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Archive for October, 2010

Kelli Estrella just posted a fascinating context/background article on the FDA’s use of L. mono to shut down raw milk dairies. It’s from the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

She posted this on the Estrella website. I’ll post updates if I hear them, but that’s a good place, obviously, to be checking too.

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Just for fun, and on an entirely different note, I’ve been drawing biostatistics/health sciences/epidemiology humor sketches at 4 a.m. as a way to take a break from academic stress and deal with insomnia.

I’m not saying I can draw, but here they are anyway.

PERIODIC REGRESSION/COX’S PERIODIC REGRESSION

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SELECTION BIAS / BAR PLOT / X BAR

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PAIRED ANALYSIS

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HISTOGRAM

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RELATIVE FREQUENCY

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NHANES

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ECOLOGIC STUDY

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µ

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PRIMARY CARE

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A few weeks ago, Sea Breeze Farm was selling merguez, a spicy North African lamb sausage, at the farmers market.  Their sausages usually contain pork fat or pork casings —  and I don’t eat pork — but this time, the merguez had no pork mixed in, and they had some for sale that was not cased.  So, I got to try my first Sea Breeze sausage.  Spicy and delicious, with wonderful lamb flavor.

I made a few things out of it, but this quiche was my favorite.  Slow-cooked fennel and onion, and sautéed mushrooms, lamb sausage, and a few fennel or cumin seeds in the crust.  Tasty.

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Lamb Merguez Sausage Quiche With Fennel, Onion, and Mushrooms

FILLING

  • 1/2 lb merguez sausage (or ground lamb plain — you can even add your own spices)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 small bulbs or 1 medium bulb fennel
  • 1 cup (roughly) mushrooms — shiitake, wild, button, or anything else that sautés well
  • 5 eggs
  • about 1/3 cup cream
  • some butter, coconut oil or animal fat (lamb fat would be amazing) for cooking the vegetables
  • salt

CRUST

  • 1 cup mixed flours — I used about 1/3 cup coconut flour, 1/3 cup almond flour, 1/3 cup buckwheat flour for a nice, dark crust
  • 3 T butter or coconut oil
  • 1 T fennel seeds or cumin seeds
  • pinch of salt
  • a little water and a little olive oil

~

Preheat the oven to 375F

1. In a food processor, combine all the crust ingredients except the water and olive oil.  With the machine running, drizzle in a little of each, alternating, until a ball of dough forms on its own.

2. Lightly grease a pie dish.  Press your dough into it and keep pressing up the sides until you have a full crust.  Bake at 375 until a little firm, about 10-15 minutes.

3. While it’s baking, start cooking your filling.  Slice onions and fennel (white part and a little of the stem) thinly.  Cook slowly with a little salt until completely clear and soft and starting to brown slightly, nearly caramelized.   (at some point in here, remember to take your bottom crust out of the oven)

4. Add a little more fat and sauté in the mushrooms, until they release their own juices.

5. Crumble in the lamb and cook.  Break pieces up as much as possible.

6. Turn off the heat.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs with cream.  Mix in lamb/vegetable mixture.  Pour all of this into the crust.

7. Bake at 375 until done, about 45 minutes.  Should be golden on top and solid all the way through.

 

 

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The Cornucopia Institute has just released a 72-page report (pdf) detailing the ins and outs of organic eggs sold in the US. Specifically, the report gets into detail about discrepancies between what consumers may imagine about the egg-laying chickens and what is sometimes a very different reality. They go into detail about some of the larger brands of organic eggs available in supermarkets

The nutritional information isn’t terribly new. The report references the Mother Earth News study demonstrating the superior nutritional value of pasture-raised chicken eggs to supermarket varieties.

That study, and this report, both gave top marks to local producer Skagit River Ranch.

About those marks, on the Cornucopia website you’ll find this great scorecard of producers. It ranks egg producers, including some small farm producers, on a detailed scale. Note that this is by no means comprehensive. I’d also expect top marks from other vendors at the farmers market who raise chickens on pasture and are intentional about feed, or farms like Biocento (which sells its eggs at Madison Market — expensive but delicious). But this is the second time Skagit River Ranch has gotten national attention for the quality of their eggs. Impressive!

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Thanks to reader Dane for this tip.  Thanks to Plays With Food for the flickr Creative Commons photo.

And thanks everyone for continuing to spread on yesterday’s post about Estrella Family Creamery.

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Fans of the Estrella Family Creamery got a shock at the U-District farmers market this morning, but likely not as big a shock as the kids of this Montesano family got when the FDA showed up to shut the creamery down.

