Welcome to the Crackerman Cracker Blog.
Since we all do more than just work, eat, drink and sleep, we thought of passing on some of the ideas we have come across. Here we will try to publish our very subjective ideas on matters related and unrelated to crackerman crackers. Comments are welcome, as long as they choose decent wording and common courtesy.
Bread, organic food and hunger in 2013
How elitist are consumers shopping for organic breads and groceries when faced with 18 % of the population going hungry at times ?
We will soon see ten dollar heirloom salad in stores while millions of individuals live on 40 cent hamburgers and meaty buns produced with 70 ingredients.
I would take a look at this situation and dare to look ahead on food in a few years. This is a realistic view on what the situation is given the premises of today.
Those premises are as follows:
Consumption of organically grown food is steadily growing, small scale producers increasingly enter the markets though very few multinational companies proceed to further monopolize both the organic and conventionally produced industry.
In the U.S. companies take advantage of decade old government subsidies on soy and corn, producing several thousand products from them. Few of them are food related.
They provide the population with inexpensive foods, at the same time several thousand additives keep this food tasty, cheap and shelf stabile for long range consumption.
For the future lobbyists for big food companies argue the sharply increased meat consumption world wide requires genetically modified foods. The counterpart argues optimized farming techniques and better distribution could achieve the same. Without active democratic engagement by the population the winner in this field is already clear.
It should be worth to take a look at the educational status on food world wide: With the advent of canned food, a more mobile life style and increased consumption of convenience food a break in food education happened. Grandmothers didn’t cook from scratch anymore and seasonal cooking using local ingredients vanished from the face of the earth like an evil.
This gap in education has not been filled until now, schools don’t teach nutrition or food classes and family members lost traditional food tutors.
As a result few people nowadays actually know about seasons, ingredients, cooking and storing. This lack of information access hits especially the poorest, who turn to inexpensive foods making them sick.
It also hits the upcoming middle class in developing countries like Mexico and Thailand. There families turn to status symbols like hamburger and pizza, thus loosing knowledge about cooking healthy, locally sourced foods.
At the same time, obesity rates are exploding in those countries.
In the near future governments will recognize the toll on society and the immense health care cost this situation causes . Schools will take over the role of family members and teach the topic, though highly influenced by the food industry.
Individuals will receive incentives to lead a less fat and sugar loaded life, ideally with a higher percentage of home cooking involved. This way the circle will close once consequences like heart disease force individuals to reconsider, often this will happen too late.
Given better education, access to unprocessed food and incentives,
poor and rich will benefit from better health, acquire more personal productivity, have more social interaction and attain higher overall happiness.
Without change the following will happen:
A sharper divide in population, social tensions, less quality of living through impeded health, more additives in food, still less biodiversity ( we now have a fraction of vegetable, fruit and cheese varieties we had even 50 years ago, thanks to mass marketed food ) and more food borne illnesses. At the same time society achieves higher age through better health care.
Individuals shopping organic will be considered more elitist than even today. Food without additives will only be available when self raised or at a substantially higher price than today.
Overall food ( and additive ) input will be determined by very few gigantic producers.
The conclusion is a urgent need for government induced education on food,
Public access to information, also for the poor and better distribution of food, for the benefit of society, because no society can afford to leave the potential of its citizens on the ground while putting profits first.
And then there are pleasures we do not want to loose:
This could be just the Poppia wraps Malaysians make a cult out of, Mole Poblano in Mexico, a bun with Leberkaese in Northern Bavaria or the world's best Baguette manufactured by a Libyan in Paris.
Ask a Chinese millionaire why he drives 200 miles to buy fried rice from a street vendor, ask your neighbor what makes him spend 40 minutes on the road to pick up his morning bagels.
Change happens, whether we want it or not. Every day and every individual makes a difference, sometimes a huge one.
Through personal engagement within communities,
personal change in behavior, small steps like local shopping, engaging actively in the democratic system, because change we can.
Yesterday a truck passed by with a photograph of a contemporary production kitchen on its trailer.
Sysco with chefs in aprons, whisk in hand , ready to whip up some macaroons, a pound or two of chicken salad, all in small quantities with top fresh ingredients, cooked exclusively for one small family, maybe two.
Apparently 47 000 employees work in those micro environments for them, how fortunate are they ?
Fields sway with the wind, poppy flower blooms red in the midst of it, a golden sunset on the horizon.
Wheat harvested with a sickle by old Italian farmers, then after a short stop at Mama Leone, who manufactures noodles, right after this brought to Costco on a donkey cart, where it sells as pasta for 87 cents a pound.
There is a cow grazing on a pasture smiling for the dairy producer. Evil people say the animal has never seen daylight, must be a lie, because companies are telling the truth and only the truth. And they have high ethics.
Am loving all those Mama Italia Marinara sauce pictures on cans, plastic containers and jars.
All those heavy weight ladies with glasses seemingly are related, maybe from the same clan or at least village,
where they hand pick tomatoes and carefully slow cook them with sprigs of rosemary from the back of the garden,
garlic certainly had been previously contributed by a well meaning neighbor.
Every single Sicilian housewife in her mid sixties is canning tomato based sauces for the world these days, one 3 gallon pot at the time, this is reality.
Meanwhile Swiss pastry chefs are in the midst of making chocolate for the Northern American market. I see three colleagues interacting and consulting each other, one cracks a hazelnut- wait, this was the world production for
Nutella - while the other chocolatier stirs a copper pot of liquid chocolate intended to feed China for a year.
The precious concoction pours into a few molds which a second later is released as the finest chocolate, complete with the company signature stamp.
" These Nuggets provide an excellent source of calcium from breading with 0 grams of trans fats per serving and no fillers. “ - and the chicken had fun growing up as well, lots of it.
