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Why is there a war in Ukraine?

Did you know that Russia once tried to invade Finland and could not do it for almost 3 months?

Did you know that Russia and Hitler invaded Poland together after they made a deal on how they would divide Europe between them?

Did you know that Russia is not even among the 10 biggest economies in the world?

Do you know who IS the richest country in the world? China just overtook the US in 2021.

Are Russia and China working together? Why is Putin attacking Ukraine? Is there going to be another World War? How did the last one really start?

Here are some historical facts and some thoughts.

Europe Map and Satellite Image

There are a lot of people (not a majority, but loud enough) that are screaming all over the social media how we should stop the sanctions on Russia, how we should stop helping Ukraine, how it is not our war, how this is all hurting us too much and the risk of the global war we could start is too great. To these people, I would like to give a short reminder of historic events that started the last global war.

People think that World War II started with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. It absolutely did not.

World War II started when in 1935 Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, while the world remained silent, not lifting a finger to help. Italian fascists killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, used chemical weapons and bombs. Still, the world, the League of Nations, said nothing.

 World War II started when in 1937 Japan invaded China, killing 4 million people. And still, the whole world stood silent.

World War II started when Hitler annexed a big part of Czechoslovakia in 1938 – with approval and a blessing from the governments of the UK and France, and most of the world, really. “In this part of that country people actually speak German, anyway.” politicians around the world said. “And it is better for them to be annexed than to be invaded and killed.” (said by lord Chamberlain, British Prime minister at the time). Hitler still killed a lot of people there and invaded the rest of the country a bit later.

World War 2 started when Germany and Russia (USSR) in August 1939 signed a deal on how they would divide Poland (and the whole of Europe, really). What people don’t know is that Hitler started his little war campaign together with Russia! At the same time, Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Russia invaded it too from the other side, met with the German forces there and shook hands on Poland soil, and then Russia proceeded to invade Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – bringing most of its forces there to attack Finland in November 1939.

If you take your time to read about the history of the Russian attack on Finland you will be surprised how much it resembles the attack on Ukraine. To everybody’s surprise, the immense Soviet army of 1 million soldiers just could not break the Finland defenses for 3 months. Finland did not even have an army to speak of, Russians were mostly fighting armed citizens. 400.000 Russian soldiers died there to 70.000 Finnish. Finnland did eventually capitulate but was never invaded – Russians retreated and only took some of the territories. This total humiliation of the Russian military pushed Hitler and western allies to completely underestimate the Russian army in the later war.

One thing everybody agrees is that Putin miscalculated the Ukrainian’s will to fight him back – and the response of the western world to the invasion. Will this deter Russia? When looking at the history, probably not. Putin believed the world will turn its heads the other way, just as it did when he took Crimea. But still, what we have to ask ourselves is – why risk it? Why is Putin attacking Ukraine – even if he did believe it would not cost all these soldiers and time and money. Why would he do it?

People say he is trying to recreate the old Soviet Union, getting back all the old republics and threatening the ones he already took (like Belorussia, Chechnya) not to even think of rebellion or democracy. But economically – it does not make much sense. All these new states created after the collapse of the union are not really doing very well (except Ukraine to some extent) and by invading them Russia just takes over their debt. All these countries already get 100% of their oil and gas from Russia.

There are some indications that waste reservoirs of natural gas may have been discovered in Moldova (and Russia would need Ukraine to invade Moldova) but this gas is still unreachable and it would take decades to build the infrastructure to get to it – while the world is fastly developing technologies that would replace oil and gas.

Is it the land – the farms – fear of hunger? Russia is already the largest country in the world (twice larger than China or Canada) and with global warming big parts of it are now getting enough sun to turn them into wheat fields.

To understand what is happening we have to look at where the real power lies. Why did Germany try to take over Europe 80 years ago? Because they thought they could. Their industry, their weapons – were all superior to any of the other countries in Europe. The growth of their industry year over year was such that they had to invade other countries to get minerals, coal, metals – everything they needed to keep it going. None of this is happening in Russia. Russia’s economy is not even among the first ten of the world! South Korea has just surpassed Russia, a country of 50 million people is producing more and making more money than a country of 155 million. 80 million Germans make 2 times more stuff than twice more Russians.US economy is 13 times bigger than Russia.

But you know where is the GDP growing at a tremendous pace – where is one country that really needs to expand? Yes, China. China’s economy has almost reached the US (by some comparisons it could be even greater already), and it has grown at an incredible pace since the 1950s. 

And in this run, China is running out of fuel. China needs oil, gas, China even needs more people (incredible, right) because of the disastrous one-child policy. China needs resources to sustain its growth. China buys food and oil from Russia. China buys most of the resources it uses from all over the world, it owns land in Africa, Russia, all over Asia, Australia, and the Americas. 

And the first step where they are aiming to expand – in Taiwan. And India after that. Together with North Korea: South Korea and Japan.

Here I would like to state this – and this is my opinion only, nothing else – this invasion of Ukraine by Russia is nothing else than an experiment of China to see how the world would react when they invade Taiwan – and other countries after that.

COVID hurt the world much more than it hurt China. They have seen it as a weakness – they have seen it as a good moment.

