Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

COVID Coping

September 25, 2020

We’re all trying to figure out how to get through this season of COVID. With restrictions on where you can go and what you can do and who you can be with, people are getting a bit stir crazy and I’m no exception. I’ve admitted to being not the smartest guy on the block this summer, an admission some would argue was far overdue and hardly limited to this summer. But as a closing foray into stupidity, last night I took the Paqui One-Chip Challenge.

I’d like to defend myself somewhat. I haven’t eaten Tide Pods or overindulged on cinnamon. I haven’t poured ice water over my head. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and taken more pride than probably reasonable in going against the flow. I’m fairly discerning usually when it comes to common sense. But apparently not always.

Because another source of pride throughout my life has been an affinity for spicy food. The hotter the better. And the more other people back off and avoid it, the more inclined I am to try it. So when I saw a YouTube video for the One-Chip Challenge, I immediately started Googling to see where they could be purchased locally. Just a few hours later I had two small bags of their chips and one of the casket-shaped One-Chip Challenge boxes.

I tried the bag of Fiery Chili Limon chips for lunch. It claims to be Super Hot!, but it was disappointing. I mean, there was some heat to it, but I ate the small bag without the need for water – let alone bread or milk. I make much hotter pico de gallo and while these chips were somewhat respectable by mass produced chip standards, they certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

So when my kids found the box at dinner they naturally assumed I should do it. Right then. And really, why put it off?

Frankly the most impressive thing initially was that this company found a way to keep their chips intact! The small bag of chips was not a bunch of crumbs as is often the case with chips. Almost all of the chips were intact, which was impressive in and of itself. And the One-Chip Challenge was even better insulated to ensure I found it intact. This year’s challenge uses a blue-corn tortilla chip covered in their signature blend of ground chili spices, utilizing the Carolina Reaper chili, the Scorpion Chili, and Sichuan peppercorn. The chip looks black and it’s covered in this black spice. The challenge says you have to eat the entire chip, so I broke it in two and ate it.

Initially it wasn’t terribly impressive. But, as chilis sometimes do, the impact grew over time. Still, it wasn’t really all that painful initially. Eventually it was the sides of my tongue that took the brunt of the burning. The rest of my mouth was relatively unaffected. Or perhaps completely numbed. I’ve longed to take spicy challenges for years, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to actually doing one. Beyond the growing burning on my tongue were other physical reactions I’ve watched in other people but never experienced myself. I began perspiring. My eyes started watering and my nose started running. My hands were shaking and my legs were a bit weak. There was a jumbled sense to my thinking, as my brain rapidly occupied itself almost completely with what was going on in my body and how unhappy it was with it.

The challenge grants different levels of recognition depending on how long you can hold out before eating or drinking something after eating the chip. My goal was to last at least five minutes – the lowest level of Featherweight. It’s what I had seen the host do on the YouTube video, and since we had guests for dinner I didn’t feel like drawing it out indefinitely. And, honestly, it hurt. So the glass of milk I had my kids bring me in advance went down pretty quickly but only provided moderate relief. As with the water after. Ice cubes were more effective at numbing my tongue and easing the pain. And with homemade apple crisp with ice cream for dessert, I found the frozen dairy was most effective in helping neutralize and disperse the oils binding the burning to my tongue. Within 15 minutes or so I was feeling mostly back to normal.

I could feel it in my stomach, as the packaging said I would, but it wasn’t anything bad. Until about 30 minutes later. I was sidelined severely by a terrible burning sensation in my stomach that left me almost completely incapacitated for about 10 minutes. Some cold water eventually helped to ease the pain, and within another 15 minutes or so I was fine again. I panicked a little, thinking perhaps the spices had eaten through my stomach or aggravated an ulcer I didn’t know I had. But a few years ago I had a similar (though far less intense) pain from a particularly powerful chili pepper I ate, so I figured it was basically the same reaction this time and it would pass before long.

Blessedly, it did. I was able to sleep without any other side effects and, other than a slight tenderness in my stomach today, I appear to be fine.

This challenge is not for the faint of heart. Visit the web site to see different reactions from customers. I have a good tolerance for heat and rarely find something uncomfortable, but this certainly was. Paqui doesn’t indicate what heat level the chip is, but the Carolina Reaper chili clocks in at 1.5 million on the Scoville scale (a typical jalapeno clocks in at 2500-10,000). So it’s a serious heat!

