Posts Tagged With: Food

“Natural Flavors” are Anything But

I was drinking a seltzer water this afternoon, and noticed there were only two ingredients listed: carbonated water and “natural flavors.” Since this particular seltzer was lemon flavored, I assumed this meant the natural flavors were lemon juice, of course.

Sadly, I was wrong. natural flavors

“Natural flavors,” it turns out, are anything but natural. The legal definition, according to the Code of Federal Regulations, is as follows:

The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Like artificial flavors, “natural flavors” (I can’t not use those quotation marks) are usually concocted in a laboratory. The only difference is, “natural flavors” are derived from natural sources, while artificial flavors are manmade. Which means my lemon flavored seltzer water was likely made with a chemical found in lemons, rather than actual lemons themselves. “Natural flavors” might actually contain as many as 100 individual ingredients, including solvents and preservatives. As much as it saves valuable packaging real estate, it seems like a cop out to lump everything together under such a deceptive label anyway – even if companies are perfectly within their rights to do so.

naturalflavorsstarbucksWorse, “natural flavors” may actually cause consumers to crave the food or beverage even more. Those pharmacists in the food labs are attempting to make short, intense bursts of flavor that dissipate quickly, tricking you into coming back for more. And more. Of course, this benefits the manufacturing companies who put out the product in the first place. While “natural flavors” have never been associated with health issues, they can definitely make your wallet thinner, and trick your palate into believing a real lemon pales in comparison to a “naturally flavored” lemon.

Buyer – or in this case, taster – beware.

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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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We’re Adding Reviews!

I’ll be the first to admit, this blog has suffered from neglect in 2014. Once January 1st rolled around and our daily food challenge was complete, we struggled to find a new groove. We had – still have – ideas for new food challenges, but without a calendar forcing them upon us, motivation has been lacking. I was all set to start my campaign to get a national food holiday declared for ketchup, but then found out a day devoted to ketchup was added last year, on June 5. Somehow, we completely missed the news. Which raised the inevitable question: now what? Eat My Words is still getting a lot of hits; that’s the beauty with food holidays that reoccur every year. But we want new content. After all, this was such a big part of our lives for 365 days, we can’t just toss it aside like yesterday’s trash.

Today, inspiration struck. And it’s such a simple solution, I’m surprised we didn’t think of it earlier: we’re going to start adding food reviews!

This is the type of food item we'll be reviewing.

This is the type of food item we’ll be reviewing.

We’ll primarily focus on new items, like the latest sandwich from Subway or the newest flavor of Oreos. I don’t foresee actual restaurant reviews, since they’re too local. I’d like to stick with items that most readers will be able to find in their own hometown. Our inaugural review will focus on Arby’s wildly popular limited-time-only Smokehouse Brisket sandwich. Hint: it’s a winner! restaurant_review-5-stars

Because there are hundreds of food review websites out there, we want to differentiate ourselves from the pack a little. To do so, we’re going to incorporate a fun rating system that’s unique: instead of letter grades or stars, we’ll rate products with knives. The idea is, the more knives we’d be willing to use to theoretically consume each product, the better it is. Hence, a 1-knife review is something we didn’t care for (why waste time sharpening the blade?) and a 5-knife review is worthy of the time it would take to finely hone each blade and then wash it by hand. You get the point. 1 knife = bad. 5 knives = excellent. And everything in between varies.

Got it? Good. Now let’s do some reviews!

 

 

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333/365: National Rice Cake Day*

Take today’s food holiday with a grain of salt. Or, more accurately, a grain of rice. November 29 is National Rice Cake Day!

It is also National Lemon Cream Pie Day, but if you’re like us, you had plenty of pie yesterday to tide you over for awhile. In fact, you’ve probably still got leftovers today. A light, tasty, low-calorie and low-fat rice cake sounds much more appealing on Black Friday!

Rice cakes are very popular in Asian culture. They may be made with rice flour, ground rice, or whole grains of rice compressed together. Rice cakes can be sweet or savory, and are available in a variety of flavors. Rice has been cultivated for over 7000 years, and is primarily grown in warm, humid climates. In Pacific Rim countries especially, rice is the basis for many meals and snacks. Sweet rice cakes called mochi were eaten by Japanese nobility as far back as the 8th century, and really began to flourish by the end of the 12th century. Once Tokyo became the capital of Japan during the Edo Period (1601-1868), rice cakes became a popular festival treat, and began appearing at roadside stands throughout the country. To this day, many Asian street vendors sell variations of rice cakes made with vegetables, seaweed, and seafood that are fried to order. In the U.S., puffed rice cakes are common. These are considerably healthier, and are a popular low-calorie substitute for pastries.