I believe Putin is, just like all the world leaders, a puppet in someone’s hands. Egomaniacs like that are easy to control (until they are not). Do you think Hitler, Mussolini came into power because they were smart and good at their jobs? No. They were created, put in power, and financed by the military-industrial complex, they were financed by the rich and powerful people from all over the world, including the US. Check it, you will see it is true. Hitler was put into power because of the western fear of Socialism. Hitler was just a small-time spy (like Putin was!)  in charge of infiltrating the worker’s unions and spying on them. The rich and powerful all over the world were super scared of the idea of socialism and they financed the nazi and the fascists to have them stop the idea from spreading. They boosted the nationalism in Germany and Italy and Hungary – trying to use it as a shield between the Soviets and the west. It backfired in the end. 

I believe China might be trying similar tactics with people similar to Hitler and Mussolini. With Putin, Kim Jong Un… My fear is – that it could backfire as it did with the other dictators and despots.

You have to understand that China has been through most of world history the richest and most powerful country in the world. For two thousand years, longer than any other empire. Even the Roman empire (the one Hitler was trying to recreate) lasted only 1400 years or so. The two empires actually started at the same time – and China is still there. The biggest one, the British Empire, lasted only 300 years. The Chinese empire was effectively brought down by the East India Company that started the Opium trade and the corruption in China. It took 200 years for China to become again (in 2021) the richest country in the world. (https://www.cnbctv18.com/news/it-isnt-us-china-is-now-the-richest-nation-in-the-world-11484312.htm)

How will they use that wealth? – is not the right question to ask. They could easily just weaken all the economies of the world and then buy them all. But in doing so, they lose what creates that wealth: their customers. 

The right question to ask is: how will they sustain that wealth? How to stay in the richest country in the world, in a world that is growing while you are not? That is the dilemma China faces. I am not smart enough to see what China would do, but I do think that they are pulling the strings of most of the things that are happening in the world right now. They are smart and patient.

And as many smart people said before, in the end, China will own us all.

“Stick around folks. China’s gonna win it all.”

George Carlin, 2008

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Life is too short to try to make it last longer

A Complete Monty Python Site

Humans can survive without food for 40-60 days (fact check). Controlled starvation actually prolongs life and makes us healthier (fact check). In other words, according to these modern doctors, we should be fine if we ate once a month. Just some boiled vegetables, quinoa, some nuts, and boiled lean meat if we are extravagant. No salt. For spices only turmeric I guess.

Maybe some people live like that. Not many. Not me. In other words, we do not eat to survive. 

Below are the symptoms of starvation, or lack of food. I eat a lot (fact check) – and I have all these symptoms all the time: fatigue, loss of hair, feeling cold, dry skin, loss of menstrual cycle…

I eat a lot. I thought it must be depression, you know, like: I’m rewarding myself. It’s not it. 

I thought it must be stress, I’m nervous and anxious so I stress-eat. It’s not it. 

I eat a lot because I like food. I like tasty, spiced, starchy, greasy, meaty food.

I eat a lot because I love it.

So instead of torturing myself with diets, I decided to accept what I am and to just be myself. 

Life is too short to waste on trying to make it last longer.

Not eating – for a person who loves food – it’s the same thing as choosing to never have a relationship, never fall in love, for fear of heartbreak. 

It’s better to have eaten and lost it than never to have eaten at all.

I exercise! 10 hours a day minimum I spend cooking – without ever sitting down, 6 days a week. And not like cooking for 3 people, throwing a bunch of stuff in a slow cooker, and watching “Real Housewives” or something. I cook for 100, sometimes 300 people. I carry and trim 100-200lb briskets and pork shoulders every day, 60lb of Mac, plus chicken, beans, ribs… 

Once a week I do my outdoor exercises: cleaning the chicken coop, mixing the compost in the garden soil, cutting wood for the stove and smoker, carrying pig feed, chicken feed, carrying amazon boxes that my wife ordered…

I’m still getting heavier every day. And I am still starving all the time. I wake up hungry, I go to sleep hungry –  after having eaten for hours. I can never have enough – I think about food, I write about food, I make new recipes, I try new flavors. I live by and for food.

It is more than an obsession, more than a craving, more than just need. It’s love. I’m in love with food. With good food. With flavor, with spices, with the crunchiness, the gooeyness, the smells, the colors… I watch videos of steaks sizzling on coals and I get tears in my eyes. I’m in love.

Maybe it’s just the gut bacteria taking over, maybe it’s just some chemical/hormonal imbalance in my middle-aged brain. Maybe it will kill me, maybe it will pass as any other love does. 

NPR Gut Bacteria Might Guide the workings of our minds

But I will not kill it. 

I was in love many times before. And one thing I learned: never let it die. Never be too chicken or shy to ask out the girl (or boy) you love. Never miss a chance to say “I love you.”. Never choose something else instead of love – money, carrier, what other people think. Never give up on love. Always take a chance on love (said by Ella Fitzgerald and Oprah).  All the best things in life are made for love. In the end, you will only regret all the time you spent not doing what you love or being with the ones you love.

Now, critics will say:  “You are just sick. It’s just an addiction, like any other. You are just weak. That’s how the brain tricks you. This same “I do it because I love it” explanation could be used by any addict who is in love with any drug, crack or heroin. “I got to do it. I just love it. Gotta be me.”

