Nov 142013


As a foodie blogger (and for personal reasons) I feel an obligation to promote World Diabetes Day. World Diabetes Day is the primary global awareness day of the diabetes mellitus world and is held on November 14 of each year. It was introduced in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization in response to the alarming rise of diabetes around the world. World Diabetes Day is part of a campaign that features a new theme chosen by the International Diabetes Federation each year to address issues facing the global diabetes community. While the campaigns last the whole year, the day itself marks the birthday of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best, discovered and isolated insulin in 1922.  Before then people born with diabetes died young.  Banting’s discovery has saved millions of lives.

Each year, World Diabetes Day is centered on a theme related to diabetes. Topics covered have included diabetes and human rights, diabetes and lifestyle, diabetes and obesity, diabetes in the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, diabetes in children and adolescents, and talking about diabetes.  For 2009–2013, the theme is Diabetes Education and Prevention. People worldwide are still alarmingly ignorant about diabetes, including many diabetics themselves.  Go here for more information:


Frederick Banting is one of my great heroes.  The isolation of insulin ranks with the discovery of penicillin as one of the monumental achievements of medicine in the twentieth century.  Banting was born on November 14, 1891, in a farm house near Alliston, Ontario. He attended elementary and high schools in Alliston. He attempted to enter the army but was refused due to poor eyesight. He then attended the University of Toronto in the faculty of divinity but soon transferred to medicine. He received his M.B. degree in 1916 and enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, which had a need for medics in World War I. He was wounded at the battle of Cambrai in 1918. Despite his injuries, he helped other wounded men for sixteen hours, until another doctor told him to stop. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1919, for heroism.

Banting returned to Canada after the war and briefly took up general practice in London, Ontario. Returning to Toronto, he studied orthopedic medicine and, in 1919–1920, was Resident Surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children. From 1920–21, he continued his general practice, while teaching orthopedics and anthropology part-time at the University of Western Ontario in London. From 1921–22 he lectured in pharmacology at the University of Toronto, receiving his M.D. degree in 1922.

An article he read about the pancreas piqued Banting’s interest in diabetes. Research by Naunyn, Minkowski, Opie, Schafer, and others suggested that diabetes resulted from a lack of a protein hormone secreted by the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. Schafer had named this hormone insulin (from Latin “insula” – island/islet). Insulin was thought to control the metabolism of sugar; its lack led to an increase of sugar in the blood which was then excreted in urine. Attempts to extract insulin from ground-up pancreas cells were unsuccessful, because of the destruction of the insulin by the proteolysis enzyme of the pancreas. The challenge was to find a way to extract insulin from the pancreas prior to its being destroyed.

Moses Barron published an article on experimental closure of the pancreatic duct by ligature which further influenced Banting’s thinking. The procedure caused deterioration of the cells of the pancreas that secrete trypsin but left the islets of Langerhans intact. Banting realized that this procedure would destroy the trypsin-secreting cells but not the insulin. Once the trypsin-secreting cells had died, insulin could be extracted from the islets of Langerhans.

In the spring of 1921, Banting travelled to Toronto to visit J.J.R. Macleod, professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, and asked Macleod if he could use his laboratory. Macleod was initially skeptical, but eventually agreed before leaving on holiday for the summer. Before leaving for Scotland he supplied Banting with ten dogs for experiment and two medical students, Charles Best and Clark Noble, as lab assistants.

Since Banting required only one assistant, Best and Noble flipped a coin to see who would assist Banting first. Best won and took the first shift. Loss of the coin toss proved unfortunate for Noble, given that Banting decided to keep Best for the entire summer and eventually shared a large part of the credit for the discovery of insulin. Had Noble won the toss his career might have taken a different path.

Banting (R) and Best

Banting (R) and Best

In 1923, the Nobel Prize Committee honored Banting and J.J.R. Macleod with the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of insulin, ignoring Charles Best. This incensed Banting who then chose to share half of the prize money with Best.

Banting was appointed Senior Demonstrator in Medicine at the University of Toronto in 1922. The following year he was elected to the new Banting and Best Chair of Medical Research, endowed by the Legislature of the Province of Ontario. He also served as Honorary Consulting Physician to the Toronto General, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the Toronto Western Hospital. At the Banting and Best Institute, he researched silicosis, cancer, and the mechanisms of drowning. During the Second World War he investigated the problems of aviators, such as “blackout” in steep climbs and dives.