The claim: Risk of exposure to Listeria.  However, Estrella’s current inspection records (available today at the market) show that all cheeses have tested negative.  There was apparently a positive test for Listeria at a point in the past, and so the FDA decided to shut down the dairy on the claim that the cheese might have Listeria, with no burden of proof to demonstrate they do, or to acknowledge records that show this is no longer a problem.

Anthony Estrella said this morning that even starting to fight this would cost $20,000-$30,000 or pro bono legal representation.

We all know there are a lot of politics around raw milk and raw milk products, and this farm makes (aged) cheeses from raw milk, following Washington State regulations.

This is a wonderful farm.  Anthony and Kelli have won numerous awards for their cheeses.  They’re an incredibly hardworking family.  I went out there to volunteer one weekend a few winters ago when their farm faced damage from the huge windstorm that wrecked that part of the state, and was impressed then and now by both their work and their products.

They and their kids are, as you can imagine, extremely upset.  The FDA agents showed up when the parents were out, which added to the emotions of the raid.

If you can help, please contact Anthony and Kelli.  Legal/advocacy help, voicing your feelings as a customer on their behalf, wishes/prayers, or any other relevant resources sound welcome.

Also, contacting Rep. Norm Dicks, especially if you live in his legislative district (mostly Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas), would be helpful. 1-800-947-NORM (947-6676), or email via his contact form.

Kelli’s brief statement about the shut-down is here.

Here is their contact info:

Estrella Family Creamery

(360) 249-6541

659 Wynoochee Valley Road
Montesano,WA 98563

 

photo of family: Estrella Family Creamery website

Update

Thanks everyone for the good discussion below.  As with any such story, more information is coming out, and each side deserves a response.  The FDA’s affidavit is below in the comments, suggesting their concerns and basis for the shut-down, including a statement that they requested the operation recall its cheeses in September and the request was refused.  The concern is that this has been a persistent problem, but the current records showing all cheeses test negative seem to suggest the problem might have cleared up.  Could the FDA have handled this better?  How much did each sides’ negative views of the other (FDA views of raw milk dairy producers, Estrellas’ views of the FDA) play a role in this?  If the most recent tests really did come back negative, was there another way the FDA could have worked with the farm, or the farm with the FDA?  What is the best thing to be done now, and what lessons are there in this for both the FDA and small producers in the future?

Anyway, many questions, and still a sad situation all around.

Update 10/31/10

I’ll post this separately, but here’s a good context/background article on the FDA’s use of L. mono to shut down raw milk dairies. It’s from the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

Kelli posted this on the Estrella website. I’ll post updates if I hear them, but that’s a good place, obviously, to be checking too.

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Have you made friends with celery root yet?  Also known as celeriac, this wrinkled bulb at the base of a celery plant  is a delicious, albeit charmingly funny-looking, friend to have in your kitchen during the colder months.

I posted a recipe previously for celery root soup.  Today’s offering, a mashed celery root recipe, is great side dish for soaking up sauces or eating with meats or veggie dishes.  It’s especially good with roasted or rotisserie chicken.  A more-flavorful alternative to mashed potatoes, it also has a lower glycemic load and fewer carbohydrates.  And it’s tasty.

Don’t be daunted by the outside.  Slice it off thinly, and chop the root up until soft.  Then, mash the pieces with whatever you’d like, whether that’s other mash-worthy ingredients like squash, cauliflower or potato, or flavor-enhancers like sautéed onions.  My favorite version is below.

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Mashed Celery Root with Onions, Mushrooms and Cream

  • 1 celery root
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • handful of mushrooms, any variety that sautés well (shiitakes, button, chanterelles, morels, etc)
  • flat-leaf parsley (optional)
  • butter
  • cream
  • salt
  • pepper (optional)

 

1. Slice off the thin outer portion of the celery root with a knife.  Chop the root.  Add to boiling water and cook until soft.

2. Chop the onions and cook slowly in butter with a bit of salt until they’re clear through and a little browned.  Add mushrooms (sliced or chopped) and more salt.  When the mushrooms release their liquid, add the parsley and stir until wilted.

3. Mash the celery root with as much cream as it will absorb fully.  Mix in the onion-mushroom mixture.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

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I wrote a few weeks ago about dealing with my beloved grandmother’s decline in health as she faces pancreatic cancer.  I wrote that the desire to bring her food was inseparable from how I express love, and how she has expressed love for me.

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Food and love has been on my mind a lot during these emotionally up-and-down months spent hoping, not hoping, living life, being distracted from life.  The emotional fluctuation is reflected in my kitchen. Some days and weeks I have little desire to cook.

