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This Was a Real Nice Clambake

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America has many regional specialty dinners—fried chicken down south, Kansas City barbecue, San Francisco cioppino—but perhaps none is as scrumptious as a true Down East clambake from the coast of Maine.

With overnight shipping, the Maine experience can be yours. Some of it will be wild caught, some organic, but all will be a very special treat for whomever you invite. It won’t be cheap but it will be worth it.

If you live where you can gather seaweed, you’ll need several wheelbarrow loads. You’ll also need burlap bags that have been soaked in water overnight. You’ll have to dig a fire pit. In Maine they dig it on the sandy beach. If you have hard, rocky soil, just dig a shallow pit. The pit should be 4×5 feet and a couple of feet deep, if you can manage that depth. And you’ll need a wheelbarrow full of stones about the size of baseballs or softballs, preferably flat.

If you live in Maine, your ingredients are at hand, but if you live elsewhere, several ingredients will have to be shipped in.

Beer is a good accompaniment for a clambake, but Chardonnay is also appropriate.

You’ll start dinner with a New England clam chowder. For this you will need some New England steamer clams, also known as soft-shell clams, long-necked clams, or piss clams—the latter name because when you dig them from the sandy mud banks of the tidal flats where they grow, your clamming tool compresses the mud and the clam responds by sending out a stream of water through its siphon. You can find dozens of recipes for New England clam chowder online, but I use the one in The Joy of Cooking and it’s excellent.

Dinner will also have big bowls of steamed clams—steamers of course. I’d recommend taking delivery of your steamers the day before your clambake, using some of them for chowder, reserving the clam broth, and refrigerating the rest. Discard any clams that are open or whose shells have broken, even if that’s a significant number. After making the chowder, refrigerate that, too, and warm it up gently before serving the next day.

Have some cheesecloth on hand, and butcher’s string, because you will be tying up bags of steamers for the bake. The main attraction will be lobsters. Have them arrive the day of the clambake, but make sure that UPS or Fedex guarantees delivery by a time that makes sense for you to serve them at dinnertime. You will kill the lobsters before the bake by bringing a large pot of water to a full boil and, holding the lobster head down by its body, plunging its head four inches or so into the boiling water until it relaxes (dies). This keeps the lobsters from clanking around under the burlap during the first stage of the bake. Both lobsters and clams can be ordered from www.simplylobsters.com, or one of the many other reputable lobster shippers on the coast of Maine.

You will have some kind of salad available, preferably American-style potato salad, and of course corn on the cob, cooked along with the clams and lobsters. Some people like their corn, clams, and lobsters dipped in butter, but things can get pretty buttery that way. Many aficionados keep some hot clam broth to swish the clams in to remove any sand. I use a little organic olive oil for the corn and the lobsters. Too much butter fills me up too fast.

Dessert should be the little, super-flavored, wild Maine blueberries, made into a pie according to your favorite blueberry pie recipe. My only recommendation is to pile the blueberries high in the pie shell. They are available from www.gmallenwildbluerries.com, and from several other sources. Make the pie a day in advance as you’ll have your hands full on clambake day, and top it with organic whipped cream.

To cook the corn, clams, and lobsters, build a three foot high rick out of very dry wood, with crumpled paper on the floor of the pit, slender sticks laid on the paper, and larger pieces on top. Set fire to the paper, and when the rick collapses, throw on larger pieces of wood so a hot fire that fills the pit is achieved. When the fire is most intense, toss in dry stones to cover the coals so the stones get red hot. When the stones are hot, about an hour exposed to the burning billets of wood underneath, toss on the seaweed, preferably rockweed. If you don’t have access to seaweed, lay two layers of wet burlap over the stones. Place the husked corn, bags of steamers, and fresh-killed lobsters on the seaweed or burlap, with the clams together in an area where you can retrieve them first. Cover the pit with another two or three layers of wet burlap and let it all cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Start the clambake with a cup of the good chowder, have salad available, then pull back the burlap and take out the bags of steamers and serve with hot clam broth. Replace the burlap. The clams should be open. Tell your guests to discard any that haven’t opened.

After the clams, serve the corn on the cob and the lobsters together. Read up on tomalley if you aren’t certain about what to do with the green goo inside the lobster’s carapace.

Finish the dinner with Maine blueberry pie.

Organic Junk Food

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Is there such a thing as organic junk food, or is all organic food good for you?

The answers are yes and no.

Yes, there is organic junk food. Once the idea of organic food caught on with the general public, food processors realized that there was a market for highly processed foods made from organic ingredients. The main food groups in junk food are sugar, fat, and salt. So they make sure the sugar is organic, the fat is organic, and the salt takes care of itself. Voila! Organic pizza.

Now that people are catching on to high fructose corn syrup, a substance that is the cheaper way to sweeten things and may contribute to a range of health issues, some companies are making soft drinks with real cane sugar. But a soft drink is still dyed, flavored sugar water, and an organic pizza is still a load of fat and salt. So, no, not all organic food is good for you if the food is junk food.

