Snack Tonight #22

April 12, 2019


Today I made sausage, cheese, and bacon rolls.  I used hot Italian sausage meat, and added a few extra chili flakes.  They turned out really well!



The American Diet, 1961-2015

April 9, 2019

Some interesting charts on the changes in US food consumption over the last few decades.  From Business Insider:


I had previously reported on changes to US fast food.

Drowning In Poutine

April 6, 2019

The seemingly irresistible onslaught of poutine into the mainstream marketplace is surely now complete: it is available in select IKEA stores across Canada.

Source: Daily Hive

Poutine is a dish that has not worked its magic on me. But then I like to eat some things that others would think odd, too. Vive la difference!

Snacks Tonight #21

April 4, 2019


Mango, apricot and coconut balls.  Not too sweet and just chewy enough!

How Cooking Made Us Human

March 21, 2019

I just finished reading Catching Fore: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. It makes an interesting case that food — and the cooking of food — helped drive the evolution of human beings.

Following a detailed energy analysis comparing raw and cooked food, Wrangham, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, posits that homo erectus evolved out of autralopithecines around 1.8 million years ago primarily as a result of the introduction of cooking.  The softness of processed food drove the visible changes between the species in jaw and tooth structure and gut size, while the increase of energy imparted to the food by cooking helped accelerate the massive growth in cranial capacity in erectus.

He also suggests that the evolution of homo erectus to homo heielbergensis (a precursor to homo sapiens) around 700,000 years ago is contemporaneous with evidence showing a more complete control of fire.  Moreover, he argues that the societal and cultural changes introduced through the security of fire and the sharing of cooked food are implicated in the emergence of the big-brained homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago.  These are big claims which he backs up with considerable evidence from both the paleo-archaeologcal record and studies of modern hunter-gatherers.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly and I learned a great deal.  However, Catching Fire was published in 2009.  In the decade since, there have been enormous strides taken in our knowledge of the human family tree. In that time we have discovered the Denisovans, re-evaluated the Neanderthals, and added homo naledi and homo floriensis to the list of our forebears, along with much else.  I’ll need to see how Wrangham’s arguments stack up against the new discoveries.

Whatever the result of that comparison, Catching Fire is well worth the read for anyone interested in the origins of humanity and food.

The History of Sushi

March 18, 2019

“Sushi is not simply a meal to be eaten, but a dish to be savoured. As the celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa has recently pointed out, it is ‘an art’ in itself.”

I love sushi and sashimi and their accompaniments. I have eaten it here in Vancouver (wonderful), in Nairobi (potentially disastrous), in dozens of places around the world, in posh places (often mediocre) and street carts (usually delicious). I seek it out. I was primed therefore to be enticed by an article in History Today entitled A Short History of Sushi.  And it was well worth the read.

Image: History Today

Sushi has a long and involved geographic history,

“Though the evidence for its early history is rather sketchy, it seems to have begun life at some point between the fifth and the third centuries BC in the paddy fields alongside the Mekong river, which runs through modern Laos, Thailand and Vietnam … From the Mekong it made its way south towards Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and north, along the Yangtze and into the Yunnan, Guanxi and Guizhou provinces of modern China … Eventually, nare-sushi reached Japan. It is not known exactly when it arrived, but the earliest reference to it appears in the Yōrō Code, a legal code compiled in 718.”

The manufacture of the food moved unusually from highly complex to simple.

“First, the fish were gutted, rubbed with salt and placed in a barrel to dry for a few weeks. Then the salt was scraped off and the bellies of the fish packed with rice before being placed into wooden barrels, weighed down with a heavy stone, and left to rest. After several months – sometimes up to a year – anaerobic fermentation would begin, converting the sugars in the rice into acids and thus preventing the microorganisms responsible for putrefaction from spoiling the flesh. Whenever there was a need, the barrel could then be opened, the rice scraped off and the remaining fish eaten …

“By the middle of the 17th century … haya-zushi (fast sushi) … did away with fermentation altogether, while preserving the dish’s familiar tart flavour. Instead of waiting for the sugars in the rice to be turned naturally into acids, vinegar was simply added instead. It was then packed into a box, under slices of cooked or cured fish, and pressed with a heavy weight for no more than a couple of days.”

In the 19th century, even the pressing was eliminated, and something similar to the nigiri sushi we know today was introduced in Edo and eventually spread to the rest of Japan, and beyond:

“In the 1960s, Californians even pioneered their own form of sushi – the inside-out roll. Since then, ever more inventive variations have been introduced the world over.”

Our own master Tojo-san might quibble with the invention of the inside-out roll. But this is a fascinating brief history of a wonderful food. Recommended.

Image: Greenspace #4

March 17, 2019