Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hank’s Top 5 Culinary Pet Peeves

Overcooked vegetables: Steaming veggies until they’re mush kills the flavor and removes many of the nutrients.

Overcooked meat: It’s already dead. There’s no need to cook it so long that all the flavor is depleted. If one prefers a charred surface (which is potentially hazardous due to carcinogens), then quickly broil/flame the meat, leaving the inside tender and juicy. (Of course, no one should serve or eat meat which is dangerously underdone.)

Gargantuan portions: Few things turn me off to eating in a restaurant as when I face a huge plate overloaded with food. Not only does it make consuming the meal seem more like a chore than a pleasure, but it dampens the prospect of dessert.

Miniscule portions: The ultimate in culinary pretense, and often parodied, is the expensive restaurant that serves a tiny wedge of food, surrounded by empty plate surface. Skimpiness is not desireable.

Misuse of spices: The purpose of herbs, spices, and the like is to supplement the natural flavor of food. It’s not to drown out the flavor and bring attention to itself. Nor is it to overwhelm people’s senses and cause them physical distress (not only when the food is entering the body, but as it exits as well). A good indicator of whether food is too spiced is whether you want to take another bite, or you become desperate for a glass of ice water. Any restaurant that boats of serving chicken wings so hot that a customer is required to sign a release form before consuming them should be shuttered by the health department.

Which of the 50 states...

Which of the 50 states has the highest suicide rate? (Hint: Its former half-governor is a reality show celebrity.)

Which state is the smartest? (Hint: I got married there.)

Which state is #1 in obesity? (Hint: It's in a part of the country where the mantra is If it ain't fried, it ain't food.)

Which state ranks #1 for speeding tickets? (Hint: There's a reason why they call them Massholes.)

Click the image below to find out...

Winter Wonderland

I was amused by this article from Britain's Telegraph newspaper:

Why America is better at clearing snow than we are

I would also add that Clevelanders are more adept at this than New Yorkers.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Thoughts on veganism and America’s addiction to meat

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has named Bill Clinton as their Person of the Year. The former President made headlines this year when he announced that he had been living on a diet largely consisting of “beans, legumes, vegetables, fruit…a protein supplement every morning… no dairy”.

It’s more than a bit disingenuous to promote Clinton as a champion of veganism: First, he still eats fish (which PETA fails to note); Secondly, Clinton has undertaken this restrictive diet out of medical necessity. For decades, he abused his body with cholesterol laden junk food, paid the price with quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and has since had to have two stents placed in his coronary arteries. The former President represents an extreme case, where there is no alternative but to go “virtually vegan”.

I’m amused by the reactions of the pro and anti vegan crowd to this news. The vegans crow with vindication about Clinton’s late-life change, and the carnivores counter that all vegans are smelly, weird people. Then carnivores inevitably drop the Hitler bomb, even though Hitler was not, in fact a strict vegan or even a vegetarian. (By the way, I listen to Beethoven and Wagner and am not going to stop just because Hitler happened to have good taste in music.) While the vegans claim that Clinton looks astonishingly fit, the carnivores complain that he looks like a feeble old man. For my part, I do believe that Clinton looks somewhat gaunt, although he appears better than he did immediately after his bypass surgery, when his pallor reminded me of late-life photographs of Franklin Roosevelt. Clinton’s voice has also lost much of its projection, and there is a noticeable reduction in his legendary vigor.

As is often the case where both camps are convinced of their absolute correctness, reality is somewhere in the middle.

Fact is, humans are driven by evolution and biology to crave and eat meat (by which I mean all kinds of meat, including pork and poultry). That’s why we have incisors and canine teeth, unlike herbivores which have mouthfuls of molars. Early humans ate meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and nuts. They did not, however, eat bread (which is a human invention). Neither did they drink milk (once they were weaned from their mothers’ milk) or consume other dairy products such as butter and cheese.

Most Americans, however, eat too much meat, particularly so called red meat. This is for several reasons: historically, Americans have been meat eaters since before our founding: There was a bounty of game animals on the continent that exceeded Europeans’ grandest dreams; in modern times, factory farming has kept meat available in plenty, and at prices most Americans can easily afford. Very few of them care, or are even aware, that the vast majority of meat and poultry is filled with growth hormones, antibiotics, and was raised in conditions that our 19th Century counterparts would have considered indecent. The overconsumption of meat and dairy products and reliance on processed foods (like bread and products made with High Fructose Corn Syrup), combined with the under-consumption of fruits and vegetables and our sedentary lifestyles have placed the American peoples’ health in jeopardy. What happened to Bill Clinton is a sample of what’s in store for many of us if we don’t change our ways. (And overconsumption of certain kinds of fish can lead to mercury poisoning.)

