Advocates Beware

Herein lies a cautionary tale of politics and climate change.

The fossil fuel industry in New York State faced its most determined threats in the past two years and prevailed. Although a supermajority of Democrats in the State senate and the Assembly would appear to be insurmountable, the fossil fuel industry used its lobby arm and judicious donations to Democratic coffers to defeat legislation that would have aggressively torn into their profit models. These models, based on the continued use and expansion of fossil fuels in the state, will remain untouched by the legislature this year.

The legislature closed its session without comment on any of the climate bills that moved into committee but failed to come to the floor for a vote. The most ambitious of the climate bills, the Climate and Community Investment Act, often referred to by its initials, the CCIA, was the second half of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that passed in 2019 with far reaching mandates but without funding mechanisms. The CCIA was proposed as a “make polluters pay” tax bill, placing the burden of switching from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy – and cleaning up the pollution left behind – upon the large-scale carbon producers in the state The mechanism was a $55 tax on every ton of carbon dioxide.

The CCIA was proposed by the largest coalition of environmental organizations in the state’s history. Over 280 organizations joined the NY Renews coalition to fight for the CCIA. The coalition included environmental organizations, social justice organizations, local and regional groups, houses of worship, labor unions, and private businesses. They organized protests, rallies, education events, and an aggressive lobbying schedule across the state. The coalition far exceeded its own goals in reaching out to legislators and shepherding the bill through the legislative process. At the end of the session, legislative leaders were silent on the fate of the bill.

Two other climate bills with organized backing behind them also failed to come to a vote. The first, the Clean Futures Act, would have prohibited building new fossil fuel infrastructure in New York. The bill would have shut down three projects in Queens, Brooklyn, and Newburgh, located on the Hudson River. None of the projects are necessary for electrical capacity. The consequence of the bill’s failure is a green light for new natural gas projects.

The Build Public Renewables Act was the third bill to disappear in legislative silence. The bill would have required the New York Power Authority to provide only renewable energy and power to its customers, namely state-owned and municipal properties. The bill was passed into committee and died there.

So thoroughgoing was the fossil fuel industry and the New York Business Council in squelching all three bills, that the legislators are not speaking to any of the proponents of the bill. Members of the NY Renews coalition had been asking for weeks for clarification of hurdles and challenges to the CCIA bill. They did not receive answers. The continued silence of the legislators is a thunderous conclusion of a session that began with raised expectations of success.

Stovetop Focaccia

This recipe uses an 8” cast iron skillet with lid.

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups “OO” flour
  • ½ cup semolina flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 TBS instant yeast
  • 3 TBS olive oil
  • 1 cup warm water
  • Extra oil and kosher salt set aside for cooking

Ten minutes of prep if using a food processor:

Mix flours and stir once.

Add salt and stir once.

Add yeast and stir twice.

Add olive oil one TBS at a time and stir once each time.

Add water and stir until dough forms.

Roll out dough onto plastic wrap. Work the dough until a ball is formed, sprinkling extra flour if dough is too wet and sticky. Wrap loosely in plastic and let rise on counter for a half hour.


Have kosher salt and olive oil within reach.

Split dough into three batches. (I usually freeze the other two.)

Preheat skillet to medium heat

Roll out dough to fill bottom of skillet.

Coat bottom of skillet with oil and sprinkle liberally with salt.

Place dough in pan, paint the top of the dough with oil and salt as well. Cover with lid and set timer for 3 minutes.

Flip over dough, cover, and set timer for another three minutes.

Remove cover and reduce heat to prevent burning dough.

Set timer for two minutes, flipping the dough every 30 seconds.

Remove from pan; let cool slightly and serve.

Efficiency v Health

The Western industrial style diet has spread across the world, gobbling up acres of grocery store space as it expands. This diet focuses on presenting foods on the wholesale and retail shelves and in refrigerated cases that are stable, long lasting, and appealing. The corporate food model is one of if not the most successful economic force in human history because it has transcended political systems, wars, and the territorial nature of proud countries. These corporations smugly declare they are feeding the world efficiently and they are. Whether our health can handle the efficiency is a question they do not answer.

