Friday, December 30, 2016

Year End 2016

Another year is ending. A lot of events stayed the same as other years, and some didn’t.  That’s my year end summary. Here are the fascinating, or boring, details of my year.

What do I remember most? We had a presidential election and Donald Trump won the electoral vote. That wasn’t the same as other years. It was a large upheaval. The campaign seemed to go on forever, with many Republicans and two Democrats entering the contest. My candidate was Bernie Sanders. He didn’t win, but he continues to extend influence. The two finalists were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The race featured much hate and many lies plus some occasional truth. The media pundits whom I heard said that Clinton told the truth more than Trump. We continue to wonder what the President-elect will do after he takes office. I still believe that Bernie Sanders would have served the American people best. It appears that the Democrats are trying to figure out who they are.

What did I like most? (1) My annual multiple day trip took place in June at Mackinac Island. My bus trips are always enjoyable, and this one was notable for taking us to the Grand Hotel. We were told that the island has five hundred horses during the summer to transport island residents and visitors. No cars are permitted there, although a fire engine is. We were treated to a visit to a restored fort on the island, with colonial soldiers reenacting the guard rounds of yesteryear. This fort was important due to its location on Lake Huron where it protected a large area of wilderness from our enemies. We also enjoyed great food at the hotel (of course it wasn’t memorable enough to recall today what the food was.) and some live music. We had plenty of time to walk around the island.
(2) A long weekend in Maryland with Mary and Gareth (daughter and husband) was very good. I don’t see them often.

What did I do that I do every year? (1) I had numerous summer visits to Washington Island, mostly by myself. Daughter Sarah camped with me on the island and at Sturgeon Bay. Granddaughters Andrea and Laura camped with Sarah and me at Washington Island once. This year we didn’t have bats in our cabin in the woods.
(2) I did some day trips on buses, and I went to the usual church gatherings.
(3) I continued do volunteer work at the Meadowridge library, the Madison Senior Center, and St. Dunstan’s Church. It seems that the church continues to be the hub of my social life.

What surprised me most? In October I took part in speed dating for single people over age 65. I didn’t know what it was, but my senior center showed a movie and brought in a psychology professor to give us information about it. It was great fun, and channel 3 television covered the part when the eight women and eight men met one another. Subsequently I dated four men and am continuing to date one. I would say that speed dating has been a success for me as 2016 comes to an end.

2016 has been a good year. We will see what Donald Trump does next year. Yikes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cheese 101

Move over, chocolate, and make room for cheese. And let’s thank those cows for making cheese possible, and Wisconsin for being America’s dairyland, our home of cheese.

Cheese is very popular. In about three minutes I made a list of foods made of or containing cheese, from natural cheese to junk food: pizza, macaroni & cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, lasagna, quiche, cheesecake, fondue, appetizers, soup, chili, soup and soup topping, casseroles, deep fried cheese curds, cheese flavored chips and popcorn…and more.

Apart from eating cheese nearly every day, I have a somewhat remote connection to the cheese industry. Long ago, before I knew him, my late father-in-law was a dairy farmer who named his cows after the Presidents’ wives. He sent their milk to the Arena Cheese Company to be made into cheese. That company continues to function today and exists also at I bought a package of Arena cheese today at Whole Foods. It’s good cheddar cheese. Arena is west of Madison.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is working to ensure that people will eat plenty of cheese. Its website,, takes the person on a positive tour of everything cheese related, including how cheese is made. Everyone should know that the website has a Cheesecylopedia, a history of Wisconsin cheese and a traveler’s guide to cheeses.

Cheese has pluses and minuses. On the good side, we can find taste. Of course it tastes good because it is made of fat, and fat makes food taste good. (I don’t include soy cheese in what I just said since I never tried it.) Variety is on the list, on a spectrum including natural, processed, cheese food, and powder. On the nutrition scale, I believe that only natural cheese is good for people to eat, but the other forms have been very good for sales of cheese products. Cheese is widely available with many varieties on grocery store shelves.

Cheese is versatile. Think of lasagna, pizza and the many things I itemized above. It is available in chunks or shreds, in spreads and dips. Some cheeses are good for some dishes and others for others. Cheesecake exalts cream cheese; limburger stands in the corner by itself.

On the minus side are a few drawbacks. Products made with cheese can be junk food and not good for anyone. Cheetos anyone? Some people say cheese is constipating. Cheese must be refrigerated and molds in time. Some cheese companies age cheese for years, which seems to work for them but not for me in my refrigerator. People with dairy allergies probably stay away from cheese, as do vegans who eat no animal products. Processed cheese is among the not-for-us trans fats, although it thrived until someone discovered that trans fats are bad for people. Think of Velveeta and all those grilled cheese sandwiches.

