Sunday, December 27, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Canary Melons

     Wegman's supermarket came through again.  Because of course it did--it's the best grocery I've ever experienced.  I was strolling through the produce section when I saw something odd.  It looked like a smallish melon, only yellow in color.  It's outer rind was smooth like a watermelon's.  The name was peculiar, too--a Juan canary melon.
     Once I got it home, I did a little reading.  Its origins are a bit mysterious.  One website theorized that it was Persian in origin.  Wherever it started, now it's grown elsewhere.  It's a sensitive plant, needing a hot and arid climate, and is particularly susceptible to mildew, sun damage, and plant diseases in general.  Brazil is currently a major producer of them, and that's where mine hailed from.  The "canary" part of the name is simply due to its canary yellow hue.  Alternately it's known as just a canary melon, or a winter melon.  Like many melons it's high in fiber, and has significant amounts of Vitamins A and C.
     Eating the Juan canary melon was pretty easy.  I used a sharp knife, but I think even a dull butter knife would have done the trick in cutting it open.  As is common with melons (except watermelons) the inner core contained a space with all the seeds, which were suspended in kind of a lattice-work.  Some websites mentioned roasting and eating these seeds, but, not surprisingly, this non-chef didn't bother with all that noise.  The inner flesh was a light greenish/whitish color.  The texture was soft and wet, like a watermelon.  A spoon was sufficient to scoop out the flesh.  The taste, for me, was okay.  Sweeter than a cantaloupe or honeydew, and also better than watermelons.  But, there's a huge caveat:  I'm not a melon guy.  I flat out don't like the taste of honeydews and cantaloupes, and watermelon is so, well, watery and essentially tasteless that I don't see the point.  Since I was home for the holidays, I gave some to my parents to try.  And their reaction indicated that taste in fruit is not genetic:  They raved about the Juan canary melon, really loved it.  There was even talk about asking the local supermarket if they'd consider stocking them.  So, all in all, it appears that if you like melons, there's a good chance you'll really be impressed with the Juan canary type.  If you don't than it probably won't change your mind.
     I do, though, really like the concept of giving melons people names.  Perhaps we should rename them "Vladimir watermelons."  Or for fans of alliteration, "Cornelius cantaloupes."  "Hezekiah honeydews."  You get the idea.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Cabot Cheese

     I recently ended a long, 5 and a half month tour of Vermont for work.  Which I really liked.  As a fan of cooler temperatures, you can't beat Northern New England for more bearable summers (except maybe Alaska, or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  Also, Vermont is undeniably an attractive state--great views of mountains and forests, and pretty much every cute little town resembles something that Norman Rockwell would have painted.  And if you're into craft beer like I am, Vermont is awesome.  Beer snobs have all heard of The Alchemist, Lawson's, and Hill Farmstead, but there are many other good to great breweries, including Frost, 14th Star, Otter Creek, etc.
     One more thing Vermont, and New England as a whole, is known for is Cabot Creamery.  With good reason--with sales over $300,000,000 per year, they are one of the most successful dairy corporations in the country, and the world.  Cabot dates back to 1919, and it takes its name from the original dairy in Cabot, Vermont.  After struggling in the late 1980's, there were revitalized after being taken over by Agri-Mark Cooperative in 1992.  They consist of about 1200 individual dairy farms, scattered across New England and New York state.  They're world renowned for their cheese, and other dairy products.  Just staying recent, their cloth-bound cheddar was included on the list of the 100 greatest cheeses in the world in 2008 by Wine Spectator,  Also in 2008, their Monterey Jack received an award from the American Cheese Society.
    Although, to give the full story, there is a dark side.  I was surprised to read that the organization has been negligent in several cases.  An ammonia spill from one of their dairies killed thousands of fish and other aquatic creatures in the Winooski River in 2007.  And in 2011 the Vermont Attorney General Office declared that their products indicated use of the taboo hormone rBST.  In both of these cases Cabot paid five figure fines, and in the 2011 incident they were forced to also donate $75,000 worth of dairy products to local food banks.
     I decided to go with what must be their flagship brand, cheddar cheese.  Specifically their sharp cheddar.  And it was good.  Sharp as indicated, and I had absolutely no problem finishing the small block, most of it plain, by itself.  However, I must admit that the Australian version of this same cheese type (Old Croc, see November 22, 2015 blog post) was a little bit tastier.  So not to be unpatriotic or anything, but for this cheese I'm afraid the Land Down Under had the superior product.
     If you're interested, Cabot has a website, of course.  Even a blog, which contains recipes, info about individual dairy farms, and news about their charitable endeavors.
     So, if effect, my sort of quest to find a cheese I don't like continues.  At this point I'm pretty confident that this "goal" will never be attained.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pre-Packaged Paleo Products

