Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spain and France

Divisions within France that border the Mediterranean are the Provence-Alpes-Cote and the Languedoc-Roussillion region. Marsailles is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Cote and is the second largest city and largest port in France. This area has high immigration from Italy, North African, and Greece leaving the ethnic French a minority. Provence’s breathtaking scenery has inspired many artists, especially in regards to the purple sea of lavenders that flood the country side. Avignon is home to the Nortre Dame de Doms along with the Palais des Papes; these two churches attract tourists to the area. Nice is famous for its folk music and dances, with the most popular being the farondole. This lively music spurs open chain community dancing from the locals in a jig-like fashion. Contrasting to the rural feel of the farondale festivals, the French Riviera has made Nice a tourist attraction for its mild winters and beaches. The highlights of the Languedoc-Roussillon region include the fortified French town, Carcassone, in Aude along with the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier in Herault that offers free music and dancing along the streets of Montpellier in the summertime.

Provençal cuisine is heavily based on olive oil and there are literally hundreds of varieties ranging in color from green to gold. Olives were introduced to Provence 2,500 years ago by the ancient Greeks, and now they are used in all aspects of cookery. Olive oil is mixed with garlic and basil to form pistou and in a garlic mayonnaise called aïoli that is served with hot and cold dishes. There are a number of dishes that Provence is famous for. Bouillabaisse is their classic seafood stew made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, herbs, wine and olive oil. Bourride is similar to bouillabaisse except that it does not have tomato and is thickened with aioli, a garlic mayonnaise, and another traditional Provencal concoction. Pistou is the Provencal equivalent of pesto and used as a sauce, condiment and as a flavoring agent in soupe au pistou.

Cooking traditions in Languedoc Roussillon have roots in the same primary products as those in Provence. The main ingredients in Languedoc Roussillon cuisine are olive oil and tomatoes, garlic, onions and aromatic herbs are also used. The only difference may be that cooks use a little bit less garlic than in Provence. Sea food products are an essential part of the Languedoc Roussillon cuisine. Languedoc is the single largest wine-producing region in the world. It is responsible for more then a third of France's total wine production. More wine is yearly produced in this area then the entire United States.

Spain is currently a constitutional monarchy with King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia on the throne. Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital to Catalonia. The Ciutat de les Art I les Ciencies can be found in Valencia which attracts tourists to view its modern architectural structures. The Balearic Islanders of Spain are most known for their love of Flamenco music and dancing as well as the sport of bullfighting, both attracting a lot of tourists, and money, to the area.

Endless cultures, as they passed through or settled in Spain, have influenced the history of Spanish food. The Phoenicians left their sauces, the Greeks introduced Spain to the wonders of olive oil, and Romans, Carthaginians, and Jews integrated elements of their own cooking into that of Spain. However it was the Moors who, during their centuries of reign, most impacted Spanish gastronomy. They introduced fruits and light seasonings into the Iberian diet, as well as combinations of fruits and nuts with meats and fish. Rice- a genuine staple of Spanish gastronomy- and therefore Spain's vast array of rice dishes, come straight from the Moors, as does the use of saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Traditional cooking includes stewed vegetables, rice, pasta, beans, fish stews, chicken casseroles, grilled meat or fish served with alioli, a dressing made with garlic and olive oil, and very creative salt cod based dishes. The place where spinach are sautéed with raisins and pine nuts, is where the innovation is happening, because this is the land of the experimental chefs, and where Mediterranean cooking becomes ultra modern.
One popular Spanish tradition is Tapas. The word tapa, meaning cover or lid, is thought to have originally referred to the complimentary plate of appetizers that many tascas would put like a lid on one's wine glass. Tapas can vary from simple to complex and include cheese, fish, eggs, vegetable dishes, dips, canapés, and savoury pastries.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Garden Story

Eating what is locally grown throughout the seasons is a feature of the Mediterranean diet. It goes back to a time when transportation was limited and refrigeration and storage options were few.

Unlike the US, in other parts of the world dedicating property to expansive lawns, shrubbery, and flowers is reserved for parks, town squares, and wealthy estates. Rather small kitchen gardens filled with herbs, vegetables and fruit trees are found in the smallest of back yards.

