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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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What not to put in your cake

Marijuana use is being legalized–or sought out for legalization–in an increasing number of states, despite the federal government’s stance against it. The key argument in favor is a plea for the well-being of those whose terminal or debilitating illnesses–or the drug regimens for treating them–cause pain and nausea that respond better to marijuana than anything else on the market.

But who’s fooling whom? Along with the increase in legalization and dispensaries comes a host of new products to capitalize on the expanding market: candies, cakes and other sweets laced with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). You can’t tell me that’s exclusively, or even mostly, for medical use.

And–no surprise here–most of them are being mislabeled.

Marijuana is not a well-characterized, easily dosable drug. It’s a whole-plant or at least whole-leaf drug, with hundreds of chemical compounds in both the leaves and the smoke. Even THC, its primary active ingredient, appears difficult to measure and dose correctly given that its signal effect is a general distortion of sensory perception and mental function, not stimulation or blockage of a specific molecular receptor or other well-defined cellular target.

Given the vagueness of both dosing and effect, it’s not really a surprise that standardization and labeling are still inaccurate at best. Which is now a relevant issue: if you’re going to call marijuana a pharmaceutical in order to get it legalized, you’re going to have to treat it by the same standards and be able to quantify it. That could be a challenge–especially given the professionalism and laboratory expertise with which it’s typically handled.

The current attempts are not particularly encouraging, if a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association is any indicator. About 75 percent of the product labels are off; 15 percent or so underestimations and the rest overestimations of THC dose per serving.

Add to that the products themselves–pink and green-colored pound cakes (at least as shown in the article in The Scientist). Who but a stoner–or worse, a little kid who happened upon them–could find those appetizing, even without the added attraction?

And you can see the key problem here–it’s bad enough that people who take marijuana in any form are likely to get the munchies and be completely indiscriminate about what they eat while high. It’s a lot worse if the food available is also laced with yet more THC. Or if an adult buys a colorful cake product and leaves it where a kid can get at it.

And yes, I am being intentionally insulting about it. I’ve worked as a lab tech in pharmacology and natural products research labs and interviewed numerous experts in pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries as well as medical and forensic toxicologists. It’s time for the marijuana legalization proponents and industry to grow up, pull up their socks, and stop potschkying around. Or sampling their own wares.

If you’re serious about treating THC as a respectable therapeutic pharmaceutical, and not just a recreational drug accompanied by a wink and a sheepish laugh, then put up or shut up. Treat it as a proper drug and keep it in a recognizably unappetizing drug form–a plain pill would do–and make sure the dosing is precise and minimal. And that access is limited to patients who actually need it and that the effect is genuinely beneficial. That requires clinical trials.

We don’t put methotrexate or doxorubicin, two of the major chemotherapy drugs, in candies for cancer patients. We don’t put morphine or antibiotics in cake or leave them around casually on a kitchen counter. There’s a serious reason for that.

[Note: I’ve turned comments off for this post, not because I don’t usually welcome comments–and even arguments–but because the ones I’ve seen so far appear to be using the opportunity to recommend their preferred homebrew remedy–not really relevant to the question: “Do drugs belong in cake?”]

 

FDA warning on powdered caffeine

The Washington Post carried a story yesterday on a new FDA warning about powdered caffeine’s potential for a lethal overdose. Caffeine is relatively unregulated as a dietary supplement and companies have been selling it mixed into “energy” drinks and “shots”, inhalers and other forms, including pure powder, through Amazon.com and other internet venues.

Most of the stupids (I mean, more politely, naive consumers) who buy caffeine-laced “energy” products are teenage boys and young men–no great surprise. Guys in that age range tend to have trouble getting up in the morning and being alert for class. The proliferation of the iPad, the smart phone, and game apps isn’t helping. A cheap, legal and potent stimulant seems like just the thing to counteract the effect of late nights and early exams. Combine that with a pitch about “energy” and fitness–mostly in the form of weightlifting and bodybuilding, a sector rife with dietary supplement abuse marketing, and wishful thinking about instant “buffness”, as my now-teenage daughter scoffs–and you’ve got a really bad deal.

But it doesn’t take much of the purified caffeine powder to overdose and the difference between stimulated and dead can be as little as a few milligrams–much too hard to measure accurately with a teaspoon or even most kitchen scales.

