Low Sodium Diet and What I Now Can’t Eat

Well, I’ve been put on a low sodium diet of 2000mg/day. That’s not too bad since the average person should have 2300mg/day, but I started looking at the amount of sodium in foods and discovered that I’ll have to be crossing Chinese food off my list and by that I mean American Chinese food. I’ve never been to China, but from what I’ve read they’re more into the spices than dumping tons of soy sauce on the food.

I was amazed and horrified when I found this website. I love Chinese food and grew up on it at least once a week usually having the left overs if there were any for lunch the next day. My wife and I love General Tso’s Chicken and we found a place that said it had the best in the city so we went and had an odd experience after eating it and going home. Little did we know that we have consumed 11g of saturated fat, but 3200mg of sodium. We don’t normally eat that much fat or salt and we were taking turns running in and out of the single bathroom we had in the house.

Now this is restaurant food, If you want to get worse take a trip down to Costco where everyone there has to buy a case of Top Ramen or Cup of Noodles. Those have over 1000mg per serving and aren’t as large as General Tso’s Chicken. I worked for a printer that had mostly Asian employees and most of them have at least one of the aformentioned for lunch every day. I would see my boss lady eat two cup of noodles daily and if I did that it would put me over my limit leaving me with water to drink the rest of the day.

I also have a bit of high blood pressure that was getting worse years ago and my doctor told me to get a small wrist cuff that I could check my BP on an hourly basis. A could of the guys I worked with were Asian and they wanted to try it out like everyone else. Their BP came in at 160/120. I told them they need to see a doctor, but they kept saying they felt fine. Both had strokes within three months.

Now I can’t just knock Chinese Food because there are tons of fast food and other restaurant dishes that are awful. It just turns out that Chinese food comes out on top. You can check here to see some of the horrors you’ve probably eaten. Italian and Mexican food may not have as much sodium, but it’s got lots more saturated fat which isn’t good for you either. I will once in awhile have a slice of cheese pizza, but I’m holding off on burritos for now [my other beloved food].

Just watch what you eat because you don’t want to wind up in a hospital eating hospital food.

Gigantes 2012

This is the first time I’ve been able to get a TV on the weekends before 8pm now that I have a device that let’s me watch over the air channels in HD on my computer and I decided I had to watch the World Series. The last baseball game I attended was in the 80’s and it was Giants vs. Dodgers at Candlestink Park. As a kid, I used to go to Giants and A’s games all the time so I have to compare the World Series today to what I saw as a kid.

Well, it’s a completely different game now and it just kind of seems like a boxing match where you get in close enough and knee the other guy in the groin hoping no one notices. Last game I was at when Mark McGuire would come up to bat all buffed out on steroids you wanted to see him knock one into the left field stands. Just hearing the entire crowd go silent with the crack of the bat against the ball until the fans were scrambling for the ball and then hearing a collective HOLY SH*T from the fans made it all the more reason to go. I haven’t seen that in the three games I’ve watched so far. The outfielders could pretty much be sitting on lawn chairs for most of the game only have to get up once or twice during the inning.

The secret today is with the pitchers. They have a small window to throw through and they always aim high, low, left or right just to be at the edge of the safe zone. Occasionally they’ll offer a free ball, but they usually seem to try and get them to 3 balls 2 strikes tiring them out before they move for a strike out. There’s very little action left in the game today and now I know why Mixed Martial Arts has gotten so popular — at least people kick some ass there. I remember being at an A’s game as a kid and I can’t remember who it was, but he smacked the ball right into the pitcher’s gut. Everyone in the stadium yelled OH! That’s the way baseball used to be.

The price has gone up exponentially on tickets and food at the stadiums. My Mom’s best friend used to go to baseball games all the time and I’d get invited and my Mom would give her $5 to cover my getting in and food. We’d get a hot dog [get your red hot’s here!] and a coke and then later we’d get peanuts and cracker jack. If you had a $10 bill you could get in, get fed and have change in your pocket. Granted that was a long time ago, but now that you have all these artisanal, gourmet food companies supplying the food and drink at the game it just raises the price even more for going out to the game. So I watched it all on TV and ate a hot dog with a coke and finished it off with some peanuts and cracker jack. Maybe I’m becoming a grumpy old man, but I miss the old days. The song Take me out to the ball game just doesn’t seem to fit anymore, so I rewrote it for modern baseball:

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
buy me some sushi and chardonnay
look at the kiss cam that couple is gay
so it’s root, root, root for the home team
if they don’t win it’s a fight
cause it’s $20, $30, $40 for food
at the old ball game 

Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast

Sometimes you just have to try something that causes other people to gag at the thought. I have fried spam, eaten vienna sausages and corned beef hash. This is something many of my older relatives who were in the army or navy gagged at so for today I have to try something that my Mom used to love and that people in the military used to refer to as S.O.S [shit on a shingle] — creamed chipped beef on toast.

