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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #121

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Have You Heard of Cook90?

Cook90 is a cooking plan invented by David Tamarkin of Epicurious magazine. Cook90 means that in one month (the average number of days in a month is 30) you will prepare every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) in your home rather than relying on take-out, drive-thru windows, or the lunchroom cafeteria.

Now, before you jump to the next article, this doesn't mean that you are a slave to your stove for 90 meals. If toast and a cup of tea is your normal breakfast routine, then that's what you should do. Leftovers from dinner can be the next day's lunch. However, David does say that a food cannot be used more than twice (it's his concept, so he gets to make up the rules). That means that you can't cook a huge pot of chili and eat it for 4 consecutive days. But, you could eat it twice and then repurpose the remainder by turning it into tacos, or adding cooked pasta and making a casserole of it, for example.

Why do this? Well, in theory, it should reduce waste, it should greatly improve your food budget for the month (eating out is expensive), and even if you don't groove on cooking as much as David and I, it should make you happy (or at least, happier). Cooking is creative, it's entertaining, and (we think) that it can be fun.

What are your thoughts? Are you willing to give it a try? Let me know in the comments below what you think of this. Is it a hairbrained idea, or genius, or somewhere in the middle? And, can I help you in any way to fashion a Cook90 plan?

I'm all ears.

Before We Get Started

I want to share with you the happy news that a dear friend has recently self-published her first novel, "The Holding of Badger Creek." I asked what her inspiration was for this children's book and she said that she had always loved animal stories like "The Rescuers Down Under."

And, here's a recent review on Amazon:

"I was told this was a children's book but I am 86 years old and found this book to be delightful. It's all about animals but shows how they can get along even if at one time they were enemies. It would be nice if the human race could do the same. Everybody helping each other and looking out for one another. I hope she writes another book real soon."

The Mailbox Was Full

Let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.

Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.


How to Cut Even Slices from a Loaf of Bread

The first question is from Mary (Blond Logic) who commented on Rinita's problems with sandwich bread crumbling.

"Regarding bread that falls apart when cut, the same thing happens to me. I too prefer a diagonal cut and often end up with bits and pieces. While we are on the subject of bread, do you have any tips for cutting a slice off a loaf? I end up with something that looks like a wedge of cheese."

Mary, you're not alone. I've noticed that the bread in my house also has ends that are aslant rather than with a vertical 90-degree edge. Maybe these tips will help:

  1. Open a can of patience and apply a liberal dose to the situation at hand.
  2. Grab a sharp serrated knife with your dominant hand (I'm left-handed so won't attempt to demonstrate).
  3. Now here's where it becomes a tad counter-intuitive. Turn your loaf of bread on its side so that instead of the bottom of the loaf resting on the cutting board, the bottom is facing you and one of the two sides is down. (If, by chance, your bread does not have vertical sides, straight up and down, 90-degree stuff, shave a bit off of one side to make it more up-and-down.) Why would you do this? Well, many/most loaves are wider than they are thick unless you are dealing with a square sandwich loaf.
  4. If your bread has a sturdy (crusty) top, it takes a lot of pressure to cut through that top layer. Rotate the bread onto its side and now you can penetrate the top and bottom (also a challenge) with each saw of your knife.
  5. Remember the patience called for in step 1? Take your time with the sawing (not pushing the blade through the loaf). Concentrate on keeping the knife vertical (straight up-and-down).

Taste Preferences

And then Bill Holland (billybuc) had this:

"Here's a question for your mailbag—why do different people have specific taste preferences? Nature vs nurture...let's see you tackle that one Oh Wise One!"

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Bill, over the past seven decades I've been called many things, but "oh wise one" is not one of them. I think you were half-kidding, but it's an interesting problem and one that does not have a simple answer. Actually nature and nurture play almost equal parts in our food/taste preferences. Here are some examples:

  • Some people find the taste of cilantro to be objectionable; to them, it tastes like eating a bar of soap. This isn't because they weren't introduced to it as babies, nor is it because they are being snobbish or picky. They actually have olfactory-receptor genes that allow them to strongly perceive the aldehydes in cilantro leaves as soapy-tasting.
  • Beets. This one is near and dear to my heart (actually the opposite is the case). I absolutely loathe beets and have had an aversion to them ever since mom tried to foist them on me as strained baby food. I spat them back at her and (according to the story) clamped my jaws tightly when that baby spoon dripping with a bloody-looking substance came anywhere within a mile of my face.

    Beets contain geosim, an organic compound produced by microbes in the soil. Geosim gives off a smell like freshly plowed earth. Some people enjoy it, while others have the Carb Diva reaction.
  • Other people have a sensitivity to anethol, an aromatic that gives fennel, star anise, and licorice their distinctive flavors and aromas.
  • Scientists believe that the preference for certain tastes can develop in utero. The nutrients in and constituents of amniotic fluid are affected by the mother's diet. These preferences are reinforced by the flavor and composition of the mother's breast milk.

Those obviously fall into the nature category. But what about the flip-side? My mom was raised on a farm and was forever marked with the opinion that corn is "pig food." She famously hated it and instilled that dislike in her youngest child. I'm going to call that one "nurture." My daughters do not share my scorn of corn, but perhaps their dad's love of kernels on the cob is a dominant gene.

Even very young children are amazingly observant, and they pick up cues from other family members. A child raised in a home where hamburgers, pizzas, and french fries are the norm will associate those foods with comfort and will learn to prefer those instead of carrot sticks and non-fat yogurt.

A recent study found that repeatedly exposing children to a novel food within a positive social environment was especially effective in increasing children’s willingness to try and preference for the novel food, as well as other novel foods not targeted by the intervention. These findings suggest the importance of both the act of repeatedly exposing children to new foods and the context within which this exposure occurs. (Science Direct "Current Biology" Vol. 3, Issue 9, 6 May 2013)

And then, Dr. M. Krondl's research shows that the science of food preference is even more complex, that heredity, culture, and even socio-economic status can play a part in our likes and dislikes. Here's the chart that he developed to explain his theory.


There is one more factor that I should mention—a normal part of the aging process is a decline in the number of taste buds and receptors (my father-in-law liberally dosed all of his food with ketchup.) Medications and illnesses (such as Alzheimer's) can also affect how foods taste.

Bill, how'd I do?

Hot Pans and Vinegar: A Deadly Combination?

Another question from Mary:

"I was wondering if you could shed some light on an incident we had a couple of days ago. Ian was cooking chilies (hot ones) in some oil and then added some vinegar. He was using a cast iron skillet. Oh my goodness, we were coughing and gagging, and sneezing.

He didn't want to open the back door because he didn't want the gas flame to blow out. The cooker is next to the door.

Was this the chilies or a combination of them with the vinegar? We now have a sauce that is possibly too hot to consume. Did he make the equivalent of pepper spray or can we still eat the sauce (in small amounts)?"

Mary, I looked and looked and simply could not find any information on the danger of combining chile peppers and vinegar. However, I was suspicious of the vinegar itself hitting a scalding hot pan. Vinegar fumes are not toxic but they certainly are pungent and I can understand the coughing and gagging that you and Ian experienced.

So, I reached out to a friend who worked as a food scientist for our county. She gave me this information:

"Another name for vinegar is acetic acid. This may shed some light on the problem. If the result was chemicals that are useful in colorants, then they could easily be irritants to the eyes or lungs or mouth. Iron powder reacts with hot acetic acid to give the product: Fe + 2 CH3CO2H → Fe(CH3CO2)2 + H.

The reaction of scrapiron with acetic acid affords a brown mixture of variousiron(II) and iron(III) acetates that are used in dyeing."

I think what you experienced was a chemical reaction that created nasty fumes in your house. Did it "infect" the actual concoction in the pan? I don't know, but to err on the side of caution, I'd toss it away and start over. (Perhaps useful as a good pesticide?)

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Checking the mailbox when she's not busy helping the CPA with tax returns

Checking the mailbox when she's not busy helping the CPA with tax returns

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 07, 2020:

Kari, I'm glad you liked that part of the article. I could have gone into more detail--perhaps an article in the future.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on February 07, 2020:

The nature vs nurture issue was very interesting. I love licorice but I'm not overly fond of fennel or star anise. I'm lucky that I can (and will) eat a variety of foods.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 31, 2020:

Mary, I don't have an immediate answer but I will research the dickens out of this for you. Stay tuned.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 31, 2020:

Linda, I have a question for a future Q& A. I have successfully made some Cajun spiced peanuts using a rub my husband put together.

I want to try something sweet such as honey but am worried about the honey sliding off and burning. Do you have any advice to help me?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 31, 2020:

Dora my two were not picky eaters. I think part of my success was because I always allowed them to help me shop and at least observe in the kitchen if not standing on a stool helping. When they were big enough to pick out books at the library we would visit there each Saturday and pick out a regional/ethnic cookbook and then select something to cook for dinner. So much fun!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 31, 2020:

Good teaching, here. Thanks for mentioning the children under taste preference. Interested especially for the sake of grand kids who do not want to try new foods. All great answers.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

Hi Shauna - You've given me a lot in your comments, and I'll repay the favor by trying to give you a solid response. First, if you are taking your lunch you are following Cook90. Those tuna or egg salad sandwiches are "cooking" and using leftovers counts too. What isn't a part of the Cook90 plan is running to McDonald's or buying soup or salad at the diner down the street.

I don't have a problem with slicing bread, but others in my household who will go nameless seem to be challenged by bread, and cheese, and even slicing a pie so that the cuts meet at the middle of the pan.

Yes, I agree that the whole problem stemmed from vinegar going into the hot pan. She reports that although the pan has been scoured and seasoned within an inch of its life, it still tastes of the chili peppers.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 27, 2020:

Linda, I think Cook90 is a great idea for people who are home to cook three squares a day. I generally only eat twice a day when I'm at work (lunch and maybe dinner) and once on the weekends. I generally bring leftovers to work for lunch, or I'll make tuna salad or egg salad or some kind of pasta the night before to bring to work.

Very interesting mailbag this week. I don't generally have a problem slicing bread because I buy it already sliced. However, I do sometimes buy full loaves of multi-grain Italian bread (it's a wonderful vessel for garlic bread). I do use a serrated knife, but have never really had a problem slicing.

Your response to Bill's question was quite enlightening and educational. You gave us some real food for thought. LOL

As far as Mary's issue with the peppers and vinegar in a cast iron skillet creating a reaction: isn't vinegar usually added once everything is cooked and off the heat?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

Mary, I prefer to eat at home and you know that I love to cook so I'm solid on that Cook90 bandwagon. Cast iron is porous so that taste of chilies might hang on for a long time.

Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 27, 2020:

Thanks for answering my questions about cutting bread and cooking those chilies. I was going to ask you a follow up question but I think you already answered it. I had made tortillas last week and used the same cast iron skillet to cook them in. I could taste the chili from the former incident although the pan has been washed and oiled twice.

Regarding Bill's question. After my father died when I was 10, my mother would take us to restaurants occasionally so we were able to experience a wide range of foods and dishes. I believe this has given me an open mind for trying new things.

Regarding the Cook90, oh my goodness, I have been cooking at home for 10+ years. The times I have gone out or had a take away in that time I can count on one hand. Sad but true.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I think I'll share more about Cook90 in the coming weeks.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

Bill, I had you pegged as a "I don't eat out" kind of guy. It's just too expensive and definitely not healthy. Have a great week my friend. It's gonna be a wet one.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

Chocolate gravy? Ohmygoodness! How did you manage to wriggle away from that one? As for the chili and mashed potatoes combination, it's really not much different from Cincinnati chili (which is chili over spaghetti). Sounds like a good bowl of comfort if you ask me.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 27, 2020:

John I had you in mind when I wrote that, but I know others who share your dislike for the flavor. I know that beets are good for you, very nutritious and good for you for including them in your diet. They are my star anise.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 27, 2020:

I actually do Cook90....a modified version, I fast food....I only eat two meals each day, but I do prepare them, but it's easy food to prepare....I don't think I would win any Cook90 awards or anything, but the fact that I don't eat fast food is a win for this boy. lol

Thanks for tackling my question, Oh Wise One!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 27, 2020:

The nature versus nurture quesion is very interesting, I have never thought about how that is related to food. My sister does not like cilantro, but I do. I also like beets and corn. I can see a bit of nature and nuture in the answer.

Thanks for the slicing bread tips as I find that to very difficult too. I never heard of Cook90 until now.

This is an interesting article. Have a great week Linda!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 27, 2020:

I really liked the bit about taste preferences. When I was a child I stayed overnight with a friend who served a special breakfast of breakfast with chocolate gravy biscuits. Absolutely disgusting but I think it was was this family’s quirky favorite. We each probably have a a quirky family favorite that most people would gag over. My extended family eats chili over mashed potatoes. Not sure why but it’s comforting and yummy.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 26, 2020:

Good mailbag this week, Linda. We bought a special serrated knife that has a guide attached so you can cut bread evenly and even choose how thick you want the is great.

As you know I fall into this category: "Other people have a sensitivity to anethol, an aromatic that gives fennel, star anise, and licorice their distinctive flavors and aromas."

It may be an Aussie thing, but I love beetroot as do most people is almost always found on burgers, salad rolls etc.

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