Say Goodbye to Butterfinger, Baby Ruth and yes Crunch too

229 to Butterfinger, Baby Ruth and Crunch because Nestle, the Swiss chocolatier has decided to mess with the ingredients of the classics. I say mess with because according to an article in the Washington Post,  Nestle plans to use natural ingredients in its candy bars as opposed to the chemically laden synthetic dyes and flavors that so many of us have come to love and crave over the years.  Gone will be such iconic ingredients as Yellow 4 and Red Dye #40, that make the bars so attractive to the eye.  Never mind that Red #40 is actually named 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid and was born in a laboratory and not in nature.  And let’s not harp on the evidence that in some studies, Red 40, as it is affectionately known, altered the DNA of mice, and is thought to have the potential to produce serious allergic reactions and even cancer in some humans.  After all, most of us will die of cancer anyway, so what’s the big deal?  

The big deal is that our candy bars are going to look natural and taste like some hipster snack food with achiote tree seeds (fairly traded from the Guatemalan rain forest no doubt) and actual vanilla. Yes, actual vanilla!  If they start using real sugar as opposed to high fructose corn syrup, which I am addicted to frankly, I may just launch a Nestle boycott.  How dare they even consider going GMO free!  This may just be a sinister ploy to regain the German market that banned the GMO laden Butterfinger.

Plot or no plot, Nestle is going after more than the big three, although I really don’t care what they do with the inedible Crunch, maybe one of the worst chocolate bars on the planet, in the same company as the foul tasting Tootsie Roll.  But get this – soon the “neutral” Swiss company will be attacking SweeTARTS.  Without all the dyes, they may soon look like communion wafers or peppermint TUMS and taste like raw agave sap.  If they go designer on us, I’m out.  I don’t want a tart made from real cherries, limes or oranges.  Kids don’t want that either, I assure you.  Real fruit is not candy.  If Nestle keeps mucking with the ingredients, they might get the Germans back, but stand to lose the entire American market.

Advertisements

South America Travelogue – Montevideo

Santiago Day 3

We were in Santiago for 3 days and actually did not see much of the cordillera because we stayed in Lo Valle Campino, a hillside community near the airport, no Andes in sight, obscured by hills and smog. Nena took us to El Centro which I guess translates to downtown where we met up with my niece Nati and her boyfriend Andres to watch Chile vs. Holland. Fanaticos were out in force ready for a grand celebration that never happened as the Orange clad Dutchmen lead by striker Robben outplayed the scrappy Chilean squad.

DSC_0067
Downtown Santiago is a linear collection of buildings and shops for miles and miles. It has a little bit of a NYC feel without all the tall buildings and the sense of neighborhood. It felt like a giant outdoor shopping mall.

DSC_0021

Graffiti is in abundant supply and some curious and colorful murals adorn city walls and subway structures, some of it good, some not; some sanctioned, some clearly not.

DSC_0036

Our gracious Santiago hosts, Milton and Nena, made us feel at home in their tidy house with a living room constructed of pine wood adorned with local art. In addition to good conversation and cheer, we ate well. Nena served up Cazuela, a typical Chilean soup made with a clear broth, squash, beef, corn, potatoes, peas and green beans cut french style with pebre (a hot sauce) and fresh cut cilantro to sprinkle on top. She also served fish soup, fillet of reineta (a local fish) and Pastel De Choclo, a distinctive corn-based casserole. Wine poured a plenty, all local reds and whites. My favorite was the sweet late Harvest Riesling that had just the right balance of sweetness and acidity.

Montevideo, Days 1-2

From Santiago, we took a short flight to Montevideo and then a local bus from the Carrasco International airport to the city. We got off at our stop dragging our heavy bags, the heaviest weighing over 22 kilos, an oversized LL Bean bag. As we looked around for another bus to take to our friend’s apartment, we crossed a busy intersection, bags rolling behind us and I tripped over the bulky LL Bean bag my wife was dragging in front of me, getting good height and landing on my stomach atop my own bag, which served as sort of an air bag. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones and only scrapped the bottom of my left hand that I used to help break my fall. The hand burned for a bit but seemed fine. When we finally got to the apartment, I noticed it was bleeding. I rinsed it off and applied a triple anti-biotic ointment I had brought along just in case. My youngest daughter, who witnessed the fall, could not stop laughing, to the point that she drew tears and a hiccup. I was not amused at the time. There were many locals standing around who also saw my tumbling act and god only knows what they must have thought of the strange gringo doing odd acrobatics with an orange bag.

