Of Pomegranates and Persimmons

Back when I used to subscribe to Bon Appétit Magazine, one of my favorite features was where people wrote in, requesting restaurant recipes for dishes they loved. (On the other hand, one of my least-favorite features was the monthly article on happy rich people entertaining other happy rich people in their privileged primary/vacation homes--gag. But that's another story.) Anyhow, I was at work the other day and heard of a holiday salad served to rave reviews and pleas to share the recipe. The recipe was then duly begged for by me, but it has yet to materialize.

Pomegranates just scream "holiday." [Photo by Nathalie Jolie on Unsplash

Pomegranates just scream "holiday." [Photo by Nathalie Jolie on Unsplash

Therefore, when I was shopping at Uwajimaya for the Quadratini wafer cookies my son loves so much and saw a bin of persimmons, I had the urge to attempt the salad myself, based only on a verbal description.

Mind you, I'd never eaten a persimmon before, despite them now being grown across a wide swath of the United States. I haven't any idea if they're water hogs or environmental boons or disasters, or if slaves have to pick them, or whatever. But, just like pomegranates, they're beautiful fruit for a holiday salad, and pretty tasty, too. The main variety for sale has a kind of embarrassing name--if one gave one's mother-in-law a box of "Fuyu" persimmons as a Christmas gift, would she be pleased, or would she suspect an underlying message?

Fuyu persimmons (not "Fuyu, persimmons"--see how important punctuation is?)

Fuyu persimmons (not "Fuyu, persimmons"--see how important punctuation is?)

It turns out my half-remembered, made-up Holiday Salad went over big at dinner, and we had it two days in a row. So I now share my own version with you all, for your holiday tables.

Made-Up Holiday Salad

Serves 4

4 cups torn Romaine lettuce leaves (I might try spinach next)
1 ripe persimmon (should give when you press on it)
1 section of pomegranate seeds
1/4 cucumber, sliced
1/3 to 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
crumbled goat cheese (optional--my 14YO objects to it)
your favorite vinaigrette (the recipe originator called for garlic vinaigrette)

As I mentioned, I might try it again with spinach and possibly some sautéed shallots. Delicious.

So much for the good-for-you food. Now it's back to business, completing cookies for a cookie exchange tonight. That recipe actually started with boxed cake mix(!!!), which is why today's post was not about them.

Our Changing Grocery Store

We live in a food wonderland, you probably realize. We have our Bellevue Farmers Market six months a year, plenty of grocery and food specialty stores in spitting distance, and restaurants and food trucks galore. And surely the national trend of young Americans leaving desk jobs to farm (usually in environmentally-aware ways) includes a load of Washington representatives. How spoiled are we? Even my oldest daughter, when she tires of the food (and lack of awesome vegetables) at her sorority, catches a bus with a friend and hits the prepared-food offerings at the nearest PCC.

But all our spoiledness didn't stop me from wishing our area had a Heinen's. I'm not from Cleveland, but reading Grocery: the Buying and Selling of Food in America, with its especial focus on how that family-owned store changed over the decades, inspired me to look online at the area. Imagine: good food and a good baseball team!

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If you're interested in food (and why would you be reading this blog if you weren't?) and our food system, this is a fun and fascinating read. The nutritional info may be familiar, but it's a good reminder. I suffered familiar pangs of if-I-had-it-all-to-do-over-again when Ruhlman talked about "stripped carbs" and breakfast cereal. 2018 may be the year the Dudleys finally part ways with Cheerios. And watch out for the sugar levels in granola bars! I picked a fancy one up at a local coffee shop to read the label and almost dropped it in alarm when I saw how many grams of sugar it contained. Yikes. It made the Kashi ones I'd bought with a coupon look like kale bars.

There were other interesting bits in the book, as in:

  • Americans consume 50% of their calories through snacking(!).
     
  • Only 58% of American dinners require actual cooking. The others involve "assembling" purchased, prepared elements, or reheating fully-prepared foods.
     
  • In 1975, the typical grocery store had fewer than 9000 items. Now they offer 45,000. And that isn't 36,000 new kinds of fruits and vegetables. It's processed products and prepared foods.
     
  • "When you choose a non-GMO-verified product, it's not necessarily any better for you than a GMO product, but it is a vote for better agricultural practices."
     
  • When it comes to choosing unprepared, healthier food options, like fruits and vegetables, instead of processed foods, "We can spend our money here or we can spend it at the drugstore [on medicines]." That is, we either put better food into our bodies, or we pay to fix those bodies later, after the cumulative damage is done.

Ruhlman did spend some time exploding grocery-store myths which I had read in other places. For example, the refrigerated cases are in the back, not to lure you through the entire store, but because refrigerated cases take a lot of space and loading, and it's most convenient to put that at the back where the trucks can pull up and where they won't block everything. And most grocery stores don't, in fact, play slow music so you'll spend lots of time there. They play whatever music the employees happen to have chosen. (I've personally found that the thing that clogs up grocery store aisles the most, and adds to the time I spend shopping, is how many elderly shoppers and/or parents with the giant plastic race-car carts are in the store that day.)

Even though grocery stores make their highest margins in the produce department, they carry all the crap because they don't want shoppers being forced to go elsewhere to find what they're looking for. And the steaming, buffet offerings of prepared foods are not big moneymakers, but it's what people want more and more--someone else to do the cooking for them.

The atrium of Heinen's Downtown Cleveland store - given over to prepared food dining

The atrium of Heinen's Downtown Cleveland store - given over to prepared food dining

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, make the effort to do your own cooking, as much as possible. It's healthier--you choose the ingredients and know exactly what is and is not in it--and cheaper and brings the family together. I was pleased someone interviewed for the book quoted the same diet plan I think will fix the world:

Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It's short, and it's simple. Here's my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That's it. Eat anything you want--just as long as you're willing to cook it yourself.

Of course, given my family's obsession with The Great British Baking Show and our love for baking, this diet plan won't work the same wonders as it might in your house. But that's what our Sugar-Free January is for...

Stollen Moments

Years ago, former director of the Bellevue Farmers Market Lori Taylor gave me a loaf of Christmas bread from one of the Market bakers. I can't even remember which baker it was or what it was called, but I hid that loaf in the freezer and ate the entire thing myself, slice by slice. It was a crusty loaf, not sweet, and not covered with powdered sugar, but inside were bits of dried fruit and nuggets of mouthwatering almond paste.

Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, my thoughts return to that elusive loaf. It doesn't help that our family has recently started watching The Great British Baking Show and critiquing any family bakes in Paul Hollywood's accent. (My Thanksgiving rolls were sadly "oonderbaked."

Everyone's a critic

Everyone's a critic

Well, since I was newly inspired, and my bread machine had bit the dust, I decided this Christmas was the time to try recipes that just might be like That Famous Loaf (TFL). For starters, TFL sounded a little like traditional Christmas stollen, in that it contained dried fruit and almond paste, so that seemed like a decent place to start. I knew right off that I wanted to adjust the recipes I saw out there--candied citrons? Yuck! Ditto marzipan. I hit the grocery store and chose dried apricots, dried Bing cherries, and some candied pineapple. In place of marzipan I got a brick of almond paste. I also threw in a few raisins. A very nice fruit combo, it turned out.

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The dough mixed up with no problems, even after I substituted whole-wheat flour for 1/4 of the total flour. I did discover that kneading dough for ten minutes is a good workout, and ten minutes feels more like twenty.

Then there was lots of rising time, followed by kneading the chopped dried fruit and almond paste in, which I didn't do that great of a job of. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would surely comment on how my filling ingredients weren't evenly distributed.

More rising time, and then into the oven for a half-hour bake. The result? Well, I can see why they usually cover it in powdered sugar, because it isn't really that attractive.

Kind of like a Thanksgiving turkey with slugs on it

Kind of like a Thanksgiving turkey with slugs on it

And there you see the uneven distribution of fruit

And there you see the uneven distribution of fruit

On the other hand, the bread was quite tasty warm with butter spread on it. It wasn't TFL, but it was yummy anyhow. And quite giftable, after you apologized for its ugliness. And maybe after you sprinkled it with the powdered sugar, like this baker did:

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash (Check out that fruit distribution!)

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash (Check out that fruit distribution!)

I notice her loaf had a more uniform shape and better distribution. Perfectly presentable.

In any case, I'm going to try again to recreate TFL, this time using a regular artisan loaf recipe, with the fruit and almond paste thrown in. But if these homely stollen have stolen your heart, here's the approximate recipe from The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook:

Stollen (German Christmas Bread)

1/2 c sugar, scant
1-1/2 tsp salt
4-1/2 tsp yeast (or two packets)
about 6 cups of flour, of which 1-1/2 can be whole wheat
1-1/4 c milk
3/4 c butter 
3 eggs
3/4 box almond paste
1 cup total of chopped dried fruit
Powdered sugar
In the stand mixer, combine sugar, salt, yeast, and 2 cups flour. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine milk and butter and heat until 120-130F. (I got distracted and totally melted all the butter and brought it to 140F, so I just let it cool off a minute afterward.)
Gradually stir liquid into dry ingredients until just blended. Then beat at medium for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and another 1/2 c flour. Beat another 2 minutes. Then mix in another 2-3/4 c flour with a wooden spoon.
Turn the shaggy dough out on a floured surface and knead 10 minutes, adding in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and put in a greased bowl, covered, to rise an hour.
Punch down the dough and knead in the fruits and almond paste. Divide the dough in three pieces, putting one in the fridge to wait.
With a floured rolling pin, roll 1 piece of the dough into a 12x7 oval. Then fold it in half lengthwise and place on a large cookie sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough and place 3" apart from the first loaf. Cover and let rise another hour. After 30 minutes of rising time, prepare the third piece of dough and put it on another cookie sheet.
Preheat to 350F. Bake the first two loaves 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Bake third loaf. When everything is cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Like I said, with all the egg, this had more of a challah texture, rather than a crackly crust. I wanted the crackly crust. You live, you learn. But this would make delicious French toast or an accompaniment to a cup of tea, if you toasted it and spread it with cream cheese. Stollen moments, indeed.

 

Gift Ideas for Your Food Lover

This is the year I'm finally breaking down and taking my teenage daughters shopping on Black Friday. Major concession, even if we're only going to Fred Meyer in the Tri-Cities. My husband suggested adding the Columbia Center mall in Kennewick, but let's start with baby steps.

On your mark, get set--shop! (Photo by Alexandru Tugui on Unsplash

On your mark, get set--shop! (Photo by Alexandru Tugui on Unsplash

If you're like me and your least favorite part of Christmas is the pressure of buying gifts, let me offer some possibly helpful suggestions. First off, two of my favorite food-related books read in 2017:

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Hmm...come to think of it, giving this book could cause offense, depending on the health of the person you give it to, or it could temporarily turn your recipient into a sugar-fearing drill sergeant. Maybe this could be the gift you give yourself.

But this one is good for all purposes:

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Never Out of Season combines history and food and a little science for a fascinating look at the global food supply. And it isn't entirely gloom and doom, either. But if the person you give it to also likes gardening, they'll have a blast poring over this catalog I found in Whole Foods:

Wholesome family not included, I'm guessing

Wholesome family not included, I'm guessing

It was loads of fun just to page through this glossy, full-color catalog, bursting with all those varieties of fruits and vegetables and even flowers you don't find in the stores anymore (but which you often do see at the Bellevue Farmers Market). It looks like you can also order the catalog direct, here.

If your loved ones like to cook, one of my best purchases in 2017 was a croissant-making class that I took with my younger daughter at Whisk on Main Street. Not only did we come away with new skills and tasty samples, but we were able to reproduce them at home, and she said it was her favorite gift. Whisk offers many different classes, including some for younger kids, and I'm already eyeing the offerings for this Christmas.

Ours looked like these, only not as good. (Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Ours looked like these, only not as good. (Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

I'll do a post on home-cooked Christmas gifts later, but wouldn't it be fun to receive a complete meal that can be put in the freezer? Or a homemade gift coupon inviting the recipient(s) for dinner and a movie/board game/heartfelt conversation at your house on a possible date?

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and, really, don't bother reading this post until after you've pushed away from the feast table, happy and satisfied.

Rainy-Day Pulled Pork

One week till Thanksgiving. So far the rolls and green bean casserole are in the freezer, and the cranberry sauce lurks in the back of the fridge. I road-tested slow-cooker turkey breast and found it...fine. Not awesome, but fine. I'm thinking I'll roast a turkey on Wednesday and reheat on Thursday. Today is earmarked for hitting three stores for food (ridiculous, I know), so I'll make this quick.