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Some weeks I want to cook everything I can get my hands on, to fill my house with familiar and comforting aromas: my mother’s roast chicken, my grandmother’s mandelbrot, my favorite chicken from Thailand.  The mashed celery root that smells like a few winters ago, the ground lamb dish that smells like last summer.  Salad dressings that taste like mother’s and grandmother’s, coating greens and plenty of tomatoes.

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Familiar foods of home on the stove tell loving, olfactory lies: Things are not changing, and here is the smell and the taste of the past as proof.

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The lie is a comfort during times of grief, but cooking foods from the past paradoxically gives us a chance to create new stories for the present and future. Share a dish with a friend, and now the friend has a new memory associated with the taste, as do you.  Memory is fascinating: an original memory, already imperfect in its construction, is replaced with a fresh version each time we think about it.  The story of any dish is similarly changed each time we cook it.  I share food, and remember I’m not the only one here.  I pass on some of the love in a dish I’ve learned to make.  Eating is a shared sensory experience, a way to explain, This is a flavor I’ve tasted.  This is what it has meant to me.  What it means to me is dynamic and changing.  Let’s eat.

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It’s a way to look forward, and maybe the only way.
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I’m taking stock of memories, of present circumstances, of wishes for the future.  Of things I want to say to my grandmother.  Of things I won’t be able to share with her that I wish I could.  Of memories we’ve lived together and how not to keep them sequestered as memories, but to keep them alive, a reflection of the dynamic way the brain builds memories afresh each time we recall them.

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I’ve been sketching out some food postcards from my interactions with my grandmother.

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My grandfather, calling Frusen Glädjé ice cream Froojie Hadjie.  My grandmother laughing, mostly at how hard it made my four-year-old brother and three-year-old self laugh.

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Pot roast, when I was finally starting to eat red meat again in my early twenties.  I could have eaten the whole thing.  She was delighted.  Post roast is old-fashioned, she said, but I happen to like it.

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My mother and grandmother at Passover, debating whose charoses to make.  Don’t tell, but I like my mother’s better.

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A raspberry bush she kept planted in a pot on her patio back in Long Island.  And a blueberry bush.  Raspberries were my favorite;  blueberries, my brother’s.  She’d save the ripe ones still on the bush for our visits, knowing the thrill of finding a ripe berry.  A thrill I haven’t lost yet.

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Boxes and boxes of coffee candy.  Purchased presumably from Costco.  My grandmother sent this to me constantly in college.  I enjoyed one or two at first.  Eventually I’d unload hundreds of little gold-and-black wrapped candies on friends, before I got up the guts to tell her I didn’t like coffee candy anymore.  The box in the mail room would make me smile anyway.

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Boxes of hamantaschen, sent yearly for Purim, with cards or notes on pastel stationary that said Israel at the top.  I was skeptical of the triangular prune pastries at first.  “Hummies,” she said, to make them more appealing.  Savoring and spacing out the last ones in childhood (I still do) nearly to Passover because they were so good, and so rare.

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Teaching me to make hamantaschen, to roll out the dough.  To paint the x of butter in the middle of each one.  To lean on the dough just so.  Not like this, like this. This and this, for the record, look identical.

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The first year I made hamantaschen for the family.  In college.  Went to Circle Pines Center in the cold March Michigan woods to be nearly alone for a week, and to bake.  My grandmother was caring for my grandfather, who was beginning a decline into dementia.  It was the first time she couldn’t make her hummies.  I rolled out dough on the cold, stainless steel countertops of the industrial kitchen.  Bought bags of dried prunes and lemons at Meijer’s.  Talked to an occasional other visitor at the co-op, wrapped up in down coats and sipping cups of tea on metal stools in the farmhouse kitchen.  Sent the boxes from the Delton post office.  Cookies, I said, like she always does.  They’ll never understand what you mean if you explain.

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The year the hamantaschen didn’t come.  My first or second year in Seattle. My grandfather was getting worse.  She hadn’t said anything, so I assumed the hamantaschen were coming, but when they didn’t, I didn’t want her to feel bad.  Later, she called me and tentatively mentioned she was surprised I hadn’t thanked her; had I enjoyed them?  There was a long, horrified pause before we realized the box must have gotten lost in the mail.  I tried not to picture the box rotting away in a cavernous warehouse of lost mail somewhere, or a disgruntled postal officer eating the hamantaschen, far from my house.  Cookies, she might have said.  Cookies.

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Actual cookies.  My grandmother kept three cookie jars when we were kids, and at least two are still in her apartment.  Lovely ceramic jars she probably bought traveling through artisans’ shops in Vermont.  Each object she bothers to own has a story, a habit I’ve picked up.  The wide jar with the wonderful smooth, brown lid.  Lifted by the little handle, making a clinking sound on the edge.  Releasing the smells of chocolate chip cookies, always with walnuts and golden raisins mixed in.

