Day 143: patty melt and a mentor

Today’s menu: patty melt (whole wheat bread), baked beans, fruit cup, popcorn chips

I took the meat out of the sandwich and ate that. There was cheese on the patty of which I neglected to take a picture. The cheese had soaked into the bread quite a bit. Putting the patty melt in a plastic bag (crossing my fingers that it doesn’t release chemicals when exposed to heat) seems more environmentally friendly than placing the patty in its own paper box with plastic over it. Roughly several hundred to 1,000 single use paper boxes per day per student and, well, can it go on forever? Is there an unending supply of landfill space?

Confession: I’m a big fan of baked beans. They were my favorite food growing up. They tasted good to me today, a little on the sweet side. I don’t know what the ingredients are for these baked beans, but I have a can of Bush’s Best Maple Cured Bacon Baked Beans in my pantry and the ingredients are:

water, prepared white beans, sugar, mustard (vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, natural flavor), maple cured bacon, salt, pure maple syrup, corn starch, onion powder, caramel color, tapioca maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast extract, bacon fat, natural flavors, and natural smoke flavor.

What is “maltodextrin,” “autolyzed yeast extract,” “natural smoke flavor,” and “natural flavors?” All wheat-based additives and MSG, correct? I almost distrust “natural flavors” more because I know something is being hidden from me…

it’s trash night here, but it’s trash day every day at school!

I liked the chips…

…but I’m a bigger fan of less processed popcorn

Popcorn is one of my favorite foods. I went through a stage post college where I ate a package of Pop Secret Homestyle microwave popcorn at least every other night. I wouldn’t do that now that I read ingredient labels (lots of trans fats) and also that many bags of microwave popcorn are lined with BPA (just like most canned goods). I will always love popcorn though!


Within the past few years, my school lost a teacher to a health problem no one knew about. He was close to retirement, but never made it. This man was “old school” in a teacher-behind-the-desk-work-copied-from-the-board kinda way. Had I judged him on his “traditional” ways and his decidedly 1970s glasses, I probably never would have had any conversations with him. Many new teachers dismissed him at a glance. But he and I became close because we were kind to each other.

He told me that I was different than other teachers (probably because I talked to him and treated him like a human being) and he gave me a small present for my son before he was born including a handwritten note on an index card that I still keep on my desk here at home. I’ll never forget his advice on parenting after I returned to work (he also had a son). He always had a laugh, a smile or a little comment for me in the hallway. Without fail he cheered me up. One time he explained his teaching philosophy to me in a sentence, “I take what each child gives me and I meet them there.” That was one of his many contributions to my life. I wish I had spent more time in his classroom.

I didn’t cry much at school the day we found out. I was in shock. Really? Him? But my sadness poured out randomly over the weeks and months following his death. In the car. Saying goodbye to a different coworker. Walking by his classroom. Other teachers sobbed that day. I couldn’t make eye contact with his closest friends in the school. Most people openly grieved. I wanted to as well, but I couldn’t.

The next school year, a new teacher took his place and re-did his “old school” room…completely. When I entered it for the first time, I could barely hold it together. I confided to someone how I felt and she said, “I know it’s hard. You know, I have grieved and knowing that he’s in a better place helps.” I’ll never forget him and his impact on my career. Here’s to you my old friend! I wish I could tell you about what I’m doing now. I’d love to hear your valuable perspective. I guess I’ll just have to assume that you’d love it. At least that’s what I’m going to pretend.

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24 thoughts on “Day 143: patty melt and a mentor

  1. I'm so sorry for your loss. I love that life brings us into contact with people we wouldn't necessarily have sought out.

  2. You can make popcorn in the microwave in a plain old paper bag, we do it all the time. Put a few tablespoons of popcorn in a paper bag, fold down the top a few times and tape it shut (Alton Brown used staples and his microwave didn't blow up or catch fire!). I set my microwave for 3 minutes, but take it out when the popping has slowed down a lot, just like you would any other kind. We pour a couple of teaspoons of melted butter and a bit of salt in the bag after it's popped, shake it up, and yum! Easy 🙂 I make up a few at a time so my daughter can grab one whenever she wants, she often just eats it plain, as does my husband.