If you know Spanish well, you will immediately notice that the Uruguayan accent is distinct. It’s hard to describe, but it has a sibilant quality, a sort of airy lisp that is pleasant to the ear, or at least to my ear. The people seem nice and accommodating thus far, although my wife had a bad encounter at La Chacra supermarket. All seemed fine at first. When we entered the store just as the sun set, a radio station was playing the song “Southern Nights”. The workers seemed friendly enough giving us recommendations on pasta, red sauce and the butcher prepared us a good cut of beef (lomo) that is popular in the country.  Uruguay is a meat eating place if ever there was one. And not surprisingly, beef is its major export.  But trouble began when my wife tried to buy the groceries unwittingly with my daughter’s debit card and her own ID. Obviously, the names didn’t match and they gave her a hard time about it. Ultimately, I had to pay with my debit card using my ID which matched. My wife asked the cashier to double bag some things but the cashier threw the bags at her in a huff and told her to “do it yourself”. True story. On a side note, I bought a combination corkscrew that cost 85 pesos or about $3.7 U.S. which turns out we didn’t need because there where 3 just like it in the kitchen drawer of our apartment.

We bought two 960 ml bottles of beer, one called Patricia, a hoppy and light lager, and a Pilsen Especial, which truthfully was not very special. The Patricia cost 57 pesos, ($2.49) and the Pilsen, 62 ($2.70). I doubt the locals drink these forgettable examples of Uruguayan swill. Being a local now for the next 7 days, I won’t be drinking the stuff either, well at least not the Pilsen.

The Internet here is interesting. For one, the government issues every resident, from what I can gather, equipment to enable free Wi-Fi – “Automatic for the People”. Our friend’s apartment has a modem/router with this free Internet but as we found out, it’s good for only 1 gigabyte of data per month which is little more than a few Google searches, 10 minutes of a movie on Netflix and about 4 photos uploaded and posted on Facebook. So, being the nice guests that we are, we used up her data plan as soon as we got on the Internet. After much bureaucratic maneuvering, several phone calls and a visit to the government owned Antel office, we, or more accurately, my eldest daughter  managed to “recharge” the 1 GB of data that we used for about 200 pesos ($10) and now we hope this gets us through our week. We pledged not to stream any movies or videos and only to check and send emails de vez en cuando.

We ventured downtown by bus (which is about the only mode of public transportation), got some maps of the city, headed to the Plaza de Independencia, to see the green statue of founding father Artigas, had an early dinner at the Cafe Brasilero that had free Wi-Fi, sent some emails, watched a World Cup match – Ecuador v. France, bought some beer and wine, which I am now sipping, the wine that is, a Uruguayan Gewurztraminer which cost about $8.60, that is, to be frank, slightly syrupy, not unlike a Viogner, and leaves a sweet and unpleasant medicinal cough drop like aftertaste. This recommended wine is unbalanced, but drinkable.

DSC_0126

The tourist information clerks said that Uruguay is known for meat and in particular, the Chivito sandwich, a carnivorous delight and what I ordered from the Chilean waiter at the Cafe Brasilero in an area of town called the Old City near Plaza Matriz. This cafe has been around since 1877 and sports antique chairs and tables, brass chandeliers and a big screen TV for world cup enthusiasts. It seems to be a good place to chill, get connected, have a bite and a Cortado, (the local version of a latte) which we did, or a drink, which we did not. The Chivito consists of bacon, ham, beef, tomato and lettuce served open-faced on toasted bread topped with a sunny side up egg surrounded by lettuce and fresh cut french fries, all for 230 pesos or about $10.