Making ziti explains the crisis of efficiency. Marilyn’s parents lost their caretaker temporarily and the daughters had to step up, cooking meals in large pans that would last several days at a time. The shopping list was easily fulfilled at the nearby regional chain grocery store with a few boxes, cartons, and a package of ground chicken, all name brand products at reasonable prices. Released from its can, the red sauce was seasoned in the pot, the noodles dropped in boiling water, and the ground meat was quickly browned. With the ingredients prepared, all of it was combined with a whole milk ricotta and placed in a baking dish with a spread of shredded cheese on top. The ziti took forty-five minutes to prepare. While the dish baked in the oven, all the prep ware was washed and dried. The dish was easy-peasy to prepare, although my garbage can was bulging with more packaging than usual.

Unfortunately, Marilyn got a dab of ricotta on her finger as she mixed the ingredients together. She licked her finger without thinking and her tongue went numb immediately. She reacts to msg.

Marilyn’s home version of ziti takes four times as long to prepare if she is willing to put in all the effort. Pasta dough is easy to make in the food processor, although the raw dough must sit for thirty to sixty minutes before using. The dough must be rolled, dusted with more flour, and shaped into noodles or cavatelli, because we only have two machines, manual, for shaping pasta. Room must be made for the pasta to dry before boiling.

While one brand of crushed tomatoes in a can printed with “no citric acid” on its label exists, the brand has disappeared from the local shelves. Roma tomatoes are slit on the bottom with a crisscross and placed in boiling water for two minutes, dipped in cold water, and then peeled. Once chopped, the tomatoes are cooked down with herbs; a blender is used for a smooth sauce after cooking.

A half-gallon of milk is heated to 200o F, taken off the heat and the juice of two lemons and salt are added to the milk and stirred. Ten minutes later, the curds and whey are separated. The mixture is poured through cheesecloth and the ricotta is trapped in the cloth.

Ground chicken is deboned raw from whole chickens that are purchased from trusted sources. After deboning, she hauls out the mix master and inserts the meat grinding attachment. Salt and herbs are added.

The dirty dishes, bowls and pots overrun the sink and continue down the counter. However, the squashes must be roasted and the cheese shredded on the box grater, before the ziti can be assembling for baking.

Marilyn demonstrates making a ziti from scratch takes an entire afternoon while using the corporate food model reduces the time to an hour. When efficiency is primary, the corporate model using industrial processes wins hands down. However, the industrial version of ziti is toxic to Marilyn, leaving her no choice in the matter. She may be extreme, but the western diet on a corporate scale with its emphasis on stability and consistent taste across vast geographic distances affects the human body in a variety of adverse ways. Many to most fail to tolerate all the offerings at the grocery store, from mild discomfort to ongoing medical issues.

Studies in Europe and the United States highlight a myriad of deleterious effects of the western diet. Insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of cholesterol), cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer are the top of the list at the National Institutes of Health. According to the Royal Society for Public Health (UK), obesity and cognitive decline are major outputs of the Western-type diet. Minor effects may be small weight gains, the inability to lose weight, bloating, momentary fatigue, or listlessness.

These consequences are old news with studies presenting similar conclusions going back decades. While the peer-reviewed studies project objectivity, time has demonstrated that many of these studies are flawed. The bias in these studies, both government and corporate-sponsored, is the concentrated focus on one ingredient, full fat milk or eggs for example. The overlooked bias operates as a good magician does, look here and not there, where I do not want you to look. The health consequences come not just from the milk over here, but from what was added to the milk over there, which may be consequentially worse. The chemical additives that make skim milk drinkable may be worse for the body than the full fat pasteurized milk. Declaring “eggs are good for you” or “eggs are bad for you” ignores the fact of where and how the chickens are raised grossly affects the quality of the laid eggs. France grades the quality of its eggs as a regulatory necessity.

The bias in the science blossoms in the public realm. The media presentation of food and diet, from advertising at one extreme to documentaries on the other, places the responsibility to control health consequences of diet on the individual. “Your poor health is your fault” is the overriding message from FDA food pyramids and heath columns on news sites. The food you chose to eat made you sick. People with good health must make better choices than you do is the corollary.

