Since saccharin was commercialized in the late 1800s (that's 135 years ago --> saccharin was first discovered in 1878), no one human has ever died from using saccharin. The lab rat/mice tests in the 70s that created the sensationalized cancer scare were from the development of rodent bladder cancer due, a reaction that only occurs in rodents and not in humans. So, in 2000, the warnings were removed.
This last month, I set up a test scenario because I wanted to know how much water we drank daily using the filter. I was also wondering why we were all of a sudden going through filters hand over fist - like two filters a month! The "test" was that each time we filled up the basin to filter water into the 8-cup pitcher, we ticked off a mark on a little pad. We discovered that we drink at least 40 cups of water a day! This is, of course, including coffee, water itself, tea, and drink mixes (e.g. 4C drink mixes with Splenda). We also use the filtered water for steaming veggies and fish as well as for boiling things - even eggs! Who needs extra metals sneaking into our food?
Filtration & Measurements
The filtration system removes all sorts of metals and are certified specifically to remove lead and chromium, but also can remove chloramine, flouride, uranium, and other inorganic compounds. The pitcher and filters we ordered and received came with a TDS meter that determines how many "Total Dissolved Solids" are in the water before and after filtration. Prior to the hurricane last fall, our tap water was measuring in at around 230 parts per million. Our tap water now measures 350 parts per million TDS, which is substantially worse for some unknown reason. It is possible that the NJ water contains more chloramine than our neighboring states, which will substantially reduce the efficacy of our filters more quickly.
As a point of reference, Manhattan's awesome tap water is approximately 5-10 parts per million! So, as long as the tap isn't coming through lead pipes, the Manhattan water is really good. Our water? Not so much. The reported average TDS in our area of NJ is 100 (which I think is very wrong). Matt's sister's water about 20 minutes north of us reads at around 249 ppm. Once filtered through a brand-new filter, though, the water TDS measures in at 0-1 ppm.
When the ZeroWater filters are full of filtered metals, water still comes through them. After about a week or so of regular filtration, we start testing the water. We throw the filters out once the TDS reading is around 20 ppm because the water starts smelling and tasting funky. If the water filter actually breaks (internally), the filters dump all the metals they filtered out into the pitcher that we're going to drink!! Seems like bad design or a design flaw, but we're now aware of it. Our tap water smells like chlorine and bleach to begin with and when the filters break, we usually know it before we taste it. Yes. We've tasted the water after a filter has broken. IT.CANNOT.BE.SWALLOWED. It's so disgusting.
The ZeroWater filters are not cheap. In the store (e.g. Bed, Bath & Beyond or online), they can be about $15 apiece! We get them via Amazon's subscription service, which replenishes our stores every three months at about $8.50 per filter. But, frankly, part of our test was determining whether filtering our water using ZeroWater was less expensive than just buying bottled water. A couple of weeks ago, we had to buy bottled water (in gallons) because we ran out of filters before the subscription kicked us out a new supply.
We even tested the water straight out of the gallon jugs for the fun of it. Spring water from Maine measured in at about 25 ppm and spring water from Pennsylvania measured in at 50-65 ppm. And the amount of TDS differed from jug to jug on all accounts. Poland Spring (from ME) tasted the best.
Bottled water here (natural spring water is what we chose) costs anywhere from $1.50-$1.75 per gallon. For the equivalent consumption of 40+ cups a day, we're paying slightly more than half the cost of an equivalent supply of bottled water. We're actually saving money using the ZeroWater filters!!
We're also saving the environment from all those bottles.The problem I have always had with bottled water was the bottles or gallon jugs. They get thrown away. Even if there's a promise of recycling them, the plastic is still around. The ZeroWater company provides a recycling program themselves. All you have to do is ship back the filters to the company's Texas facility. Then they send you coupons for your next purchase, which can be used at Bed, Bath and Beyond or on the ZeroWater online store.