I have always had a kitchen garden. My mother’s parents had a garden in their narrow backyard in Long Island, New York, and my father never was without a few pepper plants and tomatoes in a sunny spot in every home we lived in. My husband, Bruce Bradford grew up with a garden maintained by his grandfather on the family dairy farm in Michigan.

Today our garden is much larger than what we need, but it produces an abundance of vegetables from May through November. Our garden consists of nine raised beds surrounded by perennial flowers, herbs, and various ornamental trees and shrubs. Our dirt is enriched with compost. We save all vegetable cuttings and coffee grounds, along with leaves, etc. Last year we had a terrific crop of butternut squash that grew from the compost pile through the season.

The first planting is garlic. The bulbs are put in the garden in November and harvested in July. The next phase of planting happens in early spring. This year early spring garden was planted by Joel Anderson and Arion Kennedy as the Current Topics in Nutrition Garden.

On March 17, Joel and Arion planted three beds with eleven different vegetables on a cold and very windy Saturday afternoon. They planted cauliflower, parsley, arugula, lettuce, radishes, beets, peas, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale, and endive. I am happy to report that every thing has sprouted. The pea plants are now about four inches high. We have inserted cherry tree branches along the rows to serve as supports as the pea vines grow. The lettuce, arugula, and radishes should be ready to harvest later this month. The other vegetables will start in May and continue through June and July.

Eggplant, tomatoes, pepper plants, and basil will be planted in mid-May. These are started in February from seed and maintained under grow lights.

Green beans, summer squash, and cucumbers are sowed directly in the ground along with dill, coriander, sunflowers, and other annual flowers. In the heat of the summer, there is an abundance of vegetables and flowers. Bruce has become successful at “putting up” our tomatoes, peppers, beets, green beans, and anything else he can find. So throughout the winter, we can eat from our garden and dream about the warm days of summer.

This may seem like a great deal of time and effort and it is. The rewards outweigh the work. There is nothing better than to cook from your garden, fill vases with your own flowers, or watch the gold finch make a steady meal of sunflower seeds on a summer morning.

Pulling it all together

The first presentation of the evening focused on the effects of vitamin E on human mesothelioma cells. The researchers examined the role of vitamin E treatment in activating apoptotic pathways within the cells. Treatment with vitamin was shown to activate apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner in cancer cells but not in non-malignant cells.

The second presentation looked at a study examining the role of resveratrol on genes that regulate cholesterol metabolism in human macrophages. Several molecular techniques were utilized to elucidate the pathway involved. Resveratrol was found to induce activity and expression of LXR, altering cholesterol metabolism.

The third study the role of cinnamon supplementation on lipid metabolism. Cinnamate, a polyphenol found in cinnamon, was found to reduce risk of atherosclerosis and lower hepatic cholesterol. The researchers suggest that cinnamon supplementation might be a potential adjuvant therapy for humans.

After the break, the class broke into groups to brainstorm ways of condensing and presenting the information we have discussed and presented in the class during our final night, which include a presentation and food tasting for invited guests.

The four major areas of the presention will focus on the nutrition science covered in the class as it relates to the Mediterranean diet, the impact of the Mediterranean diet and immigration on the diet of the United States, the history and culture of the Mediterranean region, and, of course, the food.

The presentation will followed by a tasting of the favorites dishes prepared throughout the semester.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Middle East

The Middle East is an area rich in culture and history. A few of the countries in the region are Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Territories. Geography includes mountains, deserts, fertile plains and seacoasts. The oil industry and modernization have led to increases in population and movement from rural to urban areas.

The Middle East is the birthplace of agriculture, alphabets, civilization, and the major monotheistic religions. Most came out of Ancient Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Components of the Ancient Mesopotamian diet included grains and leavened breads, alcohol, animal products, and vegetables and fruits. Dates were especially important as seen in careful bookkeeping accounts found in ancient writing. Most foods were permissible, and specific prohibitions came as religions developed.

Religion plays an important role in the region, and the majority of individuals in the area practice Islam. Food is viewed as a gift from God in Islam and is characterized as halal (acceptable) or haram (forbidden). The Islamic year is marked with periods of fasting and feasting. Modern day foods include flatbreads and grains. Spices play an important role as well as vegetables (eggplant the most distinctive) and pulses (fava beans and chickpeas).

