Virgil on December 12, 2013
Just after pouring into cheesecloth layered strainer

Just after pouring into cheesecloth layered strainer

I am taking an online course from Harvard called Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science. Not for the faint of heart, it is actually a physics/chemistry class applied to cooking. But, some of the best and most innovative chefs in the world are part of it. For example Adrian Ferran, the father of molecular gastronomy. Enough said. I have to admit that I am not a math genius, so have a very hard time with that aspect. Yet, even if you don’t understand half the actual science, you can learn a lot.

For example, this week (I am on Week 2), the lesson explored energy, temperature, and heat and the science behind why adding heat (energy) to food makes it cook or otherwise do what you want it to do. In the lab, I made ricotta cheese. The principles demonstrated here is that adding acid (vinegar) to whole milk changes the milk. Yet, if you add heat AND the acid, you end up with something that actually tastes good. Without heat, it tastes nasty.I am going to share the recipe here, mine turned out really well, I’ll never buy ricotta again.

Ricotta cheese

  •  1 liter whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

You need a thermometer that will measure at least down to 100 degrees F and up to at least 200 degrees F. I used a candy thermometer that went down to 100 degrees, but a more precise one would have been better that went below 100 degrees F. A meat thermometer, except maybe for a digital one, doesn’t go down low enough.

Mix milk and salt in a pot and place on stove. Prepare a large bowl with ice and water to make an ice bath to quickly cool down your

Ricotta before going in fridge

Ricotta before going in fridge

mixture when the time comes. Also, prepare another large bowl with a strainer layered with four layers of cheesecloth. Now you are ready to heat the milk.

Heat the milk under medium high heat to 198 degrees F, stirring continuously. As soon as it reaches the correct temperature, remove from heat and, as quickly as possible, add the two tablespoons of white vinegar. Quickly stir the mixture for a second or two, no more than that. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Do not stir as this will disrupt the chemical process caused by the vinegar (acid). The milk starts to clump up and coagulate. After this, put in ice water bath until temperature reduces to 97 degrees F.

Next, pour mixture into the cheesecloth lined strainer and allow to drain. At this point, you can stir the mixture to help with the draining off of the whey. I found it necessary to pour off the whey as the fluid level reached the bottom of the strainer to ensure it continues to drain. Fold over the cheesecloth over the ricotta and let it sit in the fridge at least 20 minutes before eating. Mine rocks, I was really happy. This will be going in my next lasagna.


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China rejects US GMO corn shipments

China rejects US GMO corn shipments

Most countries in the developed world and many in underdeveloped nations ban or restrict use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Most at least have laws requiring labeling of any foods that contain GMOs, so the consumer may decide. In most of the United States, Monsanto, other agribusiness giants, and USDA have gone full-tilt boogie to keep labeling away from US consumers, with huge donations funding efforts to defeat ballot measures to require labeling on the national and state levels.

In the latest round of GMO disasters for US growers (and I don’t feel sorry for any farmer planting GMO crops), China just rejected 120 million metric tonnes of corn tainted with an unapproved insect-resistant MIR 162 variety of corn (yes, China allows some GMO strains to be imported). Last month, they rejected 60 million tonnes for the same reason. The US is the largest corn exporter in the world and China is the third largest customer.

The European Union countries have also rejected countless imports of GMO contaminated goods from the United States. The question for me, is why do we fill orders to these countries with goods we know they don’t want. Do we think we might slip one over on them? Maybe and it is possible that has happened. Or, in the case of corn in particular, is the farmer planting non-GMO varieties honestly that have become contaminated by his neighbors GMO crop? This has been documented countless times and there is very little to be done to stop it. Barriers zones don’t work all the time, if ever. It is like pesticide drift from a conventional field to an organic field, yielding the organic crops useless as organic products. In the US, nothing is done about these things. It is a very sad failure by the USDA and the courts.

There are plenty of places to sell GMO crops, why don’t we honor the wishes of other countries that have the welfare of their citizens at heart, unlike the US, where anything goes in the world of food except for more and more restrictions on local small producers in the false name of “safety.” Meanwhile, our food supply gets worse and worse.

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Virgil on December 3, 2013
B17 Flying Fortress under attack

B17 Flying Fortress under attack. You can see the attacking German plane behind the tail and the tail gunner had his hands full with this attack.

Ice cream is a favorite among Americans, as well as in other countries. The US Air Force was actually founded in 1947, but during World War II, it was part of the Army, the US Army Air Corps. Probably the main heavy US bomber during that war was the B17, the “Flying Fortress.” In addition to bombs, it carried defensive machine guns at the front, sides, belly, and tail. Being a belly or tail gunner had to be scary as hell, especially if you couldn’t get out of your compartment and the plane had to do a crash landing. I knew a guy once who was a belly gunner on one of these things. Those machine guns were the plane’s only defense against enemy fighters and the bombers were not overly fast or maneuverable. You hopefully also had some friendly fighter planes around to help protect you. Beside enemy fighters, there was the ever present flak and anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The men who flew and manned these bombers were incredibly brave.

