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Posts Tagged ‘Eating’

I respect fungi.  I truly do.  They are as fascinating as they are a brutally tough adversary.  They’ve been on my mind, so, yes, this will be a slightly more personal post, but mostly, I’d like to get my thoughts out there on the brilliance and genius of fungi.

Fun Fungi Facts

  • Fungi are in their own kingdom.  That’s right.  They are not plants.  They are not animals.  They are separate.
  • Fungi are not photosynthetic.  They are saprophytic, deriving their food from dead and/or decaying organic matter.
  • Fungi are inconspicuous.  We normally notice them only when they flower, e.g. the mushroom caps that we eat.  They really have extremely strong and complex networks underground and within and around other organisms.  They are everywhere!
  • Yeast spores

    Fungi you know: mushrooms and truffles (for eating), yeast (for bread, wine, beer, and countless other things that are fermented), antibiotics including penicillin (you know, for preventing us from dying from all the seemingly simple diseases and raised life expectancy by close to 30 years within a century), and much much more.

  • Fungi grow and thrive in our bodies.  One common method for their survival is symbiosis with animals and plants.
  • Fungi are the molds that grow on our cheeses and breads and all things nasty rotting in our fridge.  In fact, fungi are responsible for the breakdown of most dead things.
  • Fungi are really important – They are the top and bottom (whatever way you see it) of the food chain – breaking things down, so that plants can use them again.
  • Finally, fungal infections are perhaps some of the most difficult things to get rid of.  Take it from me.  Most of the time, you never think it’s that bad.  A chronically upset stomach.  Some embarrassing itching.  Some peeling skin on your feet and fingers.  Like the fungi out in the world, burrowing deep and forming vast networks, our symptoms are the tip of the iceberg.  And the creams and pills doctors prescribe usually only treat the symptoms.  Which means the fungus doesn’t really die “all the way.”  Remember, it burrowed.  It may become stronger, and then it will come back, again, and again, and again.  Because it never really left.  And it adores feeding off of us.

All in all.  All in all.  My issues with fungi in several of my bodily tracts have recently flared up again.  Not surprising as I’ve gotten a bit lax with my eating habits.  Not as terrible as a couple years ago when I was in fungus-crisis-mode.  I know the early symptoms now.  And I know that to get rid of a fungus, or at least keep a really firm grip on it, you have to starve it.  Now, some would say my approach is “alternative.”  But after having a 6-month painful off-and-on infection taking prescribed medicine after prescribed medicine and doctors telling me to give it a chance, that it’s in my head, bla bla bla, I finally, tearfully panicked, went to a Chinese healer who gave me very specialized plant tinctures to take several times a day for months.  Along with some diet modifications, it did the trick.  So…because I’ve been eating way too much sugar the last few months…I’ve got to get back into gear.  I’m not happy about it, but that’s the way it is.

How do you starve out a fungus?  Fungi thrive on sugar. Period.  Sugar means sugar of all sorts: granulated, honey, fruit, white processed starches.  Also, fungi are in lots of our foods already.  Anything that was fermented.  Breads.  Wine.  Beer.  What does this mean for me?  I’m on a diet of leafy greens, and although I love leafy greens, the first few days without standard carbs is killing me.  You’d be surprised how many sandwiches we eat.  How many croissants.  How much sugar in our coffee.  How many fruits (as healthy as they are – I once had a violent outbreak right after eating a juicy pear).  No ice cream.  No chocolate.   No spaghetti.  No potatoes (too starchy, easy sugar).

So I went to the shuk (market), and I bought huge bunches of kale, celery, sorrel, mint, green beans of two varieties, garlic (excellent for anti yeast), cilantro, ginger, and rocket.  I made a large pot of mostly-sorrel soup last night with some zucchini and lots of ginger (in actuality, almost all the greens went in in various capacities, but sorrel for a soup base is incredible – a great thickener, and the sour taste is really something).  I had a rocket-cilantro-tahini salad for breakfast.  I had a small bowl of soup for a snack.  I had a lettuce-radish-endive-egg salad for lunch.  And I am friggin starving.  Thank goodness tahini is allowed and recommended by some.  Almonds and most nuts, too.  But I want my chocolate.  I’d like some crackers and popcorn.  I want a glass of scotch (alcohol=sugar and it was fermented, so there could be yeast…bla, bla, bla).  I want an easy cooking job like boiling some noodles.  Greens have such a low caloric count that you really understand why cows have to constantly eat.

