What is a Recipe, Really?

Navneet Alang wrote . . . . . . . . .

Lately, it’s felt a bit like I am pouring my anxiety into every pan I own. From long-simmering bolognese or experiments like chickpea-flour pancakes to the familiarity of chili omelets or Punjabi cuisine, I have been cooking up a veritable storm these past few weeks. Clearly, I am not alone. To the contrary, like half the people I know, and likely half the people you know too, I have taken to cooking more during this, the era of COVID-19.

Of course, this being 2020, we are not just cooking; we are also posting what we make and eat to Instagram or other platforms. Denied the opportunity to gather around a table, it feels like we have committed to a virtual communal experience as substitute.

The reasons for turning to cooking in a time like this are obvious. With restaurant dining rooms still largely closed, takeout a source of worry (even if it’s irrational), and few other places to go, it makes sense that people are spending time in their kitchens. Fear and worry about the virus are everywhere, and despite how heartening it is to see the reckoning with police violence and anti-Black racism that activists have pushed into the national consciousness, it has somehow only added to that oft-repeated sentiment these days that these are unprecedented times.

Cooking, by contrast, is at least familiar, or even an act of care. More than that, following a recipe can be ritualistic, the practice of repeating established, sequential steps a comfort when the world feels uncertain. That’s the pleasure of cooking sometimes: not just that you’re creating sustenance, but that you get the satisfaction of “first this, then that.” Recipes can feel like received wisdom or repositories of knowledge, precious texts that not only promise the pleasure of something delicious or the gratification of creating something, but also a link to history and a broader culinary and cultural world. There is a reason recipes are passed down from generation to generation. As sirens wail, and news about the virus blares from every screen, it can feel affirming to use food to connect with both a culinary past and the culture around you. And if cooking itself isn’t exactly an act of faith, it is perhaps akin to what in Sikhism is called seva — the service you perform to both God and others in pursuit of a faithful life.

I’m not sure, but maybe this is why, especially these days, underneath almost every food thing I post or see posted, there is a nearly universal reaction: “recipe?” As images of comforting or novel food appear on our screens, it seems we all want a script to follow to recreate them for ourselves.

It’s an understandable impulse. Recipes are helpful guides, a map to uncharted territory, particularly for people who find cooking intimidating or just unfamiliar. Yet, as logical as that is, the recipe is also an ideal that walks a fine line between being familiar and, well, boring. For some, recipes are like scripture, and the cook a literalist devotee.

In some Christian traditions, the Bible is thought of as the literal word of God. In Sikhism, too, the holy Guru Granth Sahib book is thought of as the final representative of God on Earth. You surely know people who treat recipes in a similar way: as coherent, literal wholes to be followed, obeyed, passed down, followed to the letter, even treated with a sort of reverence. The recipe is a thing to be followed precisely, and stands as something to be judged as it is. And like scripture, recipes are strict sets of instructions that can, like scripture, become nearly unassailable.

Yes, there are clearly times — most obviously in baking, but also in deliberately minimalist, technique-driven dishes like cacio e pepe, or a French omelet — when following the letter of a recipe is quite necessary because riffing on it will change the basic character of the dish.

But an orthodox take on food can end up misrepresenting what a recipe can be. Because the other, arguably more interesting sense of cooking is less about scriptural rigor than what you might call intertextuality — that is, about how recipes inform one another. So many of the things we cook are actually composed of parts that are, if not exactly interchangeable, then at least analogous, related.

An intertextual approach to food is about treating cooking as units to be deployed in different ways: a caramelized base to add flavor, a technique or ingredient to add umami, a herb or pickle to add a bright or spicy high note. It is the idea of taste as a kind of melody — the bass notes of umami, the highs of acid or heat or bitterness, the midrange of earthiness — but also of cooking as a skill that emerges from how you put bits of technique and ingredients together. It’s sort of the difference between a cookbook as a collection of recipes, or something like Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which the Atlantic accurately described as more like “a cooking philosophy” than a step-by-step guide.

To think of a recipe as an intertext of parts is especially useful now when so many people are either stuck at home or forced to adapt how and what they eat, in part around what they can actually get. If instead of process, a recipe is thought of as something that evinces a logic, then it won’t inform you just how to make one dish, but rather how to cook more generally.

Consider, say, a rich Italian meat sauce, or a classic North Indian curry. They each start out with onions and garlic in fat, caramelized to bring out sweetness and depth, then the same process is repeated with tomatoes. Some vegetables, like a soffritto, or spices, like the North Indian trinity of turmeric, cumin, and coriander, round out flavor, and then time helps them develop complexity. After the main body is added — ground beef, hunks of chicken thigh — some cream might be added for richness, and bright basil or cilantro each brighten the dish.

Sure, you could follow a recipe for those things: first this, then that. But those dishes are perhaps better thought of as templates for a way to approach food, building blocks of technique and flavor that mean dishes can be put together in both expected and unorthodox ways. And as we find ourselves hemmed in, a scriptural approach to recipes can be unnecessarily limiting. Absolutely, if you have two kids underfoot who are driving you crazy, or the stress of, you know, living through a global pandemic is dragging you down, follow that recipe, make that boxed mac and cheese. But if you feel like a stretch, or even if you’re just bored: I mean, it occasionally feels like the end of the world out there. Live a little — allow yourself the freedom of a little blasphemy.