We picked up a bag of white cheddar flavored rice cakes to celebrate. This is my favorite flavor; I often enjoy rice cakes for a snack, and today was no exception!

National Rice Cake Day

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298/365: National Greasy Foods Day

Health nuts are going to have a coronary over today’s food holiday. October 25 is National Greasy Foods Day!

Greasy food gets a bad rap, and rightfully so; foods fried in oil are packed with calories and fat and can lead to a variety of health problems including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. But sometimes tofu just won’t cut it; instead, you find yourself craving a big, juicy burger. Or sizzling hot french fries. It’s okay to give in once in awhile and indulge, as long as you don’t make it a regular habit. And according to studies, many people do just that – fried chicken is the most-ordered restaurant meal in the U.S. It’s certainly one of my favorites! Probably the greasiest thing I ever ate was a strip of chicken fried bacon one morning courtesy of a restaurant called Slappy Cakes. As you can probably imagine, it was delicious, and evidence of the fact that the worse a food is for you nutritionally, the better tasting it is. Here’s a fun link to some of the greasiest foods around the country, courtesy of The Today Show. 

Tara and I are headed out of town today for a long weekend in Denver, Colorado. It’s a sort-of honeymoon that will include our first NFL game ever (go, Broncos!). It’s always trickier to complete food challenges away from home, but the menu these next few days doesn’t look all too difficult, so I’m sure we’ll do just fine. To celebrate greasy food, we picked up breakfast from Jack In The Box before hitting the airport. Breakfast sandwiches and hash browns? Plenty o’ grease there!

National Greasy Foods DAy

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131/365: National Eat What You Want Day

YES!!!

This is the holiday we’ve been waiting for. After 128 consecutive today-we-have-to-eat-this-because-it’s-on-the-calendar food holidays, we get a break and can have whatever we want. Talk about a novel concept. May 11 is National Eat What You Want Day!

This holiday was actually created as an intent to give dieters a break, and allow them to set aside one day in which they can indulge in any craving they’ve got and eat whatever they wanted, guilt-free. But it’s not limited to dieters – anybody can use today as an excuse to enjoy whatever their culinary hearts desire. Some people may gorge themselves on junk food, others might choose to splurge on a fancy meal in a restaurant, and others might decide to create from scratch a favorite childhood meal. However you celebrate today’s food holiday, the sky’s the limit. There are no rules: it’s all up to you!

Portland is known for their popular food cart scene. Mobile cuisine is all the rage, with food trucks offering everything from waffles and dumplings to Cuban pork mojo, Vietnamese bhan mi, and Hungarian paprikas. Tara and I were downtown for a trip to the farmer’s market, and decided to swing by our favorite food cart pod at 10th & Alder for lunch…where we proceeded to Eat What We Wanted. That meant fish ‘n chips for her and a porchetta sandwich with lemon arugula for me. We were both pretty pleased with our choices.

The People's Pig The Frying Scotsman

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126/365: National Beverage Day*

Take a big gulp of whatever you’d like today (unless you’re in New York City, of course – sizes limited to 16 ounces). It’s National Beverage Day!

As alluded to previously, it’s also National Crepes Suzette Day. As fond as I am of French pastries and lighting things on fire, we could use a break, so we’re taking the easy way out and celebrating the almighty beverage instead. We’ve had a few drink holidays before – we kicked off this challenge with one on the first day of the year, as a matter of fact – but those have all been in celebration of specific beverages (usually alcohol). Today is wide open to interpretation. And one of those rare food holidays we celebrate continuously throughout the day, with every meal!

Beverages have been around for as long as there were humans. Before there were humans, actually – assuming you believe we all crawled out of the primordial ooze. Companies like Evian make a living filtering and purifying that primordial ooze and selling it in plastic bottles for a couple of bucks a pop. How important are beverages? Experts recommend men drink 3 liters of liquid per day – that’s 13 cups! Women should consume 2.2 liters. Water is more important than food: we can survive 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. But beverage day would be boring if we were just drinking water.

