土用の丑の日 – Day of the Ox

Unagi Day – or Day of the Ox – is a Japanese tradition concocted by the eel fishing industry way back in the day. There is now an eel shortage in the world – especially in Japan – where at least 75% of the eel from Asian countries in the area is eaten.
China and other countries might have more than enough to satisfy the Japanese habit, but to protect their markets the price of eel in Japan is ten times what it was a decade ago. Then again, eels are on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. 
Eel (Anguilla japonica) has also been added to the government of Japan’s red list of endangered species. Besides the “whole net” policy that some chefs and restaurants are adopting – an agreement where buyers will take anything caught in a net by the fishermen – catfish are a great, sustainable substitute for unagi.
NHK World has bee running a sustainable fish story for almost a week now – and it’s great. Here is a link to their Eel symposium
At one point there were an estimated 3,000 eel restaurants just in Tokyo, Japan. Eels are really a traditional Japanese dish and they are indeed quite tasty. But catfish are also a sustainable and tasty fish  Not many restaurants can afford at this point to even buy the eels.

There are lots of recipes for alternative fish to use all over the internet. Pretty certain you should probably stay away from farm raised freshwater eel that is not the same thing as an eel raised in captivity. From the wikipedia entry on unagi:

Instead, young eels are collected from the wild and then raised in various enclosures. In addition to wild eel populations being reduced by this process, eels are often farmed in open net pens which allow parasites, waste products, and diseases to flow directly back into wild eel habitat, further threatening wild populations. Freshwater eels are carnivores and as such are fed other wild-caught fish, adding another element of unsustainability to current eel farming practices.
Happy Day of the Ox! Maybe you should try some うなぎパイ – Unagi Pie or biscuits.  If you really want an authentic touch get some real sansho from The Japanese Pantry  And, let’s make sure something like Hiroshima never happens again, which is also recognized on August 6, 2017. 

What’s in your gut microbiome and heart disease in HIV

Do gut flora play key role in cardiovascular disease with HIV?

CROI 2015, February 23-26, 2015, Seattle, Washington

Mark Mascolini

Levels of trimethylamine (TMA), a pivotal player in choline metabolism via gut microbiota, were linked to presence of calcified plaque and total coronary plaque burden in a comparison of people with and without HIV infection [1]. The findings by Steven Grinspoon’s Massachusetts General Hospital team and colleagues at other institutions suggested to them a potential association of gut-based choline metabolism to subclinical atherosclerosis in HIV-positive people.

Suman Srinivasa and coworkers spelled out the rationale for their 222-person study this way: (1) Ongoing inflammation in people with HIV may heighten the risk of atherosclerotic plaque, but no one has pinned down the precise mechanism. (2) Research links HIV to changes in the gut microbiome, and altered gut flora may elevate markers of inflammation and immune activation even in people with well-controlled HIV. (3) Trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) may play a part in cardiovascular disease by altering cholesterol metabolism and other mechanisms. (4) Elevated TMAO is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular events in HIV-negative people. (5) Metabolism of choline to TMAO from TMA depends on gut microbiota. (TMA accounts for the bad smell of rotting fish, halitosis, and some infections [2].)

With that pathogenic scaffold in place, the investigators set out to compare serum phosphatidylcholine metabolites in HIV-positive and HIV-negative people in relation to subclinical atherosclerotic disease. They hypothesized that people with HIV “would demonstrate unfavorable coronary plaque characteristics in association with increased TMAO” compared with HIV-negative people.

The analysis included 18- to 60-year-olds with and without HIV. They excluded people with known cardiac disease or symptoms, or signals of kidney impairment. The 155 HIV-positive people had taken antiretroviral therapy for more than 3 months. Along with 67 HIV-negative controls, they underwent 64-slice coronary CT angiography (CCTA). They also had metabolic assessment of inflammatory markers, dietary assessment of choline and betaine [3], and measurement of serum choline, betaine, L-carnitine, TMA, and TMAO.

Age averaged 47 in the HIV group and 46 in the HIV-negative group; 53% and 49% were Caucasian, and 61% and 58% were men. The HIV group had a significantly higher proportion of people coinfected with HCV (27% versus 9%, P = 0.002), had significantly higher alanine aminotransferase (35 versus 24 U/dL, P = 0.0001), higher triglycerides (97 versus 83 mg/dL, P = 0.001), and higher lipopolysaccharide, an inflammation marker (0.09 versus 0.07 ng/mL, P = 0.003). Similar proportions of people with and without HIV smoked (44% and 42%). Dietary intake of choline and betaine and levels of metabolites measured were similar in the HIV group and the control group.

