Hot Stuff

I’m finding cooking to be a major antidote to boredom and anxiety during these trying times.  (Unfortunately, so is eating… but that’s a topic for another time.) Recently, our daughter B suggested I write about mustard. Can’t remember what prompted this, but here goes.

Did you know that mustard is one of the world’s oldest condiments? According to my “deep” Internet dive, the Romans used to grind mustard seeds with grape juice (called must) to create a spicy paste known as mustum ardens (“burning must”) in Latin. Travelers brought mustard seeds to Gaul, where they were planted in vineyards alongside the grapes. French monasteries cultivated and sold mustard as early as the ninth century, and the condiment was available in Paris by the 13th century.

autumn-4568733_640

Very simply, mustard is a combination of the ground seeds of the mustard plant and some form of liquid such as water, vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Different types of each create different varieties: some sweet, some spicy, some eye-wateringly hot. While the level of heat is mostly related to the style of seed—yellow seeds are mild, while brown and black seeds are spicier— it’s the liquid that activates their natural enzymes and determines a mustard’s potency.

These enzymes convert to mustard oil once the seed is broken. The more acidic the liquid, the longer lasting the burn will be; less acidic mustards tend to be quite pungent at first, but quickly lose their punch.

Generally low calorie, especially compared with condiments like mayonnaise, mustard also provides important nutrients. Mustard leaves contain significant amounts of calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and copper, while the seeds are rich in fiber, selenium, magnesium, and manganese.

shelf-4499973_640

What follows is adapted from an article at spoonuniversity.com, which includes recipe suggestions.

YELLOW mustard (aka ballpark mustard) is the most basic. Made from yellow mustard seeds and vinegar, it gets its yellow color from turmeric. It’s one of the mildest types of mustard, popular on hot dogs and other sandwiches.  I think of it as “starter” mustard.

DIJON takes mustard to the next level. White wine is used instead of vinegar, and the seeds are brown rather than yellow.  This results in a complex flavor with more of a bite, perfect for salad dressing, potato salad, and sauces for fish and chicken.

SPICY BROWN mustard is made with coarsely-ground brown mustard seeds that offer more heat than classic yellow or Dijon, along with turmeric and a combination of spices such as allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Commonly found in delis, the warm flavor goes beautifully with meat.

Too tame? HORSERADISH MUSTARD packs even more heat.

HOT MUSTARD You’ll find this searingly hot mustard in most Chinese restaurants. What makes it so brutally strong is that brown or black mustard seeds are mixed with water. These seeds are naturally more pungent than yellow seeds, due to their alkaline nature. An acidic liquid– like the vinegar used in yellow mustard — would calm that natural heat, while water’s neutral ph lets it go roaring forth.  Your sinuses know what I’m talking about.

WHOLE GRAIN This is more of a manufacturing process than a type of mustard—as the name suggests, the seeds are essentially whole. Type of seeds and mixing liquid can vary, with most brands available in the store featuring brown mustard seeds mixed with white wine.  Expect a flavor similar to that of Dijon with a coarser texture that pairs well with cheese, potato salad, and sandwiches.

STONE GROUND mustard is the middle ground between smooth Dijon and the chewiness of whole grain. Most commonly, brown seeds are ground between two stones in the form of a mortar and pestle. This type of mustard is typically made with vinegar, and has a little more heat than yellow mustard with less spice than brown mustard.

HONEY MUSTARD is both sweet and tangy and works well in salad dressing, especially to soften the taste of bitter greens such as kale. You can whip some up yourself by mixing your mustard of choice with honey in a 1:1 ratio. Use half as much honey if you prefer less sweetness than commercial brands.

Do you have a favorite type? Or a recipe to share?

 

Who Knew?

If, like me, you can use all the distraction you can get, you’ll enjoy this article, reprinted from AllTimeLists.com:

Lies We Accept As Truth

Juliet Window

How many things do we accept in life without demanding proof? There’s that old tale of the little girl asking Mommy why she cut the legs off the Thanksgiving turkey before putting it in the oven, and Mommy saying, “because that’s what my Mommy did” and it turns out that 11 generations earlier, the oven was too small for the whole bird, so the legs were cut off so it would fit. And for 11 generations, no one questioned anything, but just cut the legs off before putting the 12-pound turkey into the behemoth of a modern oven.

