The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Tavern at Graybarns: Excellent

The Graybarns Inn opened in mid-2017 where the old Silvermine Inn used to be. The Glazier Group has undertaken substantial renovations, and created six luxury suites from around $650 a night. More to the point, they completely redid the old Silvermine Tavern to the somewhat smaller and much more elegant Tavern at Graybarns, which opened last October.

Tables

The restaurant, unlike its sprawling predecessor with indifferent food, is a single room with around 20 tables and a crackling fire and excellent food created by Chef Ben Freemole. There is also a second smaller room for group events. Last night it looked like there might be a birthday party there, maybe a Sweet Sixteen party for about 15 young women.

It seemed difficult to get weekend reservations there because of the restaurant’s popularity, so we decided to go on a Thursday evening at 5:45. OpenTable gave us a choice of only a couple of early times, but in fact the restaurant was never more than half full, with about  seven tables occupied. This may have something to do with how many tables the restaurant releases to OpenTable or who might be coming for later dining.  However, even on weekends, the waitress told us you may be able to get a reservation by calling and asking if there have been cancellations.

barBecause of the foggy weather, we left and arrived early, and while we could have gone directly to our table, the hostess suggested we might want to have a drink at the bar before being seated. This was a great idea:  the bar was warm and comfortable and just steps from the dining room. It was beautifully decorated, with the mid-bar pillar being some of the tavern’s original lumber. In addition to the conventional drinks, they have a selection kooky sounding cocktails, including “Greyhound” and “Corpse Reviver.”

When we were seated at our table, we were immediately provided with some wonderful, crusty bread and unsalted butter topped with a bit of sea salt (you can get it without the salt if you want). And, soon after we ordered we also got a lovely bowl of mixed olives to munch on.

The menu is not huge, but consists of 9 Small Plates ($13-$21) and 10 Large Plates ($19 to $36), plus $50 Strip Steak and a 40 oz Porterhouse for two ($130). While you can order a number  of lovely things, you can also just order the beautiful Tavern Double Cheeseburger for just $19.

crab toast

The menu varies daily, with their additions printed on the menu that day. We were both taken with the Crab Toast ($21) as an appetizer, served on sourdough toast with espelette pepper in the sauce, and topped with chives. The crab was plentiful and the mildly peppery sauce way more interesting than the usual creamy goo you might have had elsewhere.

duck

For one main course, we ordered Duck Breast ($36) served with grilled radicchio strips, a bit of parsnip puree and parsley, along with some surprise sweet potato chips. The duck was tender, juicy and medium rare as we’d hoped, and the portion was substantial.

Our other entrée was Reginetti Pasta ($24) with short ribs sugo, rosemary and pecorino.  This is the sort of dish where the short rib meat was in hiding under the pasta, so we include a close-up to show the featured meat as well. This may have been the winning dish that night: the flavors of the pasta, beef and pecorino harmonized so well.

pudddingThe dessert menu was limited to just 3 items: Apple Crisp, Chocolate Mousse and Sheep’s Milk Triple Cream cheese, each for $9. We elected to split the chocolate mousse, and this was the evening’s only misfire. It was just chocolate pudding, with no liqueur flavor or anything else to distinguish it. Little different than the classc pudding I use in making a chocolate pie.

Even with the relatively small house that night, the noise level was significant, with some noise coming from the patrons and more from the bar area. If the restaurant had been full, it would have been quite a bit more so.

Our bill, with tax but before tip, including 2 drinks($22) and 2 glasses of wine ($32) was $187.18.We also needed to tip the valet parking and the coat check.

However, over all, this was a top notch experience with excellent and service and décor and excellent food and drink. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

outside

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Antioxidants: another scam?

blueberriesWe know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This theory keeps being repeated by cooking writer who somehow have taken this as gospel, particularly those exposed to the unaccredited Institute for Integrative Nutrition, who scams hundreds of students each year. They push the idea of colorful fruits and veggies being more healthful.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.

 

In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.

 

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

dsc_0004The Instant Pot is as much a cultural as a culinary phenomenon that was successfully marketed using social media as well as through Amazon.  If you followed the online comments and the various Facebook groups (which come and go regularly), you would think that this is the cooking appliance of a lifetime which not only prepares delicious meals in a single pot, but can also walk your dog and pay your mortgage.

