Megnut

15% off rosé wines today at Astor Wines in NYC. If you don't think rosés are over-rated and you live in New York, head over to Astor to check out the sale.

Gadget: Cuisinart Smart Stick

Cuisinart Smart StickToday's post is the first in an occasional series I call "Gadgets I Can't Live Without" or GICLW for short. And the first item in the series is a Cuisinart Smart Stick. I've only had the Smart Stick -- an immersion blender if you want to get technical -- for about eighteen months. I wanted one forever but for some reason never got around to picking one up, which was so stupid because this is probably one of the best gadgets in my kitchen.

For soup-making it is an absolute essential because it allows you to puree your soup in the stock pot; no more of the messy and dangerous transfer of boiling liquid into the blender for pureeing and back again. I've made rich squash soups and creamy mushroom soups using it. I even used it to puree chicken livers when making a pâté. It's fast and easy, hardly any clean up involved afterwards. And what's great about this particular model is that it's stainless steel. I've heard of some people whose immersion blenders were housed in plastic and suffered meltdowns when they got too close to the bottom of a hot pot. But I've had no such trouble with my trusty Smart Stick. It's certainly a Gadget I Can't Live Without.

If you want to combine seasonal food and travel, check out this list of food festivals from Frommer's. "[Y]ou can plot an entire year's travels around eating well -- particularly if you're in the hunt for seasonal foodstuffs that are: freshly harvested and at their taste-bursting peak, and/or local seasonal specialties that have been crafted with love and a native sensibility."

California hopes to make fish farms more environmentally friendly. "The Sustainable Oceans Act would install provisions for siting and operating aquaculture businesses that produce finfish -- such as halibut, bass or tuna -- for the retail market." [via del.icio.us/sautewednesday]

Gothamist reports that this weekend's NYC Culinary festival was not so hot. I saw something about this but it didn't sound that enticing to me, so I didn't go. Based on what's been reported, I'm glad I didn't bother.

Learning from the best with an Argentine Barbecue Master course. "Grill chef Daniel Leguisamo starts by examining the 19 most commonly used cuts of meat used in Argentina (from a possible 27), far more than other meat-eating countries." 27?!

Oldie but goodie about Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck. This may unofficially be "molecular gastronomy" week here at megnut.com.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Tilapia are environmentally-sound. "In the U.S., most tilapia are farmed in inland recirculating systems that have little impact on the environment. Tilapia thrive on inexpensive vegetable-based foods, making them a good source of eco-friendly protein." No need for my mom to stop buying them frozen from Trader Joe's. [Thanks Robert!]

The 2002 Farm Bill: Policy Options and Consequences from the nonprofit Farm Foundation.

Notes from Michael Pollan's 92nd St Y talk

Last Monday I went to a lecture at the 92nd St Y, Michael Pollan with Ruth Reichl: The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was an interesting discussion though as someone who's already familiar with a lot of the issues around various farming methods (and someone's who's currently reading Pollan's new book The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals) I didn't learn a tremendous amount. Still it was enjoyable, and somewhat depessing, to hear them talk about topics so close to my heart.

Here's a rough replay of the talk, reconstructed from my poor notes, which seem to totally lack the questions Reichl asked Pollan to get him to talk about all this great stuff:

Reichl and Pollan began by discussing how basically in the course of ten years organic has gone from something that was seen as a bad message to share with the consumer to something that's very popular. Pollan mentioned companies in the early nineties that grew organic and chose not to reveal this fact on their labels. Apparently a lot of wine is grown organic but not labeled as such. The rise in the popularity of organic food is being driven by a sense that the current conventional system of farming is unsustainable.

Pollan said, "We have these teachable moments, you could call them panic..." when people have realized some of the things that are wrong with the current food system, such as the mad cow disease scare. He spoke for a bit about mad cow in more detail, discussing how the current system the government uses to test for mad cow is actually designed not to find mad cow because it depends on cow owners reporting sick cows to the government. Of course, owners have no incentive to make any such report because they risk losing their entire herd. Makes it hard to find the mad cow. He said he is certain there's mad cow in the US and that we will have outbreaks here. Only after that happens will there be a change in the system. He pointed out how Britain transformed their meat industry after the mad cow outbreaks there a few years ago.

The discussion moved to ignorance and Pollan stated that the current f ood production system in the United States depends on ignorance. If people actual saw how their food was produced, there would be an outcry. Stores like Whole Foods (and the organic movement in general) use stories to combat ignorance and educate people on where the food comes from and how it's produced. (My thought: it's a great way to make you feel better paying all that extra money too..) He called Whole Foods "a great literary experience."

With regards to the news that Wal-Mart will begin to sell organic food, he says this will make it impossible for organic food to be considered elitist, which is good. But they also say they will charge only 10% more for organic food. How will it be possible to charge 10% more than prices that are artificially low and irresponsible? First of all, they'll use only big organic farmers. Then they'll squeeze them on price once they've become dependent upon Wal-Mart's business. And Wal-Mart will also go over seas, we'll see a globalization of organic farming, with products coming from countries with cheap labor and less regulation.

He pointed out that organic is simply a government standard, a word whose definition is at the mercy of Washington, and the standards it represents can be changed. He said people already lobby Washington and that attempts have been made to reduce the efficacy of the organic label. An example he gave: A provision was put into a bill a few years ago that would allow organic chicken farmers to give their birds conventional feed when the price of organic feed rose above a certain level. An outcry from producers got it repealed.

As more organic food comes from abroad, less food will be produced here at home. What's wrong with that? It's uncomfortable for a country not to produce its own food. Also we risk losing what many people like: an agricultural landscape. He said that by the end of the century, California's Central Valley will no longer produce food. We will import its former products from abroad and the Valley will fill with housing. Once that happens, that land cannot be returned to food production without tearing down homes, something that will never happen.

