November 12, 2009
‘Tis the season for the trend prophets to release their forecasts for the upcoming year. Last week restaurant consultants Baum & Whiteman, the Nostradamuses of the food world, announced their annual list of 12 food and dining trends for 2010 (pdf). In a word, it’s going to be offal. (I didn’t just write that, did I? I should be pun-ished. Can one’s journalism degree be revoked?)
A unifying theme was that people are paring down in response to the economic climate (the list itself seemed to be following its own prediction—there was one fewer trend than last year). People’s priorities are shifting to the more personal, and they are looking for comfort and a connection with others—what the consultants call, metaphorically, the “campfire experience.”
I have already noticed some restaurants moving in the direction of the second item on the list—a greater emphasis on small plates, different portion-size options, and plates for sharing—which they call “putting the focus on the left side of the menu.” I heartily welcome the shift to smaller portions; I can rarely finish what’s on my plate when I eat out, and I don’t always want to carry around leftovers. Why should I pay for $25 worth of food when I’m only hungry for $15?
I’m also happy to note that, according to the list, our palates are becoming more attuned to tartness. Like Michele Hume, who wrote “What’s Wrong With Chocolate” at the Atlantic Food Channel, I almost always prefer a tangy lemon dessert to a chocolate one, and I add lemon juice to everything from vegetables to chicken soup. Although the publishers and devotees of the recently rejuvenated bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child might disagree, I concur with the consultants’ reasoning that “classic French cookery, based on excesses of butter and cream, is in decline because it puts the taste buds into snooze mode…. We’re all getting older and we need more zing in our food.” Hear, hear!
And, yes, there was a reason (though probably not a good one) for the offal pun. Baum & Whiteman predict that tongue, trotters, gizzards and other spare animal parts will be showing up on more menus to augment downsized portions of prime meats. This, I assume, has the double benefit of lowering food costs while making diners feel adventurous and in-the-know. I suppose it also cuts down on wastefulness, which is good. I still don’t think I can bring myself to eat it, though. When I was about 6, my grandmother, a big fan of tongue, once fed it to me without my knowledge. I liked it—until I found out what it was and couldn’t stop picturing myself biting my own tongue.
If organ meat isn’t scary enough, the list warns hotels and restaurants that they “no longer control what’s said about them.” The old “Voices of Authority,” such as Gourmet magazine, are disappearing in favor of the “Instant Opinion Makers”: bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers and their ilk, who “broadcast ‘buzz’ and bad news to a million gullible people in the blink of the eye.” I started to feel the slightest bit guilty about the role of blogs such as this one in the demise of quality food magazines, but then I got over myself. First of all, I don’t think the editors of Gourmet would agree that they ever allowed restaurants to control what was said about them. And, while I regret the decline of print journalism in general (which, after all, provides the bulk of my livelihood), I don’t think what we’re doing here at Food & Think is a replacement for the restaurant reviews, recipes and beautiful food photography that such magazines offer.
October 19, 2009
I’ve never been a milk drinker. From the very moment I had any control over my diet, I stopped drinking it, unless a hearty squeeze of Hershey’s syrup was involved. Now, I use it merely for the occasional bowl of cereal.
When I decided to forego milk as a child, good old cow’s milk was really the only option. But that was then, and this is now. Consumers have more choices than ever about which type of milk to drink. The list now includes cow, goat, soy, almond, rice, hemp and even camel.
I have tried soy milk, but so far, that’s my only foray into the non-bovine milk world. Each alternative has pros and cons. My younger brother single-handedly drinks one gallon of 2% cow’s milk a week. He’s 20; he can handle all the calories (1,920) and fat (72 grams) included with that. I had a roommate who swore by soy milk until her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. (She had heard that the high levels of estrogen in soy can increase the risk of breast cancer. Recent studies, however, suggest that soy can actually prevent breast cancer.)
The LA Times recently investigated the different choices of milk out there. The story included a nifty graphic to help you compare the milk choices side by side. I’m especially intrigued by the concept of almond and hemp milks.
According to the article, almond milk has no cholesterol, saturated fats or lactose. It has less calories and total fat than health food favorite soy milk. But, it has significantly less protein than cow, goat and soy milk: a mere 1 gram compared to 7-8.7 grams. The calcium in almond milk depends on the brand. Some provide 20% of your daily value (10% less than cow, goat and soy), but others provide no calcium at all. Looks like the benefit of almond milk is the lack of fat and cholesterol:
“With almond milk, it’s more about what you don’t get” than what you do, says Sam Cunningham, an independent food scientist and consultant specializing in nuts, who helped develop almond milk for Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers as an employee of the almond processor in the 1990s.