And to these people, I say: “There is a difference between a slice of pizza and a shot of heroin. People addicted to heavy drugs are not killing themselves because they love it, but because they hate themselves and their life. Just like people addicted to adrenaline, to violence, or to shooting guns at cops. I love my life. I love my family. I am still controlling myself and I stop at 5 slices of pizza or at one 3/4 lb steak. I still have low blood pressure and my sugar and cholesterol are fine without any drugs. I actually don’t take any prescription pills at all. I know it will change, but until it does… I will be cooking and eating the food I love.”

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The History of BBQ: How It All Started

Egypt Picture - Early BBQ Scene

The History of BBQ: How It All Started

September 9, 2021 by Sasha Skerla


Barbecue was not invented in America. Humans did not even invent it. At least not the humans that live on Earth now. Homo Erectus invented it (I can hear you giggling, Paul), a proto—human that lived on earth even before the Neanderthals. And it’s after the Neanderthals that the first Homo sapiens (us) came by and stole the technology from them.

BBQ From Home sapiens to Homo erectus,
From Home sapiens to Homo erectus,

But it was perfected as an art form in the southern states of the USA. It is here where barbecue became more than just a way to preserve meat — it became a way of life, a culture, a philosophy.  And thanks to that commitment, to the intense strive to make it better, perfect, to the rivalry between towns, families, restaurants, chefs — because all of that barbecue became the ultimate American cuisine, the greatest platter that America brings to the world table, to the international feast.

I know, I know — pizza was perfected in the same way in New York, from a humble onion pie that the Italians stole from the Greeks — but it is not the same thing. Pizza is just one dish (although the number one food in the world). Barbecue is much, much more. It is the most ancient cuisine in the world, it is what made us human (higher energy received from roasted meats allowed for the larger human sapiens brain to evolve), it is what brings people together, it is a way of communication between neighbors, friends — it is a pride and a statement. Barbecue is a religion.

What is BBQ?

Today, barbecue (or smok’ ‘gich or byhkj, as the Chinese say) is popular in many places around the world. What you call barbecue might not be what you find in the original American barbecue tradition — what Americans call a slow-smoked whole animal is a fantasy for many other cultures. But because of the history of American barbecue, a cultural, culinary, and gastronomic heritage, our cuisine is strongly influenced by this tradition and the best part is that there is room for everyone to try it! The First BBQs The first barbecue recipes are associated with the ancient Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations, around 7,000 BC. Unlike our food, these cultures did not use animal fat or lipids as fat. They used a thin rice bran oil. But they smoked meat at high smoking temperatures.

There are two main ingredients for barbecue: meat and smoke.

Everything else can be removed and changed with something else — but meat (yes, fish included) and smoke have to remain in the recipe if we want to call it barbecue.

barbacoa used by Amerindians in the mid 1580s in what is today North Carolina.
Barbacoa was used by Amerindians in the mid-1580s in what is today North Carolina.

Now, there are a thousand ways to impact smoke taste on the meat. And there are a hundred different types of wood (and also coal, grass, leaves) that people around the world use.

You can find the first design for a barbecue grill in the Hebrew Old Testament, written 1500 years before Christ. Moses himself instructs his people how God wants the smoker to be built, with fleshhooks, ash pans, shovels, basins, a grate, how to make it portable, and how to use it. Of course, Moses claims that God wants this rig to be constructed for animal sacrifice — as an offering to God. But, later, in chapter 29, Aaron (Moses’s brother) says that all God really wanted was the smell — the scent of the burned meat — and he and his priests proceeded to eat most of the sacrificed animals.

There are instructions (Leviticus 1) on how to smoke (make offerings) for a bull, turtledoves, pigeons, sheep, goats, fruits, corn, and bread as well.

You can find stories about barbecue interwoven with the history of every nation on earth. The Chinese were (and still are) fond of slow-roasting pigs and ducks, Europeans loved their sausages, northerners their smoked salmon… If there could be anything that could unite all the world somehow and find a common theme to talk to — it would be slow cooking over fire.

The word barbecue comes from the world (probably Spanish) barbacoa. Where that word comes from — it is not clear. What is known is that it was first used after the Spanish invaded the Americas and came in contact with Native Americans. Some suggest it was originally a word from the Arawak tribe. What it described — in the beginning — was the wooden rack on which the meat was placed over an indirect fire, to be smoked and slowly cooked.

visit SmokeBBQCafe.com for the best BBQ in Connecticut. 


One of the first written mentions of barbacoa, unfortunately, included a roasting human. When the Spanish governor of Cuba sent a search party to Tampa Bay, Florida, (to save some other previously lost party) in the spring of 1536 — one member of the search party, Juan Ortiz, was apparently captured by the Ozita tribe and sentenced to be slowly roasted alive on the barbacoa. The chief daughter felt pity for Juan and saved him from roasting. He survived and lived with the tribe for years, later becoming an interpreter for the famous explorer Hernando de Soto.

The same DeSoto was also involved in the first recorded barbecue (barbacoa) feast — on March 25th 1540, after invading a village in (now) Georgia and stealing from Native Americans venison and turkey that was roasting on a “barbacoa” device. Two months later, they were happy to add to their travel log that they found another feast going on after they invaded another village. This time they feasted on roasted corn and small dogs. Yes. Small dogs. With corn. I am not making this up as I go.

