Author: James Cooper

Chicken soup for a cold

Chicken soup for a cold

I went to my doctor yesterday because I had a lingering nasty cold, and came away with a couple of helpful prescriptions and a recommendation from both the doctor and his PA that I be sure to have some chicken soup. Well there have been enough studies to know that chicken soup really does help cold symptoms, and that was all I needed to buy 4 chicken thighs (those ridiculous Franken-thighs where 4 weighed 1.7 lbs) and make some soup.

We had made some chicken pot pies a few weeks ago and had frozen the remaining stock and thus had some really good stock all ready to go.

  1. We pulled out 2 containers of it (about 2-3 quarts) and popped then out of their containers and into the pan of our Instant Pot. We set it on low pressure steam for 5 minutes to thaw the stock.
  2. Then we skinned the thighs and tossed them into the pot, and pressed the Poultry button for 15 minutes cooking.
  3. We pulled the chicken pieces out to cool and decanted the fat from the stock.
  4. When we made our frozen stock, we didn’t remove every bit of fat because it would be fine going into a gravy, but no one wants soup with a greasy mouth feel, so we removed the fat from the stock and from poaching the thighs using a gravy separator. It works by pouring from the bottom of the dish, since the fat floats to the top.

separator

  1. We poured the fat off three batches.
  2. Now to actually make the soup, we cut up
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 large stalk of celery
  1. We added the veggies to the now empty InstantPot bowl along with a Tb or two of butter, and let them sauté until softened.
  2. Then we returned the stock to the pot, along with the cut up chicken.
  3. Then we tossed in the remainder of an open bag of Medium Dutch Maid Egg Noodles (about 5 oz).
  4. We closed the pot and pressed Soup, setting the time down to 10 minutes.
  5. The resulting soup was so beautiful even in the pot we were amazed.

in potIt was even better in a bowl. We served it with a loaf of Wave Hill Bread.

This recipe serves about 4.

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Enchiladas, southwest style

Enchiladas, southwest style

Nowadays, you can get all kinds of things named enchiladas, some filled with beef, pork or chicken, or others with downright weird ingredients. We wanted to go back to the enchiladas we had in Arizona which are pretty straightforward, but with the twist that they add a fried egg on top to cut the spiciness.

Of course, spiciness is different for each person, but the idea is the same. You just add some sort of sauce and season it to taste. In our case, we bought soft, premade corn tortillas and two kinds of packaged taco sauce. Neither turned out to be very spicy, so we added some red pepper flakes and some slices of jalapeno.  You can go pretty far into spiciness by picking the right peppers, but since the ones in the supermarket were completely unlabeled, we stuck to jalapenos. However winter jalapenos shipped to Connecticut are pretty mild things.

cheeseHere’s our pretty easy recipe. We used cheddar cheese shredded in our food processor, rather than using a grater or buying the tasteless pre-shredded cheese which has had plenty of time to oxidize on all of its surfaces. You could also use the fairly similar Colby cheese.

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed or minced
  • Taco sauce
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Jalapeno or hotter peppers
  • 4 Corn tortillas
  • 1/3 lb cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 2 eggs

sauce

  1. Saute the ground beef in a little olive oil. Remove and keep warm.
  2. Saute the onions in the same oil, and add the garlic near the end of the cooking process to keep it from burning.
  3. Drain excess fat from the pan, and add the ground beef and about 1 cup of taco sauce. The bottled sauces have much more body than the powdered ones (like Old El Paso).
  4. Add the pepper flakes and slices of hot peppers to taste.
  5. Heat the tortillas in a pan or on a griddle.
  6. Spoon meat sauce into each tortilla and top with grated cheese.
  7. Add sliced hot peppers and if you like, sliced black olives.
  8. Roll each taco up and place them seam-side down in a baking dish.
  1. Top with more grated cheese and bake for 10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the filling heated.
  2. While they are baking, gentry fry the eggs in butter.
  3. Place two tacos on each plate, and top with a fried egg.
  4. Serve at once.

baked

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Is coconut oil healthy or just a fad? We check with Doctor Oz.

Recently we were discussing approaches to weight loss with a group of friends in Wilton, and one pointed out that Dr Oz had said that coconut oil was good for weight loss. This seemed surprising since it is an oil made of saturated fats, so we looked into it. You can buy coconut oil  almost everywhere now and from quacks like Dr Mercola.