     While at the same alternative grocery in Williston that I found the dairy products/yogurts that I talked about in last week's post, I also saw a "Paleo" section.  Which piqued my interest.  I'd heard about the Paleolithic Diet in general, but I'd never seen Paleo items on sale at a store.  Needless to say, I bought up a nice sampling.
     The Paleo Diet is a fairly recent one.  It appears to have mostly been inspired by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in the 1970's.  Most credit Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner (along with Konner's wife Margorie Shostak) with developing the Diet.  Then Loren Cordain's 2002 book "The Paleo Diet" popularized the Diet to the general public.  Since then, like many diets, its received a boost from some celebrities' adoption of it, such as singer Miley Cyrus and actor Matthew McConaughey.
     In essence, the Paleo Diet contends that many of humanity's current health problems, like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, can be traced to the modern diet.  Proponents think this conditions are caused by (or at least made worse by) the foods humans started eating about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of modern agriculture.  They argue that human physiology and metabolism havn't changed much in those 10,000 years, so we should eat the foods that humans evolved to eat over millions of years.  Therefore, we should go back to what these Paleolithic people ate--mostly meat, nuts, fruit, and non-starchy vegetables.  Taboo foods include dairy, grains (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) legumes (beans and peanuts), coffee, alcohol, processed oils, salt, and refined sugar.  In addition to archaeological evidence of diet, Cordain and others studied six modern groups which are largely hunter/gatherers (as our Paleolithic ancestors were), such as the Eskimos (Aleuts) in the Arctic, and the !Kung San of Africa.
     Well, like any diet, there are dissenting views.  Many of them.  The British Dietetic Association included the Paleo Diet on its list of the Five Worst Celebrity-Endorsed Diets of 2015, calling it, "unbalanced, time consuming, and socially isolating."  Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of Minnesota said Paleo Dieters could miss out on vital nutrients that could lead to long term health problems later in life, like young women risking higher incidents of osteoporosis due to a lack of calcium.  The University of Zurich's Christina Warinner is a particularly rabid critic of the Diet.
     To sum up the counter argument, these proponents claim that first off, we don't know exactly what our Paleo ancestors actually ate and didn't eat.  Also, that there is some good evidence that Paleo humans processed flour over 30,000 years ago, and did eat some legumes.  Going on, the anti-Paleo side points out that human physiology has changed in the past 10,000 years--the ability of many groups of people in the world to digest lactose past infancy being one example.  And that the plants themselves have changed in the past 10,000 years--often due to human interaction, such as causing the ancestor of the corn plant to grow incredibly larger, with correspondingly huge kernels.  Furthermore, to say that there was one Paleo Diet is problematic, as people in different environments naturally exploited different animals and plants.  Humans are nutritionally flexible, they say.  And finally, Paleo people may have had less incidents of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease because with their average life spans being shorter, they may have died before they could develop them.  Although, it should be said that the anti-Paleo Diet side agrees with the Paleo Dieters that people should cut back on the sugar, fried foods, and "junk food" in general, and replace these with more fruits and vegetables.  They just don't think these products in moderation are necessarily catastrophic.
     Anyway, with this brief summary aside, let's move to what I got.  I purchased three protein bars from the Jorge Cruise line, in conjunction with the Julian Bakery and Paleo, Inc.  (According to the wrappers, Mr. Cruise is a celebrity fitness trainer, a #1 NY Times bestselling author, and host of a show that boasts an audience of 12 million people.)  I also got a box of Caveman Cookies, from the Caveman Bakery, out of NY.  Once again, I'll use the U.S. grading system of "A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as needed.

1) Paleo protein bar, Jorge Cruise/Julian Bakery/Paleo, Inc., Chocolate Mint flavor:  C-.  Wet and greasy brown bar with white chunks/globs sticking to it.  Hard, firm texture.  Presumably dark chocolate since milk not on ingredient list.  Not very good.  Not terrible, but disappointing.

2) Paleo protein bar, same companies as above, Glazed Donut flavor: B.  Waxy in texture and appearance, like a Power Bar.  Honey colored.  Did have a donut-like taste.  Good.

