Happy Market Days Are Here Again

Hope everyone got out to the Market for Opening Day! But the good news is, the season is on, and each week will bring new delights.

 Like these peonies, for starters

Like these peonies, for starters

In the excitement, did you catch some of the new additions to our Market?

Like the crepe truck, Crisp Creperie:

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which should win a prize just for some of the names of its offerings. Although we didn't get to try any this week, we were particularly delighted by "Pig in the Orchard."

In fact, pigs in fun places was kind of a theme, as we discovered when we stopped to chat with Chehalis Valley Farm, home to Pig in the Forest, a.k.a. "Forest-Raised Pigs."

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What exactly is a "forest-raised" pig? Exactly what it sounds like. Like their wild boar cousins in the southern United States (who also began life as domesticated pigs, once brought by European explorers), these little porkers live life to the fullest, roaming around their woods, doing piggy things like digging and foraging and hanging in the shade. Pigs free to do piggy things and to eat piggy things leads to tasty pork for us. I've got some sitting in my freezer right now, and we've already enjoyed one of their pastured chickens.

On the new and exotic side, I spied...locally-grown saffron???

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Saffron is that most exotic (and expensive) of seasonings, and I confess that the only time I ever bought it was decades ago in Istanbul, where I saw some at the Grand Bazaar and thought, "Saffron? I've never cooked with it, but I know it's expensive, so I should grab some because this is a good price--I think." I made saffron rice once, and that may have been it. I'm going to have to stop by this table and learn more. (And, whatever the price, saffron could hardly be more expensive than vanilla right now. Yikes. Vanilla prices, if you haven't had to buy a bean or bottle of extract lately, are through the roof. As pricey as silver, for Pete's sake.)

Moving from the exotic to the girl next door, did you come across Neighbor Lady Cheese?

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My terrible picture completely blocks out the cheese, but, believe me, it's there. I have the Cowgirl Cheddar in my fridge to prove it. Cheesemaker and -monger Jan Addison had the brilliant idea to add bacon to cheddar, one of those Eureka moments you can't believe no one ever had before, and I'm looking forward to grating mine over a baked potato, as she suggested. Or making an extra-tasty grilled cheese sandwich with it. (My oldest still raves about the bacon-and-grilled-cheese sandwich she got at Safeco Field, so it would be fun to surprise her with this.)

And finally, for this week, we found plant starts! To be specific, broccoli, orange cauliflower(!) and romanesco(!!). Since the plants all look pretty much the same to the untrained eye (i.e., my eyes), it was helpful to ask our farmers questions. Broccoli is broccoli. And orange cauliflower is just like the white stuff, only a pastel orange. Romanesco is the spirally, spiky cauliflower-like vegetable that looks like something out of a math textbook:

 Thanks, Wikipedia, for the shot of "Romanesco broccoli."

Thanks, Wikipedia, for the shot of "Romanesco broccoli."

If you love to grow your own goodies, don't miss these. I'll keep the discoveries coming this week!

This is It! Market Opens Thursday

If you're at a moment in time where you find yourself saying, "Tell me something good," I'm delighted to come through. Because, hot diggety, folks, the Market opens tomorrow, Thursday, May 17th!

 [Photo by  Luca Upper  on  Unsplash

[Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

If you're on the mailing list, you've gotten all excited by the "vendor reveal," full of old friends and new:

 A thrilling combo of favorites and new temptations!

A thrilling combo of favorites and new temptations!

I always kick off the season with a personal shopping list, so feel free to print this out if you find yourself craving the same things:

  • Greens, greens, greens! Spinach, beet greens, chard, what-have-you. It's hard to think of a food that's more universally recommended as good for you, and I've landed on the ways all members of my family will eat them. In smoothies. In salads with very flavored dressings. Sauteed into a potato-onion hash.
     
  • Jam. Now that my mother-in-law can no longer make her homemade strawberry freezer jam and we've run through the jars of jam other jammers have bestowed on us, we are desperate for some Market jam. Made with that good Washington fruit. You might have noticed that, just as storebought fruit pies are terrible--almost all crust and goo-- storebought jams never taste anything like summer in a jar. We love Growing Washington's raspberry jam, so this year I'll stock up and give some other flavors a go.
     
  • Asparagus. You haven't had asparagus till you've had local. Nutty, fresh.
     
  • Meat and tuna. We're down to one can of Fishing Vessel St. Jude's, and it's not even my new favorite, Jalapeno. And, as for meat, it'll be nice to have more cuts and offerings of pastured meat available than I can find in the grocery store.
     
  • Plant starts? Can't remember if these are around the first week, but my youngest, who is our little farmer, has promised to plant and tend an herb garden for me again this summer, if I buy her the starts.
     
  • Peas. Nothing says spring like peas! Raw or steamed or in a stir-fry. Never met a pea I didn't like.
 [Photo by  Jessica Ruscello  on  Unsplash

And while we gather these goodies, I'm sure we'll be grabbing a snack. Always so hard to choose at the beginning of the season! An old favorite, like Veraci Pizza or a bao from The Box? Will it be warm enough for ice cream? Or should we try something altogether new?

See everyone this Thursday! Same Bat time (3-7pm), same Bat place (parking lot of Bellevue Presbyterian Church)!

Lucky Us, Living and Eating in Washington State

 [Photo by  Dane Deaner  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash]

Less than ten days until the Bellevue Farmers Market opens for the season on Thursday, May 17! We recently had some folks to dinner who hailed from southern California, and the wife said it took some adjusting to move up here and "eat seasonally." I did wonder what grocery store she went to, since all the ones I know subscribe to the "it's summer somewhere" mindset. Strawberries and blackberries midwinter? No prob. But maybe she meant she likes to eat locally wherever she finds herself. In that case, yes, seasons matter. And we are entering the most wonderful time of the year, eating-wise!

Did you know Washington State is the third largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the United States? That 95% of Washington farms are family-owned? Washington farms provide 164,000 jobs, and each farmer feeds 155 people. Washington wheat and apples and potatoes get sent all over the world, but, lucky us, we who live here just get to sit right back and reap the bounty. Of the top ten Washington-grown products, I've seen these ones in our Market:

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  1. apples,
  2. milk,
  3. potatoes,
  4. cattle (beef),
  5. wheat (flour at Hedlin Farms),
  6. cherries,
  7. pears, and
  8. eggs

(If you're wondering about the other two products, they're hay and hops, and I guess you could argue that hops are available in the beers you can buy at our Market.) How lucky we are that our farmers grow a variety of crops, so that, when the "season" hits, our seasonal eating is so rich.

When we support our farmers, we're supporting our local and state economy, as well as eating the freshest foods from the hands from the folks who grew it (or at least work alongside the ones who grew it). And how nice for us that eating Washington-grown foods seasonally requires no deprivation. (Unless you still aren't ready for a break from citrus and bananas.)

Ten more days...

Two weeks till the Market opens!

 Come to me, fresh produce. [Photo by  Alexandr Podvalny  on  Unsplash ]

Come to me, fresh produce. [Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash]

And it can't happen soon enough. As I slice into an Argentinian pear, I find myself looking at charts like this one, of Washington grown foods. Grown in May I see...