Americans flying on bombing runs out of England came up with an ingenious way to make use of their bombing runs, assuming they made it home. They devised a way to make ice cream while on bombing missions. According to a great book I am now reading,  Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee (review to follow when I am

Tail gunner on a B17

Tail gunner on a B17

done reading it),

On March 13, 1943, the New York Times reported that American fliers stationed in Britain had discovered an ingenious way of making ice cream while on duty. A story titled “Flying Fortresses Double as Ice-Cream Freezers” disclosed that the airmen “place prepared ice-cream mixture in a large can and anchor it to the rear gunner’s compartment of a Flying Fortress. It is well shaken up and nicely frozen by flying over enemy territory at high altitudes.”

If they made it home, they and others had a great treat, homemade ice cream!




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Virgil on November 27, 2013
Jamestown Colony

Jamestown Colony

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that celebrates family and being thankful for all the good things we have. It is a day of respite and relaxation, one to be savored. It really makes no difference that the holiday we have all experienced in our lifetimes bears no resemblance to the reality of what is called the first Thanksgiving. So, this post certainly recognizes and celebrates the modern Thanksgiving, but this holiday may top the list of myths. Nothing wrong with myths, of course, but I decided this year’s post would be a little different.

First things first. the first Thanksgiving was not at Plymouth Colony in 1621 and not celebrated by the Pilgrims. There were numerous prior dinners of thanks prior to this, including Jamestown, Virginia (1610 in the spring) that were actually called Thanksgiving. In the 1621 Plymouth Colony festival, it was not called Thanksgiving yet, it was a normal harvest festival such as are celebrated worldwide. But even prior to Jamestown, the Spanish held “thanksgivings” in the 1500s in North America, as did those at Roanoke Colony, North Carolina, circa 1586.

But, somehow, the Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving myth is the one we celebrate today. And it appears that that entire affair is also a

Traditional first Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony

Traditional first Thanksgiving, Plymouth Colony

myth, at least in some people’s minds.  I cannot verify the authenticity of the following version, but it is interesting and, I suppose, possible. But I have seen no proof and accounts by the colonists do not mention this at all. And, frankly, they had no reason not to mention it if it were true.

According to a spokesman of the modern day Wampanoag Nation, the Indians were not invited. They heard shots and noise and were worried that the colonists might attack them. Much like in places like Afghanistan, people often celebrate with firing weapons, etc. It has gotten quite a few Afghans killed by the coalition, including an entire wedding party. So Chief Massasoit assembled a war party to check things out and prepared to fight if necessary. The colonists explained they were having a harvest festival, but the Indians stayed nearby to make sure that was all it was. They were not invited and things were probably tense rather than the friendly and loving atmosphere portrayed today. Is this version true? Perhaps. Is the version we have been taught true? Probably not. No one will ever really know.

But it is certain that Thanksgiving as we know it is a myth, a nice myth for sure and one we should continue as it brings people together in a positive way, at least these days it does.

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Virgil on November 18, 2013
Salt cod gently simmering

Salt cod gently simmering

Nostalgia can make you crave foods you ate as a child. I wrote recently about my mother’s canned corned beef hash and eggs, a super easy and decidedly non-gourmet meal that I remember fondly and hadn’t had in years. When I made it, it was still good. Read Momma’s corned beef hash and eggs.

My mother-in-law, Pat, was a child in Liverpool during World War II. Due to the German bombings, they went to Wales to ride out the war. There are a number of dishes she remembers as a child and has fond memories of. One, finn and haddie, we can’t find, yet. Marrowfat peas is another we are working on getting at a non-ridiculous price. Salt cod is one we have found in the US. You can find salt cod online and at specialty stores. Even in our relatively small city, Augusta, GA, there is an ethnic food store that has it.

It is simple to make and it tastes good, although definitely not in the gourmet category. Who cares? It is a tasty and filling meal. The main thing is soaking the salt cod in changes of water before you make the meal.

Pat’s salt cod

Place the salt cod in a bowl of water completely submerged. Put in the fridge overnight. The next day, pour out the water, replace it with

Salt cod served with Southern butter beans and bread butter buddies

Salt cod served with Southern butter beans and butties

fresh water and put back in the fridge. Note that the fish is already cured by the salt, like country ham, this is to just remove most of the salt. That evening, the fish is ready to cook. If you like more salt, cook it is the same water as the second soaking. If less salt, just use fresh water.

