Happy birthday megnut

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Today is the eighth birthday of Megnut. I made the very first post back in 1999, which is hard to believe as that was ages and ages ago. Since that time this site has changed dramatically, and as you know, has spent the last year in its newest incarnation as a food site. I’ve really enjoyed writing about food and I’ve learned a ton. Alas that experience has also led me a bit astray. I got involved in helping Ed Levine get Serious Eats off the ground over the last eight months, and my postings here really suffered because of that. Now that Serious Eats is off and running, I’m turning my attention back to this site, and am looking forward to another year (or more!) of food postings and discussions. But before we take off into the future, for fun here’s a look back at the year that was!

In April 2006 (ok, cheating a little bit, but in April I really started post about food in earnest) I looked at Further information about foie gras production from Jeffrey Steingarten’s article for Men’s Vogue.

In May I reflected on Four years since the French Laundry. Also I looked at War food and Memorial Day.

June saw the arrival of guest blogger Michael Ruhlman and a nice change from usual mumblings. All his posts can be found here.

In July I traveled a lot, so Ruhlman continued to pick up the slack. But I had time to have Fun with trout, when I tried to prepare Thomas Keller’s truite a la grenobloise at home and boned my first trout. I have yet to try again, but was just talking about this experience today with folks. I must get some more trout.

August 3 should be a holy day around our house, as that’s the day when I discovered I was Crazy for salt. After saving some fleur de sel in my pantry for more than a year after I purchased it in Paris, I opened it and my life was forever changed. There has been no going back. I am crazy for salt.

In September my husband and I went to Austria for vacation and we experienced garlic soup for the first time. I set about recreating it at home and wrote it up with A creamy taste of Innsbruck. There was also a good discussion about Getting too full during a great meal.

October will be remembered as the month I made chicken wings with Daniel Boulud (resulting in this Serious Eats Basics: Braising video) and he whacked a wing so hard that blood splattered all over my sweater. Also I Did the Daisy May Pig Gig, which entailed eating suckling pig with a batch of friends. Highly recommended.

November may go down in history as one of my favorite months of Megnut ever. I discovered the best pie crust ever and made three pies for my family. I almost lost my mind doing an extensive Thanksgiving round-up I called the “Thanksgiving Spectacular of 2006” (best viewed by reading the November 2006 monthly archive). Though that was fun, I’m not sure I’ll do it again this year. And most importantly, I received a free lobe of foie gras and proceeded to kick the Amateur Gourmet’s ass in Battle Foie Gras.

December saw me do some good cooking, with my büche de Noël and Christmas dinner with goose. I also discovered Sticky Toffee Pudding from Häagen-Dazs and ate a ton of it. It seems to be gone from my store now. 😦

January 2007 got off with a whimper rather than a bang, and the most interesting thing I seemed to have posted about was How natural is natural food?

In February I alerted readers to the new trend of chocolate cereal. This is when you can see the effect of spending so much time in Serious Eats. The site really started to go down hill.

March saw an annoucement from Wolfgang Puck stating he’d “use products only from animals raised under strict humane standards” and I wondered about Wolfgang Puck’s humane decision. I also foolishly announced a Best chocolate chip cookie search and promised to make all the recipes readers submitted. I am still working on this. Really! Also I gave up on food due to the confusion of the current nutritional dictates.

And just this past April saw me posting about Poor man’s sous vide and I got all crazed about plastic melting into sous vided food. I have still not gotten to the bottom of this issue, but that probably doesn’t surprise you.

So what does that portend for the rest of the year? Hopefully more of the same: good links, funny weird food stuff, great reader interactions, and some in-depth informative writing about issues that are really important to me, like sustainable and humane food practices. I know for sure that I’ll continue to enjoy being a food enthusiast, and sharing that enthusiasm with you. Thanks for reading, whether it’s been for eight years, or just a few days.

E. coli and grass fed cows

Got an email from Michael Ruhlman this AM asking:

are you sure e coli doesn't grow in the guts of grass fed cows? i honestly don't know and would like to. i do know it grows in the guts of dogs, hogs, horses and deer (and the deer part is the scary part because they can spread it in spinach fields). Just curious.