Now the first thing that is a little weird about it if you approach it from a chef’s standpoint is that you make a roux of butter, flour and milk then you add slices of dried beef [that just sounds too generic and processed to be good for you]. Going so far as to make a roux and then adding processed beef product doesn’t sound like a good idea, but if it got our troops through a couple of world wars I figure I’ve got to give it a shot.

It’s not very popular anymore and you’ll only find it in a few diners in the northeast so you’ll either have to make it from scratch or buy the packaged frozen variety that Stouffer’s makes. I chose the Stouffer’s and decided to boil it in the bag because I figured that’s probably how most of our military men had it prepared.

It oddly had a lot of salt per serving, but I felt it could use a little more. I found it to be an oddly enjoyable comfort food. Which means that it’s high in fat and calories and not the best thing to eat, but I eat a healthy breakfast and dinner so I slide a little bit. I liked the creaminess of it and really didn’t notice the meat too much. It’s one of the few times that a store bought processed roux was actually thick and not watery.

This is actually a dish that I think needs to have a comeback. I don’t think I need to be an evangelist for this dish, but it’s something I think a lot of people will enjoy. I suppose it would sell better if you could put organic or artisanal in front of it on a menu, but something like this isn’t meant to be organic and I think I can understand why my Mom loved the dish so much.

Potrero Hill

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted anything in awhile and that’s because I’ve taken a real job that I have to do a 9am to close to 5pm almost everyday in the office. I know that sounds vague, but for someone who has had a bit of hipster life without the bad clothes for the last three years it’s a big change. Most of the companies I’ve worked for have been work from home or work is like home so it’s a bit different for me now and to add to that I work in a part of town that I never went to before 9pm.

I work in the Potrero Hill district of SF and after a week and a half I’m starting to get a better feel for the area. It’s a mix of industrial, commercial and residential which is a lot different than the Sunset District, oh and the sun shines there on a daily basis. When I can drive into work I get free parking and can get there in 20 minutes. When I take the bus it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get there.

Getting used to heat during the day is something new to me. My nordic blood of the Sunset makes me sweat when the temperature passes 60°. I worked in SOMA for a short period where the heat got up into the 80’s every day and all of us were sweaty messes, but that was a print shop this place is a little more upscale and you have to sort of look like you’re working at a business so it’s a different area.

Not just in that aspect, but also in the fact that in the area around 16th and DeHaro where I work you won’t find a corner store anywhere so you pretty much need to bring in everything you need to work with you. Great when I drive in, but kind of a hassle on the bus.

When I used to come out here was about 20 years ago when the music scene had declined to the point that the Bottom of the Hill was the only place left for bands to play. Now there’s Thee Parkside for bands, but I’ve never been there. Other than that there’s very little else to draw me to this part of town. The only grocery store is Whole Foods that is ridiculously expensive, but there’s tons of really nice upscale condos all over the place, so the Potrero has a ying and yang aspect to it.

There are lots of restaurants and you’ll see lots of hipsters sitting out in front in the sun eating their lunch, but you also have a few, but small number of crazy types walking down the block yelling at the top of their lungs. Most of the businesses are also a bit on the upscale side as well even though they’re in old building from the early part of the 20th century.

This is a new experience for me, so it’s going to take me a while to being out here. It’s definitely a part of San Francisco I haven’t really experienced before and I have to say when I get on 280 South at Mariposa my car literally bounces up and down and I’m still trying to figure out why.

Country Captain Chicken

This was a dish my Mom was known for and it was the one dish that was requested the most by friends and family when they would come over. I thought it was an original dish or handed down through the family, which it might have, but apparently it’s a rather common dish in the South coming from British Captains who had spent time in India.

This isn’t the type of Indian food you’ll find today it was an Americanized [re: white bread] version of Indian food cooked as a stew. My Mom always served it with little bowls of coconut, almond, raisins and chopped green onion that you could sprinkle on to your taste, but just went for the chicken and rice. That was enough for me as a kid.

My Mom always liked to spice this dish up a lot and I think she usually added the 2-3 teaspoons of curry using tablespoons. It’s a very tasty dish and something that while it has lots of ingredients isn’t really that hard to prepare.

