African chicken peanut stew

African chicken peanut stew

Here is a really easy chicken stew made with peanut butter and peanuts. If you have a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot, the cooking time is only 30 minutes. It’s probably 60-90 minutes in a covered pot. The original recipe on the Simply Recipes site serves 6-8. We cut that in half and easily had enough for 4. And in an Instant Pot, it is very little work.

  • 1 to 1.5 lb chicken thighs
  • 3 Tb olive
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced. (you needn’t peel it as it almost dissolves anyway.)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into chunks
  • ½ small can (7 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz chicken stock (add more if not using pressure cooker)
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup roasted peanuts
  • 5 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ¼ cup cilantro (omit if you don’t like it)

saute chcken

  1. Brown the chicken pieces in olive oil in the Instant Pot, set to sauté. You can remove the skin or not, as you wish. It will come off later when you cut up the cooked chicken. Do this in a couple of batches if need be. Remove and drain.
  2. Sauté the onions until they soften, and add the ginger and garlic. After 1-2 minute, add the sweet potatoes and mix together.
  1. Add the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, peanut butter, peanuts, coriander and cayenne. Stir to combine, and add the chicken back into the pot. Add salt as needed.
  2. Cook the stew under pressure (manual setting) for 30 minutes.
  3. Release the pressure (quick release is fine), cut the chicken off the bones and discard the skins. Return the chicken to the pot.
  1. Add as much black pepper as you’d like to make it peppery. Stir in the cilantro if you must.
  2. Serve over steamed rice.
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Home gardening myths

Home gardening myths

There are so many ideas for improving your home garden that have grown up over the years, that it is difficult to keep them straight. And quite a few come from pretty reputable sources.

Soil inoculants

For example, I first heard about adding soil inoculant (nitrogen fixing bacteria) to the soil from Jim Crockett’s PBS program some years ago. The idea was that since legumes like peas and beans would utilize these bacteria to promote growth.

Beans
Beans

Well, you will find extension sites like this one at Penn State describing the use of soil inoculants, but they are clearly talking about full scale agriculture, not a home garden. But, according to Linda Chalker-Scott, who runs the Garden Professor’s Blog “There is absolutely no science behind using it in nonagricultural situations,” and that you should save your money. She notes that there are no studies that show such soil inoculation is useful in the home garden. Scott is also an Extension Professor at Washington State University, and the author of several gardening books.

Copper deters slugs?

slug_penny
Slug on pennies

Any number of writers have suggested that copper, even copper pennies can be used to deter slugs. They usually cite some unlikely sort of galvanic shock the slugs receive crawling over copper. This just plain doesn’t happen. In this article, you will see why that is silly, as well as a movie showing it doesn’t work. And the amount of actual copper in a U.S. penny is negligible in any case.

This probably came from the idea of using sharp copper edging along beds, which would cut slugs who tried to climb over it. That will work, but copper is expensive. And sharp edging would do, though, as well as using diatomaceous earth, which contains fossilized remains of diatoms, a top of hard shelled algae. Be sure to get the grade designed for your garden, not for swimming pools.

Frankly, the best way to deter slugs in large garden beds is still metaldehyde, but it is dangerous to pets. In such situations, iron phosphate is also effective.

Saucers of beer will draw slugs to them and drown them, but unfortunately, they actually attract slugs, and have to be emptied daily.

A final solution for slugs is to keep some ducks. They apparently love slugs.

Marigolds deter nematodes

marigoldsIf I have a square bed with some space in the middle, I often stick a couple of marigolds there. It’s colorful enough, but the idea that it might deter nematodes or other bugs is only true when you plant them ahead of time. About 2 months earlier. This clearly only would work in long growing season regions like Florida. Marigold roots secrete alpha-terthienyl into the soil, which will kill nematodes when you plant your main crop. Otherwise, you are just decorating your garden and that is not such a bad idea.

In some cases, marigolds can become slug magnets, and the slugs will strip the marigolds. This is not very helpful.