Did I mention saturated fat and cholesterol? That brings us to cheese controversy. Dairy products have saturated fats. For more than half a century the medical people said that saturated fat causes heart disease, especially in full fat dairy products. Skim milk was in; butter was out. Now this view has changed. The medical website,, says:
“People who eat full-fat dairy may have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity than those who eat low-fat dairy. When you replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates, you exacerbate insulin resistance and obesity. There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has any positive effects on health.” (, Nov. 18, 2015.) Other doctors agree with this, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, who is promoting his latest book, Eat Fat Get Thin. So let’s all enjoy the fat but in moderation.

Another issue is whether to eat raw or pasteurized cheese. Some stores sell raw milk cheese, but raw milk is mostly unavailable. Pasteurization removes or reduces some nutrients that occur naturally in milk.  In addition, the diet of the cow gets mentioned because it affects her milk; grass fed is believed to be best.

I eat mostly cheddar and Swiss cheese, and cream cheese occasionally. Low fat cheese is an oxymoron.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Dorito Effect - Book Review

It’s no illusion. Food has become blander and flavors have rescued them, with big consequences, including obesity and diseases. Journalist Mark Schatzker gives us a taste of it all in The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor.  He tells us what is wrong and ends with a search for very real food with real flavor.

Schatzker’s book comes to life through some very creative nonfiction writing. He tells about a list of people who moved the flavor problem along and/or tried to improve it. He holds the reader’s interest to help him/her continue to read to the end, when a scientific paper about the same topic might have been left unread. The research is there, sometimes through the voices of the people who did it. I ate it up.

The Dorito Effect is his name for bland food with zest added. He says, “The Dorito Effect, very simply, is what happens when food gets blander and flavor technology gets better.” He tells us about chicken and vegetables being carefully bred since the 1960s for money-making qualities like yield and faster and bigger growth. That produced what he calls the “dilution effect,” which is loss of flavor and nutrients. He also credits intensive farming methods and fertilization.

Doritoes, Schatzker says, arrived when a scientist showed how a bland tortilla chip could be made very tasty with added flavor to suggest a taco. He then shows how other foods that have become bland have been given the same treatment of seasonings and gives credit to McCormick herbs and spices. He tells about chickens and tomatoes. Chickens now are larger than they were in the 1950s and taste like teddy bear stuffing. Tomatoes are like cardboard. These images appear throughout the book.

 The human brain gets fooled. Food addiction comes from neurotransmitters in the brain when many people eat food with some added flavorings, he says. “We’re done for. The rise in obesity is the predictable result of the rise in manufactured deliciousness. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t make our outsized desires go away.” Nothing will change until we think differently about food and see that real flavor, produced authentically in nature, is our only road to salvation. Don’t extinguish pleasure; get rid of manufactured flavors in favor of real food. And finding real food means re-engineering the bland foods to bring back the flavor. The solution to cardboard tomatoes is focusing on flavor more than yield. He is not talking about GMO.

At the end of the book we find Schatzker spending much time and effort in a worldwide search for anyone who has tried to produce flavorful food, in an effort to present one wonderful meal. The major players come and it is done.

Finally, he gives us an appendix, which he calls “How to Live Long and Eat Flavorfully.” This should not be overlooked. The list includes: Eat Real Flavor; Eat Like a Utah Goat; Flavor Starts in the Womb; Eat for Flavor; Eat Meat from Pastured Animals; Avoid Synthetic Flavor Technology; Avoid Restaurants That Use Synthetic Flavorings; Organic May or May Not Save You; Eat Herbs and Spices; Don’t Pop Vitamin Pills; Eat Dark Chocolate and Drink Wine; Give a Child an Amazing Piece of Fruit; It will Get Better. The author concludes, “There is only one way Child an Amazing Piece of Fruit; It will Get Better. The author concludes, “There is only one way the overall quality of food we eat will get better: if people demand it. The quality movement has revolutionized the wine and beer North Americans drink. Now let’s make it happen with food.”

Now I am reading food labels more attentively to see what I am eating. As one other food writer has said, don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients on the label. And I suggest that sometimes if the label includes a list of names of flavorings, don’t eat it unless you know what underlies the words.

The book is available at and many public libraries.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Chocolate Brownies

Here is another way to overeat and love it. Plain old chocolate brownies from my disintegrating 1948 cookbook continue to be the ones I like best. One of my daughters has requested the recipe, so here it is with my adaptations, from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1948 edition.

Chocolate Brownies
7-inch square pan – double this for 9-inch square pan

2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate            1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter                                                                ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar                                                                 1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs                                                              ½ cup cut walnut meats (optional)

Melt chocolate over hot water in 2 quart saucepan. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Add sugar, eggs, salt and vanilla and mix together. Add flour and optional nuts. Grease the baking pan and spread the mixture evenly in it. Bake about 50 minutes at 300 degrees. When cool cut in squares.

The book says to line the pan with heavy waxed paper, which I have never done. It’s easy to grease the pan.