Hard cold Canadian butter

Perhaps you saw it in the news. There has been a lot of excitement about butter in Canada in the past few days. It made the news headlines about all around the world. The butter in Canada seems to have become harder, and harder to spread over the past year or so. The blame seems to be about the use of palm oil in cow feed. This is interesting because it brings up some matters that I had addressed in my article on fats, earlier on in this blog (in particular read the sections about margarine vs. butter and how the fatty acids profile affects the physical quality of the product). Here are a couple of links about the “buttergate” in which you can find more details.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-56175784

https://www.ctvnews.ca/business/dairy-farmers-lobby-asks-members-to-stop-using-palm-as-it-investigates-buttergate-1.5323703

The funny thing is that I found butter to be a lot less enjoyable the first day I tried some almost when I moved in Canada 22 years ago. I do not think it was just me because right at the beginning of my stay here, I had been asked by a Canadian what I thought of the butter. He was asking me that because he had noticed that quite a few people he knew who had moved to Canada were complaining about the butter. I remember just answering something along the lines of “meh, not the best ever” and I had not paid too much attention to it after that. Yet, one of my neighbours in Vancouver had once started her own ranting about Canadian butter but she blamed the poor quality to the fact that, according to her, Canadian butter is frozen. I have never really tried to find out if it is always the case. Then, after I met the Canadian lady who is now my wife, I took her for trips to Europe about every year. Not only did she find all foods to taste much better there, she really developed an issue with Canadian butter in particular. And the issue has been –and still is- that the bloody thing is much stiffer at room temperature in Canada than the butter in my family in France even straight out of the fridge. One thing I know for sure is that in Canada there is 80% fat in butter, while in Europe it must be minimum 82%. Other thing I had noticed is how the Canadian salted butter is much more salty than in Europe. Anyway, I only buy unsalted butter. She has been adamant to go live in France since then. Food is one important reason for this move, and we are indeed making plans. The current Covid-19 pandemic has delayed this somehow but it is going to happen.

Personally, I have never been a fan of dairy in Canada. I find the butter, as mentioned, stiff and unpleasant to spread on bread. It also tends to break in a rough chunk instead of allowing me to cut all the way through when I cut a block out of the pound of butter to put on my butter dish, which makes the butter look like some frozen cottage cheese, which I always found weird and unappealing. I found Canadian cheeses tasteless and buttery. Ironic to see butter look like cheese and cheese loo like butter. Save me from blocks of cheddar or the likes of it. Actually, those would qualify more as butter to me than the butter. I cannot say anything good about Canadian attempts to make Brie or Camembert. Those have the softness and the appeal of hockey pucks. Not for me. Of course, I can find some imports, but the Canadian dairy sector has managed to get protection from the government and foreign cheese has import duties that make even the dullest Brie of Gouda about as expensive as precious metals. I seriously object paying 2 to 3 times what I consider the normal price of cheese. Along with dull quality, it is the same problem with bread, which is why I make my own, and the same why I make my own deli and grow my vegetables. So, since I am in Canada, I do not eat much cheese anymore. Milk is not any more attractive, either. I always found it somehow soapy and with a weird mouth feeling, not to mention that I really do not need to have extra vitamins in it, and even less so when it is added as a palmitate compound, which is… guess what… related to palm oil. So here it goes again. At least, something is consistent here. Perhaps, they want to feed us as much as palmitic acid as they can because palmitic acid is such a great saturated fatty acid that has this great characteristic that it tend to increase the level of LDL, so so-called bad cholesterol. Thank you Canadian dairy industry and Canadian government for the special care you give us. Ok that was sarcasm.

So, to sum up what is in my previous blog articles and in the two links I gave at the beginning of this article, palm oil is in cattle feed. It seems that the countries where this happens are Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, interestingly enough all Anglo-Saxon countries with a fabulous world-famous cuisine. Some gave us mad cows; others inject their cows with growth hormones. Great foods, because as they will tell you, they comply with government regulations, which we all know are pretty much developed under pressure of industry lobbies to maximize producers’ profits, but have the nation’s seal on it to give it this appearance of independence, objectivity and care for the people. The sad thing with this food system model is that in fact it is a failure. This kind of production exists only because it is subsidized to death and that all inputs to produce are also subsidized to death. If you look at what on average taxpayers pay to subsidise a system that cannot survive without help, you would realize that the price of food is not as cheap as it seems, but since it is in the form of taxes, it will not be counted in the relative percentage of the share of food in the total household budget, which industry always present as a reason why they do such a great job for society. Also not included in the price of food is all the externalities, which we could also called collateral damage costs, such as impact of health and health costs (think cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, diabetes and overweight related ailments), which happens when you cut corners on health for profit reasons.

