Schmaltz and soy

While on a recent whirlwind trip that included a stop in Seattle, I purchased a copy of Meatpaper at my favorite newsstand hard by the Pike Place market.  I always grab a copy of this magazine whenever I’m in Seattle because I can never find it anywhere else. Today I finally broke down and subscribed.

The quarterly Meatpaper was founded by a couple of vegetarians who made the conversion to meat eating a few years back.  (The founders say that when vegetarians cross over to the meat-eating dark side, bacon is the most common conversion food.)  It’s a difficult magazine to pigeonhole.  One would think it would revel in meat eating, and, in a way, it does.  But it does it in a daredevil sort of way, much in the way a magazine on skydiving might portray the thrill of that sport while still noting that certain death is only a chute failure away.  My take is that the writers and editors believe that meat-eating is a perilous undertaking, but one that many people choose for the taste despite the risks involved.  As anyone who had read this blog for anytime knows, my beliefs don’t quite fall that way.

The most recent issue contains a couple of articles I want to tantalize you with.  One that describes an almost unbelievably scrumptious food that I’ve yet to eat, at least knowingly, and another article I find deeply disturbing.

First, to the scrumptious.

In “Schmaltz Redux,” Daniella Cheslow briefly describes the history, disappearance and resurgence of a staple of Jewish cooking: schmaltz.  For those of you who don’t know what it is (and I was in that category until I read this article), schmaltz is basically chicken lard. Small pieces of chicken fat are cooked slowly until they resolve into an oil.  Throw in a few pieces of onion during the process, and you’ve got schmaltz, which can be used much as lard or duck confit.

To give you an example of what I mean about daredevil writing focusing not on just the delicious and nourishing virtues of schmaltz, but on the risks (non-existent, in my opinion) of consuming it.

“I love schmaltz.  But it’s very unhealthy, it’s all saturated animal fats.  I stopped eating schmaltz when my grandmother died in 1972,” said Susan Rosenthal, 59, a physician from East Brunswick, New Jersey. “I have a master’s degree in nutrition [a dead give away that the woman knows almost nothing about nutrition], so if I would have given my children schmaltz, that would have been shameful.”

Shameful indeed.

I’m sure this enlightened woman would have no qualms about giving her children all the olive oil they wanted.  But according to the USDA nutrient database of foods, olive oil contains 14 grams of saturated fat per 100 g whereas chicken fat contains 20 grams in the same amount. But 100 g is 3.5 ounces, and since schmaltz is used as a cooking oil, I suspect most people don’t eat much more than an ounce at a time, which would mean the schmaltz would give the children a little over 5 g of saturated fat while the olive oil would contain 4 g.  A difference of under two grams.  Not a huge difference in my opinion.  And since the schmaltz also contains a lot of both monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat, it can’t really be characterized as “all animal saturated fats.”  But such misinformation is what comes from a master’s degree in nutrition.

The article goes on to detail a little more of the history of schmaltz and its resurgence but, at the end of the piece, once again the specter of early death from eating schmaltz rears its head.

To bring her article to a close, Cheslow offers a quote from David Sax, author of Save the Deli:

There’s something these days that’s sexy about it [making food from scratch].  I think [schmaltz] is coming back for that reason, and also people appreciate the taste, and they realize that it’s going to provide a richer experience.  Literally, figuratively, tastefully, and spiritually, it’s a heart stopper. [my italics]

Jesus wept.

I have elicited a promise from MD that when our brutal travel schedule over the next month and a half comes to a close, she will make us some schmaltz, an event I will dutifully record photographically.  Until then, however, you’ll have to make do with photos and instructions I found online.  The schmaltz in the photos in this blog post look great, but the uses the blogger makes of the schmaltz are not my cup of tea.

Now to the disturbing.

When you think Argentina, you think beef.  The Pampas, gauchos and endless herds of cattle.  For years Argentina has been one of the great beef reservoirs of the world.  But unless things change, that all may be coming to an end because the cattle are being displaced by a more profitable commodity: soy.

“Plowing the Pampas,” an article written by Nicholas Kusnetz, describes how many Argentinian ranchers are hanging up their bolas and picking up a plow.  Why?  Because soybeans are a vastly more profitable use for the land than raising cattle.

Kusnetz spoke about the switchover with scientists at a government research station in the Pampas.

Five years ago, one of the researchers told me, I would have been surrounded by pasture.  Now, nearly all the cows were crowded into feedlots.  The land was a tricolored patchwork as far as the eye could see: thousands of acres of deep green corn leaves, lighter green soybeans, and the straw-colored stubble of cornstalks that had been sprayed with Roundup to ready the field for soy.

At the station, two soil specialists showed me where they experiment with different crop rotations.  They have found that their most productive “rotation” is just the opposite: all Roundup Ready soy, all the time.  They don’t know why, they tell me, but it grows well.  They don’t see any reason to grow anything else.

“If I were a farmer,” I ask, “and I came to you for advice, what would you tell me?”

“Pure soy,” they say. “The more soy you have, the better your profits will be.”

The article goes on to describe how the economic realities are driving the ranchers to become soy farmers.  I don’t have a problem with this; you’ve got to expect that people will follow the money.  What does trouble me is that a crop with such a disastrous effect on health could be more valuable than cattle, which have been providing humans food for millennia.  But the herds are shrinking, and soon, if things don’t change, in a few years Argentina could become an importer of cattle.  An almost unthinkable proposition.