Hemp milk contains just as many calories as soy milk but has 50 percent more fat. Don’t toss it aside yet, though. The fats in hemp milk are mostly omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which promote nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. And, because most hemp milks are fortified, they can provide more calcium than traditional cow’s milk.
I don’t think I’ll become a milk drinker, even almond or hemp, but I might pick up some almond milk at the store, just to try it out.
– Written by Smithsonian intern Abby Callard
February 19, 2009
It’s with a heavy heart today that I announce my temporary retirement from Food & Think. Don’t worry–I’ll be back.
But major looming deadlines at my “real job” are–for the time being–making it very difficult for me to bring you pressing news about 5,000-year-old intestinal contents and why your stomach makes those funny noises. Particularly if you want your pressing news to contain things like punctuation and facts. So, much as I enjoy both food and the intriguing thoughts I think while eating, I must put a stop to it for a few months.
At first I thought a hunger strike would be a fitting way to raise awareness about the plight of overworked writers everywhere. But I cast the idea aside once I realized a hunger strike would mean an end to French fries and, in all likelihood, most kinds of cake, at least the good ones. Also beer, since it contains calories, would be difficult to work into the protest.
Far easier, then, to go on a thinking strike. It’s like a hunger strike, only I don’t get so hungry. Also, because I’m not thinking as much I can eat more things in the “stupid” food group, like chicken wings. Frankly, it’s been a win-win so far.
I’ll leave you in the capable hands of my co-Food & Thinker, Amanda Bensen, who shows no signs of slowing down. She recently tackled an entire week of chocolate and, undaunted, started this week by heroically tasting some 20 wines and then discovering sweet potatoes in space. Go Amanda!
There’s just one last thing I have to tell you about before I officially stop thinking. It’s the Witmer peanut butter mixer– the one invention you never realized how much you needed.
I’m assuming you’re all fans of natural peanut butter. (I favor Adams for its perfect balance of roast, coarseness of grind, and saltiness.) It’s far better than those homogenized, hydrogenated, sugar-spackled major brands. (By the way, most grocery store brands of peanut butter are safe from the recent salmonella outbreak; you can check them at this FDA website.)
The only catch is that the oil separates from natural peanut butters, and the first thing you have to do on opening a new jar is to mix it back in–a tedious process that invariably spills a bunch of the precious peanut oil. It’s also tiring–as one reviewer on Amazon noted:
You stick a knife in and stir and stir and stir. In about a minute your hand starts to cramp so you try to use more of your arm. That’s when you get clumsy and the oil starts to spill over the sides. The jar gets slippery making it difficult to grab onto its side; plus you’ve left a mess on the countertop.
(Incidentally, 40 separate people have taken the time to review this product on Amazon. I find that amazing. There are even separate comment threads started for some of the individual reviews. That’s how much this peanut butter stirrer has touched people’s lives.)
The mixer fits over a standard screw-top glass jar (it comes in several sizes to match whatever volume of peanut butter you typically buy). A sturdy wire arc fits through a hole in the cap, allowing you to mix the peanut butter while keeping the lid firmly closed.
Of course, any great invention must have an unexpected bonus feature to make it revolutionary and not just pretty good. With the ginsu knife it was the ability to slice through those pesky tin cans on your cutting board. With this peanut butter mixer, it’s the squeegee seal on the little hole where you poke the stirrer into the jar. It’s such a tight fit that the stirrer comes back out of the jar spotless and gleaming. If you hadn’t just stirred the peanut butter yourself, you might not be sure it had ever been in the jar.
I’m not kidding. It’s miraculous. I might just agree with another of the Amazon reviewers, who claimed the peanut butter was so well mixed it actually tasted better. There just aren’t many better ways to spend 10 bucks.
And with that, I’ll see you in April. Thanks for reading.
November 21, 2008
Welcome to our newborn blog, Food and Think, which we hope will soon become one of your browser’s best friends!
This won’t be a food blog in the traditional sense of sharing recipes (except occasionally) or reviewing restaurants — the focus is on food and drink from a Smithsonian perspective. That means looking through the lens of science, history, anthropology and other disciplines, asking quirky questions and being generally geeky about all things edible. (But fun, entertaining geeks, we hope…)
There are two authors behind this blog. Amanda Bensen is an assistant editor at Smithsonian magazine, and Hugh Powell is a freelance writer who has blogged about science topics for Smithsonian.com. He’ll handle most of the science-related stories, while Amanda will focus more on the history, politics and culture of eating and drinking. Both of them are hungry for feedback, so don’t feel shy about commenting.
Update: Freelance writer Lisa Bramen replaced Hugh Powell in February 2009.