More diligence needed to break my straw habit

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

No straw? How the heck am I going to drink and drive?

My first encounter with a strawless lid on a cold drink was this past spring at Costco in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I’m pretty sure if anyone was watching me, I looked pretty funny as I searched for a straw in the outdoor food court. Then I paused. No one had a straw, but they had plenty of drinks. I finally looked at the soda. The lid had a little hump on it with an opening. It wasn’t an opening for a straw. I was supposed to drink out of it.

Straws have not been eliminated from The Beacon in Lake Tahoe even though California has a plastic straw ban. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Awesome, I thought. It was like an adult sippy cup. I had never seen one on a cold drink; just for hot drinks.

I figured if Mexico had this, it must be all the rage in the United States. Then I remembered Baja California Sur is more evolved than parts of the United States. In July 2018, lawmakers for that state of Mexico passed a law banning single-use plastic, including straws. The legislation took effect this month.

I’ve visited more fast food restaurants this summer than usual while I’ve been out peddling my hiking book. Much to my disappointment I’ve only encountered straws; no lids to sip from. All of these straws have me seriously thinking about buying a reusable straw so I can say no to the plastic ones.

The Costco in Carson City, Nevada, also has straws. It’s unfortunate the company seems to be acting on external mandates to do what is right instead of changing to sipable lids at all of its locations.

I’m not sure I can wait for governing bodies to pass legislation banning them or for companies to figure it out on their own. I know I need to get better at saying “no straw” when I order a drink. Change is slow even though the evidence is irrefutable about how bad straws are for the environment and wildlife.

Despite California no longer allowing straws at sit down restaurants, that doesn’t appear to be true at bars that are part of the restaurant. I was so taken aback when I went into a popular South Shore restaurant to have one of their trademark rum drinks and saw containers of straws at the bar. That drink doesn’t require a straw, but all came with one – even for the people seated.

Does any drink really need a straw?

Denmark — a country full of food traditions

Denmark — a country full of food traditions

Taking a break from being tourists with a drink at Illum, a rooftop bar in Copenhagen; Cleo, Tom, Pam, Kae.

Herring, open faced sandwiches, hot dogs, meatballs, pastries, licorice, beer.

The delicacies of my ancestors are not ideal for a vegetarian. I was in Denmark in May with my mom, two of my sisters and their husbands, and my two nieces. The bulk of the gang tried herring cooked different ways at one restaurant. It wasn’t ever ordered again. Still, one of the highlights of my trip to Copenhagen was the food tour.

“Skull” is now my favorite way to toast; instead of saying cheers as they do in the U.S. or salud in Mexico. At the brewery stop we learned this salutation came about during the days of the Vikings when they would drink out of the skulls of their enemies. Fortunately, our beer came in regular glasses. Our guide selected an IPA and stout from the 61 beers on the menu at Taphouse. Mom preferred the lighter beer, I was happier with the darker.

Cleo bites into an authentic Danish hot dog. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While Carlsberg and Tuborg are the better known Danish beers, multiple microbreweries are scattered about, with taps at various restaurants.

There is no official drinking age in Denmark. At 16 people can start buying beers with a certain alcohol percentage, and at 18 they can buy anything. Laura, our guide with Sandemans tours, said the belief is this creates a healthier relationship with alcohol. There was a time when the water was not drinkable, so people drank beer for hydration. “We say beer is in our blood, literally,” Laura added.

The avocado toast at Café Atelier September looks better than it tastes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Our first stop had been at the hot dog stand near city hall. These small operators are at various corners in the city. Traditional toppings are ketchup, mustard, remoulade, fresh onions, fried onions and sweet pickles. I ate part of the wheat bun with toppings but no dog. Most of the nearly 20 in the group seemed to like their dogs, which had a red casing. This is old school when the meat wasn’t always the freshest so they had a red casing to make it more appetizing. Now, no matter the casing color, all is fresh.

Pizza dough at Mother’s is made with water from the sea. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The third stop was at Godtfolk restaurant where we were served smørrebrød. This is a traditional open face sandwich. It starts with rye bread smothered with butter, then is topped with almost anything. Herring, with the abundance in the waters around Denmark, is a staple. Cold cuts on top of rye is common to take to work. Mom’s rye had a soft boiled egg, with a mayonnaise dill sauce and shrimp. Mine had a cucumber and tomato instead of the shrimp.

It seemed like some form of smørrebrød was on most menus; some fancier than others. The thing with rye bread is that it is so dense it quickly fills you up. My mom remembers her aunt (of Danish heritage) making rye bread, slicing it thinly and then putting gobs of butter on it.

Laura, the guide, popped into a neighborhood store and came out with a bag of black licorice. It was so different because it was salty. I don’t usually like mixing salt and sugar. However, I was intrigued enough that I bought a bag at the airport on my way home. It didn’t make it back to Mexico, and not because I ate it all. I decided salty licorice really isn’t good.

Ice cream shops are all over Copenhagen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Our final two stops on the food tour were inside Torvehallerne, an upscale food court. First up was a Danish meatball that had seafood instead of meat. This was the one place where there was no substitute for a vegetarian. By this time mom was pretty full, but she said it was good. I was happy we ended at Summerbird with its organic chocolate. The bulk of my family returned to this market later in the week. Several of us bought various chocolates. The amber, a white chocolate, was my favorite. I’m not sure if these gifts will make it to their intended destinations.

Grød, another restaurant in Torvehallerne, was another stop with the family. When it opened in 2011, it was the first porridge bar in the world. Those who indulged said it was good. The fresh vegetables at the market were beautiful. It made me want to make dinner for myself.

The pork dish at Det lille Apotek came with the sides on one plate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Illum was a wonderful spot for a cocktail and people watching. This rooftop bar is actually multiple restaurants sharing the same roof.

Four in our group went to Noma, which four times has been rated the No. 1 restaurant in the world. It now does three seasonal menus a year, with seafood the theme while we were there. That, and the $380 price plus another $205 for the wine pairing, had me plenty happy to dine on pizza that evening with the other three non-Noma participants.

Kae and Cleo indulging in a snack — beer and potato chips — at Europa.

Mother’s, in the old meat packing district, is where we went on that Friday night. It was packed with what we figured were locals. The pizzeria is known for its salty sourdough crust that is made with purified sea water. I couldn’t taste anything special about it. The pizzas – three at our table of four – all looked pretty. The thin bottom crust, though, got soggy pretty fast.

We started our group culinary eating at Ristorante Italiano. When it opened in 1952 it was the only Italian restaurant in Copenhagen. Café Oscar had one of the best tomato soups I’ve had. Det lille Apotek, which has been around since 1720, was chosen as an authentic Danish restaurant. Pork is popular in Denmark. Those at the table who had it didn’t leave any on their plate.

Grød is known for its porridge and various toppings for it. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Instagram has never been the way I choose where to eat. Travel with a millennial and that reality changes. Breakfast at Café Atelier September was chosen by my niece based on it having the most Instagrammable avocado toast. It was pretty. I don’t usually order avocado toast, so I can’t say how it rates photographic-wise against others. I know it was salty and that I would not recommend it, especially at nearly $13. I’m going back to my dining choices being based on what people say about the quality of food and not how many times it was tagged on social media.

What I enjoyed most was having a beer and fries at various places, and the ice cream. All of my comfort foods. The pastries were all worth sampling as well. Had I not been traveling with seven meat eaters, my dining choices would have been different. I can’t honestly say if Copenhagen is good or bad for a vegetarian.

Private session with TSB brewmaster a lesson in all things beer

Private session with TSB brewmaster a lesson in all things beer

Todos Santos Brewing’s head brewer Jair leads a tasting. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Seventeen beers later and I was ready for another.

Jair, the head brewer at Todos Santos Brewing, was happy to oblige. He led me and Darla through a tasting of these craft brews, imparting details about the brewing process, a bit of history about the brewery, and the differences between the flavors. Then he gave us a tour of the facility as we sipped on a full pint of our choice.

By then we were ready to order off their menu – mostly burgers, with a portabella for vegetarians.

Known as Brewer Talks, this is an opportunity to taste a majority of the more than 20 handles at the brewery and gain some knowledge. Because Darla can speak the language of beer, Jair was able to bring more depth to the conversation. It went beyond the alcohol percentage, IBU (international bitter unit), and SRM (standard reference method). After all, those three measurements are on the menu.

Jair, right, explains to Darla how the three 140 liter steel tanks are used. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Like wine tasting, we paid attention to the smell and color of the beer before taking a sip. We cleaned out the glass after each beer so as not to blend flavors. Water was encouraged to help cleanse the palate.