The narrative is fundamentally false. Some human bodies can handle industrial food chemicals, either removing them or neutralizing them before they harm the various systems. Other bodies react strongly and negatively. Even more, the effects of exposure may be over a time scale of decades, and the accumulation of adverse reactions is slow growing. The effect may be molecule by molecule, tiny and slow to grow although the ultimate result is permanent damage to the body. Updating the media presentation of diet by adding the missing nuance, the only productive conclusion is individual choices come into play only when credible choices are available, but not until then.

The corporate model grocery store offers very few non-industrial chemical-added food products. Unsalted butter should have unpasteurized cream as the only ingredient; most brands add a second ingredient, which is msg bound in one form or another. In the produce aisle, fruits and vegetables that travel far distances are sprayed with chemicals to retard rot or they are picked un-ripened and gassed with chemicals to force ripening. Meats are painted to retard smell and discoloration. Dairy products are usually ultra-pasteurized (UHT) or mixed with additives to fix the taste and slow decomposition. Inexpensive eggs are from chickens fed an industrial diet, giving a new sordid twist to the truism “you are what you eat.” The middle aisles of the store are populated with boxes, bags, and cans of industrial chemically enhanced food products. Even table salt, which should be NaCl (sodium chloride) only, has citric acid added to it.

The prudent food choices, to use the terminology of the Royal Society, are the less adulterated foods. The grocery store is not the place to find unadulterated foods though.  An estimated 95 to 98 percent of the offered grocery products are affected by the drive for efficiency, stability, and shelf life. Corporate food producers have added industrial food chemicals or utilized highly processed methods to enhance the probability of the consumer choosing their product and choosing it again during the next shopping trip.

When health is moved to the forefront and efficiency ratcheted backwards to a lesser priority, food choices take on a different set of sensibilities. Local produce is less likely to be treated. Locally butchered meats are also less likely to be painted with retarding chemicals because their distribution channels are short and direct. The expectation of long transit waits, the purpose of retarding chemicals on produce and meats, disappears.

The foods that are safe to eat take more time to prepare and turn to rot more quickly. Efficiency has great benefits, except for the fact the processes can negatively affect health. In a health-first diet, ziti becomes a weekend dish instead of a weeknight staple. Healthy dining influences our schedules as well, readjusting time allocations.

The health costs of quick dishes were papered over or ignored for decades. Other unmentioned costs include pollution, the explosion of one-use plastics, land degradation, and worst of all, climate change. Efficiency is a carbon belching patchwork of destructive agricultural practices, long transportation routes, and spewing factories, all of which are hidden from view.

By choosing health, demanding real choices for a healthy diet, the positive consequences cascade. Our health is intimately tied to the health of the planet, and we can help both at the same time when we step back from efficiency first models.

Will Meatless Meat Save Us?

Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat have made their media debut and are deep in the marketing plans for their publicity campaign. Their products are now available at fast food restaurants and coming soon to as many food-product streams as possible. Venture capital firms are bullish on the companies and the financial outlook in the press is positive. While meatless meat is the latest in processed foods to be offered to the consumer, the products, like their predecessors, follow the arc of other highly-processed food products rigorously marketed to a skeptical audience.

The marketing departments of these meatless meats are pursuing two sales pitches to woo us to their savory offerings. The first pitch is for human health, complete with a set of points of how this product is better for the human body than the meat it is replacing. They are arguing that meatless meat is the healthy choice. The second pitch is a series of arguments about climate change and degradation of the environment, and how these products benefit the planet. Their pitch is that each of us can help save the planet from ourselves by choosing meatless meat. Between the two arenas of argument stands the acclamation: they are tasty, and they taste like the meat these products are replacing; therefore, you should eat them.

The first pitch takes a page from the Heart Association, removing red meat from the human diet promotes better health. The heart and the rest of the circulatory system benefits from the removal of large quantities of animal fats in any given diet is a true, evidence based statement. These meatless meats do meet this healthier heart criterion by removing animal fats. However, these products are still higher calorie foods than grains and vegetables. They are not necessarily healthier either. The complex composition of these food products provokes other issues of human health.