Should this disastrous end come to pass, I wonder if the grand ranches of the Pampas will still raise a few cattle along with thousands of acres of soybeans.  And will these few beef grazing in a small lot allow the farmers to continue to refer to themselves as ranchers despite the vast majority of their income coming from soy?  Probably.  I’ve seen it happen in Arkansas.

The delta lands east of Little Rock are made up for the most part of vast soybean growing operations.  The farmers who own and farm the land were descended from cotton farmers.  Cotton farming was the tradition, but economics won out, and most of the cotton fields were replanted in soy.  But old traditions die hard, and most of these farmers still keep a small patch of cotton on their land, and if asked what they do, they reply that basically they’re cotton farmers but they grow some beans on the side.

I suspect that if things continue in Argentina, many self-proclaimed ranchers will be growing a few beans on the side as well.

Sad. Very sad.

I would encourage you to subscribe to Meatpaper to keep up with what’s new and edgy in the world of meat.  I have no affiliation with the magazine nor do I get any click-through income if you subscribe.  I just like the idea of former vegetarians writing a magazine on meat and making a go of it.  And I want to help.

I’m going to start a new tradition with this post.  As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I read a lot.  People often ask me what I’m reading, so I’m going to start putting my current reading list at the bottom of the posts so those of you who are interested can keep up.

Survival of the Fattest by Stephen Cunnane

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  (This isn’t a reread.  I’ve never read the thing, so I figured it was about time.)

The Plague by Albert Camus  (I’ve never read this one either, and it’s taking me forever to get through it.  But I’m almost finished.)

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

The Genius in all of Us by David Shenk

The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieig Larsson (This one won’t be available in the U.S. until May 25.  A friend who visited me from the UK, where it has been available for months now, brought me a copy.)

Sous Vide Supreme

The long-awaited announcement of what MD and I have been working on for the past couple of years is at hand.  We have developed (along with a team of engineers, designers, manufacturers, business people and a host of others) the first stand-alone sous vide unit made specifically for the home kitchen.  It’s called the Sous Vide Supreme and is pictured at left, getting ready to ship.  The Sous Vide Supreme is the first new category of kitchen appliance since the microwave, so we’re incredibly excited about our role in what we think is a world-changing event.  At least world changing in the same way the microwave was world changing.

For those of you unfamiliar with sous vide, it is a French term meaning ‘under vacuum’ and refers to a method of cooking in which vacuum-packed foods are cooked in a water bath creating a taste and flavor that can’t be replicated any other way.  Though many of you may never have heard of the term ‘sous vide,’ it’s a good bet that you have tasted food prepared using the ‘sous vide’ method, especially if you have eaten at a fine restaurant.

Why on earth would two physicians who made their reputations caring for overweight patients and writing books about diet and nutrition veer off in the direction of manufacturing a kitchen appliance?  As is always said in situations such as this one, it’s a long story.  But not really that long, so I’ll tell it.

A couple of years ago I was trolling through the internet looking for something – I don’t remember what – and I came upon an article about the sous vide method of cooking.  I read about it and did a little more research.  Once I understood the concept, it all made perfect sense to me, so I did what I always do in cooking situations: I dragooned MD into doing all the work.  I did help a little, but she was the real technician in putting our first sous vide contraption together.

So you’ll understand how sous vide works, I’ll digress a little from the story of our development of the Sous Vide Supreme to explain.

Say, for instance, you want to cook a perfect medium rare steak.  You throw it on a very hot grill (or skillet) and try to guess the amount of time it will take for the extreme heat to penetrate the steak until it raises the temperature in middle of the steak to 134 degrees F.  Often you miss and either under cook or (more commonly) overcook the steak.  You can be more precise if you use a meat thermometer and pull the steak off the grill when the temperature reaches 134 degrees.  This meat-thermometer technique is obviously a more accurate way to ensure the perfect medium rare steak, but it has its drawbacks.  If you pull the steak off the grill when the center is at 134 F, the steak continues to cook and will end up more well done than medium rare.  If you pull it off at, say, 128 F, you are playing the guessing game again, hoping that it will cook to the 134 F on its own.

And we’re not even talking here about the problems you run into if you are cooking several steaks of differing thicknesses, a situation that multiplies the probability of having a not-quite-right outcome – at least with some of the steaks.

If you use either of the above methods precisely, you end up with a perfect medium rare steak…right in the middle.  The center of the steak is medium rare, but it gets more and more well done as it gets closer to the surface.  You have what looks kind of like a target with the perfect medium rare center being the bulls eye with the rest of the target being progressively more well done as it gets nearer the edges.

Sous vide solves this problem.  You season your steaks however you like them seasoned, then you put them in vacuum bags and seal them.  (You don’t have to have an expensive machine for this.  You can find vacuum bags and pumps for just a few dollars at most grocery stores.)  You then put the seasoned, sealed steaks into a sous vide water bath set for 134 F and walk away.  You can leave them in for an hour or eight hours – the time doesn’t really matter that much because as soon as the steaks reach 134 degrees throughout, they are perfectly medium rare and they don’t get any more well done beyond that point.  So if you’re having a dinner party and your steaks are in a sous vide cooker awaiting the meal and the pre-dinner chit chat runs a half hour (or an hour or two hours) over, it doesn’t matter.  You take the steaks out, remove them from the bag, finish them off for about 30 seconds, and you’re finished and have perfect medium rare steaks.  And it doesn’t matter if some of your guests want thick fillets while others want thinner sirloins and yet others want rib eyes – they all come out perfect at the same time.

