The Cosmetics Wars

If all goes according to schedule, next month the European Union will become “cruelty-free,” banning without exception the sale of cosmetics ingredients that were tested on animals.

Don’t celebrate yet.

Because although there may be less animal testing of personal care products than there once was — even here in the United States — and many manufacturers have found new ways of determining that products are “safe,” there are still plenty of questionable ingredients in your bubble bath, many of which haven’t been tested by any means at all.

And animal testing is far from over. In fact, China officially mandates animal testing of cosmetics, which puts manufacturers in something of a bind: they won’t be able to engage in animal testing and sell in the European Union, whereas their products must be tested on animals to be sold in China. Quantum theory aside, they cannot occupy both of those spaces simultaneously.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

A Time Before Tabbouleh

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I had been cooking for only a few years when, in 1972, a friend gave me “A Book of Middle Eastern Food,” by a woman named Claudia Roden. In my cooking life, there was no more important influence than that book.

Roden rose to prominence later than Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, the two grandes dames of mid-20th-century cooking in Britain. (David and Grigson helped Britons “fix” a cuisine that had gone horribly wrong because of war and the accompanying hardships.) But when Roden published “Middle Eastern Food” in 1968, she built on their influence, expanding — almost exploding — the vision of what was possible. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say there was effectively no hummus or tabbouleh before then. And suddenly there were not only those, but also rosewater, meat cooked with dates and phyllo dough.

The reason for Roden’s broader view is simple: She was born in Cairo to a family of Syrian Jews, left for school in Paris when she was 15 and was reunited with her parents and siblings in London, when the Suez crisis of 1956 chased the Jewish community out of Egypt. Her first book was inspired by the food of her childhood. Her research ultimately led her to write extensively about the foods of North Africa, Spain, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Her “Book of Jewish Food” is the most comprehensive work on the subject and, unlike many books on the topic, gives equal weight to the cooking of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.

I wanted to cook with Roden for years, and finally, on a recent visit to London, I was invited to her home to do so. What to cook with someone who awes you?

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Middle Eastern

Lawns Into Gardens

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The seed catalogs have arrived, and for the roughly 15 percent of Americans who appreciate the joys and rewards of growing some of their own crops, this is a more encouraging sign than Groundhog Day or even the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training.

Yet several times a year we hear of a situation like the one in Orlando[1], where the mayor claims to be striving to make his city green while his city harasses homeowners like Jason and Jennifer Helvenston for planting vegetables in their front yard, threatening to fine them $500 a day — for gardening. The battle has been raging for months, and the city’s latest proposal is to allow no more than 25 percent of a homeowner’s front yard to be planted in fruits and vegetables.

As if gardens were somehow an official eyesore, or inappropriate. (Jason Helvenston, my hero, said: “You’ll take my house before you take my vegetable garden.”) If you want to plant a lawn, that’s fine, though it’s a waste of water and energy, both petrochemical and human. Nor are lawns simply benign: many common lawn chemicals are banned in other countries, because most if not all are toxic in a variety of ways. My guess is that 100 years from now, lawns will be about as common as Hummers.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Farming

Surf and Turf Revisited

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Even the best foods can become tiresome, which is the only reason you would ever do anything with oysters other than opening and swallowing them. For something almost as primitive, the people of western France, where some of the world’s best oysters are produced, perfected the idea of teaming them with sausage.

I was introduced to this combination in Brittany years ago. It happened before dinner, as an appetizer, and came just a few hours after a lunch that consisted of four dozen of the region’s finest.

Oysters go down easy, so I didn’t see this as a problem. If I was puzzled by this incongruous-looking duo, that lasted only until I started eating. The combination of crisp, hot, spicy sausage and cold, creamy oysters may have been unpredictable, but it was as sensible as waffles and ice cream.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Seafood

Coke Blinks

Once again, Coke has blinked. It famously did so in 1985, when it introduced “new” Coke, replacing its original formula with one it thought would have greater appeal with its audience. It was wrong then.

This time it might be right, but it isn’t going to do the world’s best-known brand any good. It’s hurting from decreased domestic sales and smarting from the piles of evidence that soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages are not only our biggest source of calories, but also among our most harmful. So it has struck back with a two-minute video whose ostensible message is that too many calories will make you fat (true), that those in Coke are no worse than any others (false), and that we’re all in this together (ridiculous).