It’s a handy appliance, but the hype easily gets out of hand. Basically the Instant Pot is a counter top electric pressure cooker: easier to use and possibly safer than the clunky old stovetop pressure cookers but that is its main function. However, they call it a “multicooker,” because you can also use it as a rice cooker (which it does very well), a slow cooker (which it does, but not so well) and a sauté pot, which is silly because you can do that on the stove without getting out and washing that big pot.

As the Instant Pot Internet fad grew, people were trying to make all sorts of recipes in their new gadget: some terrific and some not much better than the usual way. Like any other tool, you just need to ask whether you save any time, when allowing for dragging the pot out of the cupboard, and washing it all afterwards. The 6 quart pot is deep enough that your dishwasher may not get it completely clean.

In fact, there were at one time, quite a number of Facebook groups sharing Instant Pot recipes. Many seemed to have been sponsored by the Instant Pot company, and while they generated a lot of early enthusiasm, most have been shut down, partly because they were full of recipes that really weren’t very good.

So here are the things the Instant Pot does really well:

Stews

Anything you can make as a beef or chicken stew will come out faster and better in an Instant Pot. For example: Beef Bourguignon,  Beef Stew, Coq au Vin and any similar dish. If your stew  recipe includes wine or brandy, cut back on it as the alcohol won’t evaporate during cooking, and the steam may be flammable.

steaming-stew

Ribs

DSC_0007

You can make really good pork ribs (or beef ribs) in the Instant Pot, cooking them with a couple of cups o

f liquid (like apple cider) for about 30 minutes. But then, to get the browned flavor, you need to spread them with sauce and brown them under the broiler or on a gas or charcoal grill.

Stocks

dsc_0002

You can take the bones from a roast chicken or a turkey and turn them into several quarts of delicious stock. This works for beef stock too.  I add some veggies and a leek to the liquid along with the bones. You can freeze the resulting stock for some months. If you want to call it “bone broth,” cook it a little longer.

Tomato Sauce

Filled pot

If you are into canning fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce, you can save a lot of time by using the Instant Pot to cook down the fresh tomatoes.

Rice

Yes, absolutely. Not only does the rice cook perfectly, the pot keeps it warm for a long time afterwards. We often make the rice, take it out and cover it and keep it warm and use the Instant Pot to make the main dish. It really doesn’t matter if the rice cools a bit if you are covering it with hot stew anyway.

Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs

3 cut open

The main advantage of the Instant Pot is that you can make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly. But, if you are making one or two eggs for garnish, you can cook them more quickly in a vegetable steamer. But for Easter, or for making a dozen or two for deviled eggs, the Instant Pot is your friend. We recommend cooking them for 5 minutes and letting the pot cool for 3 more before opening it. The timing is the same no matter how many eggs you cook: the pot just takes longer to heat up.

Scrambled Eggs

plated

Just for fun, we decided to try scrambled eggs in the Instant Pot. They take about 7 minutes, but you can do them just as fast or faster in a pan. The only real advantage is that you don’t have to keep stirring them while they cook.

Poached Eggs

Some people have tried to make poached eggs in the Instant Pot, but since you have to put each egg into its own cup, you can’t make very many at once, and getting the eggs out of the cups without burning yourself is difficult. Further, it is much quicker to just poach them in boiling water as we show here.

Desserts

Cheesecake

sliced2

Once of the best dishes you can make in the Instant Pot is Cheesecake. It cooks at about the same rate as in the oven, but because of the steam, it never cracks and is much smoother. The only disadvantage is that you are limited to a 6.5 to 7 inch pan that will fit inside the pot.

Steamed puddings

You can also make quite a good Indian Pudding in the Instant Pot as well as a good Christmas Plum Pudding.

Things that don’t work very well

The place where the Instant Pot falls down is in recipes where browning of the food is integral. You want the browning so the Maillard reaction add flavor, and unless you can brown after cooking, like with the pork ribs, most other recipes aren’t improved by the IP. Be very suspicious of any recipe that only take 3-5 minutes. You probably don’t need to get your pot dirty for it.

Fish and Seafood

This is really not a useful idea, since you can cook fish in 5 minutes or so. Why haul out the pot, when you can do it in any pan more quickly?

Macaroni and Cheese

Like a lot of other things that aren’t that good, macaroni and cheese really needs to be backed and browned. There’s no way to do that in the Instant Pot. It just gets another dish dirty.

Steel cut oats

This was one of the big recipes early on, but since it is just oatmeal, people have decided that there is very little different than other packaged oats recipes you cook in a pan. Even the Instant Pot recipe only takes 3 minutes.

Chinese Stir Fry Recipes

Chinese cooking involves browning, and just doesn’t work in an Instant Pot.

Clam Chowder

Even the Recipe in the Instant Pot recipe book only takes 5 minutes. You don’t need the pot for this one.

Mashed Potatoes

At  first we thought cooking the potatoes in the Instant Pot was an improvement, but after several trials, we decided we could do just as well in a saucepan on the stove.

Veal recipes

Veal scallops are sautéed quickly.  The Instant Pot won’t help you here.

Vegetables

For the most part, vegetables cook too quickly for the IP to be much use. But you can quickly cook dried beans in your Instant Pot, and there are some decent recipes for squash soups.

Casseroles

Need to brown. Not much reason for the IP.

Fruits

Probably the same as vegetables: not much use for the pot. Making jams and marmalades requires cooking the fruit down slowly, and this is not possible in a closed pot.

In closing

The Instant Pot is a valuable kitchen tool for shortening long cooking recipes and for making rice and maybe for hard cooked eggs. But don’t be over sold and throw away your pots and pans and cookbooks!

 

Match Burger Lobster: outstanding new Westport eatery

Match Burger Lobster: outstanding new Westport eatery

Match Burger Lobster opened this fall to ecstatic praise, at least from those of us who revere lobster roles. Located in Saugatuck, it is the brainchild of Matt Storch, the proprietor of the full service Norwalk (Sono) restaurant Match.

Match Burger Lobster is a far more informal affair, seating about 40, plus more in the bar area. The menu  features lobster rolls, oysters bags of steamers and actual lobster all from Norm Bloom and Son.  In addition, they offer grass-fed sliders and burgers from the adjacent  Fleisher’s Craft Butchery.

This is a friendly and informal place, with the beer choices on a wall board and little paper menus in the box on each tables that hold cutlery and napkins as well.  On a Thursday night, it wasn’t particularly busy or noisy, but the waiter told us that weekends are very busy. There is limited parking in front, but a large lot behind the building.

From our point of view, there is nothing better than their warm lobster roll ($24), served in a hollowed out brioche bun and soaked in butter. However, they also offer a cold lobster roll with Yuzu lobster Mayo, (also $24). Both are served with plenteous and delicious house-made potato chips.

The lobster roll here is a little different than the one at Match in Sono:  it’s more buttery and less drippy than the Sono version. We liked it better.

mini mini

However, if you want to try their grass-fed sliders, you can order a mini slider and a mini lobster roll ($20). The hamburger ($15) and the smaller mini slider ($7) are served with bacon, cheddar dip and S&S onions, where S&S presumably means “sweet and sour.” We think we ask them to leave off the onions next time ad they were a bit overpowering. The burger, however, was outstanding.

Desserts are limited to a Donut Milkshake, a Slice of Cake, Donut Crazy Holes you can fill yourself, a Brownie Sundae and Key Lime Pie. Of course, we went for one of the latter.

dessert

Our bill with two drinks, and tax was only $80, but for a larger group, a lot of $24 lobster rolls will add up. But you can’t do better.

Match Burger Lobster, at 580 Riverside Drive, just off Exit 17, is open daily 11:30 am to 9 pm.  No reservations.

window

English Plum Pudding – using an Instant Pot

English Plum Pudding – using an Instant Pot

Plum pudding is a traditional holiday dessert that goes back hundreds of years. And it doesn’t actually contain plums: just raisins and candied fruit. In the 17th century, “plum” meant any dried fruit. Traditionally, you make it a year ahead so it can age, but even a couple of weeks will do, so don’t worry about getting a late start. You can start another one after the holidays and you’ll be all set for next year, too!