Caffeine is far from harmless even in limited doses (otherwise, why would we bother to drink coffee?) And it’s definitely a drug–I had to work with it in the lab way back in my radioactive youth. And it’s really inexpensive.

Why the “dietary supplement” label is still allowed to cloak quasi-drug and drug products from FDA control is a mystery to me. It’s a bad deal for everyone eventually, because as more of the supplement compounds are discovered to have harmful effects–think anabolic steroids or some of the “smart” drinks and relaxants added to “energy” drinks over the past decade–Congress ends up having to legislate against them one by one, and the FDA has to go through a torturous combination of warning letters and negotiations with the companies involved and attempt to draw up new regulations–a very expensive and drawn-out process. And it’s usually piecemeal and illogical–caffeine levels in soda are regulated, pure powdered caffeine is not.

In the meantime, hospitalizations from caffeinated energy drinks and other easily abused products have doubled since 2007, and there have been a number of deaths from caffeine overdose, including the Indiana teenager whose parents had no idea he was buying and consuming powdered caffeine when he died at the end of May, and whose case spurred the FDA’s attention this time. The state of Oregon is also currently going after 5-Hour Energy in a lawsuit over false advertising claims about ingredients that actually do nothing much, when the real stimulant effect is due to a dose of caffeine.

But even if you’re not a naive teenage boy, the whole caffeine-laden environment has expanded beyond anything that makes sense. More and more people are finding themselves overdosed (not lethally, usually) but with the shakes or dizziness. Between the Starbucks venti and proliferation of 20-ounce sodas as the new normal serving size, there’s a new source of trouble, because caffeine is showing up in foods we don’t expect to contain it.

Food companies are adding caffeine to candy and snacks these days as never before–even in oatmeal and pancake syrup. The FDA is taking the “negotiate with the companies and hope they back down” approach, as they did with Wrigley for its Alert caffeinated chewing gum a year ago. They don’t currently have the impetus to forbid adding caffeine to foods as they did with alcoholic caffeinated beverages a couple of years ago–the “blackout in a can” as Charles Schumer put it–but they’re at least making noises about getting it back out of foods that children and teenagers are likely to eat. I like the coffee cup graphic up on their Q&A page about it, but will it really change anyone’s mind or make them look harder at the ingredient lists if they’re already buying these products?

Why put caffeine powder in non-coffee foods in the first place? It doesn’t taste like much or stimulate the tastebuds, exactly. But the combination of mental stimulation via caffeine with eating a particular snack food is probably intended to make lackluster processed foods more attractive and even addictive in either the literal or marketing sense. Given the price of caffeine powder compared with almost anything else the companies could add, I’d be willing to lay odds on who’s going to be even more addicted to caffeine than the consumers. Cue the Pavlov effect.

Leftover Logic

Two weeks ago The Guardian‘s business section published the following salvo against glam-food waste: “Food’s latest hot trend: leftovers”. Some of the interviewed chefs, who grew up eating leftovers in the ’70s, have apparently joined forces with the Women’s Institute in York (shades of “Calendar Girls” and Helen Mirren’s shaky attempt at a Yorkshire accent) for a project to reduce food waste as supermarket prices continue to rise and rise.

Some interesting quotes in the article, and interesting questions on frugality–the columnist claims household food waste is down about 13 percent in the UK since last year, which is pretty telling about the economy. She and the people she quotes attribute the current lack of knowledge on how to use leftovers to a sharp decline in cooking skills that coincides with the surging popularity of perfect, coffee-table-worthy food fantasy cookbooks.

Is it really the fault of photo-heavy cookbooks, food magazines, blogs and tv cooking shows that only perfect produce makes the cut, and everything with a blemish on it must automatically be thrown out? Possibly…but the article also cites another trend–the heavy push of boxed microwave-meals-for-one that leads so many people to fear cooking and believe they could never be talented enough to cook from scratch.

Of course, if you never touch an uncooked bulk vegetable or a piece of raw meat, you never risk making a mistake in the kitchen. But the other side of the coin is that the produce in the magazines will never show up on your table. Because the frozen tv dinners really don’t come out looking or tasting as good as the pictures in the magazines.