Companion planting

The idea that planting various crops near each other, called “intercropping” seems intuitively appealing, but you will discover than there is simply no science behind it. As Linda Chalker-Scott describes on her Horticultural Myths page, there is little science behind companion plantings.

The “Three Sisters” planting associated with native Americans planted corn, beans and squash together, so that the bean vine climbs the corn and the squash fills in the ground space. This only works because the three plants have similar growing requirements and don’t out-compete each other for nourishment.

Beyond that one case, much of the writing on companion plantings borders on pseudo-science and the occult, she notes, and “traditional lists of plant associations have entertainment, not scientific value.”

Trap cropping is a special case of intercropping, where you plant a crop a couple of weeks ahead of your main crop, so that it attracts the pests away from your cash crop. In the linked paper, the researchers note that planting Blue Hubbard squash ahead of your main squash or cucurbit crop. This will attract the squash vine borers and cucumber beetles to the trap crop, and you can then plant your squash or cucurbit seeds. This probably is not relevant to home gardening, though.

Bone Meal

Bone meal  (according to Dr Chalker-Scott)  is primarily calcium and phosphorus, which are usually available in garden soils in sufficient quantity. So when you plant your spring bulbs, you might as well skip buying the bone meal. The only thing it might do is induce your dog to dig them up.

Compost tea

You make a compost tea by mixing compost with water, letting it soak and then straining through cheesecloth or the like and using it in your garden. You may recognize that this description is very vague and thus the results are quite variable. While there is some research suggesting that compost teas may deliver soluble nitrogen as fertilizer, creating such a tea really requires a laboratory rather than home brewing. And there is a significant danger of human pathogens in the resulting solution. I recommend having the best watering system there is, click over here if you want to get the best quality of water as possible.

Papers on the Horticultural Myths page suggest that compost teas

There are any number of other myths debunked on the Horticultural myths page and in the books below. They are fun to read.

Bibliography

  1. Linda Chalker-Scott, How Plants Work
  2. Linda Chalker-Scott, The Informed Gardener Blooms Again
  3. Jeff Gillman, The Truth About Garden Remedies
  4. Jeff Gillman, The Truth About Organic Gardening
  5. Jeff Gillman and Meleah Maynard, Decoding Gardening Advice
  6. Horticultural Myths
  7. The Garden Professor’s Blog

 

Rose
Rose
‘Lettice and Lovage” opens at Westport Playhouse

‘Lettice and Lovage” opens at Westport Playhouse

Peter Schaffer’s 1987 comedy, “Lettice and Lovage” opened last Saturday at the Westport Country Playhouse to a rapturous audience reception.  Directed by Mark Lamos, the play is about Lettice (actually her name is Laetetia) played by Kandis Chappell, who makes up fascinating and hilarious, but outrageously fictional “facts” about the stately British home where she gives house tours. Eventually her supervisor Lotte Schoen (Mia Dillon) finds out and sacks her.

Feeling guilty about firing her, Lotte comes to see Lettice with a recommendation for a new job she might like narrating a tour boat. They share an aperitif Lettice has made of vodka, brandy and lovage, (an aromatic herb with seeds that are similar to fennel seeds) and begin a tipsy friendship despite the huge difference in their personalities.  Lotte is straight-laced and bureaucratic, while Lettice is flamboyant and theatrical.

The comic virtue of Shaffer’s work lies in Lettice’s bizarre historical reimaginings as well as his elegant and beautiful language.

5_WCP_Lettice&Lovage_PaxtonWhitehead_MiaDillon_KandisChappell_byCRosegg_334aFollowing the development of their friendship as well their cleverly barbed exchanges make up much of the fun of this piece, but following intermission we meet the lawyer Mr Bardolph, played by the redoubtable Paxton Whitehead, who tried to tell Lettice this she is in a great deal of trouble and could end up in prison if she doesn’t cooperate with him and preparing her defense.  How this turn of events came about and the hilarious way it is resolved make up the highly entertaining finale to this delightful evening.