Candy mushrooms = eww!

Ideas to make it better – I am starting with the whole grains again.  A lot of those are allowed.  Oatmeal is awesome.  Buckwheat should be OK.  Quinoa, too.   At the suggestion of a friend, I also bought some peanut butter and cocoa powder to mix together — perhaps it will fulfill the urge for desserts.   Tahini does that for me sometimes.  I am not ashamed to admit I will sit around and eat whole cucumber after whole cucumber dipping them directly into raw tahini when there isn’t anything else I can eat.  I think of it as tahini fondue.  Yogurts are great too, but too much dairy is also not good, so you have to be moderate there.  Apple cider vinegar, although of course fermented, is heralded by many as a miracle cure.  I’ve taken to drinking some diluted in water.  I also take a pro-biotic supplement.

Another note: I avoid antibiotics as much as possible these days.  Why?  Despite the fact that it kills off infection, and it’s terribly important – it weakens us, and it destroys the balance of all the little creepy crawlies inside.  Because antibiotics kill off bacteria (not just the infected area), fungus has the space to thrive.  Glaring infection of a completely different sort.  And that weakens us further.  We take prescription anti-fungals, this often causes the bacteria to over-multiply now, and we’re back to square one.  I take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary (part of why I’ve cut out all meat products).

So there you have it.  Most of us eat too much sugar.  Most of us have had athlete’s foot.  Some of us have some rotting nails, chronic digestive issues.  Many – perhaps a majority of women (and even some men) have had yeast infections.  Some people have had oral thrush.  And goodness knows, many of us have experienced unexplained bouts of sluggishness, depression, and other disturbing things.  A lot of this, if not all, can be attributed to fungus, most notable, Candida.  Living everywhere – on our skin, mostly notably, in the gut.  We can all stand to cut a lot of sugar out of our lives, pump lots of greens back in, and eat whole grains as opposed to processed everything (which is usually the case if you don’t go out of your way to get special breads and pastas, and eat foods out of boxes and cans, etc).

I hope this was elucidating rather than boring or disgusting.  I really welcome comments on this.  It’s an important subject to me, and goodness knows, I’m really not an expert.  I may have unknowingly exaggerated or confused some facts, above, so let me know.  I want to learn, too.

Mycorrhizae – fungus root – mutually beneficial relationship between plants and some fungus

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Firefly's Kaylee enjoying an extremely rare delicacy

Until last year, I fasted on every Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, the most serious holy day of the year. I even read the Torah portion from Leviticus 19 for many, many years in synagogue.  Then last year, I found myself in Avignon, France, surrounded by the French, their art, culture, and of course, wine and cuisine.  I didn’t want to be a seeming “ascetic” while my friends and hosts luxuriated in their amazing market findings.  It could have been perceived as rude (I know that wouldn’t really be the case), or at best weird (more likely).  And I wanted to eat.  And I didn’t feel any deep down moral objection.  Even though I planned on fasting, and I brought a Machzor (a prayer book) with me, it didn’t feel wrong to eat.  No guilt.

Bouillabaisse: a signature dish in Provence

So this year, back in Israel, I’ve decided I want to eat again.  Not being abroad, though, this is a much bigger decision.  One that has to be justified.  Proved.  You’ve got to have a prepared, “I’m an atheist,” or, “I believe in the spirit of it all, but I’m not religious and don’t feel it necessary to deprive myself,” etc, etc, etc.  Many people, secular people, do fast…but they also don’t go to synagogue and they sit around in their AC and watch TV and movies all day.  Not too difficult.  Which is what fasting is more or less intended to be.  Not that fasting is torture.  I’ve been told many interpretations over the years on why we fast.  The most common is that we deprive the body of all luxury so it can focus on the task at hand, namely, repenting before god, apologizing for any and all sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly.