If you do cook, the idea of using up what you have in the fridge can be nearly as daunting as having to pay for fabulous (and expensive) first-rate pre-sorted extra-polished pre-cut vegetables. In a branded bag. Can you eat less-than-perfect-condition food mag-quality decorator vegetables and still be safe?

Yes, you can. Obviously, when you go to buy vegetables, you want the best and freshest ones you can get for a reasonable price. Nothing you buy should be leaking or moldy or worm-ridden or otherwise clearly spoiled. But short of that, quite a lot of produce can be eaten just fine without having to be picture-perfect.

No one in the professional or amateur food enthusiast world ever talks about how to handle imperfect, wrinkled or slightly old vegetables, but they should. Because no matter how they look when you buy them, if you actually buy enough vegetables and enough variety for a week, some of your produce is going to start drying out or going a little less crisp or whatever in the later days. And you don’t necessarily need to throw it out because of that. Most of it you can probably still use and it will still be fine.

Local corner greengrocers often sell the oversized, undersized, riper or otherwise less-perfect-looking vegetables for a fraction of what they go for in big chain supermarkets. Customers at my local Armenian grocery routinely stagger out with huge bags of red peppers, onions, green beans, cabbages, eggplants, zucchini…all at a dollar a pound or less. Probably most of those vegetables are less than shiny-perfect. It doesn’t matter. The customers who lug them home are going to cook them up in large batches and short of actual spoilage, they’ll use them up.

And I myself did it today–foraged around in the fridge for the eggplants I bought last week. They were just starting to show brown dimples at the flower end. Not lovely but not a disaster. Then I found the less-than-great winter Roma tomatoes, a few of which were already starting to show little smudges of black at the stem ends because I’d had to store them in the fridge–no room on the counter, and I had them in a plastic bag that kept the moisture in more than was really good for them. Damn! I weeded out two that were clearly beyond saving–cracked and leaking slightly, not good–and took the others out to inspect. How bad were they?

Now the eggplants were only a little bruised or dimpled in a few places. Peeling off a little of the skin at those points revealed that the flesh inside was still okay. No worse than a bruised apple. Cut them up, microwave them, drain off the juices and fry them for eggplant-and-chickpea stew, and they’re just fine.

The tomatoes are a little scarier, no question. No one wants mold on their vegetables. But except for showing the tiny beginnings of mold at the stem ends, the six tomatoes I had left seemed fine and firm, dry and uncracked. Throw out six tomatoes at this time of year? I decided not to. I washed them carefully on the theory that the peel, if it’s unbroken, is working hard to seal out dirt and contamination and any mold spores on the surface can therefore be washed off. I sliced off the tops about half an inch below the stem ends–giving them a margin of safety at least in my mind.  Then I dared to taste a bit of the tomato below that. Also fine–or as fine as winter tomatoes get, anyhow. No sight, smell or taste of bitterness anywhere, and not mushy or discolored, and they tasted reasonably fresh. So I cut up the tomatoes and put them in the stew.

And everything was fine, and no one got sick or started convulsing (or screeching at the top of their larynxes) like Robert Plant at the height of his Led Zep days. This was fortunate, because we don’t yet have the larynxes back in shape after Losangelitis week, not to mention the stomach muscles, the tight jeans (well, the jeans are a little tight but not on purpose–we’re workin’ on it! hate those sit-ups) or the massive and tossable hairdo. Then again, neither does Robert Plant these days. So I don’t feel that bad about it. And neither should you.

What’s my beef with burgers?

As usual, I’m slightly behind the times on all the really exciting and futuristic food news. But a conversation I had yesterday with an older volunteer at my local library brought back the article and my (as usual) sarcastic thoughts on the way forward in American food culture. The man I talked to grew up in Arcadia, about 10 minutes southeast of Pasadena, back in the 1950s when it was still mostly farmland, and he rode a horse to school–and was often sent home with it early because it started fertilizing the school grounds at a copious rate. Nowadays, they’d have to pay good money for the stuff.

