Thursday, January 31, 2013

Slow Food Slow Dining

It has been very cold the past few days. I am not a fan of cold weather – never was, not even as a kid. I tolerated the cold, the snow, the bundling up, the grayness, and the icky weather. But I never liked it.

I enjoy some winter sports – snow shoeing, for example, but only when the weather is beautiful. Sunny, mild, with brilliant, pristine white snow.

I received an e-mail flyer a couple of weeks ago about a winter dinner – sustainable, local foods, special guest chef – sponsored by the Slow Food South Jersey Shore organization.

I was not quite sure what the group was all about. I guessed we were on their e-mail list via the CSA (community supported agricultural farm) where we get our local produce.

The menu looked intriguing. It would be an interesting way to spend a cold, dark, otherwise uneventful Saturday winter night.

The dinner was held in a resort town – deserted of tourists but not closed down - about 40 minutes from home. The restaurant, usually closed this time of year, opened specifically for this event. It will not open again until March.

We drove along the dark, deserted highway, blasting the car heater to keep warm. I was eager to walk around town before dinner, but it was too cold and windy. We bundled up and walked to the restaurant, hoping it was open early and we could get warm.

The place was open, comfortable and cozy. We took seats at the bar and attempted to warm up.

The place filled quickly. Over 100 people attended the dinner. We knew no one. But it was interesting talking to people at the bar, meeting a couple who owned a bed and breakfast down the street, and seated at a table with the director and employees of the county agricultural extension unit.

We discussed local wineries and sampled their products. We discussed women farmers, winter produce, and the state of our state.

The dinner menu was different - the emphasis is mine.

The five-course meal began with a chef’s choice of three mini-appetizers. We made the mistake of asking the waitress what one was, and she answered marrow.

We were not off to an auspicious start. The table was unanimous in feeling marrow was not something we would intentionally eat.

The second course was parsnip soup with quail egg, salted fish and pickled onion on the side. The soup was very good, but we were supposed to pour the tiny raw egg into the soup.

I am not a fan of raw eggs.

Usually I am not a picky eater. I enjoy trying different foods, but as I age my tolerance for food diversity is shrinking a bit.

The third course was a salad composed of winter root vegetables. The plate also included thinly sliced pieces of mutton salami and mustard pecan butter. We never figured out all the salad ingredients, prepared like a slaw, the veggies finely sliced.

Did I mention the bread? The bread, from a local bakery, was superb. The local butter was also excellent. Unfortunately there was one small piece of bread per person. We asked for more and eventually – towards the end of the meal – received a basket with another one small piece per person.

Slow food this evening had a double meaning. Slow food is an international movement. I believe it started in Italy. The description on the website describes the organization’s goal, “link(s) the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.” Slow Food emphasizes local ingredients, sustainability, and champions small farmers.

This particular evening the second meaning of slow food was slow – sluggish, unhurried, leisurely - service. The time between courses was drawn-out. We sat at the table partaking of the five courses for three hours. That may not be a long time for a dinner by some European standards, but it is interminable by American norms.

Back to the food. The fourth course was very good, although also slightly unfamiliar. The slow-roasted pork was recognizable and delicious. It graced the top of a creamed concoction of mustard greens, roasted garlic, farro, and mushrooms.

For those of you – like me – unfamiliar with farro, it is an ancient grain originally cultivated in the Middle East. Today it is a major crop in Ethiopia and Italy. It is also grown in the US. Or so I am told. I did not actually verify these facts…

The last course – dessert – was a beach plum ice cream sandwich with chocolate sauce. The sandwich part was raisin cookies made from spelt.


Another ancient wheat crop.

We asked for but never were served coffee, or more accurately, perhaps, did not wait long enough.

We left at 10:00 p.m. for the drive home.

The event was fun, entertaining, interesting, and a great way to spend a long winter evening.

But I have to admit neither hub nor I would order most of the menu items again.

One last I-can’t-believe-it occurrence.

On Sunday, the following morning, hub and I drove into Philadelphia to see a resort and retirement living expo. More about that in a future post. Afterwards hub wanted a deli meal.  As we walked from our parking spot, which we were lucky enough to find on the street (no metered parking on Sundays), directly across the street from the deli was the restaurant owned by the guest chef of Saturday evening’s slow food dinner.

What were the odds!?

We quickly perused the menu posted outside the restaurant, and noted there were many items we would order. Most were not as exotic or unusual as Saturday night’s five courses.

My New York born and bred hub opted for a hot pastrami sandwich at the deli.

It was delicious. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

US Government Check Number 00-000-001

Although I do not yet receive Social Security, I lament the passing very soon of an iconic part of our national culture – paper Social Security checks. 

The Social Security Administration will no longer issue paper checks after March 1, 2013. (There is special dispensation for recipients 91+ years old.) Most Social Security recipients have funds directly deposited into their bank accounts, but there are substantial numbers of older folks who like to receive a paper check in the mail.