We do that stuff all the time, even with our favorite movies. There’s a real chance that your favorite movie scene never actually happened. No, calm down, you haven’t “slid” into a dimension where The Simpsons never happened. It’s simply our collective memory messing with us yet again. We’ve talked about this before, but we assume you’ve already forgotten about it, or got it all twisted around in your head, so here’s a brand-new batch of cultural milestones that never existed.

The Monopoly Man Never Had A Monocle

Monopoly MonocleYou know Rich Uncle Pennybags, the Monopoly man — white mustache, top hat, tuxedo, cane, monocle, unearned sense of smug superiority. He’s downright iconic. Just look at all these Monopoly men, women, and children …

But here’s the weird thing: Rich Uncle Pennybags never had a monocle. Seriously, go to your closet and dig up the Monopoly box inevitably buried near the back. And before you ask, no, his design hasn’t changed at all since he was introduced in Monopoly’s Community and Chance cards in 1936:

The most likely explanation for this widespread confusion is the existence of another popular monocle-wearing mascot who shares many traits with Pennybags (the cane, the top hat, the air of douche-ness), but has two important differences:

One, he does have a monocle, and two, he’s a mutant peanut.

You’d think that last thing would keep confusion at bay, but toss on a top hat and cane, and they’re all the same to us, anthropomorphic nuts be damned.

There’s No Balcony Scene In Romeo And Juliet

Juliet BalconyPicture a scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, perhaps the least accurate teen romance ever written. (Not a single breakdancing scene! Not one!) Chances are you imagined a wistful Juliet on a balcony, wondering wherefore her beloved Romeo could be, before he reveals that he’s been right there the whole time, spying on her like a creep.

The balcony has shown up in every single movie adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, from the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes to the one starring a bunch of CGI gnomes, for some reason. In fact, that scene is so embedded in our collective psyche that it has transcended art, and now there’s a type of balcony known as a “Juliet.”

Only one problem: Shakespeare never wrote a balcony scene. His script (the one they forced you to read in high school) only mentions Juliet looking out of a window, with no balconies, porches, fire escapes, or anything of the sort.

In fact, Shakespeare couldn’t have written a balcony scene in this or any play, because balconies weren’t a thing in England during his lifetime. This exotic architectural innovation didn’t make its way to the country until decades after Shakespeare’s death. Romeo may as well have rolled up in an Uber, as far as chronology is concerned.

We owe this iconic moment to plagiarism, the unsung hero of history. In 1679, Thomas Otway put on a play under the self-spoiling title of The History And Fall Of Caius Marius. A more accurate one would have been “Romeo And Juliet, Except In Ancient Rome.” One scene even features the heroine calling out, “Marius, Marius, wherefore art thou, Marius?”

But Otway did make one enormous contribution to the scene: He set it in a balcony. This struck such a chord with audiences that it began to show up in versions of Romeo And Juliet, and this never stopped. It’s like if Michael Bay borrowed a plot point from a Transmorphers movie … which is an improvement, now that we think about it.

There Isn’t A Painting Of Henry VIII Holding A Turkey Leg

Henry ViiiAnyone with a modicum of historical awareness knows Henry VIII by his trademark goofy hat, weak beard, funny-looking legs, and massive gut. And how did he get that gut? It probably had to do with the turkey leg he always had in his hand, as is seen in virtually every modern depiction of him. From children’s books, to shows like The Simpsons, to whatever a “mad magazine” is supposed to be.

Henry VIII loved his turkey almost as much as he hated wedding anniversaries. Obviously, this reputation for meat-guzzling comes from the classic painting depicting him with a turkey leg in his hand. You know, the one by … uh, give us a second … come on, Wikipedia … ah, here it is! No, wait, that’s a glove.

The shocking truth is that no such painting exists. In fact, there are no classic paintings that depict King Henry VIII with any piece of food in his hand, nor of him eating at all. Other than the unsubstantiated claim that he was the first English king to eat turkey, there’s also no evidence that Henry liked or even encountered this type of meat. As far as anyone can tell, the image of Henry as the bane of flightless birds comes from a 1933 film, which devotes a full minute and a half to him disappearing a chicken into his gut. That, or it’s a scheme by Big Turkey to promote their product as the snack of kings. It could go either way.