I’m glad I did it. That being said I feel no need to do it again. And I’ll probably let the small bag of Paqui Haunted Ghost Pepper chips lie untouched for a little while. I know it won’t be anywhere near what the One-Chip Challenge felt like, but still. I’ve had enough heat for the time being.

No Free (or Cheap) Lunch

February 25, 2020

Without a doubt the best deal in town for lunch is Costco’s food court.  But that good deal is getting a little less sweet, as Costco has indicated it will require a Costco membership in order to purchase food at their food courts.

Costco claims the food courts have always been intended for members only but this policy was rarely or never enforced.  That’s going to change in March, when at least a basic Gold membership will be required to purchase food.  A Gold membership is $60 a year.  If you plan on eating at Costco at least once a week, that will add roughly a dollar to the cost of your meal each week – still a really good deal overall.

I’m curious as to why Costco would do this.  Their food courts are always packed, so perhaps it’s a matter of them being too popular and needing to cull back their sales somewhat.  Are they losing money on the food court?  Is  it a loss leader intended to bring in new customers and retain existing ones?  The Internet is full of debate but I wasn’t able to find any definitive answers as to whether Costco makes money on their food courts.  But I’m guessing they do.  So why reduce that profit?

This is one of  those decisions I scratch my head at.  Any of you readers have a theory on why Costco would do this?

Need and Demand

January 15, 2020

This is an inspiring article talking about changes in the way restaurants handle excess food.  Instead of just throwing it away, there are a variety of organizations created to help them repurpose it without excess cost (man hours, etc.) to themselves.

But I found the most interesting – and least explored – aspect of the article occurred in the first two paragraphs.  A baker wanting to donate excess bread to a homeless woman’s shelter or even directly to homeless people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row discovered nobody wanted it.  Which to my mind says that hunger may not be the major issue for some of these people.

I’m all for repurposing food and helping to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.  And I believe there are hungry people who need it.   But what if that’s not the case?  At least not on the scale we imagine it to be?  In a patchwork of city, state, and national programs to assist in providing money for food, and in addition to countless non-profits and churches that also seek to help the hungry, is the nature of the problem changing?  Is hunger less of an issue for some people – like the homeless – than we imagine it to be?  Does this indicate a change in the homeless culture itself?

A local school district is facing financial challenges (of course).  One of the proposed solutions is to scale back the free breakfasts the schools offer to any student who wants one, to just those students who are verified as needing it.  I’m sure the breakfasts were made available to every student in order to eliminate the stigma of a breakfast only available to the verifiably destitute.  When I was growing up it was a stigma to not be fed at school, because the school lunches cost money and my family could only afford to send me with a packed  lunch.  Now the situation seems to be reversed?

I’m curious about why the shelter said no to the bread, and why the homeless themselves weren’t interested.  I’m sure the shelter can only use so much bread on a daily basis, but again, if people are dealing with hunger at the levels often touted in our media, it’s hard to imagine them passing up free food.

Unless they’ve discovered a better option.  In which case, we should be paying attention to that shift to make sure that unused food gets to those who actually need it.

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.

Aquaponics 2

October 19, 2017

We’ve taken one step forward and two steps back this week in our aquaponics venture.  I procured three large 55-gallon drums for starter tanks.  But I also discovered this week that the most popular and common form of fish for aquaponics – tilapia – is not permitted in the county we live in (gotta loooooovvvveeee California!).

I had suspected this to be the case for a few weeks now after scouring the Internet.  But I held out hope that exceptions might be made if the system was completely self-contained (as opposed to privately stocking tilapia in a pond on your property or something).  I referred to the California game and fish web site to begin with.  I called the contact number listed there.  But the number was actually some sort of nation-wide contact, so they had to transfer me to a California person.  That person had to transfer me to someone else, and that person transferred me to someone else, who gave me the name and number of the person she was transferring me to, and I left a voice mail with this person.  She responded within an hour or so to give me another name and  number where I left a voice mail.  This woman called back in a couple of hours and was extremely pleasant but confirmed there were no exceptions to the tilapia ban.  She e-mailed me a variety of resources that will be very helpful as we progress, and gave me the name of  a guy down in San Diego that I have e-mailed, asking for his next best recommendation for an aquaponics fish.

In the meantime I’ve started researching other options for fish.  Catfish seems to be the next-best option in terms of growing quickly.  But it’s a less popular fish to eat.  We’ll see what the San Diego guy recommends.