People with HIV had been infected for an average 14 years, 99% ever took antiretroviral therapy, and treatment duration averaged 8 years. Current CD4 count averaged 552, current viral load 1.8 log (about 65 copies), and 86% had a viral load below 50 copies.

CCTA detected coronary plaque in 53% of the HIV group and 35% of the HIV-negative group, a significant difference (P = 0.01). People with HIV also had a significantly higher number of arterial segments affected by plaque (about 1.8 versus 1.2, P = 0.03) and a higher number of segments affected by rupture-prone noncalcified plaque (about 1.0 versus 0.5, P = 0.003). The groups did not differ significantly in number of segments affected by less dangerous calcified plaque.

Serum TMA, but not TMAO or choline, was positively and significantly associated with coronary plaque features in people with HIV. Specifically, serum TMA correlated significantly with total plaque segments, calcified plaque segments, calcium score, calcium volume of plaque, and calcium mass of plaque. TMA, but not TMAO or choline, was also significantly and positively associated with lipopolysaccharide in people with HIV (r = 0.19, P = 0.03). These correlations were not seen in HIV-negative controls. Serum TMAO and choline did not correlate with coronary plaque features in the HIV-negative group.

Multivariate analysis determined that TMA was independently associated with several measures of calcified plaque burden in people with HIV: calcium score, total plaque segments, calcified plaque segments, calcium volume of plaque, and calcium mass of plaque.

The Massachusetts General team concluded that serum TMA, but not TMAO, “is associated with the presence of calcified and total coronary plaque burden in HIV-infected patients.” They noted that the association of TMA with calcified plaque indices was largely independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors in multivariate analysis.

The researchers suggested further study should address three questions: (1) “Is TMA itself pathogenic or simply a marker of altered microbiome in the HIV population?” (2) Why are TMA but not TMAO levels associated with plaque burden?” (3) “What is the significance of this association with calcified versus noncalcified plaque?”

Srinivasa and coworkers proposed that their findings suggest “a potential association of choline metabolism to subclinical atherosclerosis” in people with HIV, as assessed by CCTA. They suggested that this association may reflect altered gut flora or microbial translocation unique to HIV populations. If true, that could partly explain the higher cardiovascular disease risk with HIV infection.

1. Srinivasa S, Fitch KV, Lo J, et al. Calcified plaque burden is associated with serum gut microbiota-generated TMA in HIV. CROI 2015. February 23-26, 2015. Seattle, Washington. Abstract 138.
2. ChEBI. CHEBI:18139–trimethylamine. http://www.ebi.ac.uk/chebi/searchId.do?chebiId=CHEBI%3A18139
3. Craig SAS. Betaine in human nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;80:539-549. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/539.full

Many thanks to Jules Levin, the founder and director of http://www.natap.org, and to Mark Masculine for writing this.

Making Preserved Citrus – Key Limes with Vanilla Pod and Cinnamon

So instead of making our yuzu or Buddhas Fingers or mixed ume or hard apricot and lemon preserves we used several dozens key limes with a spice combination used earlier for a water kefir. We made a kind of clear jam for the second ferment for the water kefir but In this case we used a vanilla bean ( which of course is itself fermented), cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, salts and some fragrant seeds. Here are some pictures





So how would you use these organically grown preserved limes in cooking? Well, you don’t actually have to cook them at all. Just a little juice is an amazing addition to a marinade with shio-koji for example. A piece of lamb, beef, chicken or even oily fish like mackerel or line caught sea fish that is marinated then grilled over hot coals or broiled or roasted in an oven becomes spectacular. We made a hot soba noodle dish with an intense dashi of Maine kombu, some glace de poulet, tamari from a miso we are making and one half of a very finely minced up lime from a previous batch and it truly was an umami assault.

Each bowl was finished with a teaspoon of the lime liquid and some chopped fresh seaweed we deep fried with some scallions and green shiso leaves.


We finished it off with a slow baked egg, milk kefir, maple syrup, fresh ginger flan we made and served with a fermented maple syrup and ginger sauce. Then back to our mochi experimentation!




