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Posts for Carla Blumberg

Terroir – is it real?

In the United States and Europe, the Industrial Revolution changed the way food was produced and BookCoverdistributed.  Agriculture became much more centralized and, at the same time, much more diverse in consumer choice.  Fewer farmers and workers fed more people, a trend which has continued to this day.  Inevitability, centralization led to profiteering and corruption.

The Institute National de l’Origine et de Qualite in France came into being just after a food revolution in the United States caused by the publication of Upton Sinclair’s fictionalized account of the Chicago meat packing industry, The Jungle.  That book led to the enactment in the United States of the Pure Food and Drug Act.

The Institute wrote regulations which were to standardize the wine industry in France and lead to the promotion of “terroir” as a central tenet of wine quality.  French wine producers believed that the wine produced in France, due to its origin in the soils and climate of their country, was superior to any other wine .  They evangelized about “controlled origin” as if the Almighty himself had ordained their products.  The idea of place and locale subsequently became boiler plate language in food and wine writing and tasting.

In more recent times, all that dovetails nicely with the locavore movement and has gone, for the most part, unchallenged.  However, in 2015, Mark Matthews, a Professor of Viticulture at the University of California, Davis, published a book that aimed to debunk the concept and cite scientific evidence that it was simply not real.

So what is the truth?  Well, it is of course complicated and can’t be summarized in a sentence or two.  After reading the book, I decided to investigate whether and if and how wine taste is influenced by where it is grown.  I invite you to join me for a class exploring what I found.


Chateauneuf du Pape

We will discuss some wine chemistry, wine history, climate influence, wine guru influence, government action and grape biology.  We will sample some Cabernet Sauvignon wines from around the world and pair those with some French food, just to put us in the mood. Further, we will look into the present day viewpoint that each person’s perception is a little different and that there is no single truth about any wine.

I promise you an interesting evening (on March 7th) of fellowship, information, tasting, instruction and discussion.

Please join me by registering at the café or over the phone (218-723-8569).  If you have any trouble with the restaurant’s (ancient) telephone system, email me: (carla dot blumberg (at) astccc dot net).

Hope to see you,


In The Deep Midwinter

“Take your Broken Hear and make it into art.”
Meryl Streep, Golden Globes, 2017


Arduino controller with LED strip


Arduino wired up to single LEDs

I’m going to say up front and first off that, since the election, any effort on my part to write this blog has stalled out, utterly.  Along with many around me, I fell into a deep well of despair, thinking, “What cannot be, is.”  In the two months intervening, my head has been bent down with grief – but also in the concentration of effort towards distraction.  Hobbies & small tasks have moved to the front of the brain.  Trying to figure out how to put LED lights around the roof of the café has been and still is my most compelling issue.  In case anyone wonders why that would be difficult (outside of the weather), it’s because LEDs require a boatload of power (watts) and because the signal to control them cannot travel long distances.  (The cafe is 75′ long.)  So if you ever see this project make an appearance, you will know all that has been resolved.

Here is something else I have been working on.  Barb and I, and Jillian, our head chef, want to try to jazz up the winter this year.  We are putting together a series of theme dinners that investigate a topic and illustrate it with menu and beverage tastings.  Here’s what I have simmering on the stove so far:

  • “Terroir” – is it real or is it a marketing scam? A lot has been made about how the flavors of wines are affected by the place where the grapes


    are grown.  A new book has been written saying that terroir is a made up idea put forth by Europeans when the California industry began to catch up and then surpass them.  The Europeans were trying to manufacture a proposition that would protect their markets.  But some oenophiles now believe that the interactions between a rock and a grape vine are zero.  Somewhat predictably, that group is clustered at The University of California, Davis, near Napa-Sonoma.
    Our plan is to have a tasting of several cabernets from around the world and discuss the experiences – to see if we might discover anything related to terroir.  Served alongside will be a cab friendly menu featuring pot au feu in the main course.

    Imperial Crown of India worn by George VI, last Emporer of India and Queen Elizabeth's Father

    Imperial Crown of India worn by George VI, last Emperor of India and Queen Elizabeth’s Father

    I do not know exactly how this experiment will turn out but am interested to do it.

  • Trade Routes of the East India Company and the history of India Pale Ale – One of the most popular modern brews originated in London in Colonial times. We will take a look at that story plus the route that sailors took to Bombay during that period.  The menu will include recipes from Portuguese Madeira, South Africa and India.  We will taste some London gin, four premier IPAs and some Madeira while we discuss the British Empire, the mining businesses in India

    Cover of Fat Rice (Chicago) Cookbook

    and South Africa and the residue from all that in the world’s present political situation.

  • Best Cookbooks of 2016 – So many recipes so little time…. Yes, I know, there are soooo many cookbooks.  But believe me, the four I have chosen are worth looking in to.  This is a tour of the press they have received and a sampling of the recipes within.  Plus we will taste some of the year’s best wines.  This dinner promises to be very special.

I’ll post here and on FB the dates and times and complete details when we get them.  Hopefully, these events will help to cheer us all up.



Those Mean Ol’ Low Down New Menu Development Blues

Pho_in_SaigonWe are starting the summer with a new menu.  This is exciting to me because I worked on it myself – for the first time in several years – and because it reflects where I think we should be going.  The restaurant realm is changing and we need to try to keep up with the times.

Over the past year I have had a crisis of spirit about what our business (with so many others) is experiencing.  For years, since the seventies, I have felt that what we need to do is steer away from corporate food and towards more personal ways of eating.  In my own life, I have found the most culinary enjoyment by walking into a garden with a bowl, picking some things, taking them to the kitchen and simply preparing them.

It's everywhere.  It's everywhere!!

It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere!!

This is not to say that I would never eat a burger – I love burgers – or that I never watch a cooking show on TV – I love TV.  But more and more I see that many restaurants are using the same words: “sustainable,” “organic,” “local,” etc.  I have lost confidence that those words mean anything.  And I hear workers in our industry complaining about “hipsters” (characters from Portlandia) and the effect they have had on our industry: “What was my chicken’s name?”