Country Captain Chicken

1 fryer chicken cut up

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup butter

1 medium onion chopped

1 small green pepper chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 can (16 oz) stewed tomatoes

1/4 cup currants or raisins

Hot cooked rice

Toasted blanched almonds


Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.  Melt butter in skillet- brown chicken on both sides.  Remove chicken and add onion, green pepper, garlic, curry powder, thyme.  Cook until onion is tender.  Add tomatoes, currants and chicken.  Cook covered until chicken is tender.

Serve over rice with almonds and chutney

Makes 4 servings

This Week Will Be About Food

I haven’t written too much about food recently, but I came across a book my wife and I were putting together that was a collection of my Mom’s recipes and I fell in love with food again. For those of you who knew her she was best remembered for her cooking.

I think because she was a stay at home mom that after I started going to school she had time on her hands and spent the time cooking. She would make gallons of bolognese sauce and freeze in old milk cartons, make cookies and cakes every week and all my friends that would come to the house always wanted to come by to taste what she made that day.

When we had parties she’d get up in the morning and start cooking. There would be appetizers like her bourbon barbecue hot dogs, mushroom toast rounds, spinach dip, crab molds. She wouldn’t just put out chips and dip she always went all the way.

Her food was old school compared to what you’d get today. It was pretty homey feeling when you’d eat it though and it made you feel good to take a bite of it. So this week I’ll be sharing some of her recipes that made me feel good as a kid growing up in San Francisco.

The first is one I grew with. It was the only way my Mom could get me to eat mushrooms and you’ll see why when you read the ingredients. I made this for a party once and after the first couple of batches I didn’t have a chance to get them into the oven because people were just spreading it on the bread and eating it up. I think you’ll like this one.

Mushroom Toast Rounds

Slice sour French rolls or onion bagels into thin slices. [I prefer baguettes]  Spread each round with the following mixture:

1/2 cup Best Foods Mayonaise

1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese

6 finely chopped mushrooms

1 teaspoon minced onions (instant) only if using French rolls. [I add a couple of cloves of garlic instead]
Place on baking sheet and broil until bubbly.

Variation: use chopped mushroom stems in above mixture and stuff mushroom caps.  Broil until tender.

New Face For Fort Mason?

Originally a U.S. Army post built in late 1800’s for coastal defense during the Civil War [good job guys!], Fort Mason expanded in 1912 to include docks and storage for shipping overseas soldiers and equipment for wars. It hasn’t really changed too much since then since it was finally decommission and handed over to the National Parks Service in the 1970’s.

While there have been some minor improvements, it’s still pretty much storage facilities except for the few rooms that can be rented out for events, Greens, The Blue Bear School of Music and the Italian American Museum. I’m sure there’s more there, but I just haven’t come across it other than attending a meeting of the San Francisco Aquarium Society a few months ago and attending traffic school there several years ago.

The buildings are starting to look rather worn out though and something needs to be done to bring these 13 acres of land to be more useful to the city other than a parking place for Off-The-Grid food trucks every Friday night. Now Fort Mason Revisited has asked 20 design firms to come up with designs to revamp the place and I say good for them. Yes, there’s lots of historical nature to the place having been used by the military during all the wars up to and including the Korean War, but it now needs a big change to serve the people of San Francisco.

Of the 20 firms selected, they have until June 15 to say whether or not they’re in and then three of the firms will be selected to start work this summer. There’s no telling what will come of the place, but I hoping for the best. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a place that’s built off of modern designs with added solar and wind power to electrify the place. The city is also in the process of trying to extend the F line to Fort Mason through an unused rail tunnel in upper Fort Mason. I think that would be a good idea and I believe they should retain some of the nautical themes that have been in place so it coincides with all the boats docked next to it.

Garlic Fries…HOME RUN!

Dan Gordon of Gordon-Biersch invented garlic fries when he was studying in Germany. Sadly though when he came back to the US and opened up the first Gordon-Biersch restaurant with Dean Biersch it wasn’t in San Francisco, but in Palo Alto. Garlic fries though didn’t get much attention until they opened up their San Francisco restaurant and started selling them at AT&T Park and that was the day that baseball and garlic fries got married together.

Everyone has garlic fries now and it’s no wonder because they’re so easy to make. It’s a 3-2-1 recipe that even an idiot can make. Take 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley whip it all together and toss it on some freshly deep fried potato bits. Gilroy who hosts it’s own garlic festival sells them as well, but they from what I’ve heard bake, not deep fry the potatoes.

