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Yep, space grub exists. Remember Tang? It tastes like sandy orange water. Solid NASA food looks terrible, but is supposed to be good for you; comes in  plastic pouches - just squeeze or shake to mix, suck on the corners; aftertaste gives dehydration a bad rap. Put a slab of freeze-dried pizza on your kid's plate and check out the reaction. Why, they'll probably try to call Children's Services and report you for cruelty.

Now, give 'em the pizza, a square of freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream and tell them, "You know, this is the same stuff the astronauts eat." Hmmm. Astronauts, you say? Well, that's certainly different. Don't mind if I do. And, if you happen to have an airtight package of freeze-dried creamed green beans, why just hustle those babies over here, too. Oh, and pour me a glass of Tang, and leave the pitcher.

Since Americans first ventured into outer space, NASA and its counterparts around the earth have tinkered with various ways to nourish space travelers. The orange drink Tang is the most noted accomplishment. But, frankly, it hasn't always been pretty. When John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth in Friendship 7 in 1962, one of the tasks he was given was to attempt eating. In future Mercury missions, astronauts supped on freeze-dried foods and semi-liquids in aluminum, toothpaste-style tubes that weighed more than the food inside.

NASA had to come up with a system that would enable the astronauts to eat without making a mess of themselves and the interior of their capsule. Also, without refrigeration, spoilage was a concern.

These brave, 20th Century explorers of space were, in a sense, eating modern version of that 19th Century explorers' staple, beef jerky. The astronauts found the freeze-dried food somewhat less-than-tasty, cumbersome and they couldn't stop fretting that a floating piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie would gum up the reentry system, which would be a bad thing.

By the time the Gemini missions began in 1965, the food was a little more palatable. Food was coated with an edible gelatin, which cut down on crumbs in the control cabin. Packages were made so that astronauts could rehydrate food by injecting water from a water gun. The contents were then kneaded in the package into a puree, which could be squeezed into the astronaut's mouth. (Makes you feel a little guilty for complaining about the Brussels sprouts, doesn't it?)

The chefs at NASA got so creative, in fact, that Gemini astronauts could be in space four days before having to repeat any of the menu items. The astronauts were enjoying - okay, maybe not exactly enjoying, but tolerating - the space version of shrimp cocktail, chicken, vegetables and pudding. The astronauts even got to pick their own menu combinations, as long as it came to 2,800 calories a day with 16-17 percent carbohydrates, 30-32 percent fat and 50-54 percent carbohydrates.

When Apollo VII launched in 1968, space travelers could add hot water to their food and drinks. This, obviously, improved the taste of rehydrated foods. Because, as we know, there is nothing tastier than an aluminum pouch full of luke-warm, rehydrated spaghetti and meat sauce. Astronauts also began eating with a spoon, or rather, a "spoon bowl." After rehydrating the food, it was removed from a sealed, plastic bowl with a spoon. The moisture on the spoon because the food to stick. Finally, astronauts were no longer drinking their roast beef.

By 1973 and the Skylab program, eating in space had become a fairly normal routine. Food could be heated. Food came in cans with plastic covers instead of the plastic drinking bags. Beverages were kept in accordion-type bottles that collapsed and expanded. Skylab also had a freezer and refrigerator, which enabled the astronauts to keep steak and real ice cream on hand, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.

The days of freeze-dried, bite-sized ice cream have long passed in our space program. However, that hasn't stop museums and science centers from selling packages of freeze-dried ice

"The food NASA has developed is not too bad, but after a couple weeks in space you get to the point where you would just kill for a Max & Erma's Garbage Burger."

Herman W. Swatzler, U.S. Astronaut

Research by Bonnie Brannigan                            

North African
Akin to Moroccan, but less refined. My experience was with rancid meats cooked on skewers made of old coat hangers across tops of military oil drums belching putrid smoke.

If you saw the movie Casablanca, there was good reason you never saw any food on Rick's tables, only booze  being consumed by the usual suspects. Patton's GIs had Spam, no couscous. 

Today's refined North African, nee Morocco, fare takes advantage of Mediterranean abundance atop couscous as a carrier base, grains, raisins and nuts (almonds) of the region, and two under-appreciated offerings in this country, squab, or pigeon, and goat. Baklava is common in many forms, as are strudel-like wraps in phyllo with all sorts of fillings, fruits, meats, grains.

After 40 years of second thoughts, I now gingerly approach skewered and satay meats. But, only in restaurants with a health department ratings sticker prominently posted adjacent to the nonsmoking sign.