Opening heaven's gates

Another interesting explanation is that on this day we should act as though we are dead — not dead, dead, but that we are weakening ourselves, humbling ourselves before god, wearing white robes and no leather, humble clothes, like Jewish funeral shrouds — and in the States at my temple, at least, we ran a food drive.  People were encouraged to donate at least the equivalent of what they would have eaten in that day they fasted.  All of this so that we can ensure we’ll be written up in the book of life for another year — asking god to keep death away for another year.

I’m fine with food drives.  I champion food drives.  I’m fine with introspection, of analyzing my own behavior.  Improving myself.  And certainly, most certainly, apologizing to PEOPLE in my life for having offended or mistreated them.  But I don’t have a relationship with god.  I just don’t.  I also believe that good behavior comes from within, and if people do good deeds to look favorably in the eyes of god, they’re missing the intention of it all.  Guilt.  Shame.  Incentive.  I believe in goodness for its own sake because it is simply the right thing to do.

Women at the Western Wall

I am proud of being Jewish, but I don’t believe that I have to pray in a specified way because that’s the way it is.  I believe I am a good Jew, in my behavior, in the way I live my life.  I believe in holiness.  I think I have been a good emissary of my people (I have been the first Jew many people have ever met, and goodness knows I have saved our reputation on more than one occasion).  I just don’t attribute that to god.  Fasting can be an important method of introspection, whether religiously or more meditatively.  I think that I am skipping the fast this year because I have decided I do not need to fast when I am told.  That I MUST fast as a symbol of being Jewish.  That’s an Americanism.  Going to shul because that is the way to maintain community.

Not so in Israel where secular holidays are religious holidays, where eating matzah on Passover is a national tradition, like Americans eating turkey on Thanksgiving.  Many olim, immigrants to Israel, often observe that it’s easier to be a Jew here…and hence…they become more lazy than they ever were back home.  Everything’s in Hebrew, the biblical language.  Biblical references are thrown about like Shakespearian references would be in Western literature.  Everyone understands the holidays.  They structure our year.  Kids have a bible study class every year from the age of 6 until graduation, whether secular or religious.  But because of that, you don’t have to try so hard.  I’ve certainly succumbed to that.

Defeat: Arch of Titus with Menorah carried to Rome

On the other hand, living in Israel has freed me in many ways.  Before, I felt a duty to express my Judaism when living abroad.  I’m still a Jew, and I never hide this fact when traveling abroad.  It is an important part of what made me, me.  But my real deep-down beliefs have surfaced much more easily here.  Relaxing the Jewish fervor, not being in a minority group anymore, I am finally comfortable with expressing my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of Judaism.  I don’t have to put on a face, trying to “accept” interpretations to make my following of certain rituals logical to me.  I had been interested in different meditation techniques for years, but I believe that I avoided any sort of exploration because I thought it would be seen as disloyal.  So many Jews marry outside the faith, we’re disappearing, we’re forgetting — what responsibilities on our shoulders!  Keepers of the faith.  Keepers of our special nation.

No more.  For me, I am beginning to understand that it more important to be a good person than a good Jew.  These things are not contradictory, but at this point, I am finding that the Jewish definition is limiting.

Tomorrow, I am co-hosting a sci-fi marathon.  All 14 episodes of Firefly followed by the sequel film, Serenity.  Like the world of Star Trek, in many ways this brilliantly imagined series examines the human condition and celebrates compassion in the midst of a difficult, violent, and unjust world.  I’ll be making pizza from scratch.  I’m content with my decisions.

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Review: Rak Basar (translation: “Only Meat” – restaurant); 223 (cocktail bar)

Tel Aviv certainly loves its gimmicks – restaurants and bars all over town try some interesting and often odd tricks to get people in door.  Some gimmicks are logical – a breakfast restaurant serves breakfast and not dinner.  A cafe serves coffee and not sirloin.  But, I’m not quite for fad gimmicks.  If it works, it works, great.  My experience at the deaf-blind center’s BlackOut restaurant was a real thrill.  My disappointment at 24-hour breakfast at Benedict’s was monumental.  But will these places (or their genres) stand the test of time?  Or does that even matter?  Here are two accounts of recent gimmicky places I had the pleasure of encountering.