There are some good things to be said for organic junk food. The ingredients are grown or produced without the use of agricultural chemicals and that benefits the environment. And the junk foods aren’t loaded with chemicals that texturize, preserve, emulsify, color, or artificially flavor the food. That doesn’t mean a daily diet of organic pizza, organic soft drink, and organic cookies is good for you. It just means that it is not as bad for you as chemical-laden processed foods.

The real culprit here is the food processing industry. Go down the frozen food aisle of your supermarket and start looking at the ingredients of frozen, processed foods, especially those designed for kids. I once found a frozen dinner for kids that contained over 70 ingredients and only five of them were food.

Here’s what’s good for you: whole foods, just like the name of the supermarket: an apple, a head of broccoli, a pork chop, blueberries, asparagus; whole, fresh fruits and vegetables of all sorts, and some meat, milk, eggs, and cheese, but in moderation.

Take a simple test. For one day, eat as you normally would. Make a list of everything you eat. At the end of the day, total up how many items were whole foods, like a salad, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and meat; how many minimally processed, like potato salad or a ham sandwich, and how many processed foods like ice cream, cookies, Triscuits, Count Chocula, and so on. If two-thirds of your daily intake is whole or minimally processed food, you are doing very well. Try to minimize the processed components. For instance, that Miracle Whip on your sandwich is processed food, the bread is minimally processed if whole grain, while the meat, tomato, and lettuce are whole foods. The sandwich thus gives you one mark for processed, a mark for minimally processed, and three marks for whole foods. You only have to do this for one day, and it’s important that you eat as you normally would. Don’t try to “win” by selecting more whole foods that day. The object is to see just how much of your diet is processed, minimally processed, or not processed at all. It’s in the processing that manufacturers pack their chemicals and it’s important to know what you are eating.

It goes without saying—but I’ll say it again anyway—that the best way to eat is 1) organic, 2) local, and 3) seasonal, and that the more of your diet that is unprocessed, the better. This goes double if you’re feeding children, for their growing, small bodies do not need the kind of biologically disruptive chemicals that food processers put into their wares.

Fowl Weather Ahead

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Here are some tips for getting the most bang for your buck when buying organic chicken.

Buy skin-on, bone-in thighs and drumsticks. Even though you’ll discard the skin and bones (unless you add them to a pot of water with an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery, and some peppercorns and boil this down to make chicken broth), you’ll still be ahead of paying the butcher to remove the skin and bones. Since chicken breasts are the most expensive cut, avoid them. If you think you like white meat better than dark meat, make a side by side taste comparison. You may find that dark meat has a richer flavor and a better texture.

When you get the chicken parts home, it’s very easy to slip the skin off the thighs and, using a boning knife, remove the large thigh bone. The legs are a little trickier, but nothing that you can’t do. Loosen the skin at the top of the drumstick, where it attached to the bird’s body, and pull it down as though you were undressing the drumstick, toward the foot end. The skin will be mighty slippery and the foot end of the drumstick won’t want to let it go easily. What I do is to wrap the loosened skin around my index finger, and holding the fat part of the drumstick with the other hand, pull the skin off the foot end. It usually comes without too much of a tussle.

Some people debone the leg meat, but I see no reason to do that. The leg bone makes a fine handle when eating the thing. I put the de-boned and skinless thighs and skinless legs in a bowl and pour on a good barbecue sauce. Then I take a length of aluminum foil and line a baking sheet with it, making sure the edges are turned up all around the foil. Then I lightly spray the foil with an organic, non-stick cooking spray like the canola oil spray from Trader Joe’s.

I pre-heat the oven to 300 or 350 F., depending on how much time I have until dinner. It will take about an hour and a half at 300 and 50 minutes to an hour at 350. Coat the pieces with the barbecue sauce and lay them out on the aluminum foil, open side (the side where you removed the bone) down for the thighs. It doesn’t make any difference which side of the drumsticks you put down. When they’re all laid out, take a tablespoon and ladle a tablespoonful of leftover barbecue sauce over the surface of each piece.

This makes a simple and very tasty meat portion of an evening meal. Leftovers go in the fridge for lunches and snacks. Clean up is a snap. Of course, there are many other ways to prepare legs and thighs, but this method is cost effective, and you are getting organic chicken.

I’ll run over the advantages of organic chicken: no hormones, no antibiotics, no chemicals that pacify them, no need to cruelly de-beak them because they are not crammed together in cages but have some room to grow on a floor or outside in a pen, where they are not prone to trying to kill each other. Some organic chicken producers use a moveable pen that they move to fresh grass each day, giving the birds a chance to really be birds and eat worms and grubs. This method results in the best-tasting eggs and meat. Look for label information that says they are raised on pasture. And look for air-chilled chicken. That means the carcasses of newly slaughtered birds aren’t cooled by dumping them into a communal bath of ice water, where birds infected with pathogens can spread their germs to other birds in the bath, but the carcasses are cooled instead by streams of cold air. Much healthier.

