Of Corn and Blueberries

You would think, living in western Washington, that the growing of corn was only for fall corn mazes. The kids'-amusement version of growing corn for ethanol. We tried growing some one year in the front yard, and it was pretty much a total failure.

 NOT what the front yard looked like. [Photo by  Glenn Carstens-Peters  on  Unsplash

NOT what the front yard looked like. [Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Thankfully come of our farmers get a little more solid sunshine and actually manage to grow very tasty sweet corn, which hopefully we will find this week at the Market. We are ready. Ready for plain boiled corn, grilled corn, corn salad, and corn cakes.

Real Simple's Corn Cakes (August 2004)

Combine 1 cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp baking soda in a large bowl. In another bowl, melt 2 Tbsp butter and whisk in 1 egg and 1 cup buttermilk. Combine wet and dry mixture and stir just until combined. Then stir in 1 cup cooked corn, 1/2 cup diced onion, and 1 cup shredded cheese. (I used half cheddar, half pepper-jack.) Heat a little oil over medium heat in a skillet. Drop the batter in, 2 Tbsp at a time, and fry a couple minutes on each side until browned. Keep warm in a 200F oven. Serve with sour cream.

We've had these corn cakes a couple times, only seasonally, with fresh corn, and they are devoured! We had kebabs alongside, but everyone's favorite was the corn cakes. And my oldest daughter didn't even pick out the onions.

The other big item on this week's shopping list would be blueberries. It's that blueberry-pie making and blueberry-freezing time of year, folks.

 [Photo by  veeterzy  on  Unsplash

[Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

And if you don't use them all up in pies and freezing and eating out of hand, give this quick dessert a try, now that the heat has let up a bit and we can turn the oven on:

Blueberry Pudding (from an ancient Bon Appetit)

4 cups blueberries
scant 3/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp plus 1 cup flour
1 stick butter, diced
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" pie dish. Toss berries with 1/4 cup brown sugar and the 1 Tbsp flour and spoon into dish.

In a medium bowl, rub remaining 1 cup flour with diced butter until it forms coarse meal. Mix in remaining brown sugar, milk, egg, lemon peel, and vanilla. Blend and pour batter over blueberries.

Bake pudding about 55 minutes, until top is golden and the center isn't jiggly. Let cool 10 minutes and then serve with ice cream.

Enjoy.

In a Jam

We had a guest pop by to spend the night. He had an early flight to catch, but he took up our offer of a piece of toast as he headed out, only to stop and admire our jar of jam:

 Growing Washington's Blackberry -- check out those ingredients!

Growing Washington's Blackberry -- check out those ingredients!

Well might he marvel. Compared to the jar of Hero "Blackberry Premium Fruit Spread" I'd bought in the off-season (on sale at Bartell's), Growing Washington's jam contained only four ingredients, and blackberries were Number One. Hero's listed sugar first, then fruit, and then "wheat syrup." What the heck is wheat syrup? It turns out it's a highly-processed sweetener from wheat starch. So, while the jar could brag it contained no high-fructose corn syrup, it was really only because they'd substituted another processed sweetener. No one has touched the Hero's jar since the real deal appeared.

Maybe you're not a jam-maker. I'm not. Which is why I stocked up on some jams made by a friend from farmers market fruit:

 Lynn's apricot, tayberry, and boysenberry

Lynn's apricot, tayberry, and boysenberry

To be honest, her jam is pretty expensive, but I like to support her efforts, and she does offer some varieties I haven't seen at the Market. But not everyone has a Lynn in his or her life, so the next-best option is Market jam. The only catch? Once you start on real jam, it's hard to go back to the storebought stuff.

And if you're a maker of jam, have you seen the fruit coming in?

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It's bounty time, people. Berries and cherries and soft fruits galore. Stock up. Stuff your face. Make jam. Make pies. Freeze extras.

I know I write too much about fruit. I promise: more vegetables and other items next week. Maybe. 

In the meantime, I leave you with sweet peas.

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Free to Be You and Me

Happy 242nd birthday, America!

 [Photo by  Stephanie McCabe  on  Unsplash

Here's wishing everyone has a barbecue planned, to celebrate. If you've been asked to bring something, I hope you set aside some berries from last week's Market! They come in such patriotic colors, after all.

 Ladies and gentlemen, I give you an army of tayberries.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you an army of tayberries.