We had the easiest, most yummy meal on Monday, inspired by a friend who mentioned having it and created a craving in me. The barbecue sauce recipe below is all hers! You do need to season the meat the night before, which takes all of three minutes, so plan ahead. (Or experiment with skipping it--desperate times calling for desperate measures, and all.)

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My Variation on Their "Beginner's Pulled Pork"

1/4 c brown sugar, scant
2 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 pork roast, cut in four pieces
1 c Robin's barbecue sauce or your favorite

Combine all the seasonings in a bowl, along with 1/2 tsp salt. Prick the roast all over with a fork and then rub the seasonings over. Throw the seasoned meat in a Ziploc overnight.

The next morning, dump the meat in the slow cooker and pour the barbecue sauce over. Cover and cook 9-11 hours on low. Remove and shred the meat. Rather than draining the fat off the minimal sauce left in the slow-cooker, I just serve with fresh barbecue sauce, buns, and slaw.

Robin's No-Cook Barbecue Sauce

1 c ketchup
1/2 c molasses
1/4 c vinegar
1/4 c Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder

Combine and use!

I served the pork on buns I pulled from the freezer, with some slaw made of Napa cabbage and carrots, mixed with a little mayonnaise and vinegar. On the side I roasted my usual combination of whatever vegetables I found in the bin: brussels sprouts, onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots.

Why can't Thanksgiving be this simple? In one instance it's going to be, because I'm skipping the complicated squash dish and doing the roast vegetables listed above. Easy peasy and better for you.

Happy countdown week to you all!

The Turkeys are Coming, The Turkeys are Coming!

It's a rite of passage that, one year, sooner or later, the turkey is on you. You, and you alone, are fully responsible for making sure the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving table holds pride of place.

You hold my fate in your hands. (Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

You hold my fate in your hands. (Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

This year the moment has arrived for me. We're headed to Richland, as usual, for Thanksgiving with my in-laws, but last year it was already touch-and-go. They put the turkey in the oven--check. But they couldn't remember when they did that, so it roasted pretty long and heartily. This year, who knows what might happen. Therefore, I am bringing the whole dinner.

Sadly, I neglected to order a turkey from on of our wonderful farmers during the Market season. Which meant that, when I went to the store this week, thinking I would do a "dry run" of the process, QFC didn't have a single turkey yet. (Apparently they descend Saturday.) Frozen goose, yes. Frozen Cornish hens (does anyone still eat those?), yes. Even frozen capon, for Pete's sake. I don't think I could point to a capon if I saw one sitting next to me.

That left me--yikes!--a "Jennie-O Oven-Ready Turkey Breast." Call me a control freak, but I don't like people doing my seasoning for me. And I'm pretty sure that my poor turkey breast, when it was connected to the rest of its turkey body, lived a sad, unpleasant turkey life on an industrial turkey farm. But beggars with poor planning can't be choosers, so I bought the danged thing and took it home.

It's now in the slow cooker with some celery and onion and homemade chicken broth, and it smells WONDERFUL.

If you're responsible for a whole lot this Thanksgiving, this long weekend is a great opportunity to get ahead and throw some things in the fridge and freezer:

1. The cranberry sauce. That stuff has enough sugar in it that you could probably make it on the 4th of July, and it'd keep just fine in the fridge until Thanksgiving. I've already made mine, and it's ready to go.

2. The homemade rolls. My second bread machine broke on me (second bread machine in 23 years, that is, so I'm not too annoyed), and I've decided to go cold-turkey, appliance-wise. I'm going to take my favorite roll recipe and do it the old-fashioned way. Try these--they're delicious and--I hope--still pretty easy if you have a stand-mixer.

Homemade Rolls

2-1/2 to 2-3/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp salt
2-1/4 tsp yeast (equivalent to a packet)
1/2 c warm water
1/2 c warm milk
1 egg

Mix a cup of the white flour and the whole-wheat flour with the sugar, butter, salt, and yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the liquids and the egg. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl frequently. Increase speed a little and continue to add it the remaining flour until the dough looks not too sticky and easier to handle.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead about five minutes until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to coat. Cover with a dish towel and let rise an hour.

Grease a 13x9 pan. Punch down the dough and divide into 16 equal pieces. Shape each piece in a ball and place in pan. (I let them all touch, so the rolls have soft sides after being baked.) Cover and let rise another 30 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 375. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or let cool completely and freeze. When you want to serve them, remove them from the freezer and let them thaw on the counter for a few hours.

3. The green bean casserole and or squash casserole. Totally make-ahead and freezable. My MIL doesn't like squash, so we'll be doing the green bean casserole and vegetables roasted that day.

4. The pie. Pumpkin isn't great to freeze, but apple is.

I'll keep you posted on my crock-pot turkey, but if it turns out well, I think I'll be doing a breast and a couple turkey legs in the pot on the fateful day!

Chocolate's Backstory

Aah...another Halloween has passed. If you're an average American, you're now packing away the approximately $75 worth of decorations and costume items you purchased for the occasion, and packing away any leftover candy into the spare tire hanging around your waist. And, if you're a Millenial, you're stashing the $183 worth you spent and wondering why money is always so tight.

Being a tightwad and not all that excited about Halloween (Thanksgiving is my favorite), I only spent about $10 on two little pumpkins and a bag of Snickers, which nobody at all came by to claim. Kids eat anything with sugar, it seems, but after a certain age Snickers don't really satisfy after all because we want to spend our calorie budget on real chocolate. Good chocolate.

Photo by Michał Grosicki on Unsplash

Much homage is paid to chocolate and always has been, since the time it was the hot beverage used by the Mayans and Olmecs of Mesoamerica as a ceremonial drink and aphrodisiac. The conquering Europeans never passed up anything in the New World that could be exploited, and they soon brought the drink back home, but most of us don't do our chocolate consumption in the hot-beverage form anymore. We love the solid stuff. The melt-in-your-mouth experience.

This one is a personal weakness

This one is a personal weakness

It turns out there's many a step between the Mesoamerican chocolate drink and the highly processed and shelf-stable Erdbeer-Joghurt Milka chocolate bar. Even before the Mesoamericans enjoyed their bitter, gritty brew there were several steps. These steps are outlined in detail many places, but I most recently encountered them in a fun little materials science book:

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Not only did I enjoy this one, but my sixteen-year-old son tore through it as well(!). As you might guess from the cover, chocolate is only one of the materials Miodownik explores, but he appropriately titles that chapter "Delicious."

Okay, so chocolate's backstory.