‘Tis the reason they call them fun nuggets, or is it because the ingredient list is fun ?
You gotta love them for their excellent products.
Wonderbread landing page says it all : " Always Wonder " - yes, we do and yes, we can.
Be glad things are wonderful at Wonderbread and they are really engaged for the consumer. Their first concern right there is : “ How do your kids grow so fast ? “ Am wondering too.
We learn Monsanto is a “ sustainable agriculture company “.
I did not know that, but am elated all my preconceived notions are without any basis.
They are sustainable and deal with agriculture, meaning something good, trustworthy and in a not so clear way, promote organic food, right ?
McDonald’s says “ Delicious starts right here “ and we know it doesn’t stop here.
You visit one of those video channels and see how their burgers look just as delicious even after a year, or two.
Puratos, the world’s largest producer of bread additives, does a great job of offering simple solutions for a hungry world, just read a bread label.
We also know that Givaudan, the largest producer of flavor out there, “ engages the senses “. And I shall be grateful for having this pointed out to me.
Pepperidge Farm is a tiny baked goods company with about 5000 employees, all of them supposedly women in their late fifties with decades of home cooking experience under their belt.
Meet the women who bake those hand made goodies apparently in their homes and then bring them to the nearest Publix, Safeway or Winn Dixie presumably by bicycle.
All they bake is hand crafted with carefully selected, all natural ingredients, just read their label. I am so glad and grateful
for all this useful information those companies provide for me.
They fulfill also an important
task because there is no other source to tell you more about the food those companies make, all of it by hand.
Countless Luigis making pasta and convenience Italian dishes you buy in the freezer aisle, those Mama Leone and Donatellas with their tomato sauces and pickled vegetables,
Aunt Jemima who still makes all those pancake batters at her home, what a busy lady she must be.
I thank all of them for doing what they do. And I will sleep well tonight, having silenced all those Naysayers who argue against those men and women because I know this is how food should be done, by man and woman, with good ingredients, in small batches, without cruelty against animals and without cheating consumers.
I dread going to doctors since one of those specialists in Miami told my wife to go get a prostate exam.
They did the same with me, which is not the same but nonetheless distracting for me, just as their advice to exercise more and eat less.
But after enduring more than a few days of bad cold, headaches and such I finally gave in and went to see someone.
According to my doctor someone infected the entire city of Miami with Sinusitis within the last few weeks.
Later on the nurse made me step on a scale. She didn’t say a word,
but put a term in that column under “physical condition” ,
I peeked and she had written “ obese”.
Doctor comes in, we chat amicably, just telling me what to take,
yeah antibiotics are important, take them until they are all gone, don’t stop before yadayada.
All fine and dandy, until I start asking questions:
" So my blood pressure is too high despite of medication ?"
" So just taking pills doesn't slim me down ? "
Doctor rolls his eyes : "No"
" So despite medication there is body damage in the cards ? "
And he says : “ Yes, of course. “
Imagine my surprise, just a little hypertension and fat clogged blood vessels for 7 years,
heart and tissue damage are there, possibly shorting my life considerably ? Really ?
The following weekend at the Farmers market :
Sightings of people who actually love our organic breads,
the pumpkin loaves with organic eggs sell well and ten there are organic Kongo bars, Granolas etc.
Many visitors who upon tasting our stuff, realize it is good food and so they make a purchase.
Sprinkles of vegan folks come, we do carry quite an array of products complying with this lifestyle.
most of our breads are vegan, just because the kinds of breads we make usually
don't carry bacon fat or eggs.
The gluten free guys are becoming more and more, we do carry something for them as well,
though it has become a fad and some who once had two quick bowls of pasta in a row blamed the gluten,
The first Paleo dieter passed by last week. Apparently what was good food
40 000 years ago is good now, too. I agree,
even if I don’t really get it that wheat is off limits because it’s only been cultivated for 5000 years, go figure.
Some visitors don’t eat carbs all together, am sure they live a very balanced life.
Then some say, if it’s not certified organic I don’t buy it. All good, I think, as you like it, says Shakespeare.
I have had customers with Sauerkraut diets, pineapple regimen, all
Steak diets, raw-vegan-organic folks, fruitarians, only carb dieters, and so on.
There must be around 4500 diets and none really works in the long run, it seems.
According to my doc, my personal diet of eating everything and not working out also doesn’t work.
And I wonder why. I do know about nutrition, it’s part of my job as a chef, as a baker and as a host.
I know, eat lots of fruits, vegetables, nothing processed, minimally white flour, lots of grains,
whole wheat, legumes, beans, avoid sugary, fatty and salty foods and most of all move that ass.
Move it daily, shake it and move it for a few hours.
10 000 steps a day will stop you from gaining weight, that’s two hours of walking.
Any exercise is good, just keep yourself from becoming a couch potato.
I know all of this and yet...........
I also know we are primed to overeat on fat, sugar and salt. I would add carbs,
Personally I am primed especially on Lasagna and Pasta Carbonara, both served family style.
But I also have a brain and better use it unless
I prefer either to be dead or pay five figure sums for fat related surgeries.
And I am not one to believe in the power of Kraut diets, pills, herbs or electric stimulants.
Bummer, Life is better ( and longer better ) when it’s active.
Why be active , my inner self asks, if burgers, fries and beer is all the craving,
veracious animal in me yells for ?
The Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal, has an answer in its July 2012 issue, page 189/190 :
“But it is a mistake to view physical activity only in terms of its disease-specific associations.
The benefits of physical activity are far-reaching and extend beyond health alone.
Being physically active is a major contributor to one's overall physical and mental wellbeing.
Positive outcomes include a sense of purpose and value, a better quality of life, improved sleep,
and reduced stress, as well as stronger relationships and social connectedness. Additionally,
promoting active modes of travel,
such as walking and cycling, are good for the environment, which in turn also has a positive impact on health.”
