National Meatball Day

Today we honor a 1979 Ivan Reitman comedy starring Bill Murray as head counselor of a summer camp! Wait…that doesn’t sound right…

Ahh. Meatballs, not Meatballs. March 9th is National Meatball Day! And the first food holiday we’ve celebrated in some time.

MeatballsThe exact history behind the invention of the meatball is unknown, but because meat was scarce and expensive, it was probably the brainchild of some well-to-do caveman with a “waste not, want not” mentality when it came to leftovers. Whether this was woolly mammoth or beef is up to debate. Meatballs most likely originated in Persia, where the word koofteh refers to “pounded meat.” Presumably this is not a vulgar euphemism but an actual literal interpretation of the cooking method. In any case, the first meatballs were probably lamb or pork, as koofteh spread to China, North Africa, and eventually around the world. Plain, boring meatballs disappeared once they hit the shores of Italy, where the Venetians – masters of the spice trade – got around to seasoning ’em up. When not eating salad, Caesar enjoyed a variety of meatballs including peacock, pheasant, rabbit, chicken, and suckling pig. An early meatball recipe credited to Pelligrino Artusi is as follows:

Do not think for a moment that I would be so pretentious as to tell you how to make meatballs this is a dish that everyone knows how to make, including absolute donkeys.  Indeed it was probably the donkey who first suggested the basic shape of the meatball to humans.  My sole intention is to tell you how to prepare them when you have leftover boiled meat.

Meatballs remain popular around the world, with each country or region incorporating native touches into their cuisine. Ground beef and pork are most popular, though the Finnish enjoy reindeer, the Chinese are fond of fish balls, and in the U.K., meatballs are often made from a mixture of pig’s heart, liver, and fatty belly meat. These are known as “faggots.” No telling whether the Brits are able to eat them with a straight face.

Italian Wedding Soup

To celebrate National Meatball Day, we made one of our favorite dishes: Italian Wedding Soup. I use ground pork for my meatballs, and I always make a ton of them because leftovers are a hot commodity. Tonight, I ended up with 116. In addition to meat, they contain (wheat) breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, salt, and pepper. I simmer them in homemade chicken stock (easy to do and far superior to store-bought) with thinly sliced carrots, celery, baby spinach, and a small pasta such as orzo. Delicious!

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Review: Fooducate App

There are a lot of smartphone apps on the marketplace that allow you to track calories and other nutrition information, as well as exercise and weight, in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Fooducate (available for both IOS and Android devices) is unique in the category for one big reason: it assigns letter grades to different foods, and suggests better (healthier) alternatives – a boon to diabetics like me.fooducate logo

Unlike other “diet apps” that focus mainly on losing weight, Fooducate helps individuals alter their eating habits in order to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The interface is similar to other popular apps like MyFitness Pal and Lose It! and includes a handy barcode scanner that allows you to immediately upload nutrition information, as well as a tracking system for daily calories and weight loss, customizable goals, and a veritable wealth of helpful information on food quality.

I recently purchased a prepackaged salad from Safeway, assuming it would be a healthy lunch choice. And then I scanned it into Fooducate, and was dismayed to see a letter grade of C+, much lower than I’d been expecting. In the app, clicking on that item’s grade brings up a list of information explaining why it received the rating it did, good or bad. Using my Safeway Farms Santa Fe Chicken Salad Bowl as an example, Fooducate warned me of the following:

  • 1 tsp. of added sugars per serving
  • More than 20% of daily saturated fat
  • Salty! Has over 20% of the daily max
  • Contains sodium benzoate/benzoic acid
  • Contains phosphoric acid
  • Highly processed!
  • Has EDTA, on FDA’s toxicity watchlist

Yikes! There were a few good points: my salad was a good natural source of iron and calcium, and naturally high in vitamins A and C. But clearly, it was not a very smart choice for a healthy lifestyle. Click on any of those bullet points and Fooducate breaks it down for you even further. For example, under Highly Processed!, it says

If you’ll take a look at its ingredient list, you’ll discover new words to add to your vocabulary. Many of these ingredients are required to increase the shelf life of the product and improve the flavor that disappears when food is not fresh.