Plum pudding is a steamed pudding, cooked for many hours in a slow oven. We sped this up by using our Instant Pot counter top pressure cooker, to reduce the time to just 2 hours. The recipe we are using is half the original, which makes a slumgullion of pudding, and even then we did it two batches, one in a Mrs Anderson’s Baking  Steamed  Pudding Mold, and a smaller one-hour amount in a small bowl wrapped in foil.

Fruit Mixture

  • ½ lb seedless raisins
  • ½ lb golden raisins
  • ¼ lb currants
  • ½ cup thinly slice citron
  • ½ cup chopped candied peel
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp mace
  • 14 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lb finely chopped suet (powdery fine)
  • 5/8 cup brandy

Pudding

  • 5/8 cup fresh bread crumbs, (about 2 cups)
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ½ cup sherry or port
  • 6 eggs, well beaten
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Brandy

Hard Sauce

  • ½ cup softened butter
  • 1 ½ cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or 2 Tb brandy or rum

Beat the softened butter in an electric mixer and slowly add the sugar.  Add the vanilla or brandy and served with the plum pudding.

Making the pudding

  1. Blend the fruits, citron, spices and suet in a bowl or jar.
  2. Add 1/8 cup brandy, cover tightly and refrigerate for 2-4 days, adding more brandy each day.
  3. When ready to mix up the pudding, mix the milk and sherry or port together.
  4. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk/ wine mixture.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and sugar and blend with the fruit mixture.
  6. Add salt and mix thoroughly.
  7. Put the pudding in a buttered pudding mold or buttered bowls. With the pudding mold we bought, we get about 2/3 of the batter in it. Cover with foil to seal it and keep out the moisture.
  8. Put a cup of water in the Instant Pot, add the trivet, and place the pudding mold on the trivet.
  9. Seal the Instant Pot, and steam on Manual for 2 hours.
  10. Uncover and place in a 250° F oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Add a dash of brandy to the pudding, and store in a cool place.
  12. Repeat with the remaining batter in a small bowl covered securely with foil.
  13. Allow the pudding to age for a week or two, adding a dash of brandy every day or two.
  14. When ready to serve, reheat in the steamer, and unmold.
  15. Sprinkle with sugar, add heated brandy and ignite.
  16. Serve with hard sauce.

flamed

Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Hypocrites Theater: Pirates of Penzance

Sean Graney’s wild and unconventional take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance has come to NYU’s Skirball Center in the Village for an engagement that ends December 10.  The Hypocrites specialize in “mounting bold productions and redefining the role of the audience.”

In this case, the entire production and the audience are on the Skirball’s stage, both in three tiered rows of chairs on three sides, and sitting directly on the playing area. The actors will ask you to move if they need that spot. They call this “promenade seating,” and all the audience promenades around the set at the beginning.

When you arrive, you will find the entire cast on stage playing various stringed instruments and improvising a series of country-folk numbers while they throw beach balls to the audience. This is not surprising, since they are all dressed in Hawaiian beach attire.  And, in this production the cast is also the entire orchestra, made up of guitars, mandolins, banjos, a violin, an accordion, a squeezebox, a flute a clarinet and, in the second act, a washboard and a musical saw.  The arrangements are by the musical director, Andra Velis Simon.

Despite all this lovely chaos, this IS a production of Pirates. Most of the lines are intact (although there are some clever ad libs.) And they play and sing just about all the music except for “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”

After the cast explains that you can get up and move around at any time, and go to the on-stage Tiki bar whenever you want, they launch into “Pour, oh pour the pirate sherry,” just as any other production would, except for the stringed accompaniment.

Most of the voices are excellent, and while the 3 Daughters are a bit shrill some of the time, this is clearly part of the fun: they clearly all can sing very well.

Most surprising is the Christine Stulik plays both Ruth, the comic mezzo, and Mabel, the ingénue coloratura soprano, since they are almost never on stage at the same time anyway. At the very end she appears in a red dress we have not seen before, and Freddy (Frederick to you) asks if she is Ruth or Mabel. She says she has no idea.

