A Bottle Labeled "Drink Me"

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

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

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

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

You say soursop, I say guanabana

You say soursop, I say guanabana

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

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

Thanks for the visual, Foodspotting!

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

Smoke map for Aug 8, courtesy of NOAA

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

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

Happy news, as we reach for our inhalers.

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

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

You'll love me, in 2018-2019

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

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

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

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

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

Pie Time You Showed Up

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

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

Did Pip's purloined pork pie look thus?

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

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

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

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


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

Pie Pastry Dough

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

Notes from Bellevue Farmers Market Exile

Summer is the time for travel. And whenever I'm out of town during Market season, I like to check in at other farmers markets if I run across one. Sadly, lately, I haven't been able to travel anywhere more exotic than Federal Way, Washington, where I did find free berries and giant slugs, as I mentioned last week.

This past Saturday found me in Federal Way again for another swim meet, with time to kill between prelims and finals. It was hot, and my son just wanted to park in the shade and nap, but I happened to spot the Federal Way Farmers Market in progress, so he had to settle for a shady parking spot near Sears while I explored. I'd missed the Thursday Bellevue Farmers Market (day one of the meet), so I knew at the very least I wanted fruit.

And there was fruit to be had, along with familiar produce. I even saw one of the BFM berry vendors and Amador Farms. Mission accomplished.

But the point of travel is to see new things, right? Therefore I asked about these curious items:

It turns out those are bitter melons. And what you do with them depends on your culinary tradition. The Asian guy I asked says he removes the seeds and adds them to soup. The Latino farmer said he takes the young ones, leaves the seeds in, and fries it up with an egg! You just know something that looks like that (and that tastes bitter) has got to be good for you.

Then there were these:

I've already forgotten what the farmer called them, but they look like paler versions of the zucchini your neighbor might be trying to force on you this time of year. If I found some of these on my porch, I think I'd try them grated in a baked good or roasted or stir-fried.

Demographically, Federal Way reminds me of Milpitas, California, where I grew up: lots of diversity and strip malls and good food, if you go looking for it. Did you know that almost 80% of the city population is under age 54? And 50% of the population is under 34! Maybe this explains why there were birdhouses for sale at their market that looked like camper trailers. Millenials are the hot new market for RV and camper manufacturers, ya know. I even considered shelling out $30 for the birdhouse/camper, since my 14YO loves birdwatching and also dreams of owning an RV(!).

Every farmers market has its own rules, of course, and Bellevue Farmers Market sticks to food. No crafts, no tie-dye, no stalls that smell of incense. So if you're itching for camper birdhouses or plywood furniture, you'll have to take the 35-minute trip down to Federal Way.

You won't find any wine or kombucha there, but you will see mini donuts, a Filipino food stand with lumpia, and shave ice. Long live farmers markets!

In Praise of Small Things

Why is it that small things seem especially perfect? That perfectly ordinary things, once miniaturized, seem like marvels? Take these potatoes found at the Market last week:

They were so small that, when I added them to curried chicken later in the week, I didn't even have to cut them in chunks. In they went, just like that.

Or take the golden raspberries I came upon, while walking through a strip mall parking lot in Federal Way:


Parking lot raspberries are especially sweet--must be all that radiating pavement

Parking lot raspberries are especially sweet--must be all that radiating pavement

Let me say that again: I was walking through a parking lot, carrying my Starbucks iced tea and sandwiches, and I spotted these. They looked like raspberries, but wouldn't it be embarrassing if they weren't, and I accidentally poisoned myself and keeled over on the asphalt? But I couldn't resist the possibility of free food. So I picked one and nibbled one little bump of it and waited to die. When it didn't happen, I tentatively ate more little bumps of it. Then I finished the whole berry. Still nothing.

So I picked about two dozen, ate a dozen on the spot, and squeezed the rest into one compartment of my Starbucks plastic bento box. I am happy to report that both I and my children are still alive. They really were raspberries. And they really were there for the taking. And they really were tasty. I'll be back in Federal Way on Thursday and plan to bring an empty container and pick more.

The berries beat the other not-so-small thing we found in Federal Way, while strolling through the Hylebos Wetlands Park:


(with my daughter's foot thrown in, to show the scale of the beast)

(with my daughter's foot thrown in, to show the scale of the beast)

See what I mean about smaller is better? Oversized slugs are nightmares come to life.

Our Market is full of tiny treasures. Not just potatoes or ladybugs...


...or tiny bees doing their work by jars of Cascade Honey. I've seen tiny pies. I've seen delicate Persian Cucumbers (only available for a few weeks), with their sweeter flavor and thinner skin. I've seen tiny strawberries and baby greens. Food so darling you just have to eat it.

Get out to the Market this week and start your collection of miniatures. When it comes to food, bigger isn't usually better!

Ain't She a Peach?

So I was watching the Texas Rangers play somebody on ESPN because I was in a baseball mood, and the Mariners had already played (and probably lost). Of course, just the mere fact of me rooting for the Rangers doomed them in this game, too, but at least somebody hit a home run. If you've been to Safeco Field, you know that they shoot off a few fireworks when a Mariner hits a home run, and this has been a pretty small line item in the budget this month. Well, when a Ranger hits a home run, there are not only some fireworks, but also they play the theme song from The NaturalIf you remember the movie, you know young baseball prospect Roy Hobbs impregnates his aw-shucks hometown girlfriend, but then falls for a femme fatale on his way to the big leagues and forgets all about his sweetheart. The movie's worth seeing, if only to see Glenn Close play a non-bizarre role. In fact, she's so non-bizarre in the movie that another character says of her to Roy, "Ain't she a peach?"