From there on, Barbacoa entered the Spanish language and history, and they started to refine it and change it. How it came from a rack, griddle roasting to mean what it mostly means now — cows head or goat or pig wrapped in leaves and buried under the fire (mostly used in Mexico and Hawaii) — nobody knows.

How BBQ Came to America

The story of how we got barbecue may be as old as the island of Texas itself. Humans first came to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, now known as the Gulf of Mexico, which forms the west coast of Mexico. After the initial settlers (Homo sapiens, probably) of what is now known as Texas, explorers thought they had found a nice warm place to set up a new home. But it wasn’t long before the harsh, unforgiving environment started to hit the senses of the settlers and animals in the area. It was no longer a nice warm place, not only because the climate and its soil was changing, but because of all the things that had to be dealt with — and this is when people started cooking BBQ, but also due to the fact that there were many types of predators around them. The settlers needed something to protect themselves from these creatures, so they began hunting for food by the fire. They would start fires by rubbing two sticks together or using flint rocks to strike sparks against each other. These early hunters used their newly acquired skill at starting fires to cook meat over an open flame. This method of cooking became popular among the people who lived on this land and eventually spread across North America.

How Barbecue Became a Southern Tradition

One of the earliest accounts of an American cook is in 1500s Mexico. The first recipe ever published in the book Apoqui de Fama y Medicina Mexicana (1549) calls for pork belly, onions, peppers, and salt. And since that time, the art and science of BBQ have flourished and evolved. But the fundamentals of BBQ were always there. The most common ingredient in BBQ is meat. Canned or fresh pork belly, pork ribs, pork shoulder or any other type of meat is good. It must be grilled. The most common method of cooking a BBQ is on a griddle. You can also cook a BBQ on a Weber or a B.B.Q. smoker. And the way the meat is cooked is as important as the kind of meat. To cook a piece of meat well on a griddle or smoker, it is best to have the grill at the highest setting, close to high heat.

Barbecue Sauce

Barbecue sauce is usually made out of vinegar, sugar, spices and sometimes tomatoes. There are different kinds of sauces: sweet, spicy, tangy, etc. Some use ketchup instead of tomato paste. Most recipes call for some form of liquid smoke. Liquid Smoke is basically wood chips soaked in water and then boiled down into a thick syrup. When you buy liquid smoke, make sure it says “wood” in the ingredients list. If it doesn’t say “wood,” don’t buy it!

Conclusion

Barbecue is a true taste of Southern culture. It is a part of the America we know and love. And you know what’s interesting? Because we love it so much, we also do a decent job of promoting and celebrating our food culture, both native and cultural. If you want to learn more,

visit SmokeBBQCafe.com for the best BBQ in Connecticut. 

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People who made the food we have today

The food we eat today is not the same we ate 1.000 years ago – not even 100 years or 20 years ago. Carrots were not orange until the 17th century. Oranges were never orange!  And they still are not orange in their countries of origin – they stay green, always. They only turn orange when they grow in colder climates. 

Nobody would eat a tomato in Italy until 300 years ago.

Furthermore, nobody would eat a tomato in North America (and England) until 200 years ago! It took an American hero, one of the bravest men in the history of the world, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem New Jersey, who announced he will eat a whole tomato to demonstrate that it is, in fact, not poisonous. And he did, on a late summer morning in 1820, in front of 2.000 people who gathered to see him die. The account says one lady screamed and fainted when he took the first bite.  But he lived.

The food we eat, the domesticated plants, the way we grow the plants or raise animals, the recipes, the diets, the trends – they are all shaped by people. Some of the heroes, like Colonel Johnson, are known to us. Most are not – the domestication of corn: from simple grass to what we have today  – took 9.000 years!. We will never know the stories of the first people who figured out which mushrooms are edible, which are sadly not, and which mushrooms make you talk to God made of colors. The heroes. There are, however, a handful of people that impacted the history of food in the last few hundred years more than any other, and this is their story.

  1. Christopher Columbus

It saddens me to start this list with a person we know now to have been enslaving and murdering the indigenous population of the Caribbean. But his impact on the exchange of foods between the Americas and Europe was enormous.  His voyages started the Columbian Exchange that changed the world as we know it. 

Many think that his main impact on food was him bringing the South and Central American plants to Europe – like the tomatoes to Italy, chilies and peppers to Spain (that later found their way to Asia), potatoes to Ireland, peanuts to Africa, corn, cocoa – but that wasn’t really the case. Most of the things he brought were not readily accepted as food in Europe (except for pineapple).  It took a hundred or more years of Spanish colonization to really introduce most of these plants to the rest of the world. 

But what Columbus did do was bring here to America most of the food that is grown and eaten today.  He brought bread. He brought livestock including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens. He introduced to the Americas wheat, rice, barley, oats, coffee, sugar cane, lettuce, onions, lemons, and melons.

You might be surprised that not much of what we eat today originates from North America. I believe it’s really only sunflower and berries (like strawberry, cranberry, blueberry). Nothing else. No vegetables. No cereals. Ah, yes, tobacco.  You see, it takes generations of farming to create plants that are a valuable source of food for humans. And native Americans of North America were never much of a farmer. They were more hunter/gatherers, unlike the South American and Central American tribes who for thousands of years developed potatoes, corn, and other vegetables we eat today.