Individuals can request payments online and access their account information online. The Social Security Administration is encouraging people to do their Social Security business – applying for payments, changing their address, etc. - online. Of course this means the government can reduce office hours (it has already done so) and saves oodles of money on office expenses and overtime.

The Social Security program has been in the headlines a lot lately. It is front and center in the war over budget deficits and the national debt. There is a strong and vocal lobby (I will not get controversial and say Republicans) working to ensure that individuals entitled to benefits receive as little as possible.

It is interesting at this time to note the January 30th anniversary of an auspicious event.

Seventy-three years ago - on January 30, 1940 - the first social security check was issued.

The lucky recipient was Ida May Fuller of Vermont. She collected check #00-000-001 for $22.54.

Miss Fuller, single with no children, worked all her adult life, most of it as a legal secretary. She paid into the Social Security system the last three years of her working career, contributing $24.75 into the Social Security system. Her total earnings for those three years were $2,475.

Ida May retired in November 1939 at the age of 65. She died on January 31, 1975 at the age of 100. From 1940 to 1975 she received a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security benefits.

Miss Fuller’s original check does not sound like much to those of us struggling to pay our bills in 2013. To put the cash in perspective here is a list of the cost of some common commodities in 1940:

Cost in 1940
.08 a loaf
.34 a gallon

The $22.54 check was not a lot of money, even in 1940. One 1940 dollar is approximately equivalent to the buying power of $16.44 in 2012. In today’s dollars Ida May’s check would be $370.56.

Most of us work hard for years and pay into a system that promises to help keep us out of poverty in our old age. It should not be relied upon as our only source of income post-employment, but it helps.

During the 20th century life expectancy in the United States increased over 30 years. The Social Security system was not created with the expectation people would live well into their 80s, 90s and beyond. But change is inevitable, we are adaptable, and smart people can tweak the system (if they want to) so that it can survive. It is our responsibility to do so.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

For information on the 2013 changes to the Social Security rules, click here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eat Exercise Repeat

A newspaper article about drinking non-alcoholic beverages and exercise recently captured my interest.

The Coca-Cola Company is introducing two commercials touting the guiltless pleasure of drinking sugar-laden, high-calorie Coke drinks. There is nothing wrong with the practice, the ads state, as long as an individual leads a well-balanced life and exercises the calories away.

Check out one of the commercials:

So I thought the best way to capitalize on this epiphany – eat and then exercise away the calories – was to develop a chart of my favorite foods, the number of calories contained in these dishes, and activities I could do to exercise away the calories absorbed.

A real Coke contains 140-calories.  I would have to walk almost 40 minutes to lose those calories. I guess I could walk while drinking the Coke…

I should do what nutritionists’ recommend and maintain a daily 2,000-calorie diet.

I created the chart below listing some of my favorite foods, calories per item, and activities to exercise those calories away.

So far so good. But I have one BIG problem. Portion control. I have no concept of eating portions that will keep my intake within the 2,000-calorie guidelines. Maybe it is my upbringing, my fondness for cooking, eating, grocery shopping – who knows.

Here is one example.

The reference I used to create the chart below stated one ounce of commercially prepared cheesecake is 91 calories.

Let’s get real. Who are we kidding?

Who eats one ounce of cheesecake?

Who eats one ounce of anything? A baby eats more than one ounce of whatever it is babies eat – formula, Mom’s milk, applesauce, baby food – everything. Attempting to eat one ounce of cheesecake is similar to eating one potato chip. No one eats only one potato chip. No one.

So here are some foods I eat and ideas on exercising away the calories:

Favorite Food
Suggested Activities to
Lose The Calories
Thomas’ English muffin with Smucker’s strawberry jelly
Walk 47 minutes or
Iron 65 minutes or
Weed 36 minutes
Plain bagel with cream cheese
Walk 125 minutes or
Swim 37 minutes
Two slices cheese pizza
Walk 76 minutes
Three Whole wheat 4” pancake
Walk 75 minutes or
Backpack w/10 lb. pack 30 minutes or
 Cross Country Ski 40 minutes
Two eggs
Walk 38 minutes or
Jog 16 minutes
One hamburger roll
Walk 32 minutes or
Cycle 18 minutes
One hamburger patty, 90% lean, 10% fat
Kickboxing 15 minutes or
Double Tennis 30 minutes
One 4.2 oz. chicken breast
Walk 39 minutes or
Swim 12 minutes
One cup brown rice
Step Aerobics 30 minutes or
Scrub the Floor the floor 30 minutes
Tuna fish (canned in water) sandwich w/light mayo

Walk 120 minutes or
60 minutes low-impact aerobics or
40 minutes high-impact exercise (rowing machine, basketball, tennis)

I am exhausted just reading the list of activity suggestions.