The first thing you need to know is that raw cocoa pods off the tropical trees taste nothing like the food of our dreams. First they must be whacked off the tree with a machete. Then they're thrown in a pile on the ground to--basically--rot and ferment. This stops the seeds from sprouting and also creates chocolate's "fruity" notes, along with earthy and nutty and umami-ish ones. Then it's time to roast the beans, because everything tastes better roasted and caramelized, and the Maillard reaction reduces chocolate's natural bitterness.

If you're an ancient Mayan, just grind up the result, add water, and you're ready for your religious ceremony.

If you're a 19th century European, you'll want to press the cocoa butter out of the roasted beans, grind what remains down to cocoa powder, and then use that as a base for your hot chocolate.

If you're a Fry and Sons chocolatier at the beginning of the 20th century, you brainstorm adding the cocoa fat back in and making the world's first chocolate bars.

Good work, fellas!

Good work, fellas!

The bitter flavors of the chocolate get offset with 30% sugar and some milk, and a pernicious habit is born.

If you've been lucky enough to enjoy chocolate from around the world, you can confirm what Miodownik tells us about milk chocolate:

These days the type of milk added to chocolate varies widely throughout the world, andd this is the main reason that milk chocolate tastes different from country to country. In the USA the milk used has had some of its fat removed by enzymes, giving the chocolate a cheesy, almost rancid flavor. In the UK sugar is added to liquid milk, and it is this solution, reduced to a concentrate, that is added to the chocolate, creating a milder caramel flavor. In Europe powdered milk is still used, giving the chocolate a fresh dairy flavor with a powdery texture. These different tastes do not travel well. Despite globalization, the preferred taste of milk chocolate, once acquired, remains surprisingly regional.

Hearing that American milk chocolate has a "cheesy, almost rancid flavor" to foreigners is alarming, but I guess they always say you can never smell your own house.

The book spends some time describing the four types of crystal structures cocoa fat can be made to form, resulting in chocolate with higher or lower melting points and greater or lesser "snap." Whenever we melt chocolate at home and let it reform, it does so into Types III and IV crystals, which are "soft and crumbly and have no brittle 'snap' when broken." But let those types of crystals sit long enough, and they will transform into Type V, the most stable. You'll know when it's happened because your chocolate will have "bloomed," ejecting some sugar and fat and looking white and powdery on the outside. I've always thrown that chocolate out, and even knowing it's a harmless chemical transformation doesn't make me any more likely to eat it.

And finally, after flavor and sweetness and richness and "snap" and melt, chocolate endears itself with its secret, "psychoactive" ingredients. There's the caffeine, of course--a little. And theobromine, a stimulant and antioxidant that happens to kill dogs. And then there are the tiny amounts of cannabinoids, as in, the same ingredient that makes you high when you smoke dope. No wonder we love the stuff.

So think about all this, as you reach in the Halloween bowl for that snack-sized chocolate bar, that dumbed-down country cousin of what, when properly handled, used to be the food of the gods.

Clean Out Your Garage for a Deluxe Haunted House

When I was a kid, there used to be at least a couple families on the Halloween route that went all-out, converting their garages into mini houses of horror, complete with dry-ice fog, spooky sound effects, and costumed creeps. Only the brave entered, and sometimes even the promise of especially bountiful candy wasn't enough to tempt trick-or-treaters. 

The neighbors. (Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash )

The neighbors. (Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash )

Nowadays, even if we hovering parents allowed our kids to go in some stranger's garage, what stranger would have room in his garage for such an enterprise? No--now our garages are bursting with unused exercise equipment, broken sports equipment, bicycles, boxes of decorations, boxes still unpacked from our last move, clothes that used to fit or hopefully one day will fit, yard tools, musical instruments, seasonal items, hobby supplies, extra appliances (working and non-working), paint cans, man-cave furnishings, and pet equipment for a pet who may or may not still be with us. If we're lucky (and unusual), we even manage to squeeze in a car.

I have good news for you this Halloween: you may not be able to lure anyone into your garage, but you can do some purging and possibly fit that second vehicle. Because this Saturday, October 28, from 9am-3pm, in the very same parking lot where the Bellevue Farmers Market is held, it's the Residential Recycling Collection Event.

Here's what I'm bringing, that's been sitting in my garage or cluttering up the house or backyard for years:

1. Crappy plastic chairs (including some broken ones).

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They're taking "rigid plastics"! Those chairs, sand toys, coolers (!), PVC pipes, and even those ubiquitous sports bottles that every family seems to have three thousand of, plastered with every conceivable logo.

2. Block styrofoam and peanuts.

I hate block styrofoam!!! Every year at Christmas, something arrives in block styrofoam, and the stupid stuff sits in my garage until a recycling event.

3. Dead cell phones and iPods.

Unfortunately this event will not take our old laptop, but peripherals and stereo equipment are fair game. If you still haven't gotten rid of your VCR, let Saturday be the day.

4. Documents that need shredding.

You may bring one 15" x 10" x 12" box worth of documents needing to be shredded. Staples are okay, but please remove binder clips. Ever since my shredder broke, papers have been piling up. I can't wait!

Got a broken microwave? Treadmill? Freezer? Bring it. A worn-out mattress? A boat battery? They'll take it. Event leftover clean wood and tires. Recycle recycle recycle.

The only scary thing you face this Halloween might be that big empty space in your garage!

And one final note: if you're free this Thursday evening, don't forget Bellevue Farmers Market's first annual Happy Hour Fundraiser! Get your tickets here and support our wonderful Market.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26TH | 5-8PM | 520 BAR AND GRILL

10146 MAIN ST, BELLEVUE, WA 98004 

 

Why You Eat What You Eat

Because it's covered in sprinkles

Because it's covered in sprinkles

When British mountaineer George Mallory was asked by a journalist, "Why did you want to climb Mt. Everest?" Mallory famously replied, "Because it's there." I feel like, for many of us, Why We Eat What We Eat might be summed up just as succinctly. Why did I finish everything on my plate, even though I wasn't hungry anymore? Because it was there. Why did I have a second cookie? Ditto. That handful of peanuts? Ditto ditto.

Rachel Herz gets more scientific in her book, and much of it you've probably heard before:

  • we've evolved to prefer sweet and fatty because those give the biggest caloric bang for the buck;
  • sugar, chocolate and spicy foods have mood-boosting, painkilling benefits;
  • flavors experienced in utero and early on with happy associations become preferred;
  • mindful eating can help us consume less and increase satisfaction;
  • using smaller plates makes the servings look more abundant; and
  • our sense of smell declines as we age, which is why, if you have the misfortune to eat at an old folks' home, the food often seems "too salty."