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being while movement
and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it”
Plato , 400 B.C.
Fruitful shall be the precious advice of our new editor, Ellen Kannerand I nourish hopes for a more regular blog here, will try at least, with a little help from my friends.
I was sitting on my South Beach balcony watching the world go by. Pelicans were gliding just an inch above the Intracoastal waterway, manatees grazed the seagrass pastures below, crows performed stunts in mid-air, an occasional ray jumped out of the water. Maybe it was mating season.
And suddenly, I was plucking dandelion, cress, sage and chervil growing wild by a gurgling creek, my sparse hair flowing in the mild mid-February wind, my mood undisturbed by a grumbling New Yorker passing by. A recent shower had coaxed the crocus into blooming. Hazelnuts waited to be collected, as did wild strawberries. Thornless bushes sprouted glistening raspberries. Blackberries grew underneath, big as quail eggs. Tiny white and yellow blooms peeked through the juicy green grass.
The lush forest, just a stone’s throw away, hosted an abundance of chanterelles, porcini and fat morel mushrooms. In this far more nutritious parallel universe, I knew how to read the forest floor, searching out small circles devoid of certain plants, signifying the habitat of white truffles, the diamond of the kitchen, tuber magnatum pico. I unearthed a small fortune’s worth of them, making sure tonight’s homemade pasta had the right partner.
As I swayed home at sunset, I stopped to drink the milk and honey flowing freely from a nearby spring and culled for my dinner an organic grilled chicken from the wild flock roosting there. At the doorsteps of my cottage, Marilyn Monroe offered me Krug champagne and a smile that spoke a thousand words.
You realize I dreamed all this.
You like to think the food you buy comes from somewhere close to paradise, too -- even more so since you buy from Whole Foods once a month.
You fix your own meals, lots of veggies, ah, but the slab of pork ribs is cheap and you gotta save money. Three pounds is just enough to feed one mouth, one helping as they call it. It’s mostly bones anyway. Since you buy most of your stuff at Costco, you save lots. Might as well have lunch there after shopping.
Enjoy that huge $1.49 piece of pizza along with a soda pop, it’s included in the bargain. Maybe have a $.99 hotdog with it -- they give you a quarter pound of sausage with all the trimmings.
Nope, this food is not from paradise nor from your garden. You don’t want to know where it comes from, how it is made or about what the thousands of artificial additives do to your intestines or the environment,
The same applies when you pick the banana without blemishes. It might look nice, but it’s been forced-grown with chemical fertilizers, picked under ripe and shipped from far away. And that’s how it tastes -- sweet but far away from the full, lush flavor of banana.
There is no good meat at $2.99 a pound. There is no cheap food that’s rich-tasting and aromatic, unless it’s in season or because you grew it yourself.
Mr. Fred Myer did not grow everything himself. His huge company and others like it use methods nobody should know about. Companies selling processed foods employ tons of really smart people who do nothing but to try and enhance profits for their employer. The problem is, for you at least:
Cheap food has cheap ingredients which in turn gives you a health problem because you will have to stomach those cheap ingredients. So the next time you visit your pal, the doctor, don’t be surprised if after the weigh-in, he says you’re obese. You will likely spend tens of thousands of bucks to fight this pot belly you carry, you will sweat like a pig and be the disgrace of your partner.
Or take the easy way. Use that noggin of yours. Read labels next time you go shopping. If something is made with nasty ingredients, don’t buy it.
To find out more about these issues, as well as great food and drink and hot sex in old age, take a look at our real food project.
Over the years I noticed a profound change in the quality of foods. Back when all things were better, tomatoes and meats weren’t flavored, additives were scarce,
food often came from farmers around us and our kids were not all fat and unhappy.
Together with Food writer Ellen Kanner and traveller/ computer genius Khim Rojas we created a forum to change this deplorable state, if just a tiny bit.
We invite anyone who likes apples better than aspartam and yellow squash better than yellow number five, we ask cattle ranchers and nutritionists for their input.
We aim to be as impartial as possible and equip this not for profit page with a basic structure and some links to nurture the mind. We shall have tons of fun and hopefully many people will offer opinion, links, videos, stats and whatever they feel like posting, as long as it is in the name of the good food and great spirit.
An appeal for more natural food and less additives in our groceries and food supplies.
You and everyone else who want real food without additives, preservatives, mysterious chemicals or genetic modifications.
Everywhere around the globe.
Become a fan, choose food without additives, read labels, join as we speak out for real food and better quality in our nutrition.
Because everyone deserves access to real, whole, unprocessed food.
We, the writers of this appeal, ask you to read and possibly approve the following statement on the need for pure, fresh, unadulterated food on our plates:
Fruits and vegetables are available only in a few varieties compared to the last 2000 years, because promoting a few choices is more profitable than reintroducing local and heirloom selections to grocery stores.
Our food is contaminated. It carries countless preservatives FDA Website and real buggers 24 Additives. It is often poor quality in order to maximize profit and minimize health damage to the consumer. Restaurant food often is laced with salt, fat and sugar. It often makes us and our children sick.
Our seas are overfished and polluted. Scientists estimate we have removed as much as 90% of large predators like cod and swordfish from the oceans.
We deserve a change and so does our planet.
We ask our readers to pay attention to labels and demand more flavorful varieties of vegetables and fruits from their grocery. We would not be condemn merchants who offer local varieties.
We ask USDA to step up pressure on corporate food giants like Monsanto and Nestle to give back a little of their monocultured earnings to reintroduce as many products of heirloom varieties as possible. We encourage adults and children to plant their own pot of tomato, chili or basil in their gardens or near their window.
We demand bread and pastry made without bleach, potassium bromate and other countless additives in our meals. We do not approve of vitamins and minerals in rice, pasta and flour because we want a choice when we purchase those items. We choose real food.