Matthew and I have determined that by drinking more filtered water, we are thinking more clearly and sleeping more soundly than ever before. Our skin is also reaping the benefits of drinking better water. We have paired up drinking more ZeroWater at close to 0 ppm with drinking less Splenda-sweetened drinks and removing all Aspartame (you make your judgement) from our diet; i.e. no drinks or food sweetened with NutraSweet or sweeteners containing Aspartame. We find ourselves drinking water straight more often than not now and can tell that our health is improving, which is an added bonus!
The end of the story is, use filters for your water, especially if you drink bottled water. It will save the environment from plastics. If you have to choose a filter, Matthew and I recommend ZeroWater due to the better taste of the resulting, cleaner water, and its probable good health effects.
HAPPY EARTH DAY 2013!!
Cheese and I have a special relationship. I absolutely love all of it. Actually, the stinkier a cheese is, the better it is for me. Plus, cheeses go well with wine! How many countless bottles of Zinfandel, Chianti, or Shiraz have passed these lips with delicious Morbier, Gorgonzola, or Stilton?
When Matthew and I put together a grocery list and we go shopping for dinner party preparations, he must think I'm insane when the (obviously) magnetized cheese displays just pull me in. Noteworthy is the fact that the word, "cheese" rarely, if ever, appears on our grocery lists. Anywhere. Matthew's reaction to my glazed over eyes is so sweet: "Yes, we forgot to include cheese, dear. My mistake." And then I go about my cheese hunt.
I want cheese on everything when I'm not on a diet. However, I find that cheese and seafood don't really work well together. Perhaps as with a cold antipasti and with cubes of Provolone, Caciocavallo, Mozarella, or Parmesan, but not as a gooey, melted topping for a seafood dish. Gruyère might be possible, say with shrimp, but doesn't it all become too rich? In the end, who cares?? It's just more cheese after all, right? YAY! Cheese!
Next week, I'll have to start steering clear of Manhattan cheese boutiques (e.g. Murray's Cheese) and the cheese counters in nearby grocery stores. I heard that one of specialty grocery stores we went to over the holidays about 20 minutes from here will become a Wegmans. When I heard that, my heart skipped a beat and my soul soared thinking, "Awesome cheese!"
Wegman's was the grocery store that helped me return to America culturally when I moved to NJ from Austria over 15 years ago. The store felt like a European home where I could get good breads, cold cuts, and, above all, excellent cheese. Their cheese displays are the most mesmerizing and beautiful. Happily for now, there's Whole Foods down the hill from us, German and Italian markets around the corner from our place, and other local stores that carry a nice array of cheese.
I'm going to miss cheese next week, starting Jan. 2. *sniff*
Matthew did a fantastic job again this year with the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. It's an Italian, Catholic, Christmas Eve tradition. I'm not Catholic. I'm not Italian. But I LOVE this tradition!! Matthew is holding to most of his mother's recipes and has added a couple of things (or tried out a couple of new things) for a bit of a flare to keep the interest in the affair going. There's nothing difficult about picking out fish - truly. We all love seafood. But, to prepare them in such a way that there are different dishes with at least 7 different fishes, that's the ultimate challenge.
For example, we made an octopus salad with roasted potatoes and onions. Matthew slow-cooked the octopus overnight in red wine vinegar and white wine with spices, pulled off the suckers, and marinated the octopus meat for 2-3 days. Then I roasted the potatoes and pearl onions and mixed in the octopus, which warmed up the octopus and olive oil marinade. YUM!!
Then we made the standard (and VERY scrumptious) seafood salad with squid (calamari), shrimp, cuttlefish, scallops, and baby octopus. Matthew made a lemon/olive oil marinade for the mixture and they sat in the fridge for about 2 days. I chopped up red, yellow, and orange peppers, celery, two garlic cloves, and parsley and mixed it all together on Christmas Eve. DELICIOUS!! And so fresh.