  • Arugula
  • all sorts of dark, leafy greens
  • varieties of salad greens
  • carrots
  • peas
  • potatoes
  • sunchokes
  • asparagus
  • beets
  • radishes
  • rhubarb
  • turnips

With a mother-in-law suffering from Alzheimer's (and the whole rest of the family suffering as a by-product), I'm always interested in what will keep our brains sharp. Exercise, yes (yuck), but also those dark, leafy greens! (You may also say yuck to that, but I'd rather eat kale than work out.) NPR reported on yet another study linking eating our greens to keeping our gray matter. The bottom line? "Healthy seniors who had daily helpings of leafy green vegetables — such as spinach, kale and collard greens — had a slower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who tended to eat little or no greens." What constitutes a serving size? Half a cup, cooked, or one whole cup, raw. The link isn't completely understood or established yet, but it does seem that all the folate those greens provide help lower homocysteine levels in the body, leading to less arterial plaque. High homocysteine levels are tied to cognitive decline. Let's be strong to the finish 'cause we eats our spinach.

And then reward yourself!

Perhaps it's only fitting that tonight I have to provide a dessert, and I'm making a banana pudding, the world's best totally-artificial dessert. Meaning, when I had it as a kid, it involved a box of Nilla Wafers, a couple boxes of vanilla pudding, bananas, and a container of Cool Whip.

 The only "real" ingredient in traditional banana pudding [chuttersnap-330199-unsplash.jpg

The only "real" ingredient in traditional banana pudding [chuttersnap-330199-unsplash.jpg

I know I've written about banana pudding here before, somewhere in the annals, but some things are worth repeated efforts to perfect.

Lessons learned from failed banana-pudding efforts:

  • You cannot get rid of the boxed Nilla Wafers. I've tried a couple homemade "vanilla wafer" recipes, and neither one tasted like the boxed version. There's something about those dumb things (that are also pretty danged expensive, considering their cheap, fake ingredients) that cannot be matched at home. Their beautiful uniformity. How delicious they tasted dunked in a glass of milk. Their perfect texture when they soak up the vanilla pudding. Even the Trader Joe's versions don't do it for me.
     
  • Cool Whip, on the other hand, is gross and totally replaceable with whipped cream, sweetened to your taste.
     
  • Boxed pudding is also perfectly replaceable, you just have to make sure to thicken it enough. Today I'm giving this recipe a try.

Easy peasy, and the guests can dig in. But family members, on the other hand will have to plow through the greens to get to the gold.

Defeating Kale's Superpower

At a recent dinner, someone relayed a joke to me about the Seattle area's many seasons (was it eleven?). This week definitely qualifies as Summer #1. Four days in length and, fingers crossed, to be followed by another few summers after the return on Friday of Winter #7.

 Summer #1 [Photo by  Luke Dean-Weymark  on  Unsplash

Summer #1 [Photo by Luke Dean-Weymark on Unsplash

But for these brief days of Summer #1, I have a kale salad for you that you'll actually take seconds of. I did.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan jokes that, "Yeah, kale is a superfood. And its super power is tasting bad." But the unrelenting health drumbeat that dark, leafy greens are good for us good for us GOOD for us made me put some in my shopping cart again this week.

Salad, of course, is all about the dressing. And, when you have a green as assertive as kale, you need a generous amount of dressing to make it palatable to eaters who aren't automatic kale fans. I went hunting for recipes online and found this one at Once Upon a Chef. It was beautiful to look at and had both peanut butter and sesame oil, but I was missing some of the other ingredients, and the recipe on the whole contained way too much sugar for me. Nevertheless, I came up with this delicious adaptation of it. See if you don't like it too!

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Summer #1 Kale Salad

1 bunch of kale, rinsed, de-stemmed, and cut in chiffonade slivers
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
grated carrot
Dressing:
3 Tbsp peanut butter
3 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime or lemon juice (I only had a lemon)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp oil (I used 2 Tbsp olive and 1 Tbsp grapeseed)
2 scant Tbsp honey
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled
1" knob of ginger, peeled
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp hot sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Combine dressing ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Pour over salad ingredients and toss.

This salad was a great accompaniment to our dinner of broccoli beef and rice, but it would go just as well with Mexican food. Happy summer!

A Whole Lotta Whole Foods Fix a Whole Lotta Problems

I made the kids blueberry pancakes this morning. And as I mixed in the frozen berries from the grocery store, I made the vow I always make when I have to use frozen fruit from the store: "This year, I'm going to buy a lot more fruit at the Market and freeze it." You heard me. For 2018, fruit isn't just for out-of-hand eating or for pies. This year I'm going to plan ahead for the smoothies and pancakes and muffins and cobblers of the off-season. Otherwise, what is the point of all the food preservation techniques available to modern cooks?

 Memento berri  [Photo by  Brigitte Tohm  on  Unsplash

Memento berri  [Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

The Market can't come soon enough. We finished off our last jar of raspberry jam from Growing Washington last week and have been tolerating inferior storebought. I'm down to one last can of Fishing Vessel St. Jude tuna. I hear rumors that the first Washington asparagus is being harvested. Is it May 17th yet?

And then there's the latest book I read, The Other Side of Impossible, which is really a collection of true stories about people with medical conditions who (mostly) managed to get better. Sit up and pay attention if you have, or know anyone who has, life-threatening food allergies, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, MS, ADHD, or asthma.

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I'll save you some time: one of the common denominators of the "cures" experienced in the book is a diet of whole foods, not always vegetarian, and often an avoidance of gluten and dairy. I'll tell you right off the bat that it would require a life-threatening condition to get me off gluten and dairy because I love them. Love love love. As does my husband. When I looked up from the book and said, "It's possible that your eczema is related to gluten-intolerance -- think of your cousin who has Celiac's," he answered, "I'd rather itch."

I did appreciate that this book was the first I'd read that actually explained why gluten might be a bad-guy in your gut, since avoiding gluten just because it's fashionable to do so is not a compelling reason for me.

Gluten is the one kind of protein our body can't fully digest, Dr. Fasano [visiting professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School] says...We don't have the enzymes to be able to break gluten down all the way. Its tight bonds are what we love about it -- they give bread its elasticity.  But the protein's recalcitrance seems to be the reason it can cause problems. Its distinctive chunkiness seems to be read by our bodies as harmful bacteria: Our immune system's response to gluten, including the release of zonulin [a protein that increases permeability of the intestine wall], is the same as its response to a suspected pathogen -- any microorganism that makes us sick. Our body treats gluten like an adversary that needs to be attacked and flushed out.

In other words, too much gluten, and our bodies might mount an immune response, including inflammation, which, when experienced chronically, leads to all sorts of health issues. Dr. Fasano's recommendation? Diversify your diet. 

I can get behind that. All the healthy and helpful bacteria in our guts needs food, and their favorite meal is dietary fiber, such as is found in whole fruits and vegetables. The more our healthy and helpful gut flora flourish, the less space there is for the unhelpful and unhealthy bacteria to find purchase. More good guys automatically means fewer bad guys. It's all about squatters' rights. If you are going to have billions of bacteria squatting in your digestive system (and you are -- it's how we've evolved to operate), at least encourage the nice squatters who take decent care of the property and even make improvements.

What happens if the bad bacteria take over? "An unbalanced bacteria population, or dysbiosis, is associated with a variety of diseases including autism, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis." Bold claims, and correlation isn't the same as causation. But it is true that too much bad bacteria leads to ye olde immune response and inflammation. And too much inflammation is certainly associated with all those conditions.

