Pancake Day!

Pancake Day - Vegetal MattersI studied abroad in Liverpool, England. I lived in a single room on a hallway of first year students where we shared 2 large communal kitchens. Shopping for myself was a grand weekly adventure. The eggs were not refrigerated. The best cookies had the blandest name (digestives!). Peppers were called capsicum and zucchinis were called courgettes. In one of my first weeks I purchased golden syrup thinking it was maple syrup (they are NOT the same). It didn’t occur to me to think it odd that it was so cheap and also that there were not many maple trees in England.

Since I cooked for myself most of the time, I didn’t work as many British delicacies into my diet, but I learned so much more about the other students and their ways. My meals were commented on for having “lots of parts” and always including salads. I observed one student take a baked potato, and then cover it with canned tuna, beans, and ketchup (though this was certainly not the norm).

In Feburary a friend invited me down the hall for “Pancake Day” celebrations. I thought it incredibly odd that my British peers, who did not have an abundance of maple syrup and did not tend to indulge in large, sweet breakfasts, had an entire day that they dedicated to eating sweet, sticky stacks of pancakes (it took a while longer for me to realize this was the same as our Fat Tuesday). But I was beyond excited for the meal, and looked forward to it all day. I was quietly surprised when I was served the most delicate crepe, with a squeeze of lemon juice and dusting of powdered sugar. It was fantastic, and one of my best food memories from the whole semester.

That was seven years ago, and it took until yesterday for me to tackle making crepes on my own. Even though they were made for me in a dorm kitchen, they have been on my “to cook” list for so long the pressure had built up and it seemed like a daunting project. I went a savory route and used the recipe from My Paris Kitchen for buckwheat crepes. The batter was a simple mix of flour, salt, water, and eggs that needed an hour rest. I don’t have a crepe pan (and will never buy one), and just used a large nonstick pan. The first two were ugly, but the great thing with crepes is you make them one at a time so there are many chances to perfect your process. Last night I was prouder of that stack of crepes than anything else I’ve done in 2015. As a one time crepe maker I don’t have a recipe to share yet, but just wanted to share a story and encourage you to tackle the long time food projects on your list (they’re probably not as hard as you think).

Pancake Day


Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal MattersI love used book stores. New ones have their draw, but shiny books come at a premium. Though you never know what you will find at a used store, discovering long-sought after books or unknown gems is a high worth seeking. This summer while down the Cape found myself in Hyannis, which is a not my top vacation destination. It’s mostly populated with t-shirt shops and seafood restaurants that cater to the masses. But, it is also home to Tim’s Used Books, a huge store overlooked by everyone else looking for boogie boards and battered fish. I always peruse the cookbook section in such places and could not help but take Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book by Pilaff Bey off the shelf. I opened to the introduction and read the first sentence: “In those last years you would always find him between six and dinner-time in the Café Vittoria, unfashionably tucked away behind the Piazza.” That sounds like a place I want to hang out, and as my full name is uncommon, I’m usually partial to any reference to it (it’s also the reason I picked up Angels and Demons at an airport a decade ago). After flipping through a few recipes it went in the “buy” pile immediately, and Love’s Cookery Book stands as my best used bookstore find yet. It’s a compilation of aphrodisiac recipes written with no ingredient lists. Just short (and a few long) paragraphs describing recipes “collected slowly, one by one, for the private use and benefit of a small group of friends, most of whom, I am sorry to say, are older than they want to be….”

It took longer than it should have for me to become curious about the man behind the recipes. Pilaff Bey is a pseudonym for Norman Douglas, but Douglas is listed as the book’s editor so he just barely separated his real identify from it. Douglas was a serious fiction and travel author, and Love’s Cookery Book was the twenty seventh of his twenty eight books published just before his death in 1952. His death was rumored to have been caused by a purposeful drug overdose to escape an illness, and his last words are supposedly: “Get those fucking nuns away from me.” It seems that Love’s Cookery Book was Douglas’ effort to pass along his lifetime of erotic cooking wisdom before it was claimed by his death.

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal Matters

Bey’s recipes are inconsistent to say the least, with some having absurdly specific instructions, and others so vague they can barely be called recipes.  The range of ingredients is pretty narrow. Besides a chapter on mushrooms, vegetables are barely present except as aromatics and a seven page Vegetables and Salads chapter featuring mostly artichokes, celery, and peppers. There is a lot of seafood (especially eels, mussels, oysters and snails), game meat, offal, cinnamon and other warm spices, and copious quantities of wine and brandy.  This recipe Róto Sans Pareil is a turducken almost six times over, with seventeen different game birds stuffed into one another.