There is also the ethical question. I grew up with foods such as pot roast, steak, burgers on the grill – along with the veggies my parents made me eat. I never gave a thought as to where the food came from or how it got to the kitchen table – and I’d venture to guess that few of my classmates did either. But over the last few years, I’ve become increasingly uneasy with eating red meat and pork. I now try to keep myself limited to one helping of red meat per week – but even that has started to bother me, especially since watching The Cove. For what is the difference, after all, in eating meat that comes from a cow or pig, as opposed to a whale, dolphin, or even the family dog? They are all mammals, and all share the same evolutionary history. It may be irrational or false equivocation, but I do consider mammals to be a higher form of life than fowl, which are essentially reptiles. There is also the environmental impact deriving from the raising or so many cattle, which have to be fed and housed before they are slaughtered. So the struggle I face is between my body’s cravings for red meat, and my growing guilt in consuming it. Last summer, I totally gave up dairy for several weeks, and that combined with my reduction in red meat intake produced some unexpected results – in the form of dreams about cheeseburgers covered in ice cream. I don’t think I will ever be able to give up mammalian meat completely.

In the end, the answer is, as it has always been: moderation in everything. If President Clinton had observed that mantra in his younger years, he wouldn’t have to resort to extreme measures today.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thoughts on the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

America’s ludicrous ban on openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military has finally been struck down – although it will probably take a year or more for the military to implement the repeal.

President Obama was roundly criticized for his handling of this issue. The military continued discharges even as it became increasingly obvious that DADT’s days were numbered. The President could have easily issued a stop-loss order suspending discharges, but chose not to. Indeed, I don’t think any President since Carter has been so roundly pilloried from both the right and the left – including my own comments. President Obama’s lack of executive experience has made itself most evident in his inability to control various processes. As has been stated elsewhere, instead of negotiating from a position of strength, he has frittered it away and gotten much weaker legislation than could have been passed – this has most recently been demonstrated with the Tax Package, but applies to Health Care as well. In the end, he got both done, but Obama must be a lousy Poker player. Fortunately, the repeal of DADT was a straightforward piece of legislation and it was merely a question of getting enough votes for passage. The credit for that does not go to the President, but to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and a handful of Republicans. (It must be pointed out that, despite the crowing by Log Cabin Republicans and the GOProud crowd, the overwhelming majority of Republicans in office remains homophobic in their voting and policy positions, regardless of what may or may not be in their hearts. A few Republicans yielding to common sense do not constitute a bipartisan victory.)

The Human Rights Campaign received a lot of flak for its handling of DADT repeal, along with Hate Crimes and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act. Much of that criticism was justified. While HRC will undoubtedly use the repeal of DADT as fodder in fundraising letters and for their lavish parties, the fact is that the primary driver of repeal was media attention to decorated service members who opted to come out, most notably Lieutenant Dan Choi, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva. These brave Americans helped push public opinion in the right direction. Without them, and ground level activists pushing HRC and the establishment, DADT’s repeal would have been delayed indefinitely. HRC’s slight pushing at the end does not forgive their record for ineffectiveness.

One commenter has raised the specter that DADT might one day be reinstated. Given the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in general society, largely driven by the work of gay activists going back 40 years, and a generational change in attitudes, a rollback of gay rights seems increasingly unlikely. It would take strong majorities of conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate, along with a Republican President, to reinstate any ban. It would mean the Republican Party would have to purge its moderate wing – which would make it impossible to elect Republicans in New England or the West.

But the gay community’s work is far from done: It is still perfectly legal to fire someone from his job for being gay in 38 states. With the upcoming party change in the House of Representatives, any enactment of ENDA seems unlikely in the foreseeable future – to say nothing about repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. The status of LGBT people in American society is still far from equal. It’s increasingly likely that any advance in employment and marriage in the near future is going to come from the courts and not the legislature. It needs to be pointed out that there are far more LGBT people in civilian society than in the military – and their rights are just as important.

As for myself, I have never seriously contemplated joining the military, and at 43 I’m not about to start now - especially considering the United States’ increasing propensity to undertake unwarranted wars of choice that neither make the world safer nor improve America’s standing in the world. Despite changes in party leadership, Dwight Eisenhower’s prophetic nightmare continues: the military-industrial complex thrives.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Afterthought for the day

A clean conscience is its own reward...but food is a very effective incentive.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No Free Lunch...

These two Gallup poll results, from the same day, illustrate the present dichotomy among the American populace:

66% of Americans (but not the same 66%) favor extending both the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

Large majorities also want to increase FDA and USDA regulation, while a plurality wants to postpone cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. In other words, the American people want increased government services, but don't want to pay for them.

People need to be reminded that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Olbermann: Obama "God-damned Wrong" on tax-deal

Once again, Keith speaks for the conscience of Liberal and Progressive America. It would have been better to let ALL the Bush tax cuts expire and return to Clinton-era levels. Need I remind anyone the 1990s were a time of unprecedented economic prosperity? Sound fiscal and tax policy had something to do with that.

Who is going to be hurt by the Obama/Republican deal? Americans making less than $20,000 a year. President Obama is betraying one of the core ideals which have guided the Democrats since the 1930s - a rising tide lifts all boats, and giving in to Trickle-down economics.

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