Chocolate bunny. Photo © Michelle (pa1nt), via creative commons and flickr

Warning: The following contains information that may be disturbing to chocolate-lovers. Reader discretion is advised.

I hate to break it to you just as you nibble on your chocolate Easter bunny’s ear, but we’ve been misled.

Happily and willingly misled, but misled nonetheless.

Chocolate eggs. Photo © Emily McCracken, via creative commons and flickrThose expensive, for-adult-consumption-only Easter eggs you stashed out of the kids’ reach? They aren’t going to keep your teeth from falling out.

The dark chocolate bunny (85 per cent cocoa) you selected—expressly, I know—to help stave off the heart disease that lurks in your DNA? It won’t.

Neither will it help you out-debate your belligerent brother-in-law at the festive table this evening, nor remember the names of his three—or was that five?—ex-wives and their abundant broods that he’s invited along.

I’m sorry.

For two decades, we’ve heard that the taste-good, feel-good, go-to food we turn to for a legal dopamine fix when our bosses, brothers-in-law and kids infuriate us can help keep us healthy. Popular media celebrated every study that hinted at links between chocolate consumption and decreased tooth decay, improved memory, improved circulation, decreased risk of heart disease and strokes, lower body mass index, and so on.

The reports provided hope—and justification for indulging…..

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Table Setting 74. Photo © Didriks, via Creative Commons and flickr.

“I’m setting out the small dinner plates,” Nature Boy announced the other evening as we prepared to welcome guests. “It will help pace us through the meal.”

Nature Boy recently assumed responsibility for setting the table for evening meals. With meals round these parts typically being the quick and informal sort, the choice of dinnerware rarely receives much thought.

But the task becomes more complicated when, as with the evening in question, guests are expected, menus encompass multiple courses, and appetites must be managed throughout the evening. Such occasions call upon Nature Boy to tune up his geometry and social-engineering skills. It’s not just a matter of how to seat so many people around a limited dining surface, but (he asserts) incorporating the latest social and neurological science into the effects of the setting—and the setting of the table—on the perception and enjoyment of the food served.

Nature Boy’s efforts at table landscaping have climbed to new intellectual and socially manipulative heights.

The studies Nature Boy called on when he selected smaller plates determined that plate size affects how much food people serve themselves and how much they think they’re eating….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Thanksgiving dinner. Photo © Sarah Ackerman, via creative commons and flickr

On a visit south of the border some time ago, I found myself staring at the nutriional-information panel printed on a box of Triscuits.

At first, I stared without really looking—after all, the “Low-Sodium Triscuit” product sold in the U.S. is the same as the “Low-Sodium Triscuit” product sold in Canada.But something about the information penetrated the fog of my inattention and focussed my penetrating powers of pointy-headed perspicacity on one line:

Serving size: 8 crackers

Now, I’m hardly a Triscuit expert, let along a Triscuit-packaging expert, but in that moment I was pretty certain that number wasn’t what this particular pointy-headed Canadian gal remembered the recommended Triscuit serving size to be. It seemed … generous. I vaguely recalled a smaller serving size listed on boxes of Triscuits north of the border.

Was I mistaken?…

Find out by reading the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Feast of the bean king, by Jakob Jordaens (1593–1678). Wikimedia Commons

Feast of the bean king, by Jakob Jordaens (1593–1678). Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding having people over for dinner for any occasion is getting more and more complicated.

First, there are the scheduling issues. Who is available when, and can we please—please!—manage to get together, all of us, just this once this year? Okay, how about once this decade? This lifetime?

And then there’s the food. With every invitation I send out, I’m tempted to include a dietary-needs declaration form to be filled in and returned with the r.s.v.p. Maybe guests can arrange for their family doctors to sign it, too, or have it notarized. You know, in case they forget something critical.

One friend calls our circle of mutual friends the Picky Eaters’ Club. We include the usual assortment of celiacs, nut and dairy allergies, vegetarians, and blood-sugar problems. We also have some well-meaning foodists—those who choose a particular life or eating style for moral or philosophical reasons, or for just plain personal preference….

Continue reading this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist.

coffee art. Photo © Jeremy Keith,

Oil is the world’s most-traded commodity. This rating emphasizes our dependence on the substance.

However, I’d say an altogether different commodity has played as important a role in the development of our society. This substance has been used throughout the western world for 700 years. It has fuelled technological, economic, political and social change. It is the world’s second most-traded commodity, but unlike oil, it is a renewable resource. And we are as addicted to it as we are to oil.

Where would we be today if our forebears hadn’t started drinking coffee?…

Continue reading this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist….

Grape clusters. Photo © Scott Mair

We rarely see grapes being crushed by foot these days, but visitors to the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival earlier this month witnessed an old-fashioned grape stomp. Seven teams, dressed in costume, with grape juice soaking the hems of their trousers, shorts, gowns and dresses, competed against each other to stomp the grapes the fastest.

Their bare feet and enthusiasm served to remind spectators of wine making’s fundamentals.

Here and everywhere, wine making starts with sun, water, soil, and vines that take all of the above and turn it into grapes. Those who tend the vines and those that turn the grapes into wine strive to create product that represents and reveals the most desirable qualities of the fruit, place, climate, and so on. Each resulting bottle contains a bit of the heart and soul of the land and of the people who work it.

Yet, behind the growers of grapes and makers of wine, another community of players calls the shots. I’m not talking about grape stompers, who have been mostly replaced by mechanical presses these days. I’m talking about more enduring, pervasive contributors.

In the most basic sense, microbes make the wine….

Continue reading this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Grape vineyard. Photo © Monique Keiran 2009.

Blackberries in season. Photo © Julie (hello-julie flickr)

Blackberry picking, like developing Blackberry devices, is a prickly business.

When Nature Boy was growing up on the Mainland—long before e-mail or smartphones came along—his family would venture out to harvest THEIR blackberry patch near Pitt Meadows.

Nature Boy always assumed danger duty. He’d armor himself with rubber boots and his grandfather’s welding helmet and jacket. Then off he’d go with an ice-cream pail, pushing deep into the brambles. Once inside, he’d fill bucket upon bucket with berries no other human dared to reach.

These days, we can find berry lovers harvesting this year’s bounty along many of the region’s trails, roadsides or parks.

Likewise, we’ve recently been hearing of the tumbling fortunes of Blackberry. The Canadian tech giant has been losing market share to Samsung, Nokia even, and that other fruit company.

In August, the company announced it was seeking buyers or alternative investment options. Going private or being bought would allow the company to re-organise its business in peace without outside shareholder scrutiny.

Given the current open season on both kinds of blackberry/Blackberry, I’ve assembled a few pointers on how to approach picking either fruit….

Read the rest of this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Tomato salad

Tonight’s supper

Five varieties of tomatoes, two kinds of peppers, and fresh herbs picked from the garden 10 minutes ago. Drizzled with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.