Source: Eater

1970s Grilled Ham, Cheese, and Pineapple Sandwich

Ingredients

6-8 ounces turkey ham, coarsely chopped or cut into ribbons if already thinly sliced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise or as needed
4 thick slices fresh pineapple or 5 slices canned in its own juice (if using fresh, a small sprinkle of sugar may be necessary)
8 slices whole-wheat or wheatberry bread, thinly sliced
about 12 to 15 slices of bread-and-butter pickles or 8 to 10 Peppadew Piquante Peppers
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
about 8 ounces Taleggio cheese (rind cut off), or sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced
extra-virgin olive oil for brushing bread

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine the turkey ham with the mayonnaise. Set it aside.
  2. Dice or coarsely chop the pineapple and set it aside in a bowl. If using fresh, toss it with sugar to taste.
  3. Lay out the bread slices. On 4 of them spread the pineapple. On the other 4, first place some of the pickles, then the turkey ham salad mixture, then some onion, and the Taleggio. Carefully top with the pineapple-topped bread slices to form sandwiches, and press together tightly. Brush each side lightly with the olive oil.
  4. Heat a heavy nonstick skillet or panini press over medium-high heat. Place the sandwiches in the pan, browning and pressing, until the first side is crisp and golden and the cheese begins to melt; then using your spatula and possibly a little help from your hand, carefully turn the sandwiches over and cook on the second side, pressing as they brown.
  5. When the sandwiches are crisp and lightly browned on both sides and the cheese is melted, remove from pan, cut into halves, and serve (this is a messy sandwich, so get prepared to lick the delicious goo from your fingers).

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Chef Austin Powers

In Pictures: Home-prepared Sandwiches

Hormone Therapy No Cure-all for ‘Low T’ in Aging Men

Testosterone therapy ads promise to help aging men recapture their vitality, decrease body fat and enhance libido. But hormone treatments – while medically necessary for some men – aren’t meant to be a fountain of youth, and experts warn more research is needed to determine if such therapy could boost heart disease risks.

Testosterone levels naturally decline in most men as they age. This decline is generally mild, and symptoms often are nonspecific, such as low energy, reduced muscle mass and reduced vigor. Roughly 20% of men over the age of 60 have experienced a drop in testosterone levels, though this gradual decline can begin as early as the mid-30s.

While that can be frustrating, experts say it’s not a clinical indication of a need for testosterone therapy, nor is there any evidence that therapy is effective for treating those symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration has limited approval of testosterone therapy to the treatment of organic hypogonadism, a dramatic drop in testosterone caused by disease or injury of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or the testes.

“If testosterone therapy is used appropriately in men with organic hypogonadism, then there is no controversy,” said Dr. Shehzad Basaria, associate director of Men’s Health: Aging and Metabolism at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The condition causes specific symptoms such as decreased sexual desire, breast enlargement, testicular atrophy and hot flashes.

But “in middle-aged and aging men who have a slightly lower testosterone level and nonspecific symptoms due to aging or obesity, testosterone therapy is not indicated. Similarly, testosterone is not a rejuvenation drug,” said Basaria, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The majority of patients seen in our clinics have symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, muscle loss or feeling sad. These symptoms are common and nonspecific, and testosterone therapy is generally not indicated in such clinical scenarios.”

Over the past two decades, intense direct-to-consumer marketing of hormone therapy for aging men, much of it via television ads, has more than doubled its off-label use. It’s a trend experts warn is medically unwarranted and potentially harmful.

The American College of Physicians, which issued new guidelines in January, recommends against prescribing testosterone therapy to boost energy, vitality or physical function, but supports its use for men experiencing sexual dysfunction. The recommendation calls for discussing potential benefits and risks with the patient and discontinuing treatment after one year if there is no improvement.

“I think one of the biggest concerns about testosterone therapy is whether it is really needed,” said Dr. Robert Eckel, professor of medicine and an endocrinologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colorado. “Erectile dysfunction is a common problem as men age, but there can be other reasons for this, such as vascular disease or nerve damage, which is more common in patients with diabetes. It is not necessarily an indication for treatment with testosterone therapy. The patient must be properly evaluated.”

The FDA warns against prescribing testosterone therapy for age-related hormonal decreases or anything other than a medical diagnosis of hypogonadism. Since 2015, it has required testosterone product labels to warn of a possible increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

But research about that association so far is unclear, Basaria said.

“Some studies have reported higher cardiovascular risk with testosterone use but there are an equal number of studies showing that it does not increase cardiovascular risk,” he said. “This discrepancy exists because no study published to date has been powered to assess cardiovascular events as the primary outcome.”

Eckel, president of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association and a past president of the American Heart Association, agreed. “The cardiovascular disease outcome story is not convincing one way or another. I think to make a strong statement here would be a mistake.”

Source: American Heart Association

People are Getting Sick from Coronavirus Spreading Through the Air – and that’s a Big Challenge for Reopening

Douglas Reed wrote . . . . . . . . .

