Field Trip: Penzey’s Spices

Aromatic. Enigmatic. Stimulating.

These are not just words that describe an evening in my kitchen, but they are aptly used to describe Penzey’s Spices, a newcomer to Austin’s foodie scene (4400 N. Lamar, just a bit north of Central Market).

Penzey’s reportedly sources the finest spices and grinds them just before shipping, which means they arrive in a more robust state and they last longer. Huzzah! *

* Huzzah means I’m excited. It also means that Penzey’s spices cost a little bit more than HEB’s spices.

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Below: One of about four difference cinnamons in the store. Every spice has a smell jar (on the left) that you can open and use to sample that spice. What fun! (Note – Human lungs were not meant to process cinnamon in the same way they process oxygen. Keep a safe distance when inhaling).

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Below: Shallot salt smelled so good, I grabbed up a little jar of it.

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Book: The Body Ecology Diet

I love reading about nutrition theory and there is no shortage of viewpoints on how to eat healthfully. The Body Ecology Diet‘s focus is on maintaining a healthy intestinal tract populated with beneficial bacteria and void of high levels of unhealthy yeast.

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Candida Yeast

The book’s focus is on the condition candidiasis, which is an overgrowth of the yeast candida albicans. Candidiasis is normally recognized as a yeast infection of the mouth, genitals, or other moist areas on/near the outside of the body. Among alternative nutrition thinkers, however, candida albicans is believed to commonly overgrow within our intestines, where it feeds on sugar and is blamed for a number of symptoms. Author Donna Gates writes that given the right conditions, candida puts toxins into your bloodstream, overgrows in the intestines, and can expand into blood and organs causing problems such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor memory
  • A spacey feeling in one’s head
  • Muscle aches
  • Constipation and diarrhea (probably not at the same time :P )
  • Impotence
  • Headaches
  • Mucus in stool
  • Food sensitivities/intolerances
  • Chronic rashes/psoriasis

I don’t understand the mechanism by which all of these issues could be impacted by an unhealthy gut, but some of them do make sense to me. For example, I believe that immune reactions I have to certain foods can precipitate “spacey” feelings that I sometimes get in my head, so it’s not a stretch to believe that intestinal health can mediate or cause the same reaction.

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BPA in Plastic: Threat or Hype?

Many plastic bottles lately boast “BPA free” labels.It seems to be a hot issue in the world of plastics. Should you avoid BPA? Is this a fad with no basis in science?

What’s the Deal with BPA?

To sum up, The US Department of Health and Human Services’ website states about BPA that “newer studies have led federal health officials to express some concern about the safety of BPA (1).”

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Bisphenol-A (BPA), the product that is garnering all of this consumer and industry attention, is a chemical that’s been used in the manufacture of plastics for over 40 years. Recently, however, research has shown signs that BPA could be harming humans. According to wikipedia, BPA has weak but detectable hormone-like properties which are of special concern for fetuses and children. Research has indicated that effects for adults are possible, as well. BPA’s properties are being further investigated for their possible ability affect developing brains, prostate glands, and other outcomes. With the CDC finding BPA present in almost all humans tested in a large scale sample (3), it’s understandable why we all would want to understand it better.

What to Do?

Should we run from BPA? Odds appear strongest that any effects on adults are minimal. The largest concern is effect of BPA on human development, and even then, there are many questions about how BPA could affect humans and numerous questions surrounding the applicability of the preliminary studies. This is the type of issue that is ripe for being overblown, nevertheless, some concern is reported by the FDA (1).

The FDA reports that BPA is present in cans of liquid infant formula, since plastics are commonly used to line aluminum cans. They do not recommend avoiding those products, yet the US government continues to investigate it’s impact on the bodies of infants and adults. Meanwhile, the FDA supports the discontinued use of BPA in newly manufactured products.

Eden Foods (see photo below), a natural foods producer, manufactures and touts their cans lined with BPA-free plastic (2).

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Do Eden Foods‘ canned products cost more? Yes. A quick scan of prices indicates that they cost about 75 cents more per can. With little evidence that BPA affects adults, the most common consumers of Eden’s products, it may or may not be a fair price. Luckily, you at least have more options for being BPA free.

(1) http://www.hhs.gov/safety/bpa/
(2) http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=178
(3) http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/BisphenolA_FactSheet.html

Broccoli and Carrot Salad

A simpler recipe here – some lightly steamed veggies with a super simple vinaigrette (2 T olive oil + 2 T lemon juice + salt and pepper). This salad offers lots of fiber, tons of outstanding vitamins and minerals, and just enough oil to coat the beans and vegetables.

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Below: A meyer lemon from South Texas. I had to curb my instinct to grab the shinier, brighter, and yellower lemons from more distant lands (somewhere in the “USA”). It doesn’t show in the photo, but this lemon was dull looking and a bit marred with skin defects. Nevertheless, I bought “local”, and enjoyed a lovely lemon flavor. Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either an orange or a mandarin.

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Below: Two minutes of steam brighten up the veggies marvelously without diminishing their crunch. The chickpeas offer their customary firm texture and mild yet wholesome flavor, and the lemon gives just the right amount of acidity. A nice, quick, and very easy side dish.

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Thai Fish Soup

I saw a recipe for Thai fish soup in the local food co-op circular and gave it a whirl.

Below: If you saw these ingredients, you’d just have to know that whatever you were about to eat was going to be good.

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Below: The recipe called for a good amount of fresh lime juice.

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Below: A lovely cross-section of a lemongrass stalk.

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Below: Another look at the lemongrass.

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The final product was very good, although it was a bit heavy with the lime flavor.

New and Good: Louisiana Kumquats

Whoa! Kumquats?

“What the heck is a kumquat?” is the question that I didn’t even know I had, but that I simultaneously had to have answered as soon as I saw them in the store.

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How to Eat?

I tried eating them by cutting them in half and squeezing the pulp and juice out. This actually worked pretty well; the contents oozed out very nicely. It was like a mini orange with more sourness, none of the white pith, and about the same level of sweetness. And very citrusy.

When I noticed the thin skin, I decided to try eating the kumquat whole. This was very pleasant. It offered more of the citrus flavor and a new element of texture which was completely welcome. The skin was very edible, and I suspect that it’s the custom to eat it (an internet scan confirmed this). What’s more, the seeds are very easy to chew and are not intrusive at all. That’s good, because they’d be a pain to remove from this tiny fruit.

Nutrition

Kumquats are high in vitamin C and fiber. Eating the skin helps in the fiber department, I imagine. And to top it all off, Ladies Home Journal, a fine publication if I ever did see one, says kumquats and all citrus fruits have liminoids, a micronutrient I had never heard of until today, in their rinds. According to the USDA, liminoids are protective against cancer.