Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Waiter, there's a nematode in my soup

This weekend we ate a super-crowded and well-regarded restaurant, the sort of place that sources all of its proteins locally and grows all of its own unique produce.

While I was admiring my amuse bouche, a bite of lightly poached halibut in olive oil, I noticed a slender, brownish-red tube against the white flesh. My immediate thought was this was a piece of the fish's intestine and moved it off to the side, not thinking more about it. Until it moved.

It started stretching itself up through the oil, apparently trying to breathe. This is when I tried to get the waitress' attention, and then failing that and in a panicked state, stood up, walked to the kitchen, and handed the dish to the chef.

This is not a picture of my worm, but it could be its twin brother. (Photo credit.

I like bugs. I take the time to chase spiders around and set them free outside. I love, love crickets and katydids. I do not like worms, that is, nematodes. One surprised me inside a honeycrisp apple, and without pause, I threw the apple like a fastball out the window. A green one poked his head out of my farmer's market kale, and I couldn't walk back into the kitchen until after the salad was ready. Even so, I have been known after a heavy rain to spend way too much time using twigs like chopsticks and putting the ones that still have a chance (the still slightly pink, plump enough ones) back onto dig-able soil. (I guess contradictions are what make us human?)

Anyway, this was a nematode--a parasite that inhabits fish far more often than most of us are aware of. This is one of the reasons why eating raw and undercooked foods is risky. Anthony Bourdain warned never to order swordfish precisely for this reason in Kitchen Confidential. The thing about worms in your food is that it doesn't correlate with "bad" food. In fact, a piece of fish that hasn't been frozen is the kind that will have a live worm in it. I have seen worms writhing on styrofoam trays with the monkfish liver (ankimo) and salmon at Nijiya, my local Japanese market. I've seen them mostly dead in the whitefish (e.g., cod, flounder, halibut, haddock, sole) at Whole Foods. I've never found them in fresh fish I've caught, but that's just luck.

The good news is that eating a live parasitic, fish-dwelling nematode is only very rarely going to cause problems. Most of them can only live a week or so in our digestive tracts. Swallowing a live tapeworm is a bigger deal, because they can live inside humans for years, but tapeworms are common in lamb, beef, and pork--not fish. Also good news, perhaps, is that even if you have a tapeworm currently inside you, until it reaches epic proportions (they can grow to a length of 50 feet), you probably won't notice any symptoms.

If this freaks you out, as the FDA recommends, either eat only proteins that have been cooked at 140 degrees F, or eat them raw only if they have been previously frozen to -4 degrees F for at least a week, or all the way down to -35 degrees F for at least 15 hours. (Almost every sushi restaurant freezes their fish, even when they say they haven't.)

As for my surprising discovery at the fancy restaurant, the management apologized profusely and more than made up for the gaffe. I appreciated that a lot, and the rest of the meal was great. But it reminded me that in the end, I like my own cooking best. I like knowing what I'm dealing with and making the time to carefully clean and pick through my ingredients. I can decide whether I want to risk eating something raw or not. And I can scream when I want to.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Damming of the Xingu

Chief Raoni weeps after hearing that the Belo Monte dam, the world's third largest, will be built. (Photo courtesy of the Support Chief Raoni Facepook page)

After decades of debate, the Brazilian government has chosen development and electric power over the Xingu River's eco-system and the culture and history of the Kayapo people.

(If you watch the video posted by the Washington Post, ignore the part where Director James Cameron points out this situation is just like what he portrayed in Avatar.)

When we look back at humanity's progress, can we say that it was for the benefit of humanity?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Things that make more and more sense

"I'd have to say, considering what's waiting out there for me, I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed, you know, as a career I don't want to do that. So, uh, my father's in the army. He wants me to join, but I can't work for that corporation. So what I've been doing lately is kickboxing, which is really a new sport, but I think it's got a good future." -- Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pop pop fizz fizz

I drink lots of pop (I grew up in Ohio, okay?) for my Bold Italic story on The Fizzary, San Francisco's one-stop, soda pop shop. I'm not usually a soda drinker, but the obscure, micro-brewed, hand-crafted stuff they stock is delicious. So is the original grape Faygo.
 The Fizzary, on Mission and 26th, is adorably old-timey.
Can you spot the Ramune, the soda that you open by pushing down a marble? My mom introduced that to me when I was a kid. She drank it in Taiwan, and I drank it in Ohio.
The Fizzary's in-house chiller turns a warm, treacly soda into a crisp, cool one in four minutes flat.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Time to do something new in a faraway land

I wrote parts of Cooks, Clowns, and Cowboys, a new Lonely Planet coffee table book that's crammed with 101 fun, challenging, and enriching adventures to have around the world. Just picture yourself training camels in Egypt, painting silk in Nepal, building a hut in Senegal, banking curves on a roller derby track in California, or foraging for lunch in New York's Central Park. (Those last two are mine.) Yes, yes, yes! Too much fun. (Compare to reality: I am sitting on my couch watching plumbers fix the radiator.)

It's a travel book that's as much about exploring the world as it is about exploring your own potential. Also, there are lots pretty pictures to stare at and dream.