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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Being a long-term expat gives a person a unique perspective, as you well may imagine – an outside eye with insider access – and in the case of these bloggers, the ability to be ambassadors to the world at large.  It’s been a while since I focused on food myself, and I want to highlight to whoever may be reading, a review of some incredible blogs – AND – their very special qualities.  I’ve chosen and linked some specific posts to shed a light on the diversity of boutique dairies and cheeses, markets, spices, comfort foods, and out-of-the-way corners/villages/eateries that guidebooks would never even know to mention.  Enjoy!

Milk, Dairies, and Cheese

Israelis love their cheeses, eaten (much to my chagrin, actually) very fresh.  For fresh cheeses, however, they’re extraordinary.  A huge variety of cow, goat, and sheep cheeses are produced by the largest and smallest boutique dairies all over the country.  Baroness Tapuzina told us about her visit to the Ein Kamonim goat far recently.  Sarah Melamed of Food Bridge posted about a comparison between camel, cow, goat, and buffalo milk, oh my!  To add my recommendations on Israeli cheese, I adore the Markovitch Dairy – run by a sweet couple, on their own, with their goats, near Petach Tikvah – they make a cheese very similar to Camembert, with a blue center – during events they cater, they stuff big majoul dates with a softer goat cheese – to die for.  A bigger better-known artisanal cheese-maker is the Jacobs Farm – they make a hard cheese with pimento and caraway seed that is so incredibly different – it took me a while to like it, but I adore it now.

Markets and Places

Pita with zatar

My friend Liz, of Cafe Liz fame, is truly a market connoisseur.  Actually, most of these bloggers probably are, but I as know Liz well and we hang out in Tel Aviv quite a bit – she has been my personal ambassador to some gems.  Here, she tells us about Ramle, an out-of-the-way melting pot of a little town near the airport with an incredible history.  Here, a foray into the Levinsky Street market, undoubtedly the best place to buy spices in Tel Aviv – a bizarre 2-3 blocks of storefront if you’ve ever seen one.  And in a post I highly recommend, Where to Buy Food in Tel AvivLiz compared the prices of several basic food items at the shuk (market), and several commercial and organic stores around town – with very interesting findings for the consumer.

Sarah has a whole page devoted to shuks (markets), that you should really check out.  She’s written about Nazareth on a couple of occasions, somewhere most of us urban-folk would never venture.  The food scene is incredible there, and the New York Times recently featured it in an article, “Nazareth as an Eating Destination.”  A great pictorial is Spice Up Your Life in Nazareth, and a more complete anecdote is Nazareth Shuk: A Kaleidoscope for the Senses.  Another great post is by Miriam Kresh, the veteran blogger of Israeli Kitchen, also littered with fabulous photographs.  Miriam’s knowledge of the natural foods around us and the making of such basic (yet to us, complex) processes such as wine-making, soap-making, lotion-making, olive-pickling, and much more is astounding.

Comfort Food Around Us

Stuffed peppers

The new Jerusalemite among us is Ariella, of Ari Cooks.  A trained pâtissière, I love reading through her recipes.  A recent post of hers focuses on soups, Soups for Thought, and it was so so so good. So apt for the winter, so cold this year, making up for last year’s heat wave.  She links to several other soup recipes, so it’s an excellent resource.  Miriam has a great post on pickling olives at home, a local staple, olives are.  Sarah is hands down the kubbeh expert among us, and if you don’t know what these lovely semolina dumplings stuffed with meat are, do click her link.  Here is also Sarah’s excellent, beautiful, and brief journey through Israeli foods, including the ubiquitous falafel, foreigners so know us by.

I have skipped so much and focused on too few blogs — the amount of recipes, the innovation of this cooking, this east-meets-west, foreign-domestic, old-new, always fresh outlook displayed by the food bloggers of Israel is inspiring.  If you live here, I hope you choose to eat well and eat interestingly.  If you don’t live here, when you visit, make food a priority.  It’s so special and vibrant and fresh here.

Have a great week, all!  Here’s to getting through the winter!

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Homemade pumpkin pie!