Aquaponics 1

September 26, 2017

We try to eat healthy, and more and more we have developed concerns about the things that are in the food we eat, and most particularly in the meat.  We’ve considered various options for doing some self-sustainable food production.  Gardens were of limited success as people lost interest in them and would forget to water them.  Chickens seemed challenging given that we have two medium-sized dogs.  I suggested raising rabbits for meat but my wife has firmly nixed this idea.

What if we did aquaponics, I suggested.  Aquaponics creates a self-sustaining ecosystem based on fish and plants.  Fish are raised (sometimes for food, which is our intention, and sometimes not to eat) and their water is cleaned and filtered by pumping it through growing beds where the ammonia and nitrogen of the fish waste is filtered out through growing medium, which in turn allows plant roots to access these nutrients.  The only ongoing input into the system is food for the fish and additional water to offset evaporation.  Even with evaporation the total water usage is supposed to be far less than growing a vegetable garden in a piece of land (unless you get a lot of rain and don’t need to water the plants on your own, I suppose).

The family loved the idea.  We like the idea of growing more of our own food and thus ensuring that it is free of pesticides and herbicides and hormones and antibiotics and whatever else gets into our food these days.  We also like the idea of learning together how to build the system.  It could be a business opportunity for the kids as they get older, consulting and building systems for other people as well as potentially – if our system grows large enough – sustaining a business to local restaurants eager for local, healthy fish.

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about how to do this.  It isn’t complicated, beyond getting the system created and connected with PVC piping, pumps, drains, etc.  I’ve decided to chronicle our journey in case it’s helpful to others.

Step number one was to ensure that our water was as healthy as possible.  We’re on city water, which provides a certain level of filtering and treatment, but which results in chlorinated and fluoridated water.  While the fluoridation may not be a big deal, the chlorine is.  So last week we had a plumber remove the salt-based water softening system that came with the house when we bought it, and installed a two-stage water filtering system instead.

Just that step alone has taken nearly a year of research!

There are so many options out there!  Some systems – like the one in the house when we bought it – can cost thousands of dollars.  Or you can go online or to Home Depot’s web site and find filtering systems for under $100.  How do you make a decision?

Mainly, it seems to depend on where you’re getting your water – and thus how much sediment filtering you need – and what you specifically hope to filter out of the water.  We examined filtering systems, not water softening systems.  Some options combine the two or allow you to custom-design systems that do both.  We decided we didn’t want the softening, just the filtering.

Because we’re on city water, the particulates and sediment in the water have already been filtered out to certain standards.  Municipal water sources should publish annual water quality reports available online or by direct request from your water supplier.  Had we been on well water, I would have opted for a three-stage filtering system to filter out more of the sediment, but a two stage option seemed to be fine for a city water connection.

I investigated a system that would filter out fluoride as well as chlorine, but it was significantly more expensive.  There’s plenty of debate about the role of fluoride in our drinking water, with very little consensus or evidence to back up the various perspectives.  I decided we could buy a counter-top filter specifically designed to filter fluoride to replace the Britta filter we currently use, which doesn’t filter fluoride.

Finally, I decided on the i-Spring whole home two stage filter, sometimes referred to as Big Blue.  More specifically, it’s model WGB22B.  Rationale:

  • Reasonably priced
  • Reasonably priced filters
  • Large filters that will hopefully last a bit longer than some smaller models (hopefully 6 months considering the size of our household and the hardness of the city water)
  • Filters chlorine
  • 5 micron filtering
  • Good water flow rate (up to 15 gpm)
  • Certified to NSF/ANSI standards
  • Includes a sediment filter as well as a carbon block filter that handles the organic filtering as well as chlorine filtering
  • Good ratings on Amazon

Now that we have this in place, we have improved water which will be healthier for the fish.  Chlorine is an unhealthy thing for them that would need to be removed.  While it can be removed to some degree with time and agitation, we decided we wanted to benefit from chlorine filtering for ourselves, not just for our fish!

The next step will be to purchase the tank that will hold our fish.  I’m planning on either a 55-gallon drum-style, food grade plastic barrel that we might cut in half to create two tanks, or a larger, 275-gallon food grade IBC tank.  I’ll keep you posted as we take our next step!