I have spent many years in the food industry and I also know that the truth is in the middle. I have heard the criticism when I was in the system. Things are never as bad as the opponents claim and they are never as good as the industry claims. That said, deliberately transforming butter into something in the direction of margarine (the original kind which consisted of saturating fats) while the early margarine (not very good stuff by then from a fatty acid profile point of view) industry was trashing butter as unhealthy is almost surrealistic. By then, butter had actually a much more positive and healthy fatty acid profile then the early margarines and got blamed. Once the margarine industry realized that their stuff was not that great, they have done nothing else than copying the profile of the “original” butter. And now, we discover that the Canadian butter industry is doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing from a health perspective. It is amazing how the quest for more profit impairs thinking. The industry is populated with lots of really good and bright people. The knowledge is there and has been for decades. Yet, and just for profit, it is almost all of that is put to sleep or forgotten, and it really always baffles me to see how the industry, time and time over, is giving its opponents sticks to beat them up. Although food is not as cheap as it means, but it seems deceivingly so at the price label point, I believe it would be much better for all of us if it were more expensive but made healthier and more nutritious, because I have noticed that real quality is much more satisfying and that I get more with lesser quantities.

Copyright 2021 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Update on my poetry book

I am almost finished with the book, which will have Down to Earth as its title. I am going to make a French version as well, the title of which will be Vers de Terre.

The book contains 90 poems about food and farming. As a strong believer in the benefits of using both brain hemispheres, I composed poems that range to more “classic” themes to themes dealing with new technologies in food and agriculture. There is something for everyone in these poems.

I divided the content into six sections (click here to see the table of contents):

  • Fields: poems about plants and agriculture
  • Pastorale: poems about animals and animal husbandry
  • Characters: poems about people from food and agriculture
  • Edibles: poems about food
  • Destinations: poems about countries and their foods
  • Gravitas: poems about serious subjects

I also mixed many poem formats:

  • Sonnet, because of its elegance and structure
  • Haiku, for its powerful and concise impact
  • Villanelle, because it is so musical and light
  • Limerick, just to try to be funny
  • Rondeau, for classicism
  • Cinquain,  for modernity and concision
  • Free style, to let my mind wander without the rigidity of predetermined format, which I did mostly in rhymes but sometimes without rhymes but for a feel of rhythm and visual or sensory impressions

Next to the simple pleasure of poetry, I wrote these poems in a way that can be conducive to read and discuss them with an educational function in mind.

Copyright 2020 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

All of a sudden, being a sensible gourmet makes sense

The coronavirus has taken our world by storm. There has been little time to react and it will take more time to adapt. In a matter of days, our economy and societies have undergone an acid test like they had not in a long time. Important questions, many of them existential, have had to be asked. Perhaps, the most personal and intrusive one is to decide what is essential and what is non-essential, and by what, the question really has come down to who is and is not essential. This one is rather traumatic, because for many it has meant that they lost their jobs, part or all of their income, with all the implications about their livelihoods, security, sense of purpose and future.

Those who know me know that I look at many things through Maslow’s pyramid of needs. To me, the current troubled times that we are going through and how people cope -or not- with it, is very much the same as revisiting Maslow’s pyramid. Until a few months ago, the world economy seemed to run on all cylinders and although a recession seemed to be overdue, as one tends to happen every decade or so, there was very little that indicated that the economy would slow down drastically. The stock markets where like a fun fair. Then, everything freezes over. The topic of essential vs. non-essential sent us right back to the pyramid. All of a sudden, the lower layers of the pyramid took precedence. Physical security and security of food and shelter became obvious again, and the more superficial matters had to step back a bit.

Not only did many household budgets take a painful hit, store shelves were often scarcely filled. This pandemic has shown that our economic model is really built around quantitative growth and abundance, but should conditions change drastically, it is not as agile and resilient as we may have liked to think all this time, especially when nobody really wants to have inventories. Empty shelves did not remain empty for just a couple of days but it took more like a couple of weeks for some products to reappear in satisfactory quantities, and some items have hardly reappeared at all even a couple of months into this crisis. Shelves were empty, and yet farmers dumped their products, in particular dairy farmers literally pouring milk down the drain. An outrageous food waste has been taking place, in a time where food banks are overwhelmed and can get enough to help the ones in need. There is some thinking to do about connecting the links of the value chains, because it shows very little value and does not behave like a chain, either.

The small pop-and mom shops actually did rather well in this mayhem. They adapted quickly to ensure social distancing. They took orders for pick up and for delivery, and actually prepared them without errors. Most of all, they showed no disruption of supplies. The small meat store had meat and the baker had bread. They may be a bit more expensive than supermarkets, but the value of not wasting time and risking contamination to find only half of what is on your shopping list outweighs the slight price uptick. Grocery chains did not perform anywhere this level of service. At least, here I am talking about the part of the world where I live. Online ordering, pick and delivery have been subpar, and that is for those who actually were able to set up something. Orders were incorrectly filled and even after so many weeks, it is rather cumbersome.