We demand the absence of 'natural' flavors in food. We encourage research on the impacdt of plastic and artificial ingredients on humans and animals. We disapprove the use of genetically modified foods. We want these foods restricted or at least clearly labeled as such.
Through eating locally farmed vegetables and fruits, we promote the idea and feel of where we live, we taste and celebrate the abundance around us.
Local food initiatives bringing regional foods directly to consumers.
Real Food in our school lunchrooms.
Fresh, sustainable and organic foods -- these help support us and the planet, so it can recuperate and replenish after the century-long insult of industrialized farming.
School gardens to reintroduce real food to the population, starting with our children.
Families who cook together.
Families who eat together.
Basic cooking, sourcing and nutrition taught in all schools.
Companies that reward employees who make real food a priority.
Meat produced with dignity for omnivores.
Sustainably caught fish and seafood.
One day without eating meat per week.
Multinational food conglomerates.
Byzantine food distribution systems.
Perverted meat production methods.
Genetically modified food.
Mystery chemicals and additives.
Misleading food labels.
Obese, unhappy children.
Obese, unhappy adults.
Our national productivity, creativity, economy and medical system crippled by obesity related illness.
We are more obese as a nation than ever.
Obesity-related illness puts us and our economy at risk.
Our own frail humanity -- we're hard-wired to want fat, sugar and salt. But we don't have to eat it every time. We can eat Real Food instead.
Join our project. We aim to get your approval and support, plus the support of 20 million others. Working together, we can make companies, institutions and government listen. We can make the move, make the change to real food. Become a fan now. We encourage you to post links, comments, photos and videos. We ask you to network in order to profit from an ever growing web of well eating individuals. Introduce your project, co-op, company, community and even post jobs here.
The only restriction we apply is that the postings are in compliance with our goals, and we do not publish recipes as every palate is different. Engage and live better.
Welcome to the Real Food Project, please contribute..
This was the reply a young man shot at me when I offered him a taste of our new chipotle hummus dip on an organic cracker.
What an interesting statement I thought, someone who does not enjoy food, that under the United States Department of Agriculture definition is generally free of synthetic substances, contains no antibiotics and hormones, has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge, was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides, and contains no genetically modified ingredients.
This little incident was typical for a row of reactions from people who regard the concept of organic food production as superfluous and laden with leftist philosophy.
Though some visitors focus on other delights like pork sandwiches or soy milk cakes depending on the type of show there is a broad range of friends we make during tastings and fairs Farmers markets to me always are enriching: People tell me what they like or dislike about food, they allow me to become part of their lives, when they paint a picture about their father loving our bread chips or how they would fly in bread from Boston because it was the best, crunchiest Italian bread ever. They fill me in on their fears as well. Fears about chemicals from plastic containers leeching into foods and about gluten allergy or celiac disease.
I take those statements seriously and do my homework.
I research the background of informations passed on to me (what is gluten allergy? How did celiac disease come about), but I rarely come across information judging organic food as damaging for the body. Yet, there are numerous customers who in very clear words judge organic food as bogus.
I can relate to that: the very first encounter I had with organic food was during the shopping spree for a michelin star restaurant I worked in many years ago. Back then we used the best ingredients possible, but not organic ones, those were almost unknown back then in the early nineties in Germany. Together with the executive chef of said eatery I went to an organic market to purvey all the goods needed for an organic dinner for 45 guests.
Big surprise as the food tasted pretty much the same as it always tasted. It was stupendous, but not more stupendous than usual. so why buy organic then, I thought.
In 2010 I know the food was not contaminated by pesticides which is an advantage I learn to appreciate.
Then there is the issue of season:
Now I find organic glasshouse tomatoes raised in Seattle in February ( if there is such a thing) do not actually fit into a growing season and so I wouldn’t expect them to be outrageously great tasting.
Season is king, was king, will be king forever as far as fruit and veggies go.
Another contributor to food quality is the amount of chemicals used when growing fruits and veggies.
This are the ones most sprayed:
Peach, Apple, Sweet Bell Pepper, Celery, Nectarine, Strawberries, Cherries, Kale, Lettuce, Grapes-imported.
The least contaminated are:
Onion, Avocado, Sweet Corn, Pineapple, Mango, Asparagus, Sweet Peas, Kiwi, Cabbage, Eggplant, Papaya, Watermelon, Broccoli, Tomato, Sweet Potato
Absence of chemicals in farming sometimes means higher presence of nutrients:
Rutgers university found higher levels of minerals like Calcium and Magnesium in organic food. Vitamins in the form of pills are no substitute for fruits and vegetables since there often are hundreds of healthy components interacting within a single apple or a pear.
Organic to me also is important and welcome when it comes to meat: Torture factory farms add animal feed with unnecessary chemicals and after a life in a constant nightmare the meat of said animals is sold for a bargain. I get what I pay for.
This all comes from a consumer’s perspective. As a manufacturer of organic breads (and we will turn all organic with our dips by fall ), we use all organic ingredients, source the best flour possible from Montana, where the ideal soil conditions and climate make for the best wheat. In addition to that we finally found a small, family owned mill which stone grinds our flour. This means that the cylinders run at a low temperature, thus preserving flavor for the consumer to enjoy. Stoneground flours are very rare since it is cheaper to run big cylinders involving heat to grind the flours.
Yet we can not write “ Organic” or even “made with organic ingredients” on the bags we sell, because we are not a certified organic operation. At this point we can not afford to become certified since we do not own the bakery we produce in.
When I talk to famers they come up with similar comments: Certification is too costly for many a small business and even if they become certified they face massive regulations, outlined here, a page by the Minnesota department of agriculture about going organic.