These meatless meats are highly-processed, which is only a descriptive term. No scientific consensus exists on the definition of a processed food. Pasteurized milk is processed, and ultra-pasteurized (UHT) milk is highly-processed; however, the comparison between the two milks is like night and day. Pasteurized milk is heated to 212oF (100oC) until the harmful bacteria and enzymes, the pathogens, are killed. The milk is chilled and ready for consumption. Due to the application of minor heat, there are only minor changes to the nutritional quality.

Ultra-pasteurized milk is sterile milk. The milk is heated beyond boiling to 275oF (135oC) and has a burnt taste. Chemicals, including msg, are added to give the milk flavor and to mask the burnt taste. Vitamins and minerals must be added to the product as well to reproduce nutritional benefits that were destroyed by the major heat. Packaged in sterile containers, UHT milk has a typical unrefrigerated shelf life of six to nine months. All the ultra-pasteurized dairy products go through the same thorough process.

The lack of definitions of mildly processed, processed, and highly-processed is exploited by the food industry. Food producers are legally allowed to market their products as they wish, and the FDA boundaries are few. Companies trot out food scientists who will go on the record saying without a definition of processed food, no one can determine when a food is processed beyond its original state. After all, eggplant must be cooked in order to be edible. From a specific legal standing, manufacturers of highly-processed food products can claim that their foods are healthy. In every other reasonable context, the claim is ambiguous.

This ambiguity is what the meatless meat companies exploit as well. Yes, the meatless meat is processed, but so is milk and eggplant. Who is to say what product is highly-processed? Besides, the FDA approved the food product for human consumption, which means the food cannot hurt you.

Except, long term food studies on ingredient safety do not exist and even if someone were willing to pay for such a study, how would the researcher compensate for the variables of the other 20,000 different botanical and animal foods humans consume. Such data is impossible to collect and even if it were, what human would want to be constrained to such a limited diet for years? The safety testing is limited and instead of adding caution because of the limits, food companies fill the vacuum with positive marketing campaigns.

All the debate over what is processed food deliberately ignores one inescapable element of food. Vitamins and minerals in our fruits and vegetables do not present as discreet components of food. The essential elements for human health are integrated into other components, other chemicals, which help with the absorption of vitamins and minerals in our gut. These other chemicals help with digestion, providing bridges and catalysts that promote absorption. The publication of added fortified vitamins and minerals are listed on the side of the cereal box, does not confirm that the body absorbs any of them by consuming the food product in the box. The more processing, the less likelihood of absorption takes place, because most of the helpful bridge and catalyst chemicals are not present.

Whether these meatless products are healthy for you is still subject to confirmation. They are healthier in one area, no animal fat. Beef is more than fat though, giving us the essential nutrients from the muscle tissue. The more processed a product is, the more “empty calories” devoid of essential nutrients we consume. While the human digestive system digests beef efficiently, the gastrointestinal tract tends to react to artificial ingredients, creating side effects such as gastric distress. The FDA can confirm the food product will not kill you on a short-term basis, but agency’s confirmation does not verify that the product is good for you.

In the end, the consumer is left to decide with a paucity of evidence whether or not to eat highly-processed food products. While the food industry can spin the lack of evidence as a “not bad thing,” the long-term health of your physical body is what is at stake. No one knows the outcome of those stakes.

The second arena, climate change and the environment, is easier to parse as a benefit.

Cattle and their beef on one side and the environment and climate change on the other conflict in surprising ways. The raising of cattle from birth to the slaughterhouse and onto the wrapped packages in your grocery bag accounts for 25 percent of the greenhouse gases in the United States every year. Huge swathes of land are necessary to raise cattle to adulthood and these lands are not used sustainably because of the monoculture ranching business model. Large herds of cattle degrade the soil and the flora because the other natural systems that would complement bovine herds are gone. The contribution of carbon to the atmosphere from cows is far more than the intestinal gases emitted from both ends of the cow, although bovine methane is a recognized contributor. The feedlots at the end of a cow’s life are another ethical and environmental travesty with huge environmental consequences.