In playing Lettice, Kandis Chappell is very funny, very theatrical and extremely entertaining, and dominates the stage throughout. The role, originally written for Maggie Smith, is a challenge to any actress, bringing out the characters over-the-top theatricality without herself going over the top. In this, Chappell succeeds admirably, and the audience more than demonstrated their affection for her performance.

Mia Dillon as Lotte, plays sensibility against Chappell’s theatricality and is quite affecting when she finally reveals her history and the reasons for her hatred of terrible architecture.

Sarah Manton plays Lotte’s secretary with great aplomb against the stormy forces of Lettice and Lotte’s first confrontation.

Sometimes, theater has its own internal theatricality and Patricia Connolly who was supposed to play Lettice was taken ill just a week before the show’s opening and Kandis Chappel flew in from San Diego to take over the role on very short notice, arriving Tuesday, when previews normally begin. The Tuesday and Wednesday previews were cancelled and the first preview was Thursday, and the official opening just last Saturday.

In the opening scene, we see Lettice giving several versions of her fantasy version of history to a group of tourists, portrayed by local actors  Kara Hankard of Glastonbury, Travis James of Weston, Richard Mancini of Stratford, Michele S. Mueller of Rocky Hill, Robert Peterpaul of Darien, Hermon Telyan of Wilton, and Danielle Anna White of Ridgefield.

Despite the simplicity of the story, the sets created by John Arnone are stunning. The first British house scene is a huge wall of portraits and heraldry, and Lotte’s office is a small unit set that rolls on as the wall is flown out. But the major piece of the set is Lettice’s basement flat, which is cluttered and elaborate, and is  enhance by an entire brick building flat behind it and a stairway down to her flat’s entrance level.

“Lettice and Lovage” runs through June 17, and you won’t find a more entertaining evening than this.

 

Organic Consumers Assoc: ‘worst organization in the world’

Organic Consumers Assoc: ‘worst organization in the world’

I received this telemarketing call Friday evening. It came from an 818 number that seemed to be from Pomona, California, and the caller ID said “Organics Fund.” This appears to be the Organic Consumers Fund, a fund-raising arm of the Organic Consumer’s Association. They apparently called to lie to me some more about GMOs.

Alex: “Hello, this is Alex, and I’m calling from the Organic Consumers Fund.  We’d like to thank you for your support [I never gave them a dime].

“We now have a national GMO labeling bill, but it just isn’t enough. Manufacturers only have to put a QR code on the package. We think the information should be spelled out.”

Me: “You mean you want to scare people with some misleading label?”

Alex:  “We think that consumers have a right to know what is in their food.”

Me: “You do know the ‘GMO’ is a breeding process, not an ingredient, don’t you?”

Alex: “Yes, and people deserve to know that this was used on their food.”

Me: “And do you realize that there are thousands of technical papers concluding the GM food poses no harm?”

Alex: “We think people should be able to decide for themselves.”

Me: “So you want to use these labels to scare people into buying overpriced organic foods?”

Alex: “We want people to be able to make up their minds.”

Me: “And decide to spend money on expensive foods? What else have you got?”

Alex: “We also have a campaign to save the declining bee population.”

Me: “You do realize that the bee population has been growing for the last seven years, don’t you?”

Alex: “Well, thanks anyway.”

The Organic Consumer’s Association

This group, led by crackpot food-scare activist Ronnie Cummins has been spreading misinformation about biotechnology for years, and sends wildly inaccurate newsletters almost weekly making unjustified claims about the dangers of GM foods and scary nonsense about Roundup. You would not be surprised to discover that the preponderance of their budget comes from contributions from organic food companies such as Stonyfield Farms, Horizon Organic, and Organic Valley. Their sole purpose is to promote organic food sales by slandering biotechnology and anything else not organic.

While the OCA continues to hammer away about the “dangers of GMOs,” the overall scientific consensus is that they pose no harm. That is the position of every major scientific organization in the world, including the WHO, the AMA, and the EFSA. And for more on who funds GMO denialism, read Michelle Miller’s excellent piece here.