We walked a lot on our first day in the city. My pedometer had me at over 14,719 steps or 6.9 miles, which is the farthest I’ve walked by far since I began using the app on my phone back in October.

DSC_0083

Buses spew diesel fumes, and generally foul the air. Hybrid buses have not yet come to this big city nor has a subway system. Though we are not too far from Buenos Aires, the air is anything but good. And to make matters worse, everyone seems to smoke, and not just cigarettes, but weed too which is legal here.  With the air thick with toxins, and the population dieting largely on red meat, it’s a wonder the lifespan here is 76 years old.  Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems that most people are dressed in black. I’m not sure if this is just tradition for this time of year, which is the beginning of winter, or maybe it’s simply a fashion statement. People seem happy enough, but dress, ironically, as if going to a funeral.

Tattered Mural

Moo Cluck Moo – the Right Thing to Doo

Sunflower Cow 2

Who says fast food joints can’t pay their workers more than the minimum wage and still make a decent profit?  Well, for starters, it’s the big fast food joints themselves and Republicans who say LET THE MARKET DECIDE.  DOWN WITH MINIMUM WAGE.  DOWN WITH REGULATIONS unless they benefit BIG business and billionaires.  Maximum profits over people is the message – that’s the capitalist way.  But it is possible to be a caring capitalist.  It is possible to give workers a living wage and still make a profit.  In fact, it can be good for business, perhaps even better for business.  Did you hear that BIG business?  Exhibit A:  Moo Cluck Moo.  I confess that until today, I had never heard of this place.  But this fast food restaurant does something remarkable:  they pay their workers TWICE the federal minimum wage.  The owner says they don’t pass on the costs to patrons.  Their burgers and sandwiches are competitively priced.  The other remarkable thing is that this restaurant serves up some of the healthiest foods in the fast food industry all with a social conscience.  Their beef, pork and poultry products come from farms that humanely raise vegetarian animals that are never fed hormones or antibiotics.  It may not make a big difference to you, but it is said that the vegetarian pigs roam free on the range.  And know that MOO CLUCK MOO uses NOO preservatives in their condiments and their vegetables are fresh and pesticide free.  For the sweet freaks, sodas are made with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup.  Cheers!

With only two locations in Michigan, their model may not be so persuasive to the big chains yet, but look out Micky Dee, Wendy and Mr. Burger King –  MOO CLUCK MOO is looking to expand and seeks investors.  Soon they may be located right next door to you wherever you are.  They say that paying their workers a living wage is the right thing to do.  And I quite agree and so would many others.

Blood Moon and Mushrooms

BloodMoon

I looked for the blood moon this morning, but all I found was an orange sky, which could have been a product of industrial pollution and not the lunar eclipse.  So I went back to bed.

Blood moon.  Makes me think of a blood orange, which I didn’t even know existed until just a few years ago.  My first encounter with one left me bruised and traumatized.  I thought someone had injected the orange with blood.  I threw it away as if it were medical waste and repeatedly washed my hands.  On the subject of oranges, I like them ok, but don’t much like peeling them.  You know why?  The juice from the orange peel gets inside my finger nails and stains them, making me look like a heavy smoker or a man with a fungus issue.

Speaking of fungus, I used to despise mushrooms, but I have room for them now that I’m a little more cultured.  I especially like them stuffed or marinated.  I’m not a shroom snob though.  I couldn’t tell you much about the morel, or a truffle other than they are deliciously expensive.  But I do know that some mushrooms can kill you and others can make you fly and at least a few have medicinal properties.

The blood moon, the blood orange, and the mushroom that the Spanish speaking sometimes refer to as el champinon or simply el hongo, are on my mind this rainy tax day morning.

Twin Yolks

Twin Yolks

The odds of cracking open an egg to reveal two yolks and not breaking one or both are astronomically high.  Before this morning, I had never heard of such a feat or even knew twin yolks were possible.  In fact, I never even thought about it, and I think a lot about silly things that occupy too much space in my brain.  When I cracked open a brown Cage Free Organic (CFO) this morning and saw the split, I thought it was all a freaky hallucination, perhaps a rare side effect of the Prilosec I had taken earlier.  I quickly snapped it before it disappeared and posted a photo to my Facebook and Instagram accounts in hopes that someone would reassure me that I had not lost touch with reality.  What I learned was that twin yolks are a sign of good luck.  Of course, some of my friends “cracked” yokes about it with references to Chernobyl and politics.

