Friday, August 29, 2014

Epicurean Adventures: A Right Proper Irish Breakfast

A perfect day for me is easy. All I require to feel like all's right with the world is to kick my own ass in a hard-as-nails workout, before smashing my then-ravenous, totally-earned-it face into a big tableful of carbs and protein. Don't get me wrong; I LOVE me some vegetables. In fact, I rise early in the morning on the weekends for the sheer, cherry-popping pleasure of being the first at the grocery store to dismantle the produce displays after admiring the perfect symmetry of the stacks of crisp, ruffled-leafed lettuce, ogling dirt-crusted violet beets, and inappropriately fondling various types of fruit. However, there is nothing quite as decadent--even with some of the most astounding of dinners--as a post-workout hearty binge of a traditional Irish Full Breakfast. 

Comprised generally of a slice of grilled ham, pork sausage, black pudding, white pudding, a couple of eggs, a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, some beans, and toast (or in my case, a rather obscene amount of scones), this is the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs and gets you ready to spend the day plowing a field of potatoes, tending to some spray-painted sheep, or, you know, just dicking around the stunning countryside of the Emerald Isle. It's what I call "doin' it right."

Behold, an Irish breakfast in its classic form:

Allow me to walk you through it. Firstly, pudding is not pudding. Rather, it's a slice of warm (not hot, for some reason) sausage, the black being a type of boudin noir, similar to the blood sausages of France. Sounds rather abhorrent, right? WRONG. It is delicious. It's not as iron-flavored and metallic as the ones I've tasted in French- and German-influenced brasseries, but savory, rich, and slightly sweetened by the rice. 

White pudding is somewhat similar, minus the off-putting blood. It's a bit sweeter, with oats holding the meat together rather than rice. I liked this more, because although I'll try a lot of things and like them, it is challenging to get over the fact that you're eating sausage made of congealed blood when there's a perfectly innocuous-looking piece of beige sausage before you.

The grilled ham is an excellent, fairly lean cut, similar in texture and flavor to Canadian bacon. In fact, it's often called bacon, but I say ham because at times, I have obnoxiously American tendencies. Nothing particular to write home about, other than the fine quality of the pork. Same goes for the standard link of breakfast sausage, which is familiar and homey ... unless you happen to be dining somewhere spectacular, which I did later on, and subsequently had my mind blown by a fat, juicy sausage.

The grilled tomato is just a Good Idea. In lieu of ketchup, the slightly charred innards juice slightly and add a vegetable element to the plate in addition to the carby, lightly smoky mushrooms. This hit of acid from the tomato is refreshing after all the savory meats, and the mushrooms fill up the empty corners of your belly rather nicely, and remind you that vegetables, no matter how humble and brown, should have some kind of place in every meal.

The baked beans are also pretty standard, but a welcome addition nonetheless. Along with the juices of the tomato, it serves to moisten the palate a bit, and the sweetness of the sauce it sits in is a lovely contrast to, again, the salty richness of the many meats. They go delightfully with the farm-fresh eggs, which need no more embellishment nor bastardization than what is provided on the plate. It gives a dessert-like feeling of finishing your meal properly, the soaked beans rolling and pleasantly smashing in your mouth, leaving the ghost of brown sugar on your tongue.

Irish breakfast can also be elevated to THAT. Roasted red pepper relish, massive amounts of Bewley's fine coffee (whose tea I can find here, but why the eff not their superb coffee?!), cucumber and grapefruit water, blueberry scones the size of your fist, a gorgeous pile of perfectly fluffy, moist and buttery scrambled free-range eggs, herb-roasted, fat cherry tomatoes, gratined chive potatoes, fantastic ham/bacon, and a dauntingly fat sausage from which an aromatic, intoxicating scent of white wine seeps out from a thin casing that is simply not up to the challenge of holding this glorious pork hostage.