The pursuit of healthier beef for human consumption has a larger impact on the environment than the standard ranching models. Standard models allocate three acres per cow while grass fed cows require nine acres per cow. Three times as much land is required to raise a healthier-for-consumption cow, which hastens degradation of the land and quickens deforestation.

Reducing the amount of beef in the human diet is the non-negotiable requirement in addressing climate change. Those societies that eat large quantities of beef will be forced to cut back their consumption, some to zero. The present model is unsustainable, and as the droughts spread across the land and deepen, cattle ranching will become untenable. One way or the other, the falling consumption of beef is coming. Most people would prefer the voluntary cessation of beef without environmental devastation than the climate-induced model, one would think.

Into this great shift in diet from beef to more sustainable foods, wades the meatless meat products. Their argument is that they can give beef eaters what they crave without the actual beef, and the world is saved. While everyone welcomes the reduction in carbon, the argument overreaches.

First, we are not going to save the world through fast food franchises or through frozen meatless meat patty bundles in the freezer section of the grocery store. The absurdity of the positive impact of the food product is undeniable. Perhaps these burgers can be a small part of the solution, but they will not be the solution.

Second, highly-processed infers many steps from the point of bringing in the raw materials to transforming the ingredients into the food product. These products are complicated and the production process is complex. Quantities of energy are burned to create these burgers at scale, and that is carbon producing. Limit the manufacturing to a few regional plants and the carbon price of transporting by truck or rail go up exponentially.

Third, both Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers are soy products. Soy farming is a mono-culture farm product, meaning the soil is degraded and becomes unusable unless large quantities of artificial fertilizer are added. Corporate model farming produces far more carbon than the dynamic, multiple-culture farms where different crops rotate and complement each other, one crop taking nitrogen out of the soil and another locking nitrogen into the soil.

Further, all soy grown in the United States is GMO. The closest producer of non-GMO soybeans is Brazil, and the carbon cost of shipping between continents is astronomical. Shipping is, far and away, the most polluting form of transportation on the planet. GMO in the case of soybeans refers to soy plants that are immune to glyphosate (RoundupTM). The entire field of nearly ripe soybeans are sprayed with glyphosate. When the plants turn brown and dry out from the chemical, the field is harvested, giving the farmer a higher yield per acre. Meanwhile, glyphosate has been definitively linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by science and the link has been upheld in court.

The meat eaters of the world will have to change their diet, or the planet will change their diet for them. Technology will not save us or our burgers. Only by changing our habits and making carbon-conscious choices will we save the planet.

These meatless meats are high-tech vegetable patties. Strip away all the hype and hyperbole, and what is left is one set of tradeoffs for another set. Try a meatless burger and if the product is tasty, enjoy the experience. However, much deeper and complex changes are necessary if we are to save our planet from climate change.

Understanding Climate Legislation

Six Arenas

Sitting in front of a computer screen in the middle of another Zoom conference on climate change, the exuberance of the presenters is consistently tested by the scope of the legislative endeavors that must pass. The issue is not the cliché that “no bill is perfect,” which is true. Rather, climate change is a threat multiplier across every human activity and endeavor, and its footprint is global. A Green New Deal bill will accomplish much in the coming decade, but no one bill can anticipate nor address all the issues created by human output in the last one hundred years.

At present, we are on a baseline trajectory to raise the median temperature of the earth by 2100 +3.5oC (6.4oF). The baseline is the output of carbon we are experiencing today without any change or mitigation.  Today’s baseline is unsustainable, and the result would be a planet with huge swaths of uninhabitable land and ocean by the end of the century. With the proposed legislation, we will continue to produce carbon, pumping the element into the water and into the air, but the goal is to control and reduce the carbon output to a sustainable +1.5oC (2.7oF).