And as Ruth, Stulik delivers a rousing klezmer version of her first number, “When Frederick was a little lad,” with Freddy playing clarinet to help accompany her.

The Daughters (of the Major General) are relatively young actresses that we first see tossing beach balls with the rest of the cast, but when we see them as the daughters a bit later, they are all dressed in rubber bathing caps with little rubber flowers, and flouncy skirts.

The tenor lead, Shawn Pfautsch plays Frederick, or “Freddy” as he is mostly called, and has a lovely voice as well as great humorous athleticism. His duets with Mabel are just as good as in any other Pirates and probably a bit funnier. Matt Kahler, as the Major-General, has great poise, sense of comedy and terrific diction.

While this really is a production of Pirates, the Hypocrites carry it off with a cast of 10, playing Freddy, Ruth, Mabel, the Pirate King, the Major General and 3 Pirates and Daughters, as well as all the needed policemen. Don’t miss this delightful production!

Holiday ‘Indian’ pudding

Holiday ‘Indian’ pudding

Indian pudding is a simple Colonial era recipe made with corn meal, eggs and molasses. While you can bake it, you get a smoother, creamier pudding if you steam it like other puddings. In this recipe, we used our Instant Pot to steam it quickly. You can also follow the same recipe steaming it in the oven I a water bath.

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • ½ cup corn meal
  • 2 Tb butter
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp dry ginger
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup golden raisns
  • ½ tsp vanilla extact
  • 1 tb butter to grease the pan
  • Vanilla ice cream
  1. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a 3 quart pan, heat the milk to just under a simmer
  3. Slowly add the cornmeal and whisk it in. It should slowly thicken.
  4. Cook for 10 minutes, whisking to keep the mixture from sticking to the pan.
  5. Remove from stove and add all the other ingredients except the eggs and mix in.

6. Temper the eggs by stirring in a cup or so of the milk mixture. Then add the egg mixture back to the milk mixture and stir it in.
7. Pour the mixture into a buttered casserole dish or cake pan that will fit into the Instant Pot.
8. Wrap the dish securely in foil to keep the water out
9. Add 1 cup of water to the pot and place the wrapped dish on top of the trivet.
10. Cook on the Manual setting for 30-45 minutes.

11. The pudding should be somewhat firm, but may still be jiggly in the center.
12. Let the pudding stand for 15 minutes and then serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.

in bowl

If you like the pudding a bit firmer, chill it in the refrigerator, and scoop out pudding into serving bowls and microwave them each for 30 seconds. (See above) Serve with ice cream.

You can also steam the pudding in a 325 ° F oven, sitting in a water bath for about 90 minutes.

 

 

Bobby Q’s opens in Norwalk

Bobby Q’s opens in Norwalk

TablesBobby Q’s barbecue restaurant, now called “Bobby Q’s Cue and Co,” opened this fall in Norwalk after a year-long drought while they moved from Westport to Norwalk. The space is much larger and even on an (early) Saturday evening, there were plenty of tables. And there were still tables when we left. Despite early rumors of slow service, we found the service excellent, friendly and attentive.

The menu is built around barbecue: ribs, brisket, chicken and sausage, although they have burgers, salmon, skirt steak, and shrimp and grits as well as appetizers, salads and flat bread.

nachosWe started by sharing their classic BBQ Nachos ($11), an outstanding mixture of tortilla chips, pulled pork, jack and cheddar cheese. For $3 more you can add beans, sour cream, guacamole and pickled jalapenos. We got the non-adorned version and found it outstanding and way more than 2 could eat as an appetizer. The pork was plentiful and tender and there was substantial melted cheese as well.

For our main courses we each got a half rack of Baby Back Ribs served on a platter with beans and slaw ($19). Even the beans had pieces of pork in them!  And for variety we got one order of truly excellent French fries for just $4. The fries were hot and fresh, with plenty of potatoey flavor.

Peanut butter smoresAnd for dessert, we split the Peanut Butter Cup S’Mores ($8), which turned out to be melted peanut butter cups in a cast iron pan, topped with browned small marshmallows, and served with graham crackers and pretzels for dipping.  This may be a bit corny, but it was really delicious.