Geography and religion influenced Middle Eastern cuisine. Foods and recipes from the State of Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Lebanon share commonalities with Greek and African cuisine evident by the incorporation of baklava, moussaka, and couscous. Tropical summers and mild winters promote cultivation of pomelos, apricots, beets, legumes, and chives which are among the plentiful fruits and vegetables that characterize the majority of Middle Eastern dishes. Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish cuisine differs in ingredients and flavors due to influences of Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Morocco which created a broad range of tastes among the Middle East. More specifically, within the Jewish religion, dietary laws and restrictions known as kashrut, translated as “kosher” are adhered to and determine which foods are suitable for consumption. These laws vary in detail among conservative and Orthodox Jewish people; however the key restrictions forbid consumption of pork and specific types of seafood. Jewish celebrations also incorporate the kosher dietary restrictions. The Shabbat observed before sundown on Friday and until after nightfall on Saturday and commemorates the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt as well as God’s creation of the universe is a holy day of rest. Meal preparation for the Shabbat is done in advance and foods prepared for this day such as gefilte fish and challah bread, which can be eaten without violating rules against selecting and choosing. Religious tradition, agriculture, and surrounding countries have provided a substantial amount of influence of Middle Eastern foods.

The Saudi Arabian Kingdom is called "the land of the two holy mosques", a reference to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina. Mecca is the birthplace of Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Saudi makes up most of the Arabian Peninsula and is surrounded by the Red Sea, Gulf of Aqaba, and the Persian Gulf. The western coast is mountainous and the east is mostly desert land, only about 2% is suitable for cultivation. Saudi has abundant reserves for oil and natural gas. The exportation of oil makes up about 75% of the governments revenues. Saudi began commercial agriculture around 1970 and international trade is the main route of food today. Sacrificial slaughter of sheep, goat, or camel is conducted for meals in honor of Islamic feasts, and other special occasions. Older males eat first and then younger men, females eat separately. Traditional staples include; dates, ghee, bread, barley, beans, onions, mint, coriander, cumin, mutton, goat, camel, and fish. Pork and alcohol are forbidden by Islam. Restaurants in the past were looked at as improper, but are now more common and excepted. U.S. food products are considered to be high-quality products by Saudi consumers. The most popular food chains in Saudi Arabia are McDonalds, KFC, and Dominos.

The cuisine of Iran is very diverse, with each province featuring distinct dishes, culinary traditions and styles. Some common dishes in Iran include: kabab (various meats cooked on a skewer); khoresht (a stew served with white Basmati or Persian rice); aash (a thick soup); kookoo (meat and/or vegetable pies); polow (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs). Common themes in Iranian cuisine include: herbs and spices (curry is very important, as are saffron, diced limes, cinnamon, and parsley); various fruits (plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins). Main Persian dishes are generally combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish, as well as garlic, onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.

Iraqi cuisine has many roots, including tent cookery. Nomadic tribes could use only transportable foods such as bread and dates, or ambulatory stock like sheep and camels in their recipes. The cuisine has also been influenced by ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians (who were in turn influenced by Greek and Persian cuisines). Muslims from Africa, India, China, Indonesia also gave Iraq new varieties to its food. Ottoman rule of Iraq brought influences of Turkish cuisine, while trade also brought various Mediterranean flavors. Main components of Iraqi food include wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, eggplant, okra, potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas, lentils, dates (Iraq is one of world’s largest producers of dates), and meats (lamb, beef, fish, poultry). Soups and stews are also key components of Iraqui cuisine.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Slow Food

The articles discussed in tonight's class began with a study on the effects of lycopene on the inhibition of the growth of breast cancer cells in culture. Breast and endometrial cancer cells treated with lycopene exhibited a decrease in cyclin D1 levels, leading to inhibition of IGF-1 cell cycle progression.

The second presentation looked at the effect of cranberry juice consumption on antioxidant status and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease. Cranberries contain high levels of anthocyanins which are found in other foods utilized in the Mediterranean diet. After a fourteen day intervention, cranberry juice consumption was not shown to alter any blood markers of antioxidant status or cardiovascular disease.

The third presentation was a study looking at muscadine grape product intake and the impact on diabetes. Subjects were randomly assigned to an intervention of either muscadine wine, dealcoholized muscadine wine, or muscadine juice. Positive effects on lipid profiles were seen in diabetic subjects receiving the muscadine wine intervention as compared to those subjects receiving either dealcoholized wine or juice.

