Monday, December 11, 2017

I ❤ Cheese (But Does it ❤ Me Back?)

I love cheese and now it seems cheese   loves my heart. The December 5 online edition of Time magazine posted an interesting article by Amanda MacMillan suggesting that eating a moderate amount of cheese each day might actually be beneficial to one’s heart health. Recent research published in the European Journal of Nutrition shows that individuals "who ate a little bit of cheese every day were less likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, compared to those who rarely or never ate cheese." This is certainly a major departure from previous studies that have linked cheese, which is high in saturated fats (a no-no in any dietary plan), with high cholesterol and potential cardio-vascular disease although some researchers claim cheese has lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) than does butter. Other nutritional experts now say that saturated fats are more benign than first thought. This could be too good to be true.

The first question that pops into the head of any self-respecting cheesehead is what constitutes a "moderate amount" of cheese? If you ask my own nutritionist, that would be approximately 40 grams, or the equivalent of a slice about 1/4 inch thick and the size of a matchbook. In my very humble opinion that does not seem like very much cheese. Putting a block of cheese in front of me is like putting a juicy, raw steak in front of a chained dog. Cut us loose and the rest is a foregone conclusion. Its not quite as bad as that, but you get the general idea. I can understand such a meager portion of cheese from a dietary standpoint; it contains approximate ten grams of fat and almost 200 milligrams of sodium . . . a lot when taking into consideration one’s blood pressure. Now researchers are saying that the high blood pressure risk is not that bad; as salty as cheese is, there are no clear links to hypertension. There is just as much protein in a small slice of cheese as there is saturated fat. And just as much bone-building calcium as sodium, and calcium tends to bind certain fatty acids so that they cannot be digested. And don’t forget vitamins D and B12. It would appear that the good outweighs the bad when it comes to eating cheese. Cheese is mysterious indeed.

But what about my heart? I have to protect my heart don’t I! The new study goes on to report that individuals who consumed "high levels of cheese" (again, what does this mean??) exhibit a 14% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and are far less likely to suffer a stroke than those individuals who rarely or never ate cheese. So 40 grams does not seem like enough to get the full beneficial effects that a more substantial chunk of cheese might offer. "We are always searching for ways to minimize heart disease and reduce atherosclerosis," the study goes on to say. "It’s promising to find that something that actually tastes good and pairs well with a nice glass of red wine—may offer some protection, as well." So it’s damned if you do from a dietary standpoint, or damned if you don’t, if you consider your heart health. I guess the addition of red wine to the mix was the tipping point for me.

I was about to enlist in the "WTF, let’s give it a whirl" endeavor when I reached the conclusion of the Time article. The promising study was unable to find a definite cause-and-effect relationship between the consumption of a moderate amount of cheese and a decreased risk of heart disease. It might all just be a coincidence. "It could be that people who eat cheese on a daily basis are healthier overall, or have more disposable income and higher socioeconomic statuses." So now what am I to do? I love cheese, but now maybe cheese does not love me back after all. Thanks a lot Time for getting my hopes up for nothing. The mysteries of cheese remain as does the guilt of eating it with abandon.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Rack of Memories Redux

Three days ago I reported on my recent trip to my native Midwest where I relived some memories of my younger days. Two memories cited were its delicious cheeses and my rediscovery of a "Rack of Hamm’s," a six-pack of one of my favorite beers which I have not seen in a cooler in many years. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Heading back to Maryland I wondered when I would get another chance to enjoy that favorite St. Paul brew.

So imagine my surprise when two nights ago my wife and I visited the MilkBoy ArtHouse, a new bar/café, art gallery, and performance venue on the Route One strip adjacent to the University of Maryland at College Park. We had stopped by to check out a pop-up gallery set up in the foyer where some of my wife’s jewelry was on display after which we stopped into the café for a late bite to eat. Having not been there before I was curious about its menu. I did not have to look far before I found cheddar cheese curds (the real thing!) lightly fried in a beer batter and served with a ranch dipping sauce. My heart went aflutter. And to wash them down? A couple cans of (drum roll please) Hamm’s beer!! To make matters even better, they also serve Narragansett lager, another of my favorite retro beers.