As to the ribs themselves, they were baby back that were baked and sauced, but not actually barbecued. This is probably why they were so tough. The ribs were not separated, but served with a giant steak knife you could use to separate them. This was no easy maneuver: they were not tender and even hacking off some pork was difficult. Apparently, you are supposed to know that the St Louis Ribs (which are not available on a platter) are the real barbecued ones. Remember that.

burnt endsThe owner came by to see how we were doing, and while we praised everything else, we told him the ribs were really tough.  He immediately offered to replace them with new ones, but we decided that statistically speaking if two were tough, the next two would be too. Instead, we ordered and shared a plate of Beef Burnt Ends, which were tender and delicious. They are, however, only available in limited quantities. But let me emphasize that the owner did not charge us for either the ribs or the burnt ends, which is an outstanding way to build your customer base.

But looking back through Yelp reviews, this seems to be a recurring problem. We recommend you consider the St Louis ribs or the burnt ends instead.

‘The Nation” spreads farming misinformation like a manure spreader

DSC_0006The Nation is a venerable  magazine, having been founded in 1865, and for over 150 years has been providing political commentary, mostly on US administrations and events. While it writers skew to the left, this is not entirely the case and major writers have included Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frederick Law Olmsted, W.E.B. Dubois, E.M. Forster, Emma Goldman, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, Margaret Mead, Mark van Doren, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, Pearl S. Buck, Albert Einstein, I.F. Stone, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Harold Clurman, Edmund Wilson, W.H. Auden, Anne Sexton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gore Vidal, and Toni Morrison.

With that cast of literary luminaries, you would think they could handle an issue on The Future of Food, focusing primarily on agriculture.  Unfortunately, the left tends to be agriculturally and scientifically illiterate, and much of what the contributors to this issue say is just plain nonsense.

Danny Meyer

Starting with an interview with noted restaurateur, Danny Meyer, written by food extremist Anna Lappe, we learn that in creating Shake Shack,

Our meat is free of antibiotics and artificial growth hormones; the eggs and chickens we use are cage free; the French fries are non-GMO.

How much could go wrong in one sentence?

  • All meat must be free of hormones and antibiotics by the time it is sold. Small amounts of growth hormones may be used in beef, but it must have washed out of the animal’s system before it can be sold. And you would find 1000 times more estrogen in 8 oz of cabbage than in 8 oz of beef. Hormones cannot be used in dairy cattle, veal calves, pigs or poultry.
  • All neat chickens are always cage free. And while chicken used for eggs can be raised free range or in various kinds of cages, a serious study in the Journal of Poultry Science has shown that the birds do best in conventional cages.
  • And what exactly does non-GMO potatoes mean? “GMO” is a breeding process, not an ingredient. The slogan is just fear marketing,  since thousands of peer-reviewed papers have shown that GM foods pose no harm. The JR Simplot company has developed the Innate Potato which is resistant to late potato blight and  produces lower amounts of acrylamide when fried. Why wouldn’t this be the more healthy offering?  Fear-based marketing based on organic industry sloganeering.

Zoe Carpenter

Zoe Carpenter’s lead in column asks (twice) whether consolidation in the agricultural sector will mean that farmers will pay more for inputs like seeds and earn less. The seed business is not a monopoly. There are any number of suppliers farms can choose from and if they choose a more expensive seed, it is because if performs better for them.

Raj Patel on Fair Trade

We have already written extensively on Fair Trade, which, no matter how well intentioned, has not turned out to be more profitable for farmers. This is because farmers are guaranteed a floor price, and they will sell their lowest quality crops into the fair trade market, and sell their best quality crops on the open market. It also has no effect on how temporary workers are treated. And the idea that organic bananas are produced without pesticides is a fantasy spread by the organic industry. Organic farmers just use organic approved pesticides. And, of course, as Bruce Ames showed years ago, plants generate 10,000 times more pesticides themselves than are ever detected from spray residues.

John Boyd on Small Scale Farming

Boyd echoes the canard that farmers who buy genetically modified seeds can no long replant them the next year. But as Amanda Zalukyj points out, farmers really don’t want to save seeds. It’s a huge effort to clean and save seeds, and this practice “went out the window” with the advent of hybrid seeds in the 1930s. These varieties don’t breed true in the next generation anyway.