A loophole exists however; I am allowed to put the name “organic” on the ingredient list. This is a small consolation prize and keeps me on track to become certified should I ever be able to afford the fees. Consumers should have a reference point looking at a certified label and should access information about what they eat. This is the reason I find the current USDA organic program useful.
Having stated this, I admit to love the produce of many friends who are not certified. I am also glad to know that the herbs in our garden are organic like all the mushrooms, berries and wild veggies we collect in the North.
Friends often ask what life is like for a food aficionado settling down in Miami.
Probably the first impressions of newbies to the city are not favorable. Apart from serving as a party place Miami has a high crime rate and Floribbean cuisine is not really well known in places like North Dakota.
One is tempted to come up with a few statistics like the one which attributes us with the highest amount of corrupt officials in the U.S.
or the most dangerous interstate section in this country, I- 95 in Dade county, comes to mind. For foodies there is a restaurant scene which seems ever changing save for a few fixtures like Michael’s or Michy Bernstein. High end culture aficionados will miss the vast choice of outstanding venues in places like Chicago or New York.
When we arrived in this city almost three years ago in the dead hot air of summer all I did for the first weeks was sweat. The first few trips up to Sunny Isles and down to South Beach revealed a touristy area, densely packed with high rises housing visitors of every orientation and country. A second glimpse into Miami Beach resulted in bright pastel colored Art Deco buildings, low rises all of them, with an aura of melancholic happiness if this can ever make sense.
Miami Modern on Biscayne Blvd. has its architectural gems, each with his own story. Art Deco has its highlight in the Bacardi building, yet another great story about spectacular design involving a Cuban dynasty.
Beaches, beaches and more beaches line Miami. To me it feels like once people have acquired a certain state of mind they don’t walk to the sea to bronzeate anymore. Other more blissful moments are to be had near the shoreline.
The sea is the great counselor, large parts of the globe could be saved just by sitting in the sand around sunset watching the world go by. Nothing seems more fortifying for the body than a walk or run on the beach. During the week nobody is there anyway save for a few runners/walkers, or the hobby fisherman at Haulover jetty. At the other end of the Bal harbor bridge lays the marina for charter boats, 30 bucks for a few hours out on the ocean. Late afternoon the catch is laid out for sale, Bloody bonitos, long, elegant sailfish, enormous grouper, you name it.
Another option to explore the town in search of culinary truffles, retail stores, chocolate shops or restaurants, are bikes. Bicycles offer a great way to scout the environment, up close and personal, to traffic, nature and people. It also trains not only the gluteus maximus but also sharpens the senses cruising through town.
Caribbean bakeries with their dense breads dot corners in little Haiti, Virgin Mary statues stare at passers by from the window of a voodoo store, which doubles as a spiritual healing center.
If I don’t speak Creole, then a little French will carry me a long way into getting the right treatment.
South of downtown in Coral Gables, built by George Merrick, lays a Spanish inspired part of the city. It sure feels like a summer holiday driving under the enormous canopies. Down there the city seems to open up, relax from the hustle in the downtown area just a few miles North. The Venetian pool, a spring fed former coral rock quarry, next to the enormous and extremely venerable Biltmore hotel add to the picture of an almost rural enclave. I strongly recommend a breakfast at the Biltmore on a Sunday morning with someone you love.
Just a few blocks away Cubans play Dominos on Calle Ocho, street number eight, in Little Havana.
From one block to another, Nicaraguan style food joints change with eateries from Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. People here often wear shirts in their national colors and they do so proudly. Brazilians have their little niche near North Bay Village, just like Argentinians flock to Buenos Aires Bakery on Collins and 71st or get an empanada ( Bolivian, Venezuelan, Chilean or Argentinian style) down the street at Moises bakery, just opposite of Mr. Pasta, the best place in town to pick up homemade noodle merchandise.
If it took me a year to make friends back in good old Germany, here people smile at me just for saying “Hola”.
The number of immigrants without papers in this city must be exorbitant, but it seems like almost everyone here tries to achieve something. This city might not hum like New York but it surely sings songs from all over the world.
Its cuisine highlights the fare of an immigrant city, nothing fancy on the mainland, rice and beans, seafood, chicharron and fried plantains, green or sweet, Latin sausages and grilled meats prevail. Local chefs on the beach mostly cater to tourists, meaning lots of burgers, sandwiches and baked Alaska, flourless chocolate cake or flan for dessert. For foodies though there is hope:
A bunch of chefs turned in another direction, work their own style. Away from mainstream munchland, they carefully assemble new dishes, often using local ingredients which abound in this part of the world.
Hundreds of types of mango can be found here, along with dozens of different avocados,
because there was this guy named David Fairchild, not one but THE horticultural expert in this country who introduced countless fruits to Florida. His home the Kampong is home to several hundred fruits most people have never heard of, me included.
At the moment candy cotton berries are ripe, they taste just like their name and come from a tree known as the strawberry tree. White Sapote are in peak season and snake tree fruit, with mango coming up.
Aquatic life is still abundant, we all hope for the oil catastrophe to settle far offshore, so we at least don’t see it. Just kidding...
Yes, I shall continue: Because of the warm gulf stream this part of the world remains one if not the best spot for deep sea fishing, until further notice. The water temperature allows for all kinds of aquatic life from conch, oysters and clams, to lobster and Florida’s own yellowtail snapper. A large variety of mostly endangered species in the tuna family has their home here as well as a ton of reef dwellers and pelagic sharks. From tame tarpons to wild wahoos, from turtles to dolphins they are all out there, in open waters.
Offshore from Key Biscayne, in the distance, lies a village of wooden buildings, Stiltsville. Long abandoned, it was was built in the 1930’s as a retreat for fisherman, businessman and others looking for fun. Some of its wooden structures served as fuel supplier, others as restaurants and clubs for those who prefered a more secluded kind of fun.
