straightforward, as bake sales should be.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Comfort Food

My weapon of choice.

A friend of mine mentioned that he'd had the kind of morning "that makes you want to eat a whole box of donuts." Not being into sweets, I asked, "Dude. Why the high carb load?". A discussion ensued about the definition of "comfort food" and its effects on the body and mood. Do all comfort foods necessarily contain carbohydrates, as he maintained, or do people choose their "comfort food" due to pleasant associations with comforting, delicious dishes from their pasts, as I contended?

His argument was that when people refer to "comfort food", they have snacks and meals high in "feel good" carbohydrates in mind. Indisputable tastiness aside, there may be another good, objective reason for reaching for that donut (or box of donuts, if you're having a day). It turns out that eating carbohydrates raises serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter which "facilitates sleep, diminishes pain, and reduces appetite " (more on this later!) as well as "elevates mood" according to research from MIT back in the 1970s.

Dr. Richard Wurtman and Dr. John Fernstrom discovered that a person must consume sweet or starchy carbohydrates with minimal or no protein for the brain to make serotonin. You hear that, loves? You now have proof from Science that you can engineer your good mood with chocolate chip cookies. Also, point one to friend.

*warning* excess consumption may cause obesity, but who cares? you'll be happy.

*I* happen to love a different kind of comfort food. Give me a good, hot medium -rare ribeye, or a plate of perfectly roasted chicken and baked potatoes, and I'm golden. My friend claimed those dishes were not your classic "comfort food" choices, to which I respond now with my secret weapon, Dr. Brian Wansink.

Dr. Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University, defines "comfort food" as "a specific food consumed under a specific situation...a food a person eats to obtain a degree of psychological comfort."  The definition of "comfort food" does not require a certain kind of food, but it does require that the food fulfill an emotional need. Point one for me.

His studies show that choosing a "comfort food" is more complex than just reaching for something "high carb". For example, there are definite differences in choice along gender lines. Men and women seem to crave different foods; these differences are potentially based on personality traits and cultural attitudes.  Men will typically choose hot, prepared meals; a steak, pizza, or pasta, possibly because they're thought of as "manly fare". Women indulge in ready-to-eat snack foods such as chocolate, possibly because they're sick of cooking said "manly fare".

In the interest of full disclosure, his work did state that the number one comfort food reached for by both men and women was ice cream. Is it the high carb content (around 16-20 g per 1/2 cup)? Is it the care-free childhood memories associated with licking strawberry ice cream off your sugar cone in summer? It's the perfect nostalgic package, and it proves both my and my friend's points.

Happily, consumption of carbohydrate-rich food is actually necessary to remain slim, because its effect on appetite is to make one feel full before one's stomach is actually full. So, eating carbs helps you not overeat, and it keeps your mood levels in the socially acceptable zones.  Bingeing on the carbs isn't so hot, but doctors and scientists like the two fabulous Dr. Ws will keep up the good research and keep us consumers out of trouble.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring Resolution

One of the perks of living in Ohio is that the seasons change. I am experiencing my first intermittent bouts of Spring, and what I've seen so far is so lovely that I'm inspired to change my eating habits.

With that, I resolved to increase my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. What's more, I've resolved to purchase mostly seasonal, organic, and locally-grown foods whenever possible (and take part in as many gastronomic festivals northeast Ohio can throw at me!).

April is when Spring starts to slowly threaten Ohio. The temperature hovers around 40 to 50 degrees, it snows a few times, and every plant and tree lets its flowers free.

With all those visual delights surrounding me, I wondered: What delights might be in store for a seeker of fresh, seasonal produce?

Asparagus and rhubarb, apparently, according to

I'm skipping the rhubarb.

The site gets "technical" and breaks down fruits and vegetables' "seasonality" by month.