Community Growths

September 11, 2017

Last night we had a home-schooling mom and her son join us for Happy Hour.  We’ve had one other home-school connection join us months ago, and both times the people joining us weren’t people of faith.  Considering that the vast majority of the other attendees are recent grads from the local Christian liberal arts college, we’re never sure what the topics of conversation will be.  We’re learning, however, not to let that worry us too much.  I attended a Christmas party a few years back that a colleague of mine threw, and I was amazed at the diversity of folks there, from motorcyclists to college professors.  My colleague enjoys that sort of social and intellectual free-for-all, and I’ve tried to adopt a similar attitude.  It isn’t always easy though, probably because (unlike my colleague!) I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to forecast the results in order to ensure that everyone else has a good time.  I need to try and stop doing that.

My wife and I are discovering that as people get to know us (mainly her and our children), they’re curious.  They have no idea what a pastor is or does.  They have no idea how and why we open our homes to people regularly, whether it’s hosting international students or hosting happy hours.  They have a lot of questions and curiosities, particularly as they go through difficult times in their lives.

We also had three third-culture-kids (TCKs) last night, including my wife.  This is an emerging field of study in psychology related to kids born or raised substantially in a culture that is not their parents’ culture of birth, and who are taken out of this other culture at some point when their parents return to their culture of birth.  The parents are going home in this sense, but their kids are not.  The kids have to learn to figure out who they are because they aren’t part of the culture they were born in, even though they feel like they are.  And they aren’t part of their parents’ culture because crucial formative years were spent outside of that culture.  It can leave them feeling a bit lost as to who they are and how to fit in.  I was able to have some fascinating conversation with one of the guys who is a TCK, and of course I’m interested in this topic more and more because my wife is also a TCK and I’m beginning (slowly) to understand how deeply this defines her.

It’s fascinating to watch this time evolve!

Eat & Run

July 21, 2017

I thought this was an interesting article about how recipients of food stamps tend to run out of money for food within a week or two, meaning that for at least half the month, they don’t have any of these funds to purchase food with.  The article purports to explore how and why this is, and emphasizes that because funds are dispersed in a single installment, people have trouble budgeting properly and therefore spend too much immediately and run out of funds.

What it doesn’t explore is what people are buying with this assistance.

For three years, as part of a Christian communal living experiment, my family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in St. Louis.  My observations are anecdotal rather than deliberate, but have stuck with me all the same.  What we saw the neighborhood children eating constantly was junk food.  Sodas, hot fries, Cheetos.  Constantly.  We never saw them with fresh fruit or vegetables or any other sort of food (unless we shared ours with them).  We know that these children lived in households that depended on food stamps – the vast majority of our neighborhood did.

Certainly the issue of telling people how to spend their assistance is a tricky one at best, but if the issue of running out of money is due not just to budgeting problems but also spending that assistance on low-nutrition snack food instead of food that can actually improve your health and last more than a few minutes, then doesn’t our government (who created and funds the food stamp program using taxpayer dollars) have a duty to at least help people know how to spend their assistance wisely?

When I looked into our state’s web site for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program I didn’t see any information about good ways to spend the assistance wisely.  Perhaps that information is provided in another format beyond the web site, but perhaps it’s not being provided at all.

I’m sure that there is money used to lobby against any type of restriction on how food assistance is spent (beyond current limitations on alcohol, cigarettes, etc.).  I’m sure that companies that manufacture potato chips and soda would take issue with having their products declared off-limits for food stamp monies.  But if the issue is actually how to help people and make sure they’re getting the food they need, does it make sense to ignore the issue completely?

Bugs for Lunch

December 26, 2016

Recently having joined the fraternity of people who have eaten bugs, I can tell you that I don’t anticipate these being on the menu regularly in our home any time soon.  Ever, actually.  That doesn’t stop a small group of people out there from continuing to argue that insects are the culinary future.  So much so that someone has given thought to the reality that our current Western utensils are not necessarily the best suited for gorging ourselves on bugs.

Enter the BugBug set of new utensils specifically for eating bugs.  The pincers are intriguing, as are the spear-tipped chopsticks. Although this is just a proto-type set, I don’t anticipate being an early adopter if and when they become available for purchase.  I prefer to continue dining on larger critters!

Native Cuisine

August 16, 2016

This article made me hungry, and happy.   It’s always good to be reminded that we didn’t invent food or flavor or cuisine – it’s part of being human and every group reflects that in some way.  It must be fascinating to recapture some of the native cuisine and approaches to cooking that were once so second nature!  And delicious!