No dead rabbits here.

No dead rabbits here.

I think of peachy Glenn Close and baseball whenever peaches come in season because they epitomize summer. The rosy glow, the sweetness that comes with long summer days, the juice running down your chin, that heavenly smell when they ripen.

Peaches are here, people! The first varieties are cling, so not for making pies and cobblers, but just for eating out of hand, after they've developed on the counter a couple days and you can smell the aroma when you draw near.

Strawberries are hanging on, sugar snap peas are getting raggedy and tougher, but peaches and blueberries are just going to get more and more numerous in the coming weeks. The first apricots appeared, too, to my delight. For those of you who like your fruit more compact and not so drippy, there they are, and I sent out the high-alert to my jam-making friend.

And we've still got cherries, in interesting varieties:


So we'll see you this week. Summer baseball may be a bust in the Pacific Northwest, but our fruit hasn't failed us yet.

Getting Your Goat

It's amazing what sticks with you through the years. In a couple months I'll be sending my oldest off to college, but I still remember a cultural geography class I took when I was an undergrad, where we not only memorized a zillion place names, but also read papers from the Worldwatch Institute on things like the Green Revolution. It turned out to one of my favorite classes, even though a mischievous teaching assistant meddled with the final, and we students were asked to locate not just Polynesia and Micronesia and Indonesia on the map, but "Amnesia" as well.

One afternoon, the professor waxed eloquent on goats. Goats, he told us, were the perfect domesticated animal. They didn't need the vast grasslands (and grasses) of cows and horses, since they liked to eat just about any kind of weed and thrived even in rocky, unfarmable terrain. They provided milk, like cows, and where there's milk, there's dairy products: butter, yogurt, cheese. And, finally, you could just eat the goats themselves. Perfect little farm animals that would permit a more sustainable world.

Eat your heart out, barnyard. (pic: Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

Eat your heart out, barnyard. (pic: Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

While I haven't gotten around to eating goat meat, I did visit the Harbor Home Farm stand last week. I'd run into another Marketgoer who told me she was going to make a beet-and-goat-cheese salad, and suddenly I needed to have my own beet-and-goat-cheese salad.

Rita and Helen went over the cheese offerings with me, and we settled on the Chevre with Rosemary, rather than the tangier feta:


Enough in here for at least two salads

Enough in here for at least two salads

I "roasted" up my beets in the crock pot, tore some spinach, sliced a few strawberries because they were getting overripe, and drizzled fig-balsamic vinaigrette over all.


As tasty as it is beautiful

As tasty as it is beautiful

In that bowl, it would have made a lovely 4th of July salad as well, though we had it on the 3rd. With the rest of the goat cheese I have visions of re-creating a luscious DERU Market sandwich I had some weeks ago: roasted chicken, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula, aioli.

Make the world a better place and add some goat goodness to your life! Come make the acquaintance this week of Rita, Helen, and their flock of nubians, saanens, and "snubians."

Harping on Your Gut

My oldest recently had to do two successive rounds of antibiotics. Now, given the choice between letting an infection run rampant or downing the antibiotics, there was no contest, but I still wrung my hands over the thought of her gut flora being decimated. Especially since she just graduated high school and spends most of her time and money eating out with friends, where I suspect she isn't eating fruits and vegetables.

She isn't the only one. I've been hearing several gut complaints lately, and if I had a nickel for every time I recommended this book, I think I'd be a dollar-aire by now:


Read me!

Read me!

If you've had to do antibiotics, if you suffer from constipation, unruly gut--heck--even constipation, read this book. It might even help with depression, for Pete's sake. Our gut is a big, complicated, symbiotic organ that impacts just about everything, and it deserves better treatment from us.

As this Stanford Medicine blog post recounts, our gut and the flora it hosts impact our weight, brain, immune system, and overall health. And the best way to keep everything A-Okay is to provide all the little buggers with the best food possible: the fiber from a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Too much of any one type of fiber favors microbial strains that can digest it at the expense of the majority that can’t. The result would be reduced microbial diversity, the opposite of what’s desirable. Instead, eat lots of different fruits and vegetables. (Cooking them’s fine. We’ve been doing that for hundreds of thousands of years).

Do probiotics help? According to the book they don't do much to rebuild gut flora, since they largely pass through us. But they do provide spackle between intestinal wall cells, preventing leakage from the gut. As the Sonnenbergs put it, the intestinal wall is "a protective barrier that keeps microbes from getting out of the gut and into the bloodstream, where they emphatically don’t belong." Strong spackle is good.

Therefore, at the Market last week, I checked out one of the vendors of kombucha, otherwise known as fermented tea, otherwise known as a good source of probiotics, as are all fermented foods.


ShenZen Tea sells both loose tea leaves in many flavors and several varieties of kombucha.


Since I drink tea hot and iced year-round, I'll have to check out some of the many varieties on offer, but this time we got a 16-oz of the "most popular" kombucha, which I think was a lemongrass flavor...?

In any case, it was refreshing and delicious, like mildly carbonated, hardly-sweet-at-all soda. My other daughter and I would gladly have drunk the entire thing on our own, but since it was supposedly for the gut-depleted one, we refrained. But if you're walking through the Market on a warm day and don't want a big sugar rush from the other refreshments, give kombucha a try! Your gut will thank you.

