The joys of bacon
By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

I know it sounds wild coming from me, but with the fresh tomatoes coming into ripeness in my garden, bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches are calling to me.

I had one for breakfast last week, on whole grain bread with arugula, olive oil mayo and sliced avocado to improve its health profile, and of course to assuage my guilt.

If you want other ways to keep up with your tomato crop, also see my newly improved Sicilian salad shared last year at this time.

Let’s face it: Bacon is attractive as a food. It smells and tastes good, has lots of saturated fat calories, sodium and consequently adds flavor to anything it comes into contact with. Yet, it isn’t the healthiest of foods for many reasons.

Though health research on the consumption of bacon is gloomy, let me present some sunshine for you bacon lovers.

Bacon may be not good for you, but it is good to you. Think of the sizzle and scent over an open fire that pulls you out of the sleeping bag faster than a visiting bear. Kids will flock downstairs at the smell of bacon to make sure they don’t get left out.

Consider the flavor drizzled as a seasoning or wrapped around a healthy, lean steak. How about a dash of it on greens or salad, or a few bacon chips on your spinach or sweet potato?

I think back about reading Louis L’Amour’s western novels where the cowpokes seemed to survive on bacon and coffee. Most of them didn’t live long enough to suffer chronic diseases brought on by bacon. They were more likely to get butted in the head or gored by a surly bull, die of exposure on the range after their horse shied at a snake, or get shot after a poker game gone bad.

I like bacon a lot, but I just don’t eat it that often. One of my tennis buddies brings a specially prepared bacon dish to potlucks. This is so delicious that it can bring the usually cordial players nearly to blows for the last piece. Fortunately, he generously brings plenty for all, thus averting turning well-mannered adults into feisty bacon grabbers.

Some lucky people seem to thrive on bacon. Laura Cantrell, 105 years old, attributes her longevity to eating bacon daily. It may be that her active lifestyle, hard work on the farm and ranch, not to mention country dancing and raising seven kids as a single mom have helped offset any negative health issues from bacon.

Like the tough old cowboys or the centenarian Cantrell, bacon is thus best for those who work and play hard, not for the inactive. It is particularly a risky food for those with obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. If you have these, avoid bacon or at least don’t eat it on a daily basis.

Consider tasty alternatives such as turkey or vegetarian bacon, which have a third to half the fat content. There is even an eggplant bacon, though I shudder to think of it. How about bacon vodka? Very low fat.

One of the incredible things about bacon is the smoky flavor. My theory is the ancient memory of campfires, survival and companionship existing through the centuries is something we miss, long for, even seek out.

At a time a time when most of us don’t smell a fire when we cook in the microwave or indoor oven, bacon remains a symbol and testimony of this long lost tradition.

This is why I think Texans may be the most authentic and blessed of all people of the earth. We love our smoky campfires at the hunting or fishing camp or fire pits on the beach. We love our barbecue tradition and have perfected it like nowhere else.

Besides bacon, we have tasty ribs, barbacoa, turkey legs, pulled pork, brisket. Good Lord, we celebrate and feast on all of it here in the Lone Star state.

Now is all of that healthy? I suspect the support of soul and emotion we derive from these foods is so great that the joy we get helps offset at least some of the scientific studies telling us how unhealthy such cuisine is.

I propose that we eat the super foods 80 percent of the time and a little bacon, or barbecue, just for the joy of it. This will be good for your mind, body and spirit.

The occasional serving of bacon can improve attitude and quality, if not quantity of life. But don’t count those servings too closely, especially during tomato harvest. Oh, and if you have too many tomatoes, drop some off at my office. We will make sure they are put to good use.

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A Healthier BLT

Well drained, crisp bacon, blotted to remove extra fat

Whole grain bread such as Ezekiel bread

Smear the bread with some fresh mashed avocado or garlic hummus. Use olive oil-based mayonnaise if you prefer.

Add a thick layer of dark greens — mixed greens, spinach, arugula, Romaine, or sprouts. Avoid iceberg lettuce. as it is low in fiber or nutritional value.

Top with bacon and enjoy.

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Sicilian Tomato Salad

Slice several fresh tomatoes and place in a shallow bowl.

Add a slice or more of raw purple onion.

Add 2-3 cloves of crushed raw garlic.

Cover with extra-virgin pressed olive oil.

Add balsamic and/or red wine vinegars to taste.

Add a few leaves of fresh basil or sprigs of thyme.

Season to taste with lemon pepper and kosher salt.

Eat right away or let set for awhile on the counter or chill in refrigerator to let flavors blend.

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Brown Sugar, Pepper Bacon

Thick sliced bacon

Coarse ground black pepper

Dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Press a thin dusting of dark brown sugar onto one side of individual slices of thick-sliced hickory smoked bacon.

Sprinkle slices with coarse ground black pepper. Lightly sprinkle pepper or add more as your taste dictates. Experiment with the lightest touch of cayenne if you like it spicy.

Lay slices flat — sugar side up — on the top rack of a broiler pan so drippings go into pan below as bacon cooks.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes depending on your preference for crispness. Keep an eye on the bacon the last few minutes of cooking.

Let the bacon cool a bit until brown sugar sets, then cut into half slices or cut in quarter slices for an appetizer.

Prepare in advance of serving: You can under cook a bit and save in the refrigerator for a quick finish in the microwave within the next week.

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Bacon Mary

Get some bacon vodka (there really is such a thing).

Mix it with your favorite tomato juice, V8, or Bloody Mary mix.

Add the vegetable of your choice to garnish: celery, asparagus, pepperocini, cucumber, etc.

VSS modifications to consider for those who like it hot as well as smoky

• Dash of Worcestershire;

• 1 teaspoon of horseradish or a dash of Tabasco; and

• Juice of 1⁄2 small lemon.

(Recipe from David Robertson of the Galveston Artillery Club)