If you, alas, already gobbled your berries, you might have to get creative with your contribution. Consider this alternate little army another guest at a graduation open house supplied:

 Yes, sir, that would be an army of bubble tea

Yes, sir, that would be an army of bubble tea

If you're a lover, not a fighter, the Market has a tie-dyed rainbow of goodness for you this week becauseas well all know, summer in Seattle starts on the 5th of July. Multi-colored berries, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, roasted peanuts, cherries, the FIRST PEACHES(!!!), chickens, eggs, bacon, purply wines and amber-y ales and milky probiotic-y drinks. Like our great country, there's room for all colors and varieties, and we're all the richer for it. Eat up and enjoy!

Strawberries Make a Scene

 [Photo by  Erwan Hesry  on  Unsplash

[Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

It goes like this in our family:

Scene: Winter. A mom and her teenage daughter are pushing a cart through the grocery store.

Teenager: Yum! Can we get some strawberries?

Mom: [repressing a shudder as she eyes the clamshell containers of giant strawberries from California] Those things? They don't even taste good. They breed them for size and color, not for flavor.

Teenager: But they're good anyhow! I've had them.

Mom: You're the same person who likes cake mix cakes that don't even use real vanilla.

Teenager: Fake vanilla tastes good! I love fake vanilla. It's because you never let us have any. (Teenager seethes and thinks rebellious thoughts.)

Scene shifts to summer at the Bellevue Farmers Market.

Teenager: Strawberries! Can we get some?

Mom: Of course.

Teenager: And not just two pints this time. That doesn't even last one day.

Mom: Okay. A half-flat.

Teenager: Of really big strawberries.

Mom: I like the little ones better. They have more flavor. They're like sugar bombs.

Teenager: But I like the big ones!

Mom tyrannically buys a half-flat of small strawberries, and teenager seethes and thinks rebellious thoughts.

(It occurs to me now, as I write this transcription inspired by real events, that this week the obvious solution is to buy several different pints, each a different variety of strawberry, and to do a family taste test. A flight of strawberries.)

Maybe you've chosen your favorite variety already, from the many offered by our farmers. We not only ate our tiny ones raw, but we also turned them into strawberry shortcake. Kind of a poignant thing because my husband took a bite and talked about how his mom (now in memory care for dementia) loved strawberry shortcake and used to make it often. Waaah! Clearly we are going to have to bring her some. She may not remember what we remember about her love for strawberries, but she can discover them anew.

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Strawberry Shortcake

8 biscuits, baked from your favorite recipe, with a tad of sugar added

TOPPING:

3 12-ozs baskets of strawberries, hulled

3 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Slice two baskets of the strawberries and transfer to a large bowl. Puree the remaining basket in a food processor until smooth. Add to sliced strawberries. Stir in sugar and lemon juice. Garnish with mint, if you like (I don't like). 

Halve biscuits and spoon topping generously over. Makes 8 servings.

I'm Melting, or, What Counts in Bellevue as a Heat Wave

Supposing you take a break from opening and closing windows in your house, positioning fans, and looking for a cool spot on the bed sheets, and head to the Bellevue Farmers Market!

 Surely the most beautiful picture of pops ever

Surely the most beautiful picture of pops ever

There was an old Coca-Cola ad that used to run when I was a kid: during the heat of summer, they would show people frolicking in the snow. Along those lines, I thought I'd refresh you all with some heat-relieving Market offerings. 

If you haven't tried Seattle Pops yet, they're luscious, not to mention seasonal, fresh, and local. Better yet, they have a punch card, to encourage you to try every one of their tempting flavors.

Then there's the slushies at Martin Family Orchards...

 Take my word for it, they're there

Take my word for it, they're there

Whether you favor pear- or apple-cider slushies, they're worth the brain freeze.

And of course you've walked by Bluebird Ice Cream, with its small-batch artisanal flavors:

Bluebird.jpg

You may have inexplicably missed Solstice in Fremont this year (or you were too busy parading to stop in at the store), but that doesn't mean you still can't sample Bluebird's wares.

And then finally, I noticed La Panaderia keeps its cupcakes nice and chilled, so all that generous frosting doesn't melt into puddles...

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Pair a cupcake with one of their agua frescas and you're good to go.

Apparently, everything from road rage incidents to bench-clearing baseball brawls goes up during hot weather, so keep the peace by keeping your cool, Bellevue.

Rain or shine, heat wave or cold snap, we'll see you at the Market tomorrow. 