Dr Oz did indeed endorse coconut oil on a recent show, claiming that unspecified “recent research” said it was good for weight loss, skin conditions and treating ulcers. He didn’t claim it would walk your dog or fold your laundry, but that might be in the next segment.

Dr Oz trained as a medical doctor, and some of his straightforward medical advice can be pretty helpful, but he increasingly has moved to endorse alternative medicine, pseudo-science and even faith healing. Many scientists and physicians feel he has gone completely “over to the dark side,” eschewing science-based medicine for a lot of hokum.

Coconut oil may very well make a good skin treatment, as you often find it in suntan lotions and the like. But there really isn’t much peer-reviewed research to support Oz’s assertions. It has been linked to impaired memory performance in rats. But there are no studies linking coconut oil to the stomach ulcer bacteria h pylori. There are, however, a number of sites hawking coconut oil that make these claims, though.

There is one preliminary study on 20 obese Malaysian males that showed some reduction in waist circumference and another study showing increasing obesity upon ingestion of coconut oil and other saturated fats. Finally there is a study among Filipino women showing that coconut oil improved the lipid profile by increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

However, these are small and preliminary, and no definitive conclusions have been reached. On the web site sharecare.com, the Mt Sinai Medical Center answers a query about coconut oil, suggesting it is unlikely to be useful.

The bottom line, according to the Mayo Clinic and others is this: People on coconut oil diets showed higher arterial fat after just one meal, it can increase cholesterol and, if it is not reducing your caloric intake, coconut oil can actually lead to weight gain.

And the Mayo Clinic web site points out

Although eating coconut oil in moderation for a short-term diet probably won’t harm your health, it may not help you lose weight. And keep in mind that coconut oil actually has more saturated fat than do butter and lard. For successful, long-term weight loss, stick to the basics — an overall healthy-eating plan and exercise.

There are some articles on Oz’s web site but mostly by blog contributors, many with only Naturopath training (which is not science based medicine) and even they come back to these same preliminary studies. There is also one by a board certified dermatologist touting essentially the same studies.

The only places strongly touting coconut oil are quack doctor Joe Mercola’s site and the even more suspect site at the Weston A Price Foundation. The paper Mercola appears to be referring to is also the 2009 Brazilian study where 2 groups of volunteers were fed either soybean oil or coconut oil over 12 weeks and instructed to walk 50 minutes a day and follow an otherwise balanced low calorie diet. Both groups lost weight, but HDL (good) cholesterol was higher in the coconut oil group.

In conclusion, there is a bit of preliminary evidence for some benefits,  but since it seems counter-intuitive that eating a high saturated fat diet can help you lose weight, it is probably better to follow the advice of the established experts such as WebMD and the American Heart Association who recommend against it.

 

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut proposes bill to protect charlatans

Connecticut State representative Charles Ferraro has introduced a bill (HB 5759) entitled “AN ACT ESTABLISHING A CONNECTICUT HEALTH FREEDOM AND ACCESS ACT.” In essence, this bill is designed to protect alternative medicine practitioners from being prosecuted for practicing without a license.

Here’s the entire bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That the general statutes be amended to permit a health care provider who is not licensed, certified or registered by the state to provide health care services in the state, provided (1) such provider does not perform surgery, set fractures, perform any other procedure on any person that punctures or harmfully invades the skin, prescribe or administer x-rays, prescribe or administer drugs, devices or controlled substances for which a prescription by a licensed health care provider is required, perform chiropractic adjustment of the articulations of joints or the spine or hold out himself or herself as licensed, certified or registered by the state, and (2) such provider makes certain disclosures regarding his or her unlicensed, uncertified or unregistered status to anyone seeking his or her health care services.

Statement of Purpose:

To provide the public access to practitioners providing health care services with appropriate consumer protections.

In other words, an unlicensed health care provided can practice his quackery without fear of prosecution despite the fact that none of their practices are supported by any science.

If you doubt the bill’s intent, look at statements by NationalHealthFreedom.org. They describe this as

a bill that protects access to the thousands of traditional, complementary and alternative health care practitioners (such as homeopaths, herbalists, energy healers, and more) who are providing great services to health seekers in Connecticut.

Now let us remember that

Alternative medicine is made of up things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work. If they worked, we would call them medicine.