To make a garden salad if you are in the New York area before the Columbian exchange you would have to take sail and travel for two months to Europe and pick up your lettuce and onions. Then another year or so to get to Asia to get your cucumber, back again, pick up some olive oil on the way back and wheat and a cow for the rolls and butter – sail back 4 weeks to the Americas but this time park somewhere in the Central part, pick up some peppers and maybe corn if you want to be fancy. Get back home and start tossing, then realize you need some more color and crunch and travel back to Europe to get some shredded carrots.

  1. Jethro Tull (Not the band)

Born in 1674, Jethro was a British farmer, agronomist, writer, and inventor. He brought to the world two small, simple inventions. One was a horse-drawn seed drill, a simple method of planting seeds in a neat row and equal distance. Apparently, before that, what everybody was doing was just to toss a handful of seeds randomly and go back to drink and throw axes at minstrels. 

The second thing he did was to notice the benefits of pulverization and stirring of soil around the plants (to improve aeration and access to water). He invented the horse-drawn hoe (predecessor to a modern cultivator). 

The combined effect of these two inventions, when they were implemented in the agriculture of England in the next few decades, changed the world more than anything ever before, more than the invention of printing, electricity, computers, or even Netflix. For the first time in history, everybody in a whole nation had more food than it could eat. There was a population explosion in England and people with no jobs on the farms moved to the cities. Farmers (that’s like 95% of the population back then) suddenly had extra money to buy stuff.  Manufacturing (mass production of stuff)  was needed for the first time – and so, it was invented. Hargreaves, Cartwright, and Watt (inventors of mechanical weaving and the steam engine) all based their inventions on Tull’s horse-drawn tools.

This started the period that you might know as the “Industrial Revolution” that spread through the world in the next 100 years. If you look at the history of humanity (based on population numbers) on a graph, you will see only a few moments of any importance. From the invention of farming, some 7-8.000 years ago up to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, there was no change, nothing really important in human development happened there. Around 150 million people lived on earth in 800 BC, and 600 million people lived in 1700, 2.500 years later.  Then in the 250 years since Jethro Tull (1750-2000), we grew from 650 million to 6.5 BILLION. Statistically, without Jethro, we (you and me) would probably not exist.

3. Alexander von Humboldt

Alex was born in Germany in 1769 and was, during his lifetime, the most famous person in the western world. He was a scholar of many different sciences, from botanical geography to meteorology, a naturalist, explorer, and author of a whole library of books that were the ultimate bestsellers of the time. To put a brief history of his life in a small paragraph would be like trying to explain the plot of “Inception” in three words (“Man take naps”. Done). 

Let’s just note that more species are named after Humboldt than any other human. There are still thousands of monuments, parks, universities, streets, places, schools, and ships named after him in all of Europe and all of the Americas, more than any other scientist in history. Both Darwin and Goethe were inspired by Humboldt in their works. Thomas Jefferson said about him “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met”. Napoleon Bonaparte remarked to him, “You have been studying Botanics? Just like my wife!” 

His work laid foundations for modern geology, meteorology, geomagnetic monitoring…He discovered the connection between climate, geology, and nature/life. He was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change. And, which is totally not important but I want to note it, he was a gay man. 

But one single discovery he made in South America changed the world of agriculture forever. He brought us the miracle of bird poo. Although it was nothing new – European farmers, just like the indigenous people of South America, knew about the fertilizing properties of bird poo. But this method was not widely used before Alexandar von Humboldt wrote about it and popularized it. You see, the bird poo in Europe was not good enough because of rain and humidity. But Guano, the bird poo (and bat poo) found in South America and on numerous islands around the world – was the right stuff, rich in nitrogen and other minerals. The selling of bird poo to Europe became for Peru the single largest source of revenue.  

The demand for guano led the United States to pass the Guano Island Act in 1856. By this act, which is still on the books, it is legal to seize for America any island that has large amounts of bird crap on them.  In 1857, the U.S. began annexing uninhabited islands in the Pacific and Caribbean, Several of these islands are still officially U.S. territories.

4. Fritz Haber

Fritz was a Jew, born in 1868 in what is now the Poland town of Breslau. He studied chemistry in Berlin and was a good friend of Albert Einstein. He tried to find an answer to the greatest problem of the world in those times – how to feed the growing world population (that doubled from 1 billion to 2 billion in just a little over 100 years, from 1805 to 1928). He figured that what makes crops grow better, more than anything else, was nitrogen. Not the nitrogen that is in the air – plants can’t use that. It needs to be fixed, not in a gas form. This fertilizer was, until now, being brought by ships full of bird poo from all over the world. Expensive and subject to piracy. We needed something better.

In 1909 Haber found a way of synthesizing ammonia for fertilizer from nitrogen and hydrogen. Just to remind you: the air that we breathe is made 78% of nitrogen and water is 66% hydrogen.

The fertilizer was immediately produced on a large scale (this were the Germans, after all) and it saved the world from hunger forever. It is estimated that 2 out of 5 humans alive today owe their existence to Haber.

But, Haber was was a Jew. Kaiser Germany, long before Hitler, was already extremely antisemitic. To prove his patriotism, Haber created another chemical compound that will put a dark shadow over everything good he has done before. He weaponized Chlorine gas, the poisonous gas to be used on the battlefronts of the First World War. He invented chemical warfare.