 Thanksgiving: my favorite holiday

In my invitation, this is how I described Thanksgiving to my Israeli friends:

For those not especially familiar, Thanksgiving is a secular American holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.  We take a moment out of our lives and give thanks for all we have – and eat massive amounts of American food (hope you like green bean casserole and pumpkin-marshmallow bake).  In theory, we mark the date of the “first Thanksgiving” the Pilgrims shared with the Indians in Massachusetts in 1621 after having survived the first difficult year in the New World.  For a good overview of the history of Thanksgiving see: http://history1900s.about.com/od/1930s/a/thanksgiving.htm.  It’s like Passover, but for everyone and anyone.  I think it should be an international holiday.

They don’t quite get it, but it’s still important for me to do.  As for the meal, I never cease to be amazed at how disgusted everyday Israelis are of pumpkin pie.  I basically made a quintuple recipe – two double-stuff pies (one pictured above) and 2 dozen pie-cupcakes.  Three-quarters of one pie got eaten, along with a small handful of mini-pies.  Half of our twenty or so guests were American, so you can see how little and unadventurous the palates were.  The apple pie went over a bit better – the prettiest apple pie I’ve ever made, actually – and most people don’t seem to know it’s easy to make.  Well, almost all pies are easy, depending on the filling.  Just mix up whatever you want to cook and pour into the crust.  Apple pie, being made entirely of apple, is usually just made up of apple slices, a bit of sugar, and cinnamon.  Pumpkin pie, so easy to make in the US with canned pumpkin, is infinitely more difficult when you have to go out and buy your own pumpkin, core it, cut off the rind, boil large chunks, and then press and blend the cooked meat – all before mixing in the actual pie ingredients.  I will use the word homemade here quite frequently, because it truly was – nothing canned.

Surprisingly enough, my homemade sweet potato marshmallow casserole was a big hit, although they did not understand why it wasn’t in the dessert category.  I suppose nobody can say no to a dish covered in marshmallows.  The child in us all simply jumps out of our skins.  My family’s recipe calls for the sweet potato mash to be mixed with a large can of pineapple chunks (syrup removed first) and sprinkled heavily with cinnamon, before being topped by our preservative-packed confection.

The turkey was divine!  Again, Israelis are stunned and impressed at the buying and cooking of a whole turkey.  Now, Israelis, you must understand, eat a lot of turkey.  More than most countries.  But the form it takes is almost exclusively in cold cuts and schwarma, if you can believe it.  Even huge cuts of meat for roasting are pretty rare.  I’ve never seen a roast in Israel.  The closest is goulash with big chunks of meat.  So you can imagine the oddity of a whole bird.  I brined mine for about 15 hours (it was about a 16-17 pound bird) in homemade brine I improvised around an Alton Brown recipe.  My brine-broth contained crystallized ginger among other exotic things.  If you’ve never brined a bird – DO – it makes a huge difference in the juiciness, tenderness, and intensity of flavor.  Of course butter helps enormously too, and herbs under the skin along with it.  The stuffing was as usual Martha Stewart’s chestnut stuffing, a recipe my sister and I have favored for years.  Lots of butter, sage, cups and cups of chopped chestnut, and high quality bread.  I’m still eating the leftovers quite happily.

In any case, in any case.  Thanksgiving was a hit at our home – my sister and I are very proud of 2011’s feast.


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As promised, here are some things I ate or saw in France (Bordeaux, Paris, Giverny) a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Creme Brulee at an everyday kind of brasserie at the Place St Michel. Delicious. Burned to perfection.

Steak Tartar at Le Bistrot du Sommelier in Bordeaux, 163 Rue Georges Bonnac. Also fabulous. Very laid back. Very "homey" food. But it's entirely prix fixe, fast, rude-friendly (I suppose you'd call it), and certainly an experience. We had pink Champagne that night.

Fish, artfully jumping out of and diving back into...ice at Auchon, mega-awesome-supermarket

Tourte aux pommes. Giverny. Respite from the tourist hoards I had a luncheon fit for only the pudgiest of gourmands. No holds barred, a large bottle of San Pellegrino, 500 mL of red Bordeaux, duck pate, lamb brochette with amazing gratined potatoes, and this chunky rustic natural apple pie. Followed by coffee.