Key Biscayne and Virginia Key like so many other islands in Miami are connected to the mainland by a bridge, which among cyclists, is known as the Miami mountain.
The view from the Rickenbacher causeway bridge towards downtown, the banking area in Brickell and the docks of the port of Miami is incomparable.
I like this view best when as many cruise ships as possible are docked to take up loads of supplies or when they make their way out to the open sea. They glide by the newly designed South Point Park and the container terminal making their way one or ten day cruises.
The other end of Miami in the south, the Redlands couldn’t be further away. This is farm country, hot, mosquito ridden and rural. Trees are planted by drilling holes into the coral, the fertile soil forms just a thin layer over the rocks, but the subtropical climate promotes plant life and with the help of countless workers miracles happen year after year. Coming from a northern world I first was incredulous when someone told me that during the paralyzing South Florida summer mostly tropical fruit are ripening, because it is too hot for a lot of veggies. Only later I discovered that during the northern winter a great variety of locally produced vegetables and fruits is to be had, often straight from a farm.
Just like getting to know nature,it often takes newcomers a while to find their niches in Miami.
Maybe because the city is so diverse, one has to look for the favorite hang out, the best baker, the bar that fits one’s taste just right. But these places can be found where a novice feels at home, others share the same interests and help discover the new life in a new city. For me this search also took its time, but the rewards are well worth the peeking around corners and the bike rides.
Miami with its several million people is just over a hundred years old but is home to an array of ethnicities who all want three things: Eat, drink and sleep. They strive to do so, but they also laugh and sing together, and sometimes cry.
A thing called life, set under 91 degrees with a 70% humidity. Nothing could stay tough here.
"You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink." ~Deuteronomy 2:6
I want real food, or don’t I ?!
Within the past few weeks more additive laden food has crossed my hearth than was needed. Fortunately there is Total Wine so I could avoid having to drink beer made with rice. Mind you, in Germany, we do not tolerate rice in beer or even “light” brews.
The mere existence of this haven of joyful inebriation has resulted in a still voluminous Crackerman.
Running still feels like a hippo typewriting, but my education is ongoing . All the additives that were consumed within the last four weeks now hang on my fridge door, bathroom door, all the dressers and garage doors, the neighborhood ones.......
Since I forced myself to write down food ingredients on paper, I quickly realized that the 17 ingredients in a mindlessly used non dairy coffee creamer would take longer to pencil down than to forget about it.
The same thing happened with a tiny cup of ice cream: It took longer to write down the Frankenstein cabinet of additives than to devour the little bugger.
Other chow like hotdogs cried out to me asking to find a version closer to nature. Oh, yes, the meat issue: Bummer I couldn’t abstain for a whole month.
I am glad though, because with eating less meat and better quality ones, I felt better. Obviously all that didn’t help reduce the 30 pounds dangling around my waist by much.
After paying attention to food additives for a month, I feel deprived though. I feel deprived of real food.
I believe we need a change in food quality, variety and in promoting real food.
There is a certain line drawn in the sand which allows companies to produce food of an inferior quality. This line enables food operations to maximize profits and lower prices.
There is a line not far away, which makes people sick, and the producers of said foods rich at the same time. Those food companies earn profits at the expense of the population. Do we need fillers for hotdogs, chemicals to extend shelf life indefinitely?
Do we need concentration camp meats, have animals eat their own poo and then we eat the animals?
Do we need foods that make us sick ?
Do we need over salted, overly sugary and fatty foods for ourselves and our children at restaurants and in schools?
Should we and our children have food loaded with unhealthy ingredients? Should we, as a consequence, be in pain and take our money to hospitals to spend it on surgery and life sustaining measures, or should we strive to get better quality in our daily food?
Don’t we have the right not to be taken for fools when we buy foods?
Is it acceptable to have a fraction of the variety in vegetables and fruits we had 50 years ago?
Shouldn’t there be an effort to reintroduce heirloom plants in the Northern half of the planet?
Shouldn’t there be money to explore the impact of plastic on food and as a consequence, on us?
Shouldn’t it be prohibited to eat bleach and potassium bromate in our daily bread? Shouldn’t it be a NO NO to have cancer causing ingredients in food?
Shouldn’t lobbyists lobby for the health of people rather than for the sickness of them?
In an age where daily life seems so sophisticated and science is progressing quicker than ever before, we have a wasteland in the variety and quality of foods. Many chefs complain about the lack of taste in vegetables and fruits. Many of my pals did not enjoy a strawberry that bore any resemblance to a flavorful strawberry this year. Same thing happens with apples, pears etc. Great flavor is possible as a newly discovered love for heirloom tomatoes and arugula grows.
Real food should be a human right, but obviously it is not. Just check for yourself and stroll the aisles of your local grocery store, read the labels and ask yourself, is this real food? I do not mean to say we don’t have the right to eat freaky ingredients, but we should at least have a choice not to eat stuff from this FDA website:
I just think it is about time to speak up and promote real food, because for the longest time now, food advertising screams at us in a language foreign to real food, more related to maximize profit and fast, trashy food.
Oh, and do I eat Oreos sometimes ? Absolutely !
And I thought physical activity keeps you slim and agile, flexible and sexy.
Some days ago the best wife of all told me to get rid of that regrowing muffin top near my belt.
Since the ease of those meatless days last October had perished and was long gone, breathing became increasingly difficult. Even during the brutally cold Florida winter I had to catch my breath and I broke out in sweat just looking at a sports utensil.
Even sports sneakers made me feel uncomfortable. History were those moments of newfound athleticism when I would have a run down the beach just for the sake of it. Something had to be done. I explored the possibilities and closed out only white food diets, sauerkraut or pineapple centered ones and I certainly would not start a steak or South Beach diet.