Nothing is as good in it’s greasy goodness as a deep fried strip of potato. Crispy and crunchy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. When you add the oil, garlic and parsley to it, it just becomes even better. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that garlic fries made an introduction onto the San Francisco food scene and they made an instant hit. I don’t get to eat them too often because when I do I tend to eat too many and my wife banishes me to the other room for a three days because I tend to reek of garlic. It is a fate that is understandably worth it for me since I happen to love garlic and will add it to just about anything. The secret to adding the garlic to the fries is a wide bowl with the fries in it then you toss in the mixture then you have to learn that special one hand flick of the wrist that tosses them up and over, like you see a professional chef flip an omelette. It takes a bit of practice, but you don’t want to stir them around because then you break up the fries. The flick/flip does the job much better.

I do remember in the 80’s there was a shop at Ghiradelli Square called Pomme Frites that sold french fries with a variety of dipping sauces, many of them based off the Belgian tradition of mayonnaise on fries [don’t knock it until you’ve tried it], but there was no garlic in any of their sauce blends. It seems odd to me since now it just seems like such an obvious addition to add to the fries.

I have a small deep fryer that I’ll probably use to test my own riff on this dish. The trick supposedly in making the best fries to fry them twice and starting with russet potatoes that you’ve skinned and soaked in cold water for one to eight hours before cutting them into 1/4″ strips. First at a low temperature of 325° to oil cook them, then drain and flash fry them at a higher temperature of 375° to sear the outsides while keeping the insides moist and crispy. The sizzle when they hit the oil is actually the water inside the potatoes coming out of the fries so if you’ve cooked them to the point they stopped sizzling the water is out and the oil gets sucked in through reverse osmosis and those are some bad greasy fries.

I’m glad to see that San Francisco isn’t resting on it’s laurels with rice-a-roni, sourdough bread and dungeness crab. I’m glad that we can come up with a few new traditions in food that we can claim as ours and that change the world around us. Hell, even Trader Joe’s sells them now, but they’re still no comparison to the original.

Pesto alla Genovese

While I have a Germanic last name, I grew up in an Italian household. My family traces it’s roots back to Genoa in the Ligurian provence of Italy. As a kid what we ate was considered ethnic food. For most kids my age Italian food consisted of Spaghetti-O’s. For us it was pesto. It was something no one had heard of and you never saw it on the menu’s in Italian restaurants.

I learned how to make from my Mom who learned it from her Mom, etc, etc. When my Dad lost his job and we were low on cash we had pesto with tagliarini pasta at least once a week. Tagliarini is kind of like fettucini only thinner. When basil was in season she’d go to the farmer’s market down on Alemany and get a box sometimes two boxes and then the chaos would begin. I got the job of stripping the leaves off while my Mom and Grandmother would pull out their wooden bowls and mesaluna’s and start chopping the basil. It wasn’t the real way you’re supposed to make it as it was normally ground with a mortar and pestle, but these were more modern times pre-cuisinart. I loved it and ate it up by the piles. A couple of nights as a kid I had it before going to a Boy Scout meeting and apparently all the garlic that was in there became very apparent to everyone in the auditorium.

After I got done with the leaves it was time to grind the pignoli [pine nuts] and chop the garlic…lots of garlic. I think I had the easiest jobs of all. While pulling the leaves off the stems was tedious it wasn’t anything compared to chopping the leaves with the archaic double bladed knives that probably dated back to the 20’s. When the chopping was done my Grandmother would put the chopped leaves into a large bowl and slowly pour in olive oil [not the traditional Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, but good enough] and slowly stirred the chopped basil and oil until it got a creamy texture. Then I got to add the pignoli and garlic and finish up the stirring. My Mom would then start jarring up the extra and that would go into our downstairs freezer.

We always saved the last bit for dinner that night and my Dad who used to work down in the Marina would be told to drop by Lucca’s and get some fresh tagliarini for dinner. Typically you add some parmesan cheese to the mix, but my Mom and Grandmother always liked to let us decide how much cheese we wanted on it. This tradition carried on for years until a day in the 21st century my Mom wanted some pesto, but didn’t have it in her to go through the process. I suggested we try the food processor and of course she balked.

So I bought a bunch of basil picked the leaves and threw it into the food processor we had at my house. I tossed in about 5-6 cloves of garlic and a little olive oil and turned it on. Slowly adding a little bit more and more until it looked about right, but I left out the pignoli because I was lazy and they’re kind of expensive. We found some fresh tagliarini at a local upscale grocer who I won’t mention and brought it over to her house to make dinner one night.

Where’s the pine nuts? OK, I should have expected that. How’d you make it? You don’t have all the…wait! You made it in a food processor? Yes ma, that’s what I did, so do you like it? She liked it and started doing it that way herself.