Graduate to Fresh Food

Supposing you have one of these in the family...

pic: Fausten Tuyambaze on Unsplash

pic: Fausten Tuyambaze on Unsplash

And you've been called upon to host an open house. What to serve?

Finding ourselves in exactly this situation,

...her sister and I have come up with the following menu:

  • Crudite platter with green goddess dressing and hummus;
  • Fresh fruit salad;
  • Ye olde crackers, salami, and cheese tray;
  • Homemade ham-and-cheese croissants and pain au chocolat;
  • Lemon cheesecake bars.

We're expecting at least two vegans (hence the hummus and fruits and vegetables), and the last time I served Market sugar snap peas and the dip combo, everyone was quite happy. Why wheel out the supermarket carrots and celery, when you can offer sugar snap peas, snow peas, local carrots and cucumbers, and even hothouse cherry tomatoes from the Bellevue Farmers Market? And why serve those giant, tasteless strawberries in their clamshell container, when the Market is overrun with these:

We've been eating the strawberries plain, sliced in salads and morning cereal. I haven't gotten around to freezing any yet, but it has made me crave fresh strawberry pie. I don't know about you, but I still remember when Marie Callendar's was a tasty little restaurant chain of a few shops, and one of my favorite offerings there was the seasonal fresh strawberry pie. (I don't recommend you order it now because the crust is horrible and the strawberries are the awful clamshell kind, but back in the day...)

Anyhow, if, for your own graduation open house, you opt for fresh strawberry pie instead of lemon cheesecake bars, here's a recipe from a Texas church cookbook that I thought sounded like the pie I remember:

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1-1/4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp strawberry Jell-O (probably for food coloring and consistency and sugar boost)
1 qt fresh strawberries
1 baked 9" pie shell (I recommend making your own)
Bring the first three ingredients to a boil until liquid is clear. While hot, add strawberry Jell-O. Add fresh strawberries to cooked mixture and pour into pie shell. When serving, topped with generous dollops of whipped cream.

The Market, of course, has all kinds of baked goods, if you don't want to make your own. It's just that my youngest and I happened to take a croissant-making class for her birthday at Whisk in Bellevue. I highly recommend it, and you come home with lots of your handiwork!

Needless to say, the picture doesn't do them justice

Needless to say, the picture doesn't do them justice

So skip the run to Costco this year, and treat friends and family to food worthy of the occasion!


pic: Baim Hanif on Unsplash

pic: Baim Hanif on Unsplash

Come Buy Our Fruits, Come Buy

Ah, the wait is over. The shortage is past. Last week there were strawberries galore, multiple varieties at multiple vendors.

Skagit Sun Farm in LaConner, for example, featured both "Honey" and "Alpine" varieties. Once we got them home, we couldn't remember which was which, but both got eaten in a remarkably short amount of time.

Can you tell which is which?

Can you tell which is which?

And there were even cherries! I spotted them at both Amador Farms and Collins Family Orchards . Since my own photos don't seem to want to download from my phone today, I found these ones on Amador's Facebook page:


Rainiers on the branch...

Rainiers on the branch...

And Bings!

And Bings!

I think I only got a handful of cherries, out of the couple pounds I bought, since my youngest is a voracious fruit-eater, both openly and on the sly. Amador Farms does not spray its fruit, something I appreciate, having grown up in California, where I always thought I was allergic to cherries. It turns out I was probably just reacting to the pesticide because I can eat Market cherries with no problems.

On Thursdays we're frequently dashing in before heading to a swim meet, so I'm thrilled with all the prepared-food offerings, to go with our fruit. Last week the kids voted on ye olde standby, Veraci Pizza. Two of them chose pepperoni, but one of the joys of adulthood (and a more adventurous palate) is specials like the Green Dahlia:


Pesto, onions, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella---mmmm...

Pesto, onions, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella---mmmm...

Who knows what this week will hold? Plenty more to try, so come out rain or shine!

Strawberry FOMO and Market Consolations

Did you arrive at the Market last week to this sign?


Yeah, me too. I knew 4:15 p.m. was going to be too late to catch the very first local strawberries of the season, but it was still a blow. This week I plan to get there at opening. And won't it be nice when we reach the part of the season (approaching rapidly) when there are multiple berry farmers with different varieties and we don't have to view our fellow marketgoers as adversaries?

Of course there were consolations for missing the first strawberries. For one thing, Alvarez Organic Farms had the sweetest, crunchiest sugar snap peas, which we've been eating raw in salad or steamed all week. Just try them with a little homemade Green Goddess Dressing!

Green Goddess Dressing

(from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp tarragon or cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp chopped chives or scallion
1-1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (or 3/4 tsp dried)
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/4 tsp salt
Mix everything in a blender until smooth and pale green. You can add a couple tablespoons of water to thin, or leave it thicker and "dip-like."

Other consolations? Well, Martin Family Orchard brought a new batch of Fuji apples and Anjou pears out of cold storage, and they are the best we've had since last fall! I bought a bag of each, but I think I'm going to need another two bags this week to tide us over because it's all downhill on apples and pears until the next crop this fall.

And then, given the heat last week and the line at Seattle Pops (where we bought our treat the week before), we opted for a Shave Ice from new vendor La Panaderia.