It seems like I should have decided to go "local and seasonal" around July, as that's when most of the good stuff is ripe and ready. Raspberries won't be perfect until late June - but the sweet flavor of a perfectly ripe berry is something wonderful to look forward to, at least. Being a good sport, however, I went out and bought a pound of thick asparagus spears.

Asparagus is more versatile than you might think, as the people of Sierra de Yeguas (in Andalucia, Spain) already know. They celebrate their Spring asparagus harvest with a festival, preparing asparagus tortilla and asparagus paella, along with my favorite asparagus dish: sautéed asparagus topped with poached egg.

I didn't remember to buy eggs, so I improvised and pan-roasted some asparagus with salt, black pepper, chili powder, and chopped parsley, drizzled with a mix of olive oil and lemon juice. I tossed in a few portabella mushrooms (because I had them) and let everything soak up the flavors quite nicely.

It wasn't much, but it was a tasty start to a year of exploring fresh, local produce!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black River Cafe | Pork Sandwich

Oberlin has quite a lot going for it, if you're into the sorts of things Oberlin has going for it: organic meats, cheeses, and produce, riding a bicycle, walking in a very relaxed manner, strange hairdos, wearing cow costumes on the street, great music, and businesses that open whenever they damn well feel like it, to name a (somewhat random) few.

Oberlin's famous notorious Black River Cafe epitomizes all of the above qualities.

It's a pleasant surprise when the BRC's actually open, and what you order off the menu is usually organic and always high quality. The waitresses tend towards the beautiful, funky, and languorous type, and will get to you when they get to you (unless you know their names and majors).

I happened upon an open BRC just today, in fact, and was greeted by "Amy", a red-headded history major who used to work at the local Chinese restaurant- and she remembered me! I was seated within five minutes of being there.

Five minutes is fast for the BRC. Really.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich instead of my usual BLT today. The gorgeous sandwich is pictured, above, with its crisp baguette, slow-cooked pork, muenster cheese, and chipotle mayonnaise (no barbecue sauce on this piggy!) that brought a much appreciated heat that built up steadily with every bite. The lovely soup (also shown) is a roasted red pepper and tomato puree.

While the BRC has quite a few vegan offerings, this plate obviously isn't one of them!

I went with a friend, and our two pulled pork sandwiches, two cups of soup, and peach-raspberry iced teas amounted to under $20 ... not bad for made-from-scratch, porky goodness!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mmm. Cancerrific.

Et tu, char-grilled ribeye?

Every night I came home from working at the Steakback Outhouse, I smelled of fried onion, french fries, hamburgers, and other assorted seared and char-grilled meats. My boyfriend always complained of the grease on my shoes and the odor, but I thought that's where the offenses ended.

Turns out I was wrong.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Carleton College in Minnesota have conspired to reveal the dangers of commercial cooking. The frying of fatty foods releases particles that are carcinogenic, elevating the air pollution in restaurants' general vicinities. Diners and restaurant staff have been getting free lungfuls of the stuff for years!

Unfortunately, the foods that create the most hazardous emissions are delicious "fatty foods cooked with high heat, especially with open flames, such as cooking hamburger patties on a conveyor broiler". The aforementioned hamburgers, chicken cooked in peanut oil (read: Chinese food), and even pepperoni pizza cooked in an oven create emissions. Previous research has found that "for every 1,000 pounds of hamburger cooked on conveyor broilers, 25 pounds of emissions were created". Should the Green Gestapo ever decide to ban these air pollutants, at least pizza is safe, since it produces less harmful emissions than the other foods.

Not as meaty, but I'll take it.
Photo credit:

In a nutshell:
"These experiments help us to assess what needs to be replicated in standardized laboratory tests, and to suggest better methods of emission control," Gross said. "In combination with other measurements, we can provide a relatively comprehensive chemical and physical signature of the emissions from various cooking operations. Not only do these emissions affect air quality, but they contain chemicals that are known carcinogens."

We have the inquisitive folk who partook in the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco as well as Deborah Gross, PhD and company to thank (?) for this research.