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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Foods, Recipes, & Cooking, #35

Updated on June 3, 2018
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

I'm starting today with a few photos from the herb garden. Yarrow (I use it in sachets), catmint (not to be confused with catnip), chives (onion family) and rosemary. The deer and bunnies leave them alone, slugs avoid them, and they are all drought tolerant once established.

Win, win, win.

Well, let's get started with the mailbox. I had to don my "Ms. Science" hat a few times.

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Question About Fermented Vegetables

What a great article! I haven't checked out the others in the series, but do you have anything on fermentation of vegetables? My specific question is whether the water used in fermentation should be thrown away after the process is complete. Thanks in advance!

Rinita, I'm so glad you stopped by and left a question. I must admit that fermenting vegetables (other than cabbage) is not something I have in my repertoire. (But I recently wrote an article about making sauerkraut at home).

There might be some readers who are not familiar with fermentation, so allow me to give a brief explanation. Fermentation is the process of storing vegetables in a water and salt (brine) solution. This environment promotes the development of lactobacillus, a bacteria that works to break down the natural sugars in vegetables into lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative.

Over time the vegetables soften (as if being gently cooked) and take on a tangy, sour taste. This process works best with sturdy vegetables (like carrots), less so with fruits or more delicate vegetables.

The process is not difficult, but care must be taken to ensure that there is no contamination.

  • Vegetables used must be fresh, free of blemish or rot.
  • All equipment must be sterile.
  • Care must be exercised in the measurement of ingredients.
  • Once the fermentation process is complete, the food must be stored at the proper temperature.

I can't stress these warnings enough. I would be crushed if anyone reading this article became ill because of improper technique or handling of ingredients. Botulism is an extremely dangerous and often deadly foodborne pathogen.

This article from Food Safety News provides a wealth of information and numerous links.

Now, in answer to your question - I have not found any website that recommends a use for the brine (fermentation broth) that surrounds fermented vegetables. Of course, you want to keep your fermented veggies submerged, but once that jar of goodies has been consumed, I think it best to discard it and start over. But, I'm not the resident expert. If any of you have found a use for the brine left from fermented vegetables, please let me know.

And for those who are interested in this topic, here is a link from Saveur which provides a simple, straight-forward recipe for fermenting vegetables.

How to Make a "Greek Spice" Mix

I recently made an excellent recipe that called for “Greek spice.” I searched several grocery stores in my area and eventually found it. The label doesn’t really say what exact spices are in it. Do you know what spices are considered Greek, particularly in case I have to make my own Greek spice blend?

Flourish, I love Greek food—spanakopita, tzatziki. pastitsio and the list goes on and on. Salt and pepper, garlic and onions are certainly on the list of seasonings for Greek foods (and just about every other type of cooking I can think of), but there are other subtle flavorings that are beloved in Mediterranean cuisine.

McCormick lists onion, spearmint, oregano, garlic, and sea salt in the ingredients for their Greek spice blend. A good start, but I think we can do better. Here's my suggestion:

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic

Lexicon of Cooking Terms

Here is the final entry in our alphabetical listing of strange, odd, obscure (and sometimes just simply funny) cooking terms. I even found something for the letter "X".

XXX, XXXX, 10X - An indicator of the number of times confectioners' sugar has been ground. The higher the number of X's the finer the grind.

Xanthan gum - A popular food additive to thickener or stabilizer. It's created when sugar is fermented by a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. When sugar is fermented, it creates a broth or goo-like substance, which is made solid by adding an alcohol. It is then dried and turned into a powder. When xanthan gum powder is added to a liquid, it quickly disperses and creates a viscous and stable solution. It is used frequently in gluten-free cooking since it can provide the elasticity and fluffiness that gluten gives traditional baked goods.

Yakitori - A Japanese term meaning "grilled."

Yolk - The yellow colored center of an egg.

Yuzu - A round, yellowish citrus fruit with fragrant, acidic juice, used chiefly as a flavoring.

Zahtar - Popular spice blend in Turkey and other areas, this blend is composed of sesame seeds, powdered sumac and dried thyme.

Zest – The outermost covering of citrus fruits containing aromatic oils.

Zuppa – The Italian word for "soup".

Storing Hard Cooked Eggs

How long can hard boiled eggs be kept in the fridge?