Sous vide is the perfect method for cooking tougher cuts of meat.  Grass fed beef, though tasty, isn’t always the most tender of selections.  If, however, you put a couple of grass-fed beef steaks in a sous vide bath before you go to work, by the time you get home, they are as tender as a mother’s heart while still retaining all their taste.  MD blogged about flank steak cooked sous vide a while back.  You can cook flank steak, which is really tasty but tough, using the sous vide method and have a meat that is as tender as filet but with all the taste of the flank steak and best of all, not overcooked.

Here is a link to a full-page Wall Street Journal article from about a year and a half ago that describes the sous vide process and has a pretty good video showing how it works to cook a steak.

But it’s not just for steak. You can use the Sous Vide Supreme to cook any kind of meat and vegetables.  And can even use it to make ice cream base, béarnaise sauce, creme anglaise and anything that requires a precise temperature to cook properly.  Vegetables cooked sous vide are out of this world.  For instance, if you cook beets the traditional way by boiling them, you’re left with a lot of beet-colored water in the pan after you’ve removed the beets.  This beet-colored fluid contains flavonoids, carotenoids and other beneficial nutrients that you would prefer not to lose. If you vacuum seal the beets and cook them sous vide at 185 F, you end up with beets that are unlike any beets you’ve tasted before.  They look the same, but taste much more beet-y, because they have retained all the nutritious fluid that you previously threw down the drain after boiling.  The beets are tastier, have a better consistency and are more nutritious than beets cooked any other way.  It works the same with all veggies.

When MD built our first home-made sous vide contraption on our stove, she used a stock pot that she had to put up on a scaffold she built out of odds and ends she rounded up from the kitchen.  She had to get the pot above the flame because even at its lowest setting, the fire was hot enough to simmer water, which meant that the temperature was 212 F, way, way too hot for sous vide.  She had to get the bottom of the pot high enough, so that the temperature in the water in the pot was around 140 F (at that point, we thought 140 was the temperature required for a perfect medium rare steak).  It was no mean feat to do so.  She had to keep a candy thermometer in the pot and keep adding little bits of cold water and even ice to keep the water at 140 F. (I now wish that I had photographed this early contraption, but, alas, I didn’t, so you’ll just have to imagine it.) After keeping a couple of vacuum-sealed steaks submerged at roughly 140 F for a couple of hours (which required her constant attention), MD pulled them out, finished them off on the grill for a few seconds, and we cut into them.  We learned a couple of things.  First, 140 F is too hot for medium rare, and, second, finishing is an important part of the process.

MD with my invaluable technical advice fiddled with our device for another few runs of steaks before she hit on the way to cook them perfectly.  Once she did, and once we tasted them perfectly done, I was sold.  I decided that we needed to purchase a sous vide unit for our house.

I got online and searched.  What I discovered to my absolute amazement is that there was not a sous vide unit made for the home kitchen.  There were several companies making sous vide units for restaurant use, but the price of them would knock your socks off.  The least expensive one – and it was tiny – ran to over a thousand dollars.  Most costs many thousands of dollars.  I kept thinking that there had to be a home sous vide unit somewhere, but search though I did, I couldn’t find one.

The light bulb went on.

I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only one who wanted a home sous vide unit.  And of such thoughts are opportunities made.  I figured it couldn’t be that tough to make a unit, since, after all, they were nothing but sophisticated Crock Pots.  So I thought.  As it ends up, nothing is further from the truth, but I didn’t know that at the time.

During my online searches for some kind of home sous vide machine, I came across countless articles on sous vide cooking.  One of these articles contained a quote by Nathan Myhrvold – the retired Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft who has devoted his post retirement to cooking, photography* and various other endeavors – a sous vide expert who figured prominently in the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above, and who is the go-to guy whenever a writer needs a comment about sous vide.  When I read these words, I knew  there was a real opportunity.

Most dedicated home cooks purchase laboratory water baths, which are available on eBay, says Myhrvold.

“I believe someone will produce a home sous vide machine in the not-to-distant future,” says Myhrvold.  Basically, “a Crock-Pot with [a] very accurate thermostat.”

Knowing as I did Nathan Myhrvold’s status in the food world, I reckoned he would know if someone was already working on one, and since he didn’t mention it (and since I’m an eternal optimist), I figured there wasn’t anyone working on one.  So, it was full speed ahead.

What I didn’t realize was that Nathan Myhrvold was wrong.  Not about the no-one working on one, but about the technology required.  He made it sound easy.  But, as it turns out, a sous vide cooker is much, much more than a Crock-Pot with a very accurate thermometer.  To be able to cook sous vide, the temperature can’t fluctuate more than a half a degree in either direction.  For example, eggs cooked at 63 degrees C (you can set the Sous Vide Supreme for either C or F) are totally different from eggs cooked at 62 or 64 degrees.  Try to cook perfect eggs by setting a Crock-Pot at low, medium or hot, the temperature selections available for most.  You can’t do it.  The maintenance of a specific temperature for hours (and even days) is an absolute necessity in cooking sous vide, and that was what we set out to do in developing our machine.  This kind of temperature control can’t be maintained with a simple thermostat mechanism.