All of these things were floating around internally when I started to work on our new menu.  It has been hard for me to keep my head in anything lately because the election season has created such anxiety for me.  So many people around me are SO SURE that they know what is going on and who is right and how things should go.  It’s disconcerting.


The above paragraphs were written a few days ago – before Orlando.  Now, honestly, I don’t quite know what to say.  My struggles with getting the spice mix perfectly balanced in the Iraqi Chicken or the broth to be more flavorful in the Pho seem trivial.  Surely, if I could just walk out of the café door and into the world with good intent in my heart, and if others did the same, we could fix whatever is wrong.

Back when Barb and I were binge watching Breaking Bad, I wondered about the characters we were seeing on the screen – what made them do what they did?  I’ve heard the question asked: “when did Walter White break bad?”  Some believe it was when Walter let Jesse’s girlfriend aspirate and suffocate as a side effect of heroin use.  That makes sense.  Just the act of manufacturing and selling meth isn’t bad exactly – it’s just illegal.  Watching someone die whom you could save, no matter how economically expedient, is bad.

51glPbz0s7LIs there a larger issue in the above example?  Who exactly is Walter White when he makes that decision?  If you recall, the story started when he discovered that he had cancer and wanted to make and sell meth in order to stockpile funds to support his family in the event he could no longer work.  As we all know, the story changed and he moved on to become a criminal, drug dealer and killer.  Nevertheless, he remained a sympathetic character.  How was this done?  Possibly it was because his character changed over time from a civilian to a warrior.  And, for whatever reason, in the case of soldiers, ordinary morality ceases to apply.  All of the arguments about this have been eloquently elucidated by religious scholar Karen Armstrong.  Her insights include attributing PTSD (and the inability of soldiers to reintegrate into civilian society) to difficulty in reversing that same corruption of morality.  (How can someone who has been made to believe that an “enemy” embodies treachery and must be exterminated lose the memory of those convictions, and, more importantly, of the actions which such beliefs might have brought about in combat?)

Significantly, Ms. Armstrong believes that nationalism is a far more likely cause of war than religion, that violence is a necessary part of nation building and that and that any governing body is “obliged to maintain at its heart an institution committed to treachery and violence,” because “violence and coercion . . . lay at the heart of social existence” [her words].  What this means is that societies use police and armies for control and DEA.agentsdominance.

Now that is a sticky wicket….  Last week Barb and I were lucky enough to attend an event in Minneapolis whereat Madeleine Albright spoke to a small group of mostly women.  One of the many interesting Madeleineobservations she made was that patriotism is fairly benign and useful but nationalism is dangerous.  Therein is the peril we face today from Russia and China.

So what are we as Americans – wanting to make good choices and be good global citizens – to make of all this?  And how did these things play out in Orlando?  What was the shooter thinking as he bought his guns and planned his kills?  Again, Karen Armstrong: “Every fundamentalist movement that I’ve studied, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation.”

One of the television news analysts yesterday said that the shooter’s mind had three threads in it: hatred of GLBT, radical Islam and psychopathology.  Those three generated his actions.  Because I grew up in Texas, I’ve been exposed to bigotry and fundamentalism and easily recognize it.  But hate crimes are typically private and involve only a few people.  A mass shooting is a different thing.  Nevertheless, I can imagine how a child of Afghani immigrants living in Florida could fear cultural annihilation.

Where do we go from here?  Co-incidentally, a few days before Orlando, I took some signs I picked up at the Minnesota Council of Churches which sayramadan sign_1465177931046_1404918_ver1.0 “Blessed Ramadan.”  As I am sure everyone now knows, Ramadan is a sacred time for Muslims – the ninth month – when fasting is observed from sunup to sundown.  It is the month commemorating the revelation of the Qur’an wherein the gates of Heaven are open and the gates of hell are closed.  Devils are chained up.

I have to tell you that I am struggling somewhat with all this.  Clearly, the devils are not all chained up.  But the only choice available to peace loving people is to stay the course.  The Orlando shooter was not acting out of any personal relationship with Allah – he hardly knew Allah.  He was acting out of his own mental illness – his own daemons.  So I am going to leave those signs in my yard and at our business and hope for the best in people.


Meanwhile, if you like the new menu, let us know.
And remember the words of Cheryl Wheeler.



Chained devils on one of the three West Doors of Notre-Dame de Paris





About GMOs


It’s not clear if Bt Corn harms butterflies in the wild.

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the Duluth paper (“Other Voices”) written by a sophomore from UMD.  His name was Tyler Ebert and the article was about genetically modified crops (GMOs).  I was heartened that the paper chose to print the opinions of a young student.  But I was a little dismayed that he chose to use as his references only USA Today and some internet advocacy sites – particularly in the light of the fine library which Kathryn Martin worked so hard to provide to UMD.  Had he looked deeper into the issues in modern agriculture, Tyler might have realized that the story is not so simple as he imagines.  Following, there are a few specific examples of what could have been found about the assertions he made.


European Corn Borer damage to corn ear.

From Tyler’s Article: “For centuries, genetically modified organisms have helped put a dent in world hunger….”  I’m going to assume that what he means by that sentence is that breeding has been controlled by farmers and botanists since the beginnings of agriculture.  And of course that is true – but hybridization is not genetic modification.  Genetic engineering is the introduction of foreign DNA into a germ cell.  That DNA can come from anywhere and can be placed anywhere.
The biggest difference between breeding and recombinant DNA technology (within the resulting organism) has to do with gene expression.  In an organism produced by natural selection, breeding, or even hybridization, gene expression remains as it was with the parents – a leaf is just a leaf, a flower is just a flower and so forth.  In a GMO organism, the introduced genes are expressed in every cell.  So, for example, in the commonly used Bt Corn plant, every cell of the plant contains the insecticidal protein made by the plant from the DNA harvested from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis and placed into the corn seedThe European corn borer, the target species, only eats the kernels – never the other parts of the plants.  But in the meantime, the corn root system below ground is interacting with the subsoil ecosystem and introducing Bt protein and DNA into it.  There is no way to know what the results of this interaction will be.  There are simply too many variables and it has never been studied.