But there was plenty that was less familiar and quite interesting, like studies showing that we can fool our palates with aromas. Waft vanilla aroma over us, and whatever we're consuming is perceived as sweeter and creamier! Similarly, bathe us in a bacon scent, and the food will be perceived as up to 40% saltier. How has no one come up with the Aromatherapy Diet yet, if you've been told to cut back on sugar, salt, or fat?

Or how about putting the marijuana munchies to good use? Herz notes a study of severe anorexics that found the "cannabis compound dronabinol, which is also used to help patients with HIV and cancer combat appetite and weight loss, led to modest weight gain in as little as a week, and consistently increased appetite and weight gain for the four weeks that the study lasted" (loc 1146).

For the greater percentage of us, however, attempting to gain weight is not the problem, but rather the opposite. There's hope here, too. Who knew that, among rats at least, "merely sniffing grapefruit aroma can suppress weight gain"? Eating the fruit works too, a half at every meal, but they aren't the most portable of fruits, so the aroma possibility tantalizes. Same goes for the scent of olive oil. Adding olive oil aroma extract to plain lowfat yogurt was found to be "remarkably appetite-curbing"--maybe because that sounds so unappetizing that you're put off your food for a few hours... But it does seem to fool your brain into thinking you've had a fattier food, leading to increased feelings of fullness.

But say you find yourself at your desk at 3 pm, dreaming of the donuts on the conference room table. Apparently, taking a big whiff of something totally unrelated to food can bump your brain out of that track and help you resist a craving. At last--something to do with that Yankee Candle your mother-in-law gave you (unless she gave you a sweet, food flavor)!

Herz also discusses how things like sound and color, temperature and texture affect our perceptions of taste. Basically, we have very fool-able brains and should take full advantage, for our dietary benefit. Never mind labeling foods "lowfat" or "healthy" or even "organic"--that makes us more likely to overeat or to cheat elsewhere. But if we're told something is indulgent or extra-rich, our body speeds up our metabolism, whether the item really was as advertised or not.

It's a lot of info, but it would be fun to experiment with friends and family members, and Herz does offer helpful tips for various conditions like picky eaters, the eating disordered, and the smell-impaired. I would have loved some "For this outcome, try this!" charts, but that's just a quibble. If you like reading about food and our perceptions, I recommend this book!

And don't forget the End of Season Celebration at the 520 Bar and Grill. I'm happy to report that, "when food is in bite-sized bits we eat less than when the same food is served in larger pieces," so enjoy those hors d'ouevres guilt-free! On the other hand, we do tend to drink more when served beverages in glasses with fluted sides, so don't say you haven't been warned...

Last Hurrah of 2017

It's finally upon us: our last Market day of the 2017 season. Our last chance to buy produce without the little plastic stickers on it that have to be peeled off before you eat it or throw the remains in the yard waste.

Pick those Asian pears at Martin Family Orchards. Taste that tamale at La Panaderia. Stop resisting the roasted peanuts at Alvarez Organic Farms.

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Or, if the rain can't extinguish your love and joy, buy that last bouquet. Thirty years ago, Vincent Van Gogh's Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers sold for $39.7 million, but you can grab your own (more perishable) version at a much more reasonable price.

$39.7 million, versus

$39.7 million, versus

The budget version

The budget version

So come on down. Freeze a fruit pie from Adrienne's Cakes and Pies. Wangle some wine for that dinner you've been invited to. Hoard some honey for your tea and baked goods.

A book I've been reading lately (which I'll post on later), talks, among other things, about the evocative nature of food. We love the foods we love because of all the accoutrements: the pleasant memories of our first experience, the solid track record of endorphin release from carbs and sugar, the smells that take us back. For me, the Bellevue Farmers Market makes me think of time spent with my youngest child (my longtime sherpa), music, little kids sitting on curbs eating snacks, conversations struck up with farmers and vendors and other shoppers, friends I've run into, the triumphs of a shady parking spot in the heat of summer. All these sights and sounds and feelings come together when I choose and prepare food for friends and loved ones, and all these sights and sounds and feelings will be missed in the long off-season!

Thank you, Bellevue Farmers Market--farmers, vendors, musicians, staff, and volunteers--for another great season that enriches lives.

(And if you'd like to keep the party going a little longer, join the BFM for its end-of-season happy hour and fundraiser

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26TH | 5-8PM | 520 BAR AND GRILL

10146 MAIN ST, BELLEVUE, WA 98004

You'll want a ticket, so click here for more info!)

The Penultimate Pluot

Just two more Bellevue Farmers Markets to go in 2017. Which means, this week, you're down to your penultimate pluot, pizza slice, and pepper, and your second-to-last soups, shave ice, and cinnamon roll.

Thanks for the mouth-watering picture, Wikipedia

Thanks for the mouth-watering picture, Wikipedia

As our farmers and vendors will tell you, some of them can still be found in our "off-season," holding down wintry booths at places like the University District Farmers Market, and now that I have a UW student, I might venture over once or twice, but, for the most part, we will have to say good-bye to fresh and super-local for a few months.

My husband ripped out the tomato plants last weekend, leaving us only a couple dozen fruits left to ripen as best they can on the countertop. They're kind of banged up at this point (since I accidentally kicked and squashed some in the garage when they were lying on newspaper in the darkness there), but they're still good enough chopped up or thrown in stir-fries or sprinkled on pizza.

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We must force our hearts to let go of summer and turn to fall. Grab a pumpkin this week, or a squash, and make your first pie of the season. Or give in to that rich scent of tamales wafting from La Panaderia. Or snatch up a generous bag of crisp fall apples, and whip up a tarte tatin. I did this week, and, despite not reading the recipe through and messing up the glaze step, it tasted delicious. All of which is to say, I don't have a picture for you because the thing was ugly. All you need to know is that it called for "six small apples, peeled, cored, and cut into eighths."

If you've been a Marketgoer this year, there's going to be an end-of-season partay on Thursday, October 26th, 5-8pm! A ticket gets you drinks and appetizers at the 520 Bar and Grill on Main Street that evening, and you'll enjoy live music, shared stories, and an opportunity to show support for our beloved local Market. Kids are welcome. Pop by after work or stay for the whole time! Click here to buy a ticket, so the 520 Bar and Grill can have the right amount of food on hand. 

Like this, only less blurry.

Like this, only less blurry.