This is, of course, at Queen of Tarts, a shop I'm absolutely obsessed with that I would go back to Dublin for alone. I have neither the focus nor the time to go into detail about it right now, but I luff it like I've luffed few things in my life before. If heaven were a place on earth and calories didn't count, I'd never leave it. Exhibit A of my rapture: we ate there every day we were in Dublin. Multiple times a day, even. From someone who makes 17-page lists of restaurants that I "have to" try, this is a huge concession of the superiority of this restaurant above all things. Again, may I stress: Every. Damn. Day.

Day Two, in which I had some truly transcendental oatmeal, is provided below as evidence.

Now I've gone on at length before about my nearly equal obsession to the precious, golden, grass-fed butter. On a fresh-baked, biscuity scone (NOT to be confused with American scones, which are hard, triangular rocks of candy-drizzled nonsense), the foodgasm is nearly quite without equal. But you know what else is amazing? Oatmeal. Fuck yes, Irish steel-cut oatmeal; you surely know what you're all about.

Strawberry rhubarb below, with Canadian maple syrup (yes, how very exotic) at Queen of Tarts.
But that was the one thing that I had there that was beaten by another place: Wholesome Fayre. This place changed the way I look at oatmeal porridge forever. 

Granted, I've always loved oatmeal. It's creamy and rich, soft and chewy, sweet and decadent. These words, I like. But Irish steel-cut oats, with their toothsome, al dente texture, so different from their American rolled counterparts, mixed with magic butter and happy-cow cream and milk? My fucking God. The joy is simply indescribable.
Difference illustrated courtesy of a photo from

Wholesome Fayre is a casual cafe, deli, bakery, and all kinds of other things in Killarney dedicated to farm-worthy food, and boy do they deliver. The Full Irish is damned good here, too, and of course, their hot, oven-fresh scones, but their vanilla-scented, apricot jelly-topped, honey-drizzled oatmeal is an ecstatic eye-rolling level of goodness that you'd never expect from such a humble breakfast staple. Warming to the core, there's just such a good feeling when you dig into it and feel it fill your soul with homely happiness on a typically gray Irish day. 

Obviously, I fell in deep love with Ireland, and who'd have ever thunk that it'd be breakfast--not brunch, nor dinner--that'd steal my heart?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eater's Remorse: The Life and Lies of the Food Industry

In the food industry, mislabeling of food for marketing purposes, or simply out of sheer ignorance, is very common. Terms are played with fast and loosely, and half of things don't mean what you think they do. There's little to no regulation unless certification is involved, and the FDA allows all kinds of sneaky stuff to come through.

As someone who eats very clean (for the most part, unless I'm eating out; in which case, I have fasted, am hungry, and prepared to be drowned in copious amounts of conventional butter), I've become a diligent reader of labels.

I've learned a lot of things in my growth as a label-pore(r):