And I did not include any fun foods – like chocolate.

In conclusion I must spend an excessive amount of time exercising away excess calories imbibed. When do I get a chance to cook the food I want to eat? Clean the house - not that I want to but someone has to do the job. Write blog posts? Go shopping? Talk to friends on the phone? Check e–mail? Spend time with family and friends?

Luckily I do not drink Coke the real thing; I drink Coke the low-cal, chemical-laden alternative. All those chemicals surging through my system cannot be good, but that is another story, or future blog post…

Food is a major part of my life. Holiday get-togethers, family meals, shopping, cooking. I make food decisions based on emotions, habits, pre-conditioning, experimentation, and the behavior of those around me.

I admit it. I am weak.

Eat, exercise, and repeat.

I do not think the system will work for me. I would have to spend the entire day walking, jogging (no way), swimming (a possibility, but not every day), cycling (I enjoy riding, but do not go out everyday – especially in bad weather or cold weather), or doing more strenuous exercise like aerobics or tennis, in which case I would collapse after an hour or so.

I will just have to go back to my old eating habits, not count calories and hope for the best.

And forget about drinking Coke the real thing.

I am not the only one who does not always eat the most nutritious, healthy meals. The following clip is one of Bill Cosby’s classics. It is long (9:22), but you can fast forward to about 3:40 for the heart of the monologue.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Our Family’s Circle of Life

Great Grandma and Her Great Granddaughters

My mother-in-law, AKA Gigi, turned 87 the first week of January.

I recently had the pleasure of observing two of her great grandchildren, girls almost 1-½ and 2-½ years old. Although geographically separated by hundreds and thousands of miles, Gigi and her great granddaughters have a lot in common.

Let me count the ways –

The youngest GGD is learning to walk, taking timid steps forward with both hands outstretched in front of her, walking slowly, swaying side to side like a movie zombie.

Gigi walks deliberately, slowly, step by carefully placed step, hands outstretched to the right and left, tottering and rocking side to side.

The young girls are usually avid eaters, although the older one sometimes decides she is not really hungry and picks at her food. Both girls are always excited about enjoying a snack anytime of the day.

Gigi is not and has never been a great eater, picking at her food. But the past couple of years she has become an enthusiastic snacker, enjoying Hershey’s kisses and hard candies throughout the day.

Both girls take naps. Gigi enjoys daily extended snoozes.

The girls get tired if hauled around for a good part of the day. They enjoy the activity but get worn-out and cranky.

Gigi tires easily when her schedule includes more than the daily routine of meals, naps, a Bingo game and some conversation. Include an outing and by early evening she is exhausted and irritable.

All the girls love cellphones. The younger ones play with the instrument, make believe they are talking on it, and insist on listening when someone calls. Gigi answers when she hears the phone ring and (sometimes) enjoys talking. She does not know how to locate recent calls, listen to her messages or find someone’s number.

None of the girls prepare their own meals. The younger ones rely on Mom, Dad or other big people. Gigi relies on her assisted living facility. All the basic amenities of life are provided by the younger ones’ Mom and Dad, and Gigi’s assisted living facility.

They all dress themselves with varying levels of success. The youngest allows Mom and Dad to do the honors. The 2-½ -year-old insists on dressing herself and usually does an adequate job, accepting help only when reaching the point of total frustration when attempting to don certain items of clothing – mittens for example. She has strong opinions about what she wants, and does not want, to wear. Gigi is the same way, sticking with familiar, comfortable, timeworn clothing. Her closet is full of almost-new, clean clothes she refuses to wear.

All three have wild, curly hair. The younger ones have yet to have a hair cut, and the older one rarely gets one.

There are some differences between the generations too -

The younger ones are beginning to interact with others – siblings, extended family members, neighbors, day care and nursery school pals – building a constantly expanding social network.

Gigi’s social life, on the other hand, is contracting. She contends she has had lots of friends throughout her life and does not need more and certainly not any new ones now.

Gigi has been in the process of shedding belongings. The girls are just beginning to collect treasures.

There are many pursuits and things Gigi does not understand. Recently we explained e-mail to her. She does not have a computer – and does not want to have anything to do with one - and therefore cannot view pictures of her great grandchildren on Facebook, or receive e-invites to their birthday parties.

The younger ones do not understand these things yet either, but are learning very quickly. They are going to be e-linked and better connected than their great grandmother, grandparents, and probably their parents.

A distinctive bond stretches across the generations and links the girls together in curious ways.

No one knows what kind of world awaits Gigi’s great granddaughters, but it will be very, very different from the one Gigi, one of three daughters of Russian immigrants, was born into nine decades ago.

And it will be a different world from the one their grandmother – me – was born into at the midpoint of the 20th century.

Each generation goes further than the generation 
preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation
…Ronald Reagan