This bill does nothing but exempt quacks scamming the public with pseudo-science from being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. These charlatans do a great deal of damage by persuading people that they can actually provide science-based medicine when they are actually talking utter nonsense and taking money from the gullible.

The fact that millions of people seek out care from alternative health providers is no evidence that any such treatments actually work. In fact, there is no such evidence. Homeopaths, naturopaths, aroma therapists, herbalists, energy healers and crystal wavers are selling arm waving nonsense for which no scientific studies exists. This also applies to acupuncturists, who may or may not be covered by this outrageously stupid bill. There is also no evidence that acupuncture works.

It should be worth noting that the Organic Consumers Association, an industry funded lobbying group for organic food providers, supports this bill, which demeans both the bill and the lobbying group.

If you live in Connecticut, contact your legislators and tell them  that this “safe harbor” bill protects dangerous quacks from being held responsible for their nonsensical practices. Alternative medicine is bunk.

 

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose has been in Wilton since 2011, although their building has suffered through two plumbing related floods that closed them in 2015 and again in 2016. They were able to retain their staff during this most recent shut-down and we went back to see how they’ve evolved.  In 2011, they started with a fairly elaborate menu, but when we revisited in 2013, their menu has been simplified, along with their service.

However, when we visited Saturday evening (always a challenging night for restaurants) the service was excellent. We had two servers, one who provided water and drink orders, and one who took the food order. Other staff delivered the food, but all of them were pleasant and hard working and genuinely interested in whether you were happy with your food. We arrived about 6:15, and by 7 pm, the restaurant was lively and very busy. But the service did not flag.

Our table was set with two square plates that might have been for some sort of appetizer. However, they weren’t for bread, as none was provided or on the menu. They eventually cleared them when our appetizers arrived.

There are now about 10 dinner entrees, priced from $19 to $29, some of them with a Southwestern theme such as fish tacos, black skillet fajitas, lobster enchiladas, and tequila chicken, as well as salmon, blackened tilapia, paella, baby back ribs, steak frites, littleneck clams and grilled vegetables on a mushroom risotto.

The appetizers included their “most interesting clams,” steamed in Dos Equis, and as we recall, it is very good. They also offer a number of appetizers ($7-$17) including taco and nachos, seared shrimp, lobster quesadilla, seared wild shrimp, and a number of salads ($7-$15).

In addition, they offered a separate menu card of “specials,” including carrot and ginger soup and grilled calamari appetizers, and Seared Prime Filet Mignon ($35), Wild Chilean Sea Bass ($35), Seared Lamb Chops ($30) and Organic Half Chicken ($23).

It is interesting to note that the specials were for the most part more expensive than the main menu items, except for the chicken which apparently had a number of takers. We generally don’t order chicken out because we have it so much at home, and try to avoid any dish labeled “organic,” which is just an excuse to raise the price on dishes that are otherwise identical to conventional ones.

beetsFor our appetizers, we chose the beet salad with candied walnuts, goat cheese,
arugula, cilantro, balsamic glaze ($9). They were happy to omit the cilantro in our portion. While the salad was good, there were more beets there than anyone needed, and we didn’t finish it.

quesadillaOur other appetizer was the Lobster Quesadilla ($17) which was four filled tortilla halves with goat cheese and lobster. There was also a side of some related cheese and some chopped tomatoes (pico de gallo). While there was indeed lobster in every quesadilla, the cheese dominated, and the result was a very filling appetizer that we didn’t finish.

We decided to splurge and order the Sea Bass shown at the top of the article, ($35) served with sautéed spinach and everybody’s favorite trendy vegetable, quinoa, along with a brown sage butter sauce. The fish was a huge tall piece, moist and with a bit of browned skin, but it was essentially unadorned and not all the flavorful.  And the mixture of spinach and quinoa into a sort of risotto was decidedly weird. It didn’t work very well.

Our other entrée were the Lobster Enchiladas ($29) which was really quite spicy, overpowering the lobster flavor. Incidentally, the presentation and amount of spicy sauce has changed substantially since our 2013 visit. This version had bell peppers, onions, jack cheese and chipotle cream sauce. Again, this was too filling to finish.

Their dessert menu was recited, and included crème brulee, churros, cookies, and a few other things, but none tempted us after this filling meal.

cotton-candyThey do still provide a little complimentary puff of cotton candy in a mason jar to finish the meal, and this will undoubtedly impress young diners.