La Panaderia by CakeBoxCo.com

La Panaderia by CakeBoxCo.com

I'd put the ice consistence as in between shaved ice and a snow cone

I'd put the ice consistence as in between shaved ice and a snow cone

The proof is in the punch--or the genuine fruit puree and juice, I should say

The proof is in the punch--or the genuine fruit puree and juice, I should say

Not only was the Mango shave ice luscious and refreshing, but La Panaderia also offers giant lemon, cinnamon and orange cookies and tamales. Wowza. They hope to earn money to open a brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, possibly near the Olympic Sculpture Park, so I hope we'll all take one for the team and sample the goods this season.

Don't miss out this week on strawberries or other goodies! Hit the Market this week early and often.

Washington: Home of Food, Farmers, and Logical Speed Limits

Give me land, lotsa land

Give me land, lotsa land

Hope everyone enjoyed their Memorial Day Weekend. I think many of you kicked it off as I did, by sitting in traffic and cursing your fellow citizens, but eventually the tail lights and bumpers gave way to scenes like the above, snapped off Highway 97 in Central Oregon. Actually, this was snapped on Memorial Day Saturday because we finally gave up on reaching our destination Friday and spent the night at a motel in Madras. (Lesson learned: even if you're pulling up at 10 at night, it pays to make your reservation ahead on your phone because they charge you way more when you walk in the door cold.)

Oregon is a lovely state, and their farmers, too, grow some tasty food, but they don't know a thing about speed limits. In any one-mile stretch of Highway 97, the speed limit varied from 45 to 55 to 65 to 50 to 45 again. Murder on the cruise control. There was also something weird going on with the signage because, when we entered 97 from the Washington/Maryhill side, colorful placards announced the highway multiple times as being a "Journey Through Time." Whoopee! we thought. Bring on the dinosaur dioramas and cavemen stalking the rest areas. After all the sitting in traffic, a detour through the highway equivalent of Disney World would be welcome. No such luck. Apart from a few things being named after WWII training camps and such, we're not quite sure what time (other than the present) they thought we were journeying through. Blah.

But enough about Central Oregon travel woes. The other thing about Memorial Day Weekend, or any holiday weekend, is that it throws off our grasp on days of the week. Meaning, the Bellevue Farmers Market is coming right around again!


'Tis the season for plant starts

'Tis the season for plant starts

If you're putting in your tomatoes or other produce, Skylight Farms of Snohomish has plant starts for you, besides pastured eggs and fresh asparagus and greens.

And, speaking of fresh-picked, nutty asparagus, I also spotted it at Alvarez Organic Farms:


Along with fresh garlic and all kinds of dried chiles. And there was the asparagus at Amador Farms, as well:


One fun thing about passing all those farms in Central Oregon was deciding where we'd most like to be a cow. Who had the most access to endless green pasture or shade or even a water feature?

Well, in Washington State, Windy N Ranch invites all comers to their place out in Ellensburg, where their cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens enjoy roam certified organic fields.


Come for a tour--seriously.

Come for a tour--seriously.

As the Newhalls put it on their website, "Organize your group or family and come on out to see how clean, nutritional food can be produced in an environmentally sustainable ranching operation with the welfare of the animals as a top priority."

Having driven through Ellensburg regularly on my way to the Tri-Cities and, again, to speed-limit-challenged Oregon, I can attest to "Windy" being an apt word to include in any Ellensburg name. On the other hand, as you drive there, you'll appreciate how Washingtonians know a thing or two about managing speed limits. 70 all the way, baby!

See everyone tomorrow!

The Market is Off and Running!

Ah, glorious almost-summer! And what a joy to know that, for the next five months, we have tasty, fresh, local food on our doorstep every Thursday afternoon.


I was excited to see old favorites returning, like Alvarez Organic Farms and Collins and Martin Family Orchards...


Sam at Alvarez!

Sam at Alvarez!

And I loved to see new farmers and vendors joining us. There are plenty to be mentioned over the coming weeks, but for starters I hit up Amador Farms from Yakima, lured by their just-picked-that-day asparagus.


I also picked up delicious little Honeycrisp apples there, two kinds of potatoes, a red onion, and some tasty pears. All, as advertised, grown with "NO PESTICIDES."

Some of Carl's handiwork [pic from his website]

Some of Carl's handiwork [pic from his website]

Then we needed something to serve with our asparagus, so I hit up Carl's Cutting Board, a new vendor of charcuterie, like sausages and bacon. Carl himself recommended a delicious, "kid-friendly" sausage spiked with a few nuts(!) that was a big hit. Some of us ate it on a bun and others just sliced with sweet-hot mustard.

Check out our resulting meal:

Apart from the pilaf recipe that I got off the internet (too salty), this was a meal worth repeating. Can't wait to see what we put together this week! Even more farmers and vendors will be appearing, so hitting them all over the course of the season will be a great challenge to have.

Market Season Resolutions for 2017

Oh, goody goody! At long last, the Bellevue Farmers Market opens for the season this Thursday, May 18, at 3pm. Let the fresh, local feasting begin, accompanied by live music and friendly faces!

This year I hope you'll join me in making some Market Season Resolutions:

  • Over the course of the season, try something from every single vendor and farmer. I'm actually thinking of making myself a little spreadsheet of our vendors' names. My husband used to frequent the now-closed Tap House in Bellevue, and they offered a punch card listing every single beer they had on tap. I guess even beer lovers need motivation to branch out. I'm betting even the other regulars haven't hit every stand. I'm guessing I regularly buy from about 20% of the offerings. Not this year!
  • Try a new variety of something familiar.