Now pesto is everywhere. It’s in mayonnaise, on pizza’s someone will probably make a pesto chocolate bar soon. I see it all the time at the supermarket, but I’ve tried it a couple of times and I still go back to making it myself. It’s cheaper, fresher and just reminds me of good times in my past. Incidentally, if you substitute Italian parsley for the basil you get a great South American steak sauce called chimichurri that I’ve written about previously.

Pink Slime

Seeing as it’s the weekend I can move away from San Francisco and talk about a term coined by Dr. Gerald Zirnstein, Pink Slime. It’s a term used to describe boneless lean beef trimmings that are ground up and processed as an additive to regular ground meat. Since the term is a pejorative one to denigrate this product I thought I’d do a little background research about this horrific meat product that is on everyone’s lips nowadays.

When I first heard the term it was used to reference ground up chicken that  being used to make chicken nuggets. There was no reference to it being used in ground beef, but apparently now I’ve found at least a dozen articles on it yesterday. There are two companies making this product and they are BPI and Cargill. Most of the articles while not mentioning BPI are focusing on it because they use Ammonium hydroxide to sterilize the meat because they are trimmings usually considered not fit for human consumption. This isn’t added to the meat, but the meat is washed and rinsed in it. The meat which people are saying isn’t fit for human consumption wouldn’t really be allowed for humans to eat, so it’s more like meat humans don’t normally eat. To those in the nose to tail brand of eating this is what is known as offal. When you slice open a cow the insides containing intestines, liver, kidneys, heart, etc are what come out and there are very few people that are meat eaters that go for this [except for the few liver and onions types or the steak and kidney pie types]. This is edible, but takes a bit of cleaning up before you cook it. Cargill by the way uses anti-microbial treatments to make it safer to eat not ammonium hydroxide.

Now if you go for the muscle parts of the meat that most of us eat there’s nothing used to sterilize it which is part of the reason we get food poisoning, mad cow and all those other diseases. Pink slime is a sterile, processed meat product. Sounds awful doesn’t it? Let’s talk about Tofu for a minute. It’s a processed, fermented soybean product that doesn’t occur in nature. If we called it processed rotting bean paste it wouldn’t be a good advertising tag line. Would you purchase bee barf? I bet you have. That’s called honey. A study was done in New York where they walked around Central Park telling everyone about the horrors of consuming dihydromonoxide. It’s present in everything we consume and if you consume too much of it, it will kill you. As it turns out, the public doesn’t know basic chemistry enough to understand that what they were talking about was H20, i.e. water.

I am not saying that beef innards are high on my list of things to eat. I’ve never eaten sweetbreads [nice name for a sales pitch] nor have I had kidneys or liver [I may have had foie gras once], but the grinding together of these innards and sterilizing them still leaves them as being 100% beef in origin. I remember a local hamburger joint when I was a kid that sold 25¢ hamburgers that everyone said used sawdust as a meat filler. THAT would be a questionable additive. Come to think of it I have eaten 100% beef hot dogs so I’m sure there were some innards mixed in.

Jamie Oliver who I enjoy watching demonstrated the way he thought Pink Slime was made by grinding meat and dumping ammonia on it saying this was how it’s made. That’s not true. The innards and trimmings when ground are exposed to ammonia gas then washed [BPI] or exposed to antibiotics [Cargill]. Much different than what was being told to us. There was a study published about the perils of Pink Slime which was later pulled as having some serious errors and that it was not harmful to human consumption.

What we have is people reading food labels and seeing ingredients that don’t sound like they’re fit for human consumption and then isolating them then writing up everything about the horrors of what this will do to you supposedly. Pretty much everything we eat today has been processed in one form or another. You don’t know what portions of the cow go into your ground beef. A can of soup usually has more than half you daily salt intake. Many of your store bought fresh baked cookies contain anti-freeze to make them soft. I’m not even sure if the picture I used up above is truly Pink Slime. It’s been associated with it, but I have yet to see a video that proves this to be true. Most of the fast food restaurants have stopped including Pink Slime because of the public outcry, but if you buy a beef and bean burrito from your local 7-11 look at the ingredients and I’m sure you’ll see beef heart as the source of beef. I shudder to think what their nacho cheese is made of. It always looked like yellow Elmer’s glue to me.

In the end, it’s not something I’d choose to eat, but the vilifying of an ingredient that when you take a look at it isn’t as horrible as it sounds by the name someone has applied to it just gets my yellow journalism radar turned up to 11. Now it’s time for me to go and have a cup of rotten dried leaves steeped in boiling dihyromonoxide with a spoonful of bee barf [That’s tea].