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.

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.

Va-Rice-Ity

From Found in Mom’s Basement:

 

Aside from the general absurdity of the ad, check out where the “Rice Council of America” is located!  For those of you not interested in peering at the fine print, it’s Box 22802, Houston, Texas 77027.  Sweet.

Houston: Crazy Rice Pioneers of the 1960s.

…I wonder if they still distribute that intriguing-sounding “Rice Ideas Men Like” pamphlet…

Thursday Answers

We’ve had a rather interesting turn of events in this week’s trivia contest.  Although only three of you submitted your guesses, it still made for an entertaining grading process.  The winner…after the answers:

  1. Meat and other foodstuffs were preserved in honey in classical Rome and Greece.  Sounds much tastier to me than vinegar, frankly.  And this marks the second time that “honey” has been an answer on Tuesday Trivia!  Perhaps I need a fresh source of trivia material…
  2. Wine bottles are tinted green to keep out light, specifically the ultraviolet light which is one main culprit in wine spoilage.  The green tint absorbs the UV wavelengths; not just any color will do, you know!
  3. Cheese, yogurt and sour cream are the three most common cultured dairy products here in the West.  The fourth deserves just as much credit, in my opinion: buttermilk.  Can’t make decent cornbread or pancakes without it!
  4. False.  An egg’s grade has nothing to do with its freshness and everything to do with the thickness of its albumen (the white part) and the strength of its yolk.  A grade AA egg has a thick white and a firm yolk.  A grade B egg, however, has a runny white and a weak yolk, which is easily broken.  To quote McGee, if you’re simply “scrambling or boiling them or making them into a custard,” then the extra grades (AA or A) aren’t necessary.  However, if you’re planning on making a meringue or a souffle, then the higher grade is worth it.
  5. The chestnut is composed of a whopping 52% water!  Acorns stand at about 14% and cashews at only 5%.   The trade-off, of course, is that cashews are extremely high in fat — 46%! — while the chestnut only has 2% to its name.  The chestnut and the acorn are both extremely low in fat, actually, with most nuts having an average fat content of 57%.  The good news?  At least it’s unsaturated fat.
  6. BONUS: the cashew’s little friend is the cashew apple, a false fruit.  Also called an “accessory fruit,” this is the part of a plant which wasn’t produced by the ovaries.  A false fruit is perfectly edible, and some false fruits are highly prized, such as the familiar strawberry (the seeds of the strawberry are the real fruit; the flesh of the strawberry is false).

So here’s the fun part: the winner.

Congratulations go to long-time reader and commenter coffeefrappe!  He or she doesn’t have a website to which I can direct you, nor do I know their real name or gender.  All I know is that I adore them for being a constant supporter, reader and commenter.  You rock, coffeefrappe!

Tied for second place are the lovely croquecamille and the always-funny Cory, which I found amusing as Cory never takes these seriously and usually provides dirty, hilarious answers instead.  I’m sure he’ll be at least somewhat shocked to learn that he tied for second-place this go round.  For more Cory, check out his Houston foodie blog at I’ve Got The Munchies.

Congrats to all and happy eating until next time!

Thursday Answers

The weeks keep passing so quickly these days! I can’t believe it’s already Thursday and already time for the answers to Tuesday Trivia. With no further adieu…

  1. El Pollo Loco — the crazy chicken! — was founded in the seaside town of Guasave back in the 1970s.  It is true that Denny’s purchased the chain in 1983, but most people don’t realize that Denny’s turned right around and sold it (along with all their other holdings) four years later.  Today, El Pollo Loco is a privately-owned company headquartered in Irvine, California, and operating in Mexico and the United States.
  2. Wendy’s introduced the drive-through window in 1971 at their second store in Columbus, Ohio.  McDonald’s didn’t incorporate this concept until 1975.  Of course, the folks at In-n-Out Burger had the first modern “drive up” service, created in 1948, but Wendy’s created the modern drive-through as we know it.
  3. Ancient Romans were the first to sell food from stalls in the street.  One of the most popular “fast food” items of the day was botulus, a blood sausage made from salted pork.  In fact, botulism takes its name from botulus, as the first diagnoses of botulism were in response to people eating bad botulus sausage (botulus meaning “sausage” in Latin).
  4. One out of every eight Americans has received a paycheck from McDonald’s.  That means at least a few of you out there have worked for Mickey D’s.  Own up, folks!
  5. Americans spend an average of $134 million on fast food each year, more than they spend on education, car payments or computers.  Amazing, if frighteningly unhealthy.
  6. BONUS:  Catching up to us in almost every facet of modern life, including consumption of natural resources and automobile ownership, China is the second-largest consumer of fast food in the world.  Throw their huge smoking habit into the mix, and we aren’t exactly creating very healthy world superpowers these days.

So…who won?  Once again, we congratulate the mighty Pooh!  Congratulations, Pooh!

Although she and The Grumpy Chef were tied for first place, the tie-breaker was their answer to queston number three.  The Grumpy Chef ventured “Persian,” while Pooh! couldn’t make up her mind and offered both Greece and Rome.  These two are neck and neck each week, I tell ya.  One day we’ll just have to play Final Jeopardy to see who reigns supreme.

Until next week…happy eating!