After reading all that, I tossed the salad (pun intended) and opted for an Oven Roasted Chicken Salad from Subway instead. (Fooducate grade: B+). And that perfectly sums up how incredibly useful this app is. It has also inspired me to quit buying Fresca (D+) and choose regular salad dressings over those that are fat-free (seems counterintuitive, but as I learned, “A fat-free salad dressing is actually a bad nutritional decision. You see, a little bit of fat goes a long way in helping the body absorb the nutritional goodness of the salad. This is because some vitamins are fat-soluble.” That leads to a longer, more in-depth article on Fooducate’s blog, another nice feature of this app.

Some of the sample Fooducate screens.

Some of the sample Fooducate screens.

I track my meals on Fooducate, and am able to pull up lots of useful information at the end of the day: calories consumed vs. those allotted based on my current weight and long-term goals, and other nutritional information that helps me control my diabetes (including daily consumption of carbs, sugars, fats, protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, potassium, iron, etc.). It’s all broken down in colorful, easy-to-read pie charts, and you receive a daily food grade based on your caloric choices. Very cool. And because the app keeps a running tally, as long as you enter your meals in a timely fashion, you can make adjustments as needed throughout the day – a great tool for keeping you on track. When inputting exercise, you have a drop-down menu from which you can select from dozens of different activities, including hiking, table tennis, and – ahem – “moderate” or “vigorous” sexual activity. Whatever you’re doing, Fooducate will help you track it and figure out how many calories you have burned.

GetFooducatedLogow450

This very handy app is not without its flaws, of course. The food database isn’t nearly as extensive as MyFitness Pal’s, meaning you’ll likely need to make a lot of manual entries (a time-consuming process that requires access to nutritional information from other sources). At least MFP allows you to enter the ingredients in a custom dish and will automatically calculate the nutrition info, a feature that would be greatly helpful. Are you paying attention, Fooducate developers? And there are occasional inconsistencies when using the barcode scanner; information does not always match the product label, though it’s usually within the ballpark.

Overall though, the good far outweighs the bad. For pure diet tracking, MyFitness Pal has an edge. But for steering you toward a healthier lifestyle, Fooducate more than lives up to its name. It’s not edible, but I give it 4 knives.

4 Knives

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Boxed Macaroni & Cheese: The Winner!

Last year, we decided to test various brands of boxed macaroni and cheese in order to find out which one was best. Obviously, none of these can compare to homemade mac ‘n cheese, but on a busy weeknight, who’s got time for that? The boxed stuff has always been about convenience. You don’t go to McDonald’s and dream of the prime rib you could have had, and when you reach for a box of mac ‘n cheese quit thinkin’ about how creamy, delicious and far superior homemade is. You’ll drive yourself crazy doing that. mac attack

Round One pitted the trusty standby in the familiar blue box and favorite of kids everywhere, Kraft, against a young upstart, Trader Joe’s. The new kid on the block pulled off the upset, with TJ’s mac ‘n cheese narrowly beating out Kraft.

In Round Two, we tried out two organic brands, Annie’s and Horizon. That one wasn’t close: Horizon was easily the unanimous favorite, winning the hearts and minds of all three judges with its creamier and cheesier taste and texture. Since that challenge, Horizon has become our new household favorite.

But is it good enough to best Trader Joe’s?

This evening, we prepared a box of each. Tried a spoonful. And declared a winner.

This was a split decision, and once again came as a surprise. By a two-to-one margin, we can now officially declare the best boxed macaroni & cheese is…

Trader Joe's: It's simply the best.

Trader Joe’s: the best boxed mac ‘n cheese

Trader Joe’s!

Honestly, I was expecting it to be Horizon. But my daughter and I both thought the Trader Joe’s was much tastier. Must be that Wisconsin Cheddar! To me, TJ’s tasted a little sharper and was more assertive, giving the mac ‘n cheese a nice little zing. It’s true that TJ’s doesn’t mix quite as well – both times we ended up with little clumps of cheese – but I like to think that’s proof of a less-processed product, and a great metaphor for life: it isn’t perfect, and not every bit of cheese will melt ideally. But in the end, it’s your enjoyment that really matters. Tara, who was the lone Kraft fan in the first challenge, preferred Horizon. But majority rules, and the new king of the boxed macaroni & cheese empire is Trader Joe’s.