It wasn't just good food that effected unexpected cures in the book. Some also went in for admittedly kooky-sounding treatments like energy "wands" and such, which sounded less kooky once the author explored acupressure points. All in all, seeking out miracle cures requires a whole lotta time and money, options not open to all. But we lucky ones with access to good, whole food can at least start there. And our Bellevue Farmers Market believes "everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food," and that includes those of us who qualify for EBT/SNAP benefits and seniors eligible for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). Better living through better eating!

Mastering the Links

 I've heard it's less frustrating if you don't use a ball. [Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash ]

I've heard it's less frustrating if you don't use a ball. [Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash]

The entry bar to some sports is higher than others, with golf and skiing ranking up there in the "time-consuming" and "expensive-to-participate" categories.  And though I can struggle my way down a snowy slope with boards clamped to my feet, I never did get beyond the mini-golf stage when it came to the links. (Just typing that sentence made me wonder why "links" meant "golf course." Thank heavens for Wikipedia, which explains that, "The word 'links' comes via the Scots language from the Old English word hlinc : 'rising ground, ridge' and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes and sometimes to open parkland.)

However you manage on the "hlincs," I do have a few food-and-nutrition links for you. Because we all know that the best athletes mind what they eat.

First off, apparently we continue to gain weight. This New York Times article sounds all the usual alarm bells, but after reading Formerly Known as Food (which I talked about in this post), I'm not sure what we can all do about it, or, going with the golf-is-expensive thinking, how many can afford to do anything about it. I guess the bottom line for now is, if you're one of the lucky ones who can afford to, eat whole foods and try to cook when you can.

There's also this interesting Forbes article on our meat-loving ways in America. In a nutshell, despite hearing that we should eat more vegetables, we still love our meat, especially now that the grumbling about natural fats has subsided. (Surprise! Processed trans fats and all those nut oils we fry in are tough on our bodies, and eating lowfat doesn't make us lowfat.) I love a good Katsu Burger as much (and possibly more than) the next person, but I also loved a good baked sweet potato with all the toppings.

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Speaking of eating more vegetables, did you know that, "thanks to mild, dry summers and long summer days, western Washington and Oregon is the only U.S. region with a suitable climate for spinach seed production"? I didn't. Unfortunately, we're also increasingly falling prey to a "fungus called Fusarium oxysporum thrives in the Northwest’s acid soils." Being a spinach-lover, I hate to think of the stuff being in danger, but luckily WSU's Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center is on the job, researching fungus-resistant spinach varieties. Let's hope they find our survivors before scarcity drives the prices too high.

 The good stuff [Photo by  chiara conti  on  Unsplash

The good stuff [Photo by chiara conti on Unsplash

Moving on, we'll need something to wash down all that food, but as we reach into the fridge for the milk carton, we notice it's past its stamped date. Uh-oh...to drink or not to drink? Mental Floss tackles that question in this link, along with tips on keeping your milk good longer. Spoilers: buy whole milk and don't store it in the door. I frequently buy milk that's marked down because it's nearing its date because our family guzzles the stuff, and the milk never has time to even think of going bad. But it did amaze me that the article leaves out the number-one way to know if your milk is good: smell it! Still unsure? Taste a bit. It won't kill you, but you'll know if it's a little off even before you pour it over your cereal.

Now, for those of you who've read this far, hoping I say something more about the real links--golf--I'll throw in this last tidbit. Mark your calendars for Eastside Academy's 13th annual Golf Tournament on June 11! Eastside Academy is a great local alternative high school serving kids and their families facing "addiction, learning challenges, academic failure, trauma, and social and/or psychological challenges." EA works wonders, and you can do a little golfing, at whatever skill level, and make sure these wonders continue to happen in our community.

The Price of Domestication

We were dogsitting this past week, and, whenever it came time to feed the critters, I would find myself philosophizing about the price of domestication: in exchange for a steady food supply, wolves/dogs gave up their freedoms. On the plus side, they wouldn't starve. On the minus side, every day they must eat the same bowl of kibbles. The kibbles have been pumped up with pleasing synthetic flavors and a smidge of actual meat by-product, but it's still a little bowl of kibbles, twice a day, day in and day out, getting more and more stale the longer the bag sits out.

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It's a dog's life.

But I was also reading Kristin Lawless' Formerly Known as FoodHow the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture and discovering some uncomfortable parallels.

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Like dogs being domesticated, we've made a deal of questionable benefits. In exchange for convenient, always-available food, we've handed over our ability to choose what we eat. Yes, some of us can afford to be choosier in our groceries, but it's gotten harder and harder to avoid that darned bowl of kibbles. The corn, soy, canola, synthetic flavors, emulsifiers, sweeteners, preservatives, pesticide residues, packaging plastics, oxidized fats, antibiotics, and so on, are everywhere. Buy organic all you like. You cannot escape.

 Some days it's all too much, and you just want to stay in bed.

Some days it's all too much, and you just want to stay in bed.

The book makes for some grim reading. There are the usual alarming facts about rising obesity, metabolic syndrome, and allergies, which we've almost become inured to, but what was newer to me was the discussion of cumulative effects of pesticide and chemical build-ups in fields, foods, and oceans, as well as permanent changes to our microbiota caused by diet-induced extinction. Did you know that DDT, banned way back in 1979, is still found in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants? Discouraging, to say the least. Or that TBT, an organic pollutant used in paints and coatings for boats back in the 1960s (and since banned), has nevertheless so leached into our waters and been biomagnified up the food chain, that we're eating it today. So what, you say? Well, TBT is an "obesogen," causing animals in studies to "have more and bigger fat cells...They're eating normal food, and they're getting fatter." As an added bonus, TBT-induced weight gain can be passed down generationally.

Fine, fine, you concede. There's nothing to be done about the DDT, but I just won't eat seafood. Oh, but TBT is just one kind of "organotin" we are exposed to. There are others,

used in the linings and sealings of food cans, in polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastics, as fungicides and pesticides on crops, as slimicides in industrial water systems, and as wood preservatives. Like many other classes of chemicals, organotins were wrongly deemed environmentally safe for many years -- and they appear to be everywhere in our environment.

And remember the BPA fuss? Because it messed with our hormones, public uproar got it removed from baby bottles and water bottles and such. Sad to say, the plastic compounds used as replacements still have endocrine-disrupting characteristics. Plastic in food and drink packaging is unavoidable nowadays. Buy organic all you like, and 90% of the time, it's still being delivered to you in plastic. 

Lawless makes a very compelling argument for breastfeeding but recognizes that women who have to work outside the home and who don't have the most understanding schedules or workplaces for pumping breast milk face impossible situations. In fact, Lawless points out relentlessly how economic and social class constrain food choice, from gestation onward. Some of us can't simply "choose" to breastfeed and buy organic and home-cook our meals:

When food movement leaders say the solutions are to eat whole foods and buy organic, they leave out the crucial fact that we need to collectively reject the production of poor-quality processed foods and stop the production of dangerous pesticides and other environmental chemicals that contaminate many foods. Critics do not often articulate this omission, but it is largely why the movement is perceived as elitist, and rightly so. If the food movement's solutions are market based and predicated on spending more for safer and healthier food, they ignore how impossible these solutions are for most Americans...The food movement has allowed these [crappy, processed] products and additives to exist alongside a cleaner and safer food supply for the privileged few.
Food movement leaders also emphasize the importance of home cooking and cooking whole foods from scratch. Yet many fail to mention that the majority of Americans do not have the time, money, or resources to cook meals from whole foods at home. And when these leaders do acknowledge that lack of time to cook is a problem, they usually address it through providing better ways to cook healthy foods quickly.