Hannibal Lecter Never Said “Hello, Clarice”

HannibalIt’s the single most famous moment in The Silence Of The Lambs. Clarice Starling stands in front of Hannibal Lecter’s cell, him looking at her through the bulletproof glass all creepy calm, sneering: “Hello, Clarice.”

That’s our intro to the character, and it’s a great one. Anthony Hopkins is so damn intimidating that he can turn a simple greeting into an endlessly layered threat. The scene became iconic for a reason. We can hear the words right now, their exact inflection. You read this in his voice: “Hello, Clarice.”

CommentThose two words have since become the go-to reference line, from fan fiction sites to newspapers. They made it into posters, T-shirts, and even cute animal memes. But that line doesn’t appear in the film. In fact, it can’t. In the scene you’re picturing, Hannibal is meeting Clarice for the first time, and eating people doesn’t grant you psychic powers (though that would be an interesting twist in the series). He never even says “hello.” The closest he comes to the line is at the end of the movie, when he phones Clarice about his recent escape and begins the conversation with “Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?” Which is far more unsettling, but doesn’t fit on an image macro as well.

Today’s COVID-19 Practical Tip: Avoiding Tech Neck

“Tech Neck” is a term given to headaches and spasms you can get from too much hunching. While working from home at this time, it is crucial for proper ergonomics to be taken seriously and avoid low back and neck issues.

Here are some tips from my chiropractor.

GET OFF THE COUCH
Although it might be tempting, working from your sofa is one of the worst things you can do for your back. Sitting or lounging on your couch for extended periods of time causes your lower back to curve inward too much, resulting in low back pain.

Maintain spine health by going for a chair or a barstool during working hours & use a table top. If possible make your own standing desk.

USE A ROLLED UP TOWEL TO SUPPORT YOUR BACK WHILE SITTING

COMPUTER SCREEN SHOULD BE AT EYE LEVEL
Whether sitting or standing, the middle of your screen should be in line with your eyes while you’re working, not below. Your computer/laptop should be elevated approximately 6 to 12 inches above your desk. Use books or boxes to get to that sweet spot. This will avoid neck & shoulder strain.

Avoid no-no spots for your laptop: never on your lap for long periods of time, sitting on your bed, and definitely not on your coffee table.

USE A WIRELESS KEYBOARD & WIRELESS MOUSE

Using a computer keyboard and mouse requires a person to make small, exact movements with their hand, fingers and thumb, and these small muscles can become tired and overworked. This overuse can cause pain, numbness, tingling, burning, stiffness and restricted range of motion as well as shoulder pain.

Reduce these symptoms by making sure you use the mouse as close to your body as possible. You should be able to reach your computer mouse when your upper arm is close to your body and your elbow is at 90 degrees.

If your computer is elevated to the proper height, it will be hard to use the keyboard and mouse without shrugging your shoulders. A wireless keyboard & mouse are a good investment. You can easily and inexpensively buy some fun ones online.

TAKE BREAKS AND STRETCH

Set your timer for 45 minutes-1 hour intervals when working on your computer. Take a 5 minute break to change activity and body position. Do some easy stretches to save your neck and back.

PROPER NUTRITION, SLEEP, HYDRATION, CUTTING BACK ON SUGAR, AND MAINTAINING GOOD GUT HEALTH WILL HELP YOUR OVERALL IMMUNE SYSTEM!

 

Good News Monday: It’s Not Easy…

But it’s possible to find a little inspiration.  Also some short distractions.  Hoping these links will work for non-subscribers.

The New York Times also recommends several books to entertain, enlighten and inform.  (The Churchill saga is going on my to-do list.) And I’ll add my own current favorite, a beautifully written novel I finished last week: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.

THE DAIRY RESTAURANT, by Ben Katchor. (Nextbook/Schocken, $29.95.) The writer and illustrator Ben Katchor has produced a study of, and love song to, Jewish dairy restaurants, which began to flourish in New York City and elsewhere in the late 1800s; a century later, nearly all were defunct. It’s an “obsessive, melancholy and hungry-making” book, our critic Dwight Garner writes. “This is an encyclopedic book, history as told through old newspapers and telephone books and scraps of detail found in letters and memoirs.”