A look at what flew off the shelves is quite revealing and a confirmation of our revisiting Maslow’s pyramid. Remember the trendy times from before the Corona Wars? Yes, it feels like an eternity but in fact it was not that long ago. When it came to food, many of us had been convinced that the good old-fashioned foods that previous generations, all the way back to the early times of agriculture, had become about irrelevant, that farming was going to be revolutionized, mostly by people without any background in agriculture. Cows were farting and that was unacceptable to some billionaires, as clearly the debonair ruminants were up to kill us with their gasses. I wrote my thought about that in previous articles. We had to give up animal products altogether. Sure. Then, the virus came and we stopped flying around in planes, we have to work from home and forget about morning and evening commute, our factories had to shut down and our energy use dropped dramatically. Then, all climate monitoring showed the same thing: greenhouse gasses emissions dropped significantly and the quality of our air improved, and all of that with the same numbers of cows and farm animals. Understand me well, some animal farming systems will need to change dramatically to adapt to a climate friendly approach of agriculture. We were supposed to all become vegetarians and vegans, and yet the most striking thing I could see in grocery stores was that meat, dairy and eggs were about all gone. People hoarded the recently forbidden fruit and apparently were proud to do so. With most of the staple animal products gone, what was left in the stores, then? Well, the sections with plant-based animal products surrogates were still aplenty even though the shelf space for those is usually rather small. No shortage of soy- and pea protein burgers, but no ground beef. No butter except the fancy expensive more “natural” ones, but plenty of margarine on the shelves. No milk today, but lots of soy and almond milk. No regular eggs, but no shortage of the expensive ones produced with special feed, supposedly healthier for us. On the protein side, consumers left massively the higher layers of Maslow’s pyramid, forgot the trendy products and hypes of all sorts to rush back to the basics.

Other categories that showed an amazing comeback are flour and pasta. What a change of heart! Here, too, consumers went back to the basics. Baking and cooking have been among the most popular activities during the pandemic lockdown. What happened to carbs and gluten? Weren’t they supposed to be the incarnation of all evils? Weren’t they supposed to make us fat and sick, to a point where self-proclaimed sometimes questionable dieticians and marketers worked really hard to convince us to not buy any of those staple products but instead choose for the much more expensive gluten-free alternatives that would fill their pockets? Well, not only the pasta, flour and baking sections in the stores were desperately empty because the staples products were back in favour, but the amazing part was that the shelves with gluten-free and other carb-alternative diet products were left about untouched. Flour is back, and so is bread and baked goods because 1) they are fun to make, 2) they are cheap to make and 3) they are good for you, of course with moderation that is. That is the stuff I am advocating in this blog. It seems that the pandemic has made many people see the many advantages of preparing food yourself. Baking and cooking are so much more than just that. They are an act of love and they are a unique way of connecting people and generations. This is what we are witnessing here. The need for social contact and love, the second layer from the bottom in Maslow’s pyramid is as popular as the bottom layer about basic physical needs. Baking is just a trip back to grandma’s kitchen. It is a reminder of our childhood and the atmosphere of grandma’s kitchen and the complicity that it brought around the stove. It is a reminder of the happy moments of tasting warm dough and making a mess with chocolate cream. In the current uncertain times, it is a safe haven where love and comfort bring us a badly needed protection from a harsh reality.

But the journey into nostalgia is not only limited in the kitchen. The poorly agile supply chain to large grocery stores and empty shelves showed that food supply is not a given. This has not gone unnoticed and if baking and cooking are popular right now, so is gardening. People transform their lawns into veggie gardens and those living in apartments buy and grow herbs, tomatoes or strawberries in pots on balconies to find some sense of food security. Empty shelves and long distances bring a reflection of where food should be coming from. There is a renewed attention for local food production, this time not some much as a trendy phenomenon, but for food security reasons, which in turn is becoming trendy. As usual with such issues, the conversation is more about a philosophical “we-should” approach but nobody really addresses the important part, which is how to make it work financially and for the local producers to be competitive, especially when many consumers are going through a violent financial crunch. Other questions would be to figure out who the farmers would have to be and where they should farm, as there used to be a lot of farming around cities, but the farms got bought, paved and developed in the past, so they will never come back. Urban farming could be a possibility, but so far, except some fancy expensive greens or massive subsidies, urban farms hardly survive. As someone who has a garden, I can tell you that growing your own food has advantages. I do not have to worry about residues, as I do not spray any chemicals. I also can tell you that the cost of a seed is much lower than buying produce from a store, but the untold reality about gardening is that to have a garden, you need to buy one and that if you look at it from an economic point of view and were to calculate your cost as if it were a commercial operation, you will have to include the price of the land on which you have your garden. Nonetheless, gardening is a great hobby. Personally, I find it very soothing to work the ground and take care of the plants with nobody around. It probably feels like a bubble or a cocoon and I can imagine that this is also part of the renewed interest about gardening.

Join me and so many others and become a sensible gourmet yourself. It makes life so much more enjoyable!

Copyright 2020 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

 

My next book will be a little different

Over the past few weeks, I have been avidly writing a book of poems around the theme of food and farming. It is now rather advanced and I should be publishing it late Spring 2020. There will be about 70-75 poems. It is a refreshing diversion from my regular activities of food futurist, which tend to revolve around technologies and consumer trends, although I have managed to find some poetry about the future of food and agriculture and those topics. Surprisingly, there is poetry with drones, sensors, data and artificial intelligence. I have been experimenting with different poetry formats such as haiku, villanelles and limericks. It is a lot of fun to do and it good to use both brain hemispheres in harmonious balance and have them fully connected rather than grow one at the expense of the other, which would be like having one huge biceps and the other one all skinny.