I plead guilty to all of these charges.

What solutions does Lawless suggest, if you haven't already succumbed to despair? I admit, I was paralyzed by her solutions. She called for some fairly reasonable measures, like longer paid leave for new moms and household-skills classes for all, but then ventured into suggestions that made my eyes widen: universal basic income, paying people to cook at home, shorter work weeks, and so on. I just didn't see where all the money would come from. Yes, I agree our health as a society would improve, but it's hard to fund programs based on "we'll save money later, years down the road."

I liked better her mentions of urban farming programs on unused land, which has been done successfully in places like Milwaukee and Detroit, although the thought of sending inexperienced college kids out to run them made me think of Chairman Mao sending out all the academics to do the national farming and finding that--whoa!--they didn't actually know how, and now everyone's gonna starve! I guess if this FoodCorps hired the kids who'd done 4-H and had a little experience, but that's a dwindling pool nowadays.

In any case, I highly recommend the book as an eye-opener. And, if you've got the time and money, invite someone over for a home-cooked meal of whole foods, cooked and served on glass and metal.

Skip the Additives and Roll Your Own Rolls

While I don't usually read books in the horror genre, it seems like all books nowadays on Big Food and Big Ag fall into that bucket. This time I'm 23% in to FORMERLY KNOWN AS FOOD: HOW THE INDUSTRIAL FOOD SYSTEM IS CHANGING OUR MINDS, BODIES, AND CULTURE. I'll have more to say on that next week, but in the meantime let me encourage us to skip one pre-bought item on the Easter menu for homemade, make-ahead goodness.

Rolls, anyone? If you need convincing that occasionally skipping the store's bread aisle isn't a bad idea, consider this Livestrong article on bread additives to avoid. It's a roll call of the usual suspects: dough "conditioners," emulsifiers, soy, sugar, trans fat, caramel coloring. All things you don't need to worry about if you make your own.

For our table this year I decided to make homemade crescent rolls, adapting a Good Housekeeping Cookbook recipe.

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And when I say "adapting" baked good recipes, it usually means adding in some whole-wheat flour and subtracting some sugar. We haven't eaten them yet because I threw them in the freezer, but they smelled and looked wonderful. It says you need to start these 3.5 hours ahead of serving, but a lot of that time isn't hands-on because you're letting the dough rise or rest.

Crescent Dinner Rolls (makes one dozen)

2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2.5 tsp yeast (or one packet)
about 2.5 cups total of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour (I used 1/2 c whole wheat)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 egg

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, using only 3/4 cup of the flour. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until warm. (The butter doesn't need to melt all the way.)

With a mixer at low speed, gradually beat the liquids into the dry just until blended. Then increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Scrape down bowl. Beat in egg and 1/4 cup more flour to make a thick batter. Beat another 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Then add in another cup of the flour and mix with a wooden spoon.

Use the remaining flour to dust your surface repeatedly while kneading, so the dough doesn't stick. Dump out the dough and knead it about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and let rise in a greased bowl, covered by a dish towel, one hour.

Punch down dough and turn back onto dusted surface. Cover with dish towel again and let rest 15 minutes.

Roll dough into a 9-12" circle (you don't want it to be so thick you can't roll the wedges up). Use a pizza cutter to cut the circle into 16 evenly-sized wedges. Moisten the point of each wedge with melted butter. Then roll from the wide end to the point. Transfer to a greased cookie sheet, curving the ends of the crescent toward each other a little. Repeat. 

Let crescents rise 30 minutes while the oven preheats. Brush with egg glaze (one egg mixed with 1 Tbsp milk) or melted butter and bake at 400F for 10-15 minutes. They should be golden and spring back when lightly touched.

If you aren't eating them that day, let them cool completely and freeze them. To serve, let thaw on the counter and then eat at room temperature or warmed a little in the oven.

Happy Easter to all.

 Haven't dyed eggs in years, but if I did, I'd want them to look thus. [Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash ]

Haven't dyed eggs in years, but if I did, I'd want them to look thus. [Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

Read It and Eat

My book club met last night. We were trying to remember how long we've been going and who the original members were (I'm one of them), but that information was lost in the recesses of time. In any case, we used to try to theme our food to our monthly book, but we've gotten a little lazy about it. Therefore, the novel set in post-Civil-War Texas we read just inspired a carb onslaught in us that had not much to do with the book.

Some readers and eaters are more dedicated. Take Cara Nicoletti, whose delightful book I just read this week:

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Ordering the book by phases in her life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood), she begins each chapter with a memoirish essay and follows up with a recipe based on a food mentioned in the book. So there's sausage for LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS and doughnuts for HOMER PRICE and cherry pie for IN COLD BLOOD. (Did you remember that baking a cherry pie was one of the last things one of the murder victims did in IN COLD BLOOD? I didn't.) VORACIOUS is a delightful read and inspires me to pay attention to the food showing up in books again, that I might be a better book club member.

In the same vein as VORACIOUS is Alison Walsh's A LITERARY TEA PARTY.

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Walsh's book, featuring photos, rather than watercolor illustrations, is more strictly a recipe book, with only brief notes on what in the book inspired the recipe. The recipes are also more "inspired by" than actual connections. For example, Walsh cites A LITTLE PRINCESS (one of my childhood faves), where starving Sara Crewe passes the bakery window and salivates over fresh-baked buns. We don't know what kind of buns they were, but Walsh comes up with "Blackberry Lemon Sweet Rolls." Sounds tasty, but the connection to the book is pretty loose... Similarly, ROMEO AND JULIET leads to "Star-Crossed Foccaccia with Parmesan Chive Butter."

In any case, both of these books would be great starting points for your own themed book clubs or even a special supper or children's birthday party. 

Next month it's the "classic" in our group's rotation, so we'll be reading Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth, about--gasp--a "fallen woman." 19th-century novels can be full of toast and tea, but I'll be extra-on-the-lookout for other foods. Let's hope this fallen woman's fleshly appetites include eating!

The Minimalist Kitchen in a Minimalist House

My husband is headed over to Eastern Washington tomorrow, to help his parents move for the fourth time in the last eleven months. It might not even be the final move, and the siblings have still to tackle the darned house, now standing empty except for decades of belongings, 98% of which none of them want.

This might explain why I'm picking up books like Melissa Coleman's The Minimalist Kitchen.

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Imagine if I ran for president. I'd never get elected because I'd tell everyone, "Never buy another single thing, if you can help it. And, if you can't avoid it, don't buy new, if at all possible. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The last thing any of us need is more stuff. And I'm going to press for a Constitutional amendment, making it a law that presents shall no longer be given on Christmas to anyone over the age of ten."

But I digress. Hey, if you actually use your kitchen for cooking; if people in your family can be coaxed into eating healthy, plant-heavy meals; and if you share my love for purging, check this book out. Coleman gives a very thorough run-down on what a working kitchen and well-stocked pantry actually require, and then she provides a hundred or so recipes. After a little reading, I ran right over to my kitchen and cleaned out three drawers and dumped some little gadgets I never use. Mischief managed.