I am a scientist who studies infectious diseases, specializing in severe respiratory infections. I also serve as a member of my church’s safety team.

Over the past few weeks as states began to loosen restrictions, we have been discussing if and how to safely start services again. But the coronavirus is far from gone. As we try and figure out how to hold services while protecting our members, one question is of particular concern: How common is airborne spread of the virus?

How virus spread

Respiratory infections are generally spread in three possible ways: from direct contact, from droplets and from airborne particles.

Contact transmission occurs when a person touches an object that has live virus on it – called a fomite – and gets sick.

Droplets are small particles of mucus or saliva that come from a person’s mouth or nose when they cough or talk. They range in size from 5 microns to hundreds of microns in diameter – a red blood cell to a grain of sand. Most droplets, particularly large ones, fall to the ground within seconds and don’t usually travel more than 1 or 2 meters. If a person coughed on you and you got sick, that would be droplet transmission.

Airborne transmission happens because of airborne particles known as droplet nuclei. Droplet nuclei are any bit of mucus or saliva smaller than 5 microns across. People produce droplet nuclei when they talk, but they can also be formed when small droplets evaporate and shrink in size. Many of these droplets shrink so much that they begin to float before they hit the ground, thus becoming aerosols.

People produce thousands of these droplet nuclei per second while talking and the aerosolized particles can contain live viruses and float in the air for hours. They are easy to inhale, and if they contain live virus, can get people sick. The ability of droplet nuclei to transmit the coronavirus has a massive impact on if and how places like my church can reopen.

Early on in the pandemic, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization were most concerned about the coronavirus being transmitted from surfaces and from large droplets.

But the more research is done on SARS-CoV-2, the more evidence there is that airborne transmission is occurring although it is controversial. Both the CDC and WHO are now recommending that the general population wear masks, but for people going about their lives and wondering how to reopen public areas across the world, the question remains: Just how important is airborne transmission?

Airborne longevity in the lab

To get infected, a person needs to come in contact with live virus. If the virus dies before a person can inhale it, they won’t get sick.

To test how well SARS-CoV-2 can live in the air, researchers use special equipment to create aerosolized virus and keep it airborne for long periods of time. Researchers can then take samples of the virus and see how long it stays alive in an aerosol. An early study from researchers at the National Institute of Health kept the virus airborne for four hours and found live virus the whole time. A subsequent pre-print study that I was part of found that the coronavirus can stay alive for up to 16 hours in the air.

Neither the initial study nor the one that I was involved with measured the impact of temperature, humidity, ultraviolet light or pollution on survival of the virus in aerosols. There is evidence that simulated sunlight can inactivate 90% of SARS-CoV-2 viruses in saliva on surfaces or in aerosols within seven minutes. These studies suggest that the virus would be rapidly inactivated outdoors, but the risk of transmission indoors would remain.

Evidence from the real world

Laboratory studies can provide valuable insight, but real world scenarios point to the true risk from airborne transmission.

Reports from China, Singapore and Nebraska have found the virus in patient rooms and at very low levels in the ventilation system of hospitals where COVID-19 patients were treated. The report from China also found evidence of the virus at the entrance of a department store. So far, this sampling has been done using polymerase chain reaction tests which look for pieces of viral DNA, not live virus. They can’t tell researchers if what they are finding is infectious.

For direct evidence of the risks of airborne transmission, we can look to a few case studies in the U.S. and abroad.

One study tracked how a single infected person at a call center in South Korea infected 94 other people. There is also the widely reported of case of one infected person at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, spreading the virus to nine other people because of the airflow created by an air conditioning unit in the room.

Perhaps most striking, especially for myself as we contemplate how to reopen our church, is the example of the church choir in Skagit County, Washington. A single individual singing at a choir practice infected 52 other people. Singing and loud vocalization in general can produce a lot of aerosols, and evidence shows that some people are super-emitters of aerosols even during normal speech. It’s likely that some infections in this incident occurred from droplets or direct contact, but the fact that one person was able to infect so many people strongly suggests that airborne transmission was the driving factor in this outbreak.

A paper published just last week compared the success of mitigation measures – like social distancing or mask wearing – to try and determine how the virus is spreading. The authors concluded that aerosol transmission was the dominant route. This conclusion is hotly debated in the scientific community, but this study and others do show the effectiveness of masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

What does this mean for reopening and for individuals?

The evidence strongly suggests that airborne transmission happens easily and is likely a significant driver of this pandemic. It must be taken seriously as people begin to venture back out into the world.

Thankfully, there is an easy, if not perfect way you can reduce airborne transmission: masks. Since people can spread the virus when they are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, universal mask wearing is a very effective, low-cost way to slow down the pandemic.

Since the primary risk is indoors, increasing ventilation rates and not recirculating air inside buildings would remove the virus from the indoor environment faster.

My church has decided to reopen, but we are only planning to allow limited numbers of people in the church and spreading them throughout the sanctuary to maintain social distancing. And at least for now, everyone is required to wear masks. Especially while singing.

Source : The Conversation


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