Soy beans growing

Soy beans growing

“Genetically modified organisms are safe to eat.”
There has never been any controversy about this.  Our bodies digest can digest protein from anywhere (with a few exceptions).  No one disputes this.

“With FDA-backed GMOs, world hunger can be managed more efficiently, food can be of better quality, agricultural diversity can climb, and the herbicide industry can continue to be supported.”
There just is no real evidence that anything in that sentence is true.  Genetic engineering and other agricultural technologies have simply not been able to keep up with world population.  Plant (and animal) diversity has been reduced by monoculture.  And since the patent expired on Roundup, profits for Monsanto have fallen.



But none of the above questions get to the real issue, which is: can this stuff really help us?  The jury is still out.  Here are the major issues:

  1. Resistance – of all the transgenic crops planted worldwide last year, 80% were engineered to be glyphosate resistant. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.  “Introduced commercially by Monsanto  in 1974, glyphosate kills weeds by blocking proteins essential to plant growth.  It is now used in more than 160 countries, with more than 1.4 billion pounds applied per year.”  (NatGeo)  Roundup is used to kill weeds and therefore reduce the amount of tillage needed.  (As an aside, glyphosate is generally considered to be harmless to humans but there is controversy about some of Roundup’s other ingredients, specifically surfactants.)  Because of the large amount of overall use of glyphosate, weeds all over the world, but particularly in the US, are becoming resistant to it.
    Roundup packaged for home use

    Roundup packaged for home use

    There is nothing visible on the horizon to replace it.

  2. Food Security – the real threat to food security now facing us is unrelated to the topic of GMO or non-GMO. It is global climate change.  What food we will be able to grow and where we will be able to grow it is not going to remain the same in the future.  Big adaptations will need to be made.  All of the things that farmers have always had to worry about like: Is it going to rain?  Is it going to freeze?  Will there be bees?  Will I be able to get the harvest done in time?  All of those questions will still be there and the predictability of the answers will be less than it is now.  Overlooked in the current debates about GMOs and about climate change is the basic situation of the state of our knowledge: How much do we really know?  Well, we really do know that CO2 levels are rising and that temperatures are rising.  We really do know that herbicide resistance is rising.  But real experimentation is missing about the risks and the benefits of GMOs.

    Glyphosate spray being applied to crop

    Glyphosate spray being applied to a crop

  3. Follow the money – The reason (more or less) why there is not much experimentation of what the real consequences of GMOs might be is that there is no money in that kind of research. In the same way that drug companies pay for only certain kinds of medical research, chemical companies will pay for only the kinds of botanical, biochemical and environmental research that they believe will benefit them.  Moreover, that kind of research, where one (or a small number of) biochemical pathway(s) is/are elucidated, is easier to control so it is easier to do.  Out in nature, where these things from the laboratory end up, the complexity of ecological systems generates great experimental difficulties.  Nature has her ways and we do not know most of them.
  4. Is chemistry better? – Well, maybe not. Experiments at the Rodale Institute and elsewhere have shown that yields from conventional farming and organic farming are the same.  Moreover, organic farming reduces the use of fossil fuels and greatly increases organic matter in the soil.

So where does that leave us?  Well, there is hardly anyone in this discussion who doesn’t have a dog in the fight.  So it is very difficult to tease out what the real facts are.  I’m going to list below the articles that I read prior to writing this.  But I urge anyone interested to spend some time in the library.  Because information on the internet can be pretty marginal.  Nevertheless, my article is the unscary version of this story.  If you want to see the scarier version, take a look at the NatGeo website.


Changing Genes to Feed the World
David Pimentel

A Growing Threat Down on the Farm
SCIENCE VOL 316 25 MAY 2007

Amid Europe’s Food Fights, EFSA
Keeps Its Eyes on the Evidence

Predictions of Biodiversity
Response to Genetically Modified Herbicide-Tolerant Crops
R. Watkinson, R. P. Freckleton,1† R. A. Robinson, J. Sutherland

The Ecological Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Plants
L. Wolfenbarger1* and P. R. Phifer


About Fish – December 30, 2015

This past year has seen a big decline in the availability of locally harvested wild fish.  For the past several years we have been using Red Lake Band walleye and Lake Superior whitefish as the “seafood” staples in our menu.  The Red Lake fishery is run by the band and collects, cleans and sells walleye caught by band members in the tribal portion of Red Lake (see map).

RedLakeWhen we first started buying fish from the band it shipped directly from them, but in recent years we have had to purchase it indirectly from a food service distributor.  Lake Superior whitefish is bought from commercial fishermen in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  In the past, we bought our whitefish from Lake Superior Fish in Superior, WI.  But, more recently, probably due to the growing popularity of the “buy local” movement, that source has dried up.  We have switched to Bodin Fisheries in Bayfield, WI. However, at this time we are not able to get either wild walleye or whitefish.  It is not completely clear exactly what all the issues are with the fish supply.  But we can look at some local history and biology to learn a few things.

In 1998 MPR reported that:
The problems at Red Lake started decades ago. The federal government opened commercial fishing in 1918 to provide food for Minnesotans during World War I. The harvest was increased during World War II, and the regulations put in place then have not changed in 55 years. Federal regulations set a maximum walleye harvest and ostensibly controlled the commercial fishing, but for decades there was little or no oversight. It was just ten years ago that the Red Lake tribe started a fish biology department. The tribe manages 85 percent of the lake; the state of Minnesota oversees the remaining 15 percent that’s outside reservation boundaries. Minnesota DNR regional fisheries manager Bob Strand says Red Lake is in critical condition.
In the late 1980s commercial fishing took nearly one million pounds of walleye a year from Red Lake – that was the legal harvest. Some contend another one million pounds were taken illegally.
Any member of the Red Lake band was free to do subsistence netting – catching fish to feed their family. Many used the freedom as it was intended, but some subsistence netters took thousands of pounds of walleye to sell on the black market. Tribal and state officials are circumspect about placing blame, but commercial fisherman and Red Lake tribal member Bill May says greed led to a declaration of war on walleye.