3) Paleo protein bar, same companies as above, Cinnamon Roll flavor:  B.  Also waxy, light brown in color, and shiny.  Cinnamon-y, definitely.  Similar to the Donut kind in quality--pretty good.

4) Caveman Cookies, Pumpkin/Maple/Cranberry flavor:  A.  Really tasty cookie.  Soft texture.  Odd, uneven appearance.  Enjoyed these quite a bit--sweet and chewy.

     So, all in all, I liked these Paleo products.  Even the worst one (the chocolate mint bar) wasn't horrendous or anything.  But, I should point out that these were extremely expensive.  Each individual 2 to 2.3 ounce bar was over $4!  The Cookies were over $3 for a box of eight moderately sized cookies.  I was further amused by the concept of pre-packaged Paleo items.  It seems against the whole macho, back-to-nature, hunter/gatherer caveman theme, to pick up wrapped food items in a suburban store, that were accumulated and prepared by others.  Readers can probably guess from this post's tone and content which side of the Paleo Diet I stand on (more to the anti side, clearly).  But Paleo Dieters, like all other dieters, or "regular" eaters, should be aware of potential health risks and concerns with it.  But, as always, when it comes to what people want to eat, to each their own.  Unless you're a cannibal (folks reduced to cannibalism of already dead companions in starvation situations, a la the Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes in the 1970's excluded).  That I can't support!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Unusual Yogurts/Dairy Products

     Yogurt is, of course, a very pedestrian, common food, at least where I live.  However, there are some twists on it that I was not aware of.  This was brought home to me recently, when I visited an alternative, health food grocery in Williston, VT.  There I was able to pick up a few of these new ones.  Additionally, I saw a dairy drink that I'd heard about but never had a chance to sample--kefir.  And, while I was thinking about dairy and yogurt I recalled another one I've tried--lassi.
     Let's get some background.  Kefir is a fermented milk drink which originated in the Caucasus Mountain region in Eurasia.  Essentially, it involves putting kefir grains/cultures into regular milk.  This causes most of the lactose to be converted into lactic acid.  Meaning that lactose intolerant people can usually enjoy kefir without problems.  Kefir can be used to make sourdough bread, as a buttermilk substitute in cooking, or as an additive to cold borscht.  Sometimes, being fermented, it's mildly alcoholic.
    Australian yogurt differs from regular yogurt in that it's unstrained, and is typically made using whole milk.  As a result, it usually has a higher protein content.  Often it's infused with honey as well.
     Lassis are a traditional yogurt drink from India.  They're made with yogurt, water, and then either spices (for the savory type) or fruit (for the sweet kind).  Chaas is another type of Indian dairy beverage. And one kind of lassi, the bhang type, has the liquid derivative of cannabis.  So for that one I guess you have to check your local marijuana laws.
     As usual, I'll score these based on the U.S. scholastic system--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

1) Lifeway (Illinois) low fat kefir--pomegranate flavor.  No alcoholic content listed:  B-.  Pretty good, but not great.  Fruity overtones.  Tasted like a slightly sour yogurt drink.  I do like the pitchline on the bottle--"The Champagne of Dairy."

2) Wallaby creamy Australian style yogurt, lime flavor (despite the style, it's made in California):  C+.  Thin, almost watery.  Slight lime taste.  Okay, but not as good as most other yogurts.

3) Maple Hill Creamery (New York) drinkable yogurt--maple flavor.  Appeared to be a slightly thinner, yogurt beverage:  F.  Terrible.  I usually like sour tastes, but this was way too much.  It almost tasted spoiled (thankfully it wasn't).  I didn't detect the slightest hint of maple, or any sweetness.  A drain pour.

4) Lassis.  I've had dozens of these, as I have them pretty much every time I go to a Indian restaurant.  I like mango lassis the best, but the other flavors I've tried were tasty, too:  A+.  Lassis are delicious--really top notch.  Like a yogurt milkshake.  They taste like awesome.

     So there you have it.  I would definitely advise against the Maple Hill drinkable yogurt, but would recommend kefir and Australian style yogurt with mild enthusiasm.  And I can't recommend lassis enough.
     I am curious to try more kefir, especially the alcoholic version.  Plus, Iceland has a different take on yogurt, too.  Don't know if/when I'll have the opportunity to try this one, but I can hope.