Overall, the staff was uniformly friendly and the service very good. But the food could have been better, we think, and in this sort of menu, less is more. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine and tax, but before tip was $140.

facade

Nancy’s Jumble Cookies

Nancy’s Jumble Cookies

Nancy Dolnier, the General Manager of Wilton’s Village Market, periodically publishes creative recipes as part of the store’s weekly flyer. This Jumble Cookie recipe, which she says has appeared before, is simply outstanding, and provides a batch of creative cookies for your family or to take to an event. Other than stirring up the ingredients, it is very little work.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (she suggests chocolate “chunks,” but we couldn’t find any)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans
  • ¾ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ cup white chocolate morsels

ingredients

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. In an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
  3. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla
  4. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix until uniform.
  1. Mix in the oats.
  2. One by one, add the chocolate chips, raisins, pecans, coconut, and white morsels, mixing after each addition.
  3. Place a sheet of baking parchment on a cookie sheet, and using a large cookie scoop, drop about 8 cookie balls onto the parchment.
  1. Bake for 14-16 minutes and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
  2. Repeat until all the cookies are baked.
  3. Makes about 30 amazing cookies.

Depending on your mixer, you may be able to use it to do all the mixing. If the mixer gets overloaded, mix in the final ingredients by hand with a wooden spoon.

Chicken Adobo: Phillippine fried chicken

Chicken Adobo: Phillippine fried chicken

This is an adaptation of the recipe described by Julia Moskin in the New York Times. It amounts to a dipping sauce, a poaching broth and a quick deep frying of the final chicken. The advantage of a recipe like this is that the chicken is already cooked when you fry it, so you needn’t worry about cooking the chicken through, when the pieces vary in size, as they seem to do in supermarkets these days. Further, the poaching renders some of the fat out of the chicken skin, so you needn’t skin the chicken.

While this can be a highly spiced dish, all of the heat is in the dipping sauce and you can easily control the heat by choosing the kind of peppers  As written, it calls for two Thai bird chiles or habanero chilis which have Scoville ratings of 100,000 to 600,000. By contrast. Jalapeno peppers have a relatively mild Scoville rating of 3,000-10,000. For our first experiment, we chose the easily available Jalapeno pepper rather than searching down the super hot ones that may have lesser appeal here in Connecticut.

The Dipping Sauce

dipping-sauce

  • 3 Tb lemon juice
  • 2 Tb maple syrup
  • 2 Tb fish sauce
  • 1 Tb soy sauce
  • 2 hot peppers, thinly sliced (we used Jalapeno)
  • ¾ cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until chicken is ready.

The Broth

  • 2 ½ cups white vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups water

Place the broth in a large pot with a close-fitting lid, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then turn the heat down to the lowest possible simmer.

The Chicken

  • 2 lb dark meat: legs and thighs, wings if you must. Do not use white meat.
  • 2-3 cups Buttermilk
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp semi-hot paprika
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 4-8 cups canola or peanut oil

poaching

  1. Salt the chicken, and place the chicken pieces in the broth pan so that they are covered.
  2. Poach for 15 minutes, turning the chicken pieces once.
  3. Turn off the heat, and let the chicken cool in the broth for 10 minutes.
  4. Drain the pieces on a paper towel.
  5. Mix the flour and spices in a plastic storage bag.
  6. Heat the oil in a cast-iron pan to 365° F.
  7. Dip the chicken in butter milk and then shake in the flour.
  8. Shake off excess flour and fry the chicken a few pieces at a time. Cook the chicken 4-5 minutes, turning several times. You want the chicken evenly browned and heated through, but you do not need to cook it further.
  9. Drain the chicken pieces on paper towels and serve hot with the dipping sauce.

Commenters on Moskin’s recipe have suggested marinating the chicken overnight to enhance the flavor. We don’t think that is needed, as the flavor is quite pronounced, but you want to avoid overcooking the chicken in the broth, as it eventually will dry out the chicken.