Rak Basar

Gimmick #1: choose your cut and size of meat at a real butcher shop at the back of the restaurant – then have it served on a small tabletop grill – where you can choose to cook the meat further, or simply keep portions of it warm while you slowly work you way through the masses of it all.

At a restaurant called “Only Meat,” it really says something when the parts of the meal I loved most were the all-you-can drink wine jug (after all, you stop caring after the second glass that the wine is uber-cheap Shel Segal) and the appetizers (creative, finely chopped salads – one with cactus!; and an elegant small-portioned grilled beef tongue served atop a salad).

Although I ordered my NY strip steak rare, it came blue.  My dad’s sirloin (ordered medium rare) came in rare-to-blue, and my sister’s ostrich (ordered at the butcher’s recommendation of medium-to-medium rare) came in so blue it was cold in the middle.  And it being ostrich – a bird – I was worried at how safe it would be to actually eat it in that condition.

My first thought was that they honestly thought that the tabletop grill would keep cooking the meat steadily, so they undercooked.  But the grill wasn’t quite hot enough to do that.  My second thought was that most Israelis unfortunately like their meat well done. Perhaps the cooks just don’t know what rare really is and thought it better to undercook than overcook.

We sent a lot of it back to be re-fired — with varying levels of success.

The positives – the most attentive friendly wait staff I have encountered in Israel.  Our waiter was a tattooed oddly shaved gent named Shai.  He was a ball, and to be sure (despite our food), we left him a hefty tip.  The decor is authentic old-Israel-brick with vaulted ceilings & down-to-earth wooden furniture.  The bottomless wine glass is fun, and the appetizers are wonderful.

It was just a shame that the gimmick – the restaurant’s raison d’etre – was such a huge let down.  I won’t be going back too soon.

223


Gimmick #2: Classy yet friendly cocktail bar with creative, original recipes using local ingredients and liquors.

Sounds perfect! In a town where beer is king and most bars have usually never heard of a sidecar, 223 (named for its address – 223 Dizengoff) has a perfect recipe for success. Or so you’d think…

Atmosphere: 10; Service: 10; Cocktails: 3

Admittedly I’ve only been once.  But when you’re served the worst classic gin martini of your life at place that calls itself a state-of-the-art cocktail bar – you’ve got problems.

They have a ginger-lime-pineapple-lemon grass martini; Mediterranean caipirinhas; blood orange margaritas, and an awful lot more scrummy-sounding drinks.  And they are delicious.  Really delicious.  One drink even won an international award.

My issues:

  1. The glasses – if it’s a margarita, serve it in a margarita glass; if it’s a martini, serve it in a martini glass.  It makes a big difference.  People feel special drinking from these specially shaped large glasses.  The drinks go down better. There’s a reason they exist.  We were served in regular tall ridged glasses.  You couldn’t even call them highballs.
  2. Ice – cocktails should rarely be served with ice.  Our drinks came with lots of big ice cubes…and straws…(hello – where’s the salt for the rim of the margarita)…which leads me to suspect…
  3. Watered down drinks? I can’t prove it.  They might be super-strong.  I would hate to be slanderous here.  But the volume of the drink, the size of the glass, with all the different juices going in, and the ice (the ice!), just made it all feel fishy.  I guess, after all, you’re paying for the gimmick – not the booze.
  4. The WORST martini of my life! My sister told me I should have sent it back and assured me its common practice in Israel.  Call me a polite American.  I suffered the abomination.  I love classic cocktails.  Not that fruity-tooty isn’t great.  But I relished my few years in Chicago as a young professional, heading for swanky downtown hotel bars with other colleagues for dirty martinis or Manhattans or cosmopolitans.  And I love a classic martini.  Gin, never vodka.  Served pretty damned dry.  With a big ole olive or two.  Maybe even a dressed up blue cheese olive or two.  The drink I was served at 223 was not a martini.  I requested a real martini glass, if they had one, and the waitress insisted that they did.  Why my earlier order of a fruity martini didn’t come in one remains a mystery, but this supposed martini appeared in the correct glass.   That said, it was made of a substantially large percentage of vermouth.  I’m talking 35-50% vermouth.  Gin was the aftertaste.  It was really nasty.  It wasn’t served cold enough (no ice cubes could bail the bartender out using this glass), and the three olives were our tiny wrinkled Israeli variety (probably all they had).  They were, however, the best part of the drink.  And the laughable part?  They charged me 44 shekels for this drink – a full 5 shekels more than any other classy drink on their menu. A gin straight up may have cost me half the amount – and I would have gotten more.