  3. A show called "The Food Detectives" (on The Food Network) made liquid smoke one day and it was amazing to watch! It really is smoke in a bottle! I can't remember the details, but something happened when they collected the smoke that it literally concentrated condensed to form… liquid smoke. Crazy! :O

    Wikipedia taught me that maltodextrin is derived from glucose (typically using corn in the US, and wheat in Europe) to create what can then be used either as a thickening agent or as a sweetening agent. I'm guessing they use it because it's either cheaper, or more shelf-stable, than other forms of sugar or starch, but that's purely a guess.

    I would recommend Food Network shows that take you behind the scenes of food manufacturing (food detectives and Unwrapped, and Good Eats all explain the science of food very well). A lot of interesting things get explained, and while sometimes it leaves you a bit unnerved at the amount of processing involved, other times it shines a light on the bogey-man and you realize that manufacturing some things (like liquid smoke) isn't as scary as you'd imagine it to be.

    Same goes for MSG. Did you know it's derived directly from seaweed and that scientists actually have had a hard time proving that anyone truly has adverse reactions directly resulting from MSG? (even people who swear they are sensitive to it!) I believe that was also Food Detectives who conducted a casual experiment inspired by a scientific study…

  4. About the chips: they're "popped" corn chips – nowhere on the bag (from when is visibl in the pictures) does it mention popcorn.

  5. Just so you know, Bush's baked beans are gluten free so those flavors & additives aren't coming from wheat.

  6. Mrs. Q, I'm convinced your friend would have loved this blog and he would have been proud to be the friend of the person behind it. As I write this, I see that your visitor count is 1,000,279. Congratulations on topping a million hits!

  7. "All wheat-based additives and MSG, correct?"

    Nope, MSG is titled Monosodium glutamate or sodium glutamate on labels. No MSG in those beans. I doubt a lot of a major company's products would include MSG bc Americans are so irrationally scared of it.

  8. I got teary reading the story of your friend and fellow teacher. That's life, isn't it? More important than food or school lunch or additives. That's the stuff – your friendship with him – that matters. I can tell, right through this blog, you have such a good, kind heart.


    PS: And Oh my God, yes, please tell us what the hell you're doing!

  9. I agree with the other commentor, maltodextrin is made from corn (so should be gluten free) and while it is a sugar, it is usually used as a stabilizer to keep fats in suspension without seperating.

    I have noticed, you guys have been eating alot of hamburgers in disguise. Between patty melts, sloppy joes, actual hamburgers, chicken patties and chicken fingers, it seems like every day you are eating a hamburger in some form. Whether it is chicken or beef or with or without a bun, everything id ground and formed. There is so much good food out there! I am saddened by the repetition this season.

  10. I was talking with a friend last night about San Francisco's ban on Happy Meals. Personally, I don't think government should be involved in things like that and their reasoning just reeks. One of the things he said is something I believe you'd agree with, having eaten so many school meals now. He said that if a city council really wants to do something to help combat obesity in children (the main reason the SF board voted in the ban), they should do something about school lunches and their food content. The food combinations and lack of fresh fruits and veggies contributes more to weight problems than most people think. And wouldn't it be a better solution to just ban more fast-food restaurants in the lower income areas? People go to what's there. If there aren't as many grocery stores or quality produce markets, of course people are going to eat junk.

    I know that most kids don't want the food as much as they want the toy. I remember taking two girls, 6 and 9, to McDonalds. They'd eat a few nuggets or part of the hamburger, drink the milk or juice (rarely soda), and then dive into the toy. The fries were usually just thrown away.

    Kids will make good choices if the choices are there. It's time we stop leaving vacant lots as garbage dumps. Let the city buy them and then create community gardens on some of them. Let's let kids get involved with growing food. It teaches a huge lesson that remains with them for a lifetime.