plated

Flakey buttermilk biscuits

Flakey buttermilk biscuits

Buttermilk biscuits are great for breakfast (or dinner) and take very little time to make. In this recipe, we used unsalted butter, and devised a trick to make them even flakier. Just as in making croissants, we turn and fold the dough a couple of times to make more layers of butter. The result is biscuits made up of many layers, and with a terrific flavor. We use unsalted butter because it contains less water than salted butter, but you can use salted butter if that is all you have.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Unsalted butter, 1/3 cup or 2/3 stick or 76 g
  • About 1 cup of buttermilk
  1. Set out one stick of butter from the refrigerator for a few minutes, while you gather your ingredients.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450° F.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  4. Cut the butter into small slices and drop into the flour.
  5. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two forks.
  6. Add 1 cup of buttermilk, and more if most of the flour isn’t moistened.
  7. Pat the dough together on a cutting board and roll it out.
  1. Fold the dough into thirds and roll out into a rectangle.
  2. Again, fold the dough into thirds and roll it out.
  1. Cut the dough into biscuits using a biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, and place the biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  2. Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes, and serve right away.

baked

Le Penguin in Westport

Le Penguin in Westport

doorwayLe Penguin opened in Old Greenwich in 2013, in the space occupied by Jean-Louis, and proved to be a very popular semi-classic French bistro. The owners, Antoine Blech and Anshu Vidyarthi, opened a second Le Penguin, with the same menu in Westport last August in Sconset Square, where The Blue Lemon used to be. It, too, has proved very popular and reasonably priced.

The menu features a number of delicious starters, including Tuna Tartare, Salmon Rilletts, Escargot and Country pate, as well five salads. If you only want a light meal, they have both beef and vegetarian burgers, salads and Croque Monsieur. The main courses are quite varied, including Mushroom Ravioli, grilled Cajun chicken, red snapper, grilled salmon, steak frites, and Mussels (Moules) a la Penguin.

The menu is interspersed with wines by the glass and bottle and they have an additional wine list as well.

mirror-shotThe restaurant is comfortable and informal with excellent service as well as outstanding food.  The mirrored wall on one side makes the place seem more spacious, and the warm lighting makes the overall effect very comfortable. In addition to the menu, Le Penguin announces its daily specials on a blackboard, we gravitated to a couple of them.

For one of our starters we chose their Tricolor salad special with raisins, hazelnuts,  blue cheese and sherry vinaigrette. It was large and flavorful with a nice blend of nut and berry flavors with the lettuces.

The menu offers their Mussels ala Penguin as a starter ($15) or an entrée ($22). It turns out, that either way you get an enormous number of mussels. The difference is that the dinner version comes with frites. You get to choose the sauce Marinieres (shallots, garlic, wine) or the cream sauce with saffron, shallots, cream and white wine. The mussels were terrific, although more than we could eat, along with several small toast slices to dip in the sauce or eat with the mussels. The ends of the toast pieces were a bit too dark for us, so we just trimmed them off.

One of our entrees was Beef Short Ribs with Mushroom Risotto, and like the salad and the mussels was a huge portion, but certainly possible to have for lunch the next day, perhaps a sandwich. The beef was tender and juice and the risotto creamy with a deep mushroom flavor.

short-ribs

And finally, our other entrée was roast breast of duck with a berry sauce, shown above, and served with hash browns. Again, it was medium rare as we ordered and a very large but delicious portion. The duck was perfectly prepared and juicy, and went well with the berry sauce.

We didn’t have room for dessert, but did have coffee and tea. Special praise for Le Penguin as one of the few US restaurants that serves tea in a pot, already brewing instead of bringing a tea bag and some luke warm water.

Would we go back? Definitely. Le Penguin is a real gem and with their changing menu, we can pretty much be sure there will be a lot of things we’re going to want to try.  Congratulations to the owners on a great new place to eat in Westport!

blackboard

 

 

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

In Saturday’s NY Times, Stephanie Strom, no stranger to pseudo-science, wrote an article praising how friendly Boulder, CO was to development of new food products “where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”

The trouble is every single company she mentioned is peddling products based on scaring into buying them. That’s right, all of these companies are peddling bullsh*t.

Quinn Snacks

Starting with Quinn Snacks, whose goal was “cleaning up food,” we find that their plan is no GMOS (um, there is no such thing as GMO popcorn)  combined with English and science illiteracy:

“we’ll take  real butter over carbonyl group (=C=O) any day of the week.”

Grammatically, it’s either “a carbonyl group” or “carbonyl groups.” Chemically, you should write a carbonyl group as >C=O to show two different bonds coming off the C. But come on, ninnies, butter flavoring is usually diacetyl

CH3-(C=O)-(C=O)-CH3

which has TWO carbonyl groups, and occurs naturally as a major flavor component in butter. So real butter contains diacetyl and has two carbonyl groups. They also claim that all their ingredients are pronounceable, which, of course, is really reassuring if you are functionally as well as chemically illiterate.