Are Organic Cosmetics Really Organic?

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jeffcoxMaybe—or maybe not.

Several U.S. lawsuits are now challenging popular beauty and personal care products labeled as organic, because there’s a lack of stringent across-the-board certification in one of the fastest-growing segments of the cosmetics industry, a more than $10 billion business.

According to The New York Times, “All One God Faith, the Californian company that does business as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, filed suit in April in the San Francisco Superior Court, with the U.S. Organic Consumers Association as a party, against various competitors for making what it said were misleading organic labeling claims. The suit alleged that products labeled as organic were actually made with ingredients derived from conventional agriculture or petrochemicals. The defendants included, among others, Nature’s Gate, Kiss My Face, Avalon Organics and Care by Stella McCartney.”

A lawsuit filed in late May by the California Attorney General’s Office  against five companies, including Whole Foods Market, alleged they were selling natural body care and household cleaning products that contained high levels of 1,4-dioxane – a chemical known to cause cancer in animals – while failing to warn consumers.

“We believe the USDA Organic Standards, which is a government regulate7d standard for organics, should be applied to cosmetics,” Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist at the Organic Consumers Association, told The Times. “Organic is organic, no matter whether you are talking about food, cosmetics, or cleaners. There should not be separate standards for different types of products. Either it’s organic or it’s not.”

Well said. Either it’s organic or its not. There are some cosmetic and body care companies that may not tout themselves as organic, but are makers of very pure and healthy products. Many of these are German, a country with exceptionally strong purity laws. Two of the finest are Weleda and Dr. Hauschka.


Speaking of The New York Times, it published on July 2 an article by William Neuman on nitrites in processed meats under the headline, “In the Matter of Nitrites, The Label Can’t Always Be Trusted.” The article pointed out that while makers of organically-labeled processed meats, such as hot dogs and salami, do not add sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite to their products, they can add celery juice, which is naturally high in nitrites. Nitrites can bind with amino acids in meat to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Manufacturers of processed organic meats can then say “No Nitrites Added” on their labels. That doesn’t mean the meats contain no nitrite at all. “Nitrite is nitrite,” Marji McCullough of the American Cancer Society told The Times.

But despite McCullough’s assertion, not all nitrite is created equal. Molecules have handedness, and nitrites from organic sources are built by the plants that make them in what chemists call left-handed structure. Sodium nitrite molecules made in a factory are about 50-50 left- and right-handed in the way they are structured. Our bodies, because they are natural living flesh, are built to deal with left-handed molecules. Celery juice and celery powder may provide some nitrites, but they are natural and may even be beneficial. Scientists studying the role of nitrites in human health have discovered that they benefit the healthy functioning of the cardiovascular and immune systems—at least when the nitrites are left-handed.

Some processed meat companies say the link between nitrites and cancer is an outdated concept, that processed meats are much safer than they were 40 years ago because the USDA has now limited the amount of nitrates and nitrites that can be used in making processed meats.

“What’s very clear,” Dr. Walter C. Willet of the Harvard School of Public Health told The Times’ reporter, “is that consuming processed meats is related to higher risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and colon cancer.” And those diseases are related to the high fat and salt content of processed meats, not the presence of nitrites, especially when the nitrites are in the form created by the celery plant.


Here’s another big surprise from Big Ag. Last fall the Environmental Protection Agency approved DuPont’s new herbicide, Imprelis. DuPont claimed it was more environmentally friendly than other herbicides and sold lots of it to landscapers across the country who used it to keep broad-leaved weeds from growing in turf on lawns and golf courses.

The big surprise?

Norway spruce, white pines, willows, poplars, and other trees are dying where the herbicide has been applied. “This is going to be a large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more,” Dr. Bert Cregg, an extension specialist at Michigan State University, told The New York Times. Amy Frankmann of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association, said, “I’m very concerned. One member is looking at having to replace a thousand trees.”

That kind of cost could drive landscapers out of business. Will DuPont absorb some of the cost?

The company continues to sell the product, and in a June 17 letter to its landscaper customers, DuPont product official Michael McDermott seemed to blame the landscapers. They may not have mixed the herbicide properly or combined it with other herbicides, he suggested. He also suggested they leave the dying trees in the ground. They might come back.

A nationwide class action lawsuit has been filed against DuPont by the law firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann, and Bernstein on behalf of landscapers and property owners who have suffered damage from the herbicide. “Imprelis has been widely adopted by landscapers and lawn-care specialists who believed DuPont’s claims that it is safe and an environmentally-friendly herbicide,” stated plaintiff’s counsel Jonathan Selbin. “Instead, the evidence is quickly piling up that Imprelis is attacking trees as if they are weeds.”

Imprelis is not approved for use in New York or California. People in other states who feel they have been harmed should visit www.lieffcabraser.com/case/484 for instructions on how to join the suit and how to take and preserve photos, soil samples, and other evidence.