Once we decided to make the leap and try to develop a home sous vide unit, it dawned on us that neither of us knew anything about the appliance business.  So we hadn’t a clue as to how to launch such a venture.  But we allowed as how there were bound to be people who did.  So I set about finding them.

Through a business acquaintance, I got introduced to an entrepreneur and businessman who had some experience in the small appliance development business. (A pedigree in small appliance development would be more correct.  He took The Juiceman and The Breadman from concept to success and was also an executive VP at Salton with the George Foreman Grill.)

Bob Lamson, who is now a partner in the business and a great friend, is just the kind of guy I enjoy being around.  I, of course, don’t think he is nearly as smart as I am, but he may disagree.  He is trained in philosophy, has a undergraduate degree from Yale, has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Washington, ran for US Congress as a Democrat (and almost won), is the author of a book on the economics of the defense industry, and was in a small high school philosophy study group with Barrack Obama’s mother.  As you might imagine, Bob and I have many spirited conversations about many, many topics, which keep all our get togethers stimulating. He is a Seattle resident of long standing, thus our many trips to Seattle where a branch of the Sous Vide Supreme offices are located.

MD and I (MD mainly) came up with the specs for a home sous vide unit, and Bob, who knows everyone involved in the appliance business the world over, after gathering bids, recommended an engineering and design firm in London that got started on the design work.  After much back and forth, and many prototypes, we finally got the design we wanted and a prototype that worked like a charm.

After a lot of consultation, we concluded that if we had any hope of bringing our product to market at a reasonable price for the home consumer, we were going to have to have it made in China, a situation about which I had considerable angst.  We were confronted with the reality that if we made it somewhere else, our appliance would be too costly, and if we made it in China, it would, well, be made in China.  Bob assured us that many Chinese factories were state of the art, and that it was just a matter of selecting the right one.  Bob had had many products made in China (just about everything, I discovered, including the Macbook Pro I’m typing these words on is made in China) and had had no problems.  He told us he would go to China himself and check out any factory we might end up using.  MD and I decided to go as well.

I was in for a huge surprise.  During my years as an engineer I visited many factories, so I have a pretty good feel for what US factories look like.  The factory we decided to work with in China was a marvel of high technology.  In their showroom were many of the products we’re all familiar with here in the US, and as we were shown through the huge work spaces, there were all these same familiar products rolling off the assembly lines.  The testing facilities were beyond compare, and the engineers were terrific.  In fact, the engineers there solved many of the temperature-control and cooling problems that had been plaguing us.  Whenever we found anything problematic, the folks at this factory were immediately responsive in getting it fixed.  After spending a couple of days at the facility, meeting the engineers, and watching the testing processes, we felt more than comfortable using this factory for our product.

What we didn’t realize when we started this venture was that the difficulty in achieving the precise temperature control necessary to sous vide cooking meant that each and every machine had to be calibrated by hand after it came off the line.  The engineers at the factory developed a system to do this that required filling each machine with water and testing multiple temp settings without the process adding huge amounts to the cost of the system.  I found the Chinese engineers easy to work with and incredibly understanding of all the hassle required to bring a product to market in the US.

After designing, building and working all the kinks out of our Sous Vide Supreme, one hurdle remained for us.  We had to get it approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).  No UL approval, no US sales.  It was as simple as that.  No retail stores will touch an appliance that isn’t UL approved, and let me tell you, UL approval isn’t easy to come by.  The UL people visited the factory in China, worked with the engineers, made suggestions as to how we could improve our machine, and finally granted us the coveted UL Approved moniker just a couple of weeks ago.  It was this approval I was waiting for before I wrote this post.  I didn’t want to alert the world as to what we were doing until we had this final and most important process firmly in hand.

I can’t begin to tell you what an enormous project this has been.  You don’t really know (I certainly didn’t) what’s involved when you go down to buy a small appliance at your local department store.  We’ve had to hire designers to create logos, do artwork for the box; we’ve had to come up with how-to-use manuals (which are a part of getting a product through UL) and cooking instructions. We’ve had to test multiple iterations of the machine and tweak each one until we got it right.  We’ve had our units tested in major test kitchens here and in Europe, and worked with famous chefs to get it right.  We’ve had to deal with trans-oceanic freight companies and packing and shipping facilities in the US and China.  We ourselves have cooked a zillion different foods in our own test kitchen. It’s been a seemingly never-ending process as you can tell by how long I’ve been putting off the great revelation.  But now it’s done and ready to go.

Our PR firm, Duo PR, is sending us out on a cooking/demo tour that should start on October 18 if all goes well.  Most of the gigs we’ll be going on will be private affairs for potential retailers, but if any are public, I’ll post them so that any of you who have the opportunity and so desire may come to one of the events.

If you want more information about the Sous Vide Supreme, here is the website of our company, Eades Appliance Technology, aka EAT.  Sign up where indicated and we’ll email you information as it becomes available.  And, BTW, the ‘Eades’ in Eades Appliance Technology means a bunch of Eadeses, not just MD and me.  We’ve tapped our family for legal advice, financing, food tasting and creative assistance.  So it is truly a family enterprise plus Bob, Mo and the rest of the staff at the Sous Vide Supreme office in Seattle.