After the break, the night's lecture focused on food heritage and the trend toward slow food. Before the post-war food industry kicked into high gear, many Americans survived through subsistence farming, eating seasonally, and eating locally.

Today there is a push back toward these values as evidenced by the increasing demand for organic products, popularity of farmers markets, and individuals becoming more aware of where their food is coming from and the environmental impact of its production.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Greece and the Balkans

Greece, an archipelago of over 2000 islands in southern Europe, is a nation full of mystery and culture. The mountainous terrain and chalky soil provides perfect conditions for growing the olive tree and grape vine. In ancient times, Delphi, a city near the coast and home of the famous Oracle of Delphi, was the navel center of the world. The Greeks spread the vine and olive tree throughout Europe, while other nations, such as the Balkans and Northern African nations brought grain and other resources to Greece. It is suspected that the eggplant and fig was carried into the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the Dark Ages. The tyrant Pisistratus rebuilt the ancient Greek world with new temples, reforming the legal system, and introducing cash crops. The ancient peoples lived mainly on seafood, wine, grapes, olives and its products, bread, and honey as well as many other native foods. The ancient people enjoyed their last meal of the day together as a family or with groups of friends. Sharing food and drink whenever family or a group of people gather around a table is typical of the traditional Greek way of life.

Greece can be divided into several regions: Peloponnese, Ionian Islands, Thessaly, Macedonia, North Aegean Islands, Cyclades, and the Dodecannese Islands. The climate in these regions lends itself well to the production of olives, grapes, and cheese. Other staples of the Grecian diet that come from these areas include dried fruits (i.e., prunes and cherry plums), cured fish, and lamb, pork, and sausage. Interestingly, in 1950 a man named Merlin planted the first kumquat tree in the Corfu region of the Ionian Islands. The Grecians insist the only reason for continued kumquat production is for the tourists and sales.

Olive oil, wine, vinegar and cheese production continue to be associated most with Grecian culture. Bread also plays an important role in predictions and celebrations. Bread based pies are baked early in the season and tradition states that if the crust comes out a golden brown color, the harvest will be plentiful. Bread is also used to announce engagements, weddings, Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations. Easter involves the use of dyed red eggs which symbolize both Christianity as well as the blood of Christ. Bread and other foods play a significant role in the Grecian lifestyle and culture.

The Balkan Peninsula is in the southeastern portion of Europe and consists of the following countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and western Turkey. This region is made up of mountains, valleys, plains, and plateaus. Countries that share a boarder with the ocean usually experience a Mediterranean climate, while the majority has a more temperate climate.

The first occurrence of farming cultures in Europe was in the Balkans. Taking place in the Neolithic Era, this culture arrived from the Fertile Crescent bringing with them the practices of growing grain and raising livestock. Pre- Roman Empire, the Balkans were inhabited by Thracians in the south. These people, being vegetarians, cultivated crops such as grain and vines for wine making. During the Roman Empire, Slavs are noted for their impact on the processing of milk into milk products; cheese in particular. The Ottoman Empire had a major impact in this region and by the end of the 16 century had control over this area. It is during this time that Turkish cuisine was introduced into Eastern Europe. Through a shared history of both migrating people and ruling empires, there are similarities found in the Balkan diet.

The food of the Balkans contains a variety of unique ingredients. The main staple is the wheat, which is used primarily to make bread, but wheat dough is also turned into savory pies and turnovers. There is the traditional turnover burek in Slovenia or boereg in Bulgaria and in Romania, which can be filled with meat, cheese or vegetables. Fruits are consumed for desert and snacks. These include apricots, cherries, grapes, melons, pomegranate and quince. In the fall, these fruits are turned into jams and compotes to be eaten during the cold season. Eggplant is the most popular vegetable, but cabbage, consumed as sauerkraut in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Romania, is equally popular. Dairy is well liked, with feta cheese and kaskaval being the favorite cheeses of the region. All types of meats and seafood are served, preferably lamb and pork. Olive oil is not popular; it is only used for cold dishes or for frying fish. Some of the drinks in the region include coffee, tea, wine, beer and high proof brandy made out of plums. The most important holydays are Easter and Christmas, and this is a time when the entire family sits down at the table and enjoys a festive meal together.