Yes, that's Jalapeno Tuna, second from the top

Yes, that's Jalapeno Tuna, second from the top

Today I finally opened up a can of the St. Jude's Jalapeno Tuna that I bought last October. How boring I am, that I always make my tuna salad with "Original" variety? Then it occurred to me: instead of making my tuna melts with plain tuna and Pepper Jack cheese, why not use a tuna with kick and a plain (Dubliner) cheddar? St. Jude's doesn't settle for some chemistry-lab "natural jalapeno flavor," either. Inside the can was jalapeno pulp--seeds and all (I scooped out some of the seeds, since my husband doesn't like things too spicy).


Ye Newe Jalapeno Tuna Melt with Cucumber

Ye Newe Jalapeno Tuna Melt with Cucumber

Given how tasty this new variety was, I added the "try a new variety" resolution to the list.

  • And lastly, try something entirely entirely new. Is this the year you finally ask how to prepare fiddlehead ferns? Eggplant? That one chile pepper which you don't know the name of? Something pickled? Ask your farmer what to do with it. Or ask that other person reaching for it.

Whatever you do, Market season is upon us--resolve to get yourself there!

Always in Season, at a Price

Last week I was at a wedding. The reception buffet was delicious, including the labeled "Seasonal Fruit Platter." When the person in front of me in line spotted that sign, he nudged me and asked, "In season where?" No kidding! The platter held fresh strawberries, pineapple, watermelon, blueberries, cantaloupe, and grapes, fruits which are currently in season in California, the tropics, Mexico, California, Central America, and Chile, respectively.

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Wikipedia comes through with the picture of "seasonal fruits"

Now, I enjoy all these fruits, and you'll find grapes, bananas, oranges, and kiwis in my house right now, none of which were grown in Washington (the apples and pears were, however), but enjoying "never out of season" fruit comes at a price, according to author Rob Dunn.

As I mentioned last week, Dunn notes that most of the food eaten worldwide and certainly in America, comes from fewer and fewer plants. Not only does the number of plants we eat shrink with the passing of time, but the variety of the chosen plants has dwindled as well. Most famously we eat the Cavendish banana almost exclusively, but other plants don't fare a heckuva lot better. California mass-produces a few strawberry varieties that they ship all around. Unless you hit the farmers market, you're likely to be offered just two to three kinds of potato at the grocery store, and so on.

So what, you ask? So, this: in winnowing the foods we eat and then growing what are effectively clones of the same few plants all over the world, we make our food supply uniquely vulnerable. Think Irish Potato Famine vulnerable. Plant a whole country with the "lumper" potato, and when potato blight finally hitches a ride to Europe, there goes the food supply. 

Dunn traces a familiar pattern through history: a few seeds get chosen for planting in a whole new environment, they outrun their natural predators and diseases for a time, then the predators and diseases catch up and threaten to wipe out the whole crop. We respond with pesticides, more furious breeding, or moving everything to a "clean slate" to buy more time. If and when we return to the plant's original habitat to look for different varieties to grow or to cross with our familiar ones, the plants and their original habitats increasingly have ceased to exist! Beloved crops like cacao (eek!) and coffee face these threats, by the way, so we all should find this an alarming trend. There are still some botanists and other scientists trying to gather and preserve not only the wonderful variety of plants that have covered the earth, but also some of the places that yielded them, and you can imagine their rate of success (not super promising).

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

Our love's in jeopardy, Baby. (Cacao fruit)

What can we do? Unless we're adventurous botanists who want to collect specimens from marginal wildernesses (because we want plants that grow where it's hotter and drier, to prepare for our climate future), Dunn makes the following suggestion:

You can buy diverse varieties of local crops...By increasing the proportion of food that is purchased from locally grown and diverse varieties of crops, we increase the incentives farmers have to plant those varieties. We increase the incentives farmers have to find unusual varieties. And, importantly, we increase the willingness of farmers to experiment, whether with unusual crop varieties or even with the breeding of novel crop varieties...In parts of North America and Europe...local food movements have already increased the diversity of crop varieties available in seed catalogues and stores.

And where best does all this happen? At the farmers market, of course, where we can have an immediate impact with the dollars we spend. Can't wait for Opening Day! We have one more week to go, which is just enough time for you to grab a copy of Never Out of Season and get yourself inspired!

Top 10 Reasons to Support Your Bellevue Farmers Market in 2017

Two weeks to Bellevue Farmers Market's Opening Day, people! And, if your anticipation hasn't been building, I'm here to give it a boost.

"We have great grocery stores in Bellevue," you say. "Why would I bother to make an extra trip to a farmers market?"