This was fun. If you have any suggestions for future challenges, let us know!

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Cruel Irony: How a Foodie Copes with Diabetes

It started with an intense thirst.

I had never been one to drink much before. I’m not referring to alcohol, but to normal, everyday beverages. I’d have a cup or two of coffee in the morning, a glass of water after lunch, something with dinner, maybe a mug of hot tea before bed. That was it. They say you’re supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day, but I rarely came even close to that quota. I just never really felt all that thirsty before, unless I’d been doing something physically exerting.

That all changed sometime in December. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but I suddenly found myself drinking more fluids throughout the day. I noticed this at work first. After finishing my coffee, I’d grab a tall glass of water from the kitchen. Then when I was finished with that one, I’d have another. The first couple of days, I barely registered this happening; when I did, I figured I was simply dehydrated. Then I began drinking more at home, too. I’d down a beverage at dinner, then have another after that. And another. The drinks varied – I’d switch from water to lemonade to Coke to juice – but I kept filling my glass with something. This was so out of the norm for me that I looked it up online. Though excessive thirst is a classic symptom of diabetes, I was like, nah.

Until my vision grew blurry.

For most of my life, I’ve had near-perfect vision. 20/15 at one point. Suddenly, I could not make out objects at a distance. I first noticed this during a basketball game that was being televised in a bar; the score was a jumbled and incomprehensible tangle of squiggly lines. Tara, however, was able to see it just fine. Every day, my vision grew a little worse. I started wearing an old pair of her glasses, which helped quite a bit. Without them, I was nearly blind. This degradation of my eyesight happened very rapidly, over a matter of days. I went into work one day and the person sitting a few desks away from me was a complete blur. I actually thought she was somebody else entirely.

By now I was getting worried – and also feeling decidedly strange, for lack of a better word. This started on Christmas day. We were having dinner at my parents’ house and I just felt “off,” though if asked to elaborate I have trouble finding the right words to convey how I was feeling. I felt tired and lacked energy, but it was more of a general malaise than anything else. I felt like something was going on inside me, but could not figure out what. This continued through the holiday weekend. And when I stepped on the scale, I was shocked to see I had inexplicably lost 11 pounds in three weeks, though my appetite had not changed and I wasn’t exercising any more than usual. Some people would find this a cause for celebration, but without any reason for the loss, I couldn’t help but feel scared. I weighed myself again five days later, and discovered I had lost another 8 pounds. Warning bells were going off like crazy by this point. Cancer does that, I thought, and suddenly found myself rooting for diabetes.

The person sitting a few desks
away was a complete blur.

Monday morning, December 29, I went into the local clinic to have blood drawn for lab tests. I had very fortuitously had a doctor’s appointment on Christmas Eve, right before my symptoms started worsening rapidly. I was there to get my prescriptions renewed, and mentioned in passing some of the things that had been going on with my health, which were enough to convince my doctor labs needed to be done. Stupidly, I waited five days to take care of them, because I wanted to enjoy the long holiday weekend without worrying about making a trip to the clinic. (Then again, had I done them the day of my appointment, I likely would have ended up in the hospital on Christmas morning and that really would have been a bummer). I had to fast overnight, and could only drink water. Which I did, copiously. Immediately after my appointment, I stopped at Dutch Bros. for a large iced coffee, which I guzzled in the car, finishing every last drop before I got home. It’s a 5-minute drive, I should point out. I chased that with a tall glass of orange juice. Then a bottle of Gatorade. A large iced tea. Try as I might, I could not quench my thirst. Weirdest feeling ever. That evening, I got a late night call from a lab tech. Never a good sign.

“Your blood sugar levels are very high,” he said. “You have full-blown diabetes.”