Some recipes are a single sentence, such as Goose Kidneys: “Martial asserts that taking the kidneys of the goose pounded with pine seeds, sugar, pepper, cinnamon, and fresh yolks of eggs, made into croquettes, cooked lightly in the oven, is admirable for warming cold spirits.” Many of the recipes end with delightful short musings on the dish just presented, such as “Could not be better.” (Yellow Sausages), “Another reliable stimulant.” (Veal Sweetbreads á la D’Ayen), “Not everybody cares to treat oysters in this fashion.” (Oysters in Champagne), “Not very invigorating.” (Scalloped Crab), “A noble aphrodiasiac.” (Frogs’ Legs), “A stimulant for sturdy stomachs.” (Pork Chops with Fennel), “Rather banal, I venture to think.” (Purée of Celery), “Much ado about nothing.” (Turkey in the Italian Way), and the especially puzzling “Monselet declares that is the chaste Joseph had been given this dish by Potiphar’s wife she would not have been snubbed on that memorable occasion.” (Langouste a L’Américaine).

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal MattersThe drinks chapter is even odder than the rest. Some of them take a week or more to produce (or fifty days), which is not the kind of patience I have when craving a cocktail, and require staggering amounts of alcohol (anyone know where I can buy gin by the gallon?). The recipe for Hydromel is as follows: “When the dog days set in, take some spring water; to three parts of water add one part of clarified honey; put this mixture in earthenware vessels and have it stirred by your slaves for a long time. Leave it out in the open, covered with a cloth, for forty days and forty nights.” As this book was written in Europe  in the 20th century, I can’t imagine where Bey would expect having slaves to be common practice.

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal Matters

I thought about trying out a few of these recipes for my own Valentine’s day dinner, but decided to go with some more traditional fare (less eel). There will be cornish game hens though, which are the closest thing to game I can get right now, so I think Bey would approve. I will be keeping Bey’s mindset though and not taking my cooking too seriously. This cult classic cookbook will always serve as romantic inspiration and is without a doubt the most amusing entry on my cookbook shelf.

Diet Soda and Weight Gain

20150211_1657571Full calorie soda is easy to hate. So much of it is made with high fructose corn syrup, plus a whole lot of calories that provide no feeling of fullness or nutrition. What it can give you is a quick sugar rush followed by a hard crash. Diet soda would seem like the magical solution: zero (or few calories), and all the delicious!!!!! Or not.

While beverages sweetened artificially may have fewer calories than their naturally or otherwise sweetened counterparts, studies strongly suggest that they cause an abundance of energy consumption elsewhere in the diet. Artificially sweetened beverages make the body immune to the normal calorie indicators of food, causing a person to consume more energy overall when artificially sweetened beverages are part of the diet. Many clinical and epidemiological studies have set out to prove this point.

In the Northern Manhattan Study over 2,500 participants were questioned about their diet and regular soft drink consumption and then followed up with over the course of 10 years. Then they compared the incidence of vascular events (stroke, myocardial infarction, vascular death) to the amount of diet and regular soda that the participants consumed. While those who were light diet soft drink consumers (1 per month up to 6 per week) did not have a significant risk of vascular events, the heavier consumers (1+ a day) did have an elevated risk of vascular events of 59%. The San Antonio Heart Study did a similar experiment with almost 4,000 participants and also found that those who consumed artificial sweeteners in beverages (soda, coffee, & tea) were much more likely to have an increased BMI at their follow up 7-8 years after the initial questioning. While these studies cannot directly tie artificial sweetener consumption to weight gain, and in fact they do not prove that consuming diet soda is bad for your health, they show that there is a positive relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and increased BMI and risk of vascular events.  So they show a correlation between people who are generally making poor decisions about their health and people who are consuming diet soda.

The study “High-Intensity Sweeteners and Energy Balance” examined rat food consumption after being served yogurt sweetened with glucose vs. yogurt sweetened with saccharin.  The rats that were served saccharin sweetened yogurt ate more of their regular food and gained more weight over the course of the study. This was attributed to the Pavlovian conditioning principles. Since the sweet flavor is no longer an indicator of the caloric value of the food, “the ability of sweet taste to evoke cephalic phase responses would be degraded, with the result being less effective energy regulation and increased caloric intake when normal sweet (and high calorie) foods are consumed.” Therefore, consuming foods where the usual indicative properties (like sweetness) do not accurately represent their caloric values causes an imbalance in energy regulation. This study provides more concrete proof for the various epidemiological studies that have occurred where participants who consume artificially sweetened beverages have more weight issues and are more susceptible to vascular events.