Put in a pan, again completely submerged by water, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer very gently for 15-20 minutes. Serve it with a big blob of butter.

We love Southern butter beans (lima beans), made with some ham or bacon, and served it with that, along with buttered bread. They would also be great with English peas of any type.

This is a really quick and easy meal that tastes remarkably good.


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Virgil on November 17, 2013
The love of a dog

The love of a dog

This blog is dedicated to my dog, Maudie, aka Little Buddy. It was a nod to a great companion in all ways that also happens to like any food that humans eat. I thought it was kind of cute, many in my family thought I was insane. Maybe I am. If I am, so is my wife. Maudie has her wrapped around her paws, as well. I started this blog when she was still a puppy and she is over fours years old now. Long may she run.

Recently, there was a graphic circulating on Facebook that I want to share here. It is about dogs, not food, but really fits the theme of this blog, so I couldn’t resist. Here are some comments and thoughts on dogs in general and Maudie in particular.

My original comment to the post:

Anyone who has never had that special dog will think this is insane. But, pure love and no strings attached. My little dog would die protecting me in a minute up against anything and I would do the same for her.

A comment from a friend:

Dogs have evolved with us and have influenced our evolution along the way too. We are linked to their species by that, they’re a part of our humanity.

My response:

I have thought a lot about what you said and it is so true. Some other animal species have connections with humans, but

Maudie climbing a magnolia tree

Maudie climbing a magnolia tree

nothing like dogs do. Horses come close, but a dog will die for you without any hesitation. No other species (other than other humans, as in protecting their families), would ever do that. And lots of species are smart, but a smart dog beats them all in intelligence. Our dog Maudie aka Little Buddy, has an English vocabulary that is probably at least 20 words and she knows what we are going to do (like go out, so she can make sure she can go, too) before we know it sometimes. She is also a healer, and knows when one of us sick and reacts accordingly. She will also try and take out any threat against us and she weighs only 19 lbs. She would take on a pit bull if she had to. George Washington wrote a story about one of her breed (she is a feist) that was killed defending her owner against a bear. Unreal.

Her response:

just read something today that says they now think dogs have been with humans for 19,000 years, 9000 years longer than previously believed.

My response:

I believe it, there is a psychic bond with Maudie, possibly reincarnation is also involved. Not sure, never thought I would have such a relationship with a dog, although we have had other incredible dogs, like Lili, who was also like Maudie in devotion and love.

One thing about feists is they are believed to be derived from native American dogs and English small dogs. They have been documented since the 18th century and are totally Southern.

Am I crazy? I don’t know and don’t care. Little Buddy landed in a great home that treats her like a princess and she returns the favor.

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Virgil on November 14, 2013
PepsiCo's Naked Juice Company has settled the lawsuit for false advertising

PepsiCo’s Naked Juice Company has settled the lawsuit for false advertising

I reported on the outing of various “all natural” foods that were not natural, including the lawsuit against PepsiCo, owner of Naked Juice. See “‘Natural’ doesn’t mean natural, organic, or good.” The problem with the misrepresentation of Naked Juice was that it has both GMOs and synthetic chemicals in it.

Now, you can get up to $45.00 from PepsiCo if you ever bought Naked Juice and don’t have proofs of purchase (who is going to have these, anyway?) and up to $75.00 if you have proof of purchase.

All this is costing PepsiCo a few million dollars, literally a gnats eyebrow to the money they have. But it does cause them some irritation and sends a message. By the way, PepsciCo was one of the companies bankrolling the defeat of California’s “Right to Know” GMO labeling Proposition 37.

The deadline for submitting a claim is December 17, 2013 and you can read the settlement here and file a claim here. I urge anyone who has ever purchased Naked Juice to file a claim.

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Virgil on October 30, 2013
Let me in with my bone!

Let me in with my bone!

This was just too cute to let pass. I bought a leg of lamb today and was butchering it down into meal size portions for freezing. The bone was really nice and large enough for Little Buddy AKA Maudie not to swallow it. I made that mistake once.

I know there is controversy over giving dogs bones. I am not advocating it, but my decision is that a large raw bone is fine. No cooked chicken bones, of course. Dogs have been eating bones for millions of years. And Little Buddy absolutely loves them.

One other thing about Little Buddy. She is the only dog I have ever had that hides bones. It is like that financial commercial. I always thought it was a myth. Wrong. She goes nuts trying to find the perfect spot, then comes back five-minutes later to get it and find the more perfect place. Sometimes she forgets where she hid them, but usually, at some point she will get it and spent hours chewing on it. Talk about enjoyment. I was going to make lamb stock, but I am glad I gave her this one.