Oats and Grains: Magic of Koji!

Koji,usually in the form of rice inoculated with a culture, can make an amazing array of things. Here, we’re talking about amazake, a kind of very quick, very lightly fermented sweet drink. If you heat it up gently after it is done turning the carbohydrates of your whole grains into simple sugars while greatly increasing both the digestibility and the availability of the vitamins, minerals, and proteins, you can then either throw it in the fridge or use as a sweetener right away.

Leftover or freshly cooked brown or even white (any kind really) rice can be used here. I like the oat version, especially with fresh or dried cranberries (organic, unsulfured) or raisins, and some coconut. You can just use rice, or oats, or wheat.

Wash 250 grams of steel cut oats very well. Just keep washing them until they run clear water. Then you can rinse off with some water you will cook them in, about 800 gms. Add up to 2 grams cooked brown rice (or whatever kind) and 50 gms cranberries (1/3 cup packed) or raisins or no fruit at all, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup unsweetened, organic dried coconut. Cook very slowly in a dutch oven that has a lid. Skim frequently!

After about fifteen minutes turn off heat, cover and let cool down to 120 degrees. Add 1/4 cup or 45 gms brown rice organic Koji or whatever kind of Kojio you have and mix very well. Cover again and either stick in warm (not at all hot oven just like for yogurt) or wrap in a blanket or towel and let sit for at least 4 hours. Stir once if you like, replacing lid quickly and putting back in warm place. Please make sure your oven is clean and free from burnt on grease smells.

After about 8 hours you can either very gently reheat to a very low temp and eat with some raw honey or regular or strained kefir or cultured butter or maple syrup. Or just eat it as is. Or add chopped fresh fruits and toasted seeds or nuts. This is a salt free version. Instead of the Koji you could add live, unpasteurized mellow white miso (maybe 2 TB at most) or even half the amount of an older miso. If you do that either grate a little fresh ginger in there or chop up a tablespoon of candied organic ginger.

Once chilled, I take two firm, sweet apples (washed well, quartered and cored), a cup of goat or cow kefir (or coconut or grain milk ferments) or even strained yogurt, a cup of ice or frozen yogurt or Kefir or whey cubes, and two TBS raw honey and put in blender until smooth but not too thin and still cold. That’s an easy, great breakfast. If you use one or two bananas forget the honey.

I might also toast a lot of bread and eat with some kraut or kimchi butter or a version of natto miso (see recipe for chick pea, azuki, barley, Kombu, ginger, barley malt, and Koji miso next week). I often also make raisin bread or cookies with this mix, which just keeps improving in flavor in the refrigerator. The amount described here will last you ten days at best. Two days in this place.

Getting a Rise and Good Taste from Baking (with little or no salt)

The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.

Reducing salt levels and still getting a rise from baked goods – but not in your blood pressure, or with an increased risk of peripheral edema (swollen hands, feet, etc.), or with portal hypertension consequences – is actually very, very easy. You could replace the egg and milk with flax seeds and or applesauce and or a little cooked room temperature slow cooked grain milk. Remember that most of the salt in eggs is in the whites (where most of the protein is as well) and that the fat soluble vitamins and minerals in egg yolks are plentiful and tasty too!

You could make an incredibly good no sodium chocolate cake using a sourdough starter or salt free baking powder and baking soda together. Watch out for sodium in any form of chocolate, an already fermented food like coffee It should not really be there but many companies very often add it. And if you really know your stuff you could seek out the ashes of the right trees and use them to make things rise. In a chocolate cake the color wouldn’t be so not what you are used to. I’m going to start a file and write a piece on how to get things to rise, puff, swell and expand – and even brown – without the use of salt or eggs. Almost all of the salt in an egg is in the white, anyway.

Part II – Using natural wild ferments, yeasts and other things in everything from bread baking to wine making and crafting the most amazing Sicilian Gravy (almost salt-free). But first read this book that you will refer to and reread many times over the years. Read a page a day if you are pressed for time. I can’t guaranty that eating egg yolks from fresh eggs will not effect your levels of cholesterol in the blood (plasma levels) – but I don’t think they will – but I can promise you that if you read this book or pieces or paragraphs of it as you will it will change your life.