Matthew worked extra hard on battering and sauteeing soft shell crabs. I never liked soft shell crabs that much until I met Matthew. Also, his prep is by far the tastiest I've ever had. I could not stop eating these this year - and we were able to glean about 10 for leftovers. He also made stuffed calamari, which might fall off the list next year. Also, he did the shrimp with lemon and basil and I learned how to chiffonade basil for the preparation!
That's 6 fishes so far (yes, arthropods (crustacea), mollusks, and cephalopods are included as fish since squid, octopus, mussels, and shrimp are all from the sea). Then, we got lobsters steamed and removed the meat from the shell for a "raw bar", which included mussels, lump crab meat, and snow crab claws. He also added a beurre blanc sauce and a minuet, of course, for dipping. On Christmas day, Matthew's brother-in-law steamed clams (littlenecks). YUM!!
As for actual fish, Matthew prepped smelts, which I always love. Smelts are similar to sardines. Matthew rolls them in a flour/salt & pepper covering mixture, I sprayed them with olive oil, and then we baked them. Once they're out, they get tossed in a lemon/olive oil sauce to bring out the flavor of the fish. On Christmas Eve, Matthew grilled Chilean sea bass steaks, which he had carefully tied into round filet "mignons" of fish. Typically, there's a Baccala salad (salt cod), which is a smelly, disgusting, but ultimately tasty (albeit kinda dry) dish, but this year, the Baccala didn't happen - no one likes it that much and the prep is such a PITA, that it's just not worth making.
Matthew really wanted to make quenelles escoffier (Jacques Pépin) - a French fish preparation of one or two fishes blended into a mouse, poached, and baked with a white cream sauce. We made a haddock-based "test run" for ourselves about 6 days early, which turned out wonderful. THAT dish would have been an amazing addition to the array of fishes dishes, but the blend we made with turbot and cod for the Christmas Eve feast bombed for some reason - maybe because the fishes weren't as fresh as the haddock we had used earlier. :-(
Of course, he made broccoli rabe and green beans for veg, and with leftover stuffing from the stuffed calamari, he stuffed some PEI green shell mussels. For dessert, everyone whipped out chocolates, store-bought cream puffs and sfogliatelles, but the biggest hit were Matthew's cookies, which he finished baking about 2 weeks before Christmas. He made two kinds of biscottis, rainbow cookies, and pignoli nut cookies. Those are the basic standards and about all he could muster with all the other stuff going on throughout the holiday season.
When the Chinese delivery guy showed up, I opened the door and took the bags to sign the bill. He looked into the kitchen from the hallway, noticed the steamer in one of our woks, and asked, "What are you cooking?"
Me: "Pho" (pronounced "fah").
Delivery guy: "Wha?"
Delivery guy: "Wha? You use Chinese bamboo steamer..." pointing into the kitchen at the stove.
Me: "Pho. Uh... shrimp. We're steaming shrimp."
I had to leave it at that. He wasn't Vietnamese; he was Chinese. Not sure if they have something similar in authentic Chinese cuisine, but it's evidently, surely, not pronounced "fah".
The Pho was fantastic, tasty, and absolutely filling; the shrimp do have a wonderfully sweet, delicious tamale that's better than the one found in a lobster. But, eating the shrimp was a PITA (pain in the ass). The shells were papery and it's awful to have to dig through a sauced shell to the fat free meat and find the prized tamale. There's also just something a little unappetizing about sucking out a spread out head just behind the shrimp eyes. I know that crawdad head suckers are gonna get on me about that, but even those little critters are different than these shrimp.
Though they're very tasty and we're glad to have had the experience, large, unshelled saltwater shrimp are flavorful enough, easier to eat, and more forgiving,
Matthew loves to do something unique, of course. He got inspired by a semi-homemade Bomba-style cake dessert he found in a Pillsbury recipe book. That recipe called for whipped cream and liqueur (maybe Triple Sec?). He decided, instead, to make use the cake for the outside of an ice cream cake. We couldn't find any Swiss cake logs for the outside, so we chose Little Debbie cake rolls instead - chocolate ones (Swiss Cake Rolls - my favorite) and strawberry ones (my 2nd favorite). He filled it with Edy's chocolate ice cream, but the core was a pint of Hagen Daas Dulce de Leche. YUM!! We separated the layers of chocolate ice cream with crushed thin, dark chocolate cookies (like Oreos without the stuffing). Here are the pictures and it was DELICIOUS!!