Shirley, to answer this question, I went to the American Egg Board. They recommend:

  1. Store hard-cooked eggs in their shells in the refrigerator as soon as they are cooled.
  2. Use them within one week.
  3. Store them in the interior of your refrigerator, not in the door.
  4. Want to make sure that you use them in time? Write the date you cooked them on the shell with a felt-tip pen.

How To Clean Pans Dirtied with Cooking Spray "Gunk"

Can you tell us how to clean the spray oil off of pans, and what is the best way to clean a splatter guard?

Mary (and your sister Shirley), let me first address the problem with gunky baking pans. They're ugly. But it's not your fault. Now, to explain what happened and how to fix it, we need to delve into Chemistry 101.

  • The brown residue you’ve noticed is baking spray overspray that has polymerized in the heat of the oven. Polymerization is the process by which many small molecules bond (in this case under heat) to create large, stable molecules.
  • Most of us see the word polymer and think plastic, but it’s important to remember that while all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastic. There are two kinds of polymers, some can be heated and reshaped and others can’t. The polymer we create with cooking spray is thermoset, meaning once it’s there it is going to be a b-tch to remove. It’s a lot like how you can’t unsqueeze toothpaste from the tube.

With glass and stainless steel, I use Bar Keeper’s Friend and a little elbow grease to remove any polymerized oils. Wet the residue, sprinkle on the powder, give it a quick rub and then walk away for a few minutes. Give the oxalic acid a little time to work before using any of your own energy.

A lot of people recommend using oven cleaner on glass and ceramic to remove polymerized cooking spray, but I would rather use a little energy than create those fumes.

Do not try to remove cooked on baking spray from non-stick bakeware. The removal of the cooking spray residue will likely remove the nonstick coating. If you have used baking or cooking spray on your non-stick muffin tins, don’t worry too much, you’re just going to have ugly muffin tins. Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Try not to spray cooking spray on surfaces that do not come in contact with food.
  • Or, skip the cooking spray altogether, use parchment paper or silicone mats.
  • Finally just remember that ugly doesn’t mean an item has lost its use.

Here is some REALLY good advice I found on the internet:

  • The polymerized baking spray isn’t really going to hurt anything. The surface of your polymerized cooking spray isn’t going anywhere, but it isn’t as smooth as a metal or ceramic finish and food may be more likely to stick. Want to take a guess as to the fix?
  • Quit trying to keep up with Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, and Paula Deen. Yes, they are all good cooks. Yes, they all have beautiful kitchens, but here’s the thing. That kitchen is a tv set, not reality. That gorgeous cookware is replaced as soon as it shows the slightest sign of wear. Companies send them cookware to feature. What you see is not receiving daily use by people with better things to do than perform upkeep on their tools. I don’t have a crew, do you?
  • If you can, try to remove the residue before it cools. If you catch it before it has solidified, plain old soap and water should do the trick.

Now, as to cleaning that spatter screen? I have one, but I have given up using it. It's just one more thing to clean, and although it reduces the spatter on the cooktop, it doesn't eliminate it. As with cookware, my best advice is to clean it as soon as you can after use, and a trip through the dishwasher would probably be a good idea.

Is Organic Always the Better Choice?

I went to an awesome "Nutrition for Dummies" class. (remember those books?)

But this gal/teacher has at least 6 initials after her name. And she went off on "Organic". She just insisted that it limits our diets too much and costs too much and is really not that different.

In undertaking farming, we undertake a responsibility covering the whole life cycle. We can break it or keep it whole.

— LORD NORTHBOURNE, Look to the Land

In 1940 Walter James, the 4th Baron Northbourne, published his first book, "Look to the Land" in which he espoused the concept of the farm as a living organism. It was he who coined the phrase "organic farming." So, what exactly is organic farming? It can include but is not limited to

  • enhanced soil and water quality
  • reduced pollution
  • safe, healthy livestock habitats
  • the enabling natural livestock behavior
  • A self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established these guidelines:

  • 100 percent organic. This description is used on certified organic fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat or other single-ingredient foods. It may also be used on multi-ingredient foods if all of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water. These may have a USDA seal.
  • Organic. If a multi-ingredient food is labeled organic, at least 95 percent of the ingredients are certified organic, excluding salt and water. The nonorganic items must be from a USDA list of approved additional ingredients. These also may have a USDA seal.
  • Made with organic. If a multi-ingredient product has at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients, it may have a "made with organic" ingredients label. For example, a breakfast cereal might be labeled "made with organic oats." The ingredient list must identify what ingredients are organic. These products may not carry a USDA seal.
  • Organic ingredients. If less than 70 percent of a multi-ingredient product is certified organic, it may not be labeled as organic or carry a USDA seal. The ingredient list can indicate which ingredients are organic.