A French creation to hike the float of the franc-to-the-dollar, my descriptive. For the real authority, search out Mimi Sheraton's New York Times first airing in 1979 when she described nouvelle cuisine as a "gastronomic revolution."

For meat-and-potatoes readers, this was her word picture: "the verdant brightness and herbaceous freshness of its dishes with an emphasis on lightness and the elimination of heavy flour-laden sauces so typical of classic French cooking" In food writing, that equates with the world discovering the Chinese had invented gun powder.

Roughly translated, I once upset my favorite French chef by writing that it meant: "I can't believe that I spent $89 for duck confit and fresh fois gras and then had to go to White Castle." (Paraphrased or stolen from fellow-reviewer Mike Kalina who said he was "always hungry" after dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant.)

A major memory of my introduction to nouvelle cuisine is that I always thanked my newspaper's publisher, John F.Wolfe, for his kindnesses in honoring my expense account. My workshops were La Caravelle in New York, Guy Savoy in Paris, Pamplemousse in Las Vegas, La Francais in Wheeling, Ill., and La Tante Claire in London.

steve raichlen
Open-Flamed Cuisines
Detailed copy to come relating to Steven Raichlen, probably now the nation's authority on all things barbecue, the verb. One of his four Q tomes is The Barbecue! Bible published by Workman. He plans a three-day "Barbecue Boot Camp" at West Virginia's Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulfur Springs, Sept. 15-18. Fee of $2,073 includes dinners and a chef's tasting dinner. Info: 800-228-5049.

Serious reviewers do not co-mingle Chinese with Pan-Asian.



Philly Steaks
Also known as a "cheesesteak sandwich," only in Philadelphia would this glob of thinly-sliced beef on a crusty Italian roll and topped with overly-grilled onions, green peppers, maybe tomato sauce, and the required Cheez Whiz, be considered a cuisine.

Philly natives are a militant ilk when it comes to this less-than-appealing sandwich. Depending upon which ex-Philadelphian takes up the cause against food writers, be prepared for verbal conflict. Outlanders writing about "cheesesteaks" will be targets when making any small digression from what may be perceived as authenticity.

My cheesesteak authority is veteran reviewer Elaine Tait, Philadelphia Inquirer. She rightly calls the birthplace of this mess Jim's Steaks, corner of South and 4th streets in the namesake city. Jim Oliveri started it all. He used the cheapest products, one being his "wit Wiz" squirt. One of Jim's secrets known to all - the meat and onions have to be grilled together, all day. The stench of burning onions must fill the neighborhood wafting outward from Philly's 400 South St.

Should any outlanders claim to be serving cheesesteaks, be ready to hear from e-mail terrorists claiming to be authorities. They never leave their names and phone links. Ignore the bastards. Should you find yourself in unpleasant Philadelphia, dine at Le Bec Fin and toast upward an index finger toward 400 South St.

Pierogies (Pirozhki)
With wedding soup, every Italian cook has a recipe. When it comes to pierogies, every Polish person has a favorite, a recipe and a story to go with it. My favorite pierogi is a fried one with kraut, potato, maybe a cheddar cheese, and chopped meat that has been braised ahead of the time it goes into the pocket. Pierogies can be boiled or fried. Make mine fried. If the pierogies are cooked in boiling water, best they next be sautéed in butter. That gives them a pleasant taste for many.

Pierogies are seldom found in restaurants. But they do have a following. For a deeper appreciation of this Polish delight, take a study course from the people who know the product. Log into this Website:

(Credit this tip to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)

By far pizza has become America's favorite food over the past 50 years. Million of pizza pies are eaten daily, but how often do the people eating the food stop to consider the history. The true origins of this fine cuisine are as colorful as any good pizza pie heaping with toppings.

italian flagThe common belief is that Italians invented the pizza, however the origins go back to the ancient times. Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians and other ancient Middle Eastern cultures were eating flat, un-leaven bread that had been cooked in mud ovens. The bread was much like a pita, which is still common in Greece and the Middle East today. Further it is known that ancient Mediterranean people such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were eating the bread, topped seasoned with olive oil and native spices.

The lower class of the Naples, Italy is believed to have created pizza in a more familiar fashion. In the late 1800s a Italian baker named Raffaele Esposito, was believed to have created a dish for visiting royalty. According to the story, the Italian monarch King Umberto and his consort, Queen Margherita were touring the area. In order to impress them and to show his patriotic fervor Raffaele chose to top flat bread with food that would best represent the colors of Italy: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese and green basil. The king and queen were so impressed that word quickly reached the masses. The end results were that the dish was well received to the extent that others began to copy it.