On honeybees

They OCA does have a crazy 2014 position paper claiming that “GMOs are killing birds, bees and butterflies,” but it is complete nonsense. Colony collapse disorder peaked in 2006, but as this Washington Post article explains, bee populations have risen each year since then. The article conflates GM seeds with neonicotinoid seed coatings, and while neonicotinoid insecticides can harm bees, they are not a significant contributor to bee deaths, according to the USDA. The major causes of bee deaths are parasites like varroa mites, pathogens like nosema and European foulbrood, and poor nutrition when bees are moved from one monocrop area to another. Data showed no consistent relations between pesticides and CCD-affected colonies.

The worst organization in the world

In addition, the OCA has taken a consistent and utterly unscientific position toward vaccination, it is an accomplice in persuading immigrants to avoid vaccination.

As reported in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a cluster of Somali immigrants near Minneapolis became concerned about the apparent incidence of autism in their population. Some asked discredited (and disbarred former doctor) Andrew Wakefield to speak to the Somalis about his entirely debunked idea that vaccines could cause autism. This theory was thoroughly debunked in a 2004 report by the National Academies of Medicine and by the Center for Disease Control.

However, a weekend misinformation session attacking vaccines including speakers from the Organic Consumers Association who have absolutely no qualifications to speak on this topic, but are very good at scare tactics.

Statistically, it turned out that the autism rate among Somali children was no different than anywhere else in the world, but because of these scare tactics, nearly 60% of Somali 2-year olds have not had their MMR vaccine, and so far 68 cases of measles have been reported in Minnesota, (58 of them in Hennepin County). Measles is one of the most contagious childhood diseases, and about 1 in 20 children with measles get pneumonia and this can lead to death.

Any organization that spews this antivaccine nonsense to a vulnerable population with less access to good medical facts, deserves the epithet of “Worst Organization in the World.”

And an organization that consistently lies about food safety is no better.

 

 

Aranci 67 in Wilton

Aranci 67 in Wilton

After several years in Georgetown, the owners of Aranci 67 moved to Wilton, occupying the 142 Old Ridgefield Rd space briefly held by Cielo and before that by the popular Luca. The owners, Julia and Antonio Perillo, have moved the ambiance and warm service, but the menu is according to my old notes somewhat different than in Georgetown although Antonio is still the chef. If anything, the current menu is better.

We checked out Aranci 67 last summer, soon after it opened, but waited for it to shake down before reviewing it. The restaurant is a solid, quality Italian restaurant with imaginative and well-prepared food. The restaurant has about 12 tables and still features a triptych of a Sorrento orange grove. “Aranci 67” is the actual address of the family’s home in Sorrento, in the “laces” section of the Italian boot.

tables

We visited solo on a Tuesday night and were warmly welcomed and seated right away. The bread was warm and butter was available.

crab cakeFor our appetizer, we ordered the crab cake (Polpetto di Granchi, $12), served with their aurora sauce. The excellent cake was mildly spicy from flecks of red peppers, and was served with a small salad with oil and vinegar dressing.

Our entrée was a really outstanding boneless trout (Trota al Limone e Capperi, $24) which was both tender and flavorful, served with a lemon and caper sauce. We were really impressed by how delicate this was, although it was substantial.

trout

Finally, for dessert, we had a flourless chocolate torte, made with almond flour, which was fine, and almost more than we could eat after the two main courses.almond cake

Aranci 67 is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 12-3 and for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 to 10 pm, and closed Sundays. We are glad to welcome them to Wilton.

Ben Platt is deep in pseudo-science as well as Tony awards

benplattBroadway actor Ben Platt sings the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, a spectacularly successful show nominated for 9 Tony awards, included one for Platt as Best Actor. Platt was profiled in last Sunday;s New York Times “He sobs 8 times a week,” in a article discussing the stress the character puts on Platt, who sings six songs, including a gut-wrenching second act number that he sings while crying. If you sing at all, you have to admire Platt’s dedication and talent, because this is really hard to do. Neil Patrick Harris is quoted as saying that he couldn’t do it, “I’d sound like a goat.”