I've got ten reasons for you (not counting those Market flowers pictured above):

  1. FOSTER CROP DIVERSITY. I'm currently reading this fascinating book, which I'll post about next week when I finish, about the perils of our monocultural worldwide food supply. "In 2016...80% of the calories consumed by humans came from just twelve species and 90% from fifteen species" (Never Out of Season, p3). Why is that a problem? Think Irish Potato Famine. Our worldwide food supply is vulnerable to disease and pathogens, since we generally mass-grow just one variety of things. Not at the farmers market! Our farmers cultivate multiple varieties of familiar and less familiar fruits and vegetables, and, as a result, they take greater advantage of the entire growing season and reduce the harvest vulnerability. More genetic diversity = more robust food supply.
  2. BRANCH OUT, FOOD-WISE. Speaking of fostering diversity, we tend to get in ruts, food-wise. At the restaurant we always order the same thing. We eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, and rotate among seven dishes for dinners. Hey, the time will come when our taste buds wither, and we have to dump more and more salt on food to make it taste like anything, even if we still have the teeth to chew it up--let's make the most of our food-is-glorious window! At the Market, not only can we buy foods outside our eating ruts, but we can ask the farmers and other people we see buying that food how they like to prepare it. When's the last time you whipped up some pea vines? Kabocha squash? Fiddlehead ferns?
  3. DISCOVER THAT FOOD ACTUALLY HAS FLAVOR. Recently my daughter brought home a dozen red roses she'd gotten along with an invitation to prom. "Too bad they don't smell like anything," she said. That was when I explained to her that plenty of roses actually do smell like something, but ones that have been bred for mass-production were chosen for color and hardiness, not fragrance. The same thing happens to our food. In order to make fruits and vegetables survive the journey from field to table, often crossing thousands of miles, farmers bred for looks and durability, not flavor. You can't say you don't like a certain fruit or vegetable if you haven't actually tasted one. A real one. Not its storebought counterpart.
  4. SWAP YOUR DIET, SWAP YOUR CANCER RISK. Did you know South Africans on a traditional diet rarely have colon polyps? Why do Americans accept them as normal and just cross their fingers, hoping none of them get out of control? This Forbes article talks about our fiber-less American diet and its repercussions. Seriously. Eat more fruits and vegetables. And not processed ones. Fresh ones (or frozen). Fiber, fiber, fiber.
  5. MAKE YOUR KIDS LESS "CORNY." According to Never Out of Season and The Omnivore's Dilemma, we eat a lot of corn in North America. Not the on-the-cob kind, dripping with butter, but rather corn products. "In North America, more than half the carbon in the average child's body comes from corn--corn syrup, cornflakes, cornbread" (Never Out of Season, p.4). Lots and lots of corn syrup. Not to mention, our meat is often corn-fed. Skip the processed foods and feed your kids something fresh and whole, including grass-fed meat.
  6. CONJUGATE THAT LINOLEIC ACID. Speaking of pastured, did you know that even buying organic dairy doesn't guarantee the cows were sufficiently pastured? Check out this recent Washington Post article on some big organic dairy suppliers skimping on the requirements. The result? A nutritional profile to their milk more in line with conventional than pastured. I was bummed to see how mediocre-ly even Organic Valley scored. So ask our dairy farmers at the Market how much pasture their cows see!
  7. FIGHT AGING AND DISEASE--EAT FARM-FRESH EGGS. After getting a bad cholesterol rap for decades, eggs are back on the menu, and now eating an egg a day might have beneficial effects. But don't just eat any eggs--you want eggs from chickens who strut around on grass, supplementing their chicken feed with bugs and worms. You want eggs with thick whites and orange-y yolks. You want Market eggs.
  8. FIGURE OUT THAT "HOMEMADE" IS BETTER THAN PROCESSED. Once a month I participate in a church potluck, and it makes me frantic that the teenagers will reach for the uniform, processed desserts, rather than the irregular, homemade ones. Eek! It all goes back to not knowing what real food can taste like. The Market offers great ingredients for making your own goodies, as well as offerings lovingly prepared by artisan bakers and candy-makers and ice-creamers. If you're going to spend your calorie allowance, by all means make it count.
  9. PUT MONEY BACK IN YOUR OWN POCKET. Buying from our local farmers keeps the money circulating in our local economy and in our state. And our healthy economy is one of the reasons we live in such a great place!
  10. LIVE LONGER IN OUR GREAT PLACE. I bet physical therapists have a name for the posture and neck problems of people who spend 80% of the day staring at computer screens and their phones. Not only do we suffer aches and pains, but we actually shorten our lives because it's the face-to-face interactions that impact longevity, healthfulness, and general well-being. Befriend the farmers you meet at the Market. Make dates to meet your friends or significant others there for dinner and live music. Replace one texting exchange with a live-and-in-person encounter. You'll be happy you did, and you'll live longer to be happy about it.


Says who? Says Susan Pinker. Who, I'm positive, would love the Bellevue Farmers Market.

Says who? Says Susan Pinker. Who, I'm positive, would love the Bellevue Farmers Market.

Face-Off: the Unicorn Frappucino versus Lemon Meringue Pie

When my seventeen-year-old daughter and her boyfriend pass up homemade lemon meringue pie in favor of going to Starbucks to try the new Unicorn Frappuccino ("We promise--we'll share one!"), it's easy to believe the battle is lost.

When a mocha frappucino isn't enough calories

When a mocha frappucino isn't enough calories

According to the Starbucks site, a grande Unicorn contains 410 calories and a jaw-dropping 59 grams of sugar. That would be 11.8 teaspoons of sugar, or two days' worth of the World Health Organization's recommended allowance.

As much as you can still advise or boss around a high school senior, I shrieked, "But don't eat any more sugar today! Diabetes!"

