Same-sex marriage comes to Norway

Marriage equalityThat makes it the sixth country (after the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa) to legalize same-sex marriage.

In the US, only Massachusetts has allowed it until now. California joins next week.

Flavor tripping with the miracle fruit (miracle berry)

Miracle fruit berryMy sister-in-law sent a link to this NYT video on “flavor tripping parties”, where you eat a bunch of normally very sour things but taste them as sweet. How? You first suck on a miracle berry for about a minute; a natural ingredient in the miracle berry temporarily alters your taste buds to perceive sour as sweet.

I was fascinated and bought 30 berries (the minimum) at $3 a pop from Miracle Fruit Man in Florida. I got my berries less than 2 weeks later (not bad, considering the flood of orders that must have come in around that time).

At home, my boyfriend and I split one berry and each sucked on our half for a minute or two. (We want to save the rest for a flavor-tripping party) It’s very little flesh, which is lychee-like, around a very big seed, and it doesn’t have much of a flavor on its own. Then we started trying some sour stuff:

  • Vinegar. Remarkable. It tasted like a sweet liquid (like simple syrup, or a thin boysenberry syrup) right on the tongue, but the moment it hit your throat – ACID. Same with the lips – BURN. The key is dripping it right on the tongue, where it doesn’t burn and where it tastes sweet and surprisingly mild.
  • Injeera bread. We had some of this Ethiopian fermented bread that we had bought this past weekend. Normally it’s a sour pancakelike bread. Now it was mildly sweet. Like a drier version of an American pancake, although still “yeasty”/malty in a way.
  • Maple syrup. We tried something intensely sweet as a control. It tasted pretty much the same as before, maybe a touch less sweet than normal.
  • Sauerkraut. Tasted like sauerkraut packed in light syrup; the only sourness was picked up by the nose and throat.

At this point, we ran off to the local market because we heard its effects lasted 1/2 hr to 2 hrs. We picked up a juicy lemon, some Tabasco and some Guinness.

  • Guinness. No difference at all. We had heard it tastes like a chocolate shake. It didn’t to us. It tasted like Guinness.
  • Tabasco. Wow. I dropped it on my tongue. I dropped a lot on my tongue…because it didn’t register as anything except mildly sweet liquid (like vinegar). About 15 seconds later my tongue was on fire.
  • Lemon. This was the true test, the most stark change. We got a big juicy lemon, the kind that would make you wince if you bit into it. The lemon tasted like the sweetest, strongest lemonade you’ve ever had. We literally tore through it, eating it like an orange. Not for a second did it taste sour or too strong.
  • Avocado. My boyfriend tried some avocado. It continued to taste like avocado.

So, the miracle fruit, at least in our experience, just reverses the sensation of sour (to sweet)–the sourer the taste, the sweeter it becomes. It has no effect on foods that are not sweet. You’ll enjoy the experience most with lemons, which become intensely sweet.

For the flavor-tripping party, I’ll have lemons, limes, maybe some grapefruit (although the chief taste with them is bitterness), and different types of vinegar. Other less-sour foods won’t register the same sort of impact.

And just to let you know: the lemon was sour. My teeth had that acid-damaged grittiness you have when you chew on a lemon. I tried a bit a few hours later and it was bitingly sour again, with no hint of sweetness.

Totally worth it for the experience. My stomach was wincing a little bit, though, from ingesting all that acid; it can’t be fooled.

Obama: first Generation X candidate

It occurred to me that when Barack Obama pounded Michelle, and the Fox News fogeys wailed about it being a secret terrorist hand signal, that we’re at a big generational disconnect here.

Barack Obama is the first Generation X presidential candidate. Our generation (yes, I’m a member, although closer to the other end of the range than the Senator from Illinois) speaks a different language, interprets the world differently, and has completely different cultural references from the Baby Boomers and previous generations. And, as usual, each younger generation has to bear the withering assaults of the older generation that just doesn’t get them.

It also occurred to me that Obama’s opponent, John McCain, is not even a Baby Boomer, the generation that gave us both presidential candidates in both 2000 and 2004 (Kerry was born in 1943 but his Vietnam post-war experience suggests he represented the BB’s ideological zeitgeist at the time).