The potatoes!!! Best part of my lunch by far in Giverny.

The yummy lucky ducky luncheon I treated myself to on my very-hot-art-and-shopping- in-le-marais-day. What better than a salad on a summer afternoon? That would be fois gras (center) duck confit and preserved duck all around atop some heavily-dressed greens. Heaven. I believe I had a carafe of Sauvignon (blanc).

Cafe de Deux Magots. The famed literary cafe where all the greats drank and dined. St Germain. And now we, the tourist hoards, pay tenfold what the starved artists a century ago paid - and I'm not talking about inflation. I said to hell with it, it's expensive anyway, I might as well get what I want. Better a slightly overpriced gourmet salad than the death-provoking highway robbery-priced ham sandwich. The fois gras and smoked salmon salad (house specialty) was dainty, but worth every bit. Washed down with Leffe. Refreshing.

My last dinner. A bit disappointing. A bit of comfort food nonetheless. Jambon and fromage crepe with an egg on top. Yup, a croque madame a la Bretagne. The best part of the meal was a rich, smokey apple cidre - served in that brown bowl.

My first glass of Cinsault! A rose, but a Cinsault rose. I've been dying to try it since I learned that Pinotage was a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir. It was interesting, and not at all like what I expected.

Martzipan potatoes and figs. They were terrible, but only because of this particular shop. A decent potato consists of a small amount of cake, covered with a thick dense layer of marzipan (shaped into a potato) and then rolled entirely in unsweetened cocoa powder. It's my mother's favorite.

Macarons! Exceptional French cookies. Melt-in-your-mouth meringue and creme and almond and wow. So colorful and dainty. Specialty macaron shops seem to be popping up like the cupcake shops were a while back in the US. Much tastier, these are. The flavors are getting super-creative. I had a bergamot flavored one!

Last but not least. Desserts (a fairly typical, but typical is extraordinary here) at Le Bistrot du Sommelier. We have a semi-fredo with raspberry (if I remember correctly), creme brulee, profiteroles (my favorite this trip), and a chocolate fondant cake with pistachio ice cream.

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Follow the Africans.  Or the Asians. Or the Indians.  I’m not being prejudicial here, I promise.  I discovered something fascinating last Friday afternoon.  I’ve taken to doing my marketing just before Shabbat – and I mean just before.  Entering the fray at its very worst, I’ve left the house around 3 pm to go Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market), partly out of lazy Friday bad timing, and partly (when I recognized the pattern) for the prices, which I never would have discovered had I not noticed my fellow shoppers.  Maybe I should add – partly to experience this unique sort of excited chaos.

(Just realized I need to explain a bit: Israel until recently was pretty homogeneous, or well, all Jewish.  There are lots of different groups of Jews, but Jews nonetheless.  Arabs and Jews.  And that was kind of that.  Over the last 20 years, and especially the last 5 or so, we’ve had a huge influx of foreign workers as well as refugees and asylum seekers.  This has caused a lot of tension.  These people are needed in certain capacities, but they’re seen also as a burden.  It’s a touchy subject, and in my opinion, it’s brought out the worst in Israelis.  When there are no minorities present, it’s not apparent that there are racist tendencies.  But now…  In any case, I will blog more about this situation later.  All you need to know is that these foreigners live separately, in old, squalid neighborhoods.  They take care of our elderly.  They bus our plates and wash our dishes.  They sweep our streets.  They do our dangerous construction work.  And in many ways they are invisible.)

When I arrive at the market, the mayhem is overwhelming: huge crowds of people trying to push frantically through the narrow market, vendors shouting their brains out to make some last sales before they have to close, many vendors already packing up – using scary long metal hooks to lower high hanging items and noisily slamming heavy metal doors down over their stalls, tourists keeping things moving even more slowly by taking photos and lingering over cheap jewelry and mezzuzahs and Dead Sea cosmetics and za’atar covered pita breads (so cheap, let’s get some to snack on).