Jair expressed how important the water is for the end product to taste good; with water being 80 percent of the reason a beer tastes the way it does. Todos Santos Brewing gets it water from the Sierra de la Laguna mountains that surround town. Malt, hops and yeast round out the main ingredients. The quality of those goods, according to Jair, will also affect the final product.

It’s the yeast that can bring bitterness, while the malt gives beer color. Malt also has sugar, so sometimes it’s necessary to extract it in the masher. The more sugar in the beer, the more alcohol there will be, Jair, tells us. Sweetness can lead to hangovers.

Plenty of other things can be added to beer. That red color some of them have – not natural. It’s usually caramel that is added. Ginger, cinnamon, Orange Juice – all have been added to a TSB beer at some point. Jair likes to experiment. He adds coffee to the Midnight Oil Black IPA. There’s even a gluten free option, which is more like a cider.

A beer like the Toucan Tropical IPA uses three malts and five kinds of hops. It created a sensation in our mouths, leaving a bit of an aftertaste. The haziness is because of all those hops. Whereas the Day Drinker Session IPA didn’t have as much of an aftertaste, but a citrusy smell was evident.

Day Drinker Session IPA and Brown Owl Brown Ale at Todos Santos Brewing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The Phoenix Amber Ale was created after last year’s fire at the brewery. Jair said every time he drinks it he sees the blackened brewery, and reflects on how it was only closed for 10 days as repairs were made. While brewery folks thought it would be a one-time creation, it has been so popular that multiple batches have been brewed.

Neither Darla nor I liked the sour beers.

“Sours are for people who don’t drink a lot of beer,” Jair told us.

For our pint, I chose the Brown Owl Brown Ale with alcohol level of 6.2 percent, an IBU of 29, and SRM of 19. Darla had the Day Drinker Session IPA: alcohol 4.1, IBU 47, SRM 4.1.

With it just being the two us, there was an intimacy to the experience that may have been lost if we were with a group.

Todos Santos Brewing is definitely redefining what Mexican beer is all about. Brewmaster Jair said most Mexican beers are lagers, while TSB is more about ales.

The award-winning nano-craft brewery in June will celebrate two years in business. Liz and Ted Mitchell, Aussies who had been coming to the area to surf, decided to open the brewery when they couldn’t find good craft beer here. He had experience making beer, they had a love for Baja Sur. Food followed.

The future is likely to entail a bigger brewing facility so batches can be larger than 100 liters. (This is the equivalent of about 26.4 gallons.) Half kegs fill the cold storage area. TSB has opted for a ton of variety, with not a large stash of each flavor. With so many wonderful options it doesn’t matter if your favorite is out, there are plenty of others to dazzle the taste buds.

Plenty of choices for beer connoisseurs and novices at TSB. (Image: Kathryn Reed)


  • Brewer Talks available every day but Tuesdays, until 6pm. Appointments required.
  • Cost – 600 pesos, $35 U.S.
  • Minimum of two people, maximum of eight.
  • It takes about two hours.
  • To book a time: email, Facebook messenger Todos Santos Brewing, or call 624.118.3709.
Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Purified water is available at a facility in the center of Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Not even AJ, my dog, drinks the tap water in Todos Santos.

I don’t know all the minerals or other contaminants that are in the water, but enough that even the native Mexicans use bottled water. With AJ having kidney disease, I wasn’t about to find out what it would do to her.

I shower and brush my teeth with the regular water. It’s also used to wash dishes and clothes, and for outdoor plants.

Using a custom-designed holder for water in the kitchen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I use treated water for cooking rice-quinoa-pasta, even to boil eggs. Guests use this “good” water for coffee as well. For washing produce I put a few drops of a solution into good water. This was recommended from Rhoda, who has wintered in Mexico the last few years.

The number of bottles I go through in a month varies based on how many people are here and the amount of cooking/coffee making. I’ve never spent more than $4 in a month.

Restaurants often serve bottled water when you request aqua. I often have my water bottle with me, at least for casual dining. The whole plastic issue is the main reason, as well as being cheap.

Water is a bit of a luxury here. In an average year, Todos Santos gets about 6 inches of rain. The Sierra de La Laguna mountains that run through a large swath of the middle of Baja California Sur get more rain. It is from these mountains that the aquifers of the area are filled.