Some poems treat of serious matters such as hunger, suicide among farmers, food waste or environmental matters, but most are rather cheerful, like the villanelles and humorous like the haiku and the limericks. It is full of bees, birds, fertile fields, winemaking, gardening, calves, little lambs and piglets. There is also a section that I call “Destinations” that focus on some countries and their food cultures that I particularly like. I am thinking of making a French version of the book when I am finished, as the poems are in English.

I came up with poetry in an unexpected manner. A former member of my team in my time in aquaculture here in Canada, recently died suddenly at a much too young age. Of course, I was stunned as his passing away was the last thing I had expected. He was a great professional and very instrumental in the turn around that I led here, but most of all he was a gentleman with great human qualities whom I held in very high esteem. After hearing the sad news, I started to write my thoughts in the form of a poem about him. Why did I use poetry? I have no idea but it came naturally. “His” poem will be in the book. But after writing that poem, I felt the urge of keeping writing poems, this time around one of my passions, which is food and farming.

That is the story. I will keep you posted with the next steps.

The joy of making bread

Although it seems like a major hassle at first, making bread is actually quite easy and incredibly fun. All it takes is flour, yeast, a bit of salt and some water. There is no need for additives, the list of which you can find on the packaging of industrial bread.

Bread seems to have been created some 10,000 years ago. It would not be surprising is the first bread happened by accident, as most tasty foods have. Perhaps, someone left a mix of flour and water to close to the fire and found a delicious surprise later on. Who knows? It does not matter. Clearly, it does not need high-tech tools to make bread, just a bit of elbow grease. About every region of the world has its own particular type of bread, and they all follow the same basic recipe. Everyone who has baked bread at home will tell you the pleasure of the smell of warm freshly baked bread around the house. There is something about the smell of fresh bread that makes you hungry, or at least gourmand. And anyone who has eaten fresh bread from the oven will tell you: none of the breads you can find in supermarkets matches the taste and aroma of the real thing.

The fun begins quite a bit before breaking the crust of the finished warm bread. Although I have a bread machine, I really prefer making the bread by hand myself. I like the bread machine and it is convenient, as it does everything and I can use the timer to have fresh bread early in the morning, but it is not quite the same as hand-made (the bakeries that charge an obscene amount of money for this very basic food will call it “hand-crafted”, but hand-made is the same). Letting the yeast rise and kneading the dough are already tantalizing the senses. Personally, I find that using a mix of regular flour with whole wheat flour makes bread with a stronger flavor, a bit of old-fashioned bread type. I also like to make a “levain” and let it evolve overnight. It seems to enhance the aromas of the dough and of the bread. By the reactions I get at home when the bread is ready, I clearly am not the only one thinking this way. And that is the other joy of making bread: the sharing of the bread with others. It is amazing how something this simple can generate such happiness, conviviality and smiles. You should try it and, as I said before, it is really easy to make. The only thing that took me some time to quite do right was how to fog the oven by saturating it with water steam, which helps make the nicest crunchy and golden bread you can think of. All the pictures included in this article are from my kitchen. As you can see, home-made breads look good, and they taste good, too.

Just give it a try. It does not take all that much time and it is a better use of time than being glued on a smartphone waiting for God knows what.

Copyright 2020 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

A few interesting things about lipids

In the course of the past few decades, fats have gotten a negative reputation. Even though reason seems to make a timid comeback, as carbohydrates have taken over the role of the bogeyman, there still is a stigma on fats. The real culprit is not fat as much as it is overconsumption beyond our actual nutritional and physiological needs of fats, of food, of calories, well… of pretty much everything in our great consumption society. I will not spend time on the overconsumption of fats, as it is mostly a case of gluttony and ignorance about nutrition. I will write the following lines to show why fats are important and contribute to make life fun.

First of all, fats do belong is a healthy balanced diet. Fats, which are part of the lipids as they are called in biology, are building blocks of cell walls of living organisms. Lipids play very important roles in our metabolism and biochemistry. They store calories, which is convenient when food is scarce, but they have many more roles. Cholesterol, a lipid with a terrible reputation, plays an essential role in the synthesis of steroid hormones, which in turn play a role in sexual hormones. Cholesterol also plays a role in the synthesis of vitamin D. Other lipids include mono-, di- and tri-glycerides and fatty acids, and their cohort of saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated types. We all have heard about essential fatty acids, in particular omega-3 type is quite a popular one, and about their importance for good health. Just take the time to do some research on those terms and you will see how important lipids are. It is not particularly difficult, although it can be sometimes tedious, so just take your time to browse information.

Just any other thing in life, too much is exactly that: too much. Excesses always bring problems. It is true for fats. It is also true for the popular protein group. Health and nutrition are about balance and proper amounts.