In addition to the tips and structure, the book has beautiful photographs and handy breakdowns of time and equipment needed for the recipes. I gave this recipe a whirl this week, supplementing it with some minestrone, and everyone in the family thought it was delicious.

The length of the recipe can be daunting, but done in little stages, it was actually no big deal.

 Open-Faced Sweet Potato Torta (minus the sweet potatoes because I forgot to put them on for the picture)

Open-Faced Sweet Potato Torta (minus the sweet potatoes because I forgot to put them on for the picture)

Minimalist Kitchen's Open-Faced Sweet Potato Tortas

(4+ servings, but I'd supplement with a salad or soup with meat, for bigger appetites)

QUICK-PICKLED RED ONIONS

3/4 c water
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp peppercorns
3/4 c thinly-sliced red onion

Bring water to boil in small saucepan. Put the rest of the ingredients, except the onion, in a pint jar, add boiling water, and stir till the salt and sugar dissolve. Put the onions in, making sure they're submerged. Throw the jar in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. (The onions are good for 3 weeks. We ate leftover ones on hamburgers and in salad. I'd make these again just to have on hand!)

CHIPOTLE MAYO

1 tsp pureed chipotle in adobo sauce (freeze the rest of the can for other recipes)
1/4 c mayo

Mix together and refrigerate.

BLISTERED SWEET POTATO ROUNDS

1-1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, cut in 1/4" slices
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 450F. Combine cornstarch, salt, cumin, cayenne, and garlic in a bowl. Stir in olive oil until a paste forms. Toss the potato slices in the paste to coat. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes each side. Sprinkle with cilantro.

To assemble the tortas, you will also need:

1 can refried black beans (she provides a recipe. I made my own.)
thick slices of artisan bread
1 c arugula
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 sliced avocado
1 sliced jalapeno (optional)
1 lime, cut in wedges
Sprinkle of cotijo cheese.

To assemble, toast the bread. Smear with 1/4 cup refried beans, 1 Tbsp chipotle mayo, sweet potato rounds to cover, 1/4 cup arugula, 1/2 Tbsp cilantro, 1/4 avocado, 1-2 Tbsp pickled onions, jalapeno slices, and a squeeze of lime. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

***

I had no arugula, no jalapenos, and no cotijo cheese on hand, and these were still yummy. And so healthy! Let's be real, though--if your home has normal little kids in it, they're not going to eat this. If you have an empty nest or teenagers, then go for it.

Enjoy. And now excuse me while I get back to throwing things in the Goodwill bag.

Years of Our Lives Down the Tubes

Words with Friends recently congratulated me on my eight-year anniversary as a player. This was not advisable on their part because my first reaction was "Eight years? Eight years?! I've blown countless hours on this game over the past eight years???" Granted, much of that time was spent as I slumped on the couch, already wasting my life away because the television was on, but still--

 That'll be eight years, please.

That'll be eight years, please.

Their message had the further misfortune to coincide with me finally getting around to reading a book on addictive technology and highlighting half the thing:

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Consider some startling facts author Adam Alter lays out there:

  • "In 2008, adults spent an average of eighteen minutes on their phones per day; in 2015, they were spending two hours and forty-eight minutes per day."
  • "One recent study suggested that up to 40 percent of the population suffers from some form of Internet-based addiction, whether to email, gaming, or porn," and college kids have it even worse, hitting 48%.
  • "Most people spend between one and four hours on their phones each day--and many far longer...Over the average lifetime, that amounts to a staggering eleven years [italics his]."

What qualifies as an addiction? It used to be that addictions were just for substances, but now behavioral addiction has been shown to have similar symptoms and affect the same pathways of the brain as substance addiction.

Almost half of the population [has] experienced the following symptoms: [the] loss of ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue the behavior (loss of control) and [the] experience of behavior-related adverse consequences. In other words, the person becomes unable to reliably predict when the behavior will occur, how long it will go on, when it will stop, or what other behaviors may become associated with the addictive behavior. As a consequence, other activities are given up or, if continued, are no longer experienced as being enjoyable as they once were. Further negative consequences of the addictive behavior may include interference with performance of life roles (e.g., job, social activities or hobbies), impairment of social relationships, criminal activity and legal problems, involvement in dangerous situations, physical injury and impairment, financial loss, or emotional trauma.

Yikes. Now, Words with Friends is no World of Warcraft (named as the most addictive video game of all time, so far), but reading this book taught me about the microrewards and other little tricks even WWF uses to keep players playing--those "coins" we accumulate, the periodic "events" and solo challenges and game variations. Scrabble used to be a game I'd invite people over to play. Now we all just sit on our phones and only very occasionally use the chat feature to interact. Even when my mom, my sister, and I get together and haul out the physical Scrabble board, in between our turns we'll often be on our phones!

My eyes have been opened. Consider this post awareness-raising. I'd offer some solutions here, but I haven't gotten to that part of the book. It's too late for my oldest, collegiate child (who bought her own iPhone and stares at it constantly), but the two I still have at home are going to be badgered with more conversation at dinner and face-to-face interactions over those home-cooked meals.

Make some eye contact today. Quit reading this blog and put down your phone or shut your laptop and go interact with a live person. Imagine adding back eleven years to your life, without even going to the gym!

Anatomy of a Grocery Cart

 [Photo by  Igor Ovsyannykov  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash]

So we moved my in-laws into assisted living a couple weeks ago, and, besides feeling relieved that there would be people close at hand to assist with things like falls (three, and counting, since they moved in), I was also glad they would be getting three squares a day. It wasn't just that they'd subsisted the past couple years on a rotation of restaurant food that ranged from higher-end (Anthony's) to DQ (lots of DQ), but even when moving day arrived, I found the main foods in the house were Snickers bars and those little boxes of sugary cereal, to which my father-in-law would then add another packet of sugar because that was his habit from when he ate shredded wheat. Yowza. When I freaked out and scolded him for all the added sugar, he smiled and said, "That's what the caregivers say."

Three solid meals, complete with fruits and vegetables. Such a life luxury.

My mother-in-law had always done the cooking, so by the time she could no longer follow recipes, my father-in-law was confused enough that he couldn't cook either. He could sous-chef, no problem, but we didn't seem to get many caregivers interested in bothering with cooking. They came over and just ordered out.

The older I get, the more I think that, not only is access to food a luxury, but the ability to do something with it once you have it. My in-laws had some apples in the fridge, but it was easier to reach for the Snickers until I got one out, washed it, and sliced it up. People generally eat whatever's in front of them, and too often what's in front of them isn't any good.

 Delicious, but too much work? [Photo by  Roberta Sorge  on  Unsplash

Delicious, but too much work? [Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

When I was at the store, in line to check out, I happened to see a cart in the neighboring line stacked full with an amazing array of processed foods. There was soda, frozen dinners, pizzas, cereal, even corn dogs. I only knew there weren't a lot of items from the produce section because everything fit so neatly and geometrically in the cart like Lego bricks. With my in-laws fresh in my mind, I couldn't help seeing her younger face and worrying about the future. She was young! She could still get to the store and keep things straight in her head and turn the stove on without forgetting she'd done so. Shouldn't she carpe her kitchen diem? 

At least she wasn't buying Snickers.