But the Times article while praises Platt’s enormous talent, is way too accepting of some of the alternative medicine crap his coaches are putting him through.

First off, the article describes 4 circles on his back from “cupping,” a weird Gwyneth-level fad where small flasks are heated and applied to the skin, causing suction as they cool. This is supposed to impart relaxation or something. It doesn’t. We have previously discussed cupping when Olympic swimmers were trying it last summer. But as we noted, there is simply no evidence that cupping has any effect at all. Articles by Brian Dunning and Orac  (David Gorski) confirm that this is superstitious nonsense. All it does is leave ugly circular bruises. Some web sites suggest the cupping can help “detox” your body, but as we have noted before, there is no such thing as “detox.” Your liver takes care of this by itself.

Platt is also on a gluten free diet, which is only sensible if your have celiac disease. For anyone else, it is just a fad, as there is no clear evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. He also is on a dairy-free diet, perhaps to keep his weight down, but in fact studies have shown that full fat dairy is linked to a reduced rate of obesity.

Platt also takes oregano supplements, despite the fact that there are no studies showing any benefit. He also takes a zinc supplement, which is only useful in developing countries. In the US, there is no evidence that it helps with the common cold.

Finally, his voice coach used peppermint oil to treat his voice when he had an infection, but there is no evidence that it provides any relief for any malady at all.

Plat is undeniably one of Broadway’s finest young actors who certainly deserves his Tony, but it is a shame that his “handlers” are forcing these quack regimes on him. It is also a shame that the New York Times doesn’t question this quackery in their articles.

And remember:

Alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If something works, it is called medicine.

benplatthansen

The Pastry Hideaway opens in Wilton

The Pastry Hideaway opens in Wilton

Pastry chef Pamela Graham has been working for months to bring her vision of fresh baked pastries to Wilton, and now after more renovation than she had expected, The Pastry Hideaway is in full swing, offering the kind of delicious baked goods Wilton has long been without.

The Pastry Hideaway opened a week ago and is now stocked with the sort of rolls and muffins you’ve been longing for. The store really is a sort of a “hideaway,” at 126 Old Ridgefield Rd in Wilton Center in the lower level of that building. Turn at the sign and park behind. You then are a few steps from a great bakery!

We stopped in for breakfast rolls this morning and found that she and her staff had already put out monkey bread (with and without caramel coating), croissants (plain and filled), muffins, cookies and Danish pastries.

croissants

While the caramel monkey bread was excellent her blueberry muffins were outstanding: fresh, crumbly and flavorful. And really sizeable, too.

The Pastry Hideaway is open Tuesday through Sunday 7:30 am to 3pm, serving breakfast fare and lunches. Be sure to drop in!

We make Chicken in Milk

Last Sunday, the Times published its version of Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk recipe. It is rare that you read articles about attempts to replicate experiments (or recipes) but this is such a report.

The relatively simple recipe says that you season a whole chicken and brown it in butter and olive oil in a snug-fitting pot. We chose a 3-liter Corningware casserole. Then you drain out the fat, add a cinnamon stick and garlic cloves and brown them briefly and put the chicken back and add whole milk, sage leaves and strips of lemon peel, and bake it for about 90 minutes.

The result is supposed to be “chicken in a thick, curdled sauce.”

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 10 cloves garlic, skins still on
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 handful fresh sage leaves (about 15-20 leaves0
  • Strips of zest from 2 lemons

Perhaps because the chicken fit snugly, the milk didn’t clot or reduce much. But the flavor was terrible, dominated by way too much sage. We didn’t get any note of cinnamon and very little of the garlic flavor.

roasted

If we made it again, we’d probably use about 5-6 sage leaves, maximum, and a little bigger pot. We’d prefer to make Chicken Baked in Cream instead.