(I secretly wish sometimes that they made fascinators for men, but I don't think they'd catch on here.)
1) Get up after 5.5 hours of sleep to start your day.
2) Select your eggs to boil and place eggs in an empty pot.
3) Fill pot with water to about an inch or higher above the eggs.
4) Turn on burner to high and place pot with eggs on the heating burner.
5) DO NOT turn on a timer; leave the kitchen and go to your computer.
6) Google other hard-boiled egg recipes - just in case.
7) Find a couple of recipes and repeat, "Do not get distracted..." at least 5 times to yourself.
8) After 3 minutes, completely forget that the pot exists.
9) Respond to a couple of work emails.
10) Get startled when you hear a shrill sound from kitchen.
11) Remember - with a start - that OMG there are eggs boiling on the stove.
12) As you race to kitchen, consider when you turned on the stove; should be at least 45 mins.
13) Remove the completely bone dry, but hellishly hot pot from the stove.
14) TEAR open windows and turn on fans to blow out the rich smell of your stove-roasted eggs.
15) The shrill sound you heard should have been caused by steam screaming from the eggs, like a dozen little tea kettles.
16) Place the eggs on a paper plate and wait for them to cool.
17) Let the pot cool on its own without filling with water - yet.
PLEASE NOTE: If the bottom of the non-stick, $80 pot is peeling up from the steal base, make sure to throw it out once it has cooled down.
Optional: Check your US mailbox in the next couple of days for a Bed Bath and Beyond 20% off coupon!
Optional: If your (cooled) pot eventually reveals itself to be still intact and not destroyed, wash the little egg indentations off the bottom thoroughly and place back in cupboard before your partner gets out of bed.
BEST OPTION: Use the eggs to make a Stove-Roasted Egg Salad! And be sure to make like that was your initial intent all along.
WARNING: Eggs cannot be used for coloring.
Matt's friends are so loving and caring about each other. They each share practically the same stories every year, and it's fun to see their joy in their collective history.
This year, Matt and I thought we had all the planning and preparations in place and we were ahead of the game. I even had the forethought of getting our cleaning lady over yesterday to really dust, vacuum, mop. We all worked today and did a great job! The place looked really good until I started to dress the table (which we set up in the living room, since our dining room table seats only 6 people comfortably). We always set up a buffet on the dining room table. The tablecloths REALLY needed to be ironed; if I hadn't had to take that extra 45 minutes or so (three tablecloths) to do that, everything would have been fine. If everyone had come that was invited, we would have had a total of 21, but coming and going we had 15, including us.
Here are some pictures:
Matt - to remember next year how he seasoned the turkeys - first in the pan in his hand, then dumping them into the deeper pan for roasting:
Turkeys de-boned - without seasoning, with seasoning, the seasonings, and the bones for gravy stock in the pressure cooker:
Entrance to the condo:
The food (top left clockwise - carrots, roasted de-boned turkey, sausage/apricot/sage stuffing, roasted white & orange pumpkin with butternut squash, regular and truffle-buttered mashed potatoes, and buttered almond steamed green beans):
Matt's chicken lollipops (from the Jacques Pepin chicken de-boning video):
Table spread with ornaments, pumpkin candles (not lit), and decorations:
This is a video of our troop before eating with the traditional toast. Our friend, Greg, always says the toast - even when his wife was having their first when he called to say the prayer and toast:
Matt's de-boned & stuffed (with pancetta & bread crumbs) chicken before baking:
Matt's baked de-boned chicken:
Ain't he cute? Boy, was that chicken tasty!! I love when Matt cooks. He's fantastic; my big belly's a tell.