HITLER’S FIRST HUNDRED DAYS: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich, by Peter Fritzsche. (Basic Books, $32.) The historian Peter Fritzsche shows how Hitler and the National Socialists wasted little time after he was appointed chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933, transforming Germany into a place unrecognizable from the republic it had been just a few months before. “There’s something particularly clarifying about the hundred-days framing, especially as it’s presented in this elegant and sobering book, which shows how an unimaginable political transformation can happen astonishingly quickly,” our critic Jennifer Szalai writes.

THE RED LOTUS, by Chris Bohjalian. (Doubleday, $27.95.) In Chris Bohjalian’s new novel, a young man disappears and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor, falls into a new world of uncertainty and danger when she tries to figure out what happened. “Bohjalian strikes a fine balance between disclosure and secrecy” in deciding what to reveal and when, our reviewer Sarah Lyall writes. And “as suspenseful as it is, ‘The Red Lotus’ is also unexpectedly moving — about friendship, about the connections between people and, most of all, about the love of parents for children and of children for parents.”

BEHELD, by TaraShea Nesbit. (Bloomsbury, $26.) In this plain-spoken and lovingly detailed historical novel, the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony is refracted through the prism of female characters. Despite the book’s quietness of telling, its currency is the human capacity for cruelty and subjugation, of pretty much everyone by pretty much everyone. “At the novel’s core,” Samantha Harvey writes in her review, lies “a critique of Englishness itself. There is a contradiction underpinning the whole project of English imperialism, and Nesbit flags it perfectly. On the one hand, the English pilgrims regard themselves as epitomizing civility, manners and thus superiority. On the other hand, they deploy barbaric cruelty in order to defend that superiority.”

THE EXHIBITION OF PERSEPHONE Q, by Jessi Jezewska Stevens. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) This debut novel centers on a young pregnant newlywed in post-9/11 New York City, who unexpectedly finds herself the subject of an ex-boyfriend’s photography exhibit. Implicitly, the book poses the question: How do affections alter appearances? “Stevens’s writing proves that both time and technology are best understood in retrospect, sequences made logical long after each moment has passed,” Haley Mlotek writes in her review. “The novel has a romantic slowness, unfurling gracefully, little by little, to show how quickly the present gives way to the future, or concedes to the past.”

THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, by Erik Larson. (Crown, $32.) Larson’s account of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the 12 turbulent months from May 1940 to May 1941, when Britain stood alone and on the brink of defeat, is fresh, fast and deeply moving. “Through the remarkably skillful use of intimate diaries as well as public documents, some newly released, Larson has transformed the well-known record,” Candice Millard writes in her review. “The Blitz — its tense, terror-filled days, the horrors it inflicted — is palpable throughout this book, often by way of the kind of wrenching, carefully chosen facts that not only bring a story to life but also make a reader stop, look up and say to whoever happens to be nearby, ‘Listen to this.’”

LET THE PEOPLE PICK THE PRESIDENT: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College, by Jesse Wegman. (St. Martin’s, $27.99.) The Electoral College has distorted American politics throughout the country’s history and, as Wegman shows, if it didn’t already exist, no one would think to invent it. “People have been arguing against the Electoral College from the beginning,” Josh Chafetz writes in his review. “But no one, at least in recent years, has laid out the case as comprehensively and as readably as Jesse Wegman does.”

YELLOW BIRD: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country, by Sierra Crane Murdoch. (Random House, $28.) This painstakingly reported and beautifully written book, Murdoch’s first, examines the effects of fracking on a North Dakota reservation through the eyes of its title subject: a remarkable Native American woman who, determined to solve a murder related to the oil boom, exposes the greed and corruption that fueled it. “Murdoch resists easy portraiture (Indians as pitiful or pathetic or damaged) and blind compassion (Indians as noble sufferers or keepers of special knowledge),” David Treuer writes in his review. “Rather, she finds a way to balance her journalistic curiosity with respect for these complicated people. And Yellow Bird, as a person and as a guide through the mystery surrounding Clarke, is complicated. A fanatic, an addict, sure, but also brilliant, dogged, brave, funny, prickly, radically informed and just as radically nonjudgmental.”