What's in Your Basket?

If you're a regular at the Market, you know you run into the same faces a lot. Since my youngest and I have been coming like clockwork for years, we've passed through the adolescent stage where she said, "Oh, no! There's that person from school!" to where she can actually smile and say hello without the asphalt cracking open and swallowing her, mortification and all.

So, if you're not a mortified adolescent, you've begun to enjoy running into friends and acquaintances and asking them, "What's in your basket?"

Our greatest discovery of last week: 

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Yes, I'd had Niño Blanco's excellent fresh salsas (their pico de gallo is the best I've had, outside of our homemade, Deborah-Madison-recipe version, which we can't make till my husband's tomatoes come in, in August), but I'd never even noticed the chips until a friend said they were the best, and they bought them every week. We took their recommendation and bought our first bag.

There is no going back.

For one thing, they're organic, and, for the same price or less ($4 for 14 ozs), they taste so much better than any organic tortilla chips at the store. They're crisp, flavorful, perfectly salted. The only problem is, they taste so much better that we ate the whole bag in less than a quarter of the usual time. Especially because we paired it with fresh pico. Yowza. That still won't stop me from getting another bag this week.

Those same friends also hit up the gluten-free baker, but, as we are blessedly gluten-tolerant in our house, I passed on trying it this time and will have to report back later. Nevertheless, a pic for you:

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Then there were the friends who raved about the "yellow beans" at Alvarez Organic Farms. Frustratingly, I totally forgot to take a picture or even get the beans' real name, but the testimony is, "The beans are so flavorful and hold their shape well and puff up nicely in soup." They also cook up as quickly (for beans) as black beans--maybe an hour or two on the stove. 

I did make a new acquaintance last week, a mushroom-lover hovering by new farmers Skagit Mushroom Company.

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These fellows from Mount Vernon farm various mushroom varieties, including Shiitake and these ruffly kind, which my new acquaintance sautés in butter. I don't happen to have mushroom-lovers in the house, so we opted for the darling quail eggs.

 Check out these miniature fried eggs!

Check out these miniature fried eggs!

I've discovered quail eggs make excellent fried egg "sliders" and leave you with this decadent little recipe:

Quail-Egg Huevo Ranchero "Sliders"

2 quail eggs
2  Niño Blanco tortilla chips
2 spoonfuls Niño Blanco pico de gallo
Fry the baby eggs in butter. Put one fried egg on one tortilla chip and top with one spoonful of pico. (Makes 2.)

Eat Like a Peasant (or a Templar)

I've been reading this fun little book called A Bite-Sized History of France, which I warmly recommend to any of you out there who love food, France, and fun little facts.

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The authors are married, a Frenchman to an American woman, and they write with humor and a good eye for the ridiculous. Ex:

Today the Ban des Vendanges [date which the wine grape harvest can officially begin] is mainly an occasion for celebrating and promoting wine, but it remains a minor administrative hassle for vintners if they want to harvest any earlier. So, all in all, the Ban des Vendanges is very French, as France is traditionally a big producer of both wine and administrative hassles.

As the title suggests, the authors proceed chronologically through the great country's history, seen through the lens of food anecdotes. Along the way, I learned how food became a marker of social class in the Middle Ages. Because most vegetables were grown and consumed by peasants, to supplement their meager diet of whole grains and infrequent meat, "nobles shunned most vegetables, especially root vegetables, which grew underground." The same nobles also pooh-poohed fish, associating it with Catholic fast days. They wanted lots of meat, especially game (because of its warriorlike association with hunting) and fancy birds like heron, swan and peacock. And at the top of the desirable-menu-items list? Phoenix and salamander. If only they weren't so hard to find! 

Such a rich diet among the nobility made diseases like gout and cardiovascular problems common, and it's not like bossing peasants around burned many calories, in between crusades. At least, for all the bummers of feudalism (like oppression, disease, overwork, and always having to hand over the lion's share to the Man), those peasants got their exercise and ate healthy when food was to be had! And since, as the book points out, 95% of France belonged to this Third Estate, they had hundreds of years to get in shape for the Revolution, when they could chop off the heads of the First (clergy) and Second (nobility) Estates. (I'm not done with the book yet, but I really hope I get to a chapter titled, "The Peasants Strike Back, a.k.a., the Reign of Terroir."