  11. Not wheat-based additives at all! In the US, maltodextrin is gluten free (from corn, as a previous comment pointed out), the yeast extract is like Marmite: yeast without cell walls, the smoke flavoring is real smoke trapped in water, and the "natural flavors"… those really can be any flavor that's not derived 100% through chemistry. It's usually herb & spice extract, though. (Those are the tricky ones for me, as gluten can be hidden in there. As always, check with the manufacturer, they know what's in that mix.)

  12. hey mrs Q ,
    Without sounding negative , I really think that you might ebnefit form actually looking into what certain ingrediants in food are. I mean , I knw that a lot of times the "big words" confuse us all , myself included , certainly. However , we are in such a era of fear , it seems that we all just tend to shoot for the negative , when in reality those things may not be THAT bad. As we saw this time….don't just jump to think that everything that is packaged is terrible for you…and I think maybe doing some research on what some of those ingrediants might be incredibly beneficial , I also think it might help your blog out.
    Especially if you are really trying to go Gluten free , or at least limit gluten , you should really know whats corn, wheat based.

  13. @Anonymous NOVEMBER 16, 2010 11:48 PM-

    The reason manufacturers use maltodextrin is definitely that it's cheaper than sugar. I recommend the documentary, King Korn, if you haven't seen it yet. Two young college buddies buy an acre of land from a corn farmer in Iowa and they follow their crop from seed to table. It's at once eye opening and entertaining. If you have a Netflix membership, you can download it to your Mac or PC for free.

    I thoroughly agree with you that Food Detectives, Unwrapped, and Good Eats offer some great info about how food is manufactured. I recently saw a show about the history of snack chips. It may have been an episode of Unwrapped but, honestly, I think it was a show on Planet Green. Anyway, they said that when manufacturers began making flavored chips, their food scientists managed to come up with a way to make the flavor burst in the eater's mouth initially but then disappear very quickly thereby making the person want to eat more and more of the chips with every bite. Thank you very little, Frito-Lay (currently owned by Pepsico). Anyone remember that old DuPont advertising slogan, "Better living through chemistry"? Two hundred and nine million obese and overweight Americans would beg to differ.

    Wikipedia is a great resource but keep in mind that anyone can submit information to Wikipedia whether they're an expert on the subject or not. Information is often added to the site before it has been verified with an expert source (Wikipedia clearly notes unverified information as such). Even if information has been confirmed, the term "expert" is subjective. Wikipedia's definition of expert may not be the same as yours or even the same as most people's.

  14. Just my two cents I was informed in my college nutrition class that the word natural has no legal definition. So where to be called something like low sodium or low fat, the product has to have a certain percent less of sodium or fat in this case than the traditional product there are no requirements for what can and can't be called natural

  15. Even though maltodextrin is primarily made from corn in the U.S., it also can be made from rice, potatoes or wheat. In the case of wheat, FDA regulations require the manufacturer to list it as "wheat maltodextrin" on the product label.

  16. The San Fransisco elementary school lunch menu includes daily salad bar, fresh fruit at breakfast, nutritional information for the weekly average including saturated fat, many multigrain and whole grain selections and pretty hearty vegetarian options. So, to the commenter who said that they shouldn't ban toys in macdonalds to combat childhood obesity but should change their school lunches instead, I would guess that 'frisco is the kind of place where taxes are high so the money is there and the dedication is there that they have already made more strides in the school lunch improvement direction than most municipalities in this country.

  17. Autolyzed yeast extract is basically the same thing as MSG. They both have the same component (free glutamic acid) that causes some people a lot of problems. And I have a lot of trouble believing studies that show no reaction to MSG in sensitive individuals: I'm one of them and get a migraine 23-24 hours after a dose, like clockwork. Some detractors of the studies say the lack of results is due to either providing a "placebo" for the control group that is also high in free glutamic acid from a non-MSG source, or providing the MSG combined with something that neutralizes its effects, such as folic acid or a B complex vitamin.