  1. "All-Natural" doesn't mean shit. "Natural flavors" just mean they have occurred somewhere in nature. For instance, artificial vanilla, raspberry, and strawberry flavors may be derived from the anal glands of a beaver. They don't even have to list "castoreum." Because a beaver is a real thing, found in nature. So, that "vanilla-flavored" Greek yogurt you're eating? Yep, beaver butt. Go ahead and vom. 
  2. "Diet" items may actually be more additive and dangerous than their full-calorie counterparts. Sucralose, aspartame, all that fake shit that has zero calories and no sugar actually triggers you to want more, as well as changing your tastebuds. Harvard has even proven it's more addicting than cocaine. So do yourself a favor when you're ordering that triple from Wendy's and just steer into the skid with the regular soda while you enjoy your diabeetus. Or, you know, just do coke. (Don't do coke.)
  3. "Healthy" can mean anything. The brand Healthy Choice, for instance (and they suckered me in, too) is actually often chock-ful of sugar, and always crazy high in sodium content. There are a bajillion ingredients, many artificial or unnecessary were you to replicate it in your own kitchen, and unpronounceable. And anything can be called "healthy," substantiated by one selling point, whether it's lower in calories than its competitor, has some kind of fiber, or whatever.
  4. Random shit is in everything. There is seaweed in your almond milk, which may or may not cause inflammation in your colon and bloat. (The jury's still out on this, and there are two types of carageenan to add to the confusion.) There is Turtle Wax on your Pop Tart. (In addition to seaweed, and for those shiny frosting varieties. Click the link and look for Carnauba wax. It's all up in that piece, ready to shine your guts.) There is yoga mat in your bread, which created a MASSIVE uproar just this year when Subway announced it'd be eliminating it. (In brief, everyone's response was, "wtF?!? You guys were putting WHAT in my bread, and WHO else does it, too?!") There is a FUCKTON of salt and preservatives added to your raw shrimp and scallops. And of course, again, the beaver butt. 
  5. "No trans fats" is a lie. Okay, that's a little dramatic, and a bit of a hyperbole, but food manufacturers can legally say "0 grams of trans fats" when they taper down the serving sizes so that the nutrition label has to round down from 0.5. The key is to look for hydrogenated oils. If it shows up on the side of that box, you best believe you'll be eating some, because seriously? Who eats two cookies and calls it a day. There's a reason those Keebler Fudge Shop Fudge Stripes doesn't have a reseal. They know those palm oil-oozing, corn syrup-having things are goddamn delicious and addicting. 
  6. Sugar has many aliases. Sure, a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but sugar by any other is even sweeter. They do that because then they don't have to list "sugar" so high up on the list of ingredients, since those labels are designed to taper down proportionately. So if the first ingredient is sugar, that means it has more sugar than anything else. But if they break it up to sucrose, dextrose, fructose (or any other -ose, for that matter), fruit juice concentrate, natural sweeteners, honey, molasses, and etc., then something less damaging may float its way to the top of the list. Sneaky, sneaky!
  7. Kobe beef is NEVER Kobe beef. Now this super sucks, because you pay a premium for it. But it's actually a serious crime to import--even for personal consumption--this rare, fatty, beautifully marbled delicacy from Japan. Plus, in the U.S., were some ranchers able to get their hands on valuable Wagyu cattle, they cross-bred it with domestic cattle, creating a hybrid. Today, scant amounts are now available, but guaranteed, what you're eating is not it.
  8. Prime steak may or may not be Prime. If every neighborhood bar and franchise chain restaurant had real prime steak, it wouldn't be so prime. It'd be average. What makes a steak a real prime steak is a USDA Prime certification, which is given to only 2% of the beef in the marketplace, and reserved for fine dining establishments and affluent, well-connected consumers. There is simply not enough prime steak to go around for everyone to be offering it, which means you're being lied to. 
  9. Your food eats shit. Literally. You like tilapia, and think it's a healthy choice? Well, stay away from the farmed fish, then. If it comes from China, chances are its diet consists of chicken feces.
  10. "Food coloring" comes from the inside. Mmm, farmed salmon -- cheap, healthy, and accessible. It's great, with all its omega-3s, right? Yeah ... except that the lovely red color you see is a courtesy of feed with food dye in it. Oh, and beef is often dyed, too. So there's that.
  11. "Made with Whole Grains" is SUPER misleading. I mean, yeah, there might be a whole wheat kernel in there, or millet or rice or the like. But if "enriched white flour" is the first ingredient listed, there's only a nominal amount of the good, unrefined, unprocessed stuff. They just add enough in so that they can change the label. Smart, huh?
  12. "Protein, Fiber, Buzzwords!" Some foods splash all over their labels and boxes that they're the kings of all these good things that should be in your body. Cool! ... But the thing is, although they're touting these terrific traits (see what I did there?), the quantities are often unimpressive. Many granola bars are cheap with their fibers and generous with their sugar. As in more sugar than a candy bar. Or you might be like, "Whoa! This granola bar has 10 grams of protein!" On the other hand, you could just eat an egg. Like boil it, peel it, and you've got 6 lovely grams without all the car wax and sugar and trans fats and carbs.
I have so many more gripes and pet peeves, but this is it for now because it's been a while since I posted and Boy is haranguing me since we're supposed to be somewhere ten minutes ago. However, I highly recommend reading Eat This, Not That (any of them!), and found them personally highly enlightening, and part of why I no longer eat shit in a box. 

Okay, that's my periodic PSA. Have fun with that!