Germany lost the war and was faced with huge reparation payments. To prove himself a good patriot once again, Haber promised he will create a method of extracting gold from seawater. He was not successful. Around that time Fritz was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on ammonia, but at the same time, he also feared arrest as a war criminal for his poison gas research. Antisemitism grew in Germany and he was not allowed back to his institute. He went briefly into exile and died of a heart attack in 1934.

It is important to note that he also invented pesticide gases, with all the good intentions of saving even more billions of lives. But this work was later used to create Zyklon gas, used by the Nazis to murder millions in their death camps, including his own extended family.

5. Nikolai Vavilov

Nikolai was born in 1887 in Russia. He was an agronomist, botanist and geneticist best known for having identified the places of origin of cultivated plants, basically where the plants we eat today came from.

His work was largely based on the work of Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, and some may argue that Gregor should be on this list. 

Greg was an Augustinian friar (born in 1882, in the Austrian Empire, now the Czech Republic). His experiments on the pea plant established the rules of heredity. But he is not on this list because his work did not really involve food. Pea plant was not his first choice. He started his experiments on passing on traits to newer generations  – on mice. But his bishop did not like the idea of a friar basically making mice have sex and he had to switch to pea plant.

Nikolai Vavilov in the meantime worked on plants for food only, mostly on improving wheat, maize, and other cereal crops that today sustain the world. He worked on plant immunity and traveled the entire world many times over, collecting seeds from every part of the globe.

In Leningrad, he created the world’s largest collection of plant seeds. During the 28-month long Siege of Leningrad by the German forces, a group of scientists at the Vavilov Institute boxed up the 250.000 samples of seeds, roots, and dried fruits and moved them to the basement. They took shifts protecting them. They refused to eat the contents, even while nine of them died of starvation.

Nikolai Vavilov got in trouble with his study of genetics. At the time of rising of Hitler in Germany and the theory of Eugenics (genetic superiority) – Russia was going the opposite way. They claimed that there was no such thing as genes and no traits were hereditary. The study of genetics became unpopular and Nikolai was imprisoned by Stalin and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted, but he still died in prison in 1943, from malnutrition.

A man who devoted his life studying food and ensuring his country and the world would not starve, died from starvation.

There are many who we did not mention and that should be on this list, but we are limited by time. My time. Alexander the Great, for example, brought rice from Asia and onions from Africa to Europe and gave saffron and eggplant to India. His conquests and the supply lines for his army were the base for what was later known as The Spice Route. 

This road was later traveled by Marco Polo (allegedly) but he didn’t bring pasta to Italy from China. Pasta has been made in Italy centuries before and China did not have wheat. Marco Polo was just a great writer.

David Fairchild was an intrepid botanist who worked for the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction in the early 1900s. He traveled the world and managed to bring to America some of the most important plants of today, through covert and dangerous missions – like stealing hops from the beer makers in Germany. He also brought us avocado and quinoa.

Thomas Jefferson was crazy about French cuisine – he even managed to have one of his slaves be trained as a French chef in France. He brought us (did not invent it – just popularized it) Mac&Cheese, Ice Cream, and French Fries, covering 90% of most American children’s diets.

There were many more – whose life and work were maybe not that interesting. Norman Borlaug was the first to implement genetic traits and crossbreeding, saving the lives of over a billion people. Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen created the first, laboratory-made, genetically engineered organism…

This list doesn’t mention all the famous chefs, authors of books on food and recipes. There is no Julia child or Alton Brown on the list of people who are responsible for what we eat today, simply because having something to eat, for billions of people in the world, is much more important than how to salt the egg.

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feeling country


Your chef preparing the fresh herbs garden

Using the quarantine time to get the garden ready at my family farm (The Shire Farm, West Suffield) while listening to some country music.

Let me tell you some interesting country music facts. One of the best country songs of all time, “Take me home, country roads”, was written by a guy from Springfield, Massachusetts, 5 miles from here. Bill Danoff. He wrote the song with his wife, Taffy Nivert, and was inspired to write it when he was driving a car on a country road in Maryland and “the radio reminds of my home far away”, home being Springfield, MA. Neither he or his wife have ever been in West Virginia prior to writing the song.

He originally meant the song to be about Massachusetts, (both four syllables) but there already was a song about Massachusetts (Bee Gees) , and it also just does not roll that good. So he switched it to West Virginia. Why? Well, he claims he had some friends from there (first husband of Susan Sarandon, Chris Sarandon) that told him so many nice things about it…

The two of them, husband and wife, were at the time playing in a band Fat City with John Denver, but they were planning to sell this particular song to Johnny Cash. Then, one night a lot of crazy things happened (some alcohol must have been involved) and John Denver broke his thumb and had it put into a cast and Danoff and Taffy played the song that they were working on to him and he “flipped” and said he had to have this song.
John Denver (Henry Deutschendorf Jr.) had never been to West Virginia either. They had to use the encyclopedia they had on hand (there was no Google back then) to find something about West Virginia to put in the song (they tried for hours to work in Rhododendron, the state flower). Now, they might have opened the encyclopedia on the wrong page or something, because “Blue Ridge Mountain, Shenandoah river” are not what West Virginia is famous for (state of Virginia is), and only a sliver of those landmarks goes through a corner part of West Virginia, but they still left it in. The three of them worked on the song until 6 AM.
They finished it a few days later, December 30 1970 – and later that same night Denver called them on the stage to sing it with him for the first time. He was singing it from a handheld piece of paper.
The standing ovation was said to have been 5 minutes long. This song became Denver’s biggest hit and his signature song. It is also an official West Virginia state anthem (one of 4).