And it wasn't like her grocery cart was unique. According to a 2016 USDA study, the number-one item in American carts is soft drinks. Now, I love soft drinks. I'd have one every day, if I hadn't read just about everywhere how terrible they are for you. I love the flavors, the carbonation, the cold. But since I try to limit the One Terrible Food I've allowed myself per day, I use that card on homemade dessert.

The study findings aren't all bad. Folks do buy a few things that are nourishing:

About 40 cents of every food purchase dollar was spent on basic items like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread.
• Another 20 cents was spent on sweetened drinks, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.
• The remaining 40 cents was spent on a variety of items such as cereal, prepared foods, other dairy products, rice, beans, and other cooking ingredients.

But 20% of your food budget on junk food is a fairly hefty amount. Say you spend $150 per week on groceries. That means you spend $30 per week on junk. Or $1,560 per year. That's a weekend trip for the whole family to a sunny clime being flushed down the toilet with the Snickers wrappers. Not to mention the health costs, the bill for which will arrive later.

While we thought childhood obesity rates might have plateaued or even begun to decline, now they've ticked up again. Despite all the urgings to exercise, people don't want to exercise (and I include myself in that bucket--I hate exercise). Maybe we could tackle it from the other end. What if those old-fashioned "home ec" classes became a state requirement? What if everyone had to learn the basics of cooking and nutrition to graduate high school? Yes, lots of people buy processed food and don't cook because they don't have time, but lots of other people buy processed food and don't cook because they don't know how, or don't know how to fit it into their lives. If you can use a knife, follow instructions, boil water, and turn an oven on and off, you can feed yourself. Healthily and economically.

I've mentioned a local cooking store where my daughter and I learned to make croissants. We also recently took a Thai cooking class. But maybe a better offering would be a "Kitchen Launch" class--one where you learn the above skills and five basic recipes to get food in your mouth and/or freezer. Maybe the most frequently purchased processed meals? Pizza. A pasta dish. A burrito. Kitchen-sink soup. A casserole.

We're smart folks. We can do better. At least until we're all in the assisted-living place and paying someone else to do it for us.

Coming in from the Cold

I see the whining about the length of these Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has begun, but I think what we're really seeing here is an impatience with our lingering medal drought. For all the "spirit of the Games"-business and "bringing the world together," I imagine it's much easier to feel warm and fuzzy when you're Norway, wondering how you're going to get all that hardware through the metal detectors on the flight home. The length of the Games has also helped me decide which shows I never want to see (Good Girls) and which vehicles I never want to buy (that one that the guys says looks "better than 99% of the SUVs out there") because I'm so sick of the ads for them. (And I don't even know what that one other guy is selling, who talks about the power of the technology in our hands, because I change the channel the second I see his face.) But--I'm whining.

 Photo by  Mira Kemppainen  on  Unsplash

If we can't go for the gold, we can at least come in from the cold. And nothing warms us like some good food and drink. When I asked her this morning, our not-very-bright Alexa told me this morning that it was "27 degrees Fahrenheit." I appreciated the "Fahrenheit," which she didn't use to specify, because, if she'd only said "27 degrees" like she used to, I might have thought she meant 27 degrees Celsius (= 80.6F) and I should put a bikini on, or 27 degrees Kelvin (= -411.7F), and I was already frozen to death. 

But no, 27F we can deal with and even enjoy, if we can put something warm in our bellies. This weather has my husband craving hot chocolate from Ladurée in Paris, something I never ordered because it was too rich for my blood.

 Gateway to goodness

Gateway to goodness

And by "hot chocolate," I mean "hot pudding" -- it's that thick.

 [Thanks for the pic, bigoven.com]

[Thanks for the pic, bigoven.com]

Imagine his delight when, for Christmas, our youngest gave him the ingredients and recipe to make his own Ladurée-style chocolat chaud! He's made it at least four times already and swears it tastes just like the real deal. Concoct some of this for yourself, and you'll float through another week of fifth-place finishes without the least urge to complain.

Ladurée-Style Chocolat Chaud

(Makes 2 servings)

1 cup whole milk (don't use nonfat or 2% --what's the point)

2.5 ozs high-quality "bittersweet" or dark chocolate, finely chopped

1 Tbsp light brown sugar

Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Once it's warm, whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot. Cook at the lowest possible boil about three minutes to thicken, whisking constantly. Taste, and add brown sugar if desired.

Be My Korean Valentine

Am I the only one who likes to watch Olympic medal ceremonies for the first time because these gals are so cute?

 Where can I buy one of these robes?

Where can I buy one of these robes?

I'm beginning to think South Korea should always host the Winter Olympics. Why? Because, windy weather on the slopes aside, they do everything so nicely. I love the little groups of Korean girls in purple who applaud the events (even curling, for Pete's sake), sponge down the ice while the Zamboni cruises around, and pick up any bouquets and teddy bears that were hurled. I love the medal-ceremony ladies, as I mentioned. I even love the segments on Korean food because Korean food is awesome. I love how everyone has been bundled up because, unlike in Sochi, it's actually been freezing.

And then, of course, there's Chloe Kim, whom both Americans and South Koreans happily claim.

 (Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP/Getty Images)

(Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP/Getty Images)

So, in honor of both South Korea and America, here are two recipes we've cooked in our house.

Bulgogi (Korean Stirfry from Skagit River Ranch)

1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp sesame oil
salt to taste
3 Tbsp sugar or honey
1 bunch scallions, cut in 1" pieces
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp Mirin or sherry
1 tsp red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
1 lbs thinly sliced beef for stir-fry
1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil.

Mix soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, scallions, garlic, wine, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl or Ziploc bag. Add beef and marinate at least one hour or up to overnight.

Bring to room temperature. Stir fry over medium-high in the peanut oil until the meat is browned but not overcooked! This might be as little as a minute. Don't overcrowd the pan--do it in batches, if necessary. Serve with rice and lots of seasonal vegetables.

And then, on a completely different note, we had chicken soft tacos last night, with roasted chicken from Korean-American Chungah Rhee's new cookbook (and blog) Damn Delicious. (I had to get over the fact that I thought the titles of both should be "Damned Delicious," in order to be grammatical, but whatever. The food is good.)

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All-Purpose Chicken

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1/2" strips
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss with all other ingredients. Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center. Serve immediately or refrigerate or freeze.

Enjoy, and let's hope our Speed Skating team gets out of its doldrums!

Rainy-Day Chicken Pot Pie

You know you've become a Seattleite when...

  • You find yourself apologizing to out-of-town visitors about the weather;
  • You find yourself pointing in various cloudy directions and saying, "If it weren't raining/overcast, you would see the Olympics/Mount Rainier/the Cascades/downtown Seattle over there";
  • You become expert at spotting even the smallest, narrowest break in the clouds and tinge of blue sky;
  • A sunny day makes you feel guilty, if you don't spend part of it outside;
  • You scoff at people using umbrellas for anything less than a total deluge.
 This past week... [Photo by  Brandon Wong  on  Unsplash

This past week... [Photo by Brandon Wong on Unsplash

They keep forecasting some decent weather, but until it materializes we must keep on keeping on. I'm headed over the Pass the next couple days to help my in-laws pack up for the move to assisted living, and it promises to be an emotionally and physically trying time, but, on the plus side, Thursday is supposed to be partly cloudy there and 60F! At least the weather won't mirror the mood.