Red Lake, at 260,000 acres, is Minnesota’s largest inland lake and consists of two basins. In 1999, the Red Lake Band and the DNR reached an historic recovery agreement which outlawed netting of any kind in Red Lake and controlled walleye fishing in both the reservation and public portions of the lake.  Additionally, both the band and the state DNR began stocking programs.  The harvest resumed in 2006 and the band and the DNR co-operate to monitor harvest levels.  Fishing this year has been OK but right now the ice is too thin to get the gear out on the ice.  In the public portion of the lake, the limit is three walleye, only one of which can be longer than 17”.

Out in Lake Superior the story is a little different.  Fishing nets are allowed.

Net Design

Net Design

Until about 1890 whitefish were the mainstay of the Lake Superior commercial fisherman, but in the three decades that followed they became virtually extinct in many areas. Great Lakes Fishing was not regulated until a law was passed in Michigan in 1929.  Prior to that it was literally catch as catch can.

From Zenith City:
Herring fishing reached its peak in the early 1890s, providing 78 percent of herring caught in the United States. In 1897 Sam Johnson, a Swedish immigrant who learned to fish on the Baltic, founded ZCA_IND_SamJohnson_001_DPLSam Johnson & Sons Fisheries Inc. (See photo) directly across the street from Booth Fisheries. Other Duluth fisheries active at the time included H. Christianson & Sons, Hogstad Fisheries, Scandia Fish Company, Bray Fish Company, Goldish Fisheries, A. Kemp Fisheries, and Sivertson Brothers….  The industry reached its peak in 1915 with a record catch of 20 million pounds in Duluth alone. In the 1920s, more than two hundred fisherman operated between Beaver Bay and the Pigeon River. But the 1930s were a different story. The lake’s catch dwindled to below 8 million pounds. The industry never quite recovered. Predatory lamprey eels and over-harvesting nearly wiped out the trout in the 1950s. Today the Lake Superior fishing industry is all but a memory; the annual harvest is less than two thousand pounds….  In 1940 the Sivertsons purchased the Hogstad Fisheries, which had purchased A. Booth in 1928. In the 1960s it began operating as the Lake Superior Fish Company, which it had acquired with its purchase of Goldish Fisheries. The company still operates today, and two of Sivertson’s grandchildren and their families remain involved. A. Kemp Fisheries, established in Duluth in 1930 by Aron and Abe Kemp, still operates. In the 1970s the company became Louis Kemp’s, named for its owner (a childhood friend of Bob Dylan, who also managed Dylan’s 1976 “Rolling Thunder” tour), who developed a process for making surimi, artificial crab meat made of pollock and whitefish. Today, Louis Kemp’s is a subsidiary of Trident Seafoods Corporation of Seattle, selling its Crab Delight throughout the world.fishingboat_62555_7

Nowadays, the Lake Superior fishery is highly studied and regulated.  Of all the Great Lakes, Superior is the most pristine and the fish have the lowest levels of toxic contaminants.
Historically, Superior has produced far fewer fish than Lake Michigan.

From the Minnesota Sea Grant website:
Therein lies the difference between Lakes Michigan and Superior. During the course of the incredible changes in species composition that took place after the 1940s, Lake Michigan ended up with a prolific forage fish that supported an enormous trout and salmon stocking program, while Lake Superior ended up with only a fraction of the forage base that it had prior to the sea lamprey invasion.
In addition, Lake Michigan annually receives 42,000 more tons of nitrogen and 2,250 more tons of phosphorous than Lake Superior. The larger nutrient loading into the smaller Lake Michigan may make it more productive than it was in the past….
Because Lake Superior has more natural reproduction of lake trout than other Great Lakes, it may be better off in the long run. Native lake trout became extinct in Lake Michigan, but remnant populations in Lake Superior survived the lampreys’ onslaught. Today Lake Superior has many areas with natural reproduction and significant numbers of native lake trout (identified by their lack of clipped fins). The Lake Michigan trout and salmon fishery remains almost totally dependent on stocking. The collapse of the salmon fishery in some areas of Lake Michigan and the recent major losses of hatchery production in Michigan and Wisconsin from a new virus suggest that there are risks in relying so heavily on stocking to support a fishery.
The biggest biological threat to Lake Superior’s recovery may continue to be exotic species….
Three new exotic species from Europe may also threaten the Lake’s recovery. The ruffe, a small perch; the spiny water flea or B.c., a large predatory zooplankton; and the zebra mussel, a small biofouling clam have all developed reproducing populations in the Lake Superior basin. Of the three new exotics, spiny water flea populations have developed most extensively in the lake and may be capable of inflicting the greatest ecological changes in Lake Superior, but only time will tell.

The actual reason why demand has so far exceeded supply in the last two years is not completely clear.  The winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 were both unusually cold.  (Remember the “polar vortex”?)  And there is not nearly so much nitrogen, nor phosphorous, dissolved in Superior as in the other great lakes.

I sent an email to Dr. Robert Sterner at UMD’s Large Lakes Observatory asking this question and here is what he said:
We measured primary productivity in the offshore of Lake Superior many times in bottles that were suspended at given depth for an entire daylight period.  We measured the rate that carbon was incorporated into organisms.  This rate generally can depend on a handful of things: the biomass of photosynthetic organisms, the temperature, light and nutrients, as well potentially as the kind of organisms present.  However, when we looked at our data we found that far and away the one factor that we could use to predict the rate of photosynthesis in our 1-day incubations was light.  We didn’t even need to include the biomass of the organisms in order to do a good job predicting the rate of primary productivity.  Part of the reason why is that without light no photosynthesis can take place, so the other factors don’t matter.
However, this does not mean the nutrients (or other factors) can be ignored.  One reason biomass or phosphorus might have had minor relevance in our study was that both of these were basically low and fairly uniform everywhere we looked.  If we do the thought experiment of polluting Lake Superior with tons of phosphorus (an awful thought indeed), greening it up, we’d then be measuring higher primary productivity everywhere in the lake.
I haven’t read too much this year about the low fish abundances but I have heard that some of the species are at low abundance, affecting commercial harvests.  I think some fisheries biologists are thinking about what effect the two recent very cold winters had.  In addition, we have evidence from my lab that algal abundance is in a state of decline in the lake, meaning probably less food for fish to eat and thus fewer fish.  We are far from having a smoking gun to prove all that, but that’s why we need more research into how the Lake Superior ecosystem works.