Danoff and Taffy never complained about Denver appropriating the song. Danoff had another hit years later, he wrote and performed “Afternoon Delight” (check the cover of the song in Anchorman). Danoff wrote a few more hits for other singers and bands and taught a course on songwriting at Georgetown University as recently as 2008.
Then again, one of the first songs young Denver wrote was also “taken” from him and turned into a giant hit (their biggest hit) for Peter, Paul and Mary : “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. He recorded it later on his Greatest Hits album, but it somehow just does not sound right.
I bet there are more songs out there, great songs that can’t get out to us just because they are written by Nobody from Nowhere, Massachusetts. And the internet feed of young people is filled with Kardashian news and shitty music, blocking any chance for Nobody to get through. Take a chance today and go check Youtube channel by someone not already famous. Let me know.

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Boost your immunity with food and humor

“You will know when you find the right woman. If her lips are burning hot when you kiss her; if her whole body trembles when you hold her in your arms – forget about her. She has the coronavirus.”

my Facebook post from February 29

We finally live in dire times. The times that most people alive today (and all of the people alive in a few months) have never seen. It’s the end of the world as we know it. We can only hope we survive this and get out of it stronger. Because hard times do make stronger people. Look at all those people who survived real wars like the Second WW, Vietnam, look at the people who survived the real economic crisis like the great depression… Look at them and say goodby while you can. Because maybe we are getting out of it stronger, but for sure we are getting out of it statistically younger.

Sorry if I offended someone. Its just a joke, I am not making fun of old people dying – I am warning everyone who still thinks its not a big deal. Because it is. It is bad and we are to blame for it. We had it too good for too long. Those old people who are in danger now have created a good nice world for us to live in. And, as the saying goes, good times make soft people, and soft people, sooner or later, make bad times again. It makes me so mad when I hear people say: “Its much less dangerous then the flu” or “they are reporting how many are getting sick and dying but not how many are getting better”. It is 20 times deadlier than the flu and 2.2 times more contagious. It is at this point deadlier than the Spanish flu of 1918 (2% in 1918 and 3.4% in 2020).

The hospitals are not ready, the government is not ready, everything – medicines and masks and gloves – is made in China, and China is not bringing it to us right now. There is only 46.000 ICU beds in the whole USA. And only 176.000 breathing units. As a good friend of mine (who believed in reincarnation) said to me once: “Oh, in this life, we are fucked.”

But I dont want to just be one of those screaming panic-inducing media people. I want to actually give some advice, maybe help someone. I dont know anything about viruses, epidemics, but I do know about food and cooking. So, here are some helpful tips I found.

I turned to ancient wisdom of the internet and asked how to bust my immunity. The first thing, the number one advice on all the sites was:

  1. Reduce your stress levels.

Thank you, internet. It’s the armageddon outside, my business is closed, my shares have tumbled, my parents think it is nothing to worry about and still go outside, people are fighting over toilet paper in stores, my wifes 80 year old mother wants to hug me and kiss me 3 times polish style, kids have no school and just hang around in a house all day and that is my wifes excuse for no intimacy, my insurance says they do not cover loss of business over “viral outbreaks”, Tom Hanks is infected, dogs can get the virus, I can’t fall asleep for hours and hours, they changed the clock to wake me up 1 hour earlier, I have to shave my beard because it does not fit under my mask, its chaos, the end, cats and dogs living together, total breakdown of the system… And internet says the best method to boost your immunity is to be calm and stress-free!

Advice number 2,3,4:

2. Sleep more

3. Have more sex

4. Stop drinking alcohol

At that point I jumped to number 7 – Eat these foods:

  1. Food rich in Zinc. Lucky for you and me, The foods richest in Zinc content are: Red Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Shellfish, Potatoes (that list there is what I mostly eat), Beans and Seeds. Now if you are a vegan, you can pretend to be a bird and just eat seeds all day, or you can stop being vegan and turn at least vegetarian. Have some of the Pierogi we have ready for you in our store: the cheese&potato ones. Now, someone told me you can eat beans cooked without bacon – but why would you? Come get the baked beans (bacon-infused) at our Smoke BBQ. Trust me. Its healthy. It has Zinc. But not only: protein from beans and animal meat generate faster renewal of existing cells and new ones.
  2. Chicken Broth (Jewish people call this soup Penicillin). Now, chicken broth is, funny enough, the only food on this list whose healing effects on flu have been proven in a clinical study. What I am saying – other foods here do help in creating more white cells and other immunity boosts, but they were not used on actually sick people.
  3. Bone Broth – working on the same principle as the chicken soup, this broth has been used to boost immunity for thousands of years – and old folk remedies are mostly right. We at the Smoke Polish BBQ in our Enfield Kitchen laboratory have prepared for our clients the strongest and tastiest 24h cooked bone broth with aromatic vegetables.
  4. Vitamin D. It used to be C. Now D is the big one. Scientists were not able to link the C to the immunity (it does help when you are already sick) but they did for D. Have more big D in your life! Best source for D? The vitamin: Costco, Walgreens, Stop-shop… Just buy the supplement. Otherwise – eat unholy amounts of Wild Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Cod liver oil, Beef liver… Well, eggs and yogurt are OK too, but nowhere near the fatty fish or yellow translucent capsules.
  5. And while you are there buying the D3, get some turmeric too. It does help.
  6. Probiotics have only a temporary, short term boosting effect on your gut bacteria (that is where 70% of your immunity comes from). Prolonged exposure – zero effect. But if there was a time to have a short boost of healthy gut bacteria, it is now.
  7. Shitake mushrooms: rich in both Zinc and vitamin D. Broccoli too, plus it helps your gut bacteria, And mixes well with garlic!
  8. Garlic!
  9. Oats and barley. No, really. Have Oatmeal for breakfast and 6 barley beers for lunch. They are all full of beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than Echinacea. And, I’ve been told, beer helps with stress too.
  10. Citrus fruit. It just feels like it should be helping. Just like honey.