In the meantime, our droopy surroundings call for something homey and heartening, like chicken pot pie.

 That's what I'm talking about

That's what I'm talking about

Penny's Chicken Pot Pie

1/4 cup butter
6 Tbsp flour
1 c milk
2 c chicken broth
3 c cooked chicken, torn up into bite-sized pieces
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp summer savory
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 c carrots, sliced thin or cut in little chunks
1 c peas
1/2 c cooked, chopped onions (I mix with a little olive oil and microwave a couple minutes)
1/2 c corn
1 - 9" pie crust (I used pie crust dough made from the Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook p.71 that I'd frozen last August)
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp cold water

Preheat the oven to 425F. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour. Add milk and broth and heat, stirring, until thickened. Add chicken and all the seasonings, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in vegetables, spoon into large, ungreased casserole dish, and let mixture cool to room temperature.

Roll your pie crust out until it's larger than the casserole dish. Cuts slits in the crust to vent. Lay the crust over your filling and crimp to seal. Brush with egg glaze.

 The pie in its unbaked glory

The pie in its unbaked glory

Bake your pot pie 30-40 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Serve with a salad and maybe crusty bread. I'd say it yields about eight servings, which means it fed our family of four people, with one serving of lunch leftovers!

Penny's Pot Pie was so tasty it just might make you wish for the rain to continue another four months! Oh, wait--the rain actually probably will continue another four months. Well, enjoy your pie anyhow.

Lemonade from Lemons, or, the Evolution of Our Diet

 [Photo credit: Francesca Hotchen]

[Photo credit: Francesca Hotchen]

We've been dog-sitting this week, and it's hard not to feel sorry for the little critters and their boring culinary life. A quarter-cup of kibbles, mixed with a tablespoon of icky wet food, twice a day. Day in and day out. Every day of the year. Every year of their lives. Whew.

But it does make you wonder how that little bit of food suffices to meet all their nutritional needs and even makes them prone to gain too much weight. Dogs don't even need vegetables! All those ones pictured on the dog-food packages are for the owners' benefit, not the dogs'.

So why is that animals can supply all their nutritional needs so simply, while humans have a list as long as their arms of requirements? Fruits, vegetables, fiber, "essential" vitamins and minerals and fatty acids and amino acids. How do cows thrive on--basically--tufts of grass? And cats and dogs do just dandy on meat, thank you very much. Are human beings the only animals on the planet requiring such a princess diet?

I've come upon the answer in my recent reading.

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This fast and fascinating book talks about the flip side of being the most amazing creatures the planet has yet produced, or, at least, the smartest. It turns out that there are plenty of not-so-amazing flaws we've developed along the way that are more or less survivable because we humans band together and apply cooperation and brainpower to our challenges.

Take, for example, our lameness with dietary requirements. Just about every danged animal on earth can produce its own vitamin C, for starters. In house! In their livers! Open mouth, insert food, generate vitamin C, whether the food contained any or not. But somewhere along the thousands and millions of years, some yahoo human underwent a mutation in gene GULO, which disabled the in-house vitamin C factory. But the human diet was already so varied, because we worked together and wandered about, gathering all kinds of food, that the food supply met the vitamin C needs, and the yahoo didn't even notice his defect. He didn't get scurvy and die before he could reproduce, so his dysfunctional gene wasn't skimmed from the gene pool. Instead the dope got married and had ten kids, and on it went. Now it's just humans, guinea pigs, and fruit bats who have to go outside for vitamin C.

Multiply that process times all the other essential micronutrients other animals can produce and which we can't. All the B vitamins. A. E. Nine amino acids. Linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids. Therefore, we discovered when it was far too late, if our diet didn't provide these items, we got sick. We developed scurvy or beriberi or protein deficiency or breakdowns in healthy cell membranes. Yikes. All without our knowing, we outsourced a few key processes in the factory and ran into trouble whenever the outside suppliers went out of business.

That's the bad news. Over the eons, humans become the lemons of the dietary-self-sufficiency world. The cow snickers into her tuft of grass. The dog smiles over his dry kibbles.

But the upside, of course, is that, since we're such princesses now and require our diets to provide so many things we can't provide ourselves, we get to enjoy a varied diet. As Lents puts it, 

While we eat plants and other animals mainly for their energy, consuming them also brings us all the proteins, fats, sugars, and even vitamins and minerals that those living things have in their bodies. We're not getting just energy when we eat, in other words; we're also getting various organic building blocks.

So there, cow and dog!

Even for vegans, who abjure the nutritional shortcuts that eating animals provides, "variety is the easiest way for vegetarians and vegans to ensure that they get enough of all the amino acids they need."

So pamper your princess side. Vary the foods you eat and make lemonade from the lemons our biology has handed us.

In Praise of Hospitality

When's the last time you invited someone over for a cup of tea or a meal?

 [Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash ]

[Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash]

I heard surprising statistics this weekend on the decline in American hospitality. We still have people over for food or what-have-you, but the frequency is going down. Not too hard to believe, considering the difficulty of aligning bazillion schedules to make things happen. In our own house, we'd been trying to get together with another family, with whom we'd been trading the "we should have you over" comment for a year. After a couple months of actually trying to schedule something among all of us, I threw in the towel and just asked the other mom if she wanted to hang out.

She did. And she even offered to make me the authentic Ghanian meal she had first dangled as a lure! Yowza.

First, there was "light soup," as in, not-heavy soup. (A heavy soup might be one that was peanut-based.) Oh. My. Word. Light soup consisted of a broth made of stewed chicken, tomato, and onions, in which floated pieces of said chicken and generous portions of Alaskan King Crab legs. My hostess said that, in Ghana, the tomato-onion base was referred to as "gravy." Good gravy, that was good gravy! I was so busy slurping down two bowls of light soup that I neglected to take a picture.

 Off to make some light soup. [Photo by  Billy Redd  on  Unsplash

Off to make some light soup. [Photo by Billy Redd on Unsplash

But I did get pictures of the fried plantains:

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done in a deep fryer and tasting like a cross between French fries and something faintly banana-y. We ate them mixed into the Jollof Rice:

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which was a little bit like Spanish rice. My hostess deliberately made the food "not spicy," but she passed some hot sauces from the nearby Vietnamese grocery store. It was a wonderful meal which I'll always remember--not just for the fabulous food, but also for her warmth and hospitality.

Because, did I mention that, before this lunch took place, I got the date mixed up and showed up one week early (oops), surprising her in her pajamas. "Are you sick?" I asked. To which she shook her head and answered, "No, but our lunch is next week." Oops oops. But the astonishing thing was, she insisted I come in anyhow for a cup of tea. Hospitality!

Too often we picture inviting people to eat as a lot of work. We think, not only must there be food and drink, but your house should look like it's just been professionally-staged.

 Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Feel free to pop by! And, yes, my house always looks like this. [Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

But what if, like my friend, we threw open the door in our pajamas and just said, "Come on in! Love me, love my mess"?

Some years ago, my husband told me about a colleague he knew who said she always left a little project lying out, not cleaned up, when guests came over, so they'd know she was human and feel comfortable. I've taken this a little too much to heart, I guess, because I leave my dining-room-"office" as is, unless we need to eat off that table. Ditto for kids' backpacks, bags going to Goodwill, and empty packaging from Christmas--and that's just what I can see from where I sit! Love me, love my mess.

