Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Top 10 Ingredients to Always Have on Hand

You can learn a lot about a person by his staples. My friend Matt's kitchen teems with a kaleidoscope of green, red, and golden hot sauces, testifying both to his family's adventurous palates and his Taiwanese wife. Another friend's pantry-turmeric, golden vadouvan, caraway, cardamom, and lentils for dal-reflects his Pakistani heritage.

With my hankering for Mexican and New American foods, I cook a lot of enchiladas, quesadillas, and roast chickens, but I often toss Thai, Chinese, French, Italian, Indian, and other cuisines into the mix. And although now I can see what I have (tofu, Brussels sprouts) and immediately know what I want to make (dry-fried tofu with fish-sauce-caramelized Brussels sprouts), that wasn't always the case. As a novice cook, I was constantly running back and forth to the grocery store, never having the right things at home to last me a few days.

One day I came upon an article in which a food writer wrote that she always had lemon and an onion in the fridge-the former for acid, and the latter for silky sweetness, or to build any vegetable dish. Genius! This hadn't occurred to me, and because I always learn something new about other people's cooking building blocks and how they get them through a week, I'm sharing my top 10 ingredients here. These are the foods I always stock, and why:


White, yellow, or Vidalia, I'll always have one kicking around. I caramelize them for tarts, build massive pots of black and white beans around them, and throw them into guacamole.


Like ebony and ivory, these two (of course!) go together. I love to roast the whole head and use the sweet, smashed cloves on bread or spun into pasta. And in the event that I made too much pasta, I'll sauté a small smashed clove in butter or olive oil the next day, discarding the clove and tossing leftover noodles quickly in the infused oil, then dolloping the whole shebang with crème fraîche.


Ideally one has both limes and lemons, but as bartender Joaquín Simó of New York bar Pouring Ribbons expressed it to me, Lemons are sour, and limes are tart. Lemon juice adds a real punch of acidity to a dish, whereas lime sort of nudges it down a tart path. I use lemons to stuff chickens and deglaze their pans for easy gravy. I squeeze them into homemade bourbon sours and over pasta. If a dish is lacking something, I ask myself if it's lemon.


Everyone has their emergency canned protein, and props to those of you who bust out high-quality anchovies and salmon as your go-to snacks, but I always have good tuna on hand, splurging on Genova or Cento packed in olive oil when I can. It makes for instant snacks or-if I have bread-tuna melts when I walk in the door ravenous, and I've been playing around with layering it into pasta with olive oil, capers, and roasted garlic. (Yum!)


I'm a New Englander, and even at my most broke in this life-my pants had holes; I couldn't afford health insurance-I'd buy good, unsalted, European butter. These days some domestic butters are just as lovely, and the price has gone, blessedly, way down.

Olive oil

Yes, this list is heavy on proteins and fats, which testifies to the foods that power me; I'd fight you for cheese, but never for a box of pasta. My belly rumbles when I've had biscuits or French toast for breakfast, but not when I've wolfed a few tablespoons of cannellini beans sautéed in olive oil with onions and garlic and seasoned with lemon.


An acquaintance, observing my twitchy salt trigger hand at the table, once joked that I should have a salt lick installed in my home. I'm a big fan. I love that you can season lightly at the beginning of cooking in order to cut down on how much you need later. (Pasta water, for example, should be seasoned with at least a tablespoon.) I always have Kosher and sea salt on hand, and sprinkle the latter liberally on eggs and avocados.


It was only when I attended the Vermont cheesemakers' festival many years ago that I felt truly at home in this world. Here were bearded men holding babies and arguing about the difference between 18-month and 30 month Comté; there were women tipping back beer while debating the merits of Brillat-Savarin and Camembert. I'll always have a knob of cheddar, some twisty, stringy Oaxacan cheese, or a fresh cheese in my fridge.


Because life is short, and it's best to stay alert to catch it all. I have learned the hard way not to leave the house without coffee, as I am not a good person without it in my system. These days I stock up on locally roasted, chocolatey Ethiopian Forty Weight beans.