After a successful two-term Clinton presidency and not-so-successful two-term Bush Jr presidency, I don’t think we’re ready to turn back the hands of time and choose someone who most closely resembles the Cryptkeeper at this point.

What distinguishes a great brunch from a mediocre one?

Can you spot the difference?We went to a new restaurant yesterday for brunch. Like most brunch spots, the menu was familiar – the California omelette, the huevos rancheros, the home fries, etc. Unlike lunch or dinner, brunch seems to be oddly familiar from restaurant to restaurant.

However, taste can vary widely.

This place was just “meh”. It looked just as delicious as the same items a couple nearby places we frequent, but those places are markedly better. The California omelette at one place just tastes a lot better at one place than another.

I’m wondering, since, again, they looked the same, was it:

1. the quality of ingredients?

2. some missing “special sauce” ingredient in one place and not in the other?

3. some special technique for scrambling eggs or frying potatoes that makes them extra tasty?

I couldn’t discern any lack of quality or omission but maybe there’s something more subtle at work.

My suspicion is that #1 is the case for at least the pancakes (which we didn’t have); we walked past a huge box of Bisquik on our way out.

Why conservatism is dying – lack of ideas

A great article in the New Yorker, on why conservatism is dying. Not a hit-piece by Democrats; almost all of the people the author quotes are Republicans, and ones that we’ve heard of (Pat Robertson, David Frum, David Brooks). The consensus? The Republicans are “fucked” (their words, not mine).

Why? The Republicans don’t have any ideas to stand on. During the Cold War, conservatives opposed the spread of communism/socialism. (That work is done) They opposed government intrusion on people’s lives (completely and utterly abandoned when they sought the support of evangelicals). They supported limited government (which people don’t want anymore – most want the government to fix healthcare, immigration, etc – something that GW Bush, strangely enough, advocated – his non-defense spending was record-breaking too)

Sure, they are opposed to the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, but so are the Democrats – they differ only in their “how”. And most would agree today that the latter’s carrot-and-stick, diplomacy-heavy approach would be more successful and less expensive than conservatives’ tendency to drop bombs and ask questions later.

So, recently, the Republicans have become an easily ridiculed caricature of a party – one that’s obsessed with “protecting Christian rights” (as if they were an oppressed minority) and bashing the Democrats – not with ideas of their own, mind you, but with childish scoffs and meaningless taunts that they hate America (while they support actions that recall North Korea more than the Land of the Free). Look at Rick Santorum, for example.

Despite the manipulative prowess of Republican operatives like Karl Rove, the fact that the emperor has no clothes is finally spreading. Republicans are being asked to put forth their own policy ideas to fix the problems of our country, or shut up. And guess what? They’re empty-handed and unoriginal.

We might be headed for a long Republican winter. A good thing, too, because if we think we’re fucked now, imagine another four years of rudderless navigation through increasingly stormy waters.

McCain, primed to do Viagra commercialsOne question: how far into an Obama presidency can we expect McCain to start doing commercials for Viagra?

Which former president does McCain resemble?

John McCain, with his advanced oldness and avuncular creaky voice, is clearly trying to evoke the only Republican not completely loathed by Americans right now: the Gipper. But, unfortunately, he’s reminding us of a certain type of Ronald Reagan, one that might be described as “late stage”:

A quick question

Hell hath no fury...My cynical mind at work…

I read that Hillary is “open” to being Obama’s running mate. My question: If Obama won the presidency and Hillary then became his VP, would Hillary, on January 21, 2009, gun him down?

I just have this mental picture of her wearing a trenchcoat and a derby, with smoke coming out of a revolver carried limply in her hand, saying with a drawn face, “I did it for the good of this country…”

Now I know that’s awful. I hope y’all know I’m joking. (I actually still have a soft spot for her, even though I voted for Obama and support him fully.) No comment from Republican candidate John McCain.

Why don’t M&Ms have any competition?