And what if we opened our homes and refrigerators to some of the new people piling into our schools and neighborhoods? Did you know that, according to the City of Bellevue website, 39% of our city population was born in over 90 different foreign countries?! How is that even possible? Are there even 90 countries on the planet? Moreover, "about 50 percent of [Bellevue's] population is of a minority race or ethnicity and 42 percent...speak a language other than English at home." You know what this means, don't you? It means there is a whole city out there of fabulous ethnic home-cooking, waiting to be sampled!

So invite over that one person you've been running into and make them something from your tradition. With any luck, they'll return the favor, and the world will be a warmer, tastier place.

The Great Brain

Once upon a time, I irritated and offended a friend by referring to people in their mid-30s as "middle-aged." (At the time, we were in our mid- to late 30s.) Later I apologized and conceded that, since life expectancy for women in the US was now at 78+, people in their mid-30s technically weren't at the halfway point. Since that little brouhaha, however, some years have passed, and I think there's no denying that, once you're in your 40s, 50s, and 60s, you're "middle-aged," if not even gathering speed on the downhill slope.

 Where are the brakes on these things??? [Photo by  Max Kramer  on  Unsplash

Where are the brakes on these things??? [Photo by Max Kramer on Unsplash

As a fellow downhill skier, my interest in the aging process has grown, especially when my kids say to me impatiently, "You already asked me that!" or my Alzheimer's-afflicted mother-in-law asks me for the fourth time in an afternoon what grade the kids are in now.

Anyone who has ever searched for a word, or forgotten a name seconds after meeting someone, or needed to be reminded of a memory that everyone else seems to share and swears you were present at, will be interested in what I've learned about the aging--and the aging brain in particular.

For starters, I love brain books such as Oliver Sacks wrote, stuffed with anecdotes of weird things that go wrong with people's brains. But as I've aged, I've become more interested in what can be done about the things that go wrong, which is where this book comes in:

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Author Doidge takes just about any brain condition and talks about how new learnings in brain plasticity have led to new, powerful therapies. Once your brain is broken, in whatever area, it doesn't have to stay broken. No matter your age or how long ago the breakdown happened. The brain has the marvelous ability to reroute functions around non-functional areas. This includes brains damaged by injury, disease, aging. Doidge tells amazing stories about stroke victims, blind people, autistic children, people with cerebral palsy, you name it. And he talks about people just plain getting older and noticing their processing speeds and memory aren't what they used to be. There are therapies, folks! We no longer have to ride off into the mental sunset when the horse turns that direction--not without putting up a fight, at least, and getting the horse to detour for a while longer. Seriously, it's impossible to read this book without wanting to send copies to everyone you know with whatever condition.

But since I'm aging and have been thinking a lot about my mother-in-law's dementia and my father-in-law's cognitive impairment, I was most interested at the moment in the aging brain stuff. About memory Doidge writes,

A major reason memory loss occurs as we age is that we have trouble registering new events in our nervous systems, because processing speed slows down, so that the accuracy, strength and sharpness with which we perceive declines. If you can't register something clearly, you won't be able to remember it well (loc 1479).

How to remedy this? With learning. With focused concentration, as when we were younger and had to learn everything. Basically, by middle age, you spend your days doing things you've been doing for years, if not decades: your job, your household tasks, driving, reading and talking in the same old language. Nothing new under the sun. You're replaying mastered skills, even while the systems that allowed you to master them in the first place go slowly downhill (see picture of skier, above). This is why, when adults between 60-87 participated in an "auditory memory program" that trained them on exercises for processing sound, they turned their memory clocks back 10+ years. But even if you can't afford or don't have access to fancy therapies, we can do homegrown therapies of our own. Doidge suggests:

  • studying a musical instrument;
  • playing board games;
  • reading;
  • dancing;
  • exercise, like walking or cycling;
  • picking up any new skill that requires intense focus because of its unfamiliarity.

Brain researcher John Medina echoes these recommendations in his new book

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while adding some interesting suggestions:

  • engage in conversation/debate with someone whose point of view does not agree with your own (!!! How happy that there seem to be plenty of opportunities nowadays, if we could work up the courage);
  • put off retirement because total retirement = brain death;
  • get some sleep;
  • and don't just read, but read 3.5 hours a day! (I'd like to know how that can be managed if you're also still working, but I suppose if you replaced TV with reading, you'd come close.)

Neither book talked diet, but I'm guessing the same foods that prolong our general physical health certainly wouldn't damage our brains. You know--ye olde fruits and vegetables.

Now that you've read this post, you've completed 5 minutes of your 3.5 hours of reading, so you'd better hurry off and get to the rest of it. We'll see you later at dance class.

New Year's Resolutions, in Miniature

After six years of club swimming and one year of begging to quit, my youngest has now graduated to "just" summer league and high school swimming. In place of club swimming, she has joined the gym and--miracle!--used it several times per week. But even as a new gym member, it didn't take her long to experience the New Year's crush.

 New Year, new you??? [Photo by  Brooke Lark  on  Unsplash

New Year, new you??? [Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

"The gym was super crowded, all of a sudden!" she marveled.

"Don't worry. It's New Year's Resolutions," I assured her. "They'll be gone by March. If not February."

We turn that calendar over, and hope springs eternal, doesn't it? This will be the year we quit the bad habit. We drop the ten pounds. We pursue that goal.

But if and when we fail, it tends to make us more cynical about making changes in the future. Why bother? What would make it work this time? Don't worry about gym overcrowding--everyone will give up in a few weeks.

This got me to thinking about miniature New Year's resolutions. Why not start smaller, so we can tick something off the list and feel success? Forget losing ten pounds. Forget suddenly starting to eat four servings of vegetables a day, when now you get one, if you're lucky? Small steps. Slow and steady wins the race.

 Even better when you walk, make eye contact. [Photo by  Matt Quinn  on  Unsplash ]

Even better when you walk, make eye contact. [Photo by Matt Quinn on Unsplash]

How about trying one of these micro-resolutions for size and durability?

  1. Walk one errand. Pick one errand on your to-do list this week and walk it, instead of driving. I had to return some library books and realized I had two hours in which to do it. A quick map search told me it would be 1.7 miles each way, 3.4 miles round-trip. Entirely doable. Later that night I was a little sore, but I slept like the dead.
     
  2. Skip one hour of TV. What time do you usually flop on the couch, never to rise again until it's time to go to bed? What if you put it off for one hour, just once this week, and used that time to call a friend/ read a book/ clean out a drawer. Set a timer, and when the hour is up, return to flopping like usual.
     
  3. Delete one social media app for a day. Which one do you check compulsively? Which one do you decide to glance at, and find an hour's gone by? Delete it from your phone for one day. Whenever you go to check it and find it not there, take a victory lap and think of one thing you love about your life.
     
  4. Try one new vegetable recipe. Dust off the cookbooks and pore over the vegetable recipes for something you've never tried. Or close your eyes and point to a recipe. Make score cards for your family, that they can hold up for fun.
     
  5. Learn one foreign phrase. One good thing about living in Bellevue is that there are so many languages spoken. On my walking errand to the library, I heard Spanish and Mandarin Chinese from fellow pedestrians. Exercise your brain by learning how to say something in another language.

Today I'll be trying #4, since the acorn squash in our pantry are turning orange (???). I figure, if you did each of these once per week, 2019 would find an even more amazing You.