Two. Weeks. Left.

See you all there. I'll be the one with a tamale in one hand and a pluot in the other.

Three Markets Left for 2017!

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but there are only three Market days left in 2017

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but there are only three Market days left in 2017

We've reached the sad season in the garden where there are as many tomatoes lying on the ground, split open in the dirt, as there are still on the vines, and talk is heard of tearing the plants out. Not yet! you cry. It's still summer--kind of. Never mind that even UW students are finally starting class today, on what is surely one of the latest start dates in the country.

Three final Market days for 2017 means you've got to start taking stock, stocking up, stockpiling, making stock. I figure there are two important categories to consider:

  1. What do you want to eat, that's the "last of the season"?
    • For us, we're still downing the peaches and nectarines and even berries.
    • We'll want to have a final pop from Seattle Pops  because we nearly succeeded in completing our punch card.
    • We'll certainly want a last slice of pizza from Veraci and a bao from The Box.
    • If you don't grow your own tomatoes, it's your last chance to make load up and make some pico de gallo, bruschetta, fresh tomato soup! In the off-season I tend to eat canned tomatoes, since at least they were picked and processed when ripe.
    • Last chance on corn, peppers, a soft pretzel, a slushie, a snack pie!
       
  2. What do you want to buy, to hold you over?
    • Got enough honey?
    • Tuna? (Just got my cholesterol numbers, and my LDLs are kinda elevated. One recommended solution -- oil-rich fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna.)
    • Wine?
    • Pastured meat to fill the freezer?

My dear ex-neighbor, who used to invite me over to help can salsa with her, recently sent this picture to me, which I can only classify as "neener-neener":

IMG_0278 (1).JPG

But for those of you who can can, it's time to put food by. What if the big earthquake happens, and you've only got dehydrated and processed nastiness to get by on? Think how you and your neighbors would love to pop open a jar of homemade salsa and share it, as you sit amidst the rubble. Every berry you tenderly and individually froze would have to be eaten ASAP after the Big Event, but anything you canned would last (provided you didn't store all your jars high on a shelf with no door to protect them).

And if you can't can, join the club. And maybe grab a few jars of pickled food at Seattle Pickle

Three more weeks to make it happen, people. And then we'll party like it's October 26th. But more on that later.

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Food Ain't What It Used to Be

So we sent my oldest off to college and cleaned out her bedroom, discovering dozens of empty junk food wrappers and a few boxes of ultra-processed "healthy" food-like bar products. Apparently, when you have a mom who is super into eating right and writing about eating right, one way you rebel is to sneak nutritionally-empty processed food products. Take that, Mom!

But what happens when "junk" food is the only option? A disturbing article made the rounds this past week, about the declining nutrient levels in crops, as carbon dioxide levels in our air increase.

Smog...it's what's for dinner. [Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

Smog...it's what's for dinner. [Photo by Alex Gindin on Unsplash

Apparently, over the past several decades, 

...across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. 

Nonsense, you counter. It isn't the carbon dioxide levels--it's that we all eat crops bred for beauty and durability, rather than flavor and nutrients. True, we do eat some beautiful, blah food, but that alone can't explain why bang-for-your-buck has gone down across the board, in everything from popular crops like rice, to things we don't even eat, like algae and goldenrod. Plants now contain more sugar and carbohydrates, and less protein and minerals.

An 8% drop in important minerals can have global repercussions. In developing countries, where diets rely more heavily on plants, 

by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

In wealthy America, where we eat a lot more meat and a supposedly more diverse diet (debatable, since much of what we eat are processed corn and soy), the decline in food nutrients and increase in sugar and carbs "could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease."

I wonder if the gap between food haves and have-nots will continue to widen in the future. Those of us who can afford to will not only buy our local, sustainable, pesticide-free, etc. etc. food, but we might see the rise of boutique farms, where food is grown hydroponically, in special, oxygen-rich, smog-free enclosures. China's forays into smog-handling might provide an unexpected global benefit here.

Chinese "smog-drinking" tower [photo by Andy Wong]

Chinese "smog-drinking" tower [photo by Andy Wong]

"Food, the way it used to be!" the ads might read. "Remember when an apple a day kept the doctor away? Well, our apples still do." 

I have no answers for you. We can eat more vegetables, send more food aid abroad, and try to reduce our energy demands (as I type this on my computer, and my words get uploaded to an energy-sucking server farm which stores them and sends them out to your computer). We can plant a heck of a lot more trees to replace all the ones which burned down recently. We can all install a Chinese smog-drinking tower. In short, we can fasten our seatbelts because it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Four Ways to Boost Your Serotonin Levels at the Market

Recently I read this sad/alarming article by Dr. Robert Lustig on our addiction to pleasure. He doesn't really say anything new in it about our tendencies to pursue, and then become addicted, to whatever spikes our dopamine levels and gives us that little flood of pleasure. The "whatever" could be drugs, alcohol, or sugar (his personal bête noir), or it could be video games, pornography, or shopping. We love that dopamine rush, and we do what it takes to feel it repeatedly. Of course, addictions cost money, time, relationships, and life in general, so they tend to get out of hand.

Forget dopamine. The brain chemical we should all be encouraging is serotonin, what Lustig calls the "contentment neurotransmitter." Serotonin makes you feel like you have enough, that life is fine. If you don't have enough of it in your brain, you get depressed. It's great to have both dopamine and serotonin circulating in your brain, but too much dopamine drives down serotonin levels. Too many pleasure spikes, and suddenly our overall happiness declines. You become the addict who derives diminishing pleasure from the substance/activity. Now you need the substance/activity to stave off the bad feelings, not to send you into orbit.

We could use more of this feeling and...

We could use more of this feeling and...

Save this feeling for special occasions (Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash)

Save this feeling for special occasions (Photo by Nicolas Tissot on Unsplash)

Fine, you say. But how do we boost our serotonin levels without antidepressants or trips to Maui? Glad you asked.

Here are five boosters of contentment, all to be found at the Bellevue Farmers Market:

  1. Exercise. You walk from the parking lot to the Market. You do a couple loops of the Market. You dance a little to the live music. You go back to your car, hauling several pounds of pastured meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, honey, and a beverage or two.
     
  2. Sunshine. "Exposure to bright light" leads to higher serotonin levels. As the Journal of Psychiatry and Neurosciences puts it, "Even on a cloudy day, the light outside can be greater than 1000 lux, a level never normally achieved indoors." 
     
