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The Secret of Poultry

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One of my favorite last lines of any poem EVER is from "The Secret of Poetry" by my friend and beloved teacher Jon Anderson. I wrote about him and this poem after his death a few years ago. Please read the poem if not the stuff I wrote about Jon at the beginning of the entry. It's a great poem, and it culminates with the devastating line "The secret of poetry is cruelty."

This is important because for many reasons, one of which is that whenever I read about chicken producers like Tyson, I can't help but think of a really bad line I came up with a decade or two ago: "The secret of poultry is cruelty."

It's not at all funny, because it's true: those chickens suffer cruelly.

But on the other hand, the fact that it's true is EXACTLY why it's funny.

Isn't humor strange. Isn't it just about the weirdest thing we ever invented, except maybe religion or lutefisk.

Worse Than a Hangover

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The following is a public service announcement on a topic most people would probably rather not think about. Truth be told, I'd rather not think about it. But you just might be glad to know about this someday anyway, so I'm going to tell you what I've learned recently.

Here's a scenario for you: It's Friday. You meet a couple of your close friends and a dozen of your favorite acquaintances for a nice meal. Over the course of several hours, you have a couple of beers. You get a mild buzz but don't drink nearly enough to give you a hangover the next morning, and you're happy. People are good. Life is good. You have an absolutely fabulous Friday evening, and think that you've just started the weekend in one of the best possible ways.

You then go home, go to bed, and have an absolutely miserable Friday night.

Saturday morning you get up and type a question into your favorite search engine: Can alcohol cause diarrhea? In .11 seconds you get over two and a half million results, all of which inform you that the answer is a decided YES.

Turns out that alcohol impairs the body's ability to absorb water. As cells in the intestines absorb the alcohol you've consumed, its toxicity disrupts the cells' ability to absorb water. Your intestines are flooded with liquid, which has to go somewhere.

Second, carbonation, which is present in sparkling wine (including champagne) as well as most modern beers, ales and ciders, can irritate your GI tract. Carbonated water is more acidic, which can be good if you want to kill bacteria in liquid, but bad if your intestines are already upset. Also, more bubbles and gas aren't really a good thing to add to the mix if things aren't working the way they should be.

Also, with beer, there's the possibility of gluten intolerance. (That's right: if you can't have gluten, you can't have beer.) I don't think that's my problem because I don't generally have trouble with gluten, but others might want to know.

If you're 24 and rarely drink, you probably won't have any problem from a couple of beers. If you're 40-something with a history of GI problems, you might want to limit yourself to one vodka tonic. You might not feel quite so rosy throughout the evening, but you'll have a much better weekend over all.

To your health.

I Went Ahead and Made My Day

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Cleaning out my fridge last week, I found some yogurt slightly past its prime. It didn't smell funky, but it had gotten a bit runny. I debated throwing it out, but I hate wasting stuff. So I tried to think of a way to make it more palatable.

In my cupboards I have some of that chocolate powder for flavoring milk. It occurred to me that it might work in yogurt as well, since it's made to dissolve in liquid dairy products.

Turns out it does, and it tastes pretty darn good. It works so well to flavor yogurt that I'm surprised the manufacturers don't tell you this on the package--I can't be the first person to have thought of it.

If you ever have to convince a reluctant kid to eat yogurt after a course of antibiotics, this could be a good way to do it.

Feminism and Food


Remember last time when I raved about Supersizers Go Regency, an episode of a British TV reality show in which a restaurant critic and a writer/comedian/performer try to recreate the gastronomic experiences of the past? Turns out there are 13 episodes on periods ranging from the heyday of ancient Rome to the 1980s. I find them utterly compelling and vastly entertaining. My favorite episodes so far have been the ones on the Regency, World War II, the 1920s, and the 1980s. I have two or three episodes yet to see.

I've learned things from each episode, and one thing I've learned from most is how meaty and boozy most diets of the past were. Bread, meat and booze constituted most diets. If you were rich, you ate mostly meat and drank strong booze--lots of it. If you were poor, you ate lots of bread (generally stale) and drank weak or "small" beer, because water wasn't safe--at least, not until the arrival of tea and coffee in England, which required the boiling of water. (Take that, people who say that drinking alcohol, coffee and tea are inherently immoral.) You ate fruit when you could get it, but vegetables were considered either sources of disease (the plague was blamed on vegetables) or just plain indigestible. Of course vegetables are somewhat indigestible--that's part of their virtue: the cellulose in them goes through you and helps keep your bowels regular and clean.

Meat and alcohol require lots of time--both to prepare and to digest. In excess, they also damage your health. People ate so much meat in the past that it killed them--drove them right into early graves, from heart disease or liver failure or whatever. Only a hundred years ago, the life expectancy for a well-to-do man was the mid 40s. That's pretty sad.

A vegetarian society was formed in England in 1847, but the diet took a while to catch on. As it did, it not only helped people avoid some of the health threats posed by a diet composed mostly of animal products, it also supported the women's suffrage movement.