Then there are the real shoppers – people trying to get their Shabbat meals in order (and at this point, these guys are really pushing it with Shabbat starting so early – 4 pm ish maybe) or just get food for the weekend, or in my case, food for the week.  I’ve located the guy with the cheapest cucumbers (1.99 shekels per kilo), the cheapest tomatoes (3.99 per kilo), the cheapest and freshest cilantro (1.50 per bunch), the cheapest and most beautiful mangold – beet leaves – (3 huge packs for 10 shekels), and the only two stalls that sell sorrel (3 shekels per bunch).  These are my staples.  The rest of the good stuff this week was icing on the cake.  I got the most fragrant guavas I have ever smelled (and their taste ain’t so shabby, neither) for 7 shekels per kilo, really lovely persimmons (can’t remember the price, but I got a whole bag full for 5 shekels which is crazy cheap), and unbelievable deals on zucchinis and lemons and onions.

(I will always be amazed at the enormous gap between supermarket and shuk prices.  Are the stores nuts?!  Are the people, for shopping there?!  And in more “civilized” countries where there isn’t a real down and dirty market – we’re not talking local farmers’ markets – nobody has a choice!  Thank goodness we grow so much of our own food here in Israel.)

After I acquired the loot, I remembered I’d made a list of stuff to get if I had time, and it was good I remembered (because I really needed these things).  I was out of most of the cereal grains and pulses I rely on – rices, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, lentils, etc.  Not good.  So I decided to take a small street parallel to the shuk back north so that I didn’t have to fight my way.  And lo and behold, here was another crowd of people: the foreign workers.  Sure, they were in the shuk as well, but on the side street, it was like their territory.  There were more Filipinos and Thais and Nigerians and Eritreans than Israelis.  It wasn’t crowded, but it certainly was like walking into another world.  It was calm and “weekendy” – unlike the fracas I had just left.  The shop owners weren’t shouting.  People went on their way as if it were any other day.  The variety of the shops was fantastic – grain shops, spice shops, butcher shops, butcher shops specializing in pork, and Asian food shops.  Awesome awesome.  I picked the first dry goods place with adequate barrels of rices and lentils out front, and it was a good thing I did.  There were a good number of other shoppers, and I was the only Israeli.  You know what they say about restaurants  (and I suppose any business) – don’t eat there if it’s empty.  And vice versa.

I began scooping barley and soy beans and wild rice into plastic baggies when I realized I might not have enough money to pay.  The barley and soy were fairly cheap (10-12 shekels per kilo), but the wild rice was splurging on my part (16 per kilo).  Each of my three bags was sizable – at more than half a kilo each, and I was certain that I would be forking up 30-40 shekels, which was quite possibly all the cash I had in my wallet.  I make sure never to go out with a lot, because believe me, I will spend it.  Even if it’s on produce, I’ll spend it.  Buying exotic Korean cabbages and the like is not a necessity, no matter how much I convince myself it is.   But if the money isn’t in the wallet, I don’t spend it.  To my great delight, my bill came out to 15 shekels.  I honestly don’t know how that happened.  15 shekels for two week’s worth of food is pretty awesome.  The guy winked at me.  I don’t know if he gave me a great deal because of my, well, feminine charms (right), because it was the end of the week, or because that’s just the kind of guy he is.  The Africans and Asians kept on coming and going, and they seemed really happy too.

My shopping done, I continued north on the side street, and I passed what I can only describe as a ghetto butcher.  Back in Rome, hundreds of years ago, there were two kinds of butchers: the meat butcher, and the offal butcher (or as I’d like to think – “the everything else” guy).  Serious.  They had their own pushcarts, and they sold door to door or on the streets.  Rome is known for its offal dishes.  It’s probably one of the few places in the Western world that places tripe in a place of honor on all restaurant menus.  And the word “ghetto” is Italian – the place where they corralled Jews in – the first.  Jews being very poor, I’m sure they ate lots of the other stuff.  Hence, my ghetto butcher.