I know.  I seem arrogant.  But when you order a chicken at a fried chicken stand and you get an egg, what can I say?  In this case, I will go back.  The bar is charming:  the decor is adorable, European, wallpapered, upholstered, cheery.  It’s right around the corner from my house.  The people are friendly. The service, prompt.  And it’s a smoke-free bar, if I remember correctly.

I will, however, be sticking with Scotch.

Here’s a fine article on how to order a martini.

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The parents are visiting, “and tell ’em what they’ve won, Bob…a glamorous expense-paid trip to exotic IKEA!”

So, I spent most of the day in the big blue box with Dad.  Flexing our capitalism muscles, we strolled the tchotchke-laden aisles and Scandinavian-designed dioramas, stroking terrycloth towels and comparing furniture colors under the glaring fluorescent lights.  I came out with some jolly good booty: a small bookshelf/dresser (the “Billy”), a bedside table (the “Kullen”), 3 mugs, 2 plastic bowls, dish-washing brushes, a measuring cup, a reading lamp, three vanilla candles, 6 large tulip-shapes wine glasses (finally something I can smell wine properly in), 6 drinking glasses (I broke at least 4 of our original 6), 2 double sheet/duvet sets, three terrycloth towels, 4 dishcloths, some energy-saving light bulbs, an electric socket splitter, and a power strip.

And upon paying, we were promptly confronted with – a hot dog stand.

When we passed by the food court earlier (Dad begging to stop and nosh claiming – hey, how often do we get to eat Swedish food…), I walked right on by, thinking it ridiculous to have a meal in the middle of a monopoly warehouse store, in a monopoly of a restaurant, simply because we’d already been shopping for 2+ hours and were parched and famished.  No siree, we could eat somewhere normal later.  Swedish food, indeed!

But after another 1.5 hours of shopping, as it typically goes at the Swedish colony of I…, Dad looked at the hot dogs, then looked at me and said, “Can I have one?”

These were plain old heated in one of those rotating metal rolling devices, hot dogs.  I looked at him and said, “no.” Yuck.  We’d be home in less than an hour! But then I took pity.  My own mouth parched from the lack of liquids, I wanted to stop and buy a bottle of water anyway.  So, what’s the harm?  This hot dog cost 5 shekels ($1.40), the water put me back 4 shekels ($1.10), and I was genuinely pleased with how financially sound this food and beverage purchase was.

There were no toppings besides ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise (mustard-only – We do come from Chicago, after all). But Dad was pleased all the same.  I surprised him with the hot dog, and it disappeared in under a minute.

Now, I’m not sure why they sell hot dogs at IKEA.  I think it’s weird.  It’s a little creepy.  And it’s all they seem to sell, ready-to-eat, at the exit door.  It’s not a typical Swedish or Israeli food, and there are certainly more interesting fast finger foods around. But after our whirlwind tour of the fascinating and luxurious land of I…, the red hots were a welcome familiar form of sustenance to ease our aching bellies as we began our return to civilization.

When you leave, I suppose you’re just too exhausted to think about the dodgy meat filling and the lack of pickles, relish, onions, tomatoes, and peppers.  You’re too tired to realize that you’re once again pulling out your wallet, just as you thought you couldn’t spend even one more penny.  You’re just glad to be eating while getting the hell out of there.  All good capitalistic adventures eventually come to an end.

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