I actually feel incredibly accomplished now that I’ve split the yolk. I think I know how the nuclear fissionists must have felt when they first split the atom.  It must have been a shock and a real rush.

But back to the chickens.  I wonder if the fact that the hens from this particular batch of eggs had roamed free had anything to do with producing twins? Isn’t this the best case yet for poultry producers to free their hens from cages?  Imagine if each egg contained two yolks.  We’re talking double the profits here.  Instead of a dozen eggs, folks would only need to buy 6 (smaller, cheaper packaging) and crack one for 2.  Who has time to crack multiple eggs in the morning anyway.  I know I don’t.  And the mess.

100 Foods To Die For (or not) Before You Die (61-80)

I took The Food List Challenge and scored 61% having tried 61 of the 100 foods (or drinks) listed.  So I’m going through each one, 20 at a time.  Here’s the 4th of 5 planned installments.

Moon Pie.  I liked them as a kid and still do eat these disks of gooey marshmallow goodness every now and then.  I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but have a soft spot for graham crackers and marshmallows.  Once upon a time, I regularly lunched on peanut butter and fluff.  And really, is there anything better than a charred marshmallow around a campfire?  Ok, so you just came up with a dozen things better.  The banana moon pie is the one for me and a RC cola of course.  Do they even bottle Royal Crown anymore? It actually wasn’t a very good cola, but was a little better than Shasta.

Morel Mushroom.  I am not a big fan of the mushroom.  There’s something about its texture that reminds me of organ meat which I’ve never been too fond of to be honest.  There’s something about fungus too that is a bit off putting.  But the morel, well, it’s a special one, to be sure, and I’m pretty sure I’ve had one.  I don’t know where I had one first or when I had one last – it’s been some time now – but it was as an appetizer, stuffed with something served at a fundraiser I once attended.

 Nettle Tea.  The only tea I drink would be iced with a lemon wedge.

Octopus.  I just don’t like it.  It’s chewy and the tentacles freak me out a little.  Like mushrooms and squid, it kind of has that organ meat texture to it and I just can’t stomach it.  I can’t.  I sampled pulpo, as it’s called in Spanish, for the first time some years ago in Chile (the country, not the pepper) and have not had any since.

Okra.  Love it fried with tomato relish.  Nothing better.  Slightly slimey, but oh soh good.  I like pickled okra too.  My granny used to pickle them and store the jars in her root cellar.  Great alternative snack.

Oxtail Soup.  Nope.

Paella.  I have the seafood variety from time to time but don’t care for it much.  The truth is, I’d rather just have rice and beans with a little hot sauce.

Paneer.  Oh yes.  I especially like Saag Paneer, a cooked spinach (saag) dish with freshly made cubed and fried Indian cheese (paneer).

Pastrami on Rye.  Sure, why not.  The best one I ever had was at Artie’s on Broadway and 82nd in NYC.  By the way, the Reuben there is to die for – a delicious artery clogger.

Pavlova.  ? The only thing close to Pavlova that rings a bell is Pavlov’s dog, who I only know classically.

Phaal.  I may have sampled a phaal dish at an Indian restaurant before, but I’m not too familiar with it.  I’m sure it was good, though.

Philly Cheese Steak.  I used to make them as a cook at Farrell’s Ice-Cream Parlour and Restaurant when I was a teenager.  I had one in Philly halfheartedly prepared that tasted flat.  I was hugely disappointed.

Pho.  Yes please.

Pineapple and Cottage Cheese.  Keep these two as far apart as possible.  They are horrible teammates and bring out the worst qualities in each other.  It’s a pity really because they are brilliant as individuals.  If only they could learn to collaborate.