He was such a jovial chap, winking and cracking jokes with the customers around him, all of which were Thai and West African (which I ascertained after speaking with some in French).  And they were buying – and I’m not cracking jokes here – skin.  Skin and liver and especially (this really did seem to be this guy’s specialty) cow intestines.  This large rubbery and hairy looking monstrosity was hanging by two hooks.  My first thought was yes, this must be tripe.  Then I second-guessed myself.  It was so damned huge.  And the hairy looking bits did not look like villi.  It looked like shaggy hair.  It honestly looked like thick skin and hide of a cow.  I stared for ten minutes or so before asking on of the people standing next to me.  The butcher happily hacked away at it, using a sharp knife to strip yet another slithery 6-inch chunk off, packing it up for his satisfied clients.   Incredible.

I ended up spending a grand total of $20 for my groceries.  I’m quite thrilled.  And despite the fact that I had some other foodish adventures this weekend, this is what stuck.  Ask me to tell you about knafe another time…

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The image of a 7 year-old wearing a bra is disturbing to me. Not only is childhood being cut short in the West driven by many factors including media of all sorts, an obsession with the body, with sexualizing everything, the glamorization of violence, etc, etc – you know the deal.  Now childhood is being cut short even earlier by means of biology.

As someone who matured early, I can tell you personally that it’s not a pleasant experience.  You don’t fit.  You look different.  You are treated differently.  It takes years for people to catch up, and by then, it’s “too late.”  You’ve been different, often ostracized socially, or at least placed in a different category for so long.  You are treated as more of an adult.  You think of yourself as more of an adult.  There is a vast effect on self-esteem.  The list goes on.  For a long time people have also talked about the health risks that these resulting women are afflicted by, including earlier-onset menopause and a much greater risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Recent studies also suggest that these girls become sexually active much earlier, exposing them to potential disease, pregnancy, and all of the psychological issues that are involved in such behavior.  And the earlier a girl develops, the higher the risks for all of these things, physically, mentally, emotionally, and with the future of her health and lifespan.

A tough break.  Nobody asks for it.  And throughout all time it was something over which we thought we had no control.

Until recently.

My mother forwarded me this article published in Reuters citing a definitive study that concluded that girls are entering puberty earlier at quite alarming rates.  The main cause that they focused on was childhood obesity.  Fat girls were more likely to develop earlier.  OK.  I drew a connection to why much earlier than the article did.  As I read I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to mention it.  Come on now.  What are people eating that makes them obese?  The moment I was waiting for came at the end and wasn’t explored much: HORMONES in our FOOD.

In 2005 Americans 185 lbs meat per capita

Puberty results from hormone changes within the brain which signal the reproductive organs.  They in turn send more hormone signals to other parts of the body, initiating growth and change.  I’m not going to get into science.  I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to bother with citations up the wazoo.  Everyone reading this blog is capable of doing the same google searches that I do.  But here are the main things I gleaned:

  • Two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster, and America’s dairy cows are given a genetically-engineered hormone called rBGH to increase milk production.
  • European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health questioned whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.
  • Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible to these negative health effects.
  • Hormones are also present in animals’ excrement which remains in the soil for months, can seep into the groundwater supply, and also move into bodies of water where they affect fish reproduction.

Hormones and Puberty

Why are hormones used on cattle?  To make them bigger and to produce more milk.  More, more, more, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.   Having read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, as well as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, years ago, I have become very concerned about the amount of hormones we’re consuming.  When you think about it, hormones of every sort are simply chemical signals.  Each hormone triggers actions that different systems in our bodies take.  We have hormones that control metabolism, growth, mood swings, immune system, reproduction, and more.   Can you imagine what we’re doing by adding (or flooding) wrong signals into our bodies?  Depression, hyperactivity, metabolic issues, goodness, everything can be affected adversely.  In the macro world, messed up signals and messages can cause airplanes to crash, cars to crash, wars to start, for goodness sake.  What systems are crashing, wars are being fought inside our bodies?