Since this blog isn’t really a blog to sell stuff – other than an occasional recommendation here and there – I’m not going to be writing much on the Sous Vide Supreme.  I’ll have links to the website on the links, and I’ve started a Twitter account so I can put up links on sous vide cooking.  But other than those, this is pretty much it. (I may have one other major announcement, if we can get the legal-contractual issues worked out, but that should be it.) Many people have wanted to know what we’ve been working on so mysteriously, so this is it.  In fact, this is the very first piece to go out into the world about the Sous Vide Supreme. Other than the team working on it, you are the first in the world to be learning about this product.

Next post I’ll be back to the nutritional stuff.

Here are a few photos of MD cooking steaks in one of the sous vide machines in our kitchen.

Here you see a couple of units on our counter so you can get the feel for the size. To the right are cooked, vacuum-sealed steaks pulled from the water bath ready to be finished. The steaks are lying in the inverted top of the Sous Vide Supreme. This top as tray was one of MD’s innovative brainstorms.

SVS steaks up close1

In this close up of the perfectly medium rare steaks, you can see that they have been seasoned before being put in the vacuum bags. They are now ready for the skillet. But first, you’ve got to put some butter in the skillet and heat it until the butter is foaming. Then you put the steak in and leave it for just about 20-30 seconds on one side, then flip and sear on the other side for only a few seconds.

SVS steak being cooked1

One steak in the pan searing on one side and about ready to be flipped.

SVS steaks being cooked1

Two steaks cooked perfectly. I wish the photo were as perfect as the steaks. I intended to take a picture of the steak after it was cut, but my hunger got the best of me and I forgot.

* Nathan Myhrvold took the photos I displayed in a previous blog post.

Hard at work on Orcas Island

Deer Harbor, Orcas Island blog

After meetings all day long Monday and Tuesday, we left with our partner to head for his place on Orcas Island.  We drove for an hour and a half then took a ferry for an hour to get there where his wife, who had gone up the day before, was patiently waiting.  We went to dinner and headed to the house.  We got there long after dark and crashed.  I always love to wake up in the morning in a place that I haven’t yet really seen because I arrived under the cover of darkness the night before.

Our partner’s house has a phenomenal view overlooking the sound and is nestled in among the Douglas firs, many of which are at least four feet in diameter.  It is really a forest primeval and a great place to vacation. Unfortunately, we had come to work.

After a breakfast of eggs and bacon, we set to.  MD was working inside on our traveling laptop while I sat outside on the deck and made calls.  In the photo below, our partner is on the phone to London and I’m on the phone to God only knows, since I had about a dozen calls I made while he made only the one.

Hard at work blog

As you can see, it’s not too shabby a place to work.  And work we did.  We got a lot accomplished before we took a break to set out the crab traps to get our dinner for that night.

We rowed out to the boat, unhooked from the mooring ball and headed out to our partner’s secret crabbing spot a couple of miles away.  It was so secret that we could locate it only by the dozens of other crab traps there.

MD tethers boat blogBaiting trap blog

After setting out the trap, we came back, worked a little more, then broke for lunch.  We went into the tiny town of Eastsound and ate at Roses, a lovely little restaurant, serving all natural or organic food.  Our friends needed to run by the hardware store, where I found the item pictured below.  It is a testament to America today (and the whole world, I fear,) when manufacturers can make money producing products like this one.  Thirty years ago there would not have been enough demand to justify mass producing these chairs.  But today I wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t one of their biggest sellers (no pun intended).  As you can see from the photo, it is named The Big Boy, which implies a large, football-lineman-like physique, but which is really a euphemism for The Obese Boy (or girl).  As I’ve written before, these things make my blood boil, because so many people have been victimized by doing what the ‘authorities’ recommended they do.

We went back to the house, worked for the rest of the afternoon until it was Jameson time.  We walked to the beach (about 50 yards from the house) and sat in the sun waiting for the tide to get right so we could head for our crab trap. In due course, we rowed back to the boat, MD unhooked us again, and we were off to the traps.  On the way there we saw a commotion ahead in the water.  At first I thought it was dolphins, but as we got closer we realized it was two seals (not sea lions) fighting.  They were going at it hammer and tongs.  They would surface with one latched on to the other’s neck with its teeth, then both would submerge.  I thought they might just be playing until I noticed the blood everywhere.  The fight continued as we circled around watching.  I had my camera, but couldn’t get a decent photo because every time I clicked the shutter, the seals went back under during the lag between clicking and the shutter opening.  At last one seal gave up and swam away.  So we went on our way to the crabbing spot.

Once there I got the joy of pulling up the trap from about 80 feet of depth.  As it neared the surface, we could see a few Dungeness crabs within, so we knew we had dinner.

The catch blog

When we got back to shore, we set about cleaning the crabs, an activity fraught with a little peril.  The crabs are not particularly happy about being dragged from their briny lairs and are especially not happy to be handled.  They are extremely quick and have large, strong pincer claws in the front; they should be dealt with with care if you value your fingers.  I’ve never been pinched, but others who have say it hurts like the devil, and that they’re hard to dislodge once they’ve got a grip.

The cleaning is a grisly process.  You grab the crabs with both hands with one had holding all the claws on one side and the other hand holding all the claws on the other.  Grabbing them thusly is the difficult part, because they are strong and quick.  Once you’ve got them, you bang them down on their middles on some kind of an edge.  In this case, the edge of the aluminum row boat worked fine.  As the shells break, you pull hard on the handfuls of legs on both sides, which separate, and you end up with all the edible crab in either hand.