Butter or margarine?There are some interesting consequences of the fatty acid composition of edible fats. First what is meant by saturated or unsaturated relates to the presence (unsaturated) or absence (saturated) of double bonds in the molecule of a fatty acid. An unsaturated fatty acid molecule has the ability to combine with oxygen or other atoms. When a fat combines with oxygen, it becomes oxidized, which is commonly known as rancid, with the bad taste that goes with it. Saturated fats do not have bonds that can open and combine with other elements. They are more stable. And that was the whole idea of margarine as a substitute for butter. Butter, as you probably know, can get rancid, especially if it is not refrigerated. A way to avoid that is to add ß-carotene, an orange pigment and precursor of vitamin A, to the butter, which is common in the dairy industry. The purpose of margarine was to have a butter substitute that would not get rancid and to do that, the process consists of hydrogenating (adding hydrogen to) the fat. The double bonds open and attach hydrogen atoms, thus leaving no space to oxygen to attach and make the fat rancid. Basically, the original margarine was fully saturated fat. It is ironic to know that when in the same time the margarine industry did all it could to discredit butter, which is a rather complex mix of long and short fatty acids, although mostly saturated. And it is also interesting to see that over time, margarine producers actually produced vegetable fat spreads that mimic butter much more than the original margarine ever would. Since I am addressing the processing of fats, unsaturated fats can turn into two different types called Trans and Cis. We have all heard about the risks of Trans fats and they are banned about everywhere nowadays. Trans and Cis are two spatial molecular configurations of a same fatty acid molecule, depending on which side of the molecule the radical is. This tiny difference has serious implications for metabolism and health, though.

Another characteristic of fatty acids is their physical property. In particular, saturated fats are usually harder at room temperature than mono-unsaturated and even more so than poly-unsaturated, because they have a lower melting point. The more double bonds there are in the fatty acid chain, the softer, even the more liquid the fat/oil is. Also, the longer the chain, the harder the fat is, as their melting point is lower. To sum up and simplify a bit, the softer or more liquid a fat/oil is at room temperature, the healthier it probably is.

Another characteristic of fats is that the fat profile in the food will influence the profile in the body fat. This is important to understand in regard with animal farming. If farm animals eat a diet that contains more unsaturated fats, their body fat will also be more unsaturated. This means that their meat will have a more unsaturated profile, which is a rather positive thing for you as the consumer. Of course, here the rule is always the same: the diet must be balanced.

Animal products and fat is quite an interesting topic, and a rather complex one, too. Fatty meat used to be the preference (think bacon). Why? Simply because I am talking about times when people did not live in overheated houses and had physically demanding jobs. Animal fat was rich in calories, which were quite useful both to do hard work and to live in cool homes. As comfort improved and mechanization made many jobs physically less demanding, the need for these calories decreased. If they are not being burnt, they accumulate in the body. That is why a comfortable life requires fewer calories than a demanding life. Yet, different cultures, because of culinary tradition, deal differently with the fattiness of farm animals destined to produce meat. In the EU, production shifted towards leaner breeds of animals, as consumers did not want fatty meat. In North America, the approach has been a bit different. They like fatty meat but cut off the meat on the plate, or eat quite a bit of it. A disadvantage of producing fat animals is that it requires more energy for their body to produce a pound of fat than it does to produce a pound of muscle. Males (I am talking farm animals here) generally produce leaner meat than females, but castrated males tend to produce a fattier meat than females. Using hormones in animal farming has an effect, too. Since the hormones used are female hormones, animals tend to fatten more. From the producer’s perspective, it is a matter of what the market pays for what quality of meat. In the EU, leaner animals receive a better price, but it is not everywhere the same around the world. Hormones also help reduce the cost as fattening goes faster. Fast is nice, but the age of an animal influences how much fat it gets in its tissues. Just like humans, farm animals have mostly water in their body tissues when they are young. When they age, fat gradually replaces the water, and we all know that losing the love handles gets more difficult with age. It is the same thing with animals. It is complex but fun, isn’t it?

What we have on our plate is all about economics. Depending on what consumers buy, the economic differ, and so do farming systems. Depending on production systems and consumer demand, fattiness of animal products varies. Although most people will tell you that meat is protein, this is far from always true. There different grades of fattiness between regular, lean and extra lean ground meat, for instance. Fat percentages vary greatly, from 10% to 30% of total weight, to simplify. Protein will be around 20% for most meats, regardless of the species. Keep in mind the main ingredient of meat is water. Animal bodies consist of roughly 60% water. If you remove the water and take the dry matter equivalent, fat percentages on dry matter will vary between 25% and 75%, while the number for protein will be around 50%. In the end, meat may contain more fat than protein, sometimes substantially more. Meat and protein are not the same. Just imagine what happens when you deep-fry meat, then!