M.I.T.’s Management Sustainability Initiative divides up the carbon reduction puzzle into six arenas:

  1. Energy Supply
  2. Transport
  3. Buildings and Industry
  4. Growth
  5. Land and Industry Emissions
  6. Carbon Removal

Our legislative endeavors need to force changes in each of these six areas. If all the areas are not addressed, even if only one area is ignored, we will be unable to reach our sustainable goal of +1.5oC (2.7oF). Each area requires a firm legislative shove, often more than one. What follows is an outline of what is contained in each arena and what must be done. Each bullet point requires new aggressive legislation.

Energy Supply

The big four carbon producers that must be reduced to as close to zero as possible are:

  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
  • Bioenergy (e.g. wood, wood pellets)

The energy producers that do not produce carbon are called renewables. They must take over as much energy production as possible:

  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Nuclear* (*renewable but not clean)

The lever that forces the energy supply to shift from coal/oil/gas to renewables is:

  • Carbon price/Carbon Tax

We may also need a break-through technology that does not emit greenhouse gases. Several have been proposed but none will be available in the foreseeable future. Funding is through research and development.

  • New Zero-Carbon Breakthrough

Transport

All forms of transportation (ships, planes, trucks, cars) must shift to,

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Buildings and Industry

All mechanicals in buildings and the processes and machines for manufacturing must make the same shift as transportation.

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Growth

Some parts of the world are already experiencing a slowdown in population from an exponential trajectory to a geometric one, although not all populations are decreasing. Economic growth as defined by Gross Domestic Product must also decrease. We need to aim for less people and less stuff, backing away from a growth model for economies.

  • Population
  • Economic Growth

Population tends towards self-regulating when education rates rise in general and when education policies specifically targeting women are implemented. The issues of less manufactured goods are partially addressed in “Right to Repair” laws that create longer-lasting products and the legal ability/capability to repair locally.

Land and Industry Emissions

While energy consumption is tackled above, the pollution generated by industry and agribusiness must all be addressed. Monoculture agribusiness must transform to soil-healthy processes that are not dependent on manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.

  • Deforestation
  • Methane, fertilizers, HTC’s, and PFC’s

Carbon Removal

The only known carbon removal technology available today is replanting what we have destroyed on land and in the ocean. We will need new technology to pull carbon out of the air, either enhancing natural removals or manually sequestering carbon. Such technology does not exist yet.

  • Afforestation
  • Technological Carbon Removal

Putting the Points Together

No one bill will address all these issues. Legislation that redirects agriculture hardly seems like a climate change bill but both monoculture farms and beef ranches are huge contributors to the carbon pollution matrix. Government investments in education lead to smaller households in the next generation, an education bill. Shifting government subsidies from coal, oil, and gas to renewables would address the most significant source of carbon production, which is a straightforward energy bill. One bus can remove sixty cars from the daily commute, which would be funded in a transportation bill.

Some solutions will require international treaties and corporate compliance. We should invest in research and development, which would have a side effect of reducing college costs as the Sputnik program did. Corporations are guilty of the worst carbon pumping crimes and they need to fundamentally change or be forced to change into implementors of solutions.

We must pass legislation that does not include wishful thinking. A breakthrough technology just around the corner, hydrogen-powered cars for example, is a fantasy. The technology solution is not around the corner, which is no surprise because we have not invested much in developing such an invention. New technologies require investment and time; we have given neither.

Final Word

Your head should be spinning. At the least, organizing the bullet points in one place presents a clear direction of what sorts of legislation and regulations we need in the next year. Every bill is a battle and we need a lot of bills to become law.

We are asking our legislator allies to cover all these legislative areas when we cannot track them ourselves. Using the M.I.T structure, we can organize progress in each of the six arenas. This tracking helps us help our legislators stay informed and on-track, while keeping ourselves informed as best we can.

We can do this.

Southern Brisket

Only a generation ago, Brisket and its adjacent cut, Flank Steak, were the poor family’s gourmet cut. Nowadays, one might consider taking out a small loan to purchase a full brisket. Still, the gourmands are not wrong, brisket cooked long and slow is a worthwhile experience.

Southern Brisket

5 ½ hours (mostly unattended)

FYI: Whole Brisket is 8-9 lbs. and a Half Brisket is 4-5 lbs.