With a messy bone, I took her outside to hopefully at least get it cleaned up some before letting her in the house with it. She immediately went to the door to get inside with it. I left her outside where she looked for hiding places, chewed a bit, and looked for hiding places. Nothing suitable. So, I look over and see her up on her hind legs with bone in mouth at the door. She never gets on her hind legs to ask to come in.

Of course, I let her in and she is now a very happy camper. Yep, this is the most spoiled dog ever.

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Mexican ocellated turkey

Mexican ocellated turkey

There are all kinds of cool food related anthropological/archaeological discoveries being made these days. This is exciting. Turkey is one of the few domesticated animals that actually originated in North America. Marc Forgione notwithstanding, he won The Next Iron Chef competition by preparing a Thanksgiving dinner with no turkey. He claimed that turkey was not served at the first Thanksgiving. He is virtually 100% wrong, but a lie intrigued the judges and he won. As an anthropologist myself, I know Forgione and the judges aren’t and if any of them actually researched the issue, they would know that it is almost certain that turkey was on the menu. Read more at Turkey at the first Thanksgiving and Next Iron Chef.

Hopefully, Marc Forgione won’t argue with the researchers at the University of Florida on this one. But Thanksgiving is right around

North American wild turkey

North American wild turkey

the corner, so what better time to write about Mexican domesticated turkey?

There are only two turkey species in the world, the North American wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), divided into five distinct subspecies, and the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata). The ocellated turkey lives mainly in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. The North American wild turkey is the one found in many parts of the United States, the one served at the first Thanksgiving. And all domesticated turkey found today throughout the world originated from the North American wild turkey, as it was the species that Europeans brought back to Europe. So, the turkey you eat at Thanksgiving this year is a variant of a North American wild turkey.

El Mirador

El Mirador

North American wild turkey bones from over 2000 years ago were discovered at a Mayan ceremonial site in Guatemala. Guatemala is far out of the range of this turkey, and it appears they were imported by the Mayans from farmers in central Mexico, quite a distance away, via the trade routes operating at that time. The fact that these bones do not belong to the Mexican ocellated turkey is amazing and evidence that the North American wild turkey had been domesticated and made its way to Mexico far earlier than anyone imagined. From there, it went further south to the Mayans in Guatemala. The Mayans were not known for raising domesticated animals.

There are lots of questions yet to be answered. It appears these turkeys were used ceremonially. Of course, that is because they were found in conjunction with ceremonial structures. That doesn’t mean they weren’t also eaten by regular people. We know they were imported, but we still don’t know if they were imported, then killed and sacrificed, or imported and formed breeding stock for local farmers or priests. Answering one question always leads to 100 more. Pretty cool.

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Virgil on October 27, 2013

Just the fact that meat eating has been a consistent part of practically every society known to history and prehistory, including those with specific food prohibitions, such as Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, says to me that humans are meant to eat animal protein. Vegans and vegetarians have no basis in history or prehistory for their practices and, in my opinion, it is unnatural and potentially more unhealthy than a diet with some meat. But, to each his or her own.

But it does remind me of a joke someone once told me, “If God meant people to be vegetarians, he wouldn’t have made animals out of meat.” I think it is funny, your mileage may vary.

Oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency

Oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency

It may come as a surprise to some that the recent discovery by anthropologists that hominins were eating meat 1.5 million years ago is a big advance in the science of human evolution. The average person is used to seeing the caricature of cavemen with a huge hunk of bone and meat in his hand and mouth.

Yet, earlier ancestors, including relations that still exist, such as Chimpanzees, ate/eat little meat. Our earliest ancestors ate little or no meat that we know of. Until now. Scientists believe that meat eating was essential for hominins to develop the brain capacity that set us apart from other species, including our distant ancestors. Obviously, other animals eat meat, so it is theorized that meat eating coupled with the genetic disposition of hominins led to what we now know as humanity, or homo sapiens. That is huge, if true.

So, how did the anthropologists know that meat eating was taking place 1.5 million years ago? As an anthropologist myself, this is exciting work.

A two-inch skull fragment was found in northern Tanzania, where many other significant finds have been made. It was from a 2-year old child that had porotic hyperostosis associated with anemia. This condition is caused by a meat-eating diet that was suddenly short on meat. And this was a 2-year old child, recall, meaning others were providing his food.

Dr. Musiba, lead scientist, said

the evidence showed that the juvenile’s diet was deficient in vitamin B12 and B9. Meat seems to have been cut off during the weaning process.

“He was not getting the proper nutrients and probably died of malnutrition,” he said.

The study offers insights into the evolution of hominins including Homo sapiens. Musiba said the movement from a scavenger, largely plant-eating lifestyle to a meat-eating one may have provided the protein needed to grow our brains and give us an evolutionary boost.

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