I also heard from Dr. Liz Minor about the same topic:
Sterner’s work shows that light is the major variable in primary production (algae growth).  This has to do with how deeply light can penetrate (it is absorbed by water itself, sediments, and colored dissolved organic matter, as well as the algae themselves).  The other factor in light limitation is the depth of the surface mixed layer, which is determined by the temperature structure in the lake water column. In the summer the lake has a warm surface layer that is less dense than the deep layer and the floating algae get trapped in the surface layer.  This is good for them because it keeps them near the light. In the spring and fall the lake surface water is cool and when it reaches 4 degrees c (the temperature when water is most dense) the whole water column mixes.  This is bad for floating algae because they get mixed deeper than the light can penetrate.
N and P can act as limiters in lake systems too, if enough light is available. There are times of the year and places in Lake Superior where P seems limiting, because its main source is run off from the land and the lake has a pretty small watershed for its size.

More Science articles can be found here.LevelTemperatureHarvestLevelTemperatureHarvest

So where does that leave us as a restaurant?  One place is to look towards farm fishing.  UMD has set up an experimental fish farm in Silver Bay producing leafy vegetables and Tilapia (see photos).  They sent us some samples but at this time we are not able to deal with whole unscaled tilapia.  Recently I saw an advertisement for a farm in Iowa.  A couple of brothers have converted a hog farm into a production facility for barramundi, which is a sea bass like fish native to Australia.  This fish is available to us through the food service already skinned and filleted – so it is easy to manage.  We are going to begin experimenting with it this week.  We’re hopeful.  Fish is a very important part of modern diets and is less damaging to the environment than other meats.  What you eat is more important than where it is from.

We continue to try to manage bringing our customers what they want in terms of variety and quality while at the same time informing our purchasing decisions with as much knowledge as possible.  As always, your input is welcomed.



Crossing the Ocean

September 4th:  Barb and I are currently crossing the Atlantic on a British ocean liner.  This is an odd experience – like walking through the television screen into PBS.  The majority of passengers are British, including some colonials.  Other big groups are Germans and Americans.  This boat seems a microcosmic analogue of the larger world.  All of the issues are here: history, politics, class, economy, environment and its sub category climate, race, gender, religion, food, drink, addiction, public health – everything.

View of bow from the ship's library.

View of bow from the ship’s library.

Historically this line, Cunard, is in its 175th year.  Charles Dickens traveled aboard a Cunard ship.  The WWI era liner Lusitania, sunk by the Kaiser, and the Carpathia, which rescued the Titanic survivors, were both Cunard ships.  In 1938, Cunard merged with White Star, owner of Titanic and Britannic.  The line has had ups and downs since the introduction of transatlantic jets in 1958 and is now owned by Carnival UK.  But the ambiance aboard is purely British.  Two of the points from the 10 point service pledge are “Our level of service is formal” and “English only will be spoken by employees in guest areas.”

My shipboard reading material includes a history book about the love affairs of British authors in London during the Blitz. Amazingly I never knew that Virginia and Leonard Wolfe’s house was completely destroyed, all of their books and writings, everything, a short time before her suicide.  Equally astounding was to learn that Ireland remained neutral in that period, making Churchill so angry that he blamed them for English casualties in the Irish Sea because the Irish would not allow use of their ports.  The Irish position was that their country was so unstable that entry into the war would destroy it.  But, of course, the real villains of the story are the Germans.

September 5th:  Television available on the boat includes a web cam of the bow, a channel with a map showing our position in the Atlantic, the BBC and Sky TV (a news channel).  Sky is currently showing arriving Syrian refugees being lavishly welcomed into Germany.  The contrast between the current Germany and the Germany of the war is absolute.  Sometimes I find myself in coincidental situations and this is one of them.  I’m currently corresponding with Cheryl Reitan about a fundraiser that the café is going to help with.  The purpose is to raise money to send a group of Duluthians to the American South on a tour of civil rights era historic sites (like the Pettus Bridge and so forth).  The high school students on the trip will then return and report to the community what kind of meaning they gleaned from the experience.  Part of our discussion has been about what we are doing – in other words, what are the real issues concerning race that need to be addressed in Duluth?  Cheryl was the editor of Susan Sojourner’s memoir about SNCC and activism in Mississippi.  Cheryl is much more knowledgeable than I and says that that she does not judge, but just does things that the “Clayton Jackson McGhie and Saint Mark’s AME communities” want to have done.  I myself, also being German, feel compelled to judge.  And right now I feel that the biggest problem facing Duluth – indeed the world – is segregation.

Don’t worry – I am not going to go there – am not going to try to go into a full blown discussion of that topic – will only say that it is a discussion that needs to be continuously had.  Here on the boat, the passengers, with few exceptions, are all white people.  The officers are white.  Most  of the hotel and restaurant workers are not white.  Back in the day of the Lusitania and the Carpathia, that was not the case.  Everyone was ethnic English – divided by class but not by race.  Back in the early days of Duluth that was also the case – divided by class and ethnicity – but not by race.  (few Native Americans lived in town.)  Now, it’s different.  I am pretty sure that eventually this race barrier will break down.  But, in the meantime, there is work to be done.

Barb standing on deck of ship parked at Brooklyn terminal.

Barb standing on deck of ship parked at Brooklyn terminal.