This gentleman, about my mother’s age, was talking about the younger generation, his grandkids, and while he admired how adept they seem to be with sophisticated technology, he shook his head at the fact that his grandson was the only kid last year in his kindergarten class who had any idea where tomatoes come from, because his family was the only one that had a garden or (perhaps) ate vegetables that didn’t miraculously appear, wan, grainy orangeish slices, mixed with pickle slices, on top of a hamburger in foil paper. “It’s all burgers now,” the man shook his head. “That’s all anyone seems to eat anymore–hamburgers and hotdogs. That’s not food.”

It was exactly what I’d been thinking all summer long, looking at the magazine covers and newspaper food sections. Which is why I view the biggest food story of the year a little differently than most biochem-trained enthusiasts….

Two weeks ago, an Austrian nutritionist, an American journalist, and a cell biologist in the Netherlands shared the first public taste  of a hamburger made from beef tissue cultured in laboratory from cattle stem cells.

Ordinarily we’d all be running around in circles throwing our hands up in the air and, depending on our political bent, either chanting “This is the Age of Aquarius” or else screaming “Soylent Green is People!” Or possibly “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” (quickly followed with a heavy-booted reprise of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”).  I mean, it’s a big deal. Right? It is.

Yeah. Well. So, what is it, really, this synthetic stem cell-derived miracle burger? Synthetic beef, lab-cultured in (yes) flasks of nutrient sera as the starting stem cells differentiate into beef-style shoulder muscle (read, brisket?) cells and some fat cells.  The animal rights people are thrilled and dreaming of scaleup that could eliminate the need for stockyard cruelties, the vegetarians say they’d be first in line to try it, and…apparently no one yet has asked what exactly is in the nutrient serum to grow the little strings of muscle tissue.

Is it a vegetarian-sourced solution of amino acids and so on or does it (as I suspect) derive from the more usual beef and other animal broth, made (inexpensively for laboratory consumption) from boiled-down hooves and skins and various meat scraps? Maybe it ain’t time to celebrate that aspect just yet.

But still, it’s a big step forward. Isn’t it?

I mean, an actual New Age synthetic beef alternative using the latest advances in cell biology. Very exciting.

Except…they’ve used all this very sophisticated technology to develop…a hamburger.

For this test, the 20,000 or so individual strands of muscle tissue they managed to harvest (after a five-year developmental process funded by by Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google, no less, and 3 months or so of growing this particular sample) were patted lovingly into shape and fluffed out to reasonable volume and held together with the help of some salt, some breadcrumbs, and some egg powder. And some beet juice for realistic coloring because the strands were a little more yellow than pink, somehow. And then the sample was cooked and eaten plain by the lab director and his two volunteers.

Who complained that it was really hard to judge the flavor of the synthesized beef without any of their favorite toppings on board. No jalapenos or cheese or pickle relish, no salt and pepper, no aged gouda, no ketchup. They both skipped the lettuce and tomato they were offered, to say nothing of the bun. And they couldn’t judge the meat on its own. Continue reading

More “breathable foods” weirdness

A couple of days ago, Entertainment Tonight posted a new video tidbit on “breathable” food  from the same Harvard professor, David Edwards, who invented the AeroShot “breathable caffeine” cartridge that has drawn some serious FDA attention of the negative sort.

ET’s anchor breathlessly posed the  question, could this become The Next New Diet Fad in Southern California, when what the LeWhaf vaporizer was invented for was the “aesthetic experience” of breathing food flavors. This according to Edwards, whose Paris-based design lab, Le Laboratoire (names aren’t really his thing?) offers a number of vaporized cocktails at a small sit-down bar.

When I wrote about the first set of inventions, I said I thought it might be an interesting molecular gastronomy-style taste experiment (at least if the flavors were something more sophisticated than “lime,” the flavoring in the AeroShot cartridge), depending on what was being used to create and propel the vapor.

The ET video presents an interview with a young up-and-coming chef who’s offering cocktails of various kinds served in the Le Whaf vaporizers–to be inhaled through a special straw. The accompanying visual looks, frankly, like someone about to use a bong or snort a line of coke, but that could just be the way ET’s camera crew are used to shooting bar scenes…

The chef they interviewed doesn’t serve these vaporized cocktails, not all of which are standard drinks in the daily repertoire (some of them look like beef broth) as a low-cal diet offering but rather as a sideline to enhance some other dish. Very molecular gastronomy. Still he concedes, when pushed, that he can’t see how it would have calories.