  • Large Sweet Onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Flour, enough to coat both side of brisket
  • Any oil for searing
  • 32 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 8 oz. cider vinegar
  • 6 oz. brown sugar, dark is best
  • 1 oz. molasses
  • 1Tbs salt
  • 1 bay leaf

Post cooking seasoning

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Garlic powder

Preheat oven to 300oF

  • Heat pan on stovetop and add oil.
  • Coat Brisket with flour and sear on both sides.
  • Remove pan from heat.
  • Slice onion and cover bottom of pan (add another one if needed).
  • Add water.
  • Place brisket on top of onions, fat side down.
  • Pour tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and molasses over the meat.
  • Toss bay leaf in pan.
  • Sprinkle meat and overflowing sauce with salt.
  • Seal pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.
  • Cook five hours.
  • Remove from oven and let rest ten minutes. Remove foil, carefully.
  • Add post seasonings to your taste.
  • Remove brisket to cutting board. You can remove fat easily if you want while the brisket is piping hot.

Pour off sauce into glass bowl or measuring cup. Let fat rise to top and either pour off or ladle off. If you desire a thicker sauce, heat 2 TBS fat and then add 2 TBS flour to saucepan. When paste forms, slowly add sauce to thicken, stirring constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning again.

On Table Manners

We were not overtaken by the pandemic pounds from the forced isolation like we expected. Instead, my wife and I looked up from our roasted chicken meal last night and realized that we had thrown most of our table manners out the window. We had devolved into slobs.

Please understand, we have had to practice topnotch manners for decades, as we attended weddings, b’nai mitzvah parties, desserts, business meetings, congregational dinners, and private invitations to congregant homes. We learned to cut up anything served in a red sauce smaller than usual to avoid a “whoopsie,” an advertisement of clumsiness on good clothes. At shiva calls, if the offerings were not finger foods, then all was to be avoided lest the paper/garish plastic plate become our downfall. “Just a cookie please, we have more obligations.”

Yet, we sat across from each other with greasy fingers, picking tidbits from chicken pieces and chasing errant pieces of zucchini and sweet potato threatening to fall off the edge of the plate. Looking down from my fingers, I realized there was no napkin waiting in lap, which I usually need for the whoopsies. Dressed in my old, stained sweats with dogs hovering beneath my stool with bated breath, what was the point of having a napkin? Oh yeah: I cannot touch anything clean without smearing grease on it.

We are not going to restaurants anytime soon, so what is the point?

The point is the lack of attention has demeaned our daily rituals. Our ritual of table manners has served my family for years. Every so often, my adult children thank us for demanding they learn how to carry themselves in public. They have experienced the business meal where their good manners stood out as polite, conscientious, and engaged while those without such knowledge were diminished. We all sat across from diners in any situation with confidence that our conversations would not be sidetracked by an obvious faux pas.

I always considered table manners to be the great equalizer amid the American melting pot. The rituals of sharing a meal with others transcends cultures, countries, education, and economics. This is not a matter of whether one culture belches loudly after a good meal, which can be interesting. Table manners, no matter what culture where one is seated, is about demonstrating respect for the other. They are the simplest vehicles for offering respect, whether the etiquette is over chopsticks, hand foods, or western utensils.

Table manners broadcast respect for ourselves and for others in a most personal and intimate setting. Our use or lack of these rituals telegraph who we are and what we think of others. The cliché, actions speak louder than words, is oh-so-true at the dinner table.

Let not the sticklers for etiquette deter us from the task of giving respect for others. No one really cares if the bananas foster is served with a fork or a spoon; we only care whether you will wait for mine to be served so that we may share together. Table manners are something we do together, a ritual we share that confirms quietly and unobtrusively the respect we each offer.

Unless it’s barbeque in my house, in which case all bets are off and you are on your own, sucker.

Spicy Mushroom Caps

The recipe is a pesto style filling for mushrooms that invokes spice and Mexican ingredients. If you want to substitute a hotter pepper, the ingredients promote the heat rather than temper it. (Learned the hard way.)

Preheat oven to 350o.