After you’ve got the legs apart, you then have to pick the gills out of the meat, which doesn’t take long, and then you’re ready to cook.

To cook, you simply put the legs into boiling salt water (water that we took from the ocean) for 8 to 10 minutes.  When you’re finished and plate them up, here’s what you have.  And they are delicious…if you like fresh Dungeness crab dipped in butter.

Cooked crabs blog

After dinner and cleaning up, we watched the gorgeous sunset over the sound.  We stayed up talking until about midnight, then hit the sack, got up and started a new day that was a repeat of the first.  Same people, same work, different clothes and different crabs, but basically the same day.  We repeated it a couple of times, then reversed our trek via the ferry and the drive to Seattle where we caught our plane home.

Suset on Orcas blog

Good news!  Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I received an email from our publisher informing me that they had actual printed books in hand and would be sending a couple our way.  This really does mean that they will be available before the publication date of September 8.  They will probably be in stores within a couple of weeks and, I would imagine, be available on Amazon and other online retailers soon.

If you plan to purchase the book it would really help if you pre-ordered it from Amazon.  The name of the game in book writing is to get on the NY Times list, and that involves selling a lot of books within a given week.  So, if we have a ton of pre-orders, they will all go out at once, and be recorded by those who set up the Times list.  Thanks in advance.

I will speak to the publisher tomorrow to see if I can post a lengthy excerpt soon.

Hard at work in Seattle

Mt St Helens blog

I haven’t posted in a week because MD and I have been hard at work in Seattle and at Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands located in northwestern Washington.

We’re working on our project that we’ve been keeping under wrap.  No, it’s not the new book, and, no, it’s not Metabosol.  It is something pretty cool and even revolutionary in its own way.  Barring further bumps in the road (there have been a few), we should be able to reveal all on September 1. The reason for the secrecy is that this project is most press worthy, but, for reasons that will be obvious when we reveal what we’ve been working on, we don’t want the press to report it prematurely.

We flew into Seattle Sunday afternoon after buzzing across the top of Mount St. Helens and looking into the crater left when the top 1300 feet of the mountain blew off on May 18, 1980.  After landing, we got picked up by our partner and taken to his boat for an afternoon on Lake Union.  A huge annual celebration was taking place, so we spent the afternoon on a lake made choppy by a thousand other boats while the Blue Angels zipped through the sky overhead.  Seattle has been experiencing brutally hot temperatures, which we got blasted by on Sunday afternoon.

When we were in Seattle in December, we got caught in the worst snow storm in 30 years.  All the while we were slogging through the snow, our hosts were telling us to come visit in the summer when the weather is always beautiful.  So, we come in the summer only to be confronted with the worst heat wave since temperatures have been recorded.  I hate to imagine what we may encounter on the next trip.

Here is the Seattle skyline on Sunday afternoon.  Notice the chop on the water.  We were one of God only knows how many boats in the lake.  After getting pounded by the chop and brutalized by the heat, we tied up to a nice restaurant and had a lovely dinner complete with (at least for me) copious amounts of Jameson to go along with the copious amounts of Jameson I had already swilled to combat the heat on the lake.

Seattle skyline blog

Our partner’s boat, which is his pride and joy, is a handmade Venetian water taxi.  He worked with a guy who makes such boats in Venice, Italy several years back, had it built to his specs and then transported to Seattle.  It is a gorgeous boat, and, one day, I hope to go out on it in clement weather.  Below is a photo of MD standing by the boat tied up to another restaurant the last time we went out in it.  The temperature was about 23 degrees (not counting the chill factor), and you can see by the lack of chop on the water surface that we were the only fools out there.  (In case you were wondering, it is heated inside…but not air conditioned, thought the back of the roof slides open to admit fresh air and sunshine.)  As I say, our partner loves to show off his boat.

Boat in winter blog

After our Sunday respite (which it was, despite the heat and chop), we crashed and for the next two days worked from early morning until late at night.  We didn’t have time to answer emails, deal with blog comments, or do much of anything other than work.

We started each day with a quick breakfast at Louisa’s, a little restaurant close to the office where we spent our days.  One of the menu selections, fittingly enough, was called Mike’s Special, so how could I resist.  Especially when it was such a great low-carb option: two poached eggs on a bowl of sauteed spinach, red and green peppers and onions.  Good, good, good.  It came, of course, with a giant piece of toast that was at least an inch thick, which I ate a couple of bites of just to try.

As we were eating breakfast on the last morning, a man was eating alone while reading the paper at the table next to us.  He looked to be about 70 or so and was fairly thin with a pot belly.  He had on two pressure stockings on his lower legs and bruising in the crook of one of his arms from where, obviously, blood had recently been taken.

Watching him eat, I created an entire story about him that I’ll bet is not too far from the mark.  Even if it is not accurate in this man’s case, it is totally (and sadly) accurate in many thousands of others.

The man was eating a bowl of oatmeal.  He had a glass of skim milk so fat free it was almost blue that he poured little bits of into his cereal from time to time.  Along with his oatmeal, he was eating one of the giant pieces of toast the restaurant serves.  He took one pat of butter (I assume there was no margarine available) and cut it in half.  He carefully spread one half pat on one half of his toast then loaded it with an entire individual serving of jelly.  After eating the first half piece of toast, he prepared the second half the same way and ate it.  The only fat he got from his entire meal was that that came from that one pat of butter.  Based on the size of the bowl of oatmeal and the size of the toast (and the skim milk), I calculated that this guy consumed about 100 grams of carbohydrate. (Thirty grams in the oatmeal; at least 30 in the toast; 15 in each container of jelly; and about 10 in the skim milk.)