You are welcome. Wash your hands and stay healthy!

 

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on why I can’t work today

I used to work in an office for 10 years… Well “working” is such a commonly misunderstood word, it means different things to different people. I did not do much in those 10 years… but I had some excuses. Here they are:

Working in the summer was just impossible because of the heat. How do you do anything while sweat trickles down your back, while the humidity pressures all the thoughts into a foggy confusion in your head.
AC were not helping me. They are not healthy, they just spread diseases and create headaches. I suffered from a lot of headaches back then.
And anyway, you can’t work while the beach is calling you, the swimming pool parties, the mountain hikings… And in the evening – the backyard barbeques, the bars, the expectation of the imminent vacation time…
I blame all those school years and what summer meant to us back then. FOr so many years of our life summer was a time of joy, end of responsibility, time to relax and enjoy life and freedom. This is so deeply branded into our subconscious, almost on a genetical level, we are just not programmed to work in summer.
But even if you decided to try to do something – someone you need to complete your project or to get an approval or answer or anything – that someone will be on vacation. Summer is out.

Then comes the fall. Whenever I see those leaves falling I go into deep depression (this might too be because of the school years). And then starts the rain. And more rain. And mud, cloudy days and dark mornings… And we just sit there and remember all the beautiful summer adventures, the unforgettable vacations…And the temperature in the office – it is just never right. Some days it is too hot, some days it is too cold. Should we cool it or heat it, what? Then come those annoying winds carrying all those croaked leaves through all this greyness. My sinuses start hurting and those bloody headaches start.
And then – just a look at all those not finished projects after the unproductive summer months, it just kills me, I am so down, I just can’t, I just can’t. And even if I could, somehow, finally find some strength, because of the global warming – fall is drastically shortened and it is over.

In the winter it is too cold most of the days. By the time you find the will to get out of the warm bed, put 10 layers of clothes, come to the office, wait for it to warm up, take off 9 layers of clothing, drink your coffee in trembling hands while telling everybody how hard it was to get up in the morning, how awful the car ride was, the ice on the road, the accidents you drove by… Half a day is already gone.
And just in the moment you finally start to work, you will notice that the office is too hot, and that you can’t go out in the freezing cold for lunch hot like that and you spend some more time looking at all that snow and wind…. Winter is time to worry and calculate. The bills need to be paid, money for presents needs to be put on side, credit card debt needs to be settled… Headaches, god damn headaches… And anyway, there are not many working days in the winter anyway. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Secret Santa day, Christmas, New Year’s, Hangover days, Marthin Luther King… When you take those out, the flu days, the dead car battery days and snow days out, you are left with not much… No, just no. I wish I could work in the winter, but I just can’t.

And then finally comes the Spring. But I can not work in spring time. In spring I am just too exhausted from the terrible winter, the body needs to recharge, the blood is changing, the whole machine is waking up. Hormones and itchiness. The flowers start blooming, allergies start, nose is running, dizziness, weakness and those goddamn bloody headaches! And everybody starts to be in love, or in a fight, office romances and some crazy unrealistic plans and ideas. Its tax time. It is house cleaning time, tag sales and moving time. To work? Insane. Where to start? There’s just too many unfinished projects to even start. And then, the global warming – and summer is here suner than ever.

But not everything is that bad. There are some days that you just don’t have a climate based excuse. A sunny day in winter, a cold day in summer… But those beautiful, perfect weather days always fall on, lets say – a Monday. And who can function on a Monday? Mondays you are happy if you survive through them, you can’t possibly do any work on Monday. There is like 100 emails waiting and 100 phone calls…
Or a Friday, even worse. Friday is the day you have to call your friends, make plans for the weekend… Half a day on Friday you spend watching your clock and dreading the traffic. If you wanted to do some work – you will need someone from the town or some state offices – and they end at noon!
Tuesday is OK. It is the day when you make plans. Good preparation is everything. Sharpen your ax for a whole day. You rearrange the folder mountains on your desk, you make little spreadsheets, you assign priorities to tasks… And then on Wednesday some boss or somebody comes or calls a meeting and destroys your whole plan.
Some people have to work Saturdays, but it is futile. They are just to angry at the whole world that is free that day to do any real work.
And, we are left with Thursdays. Some thursdays without a weather based excuse.
On those Thursdays I write this blog.

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