2 jalapeños
4 garlic cloves
2 scallions
2 tomatillos, peeled of paper
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese or queso fresco
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
4 TBS oil, divided
¼ – ½ lb. chicken sausage (optional)
4 mushrooms, chopped
8 large button mushroom caps or 2 portobellos

Wash vegetables, removing stems and roots. Heat cast iron skillet on HIGH and add 2 TBS oil. Toast jalapenos, garlic, scallions, and tomatillos until seared on all sides. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

In food processor, add cooked vegetables and process. Add pepitas and cilantro, process. Slowly add remaining oil in a slow drizzle with machine running. Scrape down sides. Add cheese and chopped mushrooms, process. If adding sausage, process last.

Remove stems from large mushrooms and wipe grit off caps with a damp paper towel. Wipe caps again with oil. On a baking sheet, either oil the bottom or use parchment paper. Fill the caps with mixture and place on baking pan.

Bake 30-40 minutes. Tops will be browned.

Refrigerates well for leftovers.

Almond Butter cookies

“Someone” purchased almond butter as a possible replacement for peanut butter on sandwiches – not a successful idea. However, cookies were a hands-down winner and the container haunting the back of my pantry shelf now has a welcomed spot among the baking ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup sifted coconut flour
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup peanut oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt

In a mixer, combine almond butter, sugar, eggs, peanut oil, vanilla, and almond extract. In a separate bowl, mix both flours and salt. With the mixer running, slowly add the flours to the mixer until completely combined. Batter will be loose.

At this point you may preheat the oven to 375oF. Let the mixture rest in the bowl, either on the counter or in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes, 20 minutes is better.

Use parchment paper or a silicon sheet on top of the baking tray. Scoop out oversized tablespoons of dough onto the baking tray. Bake 15 minutes. The edges of the cookies should be brown. Remove from oven and let rest in tray for two minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. The inside of the cookie will be wetter, with a marzipan-like consistency.

Short Ribs – slow cooked

This is a pandemic recipe, for those working from home. Cooking time is 5-1/2 hours.

The prime rib was served in the better neighborhoods and the short ribs were on the menu in the modest neighborhoods of my youth. Short ribs were a working man’s affordable beef choice before modern restaurant fare discovered the qualities of this cut, ruining the easy affordability for everyone. The ribs were typically used in a beef stew where the bone marrow added flavor to the developing broth. Stew was difficult to cook correctly because the meat tends to be tough and chewy, and stovetop burners were unforgiving. However, stew was a one pot meal that could feed a family meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The standard fare was tough meat, limp vegetables, and pasty potatoes.

My family is done with the stew recipe.

This is an updated recipe for braised short ribs on offering to the modest homes of the world who can still afford beef occasionally. The recipe only works in a cast iron pot with a cast iron lid because we are braising. The limp vegetables and pasty potatoes are cooked separately, and you are on your own for those recipes.

Cast Iron Pot in its natural pristine form.

3-5 lb. short ribs

1 large onion sliced

2 tomatillos, cut into several pieces

1 tomato, cut into large pieces

2 cups broth (vegetable or beef)

2 cups salted water (your call how much salt)

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper

¼ cup oil (grapeseed or olive oil)

This recipe is for a cast iron pot with lid.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Place the pot on a burner and pre-heat on medium high. Add oil in small increments as the flour absorbs the oil. Be careful not to scorch the meat. Save the leftover flour for end.

Wash and dry the short ribs. Season the flour with salt and pepper before coating the dry ribs. Add ribs to hot oil in batches. Let ribs rest on a plate while working on the next batches. When complete, add more oil to pot with heat turned down to medium. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, stirring them to coat. Add broth and stir. Add water and stir again.

Return ribs to pot, bone side down. Lid the pot and place in oven. Cook for 5 hours.

Return pot to burner. Plate the short ribs on a large platter. Using oven mitts, pour off the fat into cup.

To thicken the broth into a gravy, take three teaspoons of the reserved flour and put in a bowl. Add three or four tablespoons of the piping hot fat from the cup. Stir into a paste. Add the paste to the pot (it is still cooking hot), stirring until it is incorporated. Correct salt and pepper seasoning. Pour the gravy over the ribs and serve.