Dana Perls on GMOs

Perls echoes disproven claims about GMO crops requiring “massive increases in the use of toxic herbicides.” Much of this claim comes from a discredited paper by Benbrook which failed to take account of the relative toxicity of newer herbicides like glyphosate. However, noted weed scientist Andrew Kniss has studied this issue in some detail.

In summary, this analysis suggests that GMOs have had a positive effect (or at the very least neutral or non-negative effect) with respect to herbicide use intensity and mammalian toxicity…

Perls also makes very unscientific claims that vanillin produced using genetically engineered yeast is not “natural,” because “synthetic biology” is involved. She also claims it drives out 200,000 rain forest farmers. Which do you think is better overall for the environment?

Hacking the Grain- Madeline Ostrander

This genuinely fascinating article about attempts to create perennial grains to replace wheat is well worth reading. However, it starts with the mistaken assumption that large fields of s single crop (which they call a “monoculture”) are somehow bad. Andrew Kniss debunks this in some detail, noting that Pollan and his followers never explain why this is so bad. He admits that all of Ireland was growing the exact same potato, reproduced vegetatively so that there was just a single genetically identical potato grown throughout the country. That is why the Phytophor infestans blight wiped potatoes out so completely.

This is not a problem in grain farming, however, because while there may be many thousands of acres of corn or wheat, they are not all genetically identical.

It is important to recognize that you do not need perennial wheat or corn to avoid tilling the fields, which releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, and upsets the delicate layering that good soil should have.  No-till farming is regularly done using low impact herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate) to reduce annual weeds and then plant using a seed drill instead of a plow. You can use glyphosate-resistant seed or not as you wish. I actually use this technique in my home vegetable garden.

The rest of Ostrander’s article is a fascinating description of the development and breeding of a perennial grass, they call “Kernza,” which has the potential to be milled and baked much like wheat flour.  The lead scientist on Kernza domestication, Lee DeHaan is profiles on the Land Institute page, and you can read more about his research here.

“Mass Exposure” by Rene Ebersole

In the worst article in the magazine Rene Ebersole recycles all the discredited canards about Roundup (glyphosate) being dangerous. Ebersole starts with the assertion that an “international scientific committee” ruled that glyphosate is a probably human carcinogen. She is referring to the IARC, a small French group that took refuge under the umbrella of the WHO when their funding ran out.

Unfortunately, the group’s credibility fell, when it was realized that they ruled that compounds were “probably” carcinogenic” without considering any dosage issues. As we noted, they ignored decades of government studies, cherry picking just a few that seemed to fit their agenda. Further, it became known that activist Christopher Portier, who was still working with the Environmental Defense Fund, inserted himself into the deliberations and went about telling European governments of these false findings.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)  disputed these findings. There are dozens of studies and reviews showing no finding of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity.  And as James Gurney reported, the papers they cherry-picked were full of scientific weasel words like “induced a positive trend,” and the statistical test “often gives incorrect results.”

And, responding to the IARC report, the European Food Safety Association(EFSA) reviewed studies including those from the BfR and concluded:

“…glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation.”

More to the point, the IARC report has recently been further discredited, when it was discovered that the conclusions were edited or changed, as summarized by Ridley, and that Portier had received $160,000 from law firms involved in suing Monsanto.  And just yesterday, Hank Campbell reported that the US Congress is so disgusted with these irregularities that it may be considering “pulling the  plug” in future IARC funding.

Ebersole goes on to claim that Monsanto is being sued because Roundup “Caused them to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL).” They have no actual evidence, and Derek Lowe, writing in Science explains the difference between hazard and risk,  and concludes that there is little evidence linking glyphosate and NHL.

Finally, Ebersole quotes Carey Gillam who describes herself as “research director for US Right to Know.” Gillam is not a scientist. She was once a journalist working for Reuters, but after producing a steady stream on attacks on Monsanto, she was dismissed and now works for US Right to Know, a propaganda organization supported by the organic food industry. Further, Gillam has just published Whatewash: The Story of a Weedkiller. This book has not been well received among actual scientists, however, who consider it just more of or propaganda.