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My grandmother at the farmers market, on a mission.  This vendor and then that; he might run out of strawberries, she might run out of broccoli, and I don’t want to miss those nice potatoes.  I may possibly have gotten this tendency from somewhere.

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Calling my mother on this last visit to California, remembering together who all my grandmother’s vendors are.  Who is the potato guy?  This is her lettuce place, right?  Collecting everything she loves, everything she might want to eat.

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A basil plant she often keeps on her patio.  The French variety with tiny leaves.  Trimming just a few sprigs at a time, for chicken or pasta.  “Your mother says I shouldn’t keep this, that she likes to use a whole lot of basil at once.  But I find this is just right for me.  Will you get me the scissors?”

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Freshly squeezed orange juice in the mornings.  My grandfather’s domain, while he was still alive, even when he as declining, just to show he could do it.  Strained for my grandmother.  Not too much, not too acidic.  Oranges bought at the market, of course, from her favorite vendor.  Loaded into the bottom of the cart she keeps in her trunk.

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Are you hungry? Have you eaten lunch? Are you sure?  She asks this of everyone in her house.  Relatives, a neighbor, her nurse.  Even when I was there last, and she was weak and depressed and needing help getting into a wheelchair, she made sure everyone had eaten and wasn’t going to be cold outside.  Laugh about Twitteleh all we might, some stereotypes hold true.

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I call her now and she’s too tired to talk much.  Am I happy?  How is school?  Am I working hard?  How is my house?  Have I been eating?  Of course, Grandma.  Everything’s fine.

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Her plum cake, which I wrote about earlier this fall.  The friends who keep writing or calling to tell me they’ve made it.  She’s glad when I tell her.

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Coming home from a college semester in Thailand, having burned off all my taste buds on hot peppers and chili pastes.  Flying into Los Angeles, staying with my grandparents.  I couldn’t taste a thing my grandmother served me.  I finally found a bottle of hot sauce in her fridge, presumably something my uncle had left there or she’d bought for guests.  I reassured her it was fine, that this way I could taste her food.  She looked at me with the same bewildered expression I’d given my Thai host sister a few months before, when I’d cooked her pasta with fresh tomato-basil sauce and she’d loaded her plate with hot sauce.  I understood now.

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What my grandmother proudly calls her “one oriental dish” which is also her one dish she’s ever made that I can’t stand.  She first made it for me in those jet-lagged post-Thailand days thinking it would taste just like what I’d been eating in Asia.  It’s some combination of tuna, Chinese dried chow mein noodles, water chestnuts, and I think cream of mushroom soup.  This dish should have been outlawed after the 1950s.  The hot sauce didn’t help.

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My grandmother’s rotisserie chicken recipe, which I wrote about in a short story.  One of my fiction classmates, in his critique, said it was unfair that he got hungry when he read my stories.

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In the story, I wrote about Monty, a curmudgeonly, old neighbor, for whom she bought a Costco rotisserie chicken every week, because that was something he liked.  He never said thank you, she told me.  My parents didn’t understand why she bothered, or why she drove him to the senior center sometimes.  He’s old, she’d say.  He has nobody.  I started; how I can I stop?  The man was a Holocaust survivor, had lost his wife, trusted few people.

When I visited, she asked me to bring him the chicken (it took a few tries; she had to call and yell at him to answer the doorbell).  He found me in the hall, alone, and told me in English and Yiddish what a beautiful thing my grandmother does, how it’s a mitzvah, how he’s all alone.  His eyes said most of it.

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Chicken sandwiches with lettuce, wrapped in waxed paper, packed for a day at the beach.  Boogie boards, sand, a smiling woman with her umbrella and chair.  More sunscreen.  Lunch is perfect.

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My grandmother refusing to eat some days.  Tea, jello maybe.  It’s rough.

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Passover this past year in New York.  So thankful I stayed.  Lox on her matzah in the morning.  Heaven, she said, just right.  Singing songs from musical theatre at the seder table (no, not Andrew Lloyd Webber; somehow we got into Guys and Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).  My grandmother can never remember lyrics.

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So many stories.  The grief lies in realizing that at some point the number of stories will be proven finite.  The trick to immortalizing, or continuing to count them, is to keep cooking the food, sharing the food, sharing the stories, experiencing new stories.  The mind creates new memories out of old ones, new stories from old.  The recipes and experiences continue.

The sharing, and the love, goes on.

~

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