That got me wondering, was I confused? Did I really recall everything I've read correctly? So I poked around in the Megnut archives for more information. Here are two articles that I'd linked to last fall that supported me.

From Michael Pollan's The Vegetable-Industrial Complex October 15, 2006 in the New York Times:

The lethal strain of E. coli known as 0157:H7, responsible for this latest outbreak of food poisoning, was unknown before 1982; it is believed to have evolved in the gut of feedlot cattle. These are animals that stand around in their manure all day long, eating a diet of grain that happens to turn a cow’s rumen into an ideal habitat for E. coli 0157:H7. (The bug can’t survive long in cattle living on grass.)

From Nina Planck's Leafy Green Sewage September 21, 2006 in the New York Times:

In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science noted that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry O157. (Fortunately, food safety measures prevent contaminated fecal matter from getting into most of our food most of the time.) Happily, the journal also provided a remedy based on a simple experiment. When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold.

This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants.

Phew! I'm not making things up. Which leads me back to what I said yesterday in Vaccinating against E Coli: why isn't anyone talking about moving cows off of corn feed, even if it's only for the last week of their lives?

Vaccinating against E Coli

Scientists Look to Vaccines in the War on E. Coli states "cows and their manure are considered the major sources of the pathogen" but in two pages of this New York Times article there isn't a single mention of the fact that E. Coli grows in the gut of corn-fed cows, but not in grass-fed cows. Instead of switching cows to a natural diet of grass, here are the solutions under consideration to protect us from E. Coli: feeding cows sodium chlorate, a chemical used in the pulp and paper industry; probiotics, which are good bacteria; phages, viruses that infect and kill bacteria; and E. Coli vaccines for people and for cattle.

The only sensible thing in the entire article was this quote from Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “What really is a concern to me about this issue is we always have a tendency to want high-tech responses to what in many cases are common-sense low-tech solutions.”

Now it turns out some…

Now it turns out some chicken feed was tainted with melamine, the ingredient that's linked to the pet food poisonings and most recently turned up in some pork feed. The Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration "said they believed the likelihood of illness to people eating contaminated chicken was low because the contamination was most likely diluted. Without evidence of harm to humans, the agencies said they were not issuing recalls of any of the processed chicken products." Doesn't look like this mess is going to end anytime soon.

The sweet aroma of maple…

The sweet aroma of maple syrup was mixed with a very different smell: the pungent odor of hot, used restaurant grease. A Vermont farmer converted his sugar house from regular fuel oil to used vegetable oil to do his part to prevent global warming. Maple sugaring in New England is one of the forecast losses connected to climate change. Some projections show a very large loss of sugar maples by 2100 as the forests move north (to colder climates) in Canada, and with that, the end of maple sugaring in Vermont as we know it.

At one point during our…

At one point during our meal — well, at two points during our meal, one of the myriad service people attending the patrons drops a piece of bread next to my chair. "Ladies and gentlemen, the sound that poor young man made when that toasted piece of heaven hit the immaculate carpet was akin to the soft keening sigh one might make upon discovering that one's pet Siamese had passed from this earthly realm to the next." A review of The French Laundry, but nothing like the usual reviews, and well worth reading.

Writer has lunch at Per…

Writer has lunch at Per Se, smuggles food out, and sends it to a lab for testing to ascertain the calorie count of each item. Not surprisingly, the meal is pretty hefty. "All told, the nine courses tallied 1,230.8 calories, 59.7 grams of fat, and 101.7 grams of carbs." But that's not outrageous, especially since you probably don't eat much for breakfast (if you're smart) before you head over there, and by the time you waddle out, it's late in the afternoon. So who's going to eat a whole lot for dinner? Interestingly, when they add in the extras (amuse bouche, bread and butter, mignardises, and wine), the total pretty much doubles. The biggest culprit? Three rolls with three tablespoons butter adds 720 calories to the meal. I don't know who has the gastronomic capacity to eat a nine course lunch and three rolls with butter. That's an easy one to leave out, and keep the calorie count under control. [via Eater]