A healthy, humane environment for livestock, fewer chemicals in our foods, and a lesser impact on our land and water. . . all of these sound wonderful and noble.

But is it worth the extra cost?

Consumer Reports (CR) conducted an extensive investigation of the organic food industry in January 2006. At that time they recommended:

Buy these organic items as often as possible - apples, baby food, bell peppers, celery, cherries, dairy, eggs, imported grapes, meat, nectarines, peaches, pears, poultry, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.

Buy these items if money is no object - asparagus, avocados, bananas, bread, broccoli, cauliflower, cereals, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, oils, onions, papaya, pasta, pineapples, potato chips, and sweet peas.

CR revisited this topic in March 2015. If you believe that going organic is the right thing for you and your family, I suggest that you read the Consumer Reports article. It provides information on the benefits of organics, the evidence of increased antioxidants in organic produce, and cost comparison of commonly-purchased produce as well-known online and retail outlets.

That was a fun mailbox and one that had me scurrying to find the answers. Have a wonderful week my friends, and don't be shy. If you have a question I'm here to help. If you want to remain anonymous, you can email me at

© 2018 Linda Lum


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    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      8 months ago from Central Florida

      OMG, your garden must smell delectable! I absolutely LOVE rosemary! I know I've told you before on your blog, but I'd love to spend some time walking your property. You're very talented. You've created such a serene, colorful setting for yourself.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, good for you for being proactive in what you put on the table.

      Like you I rely on the paper towel or pastry brush method of coating baking pans with a little oil. (Arthritis prevents me from pushing the button on those silly cans).

      Rosemary flowers profusely (at least mine do) but they are senior citizens. The largest is probably 2.5 ft tall and 6 ft wide and the bees LOVE it.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      8 months ago from Central Florida

      Great mailbox this week, Linda!

      I prefer to eat organic and non-GMO as often as possible. Fruits and veggies with a soft skin should be non-GMO and organic. It's okay to eat non-organic fruits and veggies that have a tough exterior that isn't consumed, such as many squashes and citrus (unless you're using the zest in your recipes). Frankly, anymore, if a product isn't marked non-GMO, I won't buy it. I also won't buy anything with corn oil or soybean oil in it; they're the top two GMO food crops in America. High fructose corn syrup is another ingredient I avoid. Can you tell I'm a label reader???

      As far as the cooking spray question, why use it at all? Pouring a small amount of coconut oil, olive oil or grape seed oil in the vessel and smearing it around with a paper towel serves the same purpose without resulting in ugly cookware.

      Love the opening photos. I honestly didn't know that rosemary (one of my favorite herbs) flowers!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, that's a great question and I that I will add to the Q&A for next week.

    • manatita44 profile image


      8 months ago from london


      "What makes some egg yolks so yellow and yet others so white inside?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I think 10 years for a computer is like 100 for a human. I replaced my laptop with a desktop 6 months ago and I LOVE it. It's an all-in-one (meaning that the monitor and CPU are one piece) and the monitor is wide. I can have side-by-side documents open which makes editing, copy and paste, etc. soooo easy.

      Buy yourself a new computer. You're worth it. (And yes, I will alert you to new articles I think will be of interest to you).

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda I am pulling my hair out with my computer. Working on this project with tons of downloads. Maybe 10 years is old for a laptop. If I miss something let me know.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Hi Mary, I don't think I've tasted a sour tangerine. I'll look into it (I have a good friend who owns and operates a produce market and he has access to an amazing array of products. If he can locate some for me I'll play in the kitchen). This might take a few weeks to answer, but answer I will.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      8 months ago from Brazil

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for the answers. My eyes nearly glazed over when I saw the word, CHEMISTRY.LOL

      Your answer was very informative, thanks. I will pass this on to Shirley as well.