This caused a minor freakout on my part. I had a restless night, waking up every hour to take a sip of Gatorade, which I kept on my nightstand. The next morning, my doctor called and her words chilled me to the bone.

“Drop everything and get yourself to the ER, Mark. You have severe diabetes and your kidney function is down to 40%. You might lose your kidneys.

My heart leapt into my chest. This was just about the worst news possible, and scared the living daylights out of me. I immediately called Tara, who rushed me to the Emergency Room. Fortunately, there was nobody ahead of me, so I was able to be seen right away. My blood sugar level was a whopping 780-something. Normal is around 100. They said I was suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis and admitted me to the PCU (Progressive Care Unit). I did not know this at the time – thankfully – but DKA is a life-threatening condition in which toxic acids build up in your bloodstream as your body breaks down fat because it cannot use the sugar it normally would for fuel. Basically, your body is poisoning itself; left untreated, it can lead to swelling in the brain, coma, and even death. Long story short, I spent three nights in the hospital, was moved from the PCU to a regular room after they got my blood sugars down to a manageable level, and learned all about my condition from a helpful diabetic educator. My first stop after I was released? The pharmacy, where I loaded up on syringes, alcohol swabs, blood glucose strips, and insulin. Tools of the trade. My new reality.

diabetes

What does a post about diabetes have to do with a food blog? Nothing, really. And absolutely everything.

I love food, which should be obvious to anybody who has read Eat My Words. I’m the guy who completed a 365-day food challenge, after all. Food is truly one of the greatest pleasures in life. Being diagnosed with diabetes is the cruelest of ironies for a foodie like me. Because suddenly, my whole world has changed. The list of foods I can’t/shouldn’t eat is longer than the list of foods I am allowed. I need to avoid processed flour and refined sugar most of all. I’ve learned to count carbs, because anything over 60 in one sitting (surprisingly easy to exceed) will raise my blood sugars. Lean meat, non-starchy vegetables and protein are my new friends. My enemies? Things I have always loved. Rice, pasta, and bread. Desserts? Forget about it. But hey, I can have all the mustard I want. Woohoo! This diagnosis forced me to completely overhaul my diet overnight.

Fortunately, I am doing very well. I’m stubborn, but that works in my favor because I refuse to eat anything bad for me. I’m losing weight, naturally this time. And feeling better than I have in ages. I actually enjoy the challenge of eating healthy, and when I find a meal that tastes good and is good for me – like the black cod with butternut squash, white beans, oyster mushrooms, spinach, red peppers and tomatoes I had Saturday night on the Oregon coast – it feels like a win. I may not be able to beat diabetes, but I can manage it and lower my chances of developing any of the many complications diabetics face.

“You have full-
blown diabetes.”

The truth is, completing the challenge would be an impossibility now. There are far too many obstacles for a diabetic. This makes me sad, but even more grateful that Tara and I successfully finished the challenge in 2013. It was a one-and-done, but that was always the point.

It doesn’t mean the end of this blog. Far from it. You’ll just see more of a focus on healthy eating, but we’ll still work on tackling some of those food holidays we have yet to celebrate. National Meatball Day is right around the corner, it turns out. Low carbs and no sugar there. I’m in.

While walking around the neighborhood a few nights ago, Tara wondered aloud if the food challenge could have somehow contributed to the diabetes. I had never thought about that before, but I suppose it’s possible. There were an awful lot of sweet dishes, after all, a fact that we bemoaned constantly. In the first 12 days of June alone, we celebrated food holidays dedicated to hazelnut cake, rocky road ice cream, frozen yogurt, gingerbread, applesauce cake, chocolate ice cream, jelly filled doughnuts, strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate cake, and peanut butter cookies. Holy shit. I don’t know how we did it. And I can’t help but wonder: did I pay the ultimate price?

Maybe, maybe not. The jury is still out on whether I have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. I’ll know for sure by the end of the month. Eating sugar has nothing to do with developing Type 1. One of the biggest risk factors for developing Type 2 is being overweight and eating a diet high in calories, which of course would include sugar. I can’t say definitively that taking part in this food challenge caused my diabetes, but it certainly didn’t help matters.