Pistachio Ice-Cream.  It’s ok, but doesn’t belong on the list and knows it.  When announced it had made the food challenge list, Pistacio Ice-Cream demanded to know whether Rocky Road and Pink Bubblegum had been similarly honored.  When told no, it melted in protest.

Po Boy.  A school lunch option in grade school that always looked better than it tasted.

Pocky.  I’ll be honest – I have no idea what this is and am pretty sure I don’t want to know.

Polenta.  Put it this way, I’d rather have grits.

Prickly Pear.  No thank you.  I have my hands full with the prickly and temperamental pineapple.

Rabbit Stew.  I declined the dish in Venezuela when I had the opportunity and in the process insulted the host, which was not my intention.  I grew up with Bugs Bunny and guess I felt a certain loyalty to the Brooklyn hare.

100 Foods to Die For (or not) Before You Die (21-40)

Churros and Absinthe

I took The Food List Challenge and scored 61% having tried 61 of the 100 foods (or drinks) listed.  So I’m going through each one, 20 at a time.  Here’s the second of 5 planned installments.

Chile Relleno.  It’s not what I typically order when we go for Mexican food but I did share some with my wife at a restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach.  We ordered two – one filled with pork, the other chicken.  Delicioso.  Unfortunately, because I was on meds for my badly sunburned feet, I couldn’t have a Dos Equis or a Modelo to wash it down.  Silly gringo me.

Chitlins.  Having grown up in the South, I had opportunities to try them, but knowing what they were, I could never bring myself to try them. As a general rule, I avoid intestines, stomach, hearts and other organs, but I have eaten liver (which I never liked) and tripe, which I liked even less. I know, I’m a picky eater.

Churros.  I like them ok, and recently had one at a Spanish restaurant, but to be honest, I’d rather have a fried Twinkie or a Krispy Kreme donut.

Clam Chowder.  Growing up, I may have had a can of Campbell’s or two, but didn’t have the real thing until I came to Boston.  I probably got my first decent bowl of clam chowder at Legal Seafood.

Cognac.  Too expensive and sweet for my taste and that goes for brandy and port too.  I prefer non-fortified wines…and bourbon.

Crab Cakes. I don’t remember when I first tried crab cakes or where I had the dish last, but I have had some good ones in the Boston area over the years.

Crickets. I’ve never eaten a cricket and never really wanted to either.  And I’ve never played cricket, although the game looks pretty interesting.  I’m not opposed to eating insects, and would in a survival situation, but as a rule, I won’t eat something I would use for bait when fishing.  By the sound of it, though, I imagine the chirping critters are quite crunchy and would provide a nice textural element on a salad, in place of, say, croutons.  And I also imagine lean cricket to be a healthy protein alternative to fatty meats and good for folks with high cholesterol.  One day, we may see a package of crickets in a snack machine.

Curryworst. I like curry, but worst.  What is worst? If worst is sausage and the dish a kind of curried sausage, I’d try it.

Dandelion Wine.  It has a nice ring to it, but I’ve never had it.  I’ve had floral tasting wines before, but never extracted from a weed.

Dulce de Leche.  I’ve had examples from different countries and especially like the version from the Dominican Republic.  It’s decadently sweet and creamy with a distinct caramel taste and the texture of fudge.  Great with coffee.

Durian. I don’t know what it is, so I probably have never had it.  The only thing that came to mind when I saw the word was Duran Duran, a band I never cared much for and always muted when their videos played back in the early days on MTV.

Eel.  I don’t eat anything that looks like it could kill me.  The closest thing to eel I’ve had was octopus in Chile.  I did not like it just as I don’t like squid.  Generally, I try to avoid eating things that have tentacles and suction cups.

Eggs Benedict. Love this dish.  Anytime we’re out for brunch, it’s my go to egg dish. S&S Restaurant Deli in Inman Square, Cambridge, cooks them “puhfectly” as Chef Gordon Ramsey would say.

Fish Tacos.  Indeed.  Had some in Venezuela that I’m going to call tacos, even though they were technically empanadas. Speaking of Venezuela, I don’t know why the mighty arepa didn’t make the list.  The first stateside fish taco I had was in Chicago at Big and little’s, a tiny dive with terrific reviews that proved spot on.