In the article “Gain weight by ‘going diet?’ Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” Qing Yang argues that sweet taste (either from sugar or artificial sweeteners) causes an enhanced human appetite. He says this is because artificial sweeteners are treated differently by food reward pathways than natural sweeteners. This is an issue since “animals seek food to satisfy the inherent craving for sweetness, even in the absence of energy needs. Lack of complete satisfaction, likely because of the failure to activate the postingestive component, further fuels food seeking behavior.” So because artificial sweeteners are recognized by the body differently than natural sweeteners, and because they make the body used to a certain level of sweetness, they cause excessive energy consumption and make consumers more at risk for obesity and diseases caused by obesity.

The issues with diet soda are more likely psychological than physical. If a person who eats healthfully and exercises regularly consumes diet soda, they are not going to start gaining weight because of it. But this healthful soda drinker is not the norm. Since diet soda is seen as a lesser evil than regular soda, it could lead to other poor food choices….oh since I’m having a diet soda I can have the double cheeseburger instead of the salad! Because there are no calories but sweetness is still present, your body becomes used to that level of sweetness and wants other foods to be at a similar level.  But artificial sweeteners are vastly sweeter than natural sugar. Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet) is 180 times sweeter than sugar, saccharin (Sweet’N Low) is 300 times sweeter than sugar, and sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Sugar cravings are serious, and if you’re constantly satisfying it you crave more and more. Taste buds change, and you can tolerate higher and higher levels of sweetness just like you can adapt to tolerate higher levels of spiciness. But the more sweetness you remove from your diet, the more you will be satisfied by less and less sugar.  I can’t, nor can all these scientists, say that diet soda and artificial sweeteners are the cause of weight gain (because they’re probably not). But, if you are drinking diet soda regularly, you need to take a hard look at the other dietary choices you are making.

If you do want to cut diet soda out of your diet (YAY!), don’t try to do it all at once. Try having one less a day, or replacing one a day with a seltzer, and after a few weeks cut back more (but eventually cut out the seltzer too…it’s just bottled water). Then when you do go back and drink one once in a blue moon, it will be so much more rewarding (or you may not even like it anymore). The same goes for artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, and Sweet’N Low, or even real sugar you are trying to get out of your diet: cut back a little a time.


Artificial Sweeteners.  Harvard School of Public Health.

Fowler, Sharon P., Ken Williams, Roy G. Resendez, Kelly J. Hunt, Helen P. Hazuda and Michael P. Stern. “Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain.”  Obesity 16 (2008): 1894-1900.

Gardener, Hannah, Tatjana Rundek, Matthew Market, Clinton Wright, Mitchell S. V. Elkind, and Ralph Sacco. “Diet Soft Drink Comsumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study.” J Gen Intern Med 27.9 (2012): 1120-6.

Swithers, Susan E., Askley Martin, and Terry L. Davidson. “High-Intensity Sweeteners and Energy Balance.” Physiol Behav, 100.1 (2010): 55-62.

Yang, Qing. “Gain weight by ‘going diet?’ Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 83 (2010): 101-108.

February Light

February Light - Citrus CocktailI think February is a brighter month than we give her credit for. The days are noticeably longer than they were in January (that 40 minutes makes a big difference).  My town in central Massachusetts got over 40″ of snow in the last couple weeks (and more to come) so the land is under a very thick layer of white. When the skies take a break from snowing and the sun does shine, it reflects blindingly off the snow (especially when you work in a barn surrounded by 8 acres of snow). And then there is the citrus. Beyond storage apples there are slim pickings for local fruit around these parts now, but the citrus is coming in hot. Clementines, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, blood oranges, tangelos in mountainous displays. They are plenty brightening alone, but even more spirited served like this.

February Light - Citrus Cocktail

February Light – Citrus Cocktail

Makes 2 short drinks

I used a combination of grapefruit and clementine, but whatever citrus or combination would work. If you like a really spicy cocktail even more ginger could be added, or leave it out entirely if you are looking for something sweeter. Don’t bother with bottled juice, the taste is vastly inferior.

  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 clementine (yes, there are two pictured above, but I ended up with more juice than I needed)
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 shots vodka
  • 1 shot triple sec
  • Ice

Juice the grapefruit and the clementine. Strain the juice to remove the pulp. Slice the ginger into 2 pieces and place each piece in the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Using a muddler or a wooden spoon, mash the ginger up a bit (but try not to make a ton of tiny pieces). Measure 1 shot of vodka and half a shot of triple sec into each glass.  Finish with 2 shots of the freshly squeezed juice in each glass. Stir to combine and add ice (I love giant cocktail ice cubes, but regular ice, icicles, or whatever else you have will work).