Worried about diet soda? Strokes are not likely.

diet cokeLate last week, the popular press began touting a paper by Matthew Pase and coworkers in the journal Stroke on the newfound risks of diet sodas, (artificially sweetened beverages, ASBs) as compared to sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs). Most of the articles have been pretty accurate, NBC, CNN and Arstechnica got it pretty much right. Only Meredith Bland, writing as Scary Mommy went a bit off the deep end.

What the researchers did was examine data on 2888 participants from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort, looking at their reported consumption of ASBs and SSBs, and the results of their regular examinations, which ended in 2001. Surveillance continued for 10 years, ending in 2011.

They found that “higher recent and cumulative consumption of ASBs were associated with an increased risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” Specifically, they found that stroke was 2.96 times as likely and dementia about 2.89 times as likely.

This sounds really worrisome, but bear in mind that this is a single study, and that they found a correlation, not any actual cause. In fact, they didn’t propose any cause, because these results are very difficult to explain medically. They do, of course, note that “future research is needed to replicate our findings and investigate the mechanisms…”

What many writers did not specifically mention, is that there is an accompanying editorial in this same journal by Wersching, Gardener and Sacco, that is quite critical of Pase’s paper. In addition to pointing out that they show correlation and not causation, the editorial notes that while Pase reported that those consuming SSBs did not seem to have strokes or dementia, they suggested that this could be because of selection bias because those consuming sugary beverages may have died earlier. They note that previous studies have indeed found negative outcomes from those consuming SSBs.

As regards those consuming diet beverages (ASBs), the editorial suggests that “reverse causation” cannot be ruled out. What they mean is that those who know they are at risk may have chosen to switch to diet beverages and thus their strokes and dementia were incorrectly being correlated with the diet beverages instead of their already existing risk. They specifically point out that “disentangling these effects” is “challenging” in such studies.

Finally, they note that there is no obvious biological pathway to explain these cardiovascular events in those consuming diet beverages. They suggest that the current body of research, including this paper, is inconclusive and that carefully designed studies, following subjects from childhood would be necessary to establish these effects for certain.

So, for the moment, it would seem that nothing has really been established concerning diet beverages, and you can go ahead and sip yours without new worries.

 

 

Harbor Lights Restaurant in Norwalk

Harbor Lights Restaurant in Norwalk

facadeWe had dinner at Harbor Lights in Norwalk last Saturday and found it to be uniformly excellent. Despite the unprepossessing façade, this is a very fine restaurant that gets everything right: the food, the service, and the atmosphere are all top notch. While primarily a seafood restaurant, they do have steaks and lamb on the menu as well.

Located on the waterfront, Harbor Lights provides a view of the harbor and, in good weather, outdoor seating as well.

harbor

CrabcakeWe both started our dinner with a substantial Crab Cake, served with tartar sauce and a small Greek salad. The crab was plentiful and bits of chopped red pepper added just the right amount of spiciness.

One of our entrees, shown above, was called French Sea Bass, served with strips of carrots, asparagus, potatoes, olives, mushrooms and tomatoes. Not only was it delicious and substantial, it was a fascinating presentation.

shrimp

The other delicious entrée was Shrimp Mykonos, served on rice with feta cheese, peppers, and red onions. Again, imaginatively prepared and delicious.

Finally, one of our desserts was Profiteroles: three scoops of vanilla ice cream in a puff pastry with chocolate fudge and whipped cream.

Our other dessert was the traditional Crème Brulee, with a warm crunchy top and a creamy filling. Like the crab cake, this traditional dish was elevated by its thoughtful preparation.

Everything about Harbor Lights shows how much the staff cares about your experience. As an example, we noticed that a woman at the next table spilled her water glass. They were there in seconds to dry the table, mop up the floor and provide a new glass of water. Simply excellent attention to detail: you will enjoy this restaurant again and again.

Even the salt and pepper mills match, and smaller tables get smaller versions, with larger versions on the longer tables.

salt