So, here’s one of the most obvious examples: little girls sprouting breasts at 7 and 8 years-old.  It’s easy to see because it’s the hardest to ignore.  Breasts are out there.  And little girls aren’t supposed to have them, poor things.  I can’t imagine what’s going on inside all of us that we can’t see.  And although I’m not eating meat right now (thankfully so, until I make up my mind about some issues, and if/until I find organic meat and humane slaughtering that I think are acceptable), I’m drinking English Breakfast tea with milk right now.  Milk.  You go on thinking, a little drop of milk won’t hurt.  I’m not drinking gallons.  But it might add up.  And as a good American child, I did drink gallons.  Every week.  I had a minimum of 3-5 glasses a day, (not counting what I added to my cereal), and with two sisters and a dad who liked milk too, we went through a gallon almost every day.  We would buy 2+ 2-gallon bottles every week.  Perhaps it’s not so shocking I went through puberty early.

As far as I can see, this is another strong strong and scary argument for forgoing non-organic meats and milk (and eggs, now that I’m thinking about it, although that’s more for antibiotics, also a related scary issue).   So scary that although I am so swamped with work, it’s not funny, I stopped everything to blog about this.  I leave you with this: think hard about what you put into your body. It becomes you.  I need to start thinking harder, too.

Links on the topic:

Scary UK National Obesity Ad Campaign (worth a look)

3 year-olds getting their period

Artificial hormones

EU scientists confirm health risks of hormones in meat

Puberty coming earlier for girls

Childhood obesity brings early puberty for girls

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I was starving after yoga this morning (Chandra Yoga Studio – amazing teachers & most affordable I’ve found in TA), and stopped at Loveat for a muffin and a free coffee (I had reached my ten!).  In  most religions there is some sort of prayer or thanks for the food, acknowledging some higher power, hard work, and sometimes the people that labored in order to make said food.  During my Vipassana retreat, we were told that each moment was supposed to be (at least an attempt) at meditation – as we were silent 24/7, mealtimes were interesting.  You contemplate every bite.  You think about where the foods come from (I do this a ton anyway, as you know), and more specifically, who had a part in creating them.  Of course, there are the cooks who put things together, the kitchen being a chemistry lab of sorts, to make the raw ingredients into something more delicious or often, actually edible (eggs must be cooked, flour cannot be digested without being worked, etc).

But where does everything come from?

Today, as I ate this delicious bran-pecan-cinnamon muffin, I thought about breaking the recipe of this one food item down, and seeing what it took to create this yummy pastry.

So here’s an ingredient list from a simple cinnamon-pecan muffin recipe I dug up online (courtesy of About.com):

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Some words on agriculture

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the world.  Some US statistics: In the USA, an average of 516 workers die every year.  It’s also one of the most hazardous industries for young workers.  What does this mean?  Agriculture deaths accounted for 42% of deaths of young workers (17 and under) between 1992-2000, and more than half of these were children under 15 years old.  Over 1 million young people work on farms, their risk 4 times greater than in other work industries, with an average 27,000 injuries sustained every year.

Amazing that this is how we rely on one of the most important resources key to our survival.  These are US statistics, alone.  Goodness knows what it’s like in other countries.

Flour

Wheat harvest

Flour is one of the most important food products in the world, and most is made from wheat. About 20 billion bushels are grown during a year, and Canada, China, France, India, Russia, and the United States grow the most wheat.  Here is a great website that tells you about wheat-growing in brief.  There are four main varieties, some better for bread, others for pastries, and one for pastas, etc.  Dry, mild climates are best.  There are two harvests per year, as there is winter wheat and summer wheat.

After harvesting (big tractors and the like, see picture), the grain goes through a threshing process to separate the cereal grain from the inedible chaff.  Then it is taken to (usually huge) gristmills, where the wheat (or other grain) is ground by use of steel or cast iron rollers.  I imagine there is an intricate packaging process, and then there is worldwide distribution.  I can’t imagine the millions of people involved in bringing us just the flour that we use to bake bread and other baked items we depend upon (that we, in turn, built factories to outsource the production of which).  Because most like white bread, flours are bleached using chemical oxidizing elements.