The evening of the day we left New York harbor (that was an experience in itself) I saw a hammer head shark swimming off the port side.  We were passing between the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, one of the richest fishing areas in the world – home to cod, haddock, herring, flounder, lobster, scallops, clam and other seafood.  It is rich there because the cold and nutrient laden Labrador Current meets and intermingles with the warm Gulf Stream.  That mixing, coupled with shallow depth, creates a perfect environment for phytoplankton – the base of the oceanic food chain.

In the news recently has been a story about Cargill taking over salmon farming in Norway.  This cannot be good.  At the café we use Rogotske salmon from Alaska, wild caught, even though it has to be flown there from Seattle.  And we use Lake Superior whitefish and Red Lake Walleye.  I wish that we could use scallops and lobster from New England, Dungeness crab from the west coast, stone crabs from Florida.  Those would make our menu so much more exciting.  Food issues are always complicated and often hard to tease out.

September 7:  Yesterday we passed over the Flemish Cap, also a rich fishing ground.  (That’s where George Clooney fictionally went down in the Andrea Gale.)  There is meaning in the experience of taking this slower route across the ocean, seeing these things, knowledge to be gained from close up – more than a flyover transit.  I assumed that traveling this way would use less fuel than flying, but (because you are moving at 28 knots instead of 600 mph and because you are resting on the ocean, not lifted above gravity) but reading about it, I’m not sure.  I wish this were a more ecologically sound way to travel – but it may not be.  All of these issues swim around in my head today as we continue eastward, sailing into an Atlantic storm.  The Captain is making light of it but a 50 mph gale is expected.  We can already hear things banging outside.  It was noticeable when we left the protection of Labrador and sailed away from the Gulf Stream (74F) and into the open ocean (53F).  The most astounding thing seen while crossing the Flemish Cap, was a tern-like sea bird flying alongside us and then settling down to rest on the ocean surface like a duck – hundreds of miles from any land.

Our route across the Atlantic

Our route across the Atlantic

The 60s vocal/rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash are on the boat with us and last night they gave a concert in the ship’s theater.  The swells were at 16’ in anticipation of the storm and the boat was rolling a bit.  The band commented on the moving stage taking them back to psychedelic days.  Waiting for the concert to begin, I looked out over the audience, mostly in their sixties, and there were several people sound asleep due to the Dramamine.  Listening to those old songs about “almost cut my hair” and “we are leaving, you don’t need us” was pretty weird in that setting, in this place.  But “Teach Your Children” made me cry, as it always does.  It’s never lost its meaning.

There is a strict dress code at dinner.  About half the evenings are designated formal – which means “black tie for gentlemen and evening dresses for ladies.”  Had I brought my tuxedo (if I still had it) I would not be allowed to wear it.  Those of us not willing to put on costume, are encouraged to restrict our movements to the two salons of the ship reserved for informal attire.

Screen shot of "our" storm from the Weather Channel

Screen shot of “our” storm from the Weather Channel

September 9:  The storm was definitely memorable.  Reminded me of standing on the Canal Park pier in November when Superior is kicking up.  The Captain had the hydraulic stabilizers out and we were mostly steady – but every once in a while you could feel a significant shudder – and of course the horizon moves continuously up and down.  For anyone interested, there is a pretty good description of how QM2 is engineered on Wiki.  This liner is a little longer than the largest lakers (e.g., the Tregurtha) but taller.  It’s nowhere near the size of the big cruise ships.

Today we are passing over the Porcupine Abyssal Plain – sailing a mile or so above a relatively featureless rolling muddy bottom.  Every day at noon

Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England

Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England

the captain gives a little talk after he tells us that the clocks need to go forward one hour. Today is the day that Queen Elizabeth becomes  England’s longest reigning monarch.  Much was made of that on the BBC.  She is an amazing woman – a genuine public servant – utterly unlike Victoria.  There is a painting of her hanging in the purser’s office.

Tonight at dinner Barb and I found we were sitting next to a couple of the ship’s gigolos.  I could tell that’s who they were by what they were saying and struck up a conversation with them.  They do not get paid but get free passage and free meals.  Their job is to go to the ballroom after dinner and dance with the single ladies.  One of them was English and the other was an American former federal worker who lives in D.C.  They were both retired, in their sixties and both love to dance.  It is forbidden for them to become involved with the women so both parties feel comfortable and safe.  I enjoyed talking to them, although their situation was not one I could picture myself in – either role.

September 10 – Almost there – The Celtic Sea.  We’ve passed into shallow water again – about 100 meters deep, the European Continental Shelf.  I saw my first seagull since leaving America.  We are to pass Bishop’s Rock this afternoon at 5PM – will dock in Southampton at 6AM tomorrow.  Bishop’s Rock is where they once measured the total time it had taken a liner to cross the Atlantic.  The liner speed record was set in 1952 by the SS United States, “the fastest ship afloat.”  United States was built with subsidies from the US government and designed to be easily modified into a troopship should the need arise.  It was also specifically designed to break the speed record of the original Queen Mary, a Cunard ship.

Auto loading terminal next to us when we were docked at Southampton.

Auto loading terminal io the pier next to us when we were docked at Southampton.

In 1957, a few months after my grandad died, I traveled with my Oma across the Atlantic on SS United States.  I come by my love of the ocean honestly.  That year was the last before transatlantic jet travel began.  United States was decommissioned in 1969 and now sits rusting at a dock in Pennsylvania.  The original Queen Mary has been converted to a hotel in San Diego.  I have never visited her there but understand that she is still beautiful.

It’s impossible to say what will happen to our oceans in this century or how any of the great issues of our time will be resolved.  I certainly do not know the answers to any of it – except the old saw: “Everyone just needs to do the best that they can.”  Today (Sept 13) is my birthday – I am 69.  I’m sure that 58 years ago the North Atlantic and the North Sea were colder – and that our climate has changed, and continues to change and that we have not done much about it.  But in the intervening years we’ve had the civil rights movement, feminism, gay rights and the Americans with Disabilities act.  So it is possible that things can be accomplished.

Petroleum Terminal in the channel between Southampton and the Isle of Wight

Petroleum Terminal in the channel between Southampton and the Isle of Wight

All of the choices are ours.