Large plastic bottles are used over and over again for treated water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja California Sur is the driest state in Mexico. This doesn’t seem to bother the government since it keeps giving permits for development. This state is also the fastest growing one in the country.

Officials in Cabo San Lucas got smart a few years ago when they implemented a policy mandating major developments have their own desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Desalinization plants, though, have numerous environmental red flags associated with them.

As more gringos have moved to the Todos Santos area, more options are available for treated water. Many full-timers install purification systems so they can use their tap. It’s possible to do so just in the kitchen or on any faucet.

I get my drinking water in bottles that are just more than 5 gallons. There is a purification plant in town with a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Water U-2000, the company, has been doing this type of work for at least 35 years.

Water is available six days a week at the Todos Santos facility. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there are various workers there, usually it’s the same young man – who didn’t give me his name – who helps me. He washes the empty plastic bottle I bring him, then has two overhead faucets in order to fill more than one bottle at a time. He dries off the bottle, puts the cap on and collects my 10 pesos – 53 cents. When he carries it to the Jeep, he gets a 5-peso tip; not much, but still 50 percent.

It’s possible to have water bottles like this delivered, but this way is working for me. Carrying it upstairs and getting a bottle into the downstairs container adds to my weightlifting for the day.

Downstairs I use the custom-made metal container my sister had here. The bottle sits in it. When it comes to using it, the bottle is tipped forward to pour from it. Upstairs I have a pump on the top. Both do their job.

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

It was immediate. I knew this wasn’t the same Diet Coke I was used to drinking. It was more than the packaging, with it being called Coca-Cola Light in Mexico.

Sweeter, less carbonated. That’s what I think of Diet Coke in Mexico compared to the United States.

The difference is that in Mexico the recipe uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The carbonation factor I can’t figure out. I’ve had Coca-Cola Light out of aluminum cans and plastic bottles here. Both seem less fizzy than what I get north of the border.

Some in the U.S. prefer the Mexico blend, so now it is imported in some locales. Look for hecho en México to know that it’s made in Mexico.

Packaging is a little different. Three liter bottles are available here; some cans are larger than the “normal” 12 ounces (355mL). Glass bottles are also extremely popular here.

Mexicans drink more soda than any other country. Coke, though, dominates the market. On average, Mexicans drink 700 cups of Coke a year, which is almost double what people in the United States drink.

A 3-liter plastic bottle of Coca-Cola light in Todos Santos costs 36 pesos; less than $2. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Obesity and diabetes became a huge concern, especially after Mexico joined NAFTA in 1994. The price on sugary drinks like Coke and processed foods dropped. In some locales in Mexico it was cheaper to buy a Coke than potable water. The number of Mexicans diagnosed with diabetes doubled between 2000 and 2007.

Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000-06, had too close of a relationship with the mega carbonated drink producer to do much. He was once president of Coca-Cola Mexico.

It was President Enrique Peña Nieto who in 2013 proposed a 10 percent soda tax. It took effect the following year.

A study by BMJ showed a reduction in soda consumption. However, actual reduction in calories has not been significant enough to have serious impacts on reducing diabetes and obesity. Others are calling for education to be stepped up so consumers understand the impacts of their dietary choices.

Time for chefs to step it up to satiate vegetarians

Time for chefs to step it up to satiate vegetarians

Even in 2019, being a vegetarian can be an issue when eating out. I blame it on the chef.

Most kitchens are full of vegetables. Most side dishes are a veggie. It’s not hard to turn a side dish into a main dish. Why not have a non-meat entrée or two on the menu? If that is too much to ask, why can’t the chef be creative?

Quesadillas can be a restaurant’s answer to feeding a vegetarian. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No longer is vegetarianism an oddity. It is safe to call it mainstream even if a minority subscribe to this way of eating.

According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, 5 percent of the U.S. population claimed to be a vegetarian. This is about the same percentage that said so in 2012. Research firm GlobalData found that in 2017 6 percent of people in the United States identified as vegan. This compares to 2014 when 1 percent did.

Even if people aren’t eating a totally plant-based diet or one where no animal was killed, people are embracing “meatless Mondays” and the like. Look at all the options in U.S. grocery stores for prepared veggie meals. People are making a conscious effort to eat less meat.