It’s okay, though. I am fine. Acceptance is one of the classic stages of grief, and I have cried tears aplenty for the doughnuts I can no longer eat and for the mac ‘n cheese that would send my blood sugars through the roof. I have embraced the world of whole wheat and am keen for quinoa.

Still along for the ride?

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Review: Eating Right for High Protein Frozen Entrees

As a newly diagnosed diabetic, the past month has been a learning experience for me. While searching for low-carb, high protein alternatives, I stumbled upon a new line of frozen meals in Safeway. Eating Right for High Protein, launched last September, is an extension of their popular Eating Right private label. This one is clearly targeted toward diabetics or those who subscribe to the Atkins Diet, as they contain minimal carbohydrates and sugars, are high in protein and fiber, and very friendly to your waistline. I bought a few varieties, figuring they wouldn’t be any good. Frozen meals, right? They are always nasty.

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised. And wrong.

EatingRight

My first clue that these might be special? The cashier told me they were flying off the shelves…err, out of the frozen food cases. “People love them,” she said.

People don’t know good food, I thought to myself.

But, they do! I am now hooked on these frozen meals. There are currently 14 varieties, each containing at least 20 grams of protein and 15 or fewer carbs. How do they do it? By getting creative. There’s a crustless chicken pot pie, for instance. Several different meat-and-veggies combinations made for do-it-yourself lettuce wraps (lettuce not included). And a meatball marinara that doesn’t include any pasta. I’ve tried half a dozen so far, and every one has not only met my dietary and nutritional needs, but has exceeded expectations in the taste department. My favorite so far? The “shredded pork with vegetables for lettuce wraps.” The pork was surprisingly moist and tender, and had a smoky flavor reminiscent of kalua pork – a definite plus. It is accompanied by a pleasantly citrusy blend of mixed veggies that includes onions, red and green peppers, squash and tomatoes. I spooned a portion onto an oversized leaf of romaine lettuce, rolled it up, took a bite, and actually thought to myself, “this is delicious.” And with 23 grams of protein, only 4 net carbs, and 190 calories, about as healthy a lunch as I could possibly have. Sure, it’s frozen and therefore contains some inevitable artificial ingredients and preservatives, but the quality far exceeds any other frozen entree I’ve ever had. About the only negative thing I have to say is, it was messy to eat.

Other flavors I’ve tried include the crustless chicken pot pie, beef chili, meatballs with marinara, and chicken for lettuce wraps. None of them have disappointed.

Honestly, I’d probably eat these even if I didn’t have special dietary needs. (More on that diagnosis next time).

Easy review here. Can’t give ’em 5 knives because of a few too many artificial ingredients, but still…

4 Knives

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Face Off: Boxed Macaroni & Cheese (Part II)

Some time ago – six months, to be exact – we announced a bracket-style boxed macaroni and cheese face-off. “This is something that will take awhile,” we warned, so if nothing else we were true to our word. I just didn’t expect half a year to pass before we got to round 2.

Oops.

The winner of the first challenge, in case you don’t remember, was Trader Joe’s, by a vote of 2-1. Sorry, Kraft. In the end, you were too overly processed.

In the second round, we pitted two organic contenders: Annie’s and Horizon.

 

Mac1

In the interest of fairness, we chose the same flavor, as well. Each box is labeled “classic” and “mild cheddar.” And they both feature animals – Annie’s has a rabbit, Horizon’s got a flying cow. Or maybe he’s leaping. Probably trying to get away from the butcher, but we can pretend otherwise.

Both brands advertise no artificial flavors or preservatives. Horizon goes a step further and touts no artificial colors, while Annie’s proclaims there are “no synthetic colors.” Instead, they use annatto – derived from the seed of the achiote plant – for coloring. This is not an uncommon practice; annatto has long been used to add orange coloring to many cheeses, dairy spreads, baked goods, and snack foods. It beats the food dyes used by some manufacturers (that would be you, Kraft), so it’s not a knack against Annie’s, though annatto has been linked to food allergies in some people.