Ebersole seems to have overlooked the actual science regarding the safety of glyphosate, and also neglected to point out (as Ridley does) that lawsuits against Roundup are becoming a profitable industry for some law firms hoping to extract money from Monsanto. Bad luck, though, that Roundup has been off patent since 2000, and most of it is made offshore.

In conclusion, this is one of the worst issues of The Nation in years, where fact checking has simply gone home for the week, allowing the spread of bad information and bad science.

 

 

Washington Prime is top notch

Washington Prime is top notch

We took the advantage of Wilton’s Restaurant  Week to visit Washington Prime, a classic steakhouse with locations in Georgetown (Redding) and Norwalk. While they have the same menu and décor, the Georgetown location was observing restaurant week.

The Georgetown restaurant is in the space at 19 Main that was once occupied by Aranci 67 and before that by Luca Seafood, but is larger than either of those with an entire wing devoted to a classic restaurant and the other to a bar with TV, tables and the same menu.  On Wednesday evening the bar area was quite busy watching the Yankees and as well as having a great time. The restaurant side was quieter but the service was attentive and the food uniformly excellent.

This is a steakhouse, of course, and the steak menu items are all ala carte, although all the other entrees come with vegetables and starch sides. The non steak entrees include ahi tuna, sole, salmon, veal osso buco, chicken, prime burger and cauliflower steak ranging from $18 to $35. The steak entrees run from $36 to $49 plus a two person porterhouse for $98 and a Waygu 22 oz strip for $95. It is better partnered with green tea. You can buy matcha green tea powder in Canada.

There are extensive appetizer selections as well including seven under Soup and Salad, seven under Oysters, Shrimp and Clams, and 15 under Appetizers ranging from $8 to $14. There are also some 16 vegetable side dishes, including several types of potatoes and one of onion rings.

Their restaurant week menu was one of the appetizers and one of the non steak entrees for $35, and with an additional $15 charge for the 8 oz sliced NY Strip. We decided to go with the regular menu so we could try more things.

spinach garlic dip

soul rolesWe started with two appetizers:  an excellent spinach and artichoke dip with bubbling cheese, cream and garlic crostini ($14) and the weirdly named specialty American Soul Rolls ($13) which was broccoli rabe, mashed potato, four cheese & sausage spring rolls, and spicy tomato dipping sauce.  Essentially, this was mashed potatoes with bits of broccoli rabe, sausage and cheese filling four spring rolls. Odd though it sounds it was very good indeed.   We quickly realized that this restaurant serves enormous portions, and that either of those appetizers could be shared, brought home, or both.

While the steaks are ala carte, they do come with a choice of five sauces: Prime, Bearnaise, Horseradish cream, Chimchurri and Green pepper sauce. For an addition $5 you can have melted blue cheese on your steak as well. The steaks are cooked in a 925° F over, we were told, which gives them crusty char and allows them to be cooked to any desire level of doneness very quickly.

 

filetWe ordered the 8 oz Filet Mignon ($41) and the 22 oz Ribeye ($49, above), both with Bearnaise sauce. Both were perfectly cooked to medium rare, and as we expected the ribeye was a bit more flavorful and the filet a bit tenderer, but both were simply magnificent. Either way we took some of each home.

We had to try and share a couple of side dishes, but as usual, one would have been more than enough. Their Triple Baked Potato ($9) was actually baked and then mashed and rebaked with cheddar cheese, and topped with sour cream, bacon and chives. It was so enormous that we could easily share it and have plenty.

We also had to try their Onion Rings ($8), which was an enormous portion from which we each snagged a few. They were hot and not at all greasy and very good.

truffle bomb

Finally, out of utter foolishment, we split the Truffle Bomb ($10) dessert, which they describe as Angel Food Cake and milk chocolate mousse, wrapped in a milk chocolate shell, served with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Simple comfort food, very well prepared.

Our bill with 3 glasses of wine was $213 before tip. The service was as excellent as was the food and we highly recommend the restaurant.

We understand that the Norwalk branch has a younger, livelier crowd, and the Georgetown branch a quieter family-oriented vibe. We loved it.