I have family experience with diabetes. My first cousin was born diabetic, my father lost pancreas function due to other medical complications, and my wife developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with our son, and it remained after the birth. During the pregnancy my wife was insulin dependent, monitoring her blood glucose levels 6 times per day to keep them within a very fine range to prevent harm to the baby, and injecting insulin before meals.  So, as a cook, I know something about living with a diabetic.  What do you cook for a diabetic?  The American Diabetes Association says the following to diabetics:

What is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet is a way of eating that reduces risk for complications such as heart disease and stroke. Healthy eating includes eating a wide variety of foods including:


    whole grains


    non-fat dairy products


    lean meats



There is no one perfect food so including a variety of different foods and watching portion sizes is key to a healthy diet. Also, make sure your choices from each food group provide the highest quality nutrients you can find. In other words, pick foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber over those that are processed.

People with diabetes can eat the same foods the family enjoys. Everyone benefits from healthy eating so the whole family can take part in healthy eating. It takes some planning but you can fit your favorite foods into your meal plan and still manage your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

In other words, eat healthy stuff – that’s all.  I can’t give you a “diabetic” recipe, because there is no such thing.  Here’s what I had for dinner last night.


Santa Fe Green Chile Stew

I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a year doing research and eating sopapillas, menudo, posole, and green chile stew.  Green chile is a staple in New Mexico where it is grown in vast quantities.  It is a relatively mild long green pepper with a rich, complex flavor.  The chiles are prepared by roasting the skins black and scraping them off, then using the inner pulp for cooking.  If you cannot get fresh, canned green chiles (such as Old El Paso) work well enough.  You do not need a detailed recipe.  Here’s the one in my head.

Put lean pork, diced onion, and diced green chiles, in a pot, add oregano, cover with light stock, and simmer for about an hour or until the meat is tender.  Add diced potatoes and simmer another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked to your liking.  Serve in deep bowls with flour tortillas.

Oct 062013


Today is the feast day of St Faith and her companion martyrs.  St Faith is one of those saints you have to be a bit doubtful about.  The name itself suggests that she might be analogous to the Roman goddess Fides who was the personification of faith.  Maybe St Faith is a saint in the same vein.  Even the official line of the Catholic church is one of skepticism (and she tends now to be venerated as the embodiment of faith). Almost nothing is known about her life, and what is known is quite generic and often jumbled up with stories of other saints.  Nonetheless, her veneration is quite deep and widespread, especially in Latin America where there are scores of parishes, towns, and provinces named for her using her Spanish name, Santa Fe.  So let me see what I can disentangle from the “cloud of unknowing” and say something about traditions associated with her.

According to the medieval martyrologies, Faith was a young French woman (or girl) from Aquitaine, martyred under Dacian, procurator at Agen, during the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian, who was perhaps the most savagely anti-Christian of all the Roman emperors. Her legend recounts how she was arrested for being a Christian, and refused to make pagan sacrifices even under torture. In consequence she was burnt to death on a red-hot brazier. Anyone who showed sympathy for her was likewise martyred, hence her feast day includes her “companion martyrs.”  Her death is sometimes said to have occurred in the year 287 or 290, sometimes in the early 4th century (the uncertainty adding to the doubt concerning her existence). She is listed under her medieval French name Sainte Foy, “Virgin and Martyr,” in the martyrologies.

During the 12th century, Faith’s veneration was fused with those of Caprasius and Alberta, both associated with Agen. Caprasius’ cult in turn was also fused with that of Primus and Felician, who are called Caprasius’ brothers.  One legend states that during the persecutions of Christians by the prefect Dacian, Caprasius fled to Mont-Saint-Vincent, near Agen. He witnessed the execution of Faith from atop the hill. Caprasius was condemned to death, and was joined on his way to execution by Alberta, Faith’s sister (also identified as Caprasius’ mother), and two brothers, named Primus and Felician. All four were beheaded. All very confusing.