Not that lemon meringue pie is a vegetable, exactly, but its ingredient list doesn't contain anything called "Blue Drizzle" or "Sour Blue Powder." Consider the Unicorn's make-up:


Ice, Milk, Crème Frappuccino Syrup [Water, Sugar, Salt, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid], Whipped Cream [Cream (Cream, Mono And Diglycerides, Carageenan), Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid)], Mango Syrup [Sugar, Water, Mango Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Passion Fruit Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Turmeric, Gum Arabic], Blue Drizzle [White Chocolate Mocha Sauce (Sugar, Condensed Skim Milk, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Sorbate, Monoglycerides), Classic Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid), Sour Blue Powder (Citric Acid, Color [Spirulina, Water, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid])], Pink Powder [Dextrose, Fruit And Vegetable Color (Apple, Cherry, Radish, Sweet Potato)], Sour Blue Powder [Citric Acid, Color (Spirulina, Water, Sugar, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid)].

When you feel relieved to know carageenan is made from seaweed and that some people actually pay to take spirulina supplements, you know you're in new territory. It's a smoothie...kinda. It's a health food! Only made of sugar, dipped in sugar, and topped with sugar.

"Psst! If you were put in a blender, You'd make a really healthy drink, I'm guessing."

"Psst! If you were put in a blender, You'd make a really healthy drink, I'm guessing."

For that bizarre concoction, this was turned down:

Granted, it's looking a little the worse for wear after plastic wrap and a night in the fridge.

Granted, it's looking a little the worse for wear after plastic wrap and a night in the fridge.

Homemade lemon meringue pie clocks in at 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving (one serving = 1/8 of a 9-inch pie). Again, over the daily maximum. The best option appears to be skipping dessert altogether, sadly. But, assuming you're human and have not decided to go sugar-free till death, let's get back to our face-off.

Sugar Content:

Unicorn Frappuccino: 11.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving

Lemon Meringue Pie: 7.5 teaspoons of sugar per serving

Winner: Lemon Meringue Pie



Unicorn Frappuccino: 15% of US RDA of Vitamin A! From the mango and passion fruit juices, I'm guessing

Lemon Meringue Pie: 11.6 % US RDA of Vitamin C, naturally. But also more more than a trace source of vitamins A, E, and B6, as well as thiamine and folate. The lemon juice and zest even contain a wee bit of fiber.

Winner: Lemon Meringue Pie

Satisfaction Level:

If you're a teenager or prefer to drink your desserts, you'll give the prize to the Unicorn.

If you're into bright flavors, pie crust, and texture variety, not to mention knowing what's in your food, you'll choose the Lemon Meringue Pie.

And if you fall in the latter group and get a hankering, here's the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie 

(from Sweet Auburn Desserts by Sonya Jones)

1 prebaked pie shell
3/4 - 1 cup sugar
5 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 c milk
4 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/4 c sugar

Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan and gradually add the milk. Mix until cornstarch is dissolved. Cook over moderate heat until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks. Gradually mix 1 cup of the milk mixture into the egg yolks, then add the yolk mixture back into the remaining milk. Simmer over moderate heat for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest, stirring until the butter melts. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To make the meringue, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and salt until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar just until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and spread the meringue over the top, covering completely and sealing the meringue to the shell. Form peaks with a plastic spatula. Bake the pie 12-15 minutes, or until the tips of the meringue are golden.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

And, if they turn the pie down for Unicorn Frappuccinos...well, more for you. Just space it out over a few days!

Alzheimer's Disease, the Sugary Truth?

Hope everyone had a lovely Easter and Spring Break, if applicable. If you have leftover ham, consider this family favorite for dinner tonight, which I posted about in 2011: Ham and Sweet-Potato Hash with Fried Eggs. Now that my kids have grown, I find myself doubling the onions and sweet potatoes and eggs, rather than the ham, which must mean something, when weighed in the balance against my many parenting failures!

Really--if we impart any legacy to the next generation, or even our spouses, a liking for vegetables and fiber probably ranks right up there or higher than a trust fund.


Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Artist Lucie Guyard's charming depiction of vegetable superheroes

Why so? Because we eat way too much sugar and fiber-less processed foods. According to a recent article in The Week, "eighty percent of supermarket foods" contain sugar, including savory offerings. Check out the sugar content of that loaf of whole wheat bread you pick up. Or the yogurt. Or the cereal. 

The average American adult downs 22 teaspoons of the stuff a day, the average child 32. The World Health Organization recommends just six teaspoons a day.

One UC Davis study tried to get participants to eat a comparable amount of sugar solely through fruit (i.e., the "natural" way). The result? Four out of seven subjects had to quit because it was just way too much fruit to eat. Fruit contains loads of fiber, after all. That fiber which does wonderful things for out gut and digestion.

Anywho, I bring all this up for two reasons:

  1. The Bellevue Farmers Market Opening Day is set for Thursday, May 18. As in less than a month from now. Yippee! Fruits and vegetables galore, all at their seasonal best and grown by farmers you can talk to, from places you've heard of and can visit. And,
  2. My in-laws were visiting for Easter, and my mother-in-law has been diagnosed with dementia.

Now, no one can call dementia "Alzheimer's Disease" (AD) while the person is still alive because they can only inspect a brain post-mortem for the telltale plaques and tangles. (Other causes of dementia can often be ruled out, however.) And no one is 100% certain of all of AD's causes, but some scientists theorize that AD may actually be better termed "Diabetes 3" because of its ties to brain insulin resistance and obesity. The Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology estimates there are 24 million people with dementia worldwide, and that number is expected to double every 20 years in the future, which means we need to figure out if our diet is contributing to its rise.