IT IS (well, was!) SO TASTY!! The only thing I'll have to tweak in my version - even though I pre-baked the crust - is the crust. The bottom of the pie got really, really soggy, and I didn't like the consistency. Matt's first suggestion was to make our own crust; I took the quick and easy way out by buying the crust. His second suggestion was from a chef on the Food Network to sprinkle in a little almond flour, or any type of flour on the crust before placing in the ingredients. I'll have to try that.
I haven't made a pie in YEARS and this was an excellent start for the season. I'll have to get into other ones and I'm really looking forward to the fall this year.
BTW, THANKS, RODNEY!!! You're the best.
Here's the recipe dewittar used, taken from Real Cajun cookbook.
12 ounces sliced bacon
3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 (9-inch) prebaked pie crust, cooked
Salt and pepper
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
5 ounces cheddar or pepper jack cheese, grated
Prepare a deep dish pie crust (refrigerated pie crust will be fine). Prick the bottom of the crust and bake at 350° or until lightly browned. Allow to cool.
Cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp and set aside to cool on paper towels or a brown paper bag.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Place a layer of tomato slices on the bottom of the crust and lightly season with salt and pepper. Top with a layer of onion slices and cheese. Repeat this process two more times.
Crumble the cooked bacon over the top layer of onions and cheese and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the tomatoes have released some of their moisture. Place pie on a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.
This addiction is to black & white truffles and black and/or truffle oil. They are VERY tasty and yummy and delicious, but a very expensive thing for an addiction. Unless one has a connection for excellent quality oils at very low prices, as do I, thanks to the Fancy Food Show at the end of June. They are rightly called the diamond of the kitchen at costs ranging from $350 to $500 a pound for black truffles (the richer in flavor of the two types).
Here are examples of my most recent indulgences: Last week, I had a truffle/tomato snack Thursday evening. For dinner on Friday, Matt made us truffle gravy to go over our roasted chicken; we removed the skin and flattened the breast in order to pour the gravy into the meat - amazing. Saturday night at a birthday dinner in Manhattan, one of the restaurant's best dishes, and the one I ordered, was the parpadelle with beef and truffle oil in the sauce - VERY yummy.
And, last evening I had to have yet another truffle/tomato snack. I love summer tomatoes. It's a simple snack bursting with flavor and exploding with delight: I cut 1/4" thick slices of a large New Jersey beefsteak tomato onto a plate, lightly sprinkle Baleine's sea salt and freshly ground pepper onto each slice. You must use Baleine's (fine) sea salt. I turn each slice over and season each again. Then, I open a bottle of either black or white truffle oil and waft the aroma toward my nostrils with my hand as one would do with a fresh bouquet of flowers. The oil drips slowly over the thick, seasoned tomato slices and the slices glisten invitingly.
Cutting each slice into succulent quarters or thirds, I can sense the truffle as the slice passes onto my tongue. The tomato juices moisten my tongue. The salt brightens the taste throughout my mouth. The pepper bites my tongue just enough to round out the experience.
My eyes close. I chew slowly and dream. In a forest in southern France, the wind blows through oak trees where future truffles are growing, waiting to be found and end up on my taste buds.
To Matt's surprise and excitement, he's discovered that, for me at least, the taste of truffles is somewhat of an aphrodisiac. Let's just say, he's not kept the truffle oil away from me since we got it!
Being from the South, we certainly pride ourselves on our casseroles. This was an interesting "find", since I've never seen a cookbook specifically devoted to casseroles. Also, I'm the primary casserole creator in this house, so it only stood to reason that I'd get it for me. Matt wasn't as excited about it as I am; he's not really familiar with casseroles. I also realized that I've made only a couple for him over the years!!
So, here's my latest acquisition. Really looking forward to diving into some of these recipes and dishes!!! Thanks, Rodney!