      I do have another question for you. I have a tangerine tree, which although it bears a lot of fruit, they are so sour. A good flavor, but really too sour to eat. I know that the oranges they use in marmalade are sour, do you think it would be possible to use these tangerines in lieu of marmalade oranges? I've never attempted to make marmalade but it is one of the things I haven't had since moving to Brazil, and I'd love to have some.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, so is a "make ahead meals" in your future? I think so. You have given me new inspiration. I'm on it.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Rinita, it is good to hear from you again. I hope you will visit often.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda, I am stymied but think I can adjust. My wife is home for many evenings now. She is famous for "does not work well with others". She took over my kitchen with a vengeance. Fair enough there really is not room for two.

      I have it easy to adjust with more time with the boy so that is happy days.

      I think I am going to go afternoons for my cooking. Like the meatloaf I can do it ahead of time. But I will need more foods that are perfect for this.

      Bless you and Mr. Carb!

    • Senoritaa profile image

      Rinita Sen 

      8 months ago

      Thank you Linda for your very helpful response! Really appreciate the time you took. Here's to many more!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Thanks, Linda. Sorry for the extra time you're giving my question, Please don't be too concerned. It's okay.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Audrey, I'm scratching my head on your question about the success or failure of your herb plants. I promise to research (I have two friends who, unlike me, are professionals) and will have an answer for your next Monday.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      8 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Terrific hub Linda! I use regular baking soda to clean the "gunk" off of my pans. Works fast and it sanitizes too. Not sure it's safe on all cookware, but it works on mine.

      Thanks for the info regarding organic vs. regular. I go with organic but I'm getting to the point where I'm not sure who or what to trust anymore.

      Here's a question for the next "Ask Carb Diva": I regularly grow sweet basil and mojito mint placed next to my sunny kitchen window. I have four plants, water them the same, and give them the same amount of sun. One, sometimes two, plants always die while the others grow like gangbusters. Any ideas on what causes this?


    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, first I'm glad that your pans will live to see another day. Like everything else in life, it's all about the love.

      Yes, favorite things will be the new topic each week.

      The answer to your last question is pretty simplistic. My daughters were brought up that way so they've known nothing else. My husband was brought up in a traditional meat-and-potatoes home, but (1) was exposed to other cultures/cuisines when he served in the Navy, and more importantly (2) he loves me enough that he's willing to try just about anything once. And over the years I've honed my skills in the kitchen.

      There are places I dare not go. I know that Mr. Carb doesn't like briny olives or capers so I don't force the issue.

      I'm going to ask you a few questions via email and perhaps we can turn this into a Q&A.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      8 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      So cool in organics thank you. I have that no stick pan that is looking bad. Now I will not ruin it. I just love these but am so lazy I cannot keep up with getting the recipe/food done.

      I hope you are going favorite essential tools next.

      I am sorry for this psych question but you have so much love in your food maybe you can help.

      What did you do to get your husband and two girls to love variety? To suck it up and give it a go? My son is doing better but my wife just cannot switch her native with variety.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, why have a simple answer if we can make things more complex? What can I say?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Chitrangata, your words are very kind. Thank you so much.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, you are so very welcome. It will be interesting to see how long this column can continue. Next week, no more lexicon. I hope you like its replacement.

      As for the plants--I really don't have much say in the matter. It's pretty much in the hands of the Creator.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      8 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Manatita, yes this one was a bit out of my comfort zone. I'm no scientist but one of the reasons that I want to continue to write this weekly column is that it pushes me to learn new things. I'm gaining knowledge along with the rest of you.

      Have a wonderful day.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      There are different categories of organic??? Leave it to the U.S. Government to complicate matters beyond comprehension. I've been rubbing shoulders with farmers for years now and I had not heard that. lol I don't know whether to laugh or cry, Linda!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      8 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent article, well presented, with lot of helpful tips and suggestions!

      I really loved going through. Some of these questions, even I had in mind. Especially about organic foods, and the stained pans.

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge and useful information.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      8 months ago from USA

      This was an extra fabulous edition! Thank you for answering my question and I got a lot out of the question about the cooked on cooking spray. Those vocabulary terms were good as well. You are on fire, Carb Diva! Beautiful plants! I wish I grew plants like you do!

    • manatita44 profile image


      8 months ago from london

      I will clean the pan quickly and with warm soapy water. Nice idea.

      Organic! Very expensive but you have included some great foods.

      Yes, my Dear.

      You write this one like you were scurrying for answers.

      Noble effort though. I love your musings/preambles. Don't forget them. Good Monday morning to you. Have a great day!


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