No diet pills were in the preliminaries, no Jenny Craig diet or belt watchers, no magic slimming potion made it into consideration and certainly no liposuction!
I kept on browsing some of the diets, or as I prefer to call them, nutritional changes, because after all, that's what they are.
Finally I resorted to real food.
At long last I decided to get back to my roots, eat real food, what a novel idea. I would eat just like before, only no alcohol for a month. Oh, and less carbs and some pounds less of those meats again, and possibly even less dairy. I would live just like last fall when I had shed 20 pounds easily without hunger and deprivation. Thus I would also reduce that animal fat growing around my waist. Less sugar and less carbs would be on the menu, because I pay my health care bills myself and would rather spend the money on hiking in the Himalayas than on doctor, medication and surgery bills.
By resorting to such a nutritional plan I would be less often in pain. I would feel like 17, or 27, or at least 37 again. Venturing to reach my goal I also added an additive free component to this diet of no meat, no beer and no sugar.
It had bothered me for quite some time that on and off sometimes foods found their way into my baskets bearing ingredients I had suspected to encounter in a Frankenstein cabinet, not on my plate. I decided to make a conscious effort to avoid those chemicals. Out of several thousand additives I wanted at least those 24 buggers gone from my body.
A few days into this plan now I also research dairy. The results are surprising and shocking, especially for a cheese lover like me: Langres, Appenzeller, Camembert, the beauties of California like cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery, or Vermont's raw goat cheeses (Twig farms) enjoy my regular attention, as do local Mozzarita, imported Scamorza and aged blue cheeses from Stilton to Roquefort.
Apparently a large portion, up to 60 percent, of Latinos, Asians and African Americans are Lactose intolerant which means they can not digest dairy properly. Humans are also the only animal, (yes, we are!) , which drinks the milk of other animals. Well, I knew we were unique.
There is this doctor, who says, that all the nutrients, vitamins and fibers are being found in a plant based diet. The animal just converts this diet into fat and cholesterol.
For my real food diet this couldn't spell good news: Not even cheese? What about butter? Isn't butter, pure unadulterated butter, something completely different, especially when spread on a warm slice of crusty bread?
I suspended the restriction on minimally processed cheese and organic butter, but investigation continues....
Back to the real food diet: Apart from said belly propagators I want additives gone and fake food like analogue cheese and margarine to be absent in my daily life. Why? Because I just do not enjoy the thought of ingesting, or not, a truck load of artificial substances every year. Then second, I am a chef, and as such obliged to use the best ingredients I can find, because opposed to some people's believe you can not make gold out of crap.
So into the aisles of my local grocery store I rushed, grabbed flour without potassium bromate and bleach, but enriched with vitamins. Here is what some think about this kind of flour , http://www.gratefulbread.us.com/research.htm
The enrichment rule goes for rice and pasta all the same. Asking my favorite nutritionist, she explained, no worries, these vitamins are being flushed out by your digestive system if unneeded. O.K., she is right for all the undernourished and overfed, but shouldn't I have a choice?
On I go, tomatoes crushed or peeled in a can, not authentic, I know, but it does the trick for a quick dinner. Nowadays even those come with beautiful basil aroma added. Could I have tomato paste please, without ascorbic acid, or “natural flavor” ? “Natural" flavors, which only must have the same molecular structure as the real thing, but could be, and sometimes are, produced from saw dust or other beautiful ingredients.
No, no doughnuts, though just the sprinkle of sugar on top has 15 tasty ingredients. In case I would like fries, the frozen variety, why do I want guar gum, gelatin, benzoate etc. in them? I know, to protect color, make them crispier, preserve them. How difficult is it to cut up some spuds and toss them in oil, or even better, put them in a pan with olive oil, garlic and rosemary?
Talking about preservatives: A lady had a burger meal in her office for a whole year, just to see what would happen. Nothing happened.
The burger and the fries had not decomposed or smelled or changed shape, after one year.......
Maybe another indulgence: Chips maybe, but why do I want Maltodextrin and a dozen other spelling bee challenges in there?
Why does sausage , not that I consider a purchase, but I never know where my evil forces might take me to, involve countless additives apart from the best parts of the animal, eyes, tail, cartilage?
Why would I want growth hormones and antibiotics in my chicken, pork and beef? Why do I want a water and salt solution added, topped with "natural" flavors in my meats? They claim it’s butter aroma, but it smells like the Bayer factory back home in Leverkusen/Germany.
No, I am not afraid of cancer, and even if I could care less about animal cruelty, why do they feed me this horror meat, despite my lax ethics?
Oh, and why do I want sulfites in my wine or Meta Bisulfite in my coconut milk when I fix a nice green curry?
Why does a piece of pastry consist of stuff I couldn't even pronounce? I want real food, don't want to be the trash chute for sub optimum ingredients, which largely haven't been on the market for a long time at all. What did we feed on for the last 20 000 years? And why is it that we are eating chemicals in bulk in 2010?
Today I have a hard time finding anything without chemicals in a grocery store, and I deplore this fact.
But I will try and eat one month without additives.
I will post an update next month and confess...
It might be harder to live without beer for a month.
Could I have beer without rice in it?
This is the name we found for our wholesale breads, same recipe, different packaging. I have been talking to quite a few bakers from all over the world recently, and I owe Miami and the internet for putting me in touch with some great individuals.
One of the benefits of not being in your twenties anymore is experience.
You learn a little bit about how to find your way around in today’s world, learn how to approach someone you fancy, learn a trade, make money, and how to live a life.
You compare yourself with other people in the media, or if you are clever, you will strive to live in harmony with your neighbors, learn what other people on the globe love and what their life circumstances might be.