BARRY SONNENFELD, CALL YOUR MOTHER: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker, by Barry Sonnenfeld. (Hachette, $29.) Sonnenfeld’s moment at the top of Hollywood’s food chain may have been short-lived, but the director of “Men in Black” and “The Addams Family” is an ideal tour guide through the vagaries and hypocrisies of the entertainment industry. “This is also a book about how Sonnenfeld became the artist that he is and the people he blames — namely, his parents — for how he turned out,” Dave Itzkoff writes in his review, noting that the memoir recounts moments of childhood sexual abuse and early work as a cameraman on porn films. But “it’s when Sonnenfeld turns to his career in legitimate cinema that the book really comes alive. As he perceptively observes, the same hang-ups that have inhibited him elsewhere in life are likely what drove him to become a great director of photography.”

THE POWER NOTEBOOKS, by Katie Roiphe. (Free Press, $27.) Best known for her polemical stances on feminist issues, Roiphe here turns her gaze on her romantic relationships, noting moments when she has ceded power to men or even endured their abuse. “Roiphe’s larger goal here is to investigate the lived reality of her romantic dynamics, not to get on a soap box and opine,” Lauren Elkin writes in her review. “The result is a beautifully written and thoughtful book.”

THE DALAI LAMA: An Extraordinary Life, by Alexander Norman. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30.) A longtime associate of the Dalai Lama provides the most detailed biography to date, exploring the 84-year-old’s life on the world stage and his life inside the world of Tibetan Buddhism. Norman “reveals the Dalai Lama to be a sophisticated thinker and consummate scholar, one whose feet remain firmly on the ground, a trait often obscured by his broken English,” Donald S. Lopez writes in his review. “In keeping with a religion so obsessed with prophecy, the book, written in an engaging prose, ends with an insightful prediction of the legacy of the 14th Dalai Lama, and a cleareyed assessment of the challenges that the 15th will face.”

An Ounce of Prevention

A friend passed along a medical professional’s advice that seems to be echoed by other sources. Couldn’t hurt and makes sense.

Introduction: The Chinese now understand the behavior of COVID-9, after analysis of multiple autopsies.  The virus obstructs respiratory pathways with thick mucus that solidifies and blocks the airways and lungs.

To apply medicine, you have to open and unblock the airways so treatment can be used, which takes several days.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO SAFEGUARD YOURSELF

  1. Drink lots of HOT LIQUIDS such as coffee, soup, tea and hot water.  Also, sip WARM water every 20 minutes because this keeps your mouth moist and washes any virus into the stomach, where gastric juices will neutralize it before it gets to the lungs.
  2. Once a day, GARGLE with an antiseptic in warm waer, such as lemon juice, vinegar or salt.
  3. The virus ATTACHES to clothes and hair.  Any soap or detergent kills it.  SHOWER or bathe IMMEDIATELY when you get in from the street.  Avoid sitting and go straight to the shower.  If you can’t wash your clothes daily, hang them in direct SUNLIGHT, which also neutralizes the virus.
  4. Clean METALLIC SURFACES especially carefully, because the virus can remain viable on these surfaces up to 9 days.  Be extra vigilant about cleaning hand rails, door handles etc., and regularly wipe down these surfaces at home.
  5. DON’T SMOKE!
  6. WASH HANDS every 20 minutes for 20 seconds with any soap that FOAMS.
  7. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Try to elevate your ZINC levels, not just VITAMIN C. Meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and eggs are a few food sources.
  8. Animals do not spread the virus. It is passed on by PERSON TO PERSON contact.
  9. Try to AVOID catching the common flu, which will weaken your immune system, and also avoid cold foods and beverages.
  10. If you feel ANY DISCOMFORT in your throat, or a SORE THROAT coming on, attack it immediately using the above methods.  The virus ENTERS THIS WAY and remains 3-4 days before it passes into the lungs.

Best of luck to us all, and please don’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary.  xx Alisa

Today’s COVID-19 Practical Tip: Common Sense

How do you stop an epidemic? A health columnist in today’s New York Times writes,

“If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.”

Good advice wherever you live.  So why in hell won’t people follow it?