Does fatty meat taste better? Meat lovers will tell you that they like their meat marbled. Here are a few interesting facts. The flesh of young animals contains more water than older animals, from an intra-species point of view. Of course, there is no point in comparing chickens and cows about this. But within the species, the rule applies, and so does the feeding program. An interesting detail about taste is that aromatic molecules are soluble in fat, but they are not soluble in water. Those aromatic compounds come from the food the animals eat. Therefore a fattier animal will contain more aromatic compounds than a leaner one, all things being equal further. Of course, the kind of feed they eat also contribute greatly. An animal that eats lots of bland feed will not have much of these compounds, even if it is rather fatty. And a less fatty animal that would eat lots of aromatic feed might taste better. When it comes to the marbling, aromatic compounds are not the only thing that plays a role. Marbled meat will keep its juiciness better and will have a softer texture than a lean meat. Lean meat contains relatively more water that will evaporate to some extent during the cooking and  as water leaves the meat fibers, the meat might end up a bit stringy, especially if it is cooked through and though.

Related imageDo you see now why a Pata Negra pig’s ham tastes so good? It is a pig that is kept in semi-wilderness in Spain and feeds for several years eating chestnuts and other shrubs in a region where vegetation is sparse. It is quite different from a pig that is fed intensively and slaughtered at 6 months of age or so. The price is not the same, either.

So there you have it, fat is good but you must make sure it is good fat and that you eat with moderation. In the end what you have on your plate is a compromise between many contradictory requirements such as taste, quality, cost and price.

Copyright 2020 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

My Christmas dinner

If any posting can illustrate the theme of this website, this would be the one. Our Christmas dinner was delicious, rather quick to make, nutritious and gentle on the wallet, too.

For me, as for many people, the Christmas dinner is something special. I certainly want to keep it that way. So, here is what I prepared.

To start, I made a dish of smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon buckwheat

Smoked Pacific salmon with mini buckwheat galettes and yogurt dill dressing

I chose a smoked Sockeye salmon. I like its delicate texture (in my opinion much nicer than Atlantic salmon) and its regular and diffuse fattiness (also much nicer than Atlantic salmon that tends to be a bit of white and red stripes, which I don’t like so much). I served the fish with mini buckwheat pancakes, a variation from Brittany’s “galette de blé noir”, or “galette de sarasin”, together with a sauce made of yogurt, lemon juice, shallots, dill and vodka. It was a great combination, simply delicious. To accompany this dish, I served a medium dry white wine from my own vineyard, called Bacchus. It’s a bit similar to a Sauvignon Blanc.

To follow, I prepared a “Magret de Canard” (duck fillet) with a sauce made of cherries, shallots, Port wine, honey and Balsamic vinegar.  The cherries came from the batch I canned this summer (see my previous post). The duck and this sauce are a wonderful combination.

Magret de Canard aux cerises

Duck magret in shallot, honey, Port wine, balsamic vinegar and cherry sauce, with a side of Sarladaise potatoes and Brussels sprouts

On the side I served Pommes de Terre Sarladaises, which is a specialty from the Perigord region. They are potatoes sauteed in duck fat. Next to that, I served Brussels sprouts, also sauteed in duck fat. Absolutely delicious. The wine I chose was a Pinot Noir from my vineyard, too. It’s a full-bodied, smooth, velvety wine that paired quite well with the duck.

As a dessert, I had a special request from my wife. She wanted a chocolate babka, which is a kind of brioche with a swirly chocolate filling. I had never made any before. It turned out really well. The swirling could have been a bit more swirly and the streusel a bit more evenly distributed, but the taste was just perfect.

Babka sliced

Chocolate babka

Although the babka requires some preparation, it leaves plenty of free time between the steps and, unless you keep staring at the oven for the hour the babka takes to bake, you will have free time for other activities. The fish dish and the duck dish took about 40-45 minutes to make. The total cost of this meal per person came to around US$5.00, not counting the wine, which I make anyway. A restaurant would charge at least 10 times this amount, and quite a bit more just because it was Christmas, and even more because I named the dishes in French.

Wines Christmas 2019

Bacchus on the left, Pinot Noir on the right

So there you have it: a superb gourmet dinner for a very affordable price that anyone can make.

Copyright 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Why I can fruit and freeze veggies

The story is a bit similar to the one I wrote about deli. It is partly about quality and partly about money.

20191208_092239It is always great to buy produce at the high of the season. Fruit and veggies are plentiful, so you can get them fresh, ripe and cheap, especially if, like me, you go to the producer directly. Freshness and ripeness are quite important. Only at that stage, produce will contain the highest levels of nutrients. Just like with my story about the deli, it is also important to find a producer that does not pump the veggies with lots of water and fertilizers, because then all you get is a dilution of nutrients and you end up buying more water than you should. Also, the produce tends to spoil faster. Perhaps, the best place I can find the right quality is from my own garden. I water my plants but not with the sole purpose of boosting the growth to get more pounds but to allow the plants to grow harmoniously. I compost all food scraps and that compost goes in my garden. I look for the optimal combination of yield and quality. In my garden, I try to produce more than we can eat in the high season so that I can preserve the surplus, either by freezing, which I do mostly with vegetables, or by canning, which I do mostly with fruit. I suppose that I also could make jams but I do not have much of a sweet tooth. I do make compote of rhubarb, though, which I freeze for later, as my rhubarb produces like crazy in the summer. I hope for you that you have the opportunity to taste produce that you can harvest at the top of ripeness and eat the same day. Nothing beats that. For me the top is with strawberries. The ones from my garden are not particularly big but how fantastic they taste! The stuff I find in stores just does not seem to handle the logistics from producer to store very well and they are loaded with water. I had stopped eating strawberries altogether until I moved here and started my own garden.

