Health, Knowledge and Flavors

Salud, saberes y sabores

I just found out about a new FAO publication which has recipes from women who live in Latin America and the Caribbean:  Health, Knowledge and Flavors. The purpose is to recover culinary knowledge while recognizing women’s work in improving the nutritional quality of traditional foods.

I’m intrigued with some of these recipes and looking forward to trying them. I also see that there are a number of ingredients that I don’t know, so it will be interesting to see if I can find them in southern NJ.




NaJuReMoNoMo Winner! Northern Lights by Philip Pullman


AKA The Golden Compass the title I assume refering to the Alethiometer which only Lyra can read, which predicts the future in a semi-mystical way. The Northern Lights title of the British edition refers to the Aurora borealis [which I have still yet to see] in which a city from another universe can be seen when photographed using certain emulsions and by Lyra. It is the alethiometer that fascinates me the most. The picture on Wikipedia does not satisfy me. I imagined it as a mixture of a chronometer and a sextant and I wasn’t quite sure how the different needles were set. Being more like a watch makes more sense both in terms of use and size for storage.

Considering how much is already written about this series of books I won’t add to it! Including an extensive discussion on Snopes’ urban legend pages of the anti-chrisitianity theme in the book.

I started this Sunday and finished it the same day. I was going to take my time and spread the reading of it over a few days but it was too gripping and I am unable to stop reading when I am enjoying a book. I am, however, in no hurry to read the rest of the series, savoring this one for a little while. I doubt it will be more than a month before I buy the next two, mind you.

ABC along correction

Having checked Knitorious’s instructions, I see that she has put up a revised edition. We are only meant to be posting one picture/blog post per letter:

ETA: My intent – what I had in my mind – was ONE well-chosen THING and ONE well-chosen PHOTO to represent each letter; possibly several other photographs to illustrate and explore that thing, but not TWENTY different things for each letter. Choosing only one subject forces one to think and be disciplined. What is the BEST representation of YOU for a given letter? What is the best way to portray it, frame it, shoot it?

So for the two letters I have already done:

A is for Avocado(e)s

A high fat healthy treat for a cold January. Delicious at any other time of the year too. I know that my spelling for for the plural of avocado is inconsistent.

B is for Books:

As I cannot live without them. Reading is the most addictive of my hobbies. I have days when I cannot do anything else. I go to work, yeah, but when not there, I am reading.

As for the other letters you will just have to wait for their weeks to come up. From now on, I will only post one post per letter. I can already see that it is more interesting that way.

I did have one more B but I will use that picture for another letter or another post on a different topic.

B is for Books

I could let B go by without discussing books. I have lots and lots of books. I always thought it would be great to have enough books so that you could always read a book on any topic whenever you wanted. Like having a private bookstore or library. I think I succeeded, here is one bookcase, which contains cookery books:

Cookery Books

Not just cookery books, also books about food – even some of my food science books. I need a bigger bookcase to fit all my food-based books, so the rest of them are in the study with my science and history books:

When I need to relax, I sit in my living room and read my fiction books. I have a bookcase and a half of fiction books, including a whole shelf of books by Dick Francis:

Ignore the booze on the first bookcase – it is a collection from other people who were leaving town. Really. I can also look at my collection of biographies and art books:

Or I can check out my gardening books for advice and ideas about plants:

And last but not least I have a great collection knitting books:

Books: In Defense of Food Science

I took a break from reading new to me fiction, as part of NaJuReMoNoMo or whatever it is called, to read Michael Pollan’s new book In Defense of Food. I will review it in a few days but now I have this burning desire to defend my vocation, food science. When I wrote this original post, food science needed introducing to people not defending. There still seems to be confusion as to what is food science. In the last month, I have read articles or books that malign food science unjustly.

Over Christmas in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 I read Patricia Gadsby’s Cooking for Eggheads which had originally been published in Discover magazine. It is a great article about Hervé This and Molecular Gastronomy. She ably describes molecular gastronomy. Gastronomy is part of the title evoking the spirit of Brillat-Savarin and the molecular part was added by This and Kurti to evoke the chemical units that make up food. In addition:

Molecular had a dynamic, modern ring to it, perfect for ushering gastronomy into a new era. Besides, molecular gastronomy sounds so much more fun, sophisticated, and cultured than plain old “food science”, a field with which it somewhat overlaps but is largely geared to the mass-market needs of the food industry

This last week, I read Pollan’s new book, which is a great read despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that he claims that the problem with our food, in the US, is caused by the twin evils of nutritionism and the food industry. He concentrates more on the former than the later and when it comes to food science he gets confused been food science and food technology. for example:

Very often food science’s efforts to make traditional foods more nutritious make them more complicated, but not necessarily any better for you. (p153)

Today foods are processed in ways specifically designed to sells us more food by pushing our evolutionary buttons – our inborn preferences for sweetness and fat and salt. These qualities are difficult to find in nature but cheap and easy for the food scientist to deploy, with the result that processing induces us to consume much more of these ecological rarities than is food for us. (p 149-150)

This is the problem is with both essays. Food science is another academic subject; like biology or physics, just slightly (ahem) more applied. It cannot be blamed for the mass production of food any more than physics is to blame for the development of the nuclear bomb. Neither can food science be praised for producing the flavorful fast foods. Food scientists may have been instrumental in developing shelf-life extenders and flavors so that food could be mass produced and taste good* at the same time.

Molecular gastronomy is a part of food science; in the same way that food technology is part of food science. They are branches off the main trunk. Molecular gastronomy is more concerned with chemical changes, including rheology and flavor; and food technology is more concerned about engineering and processing. Food science, plain and old, includes both these and food safety as well.

As with other sciences, food science is not to blame for the reduced quality of the American diet. Scientists may have developed low fat yogurts and no-carbohydrate pastas; but a science cannot be blamed for that. As a food scientist I am interested in what happens when food is processed by any means – home, factory, restaurant. I am, admittedly, an academic and have the luxury of being able to ask why.

I do not deny that there is a problem with the American (and perhaps the British) food supply chain. We, as consumers, have moved too far away from production. This will be solved in many different ways, but I will be surprised if food science is not part of the solution.

*Tasting good needs a rejoiner. It would be great if mass produced food tasted as good as home cooking but it has some way to go. I still hope that one day we can have healthy tasting mass produced food.

NaJuReMoNoMo Winner! The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


I finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It is bittersweet reading because Plath commited suicide soon after the book was published. The experiences Plath went through at the time she is writing about are very clearly depicted, allowing me to relate and at the same be grateful that I’ve never gone through anything similar. It puts it all into perspective. Part of her recovery was this realization:

“A man to see you!”

The smiling snow-capped nurse poked her head in through the door, and for a confused second I thought I was really back in college and this spruce white furniture, this white view over trees and hills, an improvement on my old room’s nicked chairs and desk and outlook over the bald quad. “A man to see you!” the girl on watch had said, on the dormitory phone.

What was there about us, in Belize [her asylum house], so different from the girls playing bridge and gossiping and studying in college to which I would return? Those girls, too, sat under bell jars of a sort.

The book is out of date, but it was interesting to read partly because of that. Has much changed, other than women being slightly more aware of our sexualities? Fortunately, mental care is a little more sophisticated than what appeared to be the only option, electric shock therapy. Her first psychiatrist was the most scary – the idea of sitting there and letting her talking and expecting her to recover without being given anything to help. No skills, nothing to grasp on. Hopefully, that style of treatment no longer exists.

I am now reading Mark Twain‘s A Tramp Abroad, which is also biographical fiction. Fortunately in a lighter vein than the Bell Jar.