  3. Positive "mood inductions." Not only are exercise and sunshine natural mood-lifters, but so are being around people, smiling, and expressing gratitude. Go to the Market with a positivity checklist, such as: (1) I will have a positive conversation with at least one person; (2) I will smile at at least one person (hopefully the person I'm conversing with); and (3) I will compliment and thank at least one person. It isn't hard to do, considering the hard work our farmers and food-preparers put in, with such beautiful and delicious results.
     
  4. Diet. It turns out tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods at the Market, increases brain serotonin levels, acting as a mild antidepressant. Even better, "in healthy people with high trait irritability, it increases agreeableness, decreases quarrelsomeness and improves mood" (same article from #2)! In other words, good food can make you happier. Which of these tryptophan-rich foods can you find at the Market?
  • Cage-free eggs;
  • Wild-caught fish;
  • Pastured poultry;
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb;
  • Organic dairy (and raw is great);
  • Beans and legumes; and 
  • Potatoes.

I will note that not all tryptophan in foods crosses the brain-blood barrier, but the article suggests, "the possibility that the mental health of a population could be improved by increasing the dietary intake of tryptophan relative to the dietary intake of other amino acids remains an interesting idea that should be explored."

So get out to the Market this week and increase your contentment levels. And if you have a grouchy friend or family member, take them along too!

World Aflame Post

Cough, cough. Like creatures on an alien planet, we gaze through the murk at the neon orange sun. Not that I recommend this, unless you kept your special, unrecalled eclipse glasses on hand. Apparently, even when shrouded in smoke, the sun still has the power to fry your retina.

Seriously--you may not even want to look at this picture (taken by KUOW)

Seriously--you may not even want to look at this picture (taken by KUOW)

Speaking of the eclipse, our family actually stopped at Multnomah Falls on Eclipse Day, on our twelve-hour sitting-in-traffic odyssey from Salem, Oregon, to Richland, Washington. I'm grateful we did, since, although the Lodge came through, the Gorge in general likely won't look like this again for a while to come:

Multnomah_Falls_on_2_August_2012.jpg

What with fires and floods and hurricanes battering other parts of the world, our little corner of the map can start to feel like a Bruegel painting: a pleasant enough place, if you ignore the guy drowning.

Bruegel's The Fall of Icarus (if you can't find Icarus' legs, that would be part of the problem)

Bruegel's The Fall of Icarus (if you can't find Icarus' legs, that would be part of the problem)

The guy plowing might not be able to reach Icarus in time, but he could still considering donating a few bucks to an organization like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which is working with local congregations in Houston after Harvey and with local organizations around the world, when they face their own catastrophes. (This concludes our public service announcement.)

In the meantime, we still have to eat! (Which is one message of the Bruegel painting, I suppose.) Take a time-out from pondering natural disasters to remember natural wonders. Like this oddly-formed potato found at Alvarez Organic Farms.

Peace, Mother Nature. Stop flipping out.

Peace, Mother Nature. Stop flipping out.

Or the meals we can enjoy with the summer bounty, while we gather at tables with friends and loved ones.

Curried Pork and Potato Soup and a summer chopped salad

Curried Pork and Potato Soup and a summer chopped salad

One heartening sign, post-Harvey, has been all the stories of the community working together. Communities don't just spring up; they are built. And our Bellevue Farmers Market is one brick in that building, where we come together with the farmers and artisans of our state to celebrate good food and good practices. Have you read the Mission Statement? When the world is alternately drowning or aflame, it will make your eyes mist. Which is a good thing, since it will help wash out some of the smoke particulates.

Tomato Heaven

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Ripe blackberries everywhere you look and kids going back to school can only mean one thing in the Pacific Northwest: tomato season.

For you visual thinkers, that's:

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

Photo by Nick Sarro on Unsplash

+

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

=

Photo by Thomas Martinsen on Unsplash

We've been among the overgrown hedges, scratching ourselves up and gathering berries, and we've also been enjoying tomato season. This year we have some deer sharing our tomato crop with us (blast them to smithereens!), but there's still enough to go around.

If you didn't grow any tomatoes yourself, the Market is enjoying the bounty, and it's always fun to mix up a tomato salad plate with different colored fruit. The Market also has the basil and baguette you need to make bruschetta. Or the jalapenos and onions and cilantro for pico de gallo. Or the goat cheese to top your Tomato, Goat Cheese and Basil Pizza.

 

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But for us, this week we went for fresh, Summer Tomato Soup, courtesy of Deborah Madison's recipe.

Summer Tomato Soup

5 lbs fresh tomatoes, destemmed and cut in chunks (no need to peel if you have a food mill)
1 cup diced shallots
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
Over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the shallots a few minutes. Then add the tomato chunks, water, and salt. Simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. Pass the mixture through a food mill to remove the peel and seeds. Serve!

The soup tastes like pure summer in a bowl. We opted not to accompany it with the traditional grilled cheese sandwiches this time, but rather with Black Bean Tacos. Delicious.

Celebrate back-to-school with a Tomato Hurrah this week. We'll see you at the Market.

Planetary Appreciation Post

Since gratitude is directly tied to health and happiness, let me begin with some thanks to the universe that our wifi is back up, and I can get this post out. Our family is also happy to be home from our little road trip to Salem (eclipse!) and eastern Washington (in-laws!) and that today is Market day.

Homegrown goodness

Homegrown goodness

The fridge and cupboard aren't totally bare, as you can see by the tomatoes and raspberry above, provided by my farming husband, but we're out of nectarines and peaches and apples and all vegetables. Collins Family Orchards reports that Regina peaches will be in this week, for those of you waiting! And I saw the first Red Bartlett pears last week at Amador Farms, for those of you missing fall fruit. And Martin Family Orchards had two kinds of slushies. For this we all give thanks.

If anyone went down to Oregon for the eclipse--and a lot of you did, judging by the return traffic--you know how awesome an event it was. One to give you a new appreciation for the excellent placement of our sun in relation to our earth and our moon in relation to both. Good stuff, with happy results, for those of us who get to enjoy them all for the next umpteen zillion years until the moon tries to fly off into space and the sun burns out

Check out the sharp delineation of light and shadow, shortly after totality:

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Don't notice anything? Well, compare that picture to one I took a few minutes later, when the eclipse was just about over, and we were back to having loads of sunlight:

Much murkier

Much murkier

Who knew there was so much more to see? Nice to know there's more going on than we realize, even if we can't see it.