I am also lucky to have orchardists as neighbours and I like to buy their fruit especially when they are so ripe that they start to show some little defects that do not sell very well. There is nothing with the taste, on the contrary, but they show some browning and spots, so the orchardist, sells them at a discount. That is when I buy a large quantity of fruit for canning. At first, I thought that canning was complicated but actually it also can be done in the oven, which saves a lot of the problems of dealing with boiling water. I can do 12 cans at a time in my oven, so it goes rather quickly. For all my winter needs, it just takes a couple of days of chaos in the kitchen but it worth the “hassle”. I can enjoy tasty sweet fruit all winter long, until the new season arrives because unfortunately, in the winter, the fruit that I can buy around here is not very tasty. It is expensive and often hardly ripe, or it has ripened artificially, but that does not give the same taste and the same nutrients as naturally ripened fruit. I hardly eat any banana anymore. Yet, I love bananas, but the stuff they sell around here is really sad. The bananas are usually green and they hardly turn yellow as they seem in a hurry to turn all brown and the taste is weird. I remember eating fully ripened bananas in Hawaii and that was something else. Oranges vary a lot in quality and more than half the time, they just taste dull and woolly, so I also gave up on them, except for one brand of heirloom oranges from California. I was a bit suspicious that the heirloom concept might be a bit of a marketing scam but it is not. Those oranges are really great but they are available only for a short period. Grapefruit are usually more constant in quality and that is almost the only fruit that I buy in stores nowadays. Even apples and pears are a bit sad in the winter time.

Veggies I prefer to freeze than canning. I find that they keep more of their crispiness that way but that is my personal preference. From my garden, I freeze green beans, peas, zucchini, parsley and basil mostly. I also freeze the juice of one of the varieties of grapes that I have in my vineyard, as those are just as good as tale grapes. For the rest I make wines, which is also a delicious way of preserving grapes. Those are a treat for the winter time, because just like for fruit, the vegetables that are off season come from further away and have lost some of their freshness. As for my potatoes, onions, shallots and garlic, they do fine in my basement and I can enjoy them all through the winter.

It takes some time, but as I have mentioned earlier, once you have learned how to do it, it does not take all that much time and it is really worth it. It is worth it in terms of quality and taste, but it is also worth it in terms of money because, everything that I preserve for the winter is really cheap when I buy it in the high season, and of course even cheaper when it comes from my garden.

And once again, preserving produce is a great combination of a healthy and nutritious diet; it saves money and reduces the amount of food that is wasted. The triple bottom line wins again!

© 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Why I make my own deli

There are several reasons and they all fit in the theme of this website. The main reason, though, has to do with quality. I got tired of buying deli at the supermarket and just after a couple of days, the product would become slimy and sticky, not the good kind of sticky if there is any such thing. Next to being sticky, the deli would also have an unpleasant sour smell. I am sure you know what I mean. Since I do not like to waste any food, I would eat it but there would not be much pleasure. Not everyone has the same sense of self sacrifice, as I have been told in a number of occasions. Who knows how much deli ends up in the landfill for quality reasons? The problem is the way deli is made in an industrial process. The meat is soaked in brine and it contains way too much water, salt and other stuff that have nothing to do in meat, such as nitrite for instance. It is not because pigs are more or less pink that pink should be the natural color of pork deli. The natural color is a dull grey-brown, which is probably not as appealing as pink to ignorant consumers, so they get sold things they should not buy.

The second reason is that such poor quality deli meat is rather expensive. That means the added water, salt, sugar and cheap fat are very well sold. I can make similar deli for at least half the price. It contains nothing weird, but the nicest thing is that it has a much longer life. Even after a week my deli is still dry and it does not smell bad. That what’s great about not adding water: bacteria do not multiply as quickly. So, as you can see, making my own deli save me money, is healthier and eliminates the risk of me throwing away something that I am not sure if it still is safe after a couple of days.

In the meantime, I also have found a pap-and-mom store that makes artisanal deli the old-fashioned way and that has the same qualities of having the natural color, having a long life and that does not taste salty, sugary or watery. That way, I can buy deli types that I do not know how to make, and the other great thing is that their prices are very similar to the industrial deli that supermarkets sell. Their value is way better.

Just anything else cooking, making deli is rather easy and rather quick to make. Of course, like for everything else, there is a learning curve, but it is not rocket science. It is a much better use of anyone’s time than checking every 20 seconds in vain if someone sent you an email or a text message. And nothing beats the taste of home-made hams, patés, rillettes and sausages from pork, chicken, duck or fish!

Pâté Rillettes

Rillettes on the left, Pork pâté with hazelnuts, prunes and Armagnac on the right, served with homemade bread

© 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Carbohydrates are diverse

Carbohydrates have been under scrutiny for a while, in particular since the Atkins diet became popular. Are carbohydrates bad? If the answer is simple in popular media, the reality is, as usual, a bit more complex.

