40 Days of Deprivation

I went through a phase in high school where I was Presbyterian.  Although it was more of a social activity — their youth group went to Schlitterbahn! — I still found myself being both confirmed (after a long series of confirmation classes which were at least informative if not particularly spiritual) and baptized in front of the entire congregation one Sunday.

After this, I participated in Lent each year.  And although I didn’t entirely understand why, I solemnly agreed to give up such terrific vices as chocolate or thinking evil thoughts against the trashy girls who left mean notes in my locker.  Of course, in college I was baptized once again — this time in an old-school Church of Christ — since my previous baptism wasn’t considered legitimate.  It seems that no one has seen fit to develop a Euro of Christian rites and rituals, which would be accepted as valid currency from denomination to denomination.

lentThese days, I’m more spiritual — if anything — than I was in high school yet don’t attend church any kind of regular basis.  And I’m not Presbyterian anymore (that second baptism apparently removed all traces of any earlier membership in the church), so I don’t take part in Lent anymore.  That said, I understand and appreciate that other people do.  I’m always fascinated with the intersection of religion and food (hence the recent Joel Osteen vs. bacon article), and Lent is an interesting time of year to ponder what few food-related mandates modern Christian churches still recognize.

If you think about it, modern-day Christians don’t have too many issues around food.  You eat what you want.  There are no dietary restrictions.  Few people fast, and most of those only do so during periods such as the 40 days of Lent.  Compare that to Jewish or Muslim or Hindu faiths, where strict dietary laws mean that what you put into your mouth is just as important as what you harbor in your heart, where feasts such as Eid al-Fitr serve as celebrations of faith and community, and where fasts such as Yom Kippur bring you closer to God through atonement and deprivation.

Lent is one of the few times that Christians look at food through a spiritual lens.  Catholics take the season a bit more seriously than their Protestant cousins, fully abstaining from eating meat on Fridays during the 40 days.  Most people, however, simply decide upon a food or beverage that they’ll give up during the season and go without alcohol or sweets for a little over a month.  These are popular items to give up, hence the popularity of the hedonistic revelry of Mardi Gras or Carneval immediately preceding Lent.

Lent is intended to remind Christians of the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the desert wilderness, resisting the temptations that Satan put before him, and to prepare them for the coming festival of Easter and celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  Giving up certain foods or vices or activities is a modern means of resisting temptation, all the while awaiting the glories that lay ahead — both in the form of spiritual glory and in the glory of finally being able to eat chocolate cake or drink a beer again.

Do you celebrate Lent?  If so, what are you giving up this year?  And for those of you that are giving up food or beverage, did you have a final indulgence in your chosen item last night?  Don’t lie…I know at least some of you did.  Spill it below.

Not As Bad As “New Coke” But…

…no.

Also?

…no.

If this redesign doesn’t smack of desperation, I don’t know what does.

But that’s just my embittered opinion.  I still miss this:

Wherefore art thou, Crystal Pepsi?

Tuesday Trivia: Thursday Edition

Your patience with our much-delayed Tuesday Trivia will be rewarded this week with a shiny new prize! What is that prize? Find out after trivia…

  1. Medieval writers and religious figures took a very broad view on gluttony, arguing that the sin encompassed more than simply over-indulgence in food and beverage. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of six additional ways one could commit gluttony while consuming a meal. What were three of these ways?
  2. Gluttony isn’t the only deadly sin that relates to food. Avarice, or greed, is responsible for driving up the cost of food items worldwide as investors and commodities traders profit from the abject poverty and hunger in countries like the Phillipines, Honduras and Bangladesh. Since 2000, the worldwide price of various oils and fats has risen by 300%, the price of milk by over 150%. By how much has the price of grains gone up since 2000?
  3. People have historically used food as one of many displays of wealth and pride, and still do to this day. Caviar is generally accepted as one of the food items most easily associated with a prideful life. What is the highest grade of Russian caviar on the market? Hint: its name is derived from the Russian word for “little salt.”
  4. Throughout history, people have sought aphrodesiacs to increase their own virility or induce lust in the object of their affections. Which of these foods is not traditionally considered an aphrodesiac: balut, arugula, ginseng, kelp or abalone?
  5. People go to war for many things: religion, land, natural resources. Food (and famine) has been one of the main causes of wrath and wars throughout human history. In fact, most anthropologists now believe that the population of what mysterious island was wiped out after a civil war over food (or, rather, a lack thereof)?
  6. BONUS: Sloth has created a nation (and a world) obsessed with fat-and-calorie-laden fast food and pre-packaged meals. What creation has been widely dubbed the “worst fast food burger” in America, nutritionally-speaking?

Now, obviously, the theme this week was…the Seven Deadly Sins. And the reason for that is two-fold. The first reason is that this week’s prize is one of my all-time favorite food anthropology books, In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food.

Today’s trivia winner will receive a copy of this truly fascinating book, shipped directly to their front door. I promise that none of today’s questions come from the book, either, so you’re guaranteed a fresh, interesting, eye-opening look at food taboos and food history as it relates to the Western concept of the Seven Deadly Sins.

The second reason is that Randy Rucker will be holding his highly-anticipated Seven Deadly Sins dinner this Monday, October 20th, at Culinaire Catering on Milam. The menu for the night includes seven courses, one for each sin. You don’t want to miss this special tenacity dinner. As always, you can email Randy at rrucker79 at hotmail dot com to RSVP for the dinner. Do it soon! Spots are filling up fast for this one.

Answers (and this week’s winner! — I’m very excited about this!!!) will be announced tomorrow afternoon, so hurry up and get those guesses in before anyone else comes in to crib off you! See you all back here on Friday, bluebirds!