The color disparity was immediately evident when we emptied the “cheese packets” into each pot. Annie’s was bright orange, while Horizon’s was perfectly white. Once the milk and butter were added, however, the Horizon mac ‘n cheese magically turned orange.

Whoa.

Like the first time, we prepared both boxes exactly the same, and added no extra seasonings. Here’s what they looked like, freshly dished up:

Mac2
The only discernible difference is, the Annie’s had some unappealing clumps of cheese that would not dissolve. This was also the case with the Trader Joe’s brand, but that one was declared the winner, so I was not concerned about this. It all comes down to flavor anyway. And this time, the results were unanimous: all three of us chose the same brand, and to be honest, it wasn’t even close. The winner of the second round?

Horizon.

We thought it was creamier and had a much cheesier flavor than Annie’s, which was pretty bland.

So, it’s on to the final round: Trader Joe’s v. Horizon. All that’s left in the boxed category are various store or generic brands, and we really don’t expect much from those. We’ll let these two national brands duke it out for bragging rights.

And this time, we won’t wait another six months. I promise!

 

 

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National Corned Beef Hash Day

I’ve got no beef with today’s food holiday. September 27 is National Corned Beef Hash Day!

Corned beef hash is essentially a fancy way of using up leftovers. Corned beef is chopped up, seasoned, and combined with potatoes and onions. The name comes from the French word hacher which means “an actress who played Lois Lane.” Whoops, strike that. It actually means “to chop.” Corned beef hash gained popularity during World War II, when meat became scarce – particularly in Great Britain and France. Hormel decided to capitalize on this popular trend and introduced canned corned beef hash to the U.S. around 1950. They can hardly lay claim to this invention, however, as different forms of hash had been a staple of the American diet since at least the 19th century. In fact, “hash houses” were quite popular in the 1800s. Other countries have their own variations of hash: in Denmark it is called biksemad (“tossed together food” – I love that!) and includes pork and pickled red beet slices. Sweden has a similar dish but substitutes beef for the pork and adds cream. In Slovenia, haše is made with minced pork and veal, potato sauce, onion, garlic, and flour and served atop spaghetti. It’s also used as a pasta sauce in Brazil and Portugal, and as a filling for pancake rolls.

We didn’t get quite as fancy here. Instead, I heated up a can of Hormel corned beef hash and served it with breakfast. Good stuff!

National Corned Beef Hash Day

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Review: Brach’s Flavored Candy Corn

There are three sure signs that autumn is fast approaching: the leaves begin to change color, pumpkins start showing up everywhere, and Halloween candy hits the stores. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of all seasonal sweets is Candy Corn.

Candy Corn dates back to the 1880s, and was the brainchild of George Renninger, an employee of the Wunderlee Candy Company in Philadelphia. The shape and colors are meant to resemble actual kernels of corn, though size-wise the candy is about three times as large. Candy Corn was originally made by hand and contained sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s wax, fondant, and marshmallows. The mixture was warmed and poured into buckets, before being transferred to kernel-shaped molds by men called “stringers.” It took three passes, one for each of the colors (white, orange, and yellow). The process has since been automated, but the recipe is largely unchanged.

As popular as Candy Corn is – Brach’s sells between 9 billion and 15 billion kernels every year – it’s also one of the more reviled candies, ranking poorly in some consumer research polls. My own family would seem to back this up: neither my wife nor daughter are fans, though I love the stuff. You can find more information on our National Candy Corn Day post from last October.

Different variations of Candy Corn are available year-round these days. Over the past few years, new seasonal flavors have been added, including caramel apple and green apple (2011), pumpkin spice and S’mores (2013), and caramel macchiato and apple pie (2014). We decided to review a handful of these newer flavors, settling on caramel apple, pumpkin spice, and apple pie.

unnamed

Results were a mixed bag (pardon the pun). None were as good as the original. Why mess with perfection?

All three varieties had the same chewiness and “mouth feel” as regular ol’ Candy Corn, but diverged from there. The caramel apple were the worst. They  lacked any discernible flavor, making the effort of eating them pointless. Rating: 1 Knife. Don’t waste your time.