By the beginning of the 1900's pizza made it's way to the inner cities United States, thanks to Italian immigrants, most notably New York and Chicago, due to those cities having large Italian populations. Small cafes began offering the Italian favorite. American soldiers further prompted the dish to become very popular at the end of World War II, having been exposed to it while serving on the Italian front.

Today pizza has become just as American as baseball and apple pie. Only because of its most recent origins is it considered an Italian dish. Huge U.S. based multi-billion dollar corporations should be thankful for the development along with poor college students who can appreciate the fine dining experience pizza has given them.

By James Theopistos

Kielbasa, people like to pronounce it, but Poland could be the world headquarters for sausages, usually washed down with vodka, sometimes mead flavored with strawberries in season.

Oh, the pierogi flour dumpling sits in your belly like a lead balloon.




Dateline: Westerville, Ohio, circa 1919

Think about this. The gentle ladies once held command of the restaurant-cafe business in this nation. In a measure they are still out there campaigning under different robes and bonnets. Today scan down the list of restauranats and bars serving alcohol with food. Government controls today run tight guidelines when it comes to serving beer and legal bonded whiskey. In the days when Westerville's finest walked the streets with placards denouncing John Barleycorn, it was called Prohibition. Times were tough in all facets of business...except one: Crime. Bootleggers made the money. Saloons operated at will behind steel-braced doors. The Tommy Gun owned by the bootlegger was the enforcer.

Who to credit with those dark years? The Anti-Saloon League. The Women's Christian Temperance Union or WCTU. And a dozen others, mostly in the south working under the banner of Southern Baptists. Their weapons of choice leading up to passage of the Constitution's 18th Amendment, militant church women with pick axes tearing into bars and whiskey stores; today: Local Option elections.

Think it can't happen again? As recently as 2006 off-shoots of the WCTU were in command of Old Westerville, Ohio. The yoke of the Dry vote was broken by two restaurant owners: Mike Purdum and Michael Evans. Both went the petition route to bring about special Local Option elections. Their promise to serve fine foods with wines, a beer or a cocktail prevailed.

The Prohibition Party in the USA prevailed 1920 to 1933. The Prohibition Party was a fading memory in Old Westerville from 1920 to 2006.

Refresh your history.
Carry Nation known
as the original saloon
smasher, circa 1901
Click Here

Puerto Rican
If there is a true Puerto Rican cuisine, my best advice is to avoid same.

My first impression of this island is that restaurant sanitation does not exist. That said, two other extensive stays merely reinforced my beliefs. I spent a full 30-day month in the stately Caribe Hilton ( as a safe haven from filthy street vendors between Old San Juan and Condado.

For a sightseeing adventure to view food that moves, exit of airport by turning left to Carolina. Visit Plaza Carolina. Shop. Don't eat. From the airport, turn right to San Juan and Old San Juan, the 400-plus shopping center with 300 little shops selling T-shirts, terrible cigars with phony Cuban ring bands, and cheap jewelry. The other 100 Old San Juan stalls sell knockoffs of noted fashion names.

But, there is one trustworthy restaurant, La Chaumeir, a small French owned eatery in a second-floor space overlooking docked cruise liners. Tourists from Indiana have their first taste of fried plantains and think they have discovered the island highlight. They drink a Bacardi rum cocktail in many recipes and think they are native, never knowing the 180-proof sweet swill is really Cuban with a trademark that escaped Cuba when Castro came to power.

There are today three cuisines on this island: traditional cooking (criollo) such as soups as in paellas from recipes beholding only to who may be in the kitchen the day of your visit; the alleged upgrade called Nuevo criollo which is a fusion theft of good Latino influences, mostly Cuban which is never admitted to by any Puerto Rican; and lastly any known chain hotel restaurant with certified chefs pawning off their versions of Asian-Latino fusion. Chain hotels cannot afford to serve from dirty kitchens.

To safely go native, scan hotel menus for ropa vieja (shredded flank steak) or mofongo (mashed plantains mixed with pork or beef, maybe some seafood). Tapas is popular throughout the island, but I found almost all dishes to be suspect, mostly because I could never find out if the displayed tapas plates had expiration dates. All tended to look too old to be out in public.


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