Speaking of things going on behind our backs, let's also have a round of applause for the work of bees. We stopped by the Cascade Natural Honey booth last week to pick up a jar and went for a new flavor: Wetlands Wildflower. Lovely and tasty. Interesting to hear that Cascade is no longer trucking their bees down to California to help pollinate the almond crop because it was too stressful for the little guys. Imagine what eclipse traffic would have done to them.

Glass jar 4/5 full

Glass jar 4/5 full

Show a little appreciation for your planet and come enjoy its bounty this afternoon. My salmon-loving brother-in-law is visiting this weekend, and I plan to check out new-to-me vendor Sena Sea for some filets!

A Bottle Labeled "Drink Me"

Remember when Alice goes down the rabbit-hole in Wonderland and comes upon "a little bottle" on a table, "and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed in large letters"?

The wise girl makes sure it isn't poison first, but then does venture to drink from the bottle and discovers the contents had "a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast."

While you may not come upon such an all-encompassing potion at the Bellevue Farmers Market, you certainly will find plenty of tasty beverages, including new vendors Mochila, who make drinkable yogurt.

Available in plain, coffee, mango, and guanabana flavors, this smooth and not-to-sweet yogurt is perfect for breakfast on the go. I've been adding raw oats and sliced almonds to mine and dishing it up, in addition to pushing it on my 18-year-old daughter, who is always running out the door and skipping breakfast. (Sidenote: kudos on going with the Spanish name "guanabana," instead of the marketing-dud English name of "soursop fruit.")

You say soursop, I say guanabana

You say soursop, I say guanabana

But there's more. Last week was a hot one, and my Market-sherpa younger daughter opted for an apple slushy from Martin Family Orchards.

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

But she just as easily could have had another shave ice from La Panaderia or a kombucha from our two kombucharias (if there were such a word).

Adults will know the Market offers wine and cider as well. Finnriver is the vendor with bottles almost too beautiful to open:

and though Finnriver "grows over twenty varieties of traditional and heirloom apples in [their] organic orchard," if you've popped by their table you know they offer plenty of other cider flavors besides apple. The blueberry wine I bought there makes a lovely addition to desserts or as an after-supper liqueur.

We've also got Bunnell Family Cellar of Yakima with their award-winning wines and Melody Lynne Vineyard of Yakima River Valley, both bringing some of the Eastern Washington sunshine to our side of the mountains.

So hit the Market this week and pick up a little "Drink Me" for your stroll around, and another bottle for later.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

We spent the last week in California visiting family, and the drive down I-5 gave us a boots-on-the-ground perspective on this smoke situation. The hazy conditions had drifted all the way down past Mount Shasta, and even Redding was a little gray, but California was throwing in its own wildfires for good measure. By the time we were headed back up yesterday, Redding was definitely in the gray. I don't think Bellevue bears much resemblance to Beijing, air-quality-wise, but maybe we were gone for the worst of it?

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

Since fire is such a bummer for air quality and homeowners in risky areas, I thought it might be helpful to remember the bright side, according to the Pacific Biodiversity Institute:

The ecological benefits of wildland fires often outweigh their negative effects. A regular occurrence of fires can reduce the amount of fuel build-up thereby lowering the likelihood of a potentially large wildland fire. Fires often remove alien plants that compete with native species for nutrients and space, and remove undergrowth, which allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, thereby supporting the growth of native species. The ashes that remain after a fire add nutrients often locked in older vegetation to the soil for trees and other vegetation. Fires can also provide a way for controlling insect pests by killing off the older or diseased trees and leaving the younger, healthier trees. In addition to all of the above-mentioned benefits, burned trees provide habitat for nesting birds, homes for mammals and a nutrient base for new plants. When these trees decay, they return even more nutrients to the soil. Overall, fire is a catalyst for promoting biological diversity and healthy ecosystems. It fosters new plant growth and wildlife populations often expand as a result.

Happy news, as we reach for our inhalers.

But there's more good news. Some plants that love fire are also good in the food department. Think of morel mushrooms, which thrive a year or two after a fire.

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

Or what about the classic fireweed, which we enjoy, after some bee-processing, as fireweed honey?

Nature's food processor, at work on a fireweed blossom

Nature's food processor, at work on a fireweed blossom

And, finally, both blueberries and lingonberries "will readily resprout in less severe burn areas," according to a news article from the Peninsula Clarion.

In the meantime, skip the strenuous outdoor activities that will have you hoovering up pollutants, and keep the exercise mild. A leisurely stroll through the Market this Thursday ought to do it, until the rain comes again.

Pie Time You Showed Up

Pies have a storied past, beginning as savory things before developing their sweeter popularity. In England it was traditional to send a lamprey pie to the monarch, as a coronation celebration. And, while the thought of eel pie may not make your mouth water, clearly the famous pork pie Pip steals from the Christmas dinner in Great Expectations was intended to be the crown of the meal. Maybe it was the rise of Victorian villain Sweeney Todd that led to the marginalization of the savory pie, but, for whatever reason, the most we can hope for in that category is a chicken pot pie every year or two.

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

Sweet pies still abound, however, and they're never out of season. My husband whipped up his seasonal batch of blueberry pies for the freezer, and the freestone peaches are coming in this week and the next! As soon as we get back from vacation, that'll be me carrying a box through the parking lot to be turned into pies and cobbler.

If you're not a pie baker yourself (and it's never too late to start), Adrienne's Cakes and Pies offers a tempting selection every week. Last week my youngest and I got key lime and cherry, respectively, but I forgot to take a picture before this happened:

Adrienne makes some pretty tasty crust, and, since eating pie is often just an excuse to eat crust, it's best to make it worthwhile. 

Eating pie leads to making pie, as the night follows the day, so my fourteen-year-old then whipped up these mini chocolate mud pies for us from the Sweet Auburn Desserts cookbook:

 

And since Atlanta baker Sonya Jones' pie crust is pretty tasty too, that's what I'll leave you with. Fill it how you please, with our bounty of summer fruit!

Pie Pastry Dough

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp shortening
1/2 stick butter
1/2 c cold water
To make the pastry dough, mix the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture has the texture of coarse cornmeal. Add the cold water and mix until the dough is consistently moistened. Shape it into a ball and press flat. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Once the dough is chilled, roll it out on a lightly-floured surface to 1/2" thickness. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie pan and trim the edges.
To prebake a pie shell, preheat the oven to 425F. Using a fork, prick holes in the bottom and sides of the pie shell. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.