Fish and Cuba


Copyright AAAS Science

It’s happened twice in the last few weeks that articles about Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina have crossed my desk.  The first was from Sea to Table – that site is a bulletin created by a sympathetic American family and it serves to connect independent and sustainably practicing fishermen all over North America with chefs in large American cities.  Because the US department of State has removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism that country will be undergoing intense change in the coming years.  Since Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba has languished due to the regime’s dislike of capitalism and economic development.  The GNP per capita in 2011 was $6,051.20.  In the United States, by contrast, it was $49,803.50.

As a result, the environment around Cuba is comparatively pristine – what was difficult for the Cuban people has been a bonanza for nature.  There has simply been no money devoted to development.  Additionally, the Cuban government has devoted much effort to conservation in the Jardine, making it a park.  Jacques Cousteau visited the island in the ‘80s and convinced the Cuban government to create an environmental agency and begin conservation.  People who have dived the reefs in the park report that it is like going back in time hundreds of years.

The second recent article was from Science magazine and describes a new effort by a UNC Chappell Hill biologist partnered with a Cuban post-doc to measure the fish mass in the reefs and study the micro flora.  It is hoped that the study of the reefs will enable comparisons with degraded reefs around Florida to tease out a more nuanced narrative for reef degradation and what has caused it all over the Carribean.


Us foreign policy still prohibits federally funded research in Cuban waters.  Current efforts are partially funded by Ocean Doctor, a D.C. non-profit which helps American scientists visit there.  The project is a spin off from the San Francisco Baum Foundation’s environmental arm and is headed by a marine scientist, Dr. David Guggenheim.

It will be interesting to see how things go moving forward.  Currently, under socialism, the government is the largest employer in Cuba.  They pretty much control what happens there.  There is little to no lobby pressure on the government unlike in capitalist countries.  Internationally, scientists hope that meaningful research can be accomplished before tourism and development change the ecosystem.  There will be a struggle there over this issue.

About Fats

There has been some news recently about trans fats.  The FDA has given industry three years to remove artificial fats from our food supply.  New York Times foodie superstar Mark Bittman wrote an op-ed column recently in which he opined that “butter is better” [than Crisco.]  In the popular hierarchy it goes like this: fat is bad; saturated fat is worse and trans fats are baddest.  And don’t forget cholesterol.  I started to wonder as I was reading Mark’s column, what exactly are these things and what makes them so bad?  Looking into it was pretty fascinating.

Maybe you know that in addition to their obvious role as just pure food – i.e., stuff to be digested and used as fuel – fats play a role in the structures and chemicals in our bodies.  One of their most important functions is formation of the so-called “lipid bilayer,” a primary constituent of all cell membranes.  Just like everything else, all living things are governed by energetics.  Molecules take the easiest way to do anything (well, unless they are poked or prodded – but that is another topic.)  So a lot of (particularly animal) biology is based on self-assembly – molecules arranging themselves in a way that is easiest to maintain.  They just do not want to go to any trouble.  In the body, fats exist in a form called fatty acids.  That means that they have an organic acid (COOH or COO-) group at one end, a long hydrocarbon chain in the middle and a methyl group (CH3) at the other end.  As you probably know – oil and water do not like each other and as you also probably know, we humans are pretty much made out of water.  So the fatty acids turn their methyl end away from water and their acid end towards the water.  The result of this is the membrane or lipid bilayer that looks like this:



These bilayers are not at all stiff – they are at body temperature (37OC) – about the consistency of olive oil.  The chemical that bodies use to stiffen these membranes is cholesterol – a substance manufactured in the liver – and which also comes from our food.  It is stiffer than the fatty acids – sort of waxy.  It has four rings in it, making it rigid and pretty flat.



Cholesterol2-300x187Those rings are characteristic of steroids – along with the hydroxyl (OH) group on one end.  In the same way that the fatty acids have a COO- end and a CH3 end, cholesterol has an OH end and a CH3 end.  Both molecules are called “amphipathic” because they love water (hydrophilic) on one end and hate it (hydrophobic) on the other.



Lipid Membrane

Cell Membrane showing Lipid Bilayer and Cholesterol



Because these molecules are essentially fats, even though they have a water loving bit at the end, they are not soluble in water and can’t move around in it without help.  And because the body needs to move these molecules around, a transport system has evolved to take the lipids (fats) where they need to go.  And that transport system has generated a lot of attention due to its relationship with disease.




When we eat fats they are typically ingested in the form of triglycerides which are three fatty acids hanging from a glycerol backbone.  The molecule looks like this:



Glycoholic acid shown in diagrammatic and space filling model. The yellow regions turn away from water, the blue regions turn toward it.

In the intestines, triglycerides are broken down by an enzyme from the pancreas called, appropriately, pancreatic lipase.  Two of the fatty acids are clipped off and one remains on the glycerol, leaving a monoglyceride.  This next bit is important – hope you are still with me.  We have all heard of bile – that word has a lot of meanings.  In pre-modern physiology, bile was associated with anger and gloominess – and the word is still used today to mean bad temper.  For fat metabolism, bile is made in the liver and stored in the gall bladder.  Bile is mostly water but the active ingredient is an amphipathic acid made from cholesterol called glycoholic acid.  Here are two views of it showing the water attractive (blue) and water repellant (yellow) aspects.


Bile Salts

The Glycoholic acid serves to emulsify the fats so that they might be suspended in the digesting food.  With the peristaltic action of the intestines, the little blobs of fat and bile are eventually taken into the epithelial cells lining the intestines by diffusion across the cell membranes.  The whole action of breaking down the triglycerides into fatty acids and monoglycerides is for this purpose – so that the fat can pass through the cell membranes.  Once inside the cells, the fats and monoglycerides are reconstituted into triglycerides which can be readied for transport into the bloodstream for use by the body.  This first step of transport is done by the cellular organelles.  Triglyceriedes are boxed up with cholesterol, lipoproteins and other lipids into particles called chylomicrons.


Now we are at the real heart of the matter concerning fat and health.