Another group that did pretty well, dietarily and otherwise, were the Knights Templar. These warrior-monks, who may or may not have looked like Chow Yun Fat--

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took as their mission defending Christian-won sites in the Holy Land after workaday Crusaders headed home. So they combined monkish habits with other, decidedly unmonkish habits.

The diet of the Templars very much resembled that of other monks, but they were allowed to eat meat three times a week. It is actually thought today that their restrained eating habits, which involved lots of vegetables, fruits, and fish, were responsible for the noted longevity of Templar knights, which back then was seen as a sure sign of divine approbation.

My mom tells me that my stepdad has been diagnosed with a precancerous growth in his intestine, which gave me a chance to climb on my soapbox and urge them to eat like peasants and Templars. Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! Fruit, fiber, fish, whole grains! Throw away the processed foods when he's not looking!

Call it the revenge of the Second Estate. After disdaining all those healthy foods as too peasant-y and getting ousted and decapitated in the French Revolution, now it's the richest 5% in the world who are eating all the healthy foods and leaving what they deem the dregs to those who can't afford to eat otherwise. Sigh. Plus ça change...

The book is full of lots more good stuff, and I'll probably post again on it, but in the meantime I urge you to call on your inner Medieval French peasant and get out to the Market for some strawberries, greens, peas, tomatoes, tuna, and -- that old peasant favorite-- turnips! (Parting factoid: according to Bite-Sized, before the discovery of the New World and the world-shifting Columbian Exchange, turnips were the original second ingredient of cassoulet, not white beans!)

Say I Love You With Food

 The 17-year-old's birthday cake

The 17-year-old's birthday cake

If you ever wanted a snapshot of the food situation in our country, I have a good one for you. My son got to visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs over Memorial Day Weekend, and, because he's 17, I received just two texts from him. (And one didn't even count because I texted him first.) Besides wanting to make sure he wasn't being bullied by massive Olympic weightlifters or otherwise traumatized, you can see where my priorities lay:

Me: Are you having an okay time? Is it cool? Is the food any good?

Him: It is cool. The food is pretty good.

[Another day passes.]

Him: The food is sponsored by McDonalds and Coca-Cola.

McDonalds and Coca-Cola?! We are feeding the future athletic representatives of our country food sponsored by McDonalds and Coca-Cola??? Sure enough, when I quizzed him later on the fruits and vegetables on offer there, he said there wasn't much fruit, and the vegetables were greens, by which he means lettuces and an (I'm sure) uninspiring salad bar. Well, that's disappointing. I guess you go there in order to train at altitude, not to eat the food of champions. No wonder some of them resort to PEDs.

How fortunate we are, I say for the hundredth time, to live in Washington State and have our ready access to fresh produce of all varieties. And we want to pass this appreciation on to the younger generation.

 A terrible picture of pea pods in soil

A terrible picture of pea pods in soil

My kids are too old now, but you've heard of the POP Club, right? The "Power of Produce" Club that kids can sign up for? I was thrilled when I ran into a friend and her younger kids, fresh from their weekly visit to the POP Club. Each one had a little newspaper tube of soil. In each tube, hidden away, was a pea, waiting to sprout. Once it had sprouted, they could then replant it in the yard and--voilà!--their very own pea plant to harvest from later! What a great way to instill a love of gardening/farming, a knowledge of where food comes from, and an investment in the finished product. And we've all heard that kids are more likely to try vegetables they've had a hand in growing...

Speaking of kids having a hand in growing food, new vendor Sidhu Farms caught my eye last week:

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The Sidhu family farms in Puyallup, growing all sorts of goodies, including the berries, rhubarb, and plant starts you see here. They even keep bees and offer honey! If you've been admiring the rhubarb at the market and wishing you could make a strawberry-rhubarb pie, they've got the frozen strawberries to help you realize your dream.

Other friends we met, who are less into cooking but still into healthy foods, were excited to see an açai food truck:

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If you've never had açai, it's the star food of the hour, a palm tree berry that looks like a blueberry. Like blueberries, they're packed with good stuff like antioxidants and fiber. Unlike blueberries, they're trendy and foreign and therefore expensive. Everyone should try açai because all new foods should be tried, but feel free to be out of style and eat run-of-the-mill berries for the same benefits, if açai doesn't blow your mind and taste buds.

Don't eat like an Olympian this week! Put down the Big Mac and Diet Coke and swing by our Market Thursday for the real food of champions.

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!