Fresh Spring Rolls.  So good.  Vietnamese students in my classes used to bring them at the end of a semester to share.

Fried Catfish.  A southern staple, I have had this many times with a side of hush puppies of course.  As we say down south, “it don’t get no better than this”.

Fried Green Tomatoes.  I can’t say that I’ve had them before.  The fried part doesn’t bother me it’s the green part I can’t quite process.

Fried Plantains.  Don’t like them.  Too sweet for me.  But I do like tostones, which are made from the unripe version of the plantain that when flattened and fried taste more like a potato than a banana.

Frito Pie.  I know I had this a few times as a kid, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  I think I would have preferred to just eat a bag of Fritos with onion dip.

Frog Legs.  I doubt I have, but have had the opportunity as frog legs are fairly common in the cuisine of the American South.  I do know that ever since I dissected a frog in 6th or 7th grade, every time I see one or hear the word frog, I smell formaldehyde which is not exactly what I would call an appetizing marinade.

Save the World With GMO-free Insects

March Against Monsanto Boston

photo, concept, artwork: Pampi and Lore

The UN says insects might just be the answer to solving world hunger.  Well, as creepy as it sounds, insects are less creepy than genetically modified Monsanto seeds.  I’d rather eat a cricket than corn from a cob the size of a tree trunk.  Yesterday, protesters marched against Monsanto seeds in 436 cities in 52 countries demanding, among other things that food products with GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) be labeled, something the FDA does not currently require.  The U.S. Senate recently rejected an amendment to a farm bill to permit states to require labeling on GMO products.  The vote wasn’t even close as senators from heavily subsidized farm states opposed it with help from the biotech corporate lobby.  The irony here is that GMO seeds that can be engineered to be disease free and resistant to drought, herbicides (other than than the ones produced by the major players) and probably even fire too, threaten nature as much as they do humans.  GMO seeds, like imported fishzilla, killer bees, jumping carp and shiny ladybugs, have a tendency to go rogue and invade the native species.  GMO seeds have a competitive advantage over native crops and could literally drive them out of existence.  Soon corn and soybeans will be the only crops left on the planet.  Get ready to eat lots of popcorn, corn-on-the giant cob, cornflakes, cornbread, corn nuts and grits washed down with Kentucky bourbon.  Is this the answer to world hunger?

Frankly, I’d rather eat honey and a variety of plants, but GMO seeds even threaten our bees.  As goes the bees, so goes our honey, plants and our planet for that matter. According to the New Agriculturist, “bees pollinate one sixth of the world’s flowering plant species and 400 agricultural plants” like beans, carrots, onions, cherries, apples and tomatoes. There is evidence that GMO pollen poisons bees.  And if GMOs poison bees, imagine what it could do to humans and insects.

Which brings me to insects.  I really would rather eat a cricket, grasshopper or termite than a potentially poisonous food source grown in a laboratory.  And the many millions of people on the planet who are starving or severely malnourished deserve healthy food, not a chemically created food experiment.  According to the UN study, insects are healthy, highly nutritious and in abundant supply.  In fact, in some cultures, insects are prized: ants, grubs, waterbugs, crickets, beetles, and scorpions to name a few.  And to raise insects for consumption leaves a much lighter carbon footprint than the production of animals.

Now I know the consumption of insects is mostly taboo in Western culture, but in the not too distant future, I can envision restaurants specializing in insects that cater to an environmentally conscious crowd who are against GMO seeds and devoted to eating healthy while saving the planet.  I have some menu ideas for the enterprising U.S. restauranteur:

Appetizers

Fried Cricket Bits

Beetle Tartare

Entrees

Chipotle Grasshopper:  served with spicy termite oil on a GMO-free sesame seed bun

Barbecued Grubs:  grilled and served on a bed of lightly seasoned sea urchins

Dessert

Starfish:  soaked and served in flaming sangria drink topped with chocolate covered ant sprinkles and anise seeds