Cheap, cheerful, and plentiful in my Mexican-American neighborhood, beans are a major staple in my home. Ideally I have a bag of cannellini and another of black, which are less expensive and lighter than the heavy pre-soaked, pre-cooked beans, but I like to have those, too, for those hangry, rushed weeknights that sideswipe all of us.

What Happens When a Fly Lands on Your Food?

"Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup?"

"Transmitting bacteria, sir."

This gross response doesn't make a great punchline (nor will it earn anybody a big tip), but it is the truth. But why is that fly just sitting—or swimming—there? And is the soup still safe to eat? If you really want to know, gird yourself and read on.

The common house fly (Musca domestica) has no venom, no stinger, and no fangs. It finds its food in a peaceful way—by rolling around in other animals' waste and garbage. With no teeth, the fly requires a liquid diet. This would be a problem since a lot of food is solid, but the fly has a disgusting workaround: It spits and pukes on its meal. Compounds in its saliva and bile break down the food, making it as slurpable as a smoothie.

As the fly eats, it's usually also pooping—and if it's female, possibly laying eggs as well. Flies really are an absolute bonanza of disgustingness.

All of this would be gross, but ultimately harmless, if flies only ate soup. But they're opportunists. They eat rotting garbage and they eat animal feces, and in doing so they consume loads of pathogens.

"House flies are the movers of any disgusting pathogenic microorganism you can think of," Jeff Scott, an entomologist at Cornell University, told the Daily Mail. "Anything that comes out of an animal, such as bacteria and viruses, house flies can take from that waste and deposit on your sandwich."

Experts estimate that adult houseflies can transmit more than 100 different diseases and parasites, from Salmonella and tuberculosis to tapeworms.

Does this mean we should immediately throw out any food a fly has touched?


Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist at the University of Sydney, says a quick visit from a pest is nothing to worry about.

"In most instances, spotting a fly on your food doesn't mean you need to throw it out," Web wrote in a blog post. "A single touchdown is unlikely to trigger a chain reaction leading to illness for the average healthy person."

Just the same, you should probably intervene before Ms. Buzz-Buzz does her business on your burger.

"The more time passes," Webb notes, "the greater the chance of pathogens left behind by the flies growing and multiplying on our food. That's when health risks increase."

8 exercises you should never do

When it comes to health and fitness, we’re in no shortage of advice on what we should be doing.

But not all exercise is not good exercise. In fact, some of it can be pointless, damaging or potentially dangerous.

So here’s the lowdown on what exercises you should avoid, so you can concentrate on what you should be doing instead.

1. Tuck jumps

This is where you squat, then jump and tuck your knees up towards your chest.

Tuck jumps can lead to knee and ankle injuries, personal trainer and fitness blogger Zanna Van Dijk told The Independent. 

2. Behind the neck pull-downs

"The pre-requisites for this movement are so high, that again, from a risk to reward ratio, this exercise is one to be avoided," personal trainer Verena Stefanie Grotto told The Independent. Grotto advises sticking with normal pull-down variations, instead.

3. Cardio (for weight loss)

This should be a last resort, according to Equinox personal trainer Jonathan Dick. He told The Independent, "What strength training will do for you, that cardio will not, is ramp up your metabolism for up to 36 hours whilst your body uses the protein, vitamins and minerals you have provided it with to repair the muscles after lifting heaving weights."
4. Tricep dips with hands behind you on the bench

Do close-grip pushups or parallel bar dips instead, fitness expert Craig Ballantyne wrote on Men’s Fitness.

5. Jump on concrete surfaces

Ballantyne advises: "There's a reason NBA players don't play games on concrete and why weekend warriors are always hurting themselves playing pick-up ball on asphalt—it's not great for you."

6. Crunches

Healthy lifestyle expert, Danette May, says crunches curl the spine inwards, contracting the rectus abdominis – and since people have a tendency to tuck our chins inwards and arch our backs, this can cause back and neck pain.

7. Sit-ups

May also advises against the simple sit-up, warning that it can create a muscle imbalance and pain, while not actually working our abs at all. 

8. 45-degree leg presses

People often use very heavy weights on the leg press, according to personal trainer Pearla Phillips. But, Phillps warns, this places force on the knees and hips and can cause injuries.

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