Middle- and upper-class men often ate at clubs that excluded women and served (as you'd expect) lots of booze and meat. However, women who wanted to eat away from home occasionally ended up at vegetarian restaurants, which served neither meat nor booze. The diet appealed to women partly because vegetables take less time and work to prepare than meat, and this gave them a little more freedom from one of their primary shackles: the oven. In the more salubrious settings of vegetarian restaurants, and increasingly aware that their lives didn't have to be devoted entirely to cooking for someone else, they began to discuss ideas, like the idea that they might deserve the right to vote. Indeed, as the segment below notes, one prominent suffragist, Maude someone (couldn't catch the last name) commented with wonder that "the ranks of the militant suffragettes are mostly recruited from the mild vegetarians."

Check it out.

I hope to find a more detailed discussion of the relationship between vegetarianism and feminism, and if I do, I'll tell you about it.

Oh, Fop Off

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I LOVED the following six videos, which comprise the final episode of The Supersizers Go. It's informative, interesting, and--at least in my opinion--hysterically funny. Admittedly, a lot of the jokes have to do with British history, Regency literature and crude bodily humor, but hey, LOTS of people find that stuff really funny, right?

I learned about Supersizers Go Regency in the Spring 2010 issue of the Newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A few years ago I invested in a life membership of JASNA, because I got tired of writing a check each year for something I planned to belong to for the rest of my life.

I'm embedding all six videos so that you have no excuse not to watch them all. Just do it, OK? As for me, I'm going to watch the other episodes, which include the food and habits of the Restoration, the Elizabethan age, and the Victorian era.

the other five are after the break.

It was drilled into me from infancy that you only wear your nicest clothes on Sunday, and as soon as you get home from church you take them off and hang them up neatly, so they remain your nicest clothes. I absorbed the training thoroughly; I take really good care of my clothes, and they last me years if not decades.

But the training to save things for special was not limited to clothes. Other things were way too special to use every day. You didn't use the good silver to eat spaghetti on Tuesday, for instance--solid sterling was just for Sunday. The china, however, wasn't even just for Sunday--it was just for company or holidays.

Saving-for-special should even extended to perishable items, I was taught. Really expensive European cocoa, for instance, had to be saved, for years if necessary, until an appropriate occasion to cook with it came along. No matter that after so many years at the back of the cupboard being special it had passed from specialness to inferiority of flavor and texture; at least it hadn't been wasted and diluted through consumption on some frivolous occasion.

But What About the Food?


You've got to check out this slideshow of very weird theme restaurants in Taipei.

I'd comment on the photos in some way, but the fact of the matter is, I'm speechless.

It's Dry Here, But Not THAT Kind of Dry


The 25th Sundance Film Festival is going on right now, which doesn't make much difference in my life except that I had an INCREDIBLY long wait yesterday when I met someone for tea at the very cool Beehive Tea Room. But it means a lot to Utah, apparently: it brings in a lot of tourism money, and things like that are one reason Utah claimed for a long time to be "recession-proof."

And I'm guessing that this article in the NY Times on Utah's awarding-winning brew pubs is an attempt to help Sundance-attendees and other visitors figure out where to spend their tourist dollars.

The article is telling the truth: there's good beer to be had here--and it has great names like Polygamy Porter and Provo Girl Pilsner. This is one more reason I like Salt Lake City, and one more reason you should come visit me.

Queso Con Fresas

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Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years ago, I went to Mexico with a bunch of other teenagers. It was my first big trip and it was OK, though I have to admit that Mexico is not one of the regions of the world that speaks to me most profoundly--I'm not into all that Aztec stuff. (And I do realize that is not the sum of Mexican culture, but it's what we focused on that trip--actually part of what we were doing was looking at sites that might have had historical significance in the Book of Mormon.... Whatever.)

We spent several days in Mexico City, which is where I had what I guess I could call my first smoothie. Down the road from our hotel was a little stand that sold fruit whipped in a blender with milk. I thought it was really novel: a milkshake without ice cream! Fancy that! My favorite flavor was strawberry. It wasn't all that thick and it wasn't all that cold, but it tasted good. And I liked ordering it: fresas con leche, por favor! It was fun to say.

Recently I have been saying not "fresas con leche" but "queso con fresas," because of this:

queso con fresas.jpg

It looks sorta like a piece of cheesecake, but it's not: It's a hunk of cheese, more specifically, Yancey's Fancy Strawberry Chardonnay. That's right: it's cheese, flavored with wine, and studded with strawberries. It's really good.

Just for the hell of it, I tried making a grilled cheese sandwich with this. I don't recommend it. It wasn't bad; the flavor just wasn't as good as when the cheese was still chilled or at room temperature.

If you can find this, buy it, and eat it with fruit or a little chocolate. You'll be glad you did.

Yogurt: What Else Could a Woman Possibly Need?


I found this on Salon's Broadsheet--it's too good not to share. It's "'substitute for human experience' good," at least for "the class that wears gray hoodies," sporting the "'I have a master's but then I got married' look."


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