I imagine (here is where I’m speculating) that he has elevated cholesterol and has been told by his doctor to watch his fat.  And he is complying. He got a whopping 4 grams of fat in his one pat of butter (36 calories-worth) while getting 100 grams of carb in the rest of his meal (400 calories-worth). The tiny bit of fat he got contained short-chain fatty acids that are immune enhancing whereas the 100 grams of carb he got provided really no health benefit.  Since the 100 grams represents 20 times the amount of sugar circulating in his blood, his pancreas had to release a large amount of insulin to deal with it.  His pot belly indicates that he is already insulin resistant with an abdomen full of visceral fat, so he no doubt secreted a lot more insulin than a person without insulin resistance.  This excess insulin help him store fat in his liver, increase his level of visceral fat, ratchet up the inflammatory process, injure his blood vessels even more and increase his risk for heart disease, the very thing his doctor was trying to prevent by putting him on a low-fat diet.

How much better off this guy would have been had he joined me in the Mike’s Special.  But, his cardiologist, I’m sure, would have been apoplectic.  A sad state of affairs indeed.

MD and I were so busy this entire week that not only haven’t we been able to keep up with even our emails, we haven’t been able to go through the over 300 requests we got for a copy of our new book.  We will go through those and respond to everyone over the next couple of days.

Also, I have about 60 comments dating back for months that are stacked up in my awaiting-moderation queue. My plan is to deal with six of them per day and have them all cleared out within 10 days.  And this all while keeping current on new comments coming in.  So if you have had a comment languishing, it should be up within the next ten days.

Our newly designed site is supposed to be up this next week.  Keep your fingers crossed.  I’m certainly keeping mine crossed.

For those of you who still can’t get your minds around the idea that exercise doesn’t make you thin, read next week’s Time. The cover story, ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,’ is a long article parroting what Gary Taubes wrote about a couple of years ago.  The notion has finally made it to the mainstream.

Finally, I’ll end with a book recommendation.  I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the flight to Seattle.  If you haven’t read it, and if you like offbeat mystery/thrillers, give it a whirl.  A disgraced investigative journalist headed for prison teams up with Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, and one of the strangest and most interesting protagonists to ever find her way into fiction, to solve, at the request of an aging industrialist, a decades-long mysterious disappearance.  The novel, set in Sweden and written in Swedish but masterfully translated, has become a world-wide phenomenon.  The book is satisfying throughout, and I highly recommend it.  As soon as I catch up on all my work, I’ll start the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Tomorrow I’ll post on working, crabbing and eating on Orcas Island.

Mock Turtle Soup at The Fat Duck


When we were in London a few weeks ago we met for an hour or so with Heston Blumenthal, who treated us to a four hour lunch at his famous restaurant, the Fat Duck. The meal was unlike anything we had ever had anywhere, and it shows why the Fat Duck has won the Best Restaurant in the World honors for a couple of years running.

I’ve intended to post on this fabulous meal, but haven’t yet because of the time it would take to describe everything.  I took photographs of every course, and if I included them all in one post, it would probably take a half an hour just to download it.

An article in the Telegraph, the UK’s most widely read newspaper, last week gave me an idea as to how to do the post on the meal.  I’ll divide it into multiple posts whenever something comes up that inspires a description of one of the courses.  Since all of the courses at the Fat Duck are of a theme, this won’t be too difficult.

The Telegraph article is about Heston’s new Alice and Wonderland menu.  We tried one of the entrees from this new menu while we were there, so that’s what I’ll post about this go round.

This particular entree, Mock Turtle Soup, was inspired by the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In Victorian times turtle soup became the rage.  It was prepared from turtle meat imported from the Orient and was unaffordable by all but the very wealthy.  Less well-to-do households had to resort to an ersatz version made from the head, hooves, tail and other non-muscular parts of the calf in place of the turtle meat and called, appropriately enough, Mock Turtle Soup.

Lewis Carroll took advantage of this substitution in his book, creating a beast called the Mock Turtle.

Then the Queen left off, quite out of breath, and said to Alice, “Have you seen the Mock Turtle yet?”

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from, ” said the Queen.

Heston Blumenthal used these lines for his jumping off point in developing his own version of Mock Turtle Soup, but he added another twist, still from the same book.  During the Mad Hatter’s tea party the March Hare dips the Hatter’s pocket watch into his tea.

The Hatter was the first to break the silence.  “What day of the month is it?” he said, turning to Alice: he had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.

Alice considered a little, and then said “The fourth.”

“Two days wrong!” sighed the Hatter. “I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!” he added looking angrily at the March Hare.

“It was the best butter,” the March Hare meekly replied.

“Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,” the Hatter grumbled: “you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread-knife.”

The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea…

The presentation of the entree begins when a server puts down a cup containing a sort of a tea bag shaped as a gold pocket watch.  Then a teapot filled with hot water was placed next to each of us.  As with all entrees at the Fat Duck, this one is accompanied by an explanation of how Heston was inspired by the Mad Hatter’s tea party to create this piece of the menu.