In the fifth century, Dulcitius, bishop of Agen, ordered the construction of a basilica dedicated to her, later restored in the 8th century and enlarged in the 15th. It was demolished in 1892 due to an urban planning effort at Agen. However, the center of her cult was not the basilica in Agen but the abbey church at Conques. In the ninth century her remains were stolen by a monk from Conques, who spent 10 years undercover in the abbey at Agen, and transferred to Conques.

faithconques  faithconques2

Conques was along the pilgrimage route to Compostela. Her veneration then spread along the pilgrim routes on the Way of St James (see post 25 July) – and beyond, eventually reaching  England, Italy, and the Spanish colonies.

faith1  faith3

The gilded reliquary at Conques (pictured) was described in Bernard of Angers’ Book of Miracles of Sainte Foi, around 1010. It was repeatedly adapted and enriched well into the nineteenth century. The head itself, made of a different gold from the body— which is fashioned of thin plates over a yew wood— has been tentatively identified as an imperial portrait of the later Roman Empire. Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has alternately theorized that the life-size golden face is a portrait or death mask of Charlemagne. Some of her relics were moved to the monastery of Sant Cugat in Catalonia in 1365. However, the main reliquary can be seen in the Abbey at Conques. One of her arms was reportedly kept in a church in Glastonbury in England.

The nineteenth-century English Shakespearean scholar and antiquarian James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps reports this St Faith Day custom in England:

A charm-divination on the 6th of October, St. Faith’s day, is still in use in the North of England. A cake of flour, spring water, salt and sugar, is made by three girls, each having an equal hand in the composition. It is then baked in a Dutch oven, silence being strictly preserved, and turned thrice by each person. When it is well baked, it must be divided into three equal parts, and each girl must cut her share into nine pieces, drawing every piece through a wedding-ring which had been borrowed from a woman who has been married seven years. Each girl must eat her pieces of cake while she is undressing, and repeat the following verses:

O good St. Faith, be kind to-night,
And bring to me my heart’s delight;
Let me my future husband view,
And be my visions chaste and true.

All three must then get into one bed, with the ring suspended by a string to the head of the couch. They will then dream of their future husbands, or if perchance one of them is destined to lead apes, she will dream of wandering by herself over crags and mountains

I am given to doubt that this custom was at all widespread but this quote is now endlessly repeated as if it were.  There are also general reports from various parts of Europe that it was traditional to bake simple cakes in honor of St Faith on this day.  I can find no evidence that this is still done.

Saint Faith (Santa Fe) was a popular saint at the time of Spanish colonization of the New World, hence scores of towns and provinces bear the name Santa Fe.  Here’s a sample gallery.





Havant, Hampshire

Havant, Hampshire



New Mexico

New Mexico

Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua, New Zealand

I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a year studying the dances of the Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, and Keres pueblos about 20 years ago.  It was a wonderful time for me, and consequently I returned on several occasions.  As much as anything I was drawn by the food which is a combination of puebloan and Spanish cuisines.  One all time favorite of mine is green chile stew.  Around this time of year the streets of Santa Fe are redolent of the smell of roasting green chiles.  Residents buy their year’s supply in large sacks from farmers who bring them into town.  They have large revolving roasting drums fired by propane jets in which the fresh chiles are roasted until the skins are blackened. Then they are taken home, laid out to cool, and the skins are stripped off.


Nothing could be sweeter than a warm freshly roasted New Mexico green chile wrapped in a flour tortilla. Cooking pots burst with green chile stew to make the most of the harvest. The rest are then frozen and stored for the year.  You can sometimes get green chiles in markets outside of the southwest. If you do find them, char them over an open flame and scrape off the blackened skin before using them.  Otherwise there are tinned varieties available. They are not as good, but they work.  Regular bell peppers are not a good substitute.  Some people make this with beef, but it really needs to be pork.  In restaurants the stew comes with sopapillas (puffy fried bread).  At the end of the meal you finish off with a sopapilla soaked in honey, conveniently supplied in squeeze bottles at each table.


© Tío Juan’s Green Chile Stew


1 ½ lbs pork butt, cubed
1 ½ cups diced onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano
6 cups chicken broth
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced (large chunks)
3 cups roasted, peeled, chopped green chile
olive oil (or vegetable oil) for frying
chopped cilantro, to taste and for garnish


Set the stock to simmer gently in a large stock pot with the garlic.

In a skillet sauté the onions in a little oil until translucent. Transfer to the stock.

Gently brown the pork in batches in the skillet, transferring each batch to the stock when browned.

Add half the chiles, oregano, and cilantro to taste, then simmer partly covered at least one hour.  The pork should be very tender.

Add the potatoes and the rest of the chiles, and simmer uncovered until the potatoes are tender. The stock should be reduced and thick.

Serve in bowls with a garnish of cilantro.

Serves 6-8