That is why it always surprises me when there isn’t at least a vegetarian option on a menu.

So often the go-to solution for restaurants in the U.S. is to offer a veggie burger. Fine. But when it’s just some frozen, ordinary burger this is like having iceberg lettuce for a salad. Boring.

I’ve walked out of a number of restaurants in the South Lake Tahoe area because there was nothing on the menu I would eat. This always shocked me, especially considering how close Tahoe is to San Francisco, and that Northern California is where most tourists come from.

In Baja California Sur I’m finding quesadillas to be my solution when the menu is filled with meat, usually fish.

Restaurants like Santos Pecados in Todos Santos are amenable to catering to a vegetarian. The chef turned the burrito on the menu into a burrito with verduras. No meat, no fish. It was awesome, with such wonderful flavor. The waiter even came out to make sure I would eat cheese. This shows the chef knew to figure out if I was vegetarian or vegan. Then there is Hierbabuena in Pescadero. I could eat at this farm-to-fork restaurant every night. I’ve never been disappointed. On the more casual side, Santo Chilote in Todos Santos, which is known for its fish tacos, offers a deep fried avocado. I call that innovative.

While I don’t mind a veggie burger or quesadilla, I’d rather spend my limited dining dollars on something more interesting, not something I could easily have had if I’d stayed at home. Come on chefs, show your creativity with those vegetables.

Grass-Fed cows create a richer tasting butter in Mexico

Grass-Fed cows create a richer tasting butter in Mexico

Super yellow butter. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was so bright I was sure some food coloring must have been added.

Come to find out this bright yellow butter that is the norm in Mexico is what it looks like when cows eat a natural diet. Natural meaning grass and flowers. It is the beta-carotene, with its yellow pigment, that gives butter it’s yellow color. Less beta-carotene, the more opaque the butter.

Not all animals operate the way cows do. That is why butter from sheep and goats is white; they don’t store the beta-carotene the same as cows.

Mexican butter, bottom, is more yellow than what comes from the United States. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Still, no matter where the cows are grazing, it’s hard to have them grazing year-round on grass. Because the consumer wants consistency with their purchases and not having fluctuating butter color during the year, as would be natural, those making the butter often freeze it during peak season in order to have it for sale year round.

In the United States the freezing part isn’t usually an issue because so few dairy cows ever eat a green meal. Those cows usually get a mixture of barley, corn and alfalfa in a feed lot instead of a pasture. The diet is consistent, thus producing consistently light colored butter.

Besides looking different, the butter in Mexico also tastes different. Richer would be one word to describe the difference. It also tastes a bit like the butter you get on popcorn at a movie theater, and even has that smell.

It’s like a lot of foods, they are similar, but not the same in every country. (Even Diet Coke – Coca-Cola Light here – is different; it’s sweeter in Mexico.) It’s a matter of getting used to things and being open to adapting to the world you are in and not holding on so tight to the world you came from.

Consumers in Mexico have a choice of what color/flavor of butter to buy. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While what the cows are being fed clearly makes a difference, mantequilla (butter) is not used as much in Mexican cooking as it is in the United States, other than in baked goods. Oil and cream are more popular.

If one doesn’t want to adapt, it’s possible to get U.S. butter in Baja California Sur. At Supermercado Del Sol II in Todos Santos one cube of Challenge butter (113 grams) was 40.75 pesos (more than $2). This compares to a local brand – Gloria – and its bright yellowness being 20 pesos (about $1) for 90 grams.

5 food-Beverage facts about Mexico

5 food-Beverage facts about Mexico

  1. Mexico exports more beer than any other country, with the value being $3.8 billion in 2017.
  2. A Mexico City restaurant had to pull its $27 taco (that’s U.S. dollars) off the menu because the Mexican red rump tarantula is a protected species by the government.
  3. One of Patricia Quintana’s legacy’s is that she was known as the matriarch of Mexican cuisine. She was considered a culinary ambassador to the world. She died at the age of 72 in November 2018. She is remembered in this New York Times obituary.
  4. Pozole is a traditional Mexican dish most often made with pork. Thanks to a chef-restaurant owner in Santa Ana, California, a vegetarian version has been concocted. This New Yorker article has the recipe, gives some history about the dish and as well as insights about the owner of Alta Baja café.
  5. In 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was included by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

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