(From his doubtful expression, they must have edited out the part where the Barbie Doll reporter shoved a mike in his face repeatedly and insisted with desperation that the vapor must make it calorie-free, it just MUST. She’s the one who tried the AeroShot caffeine spritzer on-camera in the studio to demonstrate the concept, and quickly uttered the dutiful “Mmmm”,  but the video jumped at that point, so I wonder if she really sampled it or not. At least she didn’t start coughing…unless they cut that part too…)

And yet I wonder if ET hasn’t hit on something here–no, not the diet fad. One can’t live on pâté-flavored air alone. One must also vaporize some champagne to go with it, preferably Krug. Could possibly clog the nozzles otherwise.

No. In the frenzy to discover the new French technology that magically removes all calories, ET seems to have let the chef describe the mechanism at the bottom of the vaporizer. Here you are, at a cocktail bar, leaning over the open mouth of a carafe, straw in mouth, ready to inhale cocktail-flavored vapor…produced, about 12 inches from your face, by three ultrasound probes at the bottom of the carafe. Continue reading

Eat the City, Read the Book

Robin Shulman's "Eat the City" bookcoverI’ve just received an advance copy of Robin Shulman‘s forthcoming book, Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers and Brewers Who Built New York.

[Or at least that’s the title on the cover art–the copyright info page version of the book title squeezes in even more food trades–what, or rather who, the heck are “hungers”? People who “curate” aged hanger steaks?]

Shulman, a well-known reporter who has worked for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Slate and other venues, has covered hard-news beats from city politics and urban blight to Middle East diplomacy. In Eat the City, Shulman explores the neighborhoods of New York, where she lives, and from hundreds of interviews, she harvests seven key stories to tell in depth: Honey, Vegetables, Meat, Sugar, Beer, Fish and Wine.

Each chapter, rich and multilayered, cuts across decades of urban history, whether development or decay, recounts conflicts and unexpected cooperation between would-be urban farmers and the neighborhood factories or city agencies they deal with, and uncovers the not-so-obvious ways these individual entrepreneurs bring a sense of connection and vitality to the city.

So we meet a man who after returning not entirely whole from a stint in Iraq, got enthusiastic about beekeeping when it was still illegal. In 2010, he rallied New York’s clandestine beekeepers to convince the city to rescind its ban on rooftop hives, and started training hundreds of apprentices. The retired numbers runner who farms vacant lots in Harlem–something he started as a cover for his gambling operations in the ’60s and turned into one of the first urban community garden projects–is still going strong in his 70s, but he’s seen several of his neighborhoods fall silent over the decades as buildings crumbled and the city neglected the people. The Manhattan ad exec risks her health and her freedom sneaking into taped-off areas to fish striped bass from the East River–she’s not sure it’s safe to eat, but she’s as hooked as her catch, and often announces her triumphs on Facebook. And somewhere toward the end of the book is the true and presumably unvarnished story of Manischewitz, the first big brand of kosher wine in America (and actually, probably anywhere, since before the 20th century most people made their own kosher wine at home).

Eat the City is due out in July, and all I can say is get out there and reserve yourself a copy, or clamor at the cash register of your local bookstore to order you one. Because this is the best book I’ve read in quite a while on the history and present fortunes of small independent food growers in one of America’s largest urban landscapes.

Like Michael Pollan’s books, it has depth and thoughtful analysis of the meaning of food in modern life. Unlike Pollan, Shulman isn’t advocating a lifestyle choice, she’s giving you a window on individuals as they elbow their way into a crowded city to make room for themselves.

Food is the medium here, but the impulse is universal, and the result is a better understanding of both food entrepreneurs and the meaning of city life itself. If you want to know what’s really happening beyond the wide-eyed grow-your-own-tomatoes-in-Brooklyn blogs, just pick a chapter and start digging in.

The heady scent of new-crop oranges

Orange peel in syrup with orange blossom flavor

I’ve posted on making impromptu microwaved marmalade before. It works beautifully–5 minutes total!–with sliced kumquats, but I haven’t had as much success with standard navel orange peel–until now. This week my local Trader Joe’s had big bags of organic oranges and when I brought one home I discovered something I’ve never come across before.