And Quinn perpetuates the Big Lie, that “GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a process. GMO crops are the most heavily tested class of foods in the world and not a single problem has ever been found in over 20 years of use.

Of course Quinn’s foods are “organic,” which is the triumph of PR over science. There is simply no evidence that organic crops, using pre-scientific rules are any healthier or more nutritious than conventional crops. Organic crops have a yield that Is 50-80% of conventionally crops, deplete the soil, and have a greater carbon footprint. And yes, they spray pesticides on organic crops, too. Just different ones.

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth  sells “ancient grain granolas,” at $6.99 for 12 oz (probably about two servings) which is fully buzz-word compliant: gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, organic and sweetened with “coconut sugar,” which they claim erroneously to be low glycemic, and baked with the ever popular foodie coconut oil, which has no discernible benefits except profitability. They also claim to provide support to organic, anti-GMO organizations like Slow Food USA and the Rodale Institute, whose entire reason for being is to promote organic farming.

Coconut sugar and palm sugar are the same thing, and are at least 70% sucrose, with the rest being glucose and fructose. While the Phillippine Department of Agriculture claims to have measured the  glycemic index for coconut sugar at 35, others have measured it at 58, close to that for sugar.  Chris Gunnars explains his skepticism of these measurements.

The glycemic index is a measure of glucose content, or more accurately how available the glucose is, but while this was formerly of interest to diabetics, current thinking according to the American Diabetes Association is that total calorie count is more important, and obviously, the calorie count for sugar is the same whether derived from cane, beets, or palms.

Madhava Sweeteners sells “organic sweeteners,” such as the ridiculous coconut sugar just mentioned, and organic honey, which is more or less a sweet illusion according to Scientific American. Incidentally, honey, too, is just sugar (sucrose) but the bees secrete invertase which breaks the sugar up into its two smaller sugar components: glucose and sucrose. It is not a special sweetener:  it’s sugar.

You can make similar criticisms of the bogosity of other mentioned companies like Made in Nature who make organic fruit and grain snacks, and Good Karma Foods, whose products but seem to be “flax milk” and yogurt made from flax seed, and of course are “non-GMO,” gluten free, non-dairy and allergen free.

Gluten free, of course, is only of concern to the approximately 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. Evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is minimal, and going “gluten-free” is a lifestyle choice, not treatment of a medical issue.

Birch Benders

Finally we come to Birch Benders, who makes a line of pancake mixes. We’ve never understood the appeal of pancake mixes, since pancakes recipes only contain about 6 ingredients you can stir together in less than a minute, but we had to try theirs, because they claim to be “just like grandma’s.” Well, we have our grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk pancakes and thought we’d compare ours against theirs. This recipe has been in the family for probably 100 years, and is just:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • buttermilk (about 2 cups)

You just stir the ingredients up (this really takes only a minute) and bake them on a griddle or frypan at medium heat, turn once and serve.

Birch Benders has a classic pancake mix as well as a gluten free version, both are, of course, organic. They also  make a buttermilk pancake mix, but only the traditional one is available in stores in our area.

My grandmother never heard of either “organic” or “gluten free,” of course. But there are only 2 ingredients in making their pancakes:  ¾ cup of pancake mix and 2/3 cup of water.  Um…really?

Well of course, with those proportions, the batter came out the thickness of milk, and cooked into something thin and ridiculous that stuck to the pan.

We mixed in about 3 more Tb of flour to make a decently thick batter and tried to make comparable pancakes. Well they were about the same size as ours, but not as puffy and they had no taste except sweet, and in fact they were too sweet. There was no buttermilk or wheat flavor at all. They were actually pretty awful.

 

Their pancake mix is made from “organic evaporated cane juice,” which is just a cryptonym for sugar, organic wheat flour, baking powder, non-GMO cornstarch, organic potato starch and organic cassava starch. We paid $4.99 for a 16 oz package at Caraluzzi’s in Georgetown, CT. But never again.

The point of this rant is that the New York Times really needs to point out that these expensive little startup companies that form a coven in Boulder offer nothing new but unscientific malarkey. Claims like “organic,” “gluten free” and “GMO free” attempt to scare you into buying into their nonsense. And some of them aren’t even very good.