You will find out that you lead a comparatively wealthy, not too shabby life, don’t work like a slave, even if you think you do. You are a buck or two away from buying an apartment and have enough food on the plate to feed your family. You might be priding yourself, if you are German, that you work more than others, until you find out about Americans. They do not have 16 church holidays in addition to the 30 days off like we do in our sweet home Bavaria. They also do not enjoy 32.5 hour work weeks like the Volkswagen employees in Germany did some years ago.
Though working hours vary depending on the social culture, in my trade which is still cooking, work schedules seem to be valid worldwide.
In Europe there are summer seasons near the Mediterranean coast and winter seasons in the Alps. Indian colleagues work summers in the Himalayas and winter in Goa or in the southern states of Karnataka, Kerala or Tamil Nadu.. Apart from lousy pay for the trade, chores in the kitchen are the same for chefs globally, receiving goods, prepping for service hours, super stress during meal times to serve the best plate possible, then cleaning, then an after hour mild inebriation.
Unwritten rules of the craft in Europe ask an apprentice to wander from one employer to another to learn the trade. Young bakers and cooks did and continue to do so for centuries, hence the word wandering years.
For an ambitious young food aficionado it is common to learn from as many great chefs as possible, staying with a restaurant or hotel for at least one year each. The result will be a rounded chef with a treasure chest of knowledge, skills, recipes and styles.
Equal work circumstances prevail around the globe: Cooks are exploited to deliver more hours, mostly in top rated restaurants, with the argument they have to learn the trade and subsequently profit from acquired skills. Consequently, a cook in a top rated eatery clocks anywhere from 10 to 17 hours daily, with one or two days off.
This is unless owners are short of labour or make it a policy for you to fill as many hours in two years what other cooks work in four years. This happened in a three star Michelin place.
This works well as long as the chef and the cook stick to a silent agreement where one shares knowledge and the other party works endless hours in order to soak up as much know how as possible, no questions asked about overtime or union rights. All this happens for the love to great food, the immaculate plate, the perfect sauce.
Pastry and baking are not always regarded as part of the cooking universe, though they commonly share kitchen and work circumstances. Maybe it has to do with the way pastry chefs work. Every dish has to be measured in quantities, spoonfuls, ounces, cups, baking temperature and duration. There is not much room for the additional splash of white port, cream or water in this realm, another reason why many unusually creative chefs never put their hands on anything in the pastry department, even dread and fear the secret powers of pastry chefs. This could be one reason bakers/pastry artists rank second in salary after an exec chef
What unites savory and sweet food workers is the love for their skill, the passion for outstanding results and maybe the craving for public attention. The prestige of having worked for a widely known place is what drives many of us into stints with more or less gruesome hours, sometimes less than pleasurable employers and lousy pay.
During recent research I came in contact with several bakers online plus I made the aquaintance of several master bakers in the Miami area. This bakeries do not aim for the top segment of baked goods, but make a living doing wholesale and retail to street customers and hotels. They mostly are family operations and try to keep themselves afloat competing against Wonder bread and the big grocery chains who buy flour by the 20 000 pound load.
Major operations produce millions of breads a month, companies like the Mexican bimbo, http://tinyurl.com/yhgc5ax dominate the market with inexpensive merchandise, fully loaded with great goodness and additives. They operate machinery capable of replacing the manual labour of many a man.
I understand that family companies cannot pay union wages or work factory shift hours.
I did not understand why many of those people work seven days a week, no breaks, no holidays, no overtime compensation. Many workers in small bakeries do not remember their last day off and some make a point in saying their last holiday was years ago.
In the beginning I was under the impression that this was a form of slavery, or self exploitation to the extreme. Then I visited a baker from Haiti in Hialeah. We exchanged our product and when we talked about the trade he introduced me to his wife who worked by his side, and he later proudly confessed, that he did not miss a day of baking for the last three and a half years. Another coworker, a highly respected veteran with 35 years in the business of baking wholesale, told me, “ If I die, I will want to die standing in my bakery, it is a way of life for me and I will want to leave it like this.”
The incomparable passion for baking, regardless of the need to make money, must have something to do with creating food, basic food like breads, out of flour and little more than water.
Even to me, a relative novice, something happens after seeds, salt, spices and flour meet the water that starts the process. Something uncertain begins to evolve as ingredients mingle, merge into a disjointed mixture, emerging sphinx like to a smooth, shiny, flexible, gliding resin of a hundred pounds. Flecked with seeds, it’s changing its shape with every twist of the hook, until it reaches the certain look, its texture I can only feel, not describe. I jokingly told the apprentice the other day, my dough if kneaded right, should feel like the breast of a beautiful woman.
I digress, the real magic is not the proofing, even if it is a mystery how those little yeast animals make hundreds of loaves rise universally at the same time to such dimensions.
No, the real revelation happens way after the breads are shaped by hand, dipped into grains, placed on baking sheets and left to rest and proof, sometimes overnight. The miracle does not yet happen when the roundlings are on the baking cart, and it isn’t happening when the cart is wheeled into the walk in oven at 460 degrees, though I have to admit, there is a solemn millisecond when I bless the trays and say a split second prayer for a good result.
The magic for me is how heat transforms, rises, browns and makes fragrant, shortly animates, brings to life something previously dead, raw, not edible.
The moment the cart leaves the oven there will be a hundred shiny brown loaves, filling the air with the smell of oven fresh bread, crusty, rustic and appetizing. Salivating and smiling is the normal reaction there and a wee bit of pride when the breads are left to cool while wafts of roasted aroma slowly subside..
Giving this beautiful and at the same time basic food to people,( distributing is the ugly word for it), is what makes these people tick and stand in their bakeries, day in and day out. And this is what I learned during these last weeks: There are many bakers out there. True, passionate people who love the magic of making bread and dedicate their lives to it, without the need for reward other than the miracle happening every day.