Don\'t mess with Ming MongI’m looking down at a handful of Kirkland (read: Costco) trail mix, and amidst the 28-year-old raisins and broken peanuts from China there are actual M&Ms – you know, the kind with the actual little m’s or w’s on them.

Costco, which blends the absolute lowest-cost ingredients, often to the detriment of their customers’ health (relax! just kidding), wouldn’t dare put in little candy-covered chocolate pastilles with little a’s, p’s or z’s on them. Maybe they don’t even exist – but that begs the question, why not?

I think no one dares fuck with the little guys.

Is agave nectar (agave syrup) healthy?

Agave Syrup or Corn Syrup - does it really matter?Short answer: not particularly. Certainly not any healthier than sugar or the vilified high-fructose corn syrup, which, incidentally is almost its equivalent with respect to its composition.

Agave Nectar (also more prosaically, and more correctly, called Agave Syrup) is made from the processed nectar of the agave plant, that wondrous Central American plant that gave us tequila, which is made of fermented agave nectar. Agave nectar has become enormously popular among vegans and, strangely (I’ll explain in a bit), raw foodists.

So why is agave touted as “good for you”, “healthier”, and “gentle on the body” (all taken from product labels I saw in my local natural grocer)? Because usually those making those claims have absolutely no understanding of science, and invent quackery on the fly. Remember, these are the same folks who told us that chocolate/cocoa was deadly, for decades, and that we should eat assy-tasting carob instead, when it turns out chocolate is actually quite good for you. There are plenty of reasons to be more than a little skeptical.

Let’s take a look at what agave nectar really is, before we think it’s healthy just because it came from a plant (as do sugar and HFCS.):

  • agave nectar is primarily composed of inulin, a polysaccharide that acts like fiber in the system
  • inulin is not really sweet so it must be processed (usually by heat) to convert it into fructose, primarily, which is sweet
  • it must be boiled down, regardless of how the inulin is converted to fructose, in order to reduce a thin nectar into a thicker syrup (so it is most certainly not a “raw”/”live” food product)
  • agave nectar is 56-92% fructose, with the rest mostly glucose
  • HFCS, vilified as much as agave nectar is worshipped, is 55% fructose, the rest glucose. Yes, almost the same exact composition as some agave syrup.

But HFCS is processed! So is agave nectar. But agave nectar has a lower glycemic index than sugar! So does HFCS. I mean, they’re pretty much the exact same thing, except agave is made from a Mayan polysaccharide feedstock, and HFCS is made from an American one.

So, the biggest difference, except for the fact that agave nectar is imported from a much longer distance so as to incur a much larger carbon footprint, is that agave can have a higher percentage of fructose than glucose.

If you’re a diabetic, that’s good, because that means its glycemic index is lower.

If you’re not a diabetic, its lower glycemic index is not nearly as important, and there’s even greater cause for concern than with HFCS or table sugar. Fructose has a few problems over glucose:

  • it doesn’t induce the same level of satiety as glucose, so people drink/eat more of foods that are sweetened with fructose
  • fructose creates more than double the advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), harmful chemical species that age (no pun intended) the human body, in the bloodstream than glucose
  • fructose raises blood triglyceride levels, a marker for heart disease, higher than glucose does
  • in mice, fructose induced obesity, and it has been suspected to do the same in humans, in addition to increasing the likelihood of metabolic syndrome

More here on the health effects of fructose.

Evaporated Cane Juice is SugarWhat’s more, sucrose, rebranded recently as “evaporated cane juice” (to somehow hide the fact that it’s the same C&H stuff we’ve been consuming for decades), is almost identical to both the supposedly deadly HFCS and the purportedly salubrious agave nectar: it’s a disaccharide (made of two sugars), composed of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Sound familiar?

What all this boils down to is that these 3 sugars – sucrose, HFCS, and agave – are almost identical from a health perspective. The fact that Mayans cultivate the agave does not make it a magically healthy alternative to table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, it’s produced almost identically to the latter.

If you want something sweet, go ahead – just don’t try to delude yourself that Mexican processed sugar is any healthier than the American variety, regardless of whether that American sugar comes from cane or corn.

Newer Posts »