Shun-Classic-7-1-2-Inch-Wide-Santoku

 

 

 

 

The pumpkin spice, at least, had plenty of pumpkin spice-y flavor – a little too much, IMHO. I don’t blame Brach’s for jumping on the pumpkin spice flavor trend; we can thank Starbucks for that, with the explosive popularity of their seasonal pumpkin spice lattes. These had the same flavor profile, and definitely woke up the senses. And dammit, they smell just like autumn. Rating: 3 Knives. OK in small doses.

the-3-knives-you-need-in-your-kitchen

 

 

 

 

The best of the bunch, by a long shot, were the apple pie. Believe it or not, they taste exactly like their namesake: you get clear hints of apple, cinnamon, and brown sugar. I was tempted to warm them up and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Candy Corn à la mode, anybody? Rating: 4 Knives. The resemblance to real apple pie is uncanny.

4 Knives

 

 

 

 

 

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National Salami Day

Looking for a cure for the late-summertime blues? We’ve got just the ticket. September 7 is National Salami Day!

This is one of those rare food holidays whose lineage can easily be traced. It got its start in 2006 in Henrico, Virginia thanks to the efforts of the Salami Appreciation Society. Yes, that’s a real group. Salami is a cured sausage that has been fermented and air-dried. Once it has been sliced, it can be left out at room temperature for up to 40 days. This was a big draw for Southern European peasants, who could not afford fancy refrigerators with water and ice dispensers built into the doors. Also, fancy refrigerators with water and ice dispensers built into the doors did not exist at the time, but that’s neither here nor there. Salami represented an inexpensive and ready source of meat to supplement a diet that was otherwise lacking in protein. The word salami is derived from the Italian salame which originates from the word sale, meaning “salt” (and not half-priced shoes, sorry to disappoint the ladies (or the men who like inexpensive footwear. Eat My Words can never be accused of sexism)).

Salami is traditionally made from marbled pork or beef, though it has also been prepared with venison, turkey, goose, donkey, and horse. Common ingredients include salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar, wine, herbs, and spices. The whole shebang is left to ferment for 24 hours before being stuffed into a casing and hung up to cure. Curing time varies depending on the climate and type of casing. Once fermented, the salami is dried, and nitrates or nitrites are added to prevent bacterial growth and improve the color. There are many varieties of salami available including chorizo, cotto, Genovese, Milanese, Lardo, Nduja, pepperoni, soppressata, and Saucisson.

To celebrate, I picked up a pound of hard salami from the grocery store deli. This variety usually contains more beef than pork and is smoked. I should clarify, it is smoked in a smoker before being sold. You do not roll it up, light an end, and inhale. We stuck ours between two slices of bread, added American cheese, mustard, and mayo, and called it a sandwich.

National Salami Day

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National Rum Day

Good news: despite the lack of recent posts, I am happy to report we are still alive. Better news: today we are walking around say “yo ho ho” a lot. Not because Christmas is right around the corner – it isn’t, and that first H is a Y, thank you very much – but because August 16 is dedicated to probably the tastiest liquor around. It’s National Rum Day!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of yum is more like it.

The word rum is believed to be derived from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar, saccharumOr it might come from the Romanian word rum, meaning “strong” or “potent.” Both explanations make sense to me. Interestingly enough, rum was originally a byproduct of sugar cane; it’s actually fermented molasses, which occurs during the sugar refining process. Nobody knew what to do with molasses initially, and viewed it as nothing more than industrial waste. Until some whip-smart plantation slaves in the Caribbean during the 17th century discovered the molasses could be fermented and turned into a tasty alcoholic beverage. Goodbye industrial waste, hello industrial wasted! It quickly gained popularity in Colonial North America, where the first rum distillery was opened in 1664 on Staten Island. In fact, rum became so highly prized, for a while it was accepted as currency – alongside gold – in Europe. Liquid gold, if we’re getting technical.

I’ve long been a fan of rum. Maybe not as big a fan as some people…

large

But I have my moments.

To celebrate, I had a rum and Coke. And also a shot of the rum, straight up. Bottoms up!

National Rum Day

 

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