Friday, January 23, 2009

Hot links......

You might begin to doubt that this little electronic pied-a-terre ever had anything to do with food.....

I am with you on that one......I vaguely remember food.

To remind myself this morning......I had a miner's lettuce salad with field sorrel for breakfast. The dressing was fine Cachagua mist.

I like to look for clues to dietary goodness all around me. I don't have the budget of Xabier Guittierez and Juan Mari Arzak.....but I have been loving our sea vegetable risotto of late. Carmel Beach sea vegetable......

On our union required hike this morning......(The Dog Free Choice Act was a little-known early signing of the Obama Administration.....our hounds are now fully unionized, which actually is an improvement over the Bush era collective).....one would have thought that I was walking in the company of herbivores. All four hounds were constantly stopping and chomping. They only like certain grasses and herbs......Morgana has taught Puppy, and he follows her around like an acolyte.

As mentioned before....this will be a bumper year for miner's lettuce, the sticky purple flower.....and wildflowers in general. Everybody is already going off in Flower-land....

Part of our hike runs through a gorgeous abandoned property. Someone still mows the flat parts each year to keep down the poison oak, and the old oaks shelter a meadow that would do County Kerry proud. Of course, the mower also kills all the baby oaks.....so the meadow does not have long to live as the old oaks mature and die.

Meanwhile, this morning I looked down and realized that Mama Nature had set up a plate for me......field sorrel and miner's lettuce all wrappped up in each other and garnished with the faint rain mist that had managed to drift below the oaks.

"Pick up! Table Eight! Salads are up!"

Crisp, tart, tender....nourishing in ways way beyond the calories and all that.

Thanks, Mom!

Meanwhile....this is the time of year when we get together with our growers to plan out the year's menus.....or at least a range of ingredients that will turn into this year's menus. The seed catalogs are out in force.....squashes, herbs, flowers, crazy greens, cardoons, groundnuts......

And chiles. Our time with Borja was a constant struggle to find the exact chile...the right size, the right heat, the right shape for his relleno......Joanie grows a pretty good range of chiles, but we want to be more pro-active.

A side-effect of global climate warming has been global palate warming: chiles are taking over.

In tropical lands, chiles have always been an important food ingredient......In strength, they are antiseptics, and are invaluable where refrigeration is dodgy. Also, I used to think that the vicious heat of a chile arbol not only preserved the meat from rotting in Mexico....but masked the possibly over-ripe flavors that might be present as well.

I once destroyed my partner Valentine's newly blossoming relationship with Mills College proselytizing vegetarian when we were working in Mexico for our wealthy friend Horatio.

Val and my wife Jane were fully into the sun worship thing, and were perfectly happy to sleep by the pool or beach all day.....while two-year old Brendan and I hit the Indian markets at dawn, and cut and chopped all day in the back with the abuelas.

You shop at dawn in the Mercado Indio because it is cooler, and because everything just got there from the boat or the farm.

The Mills chick missed no opportunity to remind us all about the horrors of meat eating.....while basting and roasting herself in the sun all day like a fat baby pig.....

One afternoon, she was bored.....and asked me if I would show her the Mercado. No problem. I dragged her throught the carneceria part of the Mercado at about 3pm.......

100 degree heat. Rack after rack of whole killed pigs, with their various internal parts still attached appropriately, reeking in the heat. Racks of cow entrails, spilling about like some insane macrame, ducks on spikes....feet and head intact, of course. Piles of goat heads, piles of cow heads, piles of pig heads.....

And the stench......

The Mills chick never even made it back to the Hacienda......she ran screaming from the Mercado directly to a cab and the airport. Left all her bags and clothes.

Sorry, Valentine.......

Hey, we never even got to the chile part of the Mercado......

Anyway.....there is a chile revolution sweeping, of all places, England. English people have always had a weird affinity for spicy food.....to compensate for the indigenous blandness of the culturally accurate diet. Curries, back in the day, were named for towns in India: Vindaloo was the most volcanic....and the most popular.

Now....believe it or not.....England leads the world in production and consumption of the hottest chiles in the world.

There is no contest. Mexicans, Indonesians, Indians, whomever....get back. The Limey's rule the world of the super-hot.

From here on out, I am cutting and pasting ruthlessly from The Economist.....