Tuesday Trivia: Part Holy Crap It’s Back!

Wow.  I know, right?  So, anyway…

Last night was spent at Del Frisco’s with the lovely Jenny of I’m Never Full (and now Citysearch!), attending the check presentation party to wrap up Houston Restaurant Week, which you can read all about here:  Y’all Raised $78,877!  Needless to say, that was pretty awesome.

Also awesome was the lovely cabernet that was flowing freely, courtesy of Messina Hof.  And that brings us to today’s trivia theme: beverages.  You know how I love a good theme…

  1. Which of the following beverages was not available to American pioneers during the 19th century?  Carbonated water, iced tea, vodka, or beer?
  2. Chicory is well-known as a coffee substitute.  What common nut was also used throughout American history to make coffee when no coffee beans were available?
  3. Although we may view it as an all-American beverage, lemonade has actually been a popular drink since medieval times.  Where was it first served and enjoyed?
  4. Diet sodas were introduced in the 1950s as a way of marketing artificial sweeteners to the general public.  What company patented the first diet soda?
  5. Most species of domesticated livestock have been milked — and the milk enjoyed by humans — at some point or another in history.  But which of these animals has not been used as a source of milk?  Yaks, donkeys, horses or pigs?
  6. BONUS:  In Western culture, the milk of what animal was favored over the cow until the 16th century?

Drink it up, folks!  See you all back here on Thursday for the answers…

Thursday Answers…Slightly Delayed

I apologize for the delay…  I’ve been hard at work on both real, Day Job things and on Houstonist things.  One of those things is scheduled to post today at 4pm on Houstonist, so keep an eye out for it!  I worked my little tail off writing it, editing it, taking pictures for it and formatting it, and am just super excited to finally get it out there!

Anyway, onto our Thursday answers!  This week’s winner will be announced after the jump:

  1. The cocoa press was the development that led to the possibility and mass production of chocolate in the candy bar form that we all know and love today.  The Dutch chocolatier Conrad van Houten developed the modern cocoa press in an effor to find a way to make his chocolate less oily, so that the beverages would be lighter and easier to drink.  He ended up creating a screw press in 1828 that separated the cocoa butter from the bean itself and creating cocoa powder, both of which we use today!
  2. True, and it created quite a falling out between the two researchers who shared the lab.  Constantin Falberg, a student, was working in the lab of chemist Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins; the two of them were studying organic chemicals.  One day, Falberg was eating a piece of bread and noticed that it was overpoweringly sweet.  Tracing the sweetness back to the chemicals from the lab, he realized that they’d inadvertently created an artificial sweetner.  Falbert patented the sweetner (which he called saccharin) without the knowledge of his professor, Remsen, which created a lifelong rivalry and rift between them.
  3. Samp and hominy, at various points, been used to refer to grits.  Samp is actually dried corn kernels, which have been broken down but not to a fine meal.  Hominy is actually dried corn which has been soaked in lye to remove the hulls and soften the corn until it’s palatable.  And grits are the greatest food mankind has ever known.
  4. Believe it or not, there was a citywide epidemic of rickets among the children of Dublin when the city was restricted to eating whole-grain bread.  Why?  The whole-grain bread contained such low amounts of calcium and such high amounts of bran (which further blocks calcium absorption by the body), that the children developed rickets as a result of exaggerated calcium deficiency.  Just goes to show that too much of anything — even a good thing — can be a bad thing.
  5. Both wheat and barley were domesticated before any other cereal grain, including rice and corn (4500 B.C.), millet and sorghum (4000 B.C.) and oats (circa 100 A.D.).  Although wheat and barley were both of great importance to ancient civilizations, only wheat has retained that popularity.  In the west, barley is used primarily as animal feed and for producing beer.  It’s a shame, because there’s nothing like a big bowl of hot barley with stewed tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Ask my mother sometime; she’ll make you a bowl.
  6. BONUS:  Wheat and barley were both originally cultivated around 7000 B.C.  Around the same time, humans were also finally figuring out that they could domesticate animals, including goats, pigs and camels.

So, who won?  Find out after the jump…

Continue reading Thursday Answers…Slightly Delayed

L-u-b-y-s and J-e-l-l-o

Lisa Gray has a wonderful story today in the Chronicle on Luby’s and general Houston nostalgia:

Remembrance of Luby’s Past

If you’re a native Houstonian, you ate at Luby’s as a kid.  Most of us ate there after church on Sundays, after a recital at school, before seeing a movie at the four-plex cinema down the road or just as a special treat to get out of the house.

I loved, l-o-v-e-d, loved Luby’s when I was little.  Their macaroni and cheese and fried okra were the end all and be all of fine cuisine as far as I was concerned.  And, as Lisa points out, their green Jell-O was a favorite dessert:

But the Jell-O remains, in all its jiggly splendor. At the beginning of the serving line, just after you’ve collected your tray, you face opaque lime-green squares, consorting unrepentantly with leafier, more virtuous salads.

Looking at that Jell-O, you know exactly where you are.

Even to this day, when I’m sick or feeling down, I ask for those three items from Luby’s: mac and cheese, fried okra and green Jell-O.  Just ask my poor husband, who makes the trek out to their To-Go window.

There’s something massively comforting about Luby’s.  I don’t know if it’s the consistency of the food and the decor in their cavernous dining rooms, the sweet memories of childhood or the fact that you’re usually surrounded by cute little old ladies who look like your grandma, but Luby’s will never get old for me.  And I will never get too old for Luby’s.

After all, you have to love a restaurant which has lent the name of its most popular dish to a character on that pinnacle and paradigm of Texas culture: King of the Hill.