We begin a typical day by turning on the Keurig. Tara and I enjoy our morning coffee, and have happily embraced the K-cup revolution. The Keurig is awesome: it’s fast, convenient, and eliminates wasted coffee. It even brews iced tea and lemonade. While we’re at work, we’re usually drinking ice water or booze. OK, that’s not an every day occurrence, but the company I work for has been known to break out alcohol during the workday on occasion. For dinner, it’s usually iced tea or lemonade (see aforementioned Keurig comment). Or milk, or water. I’m not real big on soda, but I enjoy an occasional Sprite or Coke or root beer. Tara likes Pepsi. I know, I know: there’s no accounting for taste. We both enjoy the occasional glass of wine, primarily white; I like sauvignon blanc while she is into riesling. I strongly dislike beer, but Tara digs Bud Light. My go-to alcoholic beverage is gin ‘n tonic, while hers is vodka and 7-Up. And of course, we’re both quite fond of bloody marys.

Today, we celebrated with a little bit of a lot of those beverages. Coffee, water, gin and tonic, iced tea and vodka…you name it, we drank it.

Beverages

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107/365: National Cheeseball Day

Much like fruitcake and Rodney Dangerfield, the food we are honoring today gets no respect. April 17 is National Cheeseball Day!

This kitschy party favorite has gotten a bad rap for years. New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser once wrote, “Cheese balls tend to be associated with shag rugs and tinsel, symbols of the middle-class middlebrow.” But wait. I happen to be a fan of all things ’70s – including shag rugs and tinsel! In fact, I received a box of tinsel as a Christmas gift last year, after complaining that I could no longer find it in stores. (Thanks, future mother-in-law!). Which probably explains why I was looking forward to celebrating the cheeseball.

Nobody knows its exact origins, but Virginia Safford’s 1944 cookbook Food of my Friends contains the first known recipe for a cheeseball. Typically made with a blend of cream cheese and another softened cheese, cheeseballs are popular party dips that, over the years, have fallen out of favor with the American public. This article has some great information as to why, and the explanation is right there in the opening paragraph: cheeseballs are viewed as “an orange softball filled with garish industrial cheeses, smacking of an untraceable sweetness, and coated with stale, often soggy, nuts.” But they don’t have to be this way! Recipes for gourmet versions are abundant. Even Martha freakin’ Stewart has come up with ways to class up the lowly cheeseball. So get on the bandwagon, folks! Let’s bring cheeseballs back into vogue!

Tara and I bought one from WinCo. Kaukauna brand. It was…well, it was a cheeseball. Maybe there’s a reason these things receive so much derision. It made an “okay” appetizer for dinner, anyway.

Cheeseball

Categories: Appetizers, Dairy | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

35/365: National Stuffed Mushroom Day*

There are two food holidays celebrated on February 4, but since I’m a fun guy, we’re going with National Stuffed Mushroom Day! (The other is Homemade Soup Day. I actually did an Italian Wedding Soup a little over a week ago, but haven’t had stuffed mushrooms in ages. This decision was pretty much a no-brainer).

Besides, Tara and I both love mushrooms. We joke about this, because whenever we write up our weekly grocery list, we always put Mushrooms on there. And, in parentheses, add the word “lots.” I don’t think a week goes by where we don’t buy mushrooms…yet, we had never stuffed them before. Go figure.

Mousseron. Wait, no...that's Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation.

Mousseron. Wait, no…that’s Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation.

Mushrooms are a type of fungus that grows either on top of soil, or another food source. Mushrooms bear spores and contain a stem, cap, and gills. The word is derived from the French mousseron, which means “moustached man named Ron.” Err…wrong. It means “moss.” I need to work on my French translation skills. Mushrooms are known as “the meat of the vegetable world,” which explains their popularity with vegetarians, and are cooked in a wide variety of dishes across many cultures. They became popular in the 19th century, when the French began growing them for use as a food source. I’ve often thought it was a brave man who first decided to pluck a fungus from the ground and eat it because, let’s face it, the average mushroom does not look very appetizing, let alone edible. Plus, with so many poisonous varieties out there, it had to be like a foodie version of Russian Roulette.

Stuffed mushrooms are considered an Italian delicacy, typically made with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and olive oil or butter. However, they can be stuffed with just about anything!

Tara found a recipe online. There are about a million different versions of stuffed mushrooms, and this one is basic but good. Bacon, green onions, cheese, bread crumbs – can’t go wrong with that combination!

Stuffed Mushrooms

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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