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chiles. Tastless, colourless, odourless and painful, pure capsaicin is a curious substance. It does no lasting damage, but the body’s natural response to even a modest dose (such as that found in a chili pepper) is self-defence: sweat pours, the pulse quickens, the tongue flinches, tears may roll. But then something else kicks in: pain relief. The bloodstream floods with endorphins—the closest thing to morphine that the body produces. The result is a high. And the more capsaicin you ingest, the bigger and better it gets.

Humans are the only mammals to eat chilies. Other species apparently reckon that nasty tastes are a powerful evolutionary signal that something may be poisonous. Paul Rosin, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who is one of the world’s best-known authorities on the effects of capsaicin, has had no success in persuading rats to eat chilies, and very limited success with dogs and chimpanzees: the handful of cases where these animals did eat chilies seemed to be because of their strong relationships with human handlers.

That offers a clue to the way in which mankind comes to develop a chili habit. In the same way as young people may come to like alcohol, tobacco and coffee (all of which initially taste nasty, but deliver a pleasurable chemical kick), chili-eating normally starts off as a social habit, bolstered by what Mr Rozin calls “benign masochism”: doing something painful and seemingly dangerous, in the knowledge that it won’t do any permanent harm. The adrenalin kick plus the natural opiates form an unbeatable combination for thrill-seekers.

In England.....chile consumption is soaring: up a quarter to a third in the last year...

The reason may be that capsaicin excites the trigeminal nerve, increasing the body’s receptiveness to the flavour of other foods. That is not just good news for gourmets. It is a useful feature in poor countries where the diet might otherwise be unbearably bland and stodgy. In a study in 1992 by the CSIRO’s Sensory Research Centre, scientists looked at the effect of capsaicin on the response to solutions containing either sugar or salt. The sample was 35 people who all ate spicy food regularly but not exclusively. Even a small quantity of capsaicin increased the perceived intensity of the solutions ingested. Among other things, that may give a scientific explanation for the habit, not formally researched, of snorting the “pink fix” (a mixture of cocaine and chili powder).

Anyway, part of the leading edge of this craze is the chile we are buying from England.....the Tesco naga.

Chile strength is measured in Scoville units. A Scoville unit is the amount of dilution in sugar syrup necessary for a given chile to no longer be detectable to the human palate. A particularly hot dried red chile might run to 100, 000 Scoville units....meaning it needs to be diluted 100,000 times to be considered mellow.

Habaneros......aka Scotch Bonnets.....are the most insanely hot chile available in America. They are cute and beautiful. We can stretch one tiny Scotch Bonnet over forty or fifty folks, and give them all a thrill. Scotch Bonnets run a maximum of 577,000 Scoville Units.

The Indian government has been working on chiles for using in riot control gasses. They have come up with a chile that runs to reportedly 855,000.

The Tesco naga....developed by an American from Maine from a chile he found in a Bangladeshi market in Bournemouth, England......comes in at a mind-blowing 1,600,ooo Scoville units.

You can buy them from the developer, Michael Michaud.....not the Chalone winemaker, by the way. They come with a warning label for cooks to use gloves while handling them.

Tesco...the Safeway of England.....has seen it chile and produce sales soar behind the naga. They won't sell the naga to minors......but they will sell kids beer and cigarettes.

Our shipment is on the way.......coming soon to a garden near you.

Forget the Orchid Society, Joannie.....we have the Cachagua Chile Society.

Better endorphins....

4 Comments:

Blogger kathy said...

Didja see this video: http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?mkt=en-us&from=MSNHP ? This is a mere one million Scoville units - the Bhut jolokia pepper. It's pretty damn amazing. Just for grins, go all the way to the end and compare THAT face to the face before the pepper was ingested.

4:55 PM  
Blogger kathy said...

Opps, wrong address but the computer crashed before I could change it. Here's the real site...

http://www.spike.com/video/eating-worlds/3094671

5:04 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

how the NY Times views Carmel ... "WITH its architectural mishmash of storybook English cottages and Swiss Alpine chalets, the small town of Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California resembles a Disneyland version of Europe. ... Once a bohemian outpost for folks like Jack London, Carmel today is prime real estate, and the surrounding valley is abuzz with top-notch restaurants, boutique wineries and precious shops."

see the article for selected restaurants ...

http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/travel/25hours.html?ref=travel

11:28 AM  
Blogger Joanie said...

Bring on the chicken shit and naga seeds. Can't wait. I have moved some orchids out of the way in the naga incubator for little darlings. Joanie

4:23 PM  

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