Sugar

Sugarcane

Sugar is made from either sugarcane (70% of worldwide sugar production) or sugar beets (30%).  Brazil is the largest producer of sugar today, although more than 110 countries in the world grow sugarcane, and the EU and Ukraine are the largest exporters of sugar beets.  The cane is indigenous to Southeast Asia, with India being the earliest producer of sugar.  There are two stages to process the cane – first the milling (a long process), shredding, crushing, and collecting the juice – then cooking to extract the actual sugar.  Sometimes some bleaching occurs here.  The second part is the refining, cleaning and clarifying of the raw sugar with various processes (some chemical using acids), and a further bleaching. (Packaging, shipping, etc, etc, bla bla bla)

Baking Powder

Baking powder is a chemical agent used in baking, obviously, to make cakes and such rise without the fermentation that yeast produces.  It’s made up of (usually) sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an inert ingredient like cornstarch.  Sodium Bicarbonate is produced in a lab, although it also is naturally occurring and can be mined.  The most common way to produce it is through the Solvay process, which is the reaction of calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, ammonia, and carbon dioxide in water.  Hmm.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka, and is now cultivated commercially all over South and Southeast Asia, the West Indies, Brazil, and parts of Africa.  The plant is grown for 3-4 years, then undergoes coppicing which means it’s cut low to encourage lots of little shoots to grow out of it.  The shoots are harvested, stripped of bark to get to the inner bark, the strips of which curl, then are immediately processed and dried carefully.  Timing apparently is really of the essence in this process.

Salt

The salt we eat is refined NaCl – Sodium Chloride.  It’s produced by drying seawater or by mining.  These are huge operations.  Salt used to be more precious than gold.

Pecans

Unripe pecans on tree

Pecan is a species of hickory, the word itself meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack” in Algonquin.  The trees are native to North America, and are one of the most recently cultivated crops in the world.  Even in American colonial times, the wild pecan was eaten only as a delicacy.  The US produces between 80-95% of the world’s pecans.   A pecan tree can live and produce edible fruit for more than 300 years.

Eggs

Usually produced by chickens, most sold are unfertilized (no roosters around), and hence don’t harm potential life.  That said, most egg-producing chickens (there are two breeds almost exclusively these days, those for eggs (layers) and those for eating (roasters), all native breeds almost overtaken).  These chickens live in terrible conditions, the minimum amount of room allowed (they never move), their beaks often broken to prevent them from hurting each other and themselves, disease runs rampant, and I can go on and on.  Free range eggs aren’t much better, when you look into it.

Milk

In the western world, cow’s milk is produced entirely industrially.  Huge farms, automated milking, hormones, antibiotics, the works.  The largest producers of milk are India, the USA, Germany, and Pakistan.  I hope that my milk comes locally – Israelis have a huge dairy industry compared to other countries of the same size, I think.  Then again, so much dairy used in junk food is powdered (“milk solids”)…and that could have come from anywhere.

Vegetable Oil

Lipids extracted from plants – today done chemically. The crude oil produced is not edible, and it must go through other chemical processes in order to create a type of fat we can actually consume.

Conclusion:

To make a muffin, my ingredients are grown or mined or chemically created and brought to me from potentially over a hundred different countries around the world.  It’s at least a couple dozen.  Hundreds of industrial refining processes are used, not to mention all of the packaging and shipping worldwide, on airplanes, ships, trucks, and probably even animal drawn (or human drawn) vehicles.  Other factories may have been involved in my home country to further cook or refine some ingredients.  Then the baker or bakery or industrial bakery bought these goods, and combined and cooked them to specification.  The process of bringing these elements together could have taken years for some of the ingredients.  Millions of people were involved.  Many, many of which were in grave danger and received very low pay for their labor.

It really makes you think.  Every time you bite into anything.  Anything.  You’re biting into the labor of millions.  Even if it’s a raw fruit.  Someone had to plant it, work the fields, pick the fruit, package, ship it, sell it.  My goodness.  For good or bad.  How divorced have we become from our food?  We eat blindly.  Absolutely blindly.  I cannot even find out where my rice (or most any other product) was grown.  My grocer usually doesn’t know where the produce came from.  It’s scary.

All that work.  Blood, sweat, tears.  Injury and death.  All for my overpriced morning muffin.

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A ripe, runny Camembert. At iGourmet.com.