  18. @ Valentijn
    Glutamic acid, also known as glutamate in its deprotonated form, is one of the 20 essential amino acids that make up every protein in your body. I find it highly unlikely that you would react to eating glutamic acid. I'm not saying that you don't react to MSG, because adding an ionic bond to sodium does drastically change the molecule's polarity and chemistry, just that if you did have an allergy/negative reaction to any of the amino acids you most likely would have been miscarried before you could be born.

    I too have noticed the trend that for the common foodie any big chemical name gets labeled as bad regardless of the compound's actual chemical properties and effects on the human body. As someone who does understand the chemistry, this makes me sad. The reason the scary names are so big is that they are describing structural features and chemical properties. Sometimes, like in the case of maltodextrin, all that name is telling you is that 3-19 D-glucose units are linked together in a chain with their fourth carbon connecting to their neighbor's first carbon.

  19. At Kim:
    Woo! Someone commented back to me! I've been wondering whether anyone but me obsessively reads the comments every day, haha.

    I haven't seen King Corn yet, but it's on my list of must-watch docs. I'm still reeling from Food Inc, and that was ages ago… 🙁

    Glad to hear there's another person out there addicted to the Food Network science shows (I also grew up fascinated by Mr. Rogers' trips to factories, so there you go). I know Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information, but during those quick head-scratching moments, it's usually a good place to start when looking for a general explanation. I double-checked what I read via some other sites before I posted, but wikipedia had dumbed it down nicely. 😀

  20. Anon: I'm talking about FREE glutamic acid, not glutamate. And glutamate is not an essential amino acid: the body can make it if it needs to. There are also subdivisions of free glutamic acid, the L and D enantiomer. The L is used for flavor enhancing. MSG, unlike naturally occurring sources of free glutamic acid, has a much higher ration of L to D enantiomers, which may or may not be relevant.

    I've never experienced "Chinese restaurant syndrome", which has a VERY narrow definition, but it's hard to believe that consistently getting migraines exactly 23-24 hours after eating MSG is coincidence. And it's not something I was worrying about before I started getting migraines once a week or more while eating cheap frozen dinners – it took a while to track down the culprit.

    Several years after I realized MSG was causing my migraines, and started avoiding it without knowing about the other sources of free glutamic acid, a neurologist found elevated levels of homocysteine in my blood. Free glutamic acid significantly raises homocysteine levels, and raised levels can cause some bad problems (like the three-week hemiplegic migraine I was experiencing). Folic acid helps break down the homocysteine, and usually stops my migraine in its tracks, especially if I take it soon after eating MSG. So it could be that I have a chronic folic acid deficiency that allows MSG to cause problems that people without that deficiency wouldn't have, or something causing me to produce more homocysteine than MSG-lovers like my fiance. In either case, avoiding MSG is very beneficial for my short-term comfort and long-term health, and I find it annoying that people cite questionable studies to imply that I'm having an hysterical reaction to media hype.

  21. @Anonymous NOVEMBER 18, 2010 1:56 AM-

    Well, if you liked those Mister Rogers field trips, check out a show called "How It's Made" on the Science channel if you have it. I think that was the show I saw that was about the history of the snack chip industry. Planet Green is another fantastic channel. My fave there is Last American Cowboy. It's a reality show about 3 family owned cattle ranches in Montana. They raise grass-fed beef and they're passing their knowledge and methods on to the next generation (yeah!).

    I never thought much about the way info gets on to Wikipedia until I cited it in my response to the interrogatories for a lawsuit filed against the company I worked for. I needed an "official" definition of linear interpolation. Our attorney, a cheerful (NOT!) guy, went ballistic on me when he read my responses and said Wikipedia would never hold up in court. I found citations on various other Web sites but ultimately chose a kids' math homework help site (I couldn't resist). The other side dropped the suit and reimbursed our legal expenses.

  22. Mrs. Q,

    Your colleague's teaching philosophy of meeting a student where he/she needs it is priceless. My 8 year old in 3rd grade has yet to have a teacher who subscribes to this philosophy. Much to our dismay. His teachers keep telling us they are trying to shove a square peg in a round hole and it's my son's fault for not fitting. I wish there were more like your friend (and I suspect like you, too).

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