Was I dreaming? Had the stars suddenly realigned? Had I been transported back to those good old days in Wisconsin? Nope. Just a little bit of heaven fifteen minutes from home!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Rack of Memories - A Return to My Midwestern Roots

Last week I visited my family who has resided in the suburban fringes of Columbus, Ohio for several years. Although I have been firmly planted in the Mid-Atlantic for over four decades, I still consider myself a Midwesterner at heart and in temperament. So I always enjoy these infrequent visits to that native soil that nourishes my deep Midwestern roots.

Such visits provide me with an opportunity to reconnect with places and events that trigger pleasant memories of my early years when I called the Midwest my home.

Such memories include all the wonderful things I ate while growing up which are difficult, if not downright impossible to find elsewhere. In the past I have written about some of these with loving affection. Top on the list would have to be the indigenous cheeses of Wisconsin.

Add to this the Michigan-brand cottage cheese that was pablum throughout my youth and still available in certain markets in the Midwest (including Columbus). My mom’s refrigerator is always well-stocked when I visit and I frequently bring a stash home with me. Mom always stows some in her luggage when she visits us in Maine every summer. So far TSA has not interfered with these welcomed care packages.

And who can forget the de rigeur Friday fish fry dinners? Healing piles of the ubiquitous yellow and lake perch although every once in awhile one was lucky enough to score fillets of fresh caught walleye. I personally consider it a crime to fry such a delicate fish; I prefer mine broiled or poached which is how it was served the last time I had it five years ago while passing through central Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, who can long forget a well-prepared lutefisk which is a traditional holiday "treat" for Midwesterners of Scandinavian and Finnish descent?

I enjoyed my fill of Michigan-brand cottage cheese on this most recent trip, but the sharpest memory surfaced when I spied a six-pack of Hamm’s Beer – a rack of Hamm’s – in a rural farm store. When I was finally old enough to buy beer in the USA (I was drinking it in Germany long before I turned 21), it was Hamm’s or the local Pabst Blue Ribbon brewed in Milwaukee (my son rolls his eyes every time I mention my affinity for PBR). Hamm’s had been brewed in St. Paul, Minnesota since the end of the Civil War and was only available in the Midwest until the early 1950s. Thankfully, when I left the Midwest for Arizona in the early 1970s the brand had been bought by the Olympia Brewing Company, in Washington State, and I was able to find Hamm’s "In a Barrel" at my local beer depot in Tucson. A happy reminder of home. PBR has remained a staple over the intervening years, and that brewery subsequently purchased the Hamm’s brand in 1983. Yet I have seldom found Hamm’s in the cooler when buying beer. It is now brewed by Miller/Coors and a flood of memories surfaced when I rediscovered it in Ohio last week. And only five bucks for a rack!!

In the words of that great philosopher Dr. Seuss . . . "Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. My recent return to the Midwest brought that home in spades.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Don't Call Them Christians for a Lack of a Better Name

I am disturbed by the ongoing comparison of right-wing extremists who label themselves evangelicals with true Christians. These zealots, who use their pulpits and their broadcast studios to represent themselves as true representatives of mainstream Christian theology, have no clear understanding of the teachings of Christ. They are evangelizing for sure, but not true Christian values. Far from them. So let’s call these white supremacist, homo- and Islamophobic bigots what they are. They are fascists pure and simple, and the only thing that separates them from their Nazi forefathers is the fact that they have not instituted a genocide . . . yet. But given the opportunity I have no doubt that the destruction of humanity resides within their brazen doctrine. So please . . . do not equate these ignorant bigots with real Christians. They only use the name of Jesus Christ to give themselves credibility. He'd be spinning in his grave . . . if he was still there.