He said our food system depends on cheap energy. When there's government pressure to clean up factory farms, they'll move overseas to a place where there's no pressure and there will be no change. He also pointed out that organic farming is nearly as productive as conventional farming now, especially in drought years. He talked about how the US supply of cheap corn is flooding the corn markets of the world -- 1.5 million Mexican farmers have gone out of business since NAFTA because of it.

The discussion turned to small producers and he talked about the slaughterhouse chokepoint. For small producers there's nowhere to get their meat processed. Often they have to go very far to do so, and that adds $1/lb to the cost of meat. He talked about a man who tried to build his own slaughterhouse and went out of business doing so because of the difficulties with the FDA inspectors.

He called New York City's Union Square the center of the food movement saying, "the choice we face is crystallized in Union Square, which side of the street will you shop on?" (This is in reference to Whole Foods being across the street from the famous farmer's market.) He says local is more important than organic, and that you should ask producers if they use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. He talked about how Whole Foods sells some unsustainable products, like farmed Atlantic Salmon, and how salmon are being re-engineered to eat corn. (Aside: What the fuck?! Are we crazy? What are we doing to our food, and why is it being driven by the insane over-production of corn?)

Best line: he told a story about talking to a meat producer on the phone and his hopes of getting some "review steaks." I'd like to get some review steaks! He said we need to rediscover the art of the kitchen, of preserving. We're complicit in the system and we need to reinvent ourselves as eaters. We need to get more local. We need to cook more. People do have time to cook, it doesn't take three hours to put a meal on the table.

He wrapped up by saying blue states need to pay attention to the Farm Bill (reauthorized every five years in the US, new one coming up in 2007) because it dictates public health and land use. We need to work towards food sovereignty for regions and nations, and we should not sell food below the cost of production. He suggests we follow a more European model by paying farmers to maintain land and to be sustainable (rather than grow monocrops and saturate the land with chemicals), and to grow food we want to eat.

Chicago chef Homaro Cantu cooks with a Class IV laser and does other zany things at his restaurant Moto.

My mother stands by her frozen fish recommendation and enjoys Trader Joe's Tilapia. What she made sounds delicious, but I'm not so sure that eating farm-raised fish is, "green alternative to over-fished wild species." From what I've heard recently, fish farms can be big polluters. I'll have to do some more research on that to confirm.

NPR's Melissa Block talks with Mark Bittman about the differences between fresh and frozen fish. How timely is that? Just days after I posted my article on the very topic.

Update: I'm an idiot and cannot read or maybe I don't know what year it is. This was posted in 2004. Now it is 2006.

My first feature, Comparing Frozen Fish to Fresh, is online and ready for your reading. "My mother swears by frozen fish. I was unconvinced, and decided to put her statements to the test: could flash-frozen fish taste as good as fresh local fish from the Greenmarket or even fresh fish from a local supermarket?"

Welcome whoever wants non-food

Welcome to the new old megnut.com, now located at meg.hourihan.com. Some day I'll update the design so it looks like the new site that it is. For now I've just lopped the "nut" off the banner and started to remove the cooking posts. More to come eventually.

For those that want it, the feed for this is http://meg.hourihan.com/index.xml

Introducing the new megnut.com

You may have noticed that for some time now, this site has been more and more focused on food. Following my heart has led me to kitchen work (From geek to chef) and then back to more technology (Returning to tech? Sort of...) and now to a technology food combination. Today I'm happy to announce that megnut.com is going 100% food and that I'll be devoting myself to it full-time.

I'll be updating (week) daily not only with links but also more original content. You can see the new feature section in the upper right hand corner of the home page. I'm going to try to do regular features on a variety of topics. And I'll pursue whatever else interests me in the world of food -- reviews of meals perhaps, recipes, book reports. Mostly it's just going to be an experiment, an outlet for me to follow my food passions wherever they take me.

It will probably take a couple days to work out the kinks with the new design, so if you have any problems feel free to email or comment and I'll try to get everything fixed up right away. The non food-related content has moved to http://meg.hourihan.com and old links should redirect to the new site. I can't promise a lot of updates on the personal blog, but I'm sure there will be some as the non-food urges strike.

Since 1999 this site has been a wonderful outlet for me. It's provided a way for me to learn more about myself, and a means for me to meet and connect with other people. I'm excited for that to continue as I explore the world of food, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with you. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the new megnut.com.

PS If you're reading this post in a news reader, you should really come on over to megnut.com and check out the new design!

PPS Thanks to Jason for the nice design!

The Hungry Cabbie describes his perfect NY moment. Hungry Cabbie is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs. It's a great blend of storytelling and restaurant tips, today's link being an excellent example of both.

For all you Bostonians out there, the essential restaurant guide to Boston from Epicurious. I guess it's been a while since I've lived in Boston because I've never been to a single restaurant on their list. Wow.

Important food personages names mispronounced

Speaking of Ruth Reichl, it turns out I've been mispronouncing her name for years now. On Monday evening I went to a talk at the 92nd St Y between Reichl and Michael Pollan (more on that later, when I get a chance to write up my notes...) and the introducer spoke about how proud she was to have Ruth RYE-Shul participating. RYE-Shul?! I've been saying RYE-Kull! But here it is, confirmed in this very handy-dandy Chef Pronunciation Guide from the Gentleman Gourmand. Also Chicago's Alinea restaurant has a chef named Grant Achatz, pronounced "ACK-ETZ". And I've been mumbling "Ah-Shaats". Ay ay ay! At least I know how to pronounce Ferran Adriá, thank you Spanish classes.

Funny post about a cake pan description that's been mistranslated. "The man of your dreams. Cake pan. Make your man of your dreams using this cake pan delivery with a cake preparation lends to employement."

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