The video is brilliantly executed. Its honeyed, heart-rending voice-over and stirring images — as American as a Chevy commercial — nearly caused me to go out and buy a case myself, as I recalled those innocent days of the ’50s and ’60s when Coke and cigarettes and Our Country and I were all (it seemed) young together, happy and happening and eating burgers and fries like there was no tomorrow. It took me back to when Coke was the real thing, it was “it,” we were teaching the world to sing together, and even Mean Joe Greene was just a cutie. There’s always been Coca-Cola.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Every ‘Which Way

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For something that has almost unlimited potential, the sandwich has become staid and unimaginative. In part this is because we don’t have as many leftovers as we once did (we don’t cook as much), so a meatloaf sandwich is nowhere near as common as it once was. But it’s mostly because we’ve allowed sandwich-making to become something that is either done by someone else or a task to be squeezed in between breakfast and taking the kids to the bus.

But now and then, for a brunch or a party or a laugh, it’s worth showcasing a variety of unusual ingredients and allowing individuals to throw them together, producing post-Dagwood creations that are beyond the ability of others to imagine. Given the same array of options, you and I would surely come up with radically different creations.

It all starts with good bread, a commodity that’s easy enough to find. It continues with spreads, which need not be that out of the ordinary but should be seasoned assertively enough to not disappear. The “body” of the sandwich — which may be open-faced or not — is the key, of course, and it’s here that it pays to open the vault: not just tuna but anchovies, not just ham but prosciutto, not hamburger but beef tartar and so on.

Toppings can make a huge difference, and if you don’t have time to crisp-fry some onions or mushrooms, you can grate some radish or chop some chives or even some olives. Making sandwiches, after all, isn’t so much about cooking as assembling.

Read the rest of this article here.

Posted in American

Conjuring Warmth in Winter’s Kitchen

This sauce/side dish — a simple combination of fennel, tomatoes and olives — is magical. Not because it’s the best thing you ever ate, but because it’s transportive: you eat it and you’re in the Mediterranean. This is even true with winter tomatoes (though of course it’s better with those of summer, and see my suggestion below), because the dominant flavors are fennel and olives.

The fennel is cooked until almost jammy. It will never become as tender as onion, but it gets close. The heat barely diminishes its distinctive anise flavor and gives the final compote a lovely texture. Garlic, thyme and capers are all supporting cast members.

The olives are really the stars. If you use good olive oil, so much the better, but the oil that comes out of plump, juicy and unpitted olives is really sensational, and yes, I honestly believe that the pits contribute a flavor that isn’t there otherwise.

Read the rest of this article here, and get the recipe here.

Posted in Recipes

Yukon Gold Standard

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There are the up-and-coming root vegetables with near-celebrity status — celeriac, parsnips, beets — and then there is the potato. Simultaneously beloved and despised, the potato is our most-grown and most-eaten vegetable and the one that is sometimes seen as a leading villain in the obesity pandemic.

O.K., but chips and fries are not the only ways to eat potatoes. A good potato can be incredibly delicious sautéed in a little garlicky olive oil, simmered in stock, boiled and drizzled with the tiniest amount of butter and a sprinkle of mint or mashed with greens. No one is going to convince me that these preparations are going to make us fat.

And those are just the start. In the something like 10,000 years since the potato was cultivated (it has been in the hands of Europeans and their descendants for only 500), there have been something like 10,000 different ways of cooking it. Here are a mere 12, but at least a few of them are bound to be new to you. All of these recipes are based on about two pounds of potatoes, roughly four medium to large spuds.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Giving Lamb Legs

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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.

It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.

Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.

Read the rest of the column and get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes

Stop Subsidizing Obesity

Not long ago few doctors – not even pediatricians – concerned themselves much with nutrition. This has changed, and dramatically: As childhood obesity gains recognition as a true health crisis, more and more doctors are publicly expressing alarm at the impact the standard American diet is having on health.

“I never saw Type 2 diabetes during my training, 20 years ago,” David Ludwig, a pediatrician, told me the other day, referring to what was once called “adult-onset” diabetes, the form that is often caused by obesity. “Never. Now about a quarter of the new diabetes cases we’re seeing are Type 2.”

Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, is one of three authors, all medical doctors of an essay (“Viewpoint”) in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Opportunities to Reduce Childhood Hunger and Obesity.”

That title that would once have been impossible, but now it’s merely paradoxical. Because the situation is this: 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, 16 percent are food-insecure (this means they have inconsistent access to food), and some number, which is impossible to nail down, are both. Seven times as many poor children are obese as those who are underweight, an indication that government aid in the form of food stamps, now officially called SNAP, does a good job of addressing hunger but encourages the consumption of unhealthy calories.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics