First, before we get started, an update.
It turns out birds really are bird brains — which is a very good thing, from my perspective. It makes them easy to fool.
After my last column, a knowledgeable neighbor stopped by with an explanation of the mysterious ways of our feathered friends and advice on how to discourage the overly aggressive robin who was bashing himself repeatedly against my front window. Better yet, said neighbor gave me a silhouette picture of a hawk to tape to the window. And that was that — the robin has not been seen since.
It’s amazing to me that it worked, as the image is a black blob straight out of a Rorschach test, with less detail than an emoji. But apparently a bird dumb enough to think its own reflection is a rival is also dumb enough to flee from a Xeroxed picture of a vague suggestion of a predator.
Thanks to the gullibility (or should that be robinibility?) of my avian friend, I am happy to report the problem appears to be completely solved.
With bird problems behind me and no more distracting thumps on the window, I am finally free to concentrate on more important things. Edible things.
Like the earth-shattering announcement by Italian researchers last week that pasta doesn’t make you fat.
Hooray! Bravo! Grazie!
I’ve always suspected this to be true, since I practically lived on spaghetti in my graduate student days, when I was so skinny I disappeared if I turned sideways. Plus, my natural skepticism goes on high alert whenever the anti-food forces open up another front in the war on things that taste good. They’ve put anything made from flour on the terror watch list recently. From their propaganda, you’d think that gluten was an ISIS sleeper cell.
But disinformation can come from both sides. I know enough to be skeptical about studies and how they get misinterpreted in the press. Before I got carried away with this great pasta news, I made sure to read the fine print.
And the study is legit. Peer-reviewed, scientific and all. But the caveat is that none of the subjects ate more than about 3 ounces of pasta at any given meal. And they lived in Italy, where they don’t drown that moderate-sized portion in a rich, heavy sauce and then top it with a mountain of grated cheese. So I wouldn’t suggest rushing off to the Olive Garden for an endless bowl to launch your new diet.
But even so, this is good news. Because if pasta in moderation doesn’t make you fat, it’s likely that other flour-based carbs are equally blameless.
I am so nostalgic for the days when I could eat a slice of bread without fearing that it was a cruise missile aimed at my hips.
In fact, I’m nostalgic for good old-fashioned food in general. I’ve been trying to “eat healthy” this year, based on current theories. You know: quinoa, kale, lean protein, whole grains, blueberries, acai berries and all the other “super foods” we bow to these days. And the only visible result is that I’ve gained 5 pounds.
Like that bird outside my window, I seem to be fighting an unwinnable war against a fake enemy.
Everything we think we know keeps turning out to be wrong. You may recall that a couple years ago, scientists debunked the idea that eating fat makes you fat. And now carbs seem not to be the cause, either.
I suspect that any day now, a new study will appear, pointing a finger at the true culprit. Or at least, the latest suspect.
I’m rooting for broccoli. I’ve got nothing against it, but giving it up wouldn’t be nearly as painful as eschewing carbs has been. In fact, I’m not going to wait. I’m going to test the theory and experiment on myself.
Now that the bird has gone, I think I’ll tape the Rorschach blob to the fridge.
If I turn it upside down and squint a bit, it looks just like a head of broccoli sitting on a kale salad.
Spaghetti con Aglio e Olio
This dish is so simple that it scarcely requires a recipe, but I still had to look it up. I’ve been avoiding pasta for so long — and before that, fats and oils — that I nearly forgot how to make it. I’m providing it as a public service, in case it has slipped out of your memory, too.
It’s a great classic to have it in your repertoire for those days when you want something fast, the larder is nearly empty and you don’t feel like racing to the store.
6 ounces spaghetti (a bit more than 1/3 of a box)
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Chopped parsley (optional)
Cook the pasta to slightly less than al dente in a medium-sized pot of lightly salted water. (It should be about a third as salty as usual for pasta, as you’ll be using some of the water in the sauce.) Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid.
In the meantime, warm the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook slowly for about 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just starts to turn golden at the edges. (Don’t burn it or overcook it, or it will become bitter.) Add a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and cook about 30 seconds to a minute longer or until the garlic starts to become uniformly golden. Add about 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Cook for about a minute, reducing some of the liquid, then add in the pasta and continue cooking, stirring vigorously, until the pasta is fully cooked, the water has reduced and the sauce has thickened. Add more cooking water as needed during this process, but be sure to cook it off — the final sauce should not be watery.
Once the pasta is cooked, toss with the cheese and/or parsley and if you are using them, add a few grindings of black pepper and serve immediately.