Here is a representation of chylomicrons and other lipid transporting structures:


The smaller the size the higher in density and the richer in protein.

These four structures all ferry fat and cholesterol around the body.  The chylomicrons carry it first from the intestinal mucosa via the thoracic lymphatic duct into the plasma.  In the capillaries, circulating chylomicrons release the triglycerides and cholesterol at fat cell and muscle cell sites for storage or use as energy.  Lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme on the surface of capillary cells, breaks the triglycerides back down into fatty acids and monoglyceride.  Having all these fats in the bloodstream creates effects because biochemical systems frequently work using feedback inhibition.  Such inhibition controls serum lipid levels – more or less – but the system is delicate and can go awry – too much can collect.  In addition to the chylomicrons, there are three other significant lipid transport structures.  They are named according to their ratio of lipids to proteins.  Chylomicron is the largest and least dense, then Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL).

The way that things are supposed to work is that the liver packages up fatty acids and cholesterol in protein packets (the LDL) and ships them off around the body to be incorporated into membranes and converted to other chemicals – e.g., steroids.  The High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) circulate through the blood gathering up stray molecules of fatty acids and cholesterol and return them to the liver.  But the whole system balance is susceptible to those well know items: diet and exercise.


Let’s take a minute to talk about different types of fatty acids.
How the carbons in the fatty tail are linked together is what determines the health consequences of the fatty acid.  Unsaturated wild type (natural) fatty acids are typically bent and won’t lie flat together.  That gives them a lower melting point – like an oil.  Saturated fatty acids are flat and lie together to form a more solid structure at a similar (say, room) temperature, like lard.  This is the reason why a cold fish is flexible and a cold pork chop is stiff.  Fish fats are unsaturated and meat fats are more saturated.  When they talk in advertising about Omega Three oils – that means that there is a double (unsaturated) bond at the third carbon from the methyl end of the fatty acid chain.  More saturation simply means more hydrogen.

Additionally, unsaturated bonds can be of two types.  Most natural fats contain “cis” bonds.  As shown in the illustration above, what that means is that in the hydrocarbon chain the carbons next to the carbons in the double bond are on the same side of the bond.  Atoms can rotate freely about single bonds but they are constrained by a double bond.  Cis bonds cause a bend in the molecule and a lower melting point.  Trans bond lie flat – much the same as saturated chains causing a higher melting point.

So let’s review for a minute.  We have two things happening here – a transport system for fatty acids and cholesterol and a variety of possible fatty acid configurations.  In the transport system, LDL brings fats from the liver to the body tissues for use.  HDL returns fats to the liver for recycling.  Because of this, LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol and HDL is known as “good” cholesterol.  For reasons that are currently unknown, unnatural trans fatty acids cause an increase in serum LDL.

Here’s the connection to health: elevated levels of LDL cause arterial inflammation.  If a “Mediterranean” style diet is followed then normal arterial endothelium does not support adhesion of molecules from the blood stream.  But if the diet is rich in trans fats or even saturated fats then elevated levels of LDL occur and the cells lining the interior of the arteries begin to express adhesion molecules as a result of inflammation.  This can most typically happen at arterial branches.  What follows is a cascade of degradation.  White blood cells (leucocytes) are attracted to substances secreted by the cells and adhere.  (They are called there to fight the inflammation.)  The leucocytes in turn secrete chemicals that promote the migration and proliferation of smooth muscle cells (SMCs).  SMCs express specialized enzymes that can degrade the vascular elastin and collagen (muscle proteins) in response to inflammatory stimulation.  Once resident in the arterial wall, the blood-derived inflammatory cells participate in and perpetuate a local inflammatory response – including the production of foam cells which are lipid engorged vesicles.  The ultimate result of this cascade is development of a dense matrix of cells which is an atherosclerotic lesion or, as commonly known, plaque.


Leukocytes are drawn to the inflammation site.


Unattached lipids are gathered into Foam Cells.











Plaques rich in soft extracellular lipids are the most rupture prone.  When plaque deposits do rupture, platelets rush to the site forming a clot and a stroke or heart attack or deep vein thrombosis can occur.


Platelets confuse rupture of plaque with rupture of vessel.




Platelets shown gathering into a ball at the site of a plaque rupture.





One’s diet is definitely worth watching.


Dishes that conform to the Mediterranean Diet available at Sara’s Table include fish tacos, white fish platter, Peasant’s Meal and many others. Ask your waitress.



August 7, 2014
This Tuesday the bees from the roof were very active.  Jonathon Otis (Lake Superior Honey Co.), who raises them on our roof, came over and said there was one hive with no queen – that is why the were swarming in the VIP Pizza parking lot.  He and our Maintenance man Peter wrangled them back into a hive and returned them to the roof.  It was quite a sight.

Rita and Abby have been doing a FANTASTIC job this summer with the garden.  This is really the first time in our twelve year history when our garden goals have been realized.  We are getting some great produce from all three of our plots – greens, herbs and fennel are currently on the menu.  Blue potatoes and spinach are among the things to come.

Wild and Organic Foods

August 14, 2014      There have been some interesting articles about food and the restaurant business in the papers lately.  This one from the Duluth News Tribune (originally published by the Los Angeles Times) discusses studies of the benefits of organic foods.   And this one from the New York Times gives some great insights into farm fishing.  Non-farm fish and organic products both increase costs.  It is good for us to know what people value.  Use the suggestion box by the front door.

August 7, 2014  Jillian is back from Mexico!  And we have found a steady supplier for Lake Superior Whitefish.  The garden is lush and beautiful.  The blue cauliflower was spectacular and chard leaves are the size of a tennis racket.  A nest of bunnies has been relocated to a more appropriate home.  What a great year.

Jillian is coming back next month – just two weeks away!!
We are really excited.  Have missed her steady hand.

Heather has been hard at work redoing some of our recipes to make them the absolute best that they can be.  They have always been good – now they will be even better.

Kirk is still working on the American Cookery series – every Tuesday night he prepares a meal.  The guy is brilliant.