Leftover grains bread made with fresh yeast

Red Bhutan rice and green bamboo rice congee bread made with fresh yeast

Four days, twice frozen bread. One baked in a cast iron kettle, the other a traditional loaf pan. The results were amazing.

I got some fresh yeast at Fairway the other day. Its really cornstarch and yeast (the Fleischman brand). I think it’s a much better yeast to use with sweet or dairy or egg heavy breads and when making huge, fluffy sweet challahs. Restaurants and bakeries on the Lower East Side of New York used it a lot. In any case I think its the same distinction as between the red version of Saf-Instant yeast and the Gold Label Saf-Instant yeast. Most people will use the red version of the Saf-Instant which can turn out a very fast high rising bread. The Gold may take a little longer to rise but is the yeast I would use if baking anything sweet, breads with cheese or eggs.

We all know that sugar can actually really mess yeast up, right? So instead of listening to people (and professional bakers complain) say that it was taking forever for their sweet dairy based breads to rise the Gold Label Saf-Instant was released. Any yeast including either the Red or Gold can be left in the freezer or refrigerator until needed. You can order them online, including usually for far less through Amazon than King Arthur for example, than buying them in a store. I think that fresh yeast is a very special thing, however. It rarely over ferments or acts sluggish if you keep dough a little on the warm side (Use milk, water or any liquid at 110 or even a little hotter to start things off then add the eggs, farmers cheese, butter etc. when its already clearly active).

If you get jammed for time punch it down and throw in refrigerator or even freeze and the dough will come back slowly and really taste good. Its also great for making holiday related fermented drinks like meads, fermented fruit drinks or beers, etc which you could get away with doing because who knew you were doing anything other than baking? We’ll talk about making some really wildly flavored frozen vodkas with the stuff from leftover potato cooking water and solids, leftover buckwheat groats and a few other ingredients.

Before leaving Saturday night we’d throw some fresh yeast cakes and the potato water and leftover groats some fresh yeast cakes and a few handfuls of whole wheat flour together and put it into a 20 gallon stainless steel container with lid that the butchers liked to use. Then before anyone said something early Sunday morning we’d mix it together really well and put half under the dishwashers where it was always warm and mix the other half up with buckwheat flour, eggs and salt and just start cranking out hundreds of blinis. People either ate these pancakes with sour cream, different types of caviar, fresh dill and chopped onions or they ordered them with maple syrup or fresh fruit based things we had made.

One of the morning cooks would take a half glass of the stuff before we added anything and add some mashed fruits to it. In two hours she would start drinking the stuff and gladly cook non-stop for the next ten hours at L’Hermitage, an imperial Russian restaurant (food designed by Escoffier and Czar Peter) in Boston that I was the Executive Chef of for a few years. The pumpernickel bread was made outside and delivered in huge paper bags every Sunday morning as well. It was the best bread I had ever eaten. You could refrigerate those for at least a week and heat them in the bread warmer about an hour before needed and the bread would be even better.

Although when they delivered those one chef would stuff the driver with food and the rest of us would eat about a half pound of cold butter with a loaf or two. You can still buy Orwasher’s raisin pumpernickel in their New York City store. A slow ferment and the right freshly ground flours and oven (use a cast iron or enamel crock) and you can make it as well. It’s not a very sour bread either.

Next I’ll describe what a bakery that uses slow ferments does with fresh yeast and a two to three hour rise to oven every day. Great bakers typically will only use yeast when they are on a tight production schedule and then have to get stuff out there instead of going bankrupt.

Diane Kennedy: Ecology and Food


“Indeed, a deep bowl of Nixtamal’s posole (“innocuous” but “pleasant,” Ms. Kennedy said) inspires a reverie on the earthy porkiness of one version she has researched. Traditionally made with a whole pig’s head, she said, each spoonful was unctuous, full of textures of cartilage and fat. “If you didn’t get a piece of ear,” Ms. Kennedy said, it was once considered a slight. “That’s just a bit of old folklore,” she added with a midslurp smile.

That a pig’s ear today may be considered trash is part of what bothers Ms. Kennedy. She is antiwasteful — of plastic bags, animal fat, electricity, water, wild herbs, the power of the sun — and is fond of quoting the speech she gave last summer at MAD Food Camp in Copenhagen. “If you invite me into your kitchen, don’t think the first thing I’m going to look at is your food,” she recited. “I’m going to look at your garbage.”