It must be the new crop, I think. I don’t have a great sense of smell out here in Los Angeles, but even I can tell something’s really different about these oranges. Southern California is specialty-citrus country, with five or six varieties of tangerines parading through the grocery stores and farmers’ markets all winter long, and beautiful, strange “Buddha’s hand” citrons appearing in December. With all that going on, not to mention the blood oranges and pomelos (which I actually don’t like) and cara caras and key limes and ugli fruit (sumo tangerines, huge and bumpy) and so on and so on, you’d think that ordinary navel oranges would come bottom of the exotica scale. Even if they are organic.

The flesh of these oranges was pretty good but not really remarkable–I actually like them a little tangier and more acidic. But the peel! In addition to the usual bitter-aromatic orange peel scent, the oranges all smelled strongly of orange blossom, even after washing them twice. I didn’t know oranges could smell like orange blossom. The peel even tasted like orange blossom water.

So of course I decided I had to take advantage of this oddity by trying the old microwave marmalade trick and making candied orange peel with them.

Like rose water, orange blossom water or essence often seems to me as though it would be better suited to cosmetics than food flavoring. A little is exotic and mysteriously elegant; a little too much, which could be the difference of a couple of drops, can be distinctly soapy.  The essence is sold in tiny opaque blue French bottles in upscale markets like Whole Foods for several dollars apiece, but it’s also sold in 12-oz bottles for 2-3 bucks at my local Armenian grocery, presumably because most of the customers use it so much more often in all kinds of fillo or almond- or pistachio-based desserts.

But here I was with orange-blossom-scented oranges, the native article, organic no less. If they were awful as candied peel or marmalade, at least the microwave method meant I wasn’t going to be wasting tons of time or effort, and only a little sugar. So I washed two oranges well, took the outside layer of the peel off with a sharp knife and sliced it into thin shreds.

I find that skinning the navel oranges with a sharp knife and taking only a little of the white pith with the peel is better than peeling first with my fingers and then shredding the whole peel with tons of pith attached–somehow they cook through better in the microwave method, absorb the syrup better, and gel a bit better as marmalade.

So anyway–I poured a bit of water on the shreds in a soup bowl, covered the bowl with a saucer and microwaved a minute. The water I poured off was greenish yellow and smelled like orange blossom–tasted like it too.  But the peel still smelled like it as well, so not all was lost. I covered the shreds with about 1/3 c. or so granulated sugar, drizzled on a little water to wet it down and squeezed half a lemon over it all. Covered the bowl with a saucer and microwaved about 4-5 minutes. Very heady scent and beautiful flavor, and somehow not soapy, thank goodness. Might have the lemon juice to thank for that, actually.

The shreds sat in their syrup in a covered container most of the day (for me it was forgetting all about it for a couple of hours while letting it cool, but I’ve discovered that it’s also standard marmalade-making practice that helps the syrup gel; who knew?)

The bonus question, of course, is how does it go with chocolate? (that should almost always be my bonus question)

Answer: knockout with dark chocolate. Also very good on toast as marmalade. Something to savor, and the syrup, if I don’t finish it along with the shreds, might go to flavor some almond-paste fillo fingers later this week. Because with something this good, it just seems right to be decadent in small, appreciative doses.

What good is a recipe for this marmalade, though, if you can’t stumble on orange-blossom-scented oranges of your own? I suspect it’s kind of an accidental find, but the fact that orange blossom tastes so good with actual orange peel means that you could make candied orange peel or marmalade and add a drop or two–no more!–of orange blossom to the peel and syrup once they’re already cooked. Don’t forget the lemon juice or a small shake of citric acid (sour salt) to help the preserves last in the fridge. I think the bit of acidity definitely cuts the possibility of soapiness.

On a fresher, lower-carb/lower-cal note, a light (LIGHT!) sprinkling of orange blossom water goes very well on orange slices you intend to use on green salads. One I sometimes make for parties: sprinkle cross-wise slices of several oranges with a tiny bit of orange blossom water. Let them sit a few minutes, then arrange the orange slices on a bed of oil-and-vinegar-dressed romaine and other greens on a large platter, and distribute thinly sliced red onion, red bell pepper, basil and Greek pitted olives  over it all.

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