First of all, it is important to realize that carbohydrates are not a homogeneous group of nutrients. They can be divided in three categories: fast carbs, slow carbs and fibre.

Fast carbs are called that way because they pass into the blood stream quickly after being ingested, and provide 4 calories per gram. They are small molecules. They are commonly known as sugars and the most common ones are glucose, fructose (a typical carb from fruit as the name indicates) and sucrose (the powder sugar you find in stores). Sucrose is a combination of one molecule of glucose with one molecule of fructose. The purpose of fast carbs in the body is to provide energy quickly, in particular to provide the brain with glucose, as it is the only fuel the brain can use to function. For as much as they are very useful for a quick energy boost, they will be metabolised and stored as body fat if the body cannot burn the quantity sent in the blood stream. This latter characteristic is important to understand from a nutritional point of view. Do not eat more sugar than you can burn in the short term because it will go to your hips. They are useful during intense exercise. Professional cyclists often use glucose from their bottle. Here is a little calculation to show how it works:

Since fast carbs should be 40% of total carbs maximum and carbs should be 60% max of total calories, the maximum amount of calories you can have from fast carbs is 40% x 60% = 24% of total calories. For a person who needs 2,000 calories per day, the maximum of fast carbs would be 24% x 2,000 = 480 calories. Apples and oranges are about 50 calories per 100g, carrots about 40 and bananas above 80. Let’s say you have 500 g of fruits and veggies per day. This would roughly amount to 5 x 50 = 250 calories. As you can see, with a few fruits and vegetables you get all the fast carbs that you need. Remember, 40% of 60% is the maximum. It is better to get fewer calories than this from fast carbs. But if you want a juice or a soft drink, how much could you have? If the total calories from fast carbs is 480 and you got already 250 from fruits and vegetables, there is room for only 480 – 250 = 230 calories. Since 1 gram of carb provides 4 calories, that would a maximum of 230/4 = 57.5 grams of fast carb per day. If you take a drink at 10% sugar, the maximum quantity of liquid is then 57.5/10% = 0.575 litre. If the drink contains 15% sugar, the number becomes 57.5/15% = 0.383 litre.

Slow carbs are quite different. The typical slow carb is starch, which can be found in grains (wheat, corn, barley, rice, etc…), pasta, potatoes and many legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc…). They do not pass into the blood stream right away. Starch is a long chain that consists of glucose molecules. During digestion, and with intervention with insulin, starch is metabolized into a shorter chain, called glycogen, which is stored in the liver. As its name indicates glycogen is a word that means glucose-forming substance. Depending on the sugar level in the blood (aka glycaemia), the glycogen in released “on demand” with help of insulin to provide the organism with the needed glucose but just in the right quantity at the right time. This has two advantages. One is that glucose is not provided in one shot, as it would be metabolised and stored as body fat. Glucose is released just to be burnt. It is almost comparable with a high-efficiency furnace. The other one is that through this system, the carbs eaten during the meal will provide energy for a couple of hours at least, depending on the level of physical activity. Then, it is not a surprise that hunger happens around 11:00 am so about 3-4 hours after a breakfast with an appropriate amount of slow carbs. There is no need for snacking between meals if the meals are proper. Slow carbs also provide 4 calories per gram.

A small word is useful about gluten. The word starts with “glu” and is a normal component of grains, but on the contrary to what many people seem to think, gluten is not a carbohydrate. It is a protein. Gluten gives bread its network structure.

Fibres have a rather different function. The main form of fibre is cellulose, which is also a long chain of glucose molecules, but arranged differently than in starch. Cellulose is not providing energy as such, as it cannot be metabolised in the body. Fibres play the role of ballast. They help dilute the calorie density of foods (think of fruit and vegetables) and they probably also play a role in the clearing of the intestine during transit. Fibres may also play a role in reducing the risk of colon cancer.

As you can see, carbohydrates are useful, but they must be part of a balanced diet. Because of their characteristics, one should not splurge on fast carbs, because the excess quantity will be metabolised into body fat. A good guideline is to have no more than 60% of the total calories of the diet from carbs, fast and slow combined. The percentage of calories coming from fast carbs should be less than 40% of the total carbs calories, and less is even better. If you eat fruit regularly, you probably will have enough fast carb. It is better not to add sugar in tea, coffee or yoghurt to name a few, even though sweet tastes nicer for many people. Also pay attention of how much fast carb you have in the foods and beverages you buy. Soft drinks, juices and drink yoghurt can contain between 10 and 20% fast carbs. The best drink really is water (zero calorie).

Slow carbs are a bit less of a problem, because of the gradual release of glucose from glycogen. That said, a proper diet is a diet that just covers the needs of the body, and excessive consumption will inevitably lead to more body fat.

To sum up, carbohydrates are OK as long as consumed in a balanced diet. Too much carbs is bad, and so are too much fast carbs and too much slow carbs. The same is true with all groups of nutrients. Fat is fine but too much fat is not, and the same applies for protein as well.

© 2019 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.