The gold fob watch is molded of a kind of gelatinized bouillon (composed of beef and mushroom stocks reduced into a syrup, leaf gelatine and 10-year-old Madeira) hand-wrapped with edible gold leaf.  When we poured the hot water into the cup and onto the watch, it dissolves into a delicious, savory consomme with flecks of the gold leaf swirling about.


Once the tea is made, the server brings a large white bowl with the makings of a caterpillar arranged on the bottom.  The striped body of the caterpillar is made of terrine of ox tongue cooked sous vide compressed with slices of Lardo.  The mock turtle egg is made of a puree of turnip and swede with little enoki mushrooms sticking out to represent antennae so that the egg doubles as the head of the caterpillar as well as to call up an image of the toadstool on which he sat, smoking his hookah.  Sprinkled about the terrine and the mock egg are small cubes of pickled cucumber, truffles, and turnip brunoise.


The server then invites the guest to pour the ‘tea’ into the bowl over the above ingredients to make the Mock Turtle Soup.  The entire entree then is a dazzling soup shot through with flakes of edible gold.


All that’s left now is to eat it, which we did with relish.  As you might imagine, it was delicious.  What you might not realize, however, is all the work that goes into this single entree.  Here is the recipe in full.  As one of the commenters wrote:

I think it’d be a lot less hassle for me to fly to London and go to his restaurant than to try to make this at home.

After looking over the recipe, I would tend to agree.

Chinese feast


After our meeting at the factory we’re working with, the president of said factory treated us all to a feast at our restaurant.  As Chinese tradition dictates, such feasts are accompanied with many, many toasts.  The toast works this way:  the person making the toast picks out a specific person to toast, walks over to that person, raises his/her glass and gives the toast.  The translator translates.  The person receiving the toast answers back.  The translator translates back.  Then both toaster and toastee down drinks in one swallow.  After this, the glasses are immediately refilled by one of the servers.

In our case, the liquor used for toasting purposes was either red wine or bai jiu, a Chinese white wine that is actually more of a distilled liquor.  The Chinese love bai jiu, which has a distinctive flavor.  It’s about 50 percent alcohol and has a front end taste that is kind of like the essence of an infusion of dirty socks in some sort of floral alcohol and a back end like lighter fluid.  It’s an acquired taste, and one that I had sort of acquired after a zillion toasts.

As the meal progressed, the toasting evolved into each toast requiring the downing of both a glass of red wine and a glass of bai jiu.  Thank God we ran out of red wine and baiu jiu before I ran out of consciousness.  The photo above shows me just before downing a glass of each after a toast from the head of operations at the factory.

The meal we had was spectacular. And pretty low-carb.  I kept a photo log of it, which I will lay out below. (We had another good meal earlier in the day that MD posted about moments ago.)

We started with shark fin soup, which I didn’t take a picture of because…I don’t have a good reason.  I just didn’t.  I guess I didn’t think about taking photos until after the shark fin soup.  From there we moved on to a giant prawn and an abalone.  Both were delicious, especially the abalone.  I don’t know what kind of sauce it was cooked in, but it was savory and out of this world.


Then came a weird dish that was served with plastic gloves.  It was a baby dove with head included.  You put the gloves on and tore the little bird to pieces and gnawed the bones.  And, yes, we ate the head.  We didn’t just throw it back and chomp it; we nibbled off the small amount of meat on it .  I watched the Chinese so I could follow suit, and that’s what they all did.  After picking the bones clean, we all removed our gloves and awaited the next course.


What came then was some sort of seafood salad.  And remember, all this food was interspersed by dozens of toasts.


After the seafood salad came the main course, which was a piece of succulent steak that was extremely tender.  It was served with a little pile of fried garlic chips and a stalk of broccoli.


Following the steak, we had a dish of some kind of green vegetable.  I never could figure out what exactly it was, but it was very tasty.  I asked the woman sitting next to me what it was, but she didn’t know the English word for it.  All she could tell me was that it was grown in the area where we were.


Then came a tiny bowl of fried rice.  You can see the size of the bowl by comparing it to the spoon next to it and the little glass the bai jiu is served in.


The we had some sweets, which I admit to eating.  Everyone of them.  By that time, after all the wine and bai jiu, I would have eaten anything.


And finally we were served a small plate of fruit for the end of the meal.


By that time all the wine and bai jiu were gone, thank God.  I thought we had made it through the worst of it, but the factory president, who was the founder of this feast, had brought two kegs of German beer, so nothing would do but that we all traipsed upstairs to a small room and drank glass after glass of mildly chilled beer and ate dried squid, squid jerky, I guess you could call it.  The beer and squid were served along with, believe it or not, french fries.  I ate no fries, but did eat a fair amount of the squid jerky, which was pretty tasteless but did give the jaws a good workout.

It was a memorable evening, and I can even remember all of it.  I even woke up the next morning feeling fine.

I’m rushing to get everything together to catch our flight to London.  I’ll post later on my thoughts on the China and Hong Kong experience. I do want to make one observation, though.  Earlier in the day that this feast took place, we toured the factory.  There were probably at least 400 people working there of all ages.  I didn’t see a single obese person – all were thin.  You may think that they weren’t obese because they were working hard.  You would be wrong.  Almost all of them had fairly sedentary jobs.  They were sitting doing very little strenuous labor.  Mainly just screwing one component on to another as they came down a line.