I discovered the best place in Israel to buy cheese.  Shockingly enough, it’s in the wine shop I’ve worked at a half-dozen times — I simply never explored the other rooms containing the super-expensive butcher and deli, as by the end of a 5-hour shift talking, pouring, flirting, selling wine on your feet, you just want to get the hell out of there.  Yesterday after I finished polishing my wine glasses I was still feeling rather spry and curious (very good day for sales), and to tell the truth, I fancied buying some handmade un-kosher sausages for dinner (the shop is owned by Christian Arabs, so I thought I might snag some real pork bangers).  No luck.  I didn’t like what I saw at the butcher’s counter, so I made my way past the cheeses.  And stopped for a half hour.

Wine and More” – the Hinnawi family’s branch on Carlebach (Carlebach 25, Tel Aviv), is pretty awesome.  Cheeses so overpriced, I wanted to cry, but awesome.   The wines are reasonable, but I suppose when you’re the only one in Israel selling Epoisse and Brunost and Extra-Oud Goudsa Kaas, you can pick your price.  And boy did they.

Hinnawi Carlebach - the cheese section in the back

I came out with three cheeses I haven’t eaten in years and years — but paid close to 100 shekels (30 USD) after a 20% discount (b/c the cheesemonger was a nice guy who used to be a ballet dancer in NYC for 18 years before he came back to Israel to run a restaurant for twelve years that went out of business two years ago) for an amount of cheese that would have cost me maybe $15 at a Whole Foods or less than $10 at a regular grocery store (not that they would have these cheeses).  Seriously folks.  Three slices of cheese.  With a discount.  But I had to have ’em.  They were the best.

Bleu des Basques

A little bit about why I adore cheese — apart from the fact that cheese is delicious, and that I have yet to meet one I didn’t like (including Norwegian “rotten cheese” that smells like the worst 10-day-old socks and causes most people to vomit)  — for pennies, for the change beneath your sofa cushions, you can have the best.  The very best.  Because even though I paid through the roof for a few hundred grams of three cheeses — I could never have bought the finest bottle of Champagne for that amount.  I couldn’t have snagged any fois gras.  No truffles.  No Michelin-starred filet mignon.  Because folks, this is what this cheese is — the very best in the world.  My $30 bought me 2-3 days worth (if I’m lucky) of a ride in a Porsche.  I truly believe that.  Each and every one of these cheeses is handmade, by real people, with recipes that are hundreds of years old, are aged in locations specific to the type of cheese, and many many have been awarded AOC (regional and production approval – like for wines), or similar, and are true products of their terroir.

The incomperable Epoisse

Many of us may never get to drink a bottle of Cristal while wolfing down Iranian Caviar on a yacht off the French Riviera.  But with $5-10 in your pocket, your local cheese shop will send you home with the world’s best cheese.  Maybe not a lot of it.  But it’s the genuine article, and an incredible pleasure to behold. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the Mona Lisa in their home for an evening?  AND get to eat it?

Norway's sweet & creamy "Brown Cheese"

I urge all of you to go to your local cheese shop, or even a Whole Foods, and taste (if they don’t let you taste, it’s not a good cheese shop — you should be able to sample almost everything before buying — with the exception of the soft cheeses that would fall apart and need their rinds unbroken to keep aging) — and buy cheese.  If you don’t know where to buy good cheese, go online, open the yellow pages, ask a friend.  There is no excuse for waxy grocery store Swiss and mild neon orange cheddar.

I can’t tell you what an awesome thing  it was to arrive at home with those cheeses after that long long day on my feet.  I put together a plate with small slices of Norwegian brown cheese, Bleu des Basques, and a super-white hard aged goat’s cheese, a few buttery crackers, a handful of organic dates (I live in Israel, after all), and a couple tiny clementines.  If that isn’t a feast fit for a king, I don’t know what is.  Add a glass of cheap Scotch, the last couple episodes of Firefly, and I achieved an hour’s worth of bliss.  Believe me, that kind of peace is worth its weight in gold.  Not that that sentence makes any sense.

Sent to me by a facebook friend – if you haven’t seen this video, you must:

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