That same journal article recounts a joint study done by departments of Brown University and the Rhode Island Hospital, where brains of patients with advanced AD were examined post-mortem and found them characterized by "strikingly reduced levels of insulin and IGF-1 polypeptide and receptor genes." That is, they demonstrated abnormalities typically associated with Type 1 and 2 Diabetes. This led the authors to claim AD might be also called "Type 3 Diabetes." I'll be honest--the article is very technical, and it's easier to understand when it's recapped in laymen's terms. The bottom line is, we need to cut back our sugar intake drastically and eat more vegetables.

My in-laws have not been eating well. They've been eating out, basically. A steady diet of Starbucks croissants, Subway sandwiches and Appleby's, with the occasional DQ drive-by. So when they came to visit, I was determined to ply them with fruits and vegetables. Salads, carrot and celery sticks, steamed green beans and broccoli, roasted asparagus and carrots and sweet potatoes and cauliflower. Apples at lunch, instead of chips. My father-in-law loved it all and said, "We don't get many vegetables." My mother-in-law only ate a few green beans the first day. The second day she ate half an apple but worried it might disagree with her. (It didn't.) The third day she ate broccoli and the roasted vegetables. If they weren't headed home today, who knows what I might have gotten into her! But alas, home they go, back to white flour and Subway bread, and no "vegetable" beyond lettuce shreds and potato chips.

All the evidence may not be in or agreed upon, but that doesn't mean we have to wait. People have eaten plants for thousands and thousands of years and survived, but we haven't eaten steep amounts of sugar and processed foods for more than a hundred, and things are already looking grim.


Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

Better stick to the stuffed variety of Peeps...

If you're reading this post, you don't have dementia yet, so celebrate with a walk around the block, as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you can manage, and passing on the processed, sugary foods.

Some Prebiotics for the Easter Table

The Easter Bunny, contemplating his prebiotic-laden grass

The Easter Bunny, contemplating his prebiotic-laden grass

A friend was recently telling me about the super-loaded probiotic supplement her husband was on. As we all know from the marketing deluge we stand under daily, probiotics are supposed to increase gut microbiome diversity and robustness, which will hopefully fix everything from inflammation to mental health to our corner of the universe.

As you know from past posts, I'm all in favor of a healthy gut and find the evidence convincing that a healthy gut is underrated. But, for the money, I'm going with prebiotics, rather than probiotics.

Author and doctor James Hamblin, who writes for The Atlantic, says consuming probiotic supplements "is like reaching into a bag labeled 'Assorted Seedlings' and taking a handful and throwing them into a forest...If some of them do grow, will they be good for the forest?" More helpful, he deems, is the consumption of "prebiotics," that is, things that promote a "diverse, robust microbiome." You might know them better as fruits and vegetables. Hamblin also notes that a Harvard study has shown that "diets high in meat and cheese rapidly and dramatically change microbiomes, limiting diversity and otherwise boding ill."

Now, I know holiday feasts are exempt from health concerns, and I fully plan on eating plenty of ham, deviled eggs, rolls, and pie, but in that microbiotic wasteland, a few fruits and vegetables could be a welcome addition. How about some of each?

Broccoli-Grape Salad

(serves 8 easily, especially if some present are kids)

4 c broccoli florets, in bite-size pieces

2 c green grapes, halved

1 c celery, sliced

1 c raisins

1/4 c roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

1/3 c mayonnaise

1/4 c yogurt or sour cream

2 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp white vinegar

Combine all and toss! Super easy.

Deborah Madison's Provencal Winter Squash Gratin

2-2.5 lb butternut squash

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 c chopped parsley

salt and pepper

3 Tbsp flour

Extra virgin olive oil

(optional: feel free to sprinkle a LITTLE brown sugar over the top)

Preheat the oven to 325F and butter a casserole dish. Peel the squash and cut it into little cubes, maybe 1/3" across. Toss cubes with the garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add the flour and toss to coat. Spread the squash out in the dish and drizzle olive oil generously over the top. Bake, uncovered, until the squash is browned and tender, 1.5-2 hours. (You can completely make this a couple hours ahead and then give it a quick reheat before serving.)

When I served this up last night (and forgot to take pictures), it was eaten by 80% of the family. That is, by everyone but the 17-year-old. Even the boy had a second tiny helping, and that was just with 1 Tbsp of brown sugar sprinkled over the whole thing.


The Shakespeare Diet

For all its popularity, it's doubtful whether the Paleo Diet is really even possible in our day and age. According to Stanley Boyd Eaton, who, along with colleague Melvin Konner, originally wrote about "Paleolithic Nutrition" in a New England Journal of Medicine article, Paleolithic people "ate about three times as many fruits and vegetables as modern humans do." And, when they did get a hold of meat, it would've been now-widely-unavailable creatures like mammoths, not today's farmed chickens and cows, penned up and eating biologically-bizarre things. (Mammoth has occasionally been on the menu, when a carcass gets dug up, but even Paleolithic people might have turned their noses up at 250,000-year-old steaks.) Supposing we all upped our fruit and vegetable intake--the planet still could no longer support everyone eating a diet centered around meat. Which means, unless you're relatively rich and somewhat delusional, historic Paleo is off the table.


(This and other interesting tidbits can be found within these covers...)

(This and other interesting tidbits can be found within these covers...)

So if we can't go for a 10,000-year-old diet, would something more in the 500-year range be possible? Or at all beneficial? Well, it turns out life expectancy in the Tudor era (say 1485-1603 A.D.) wasn't any great shakes. On average, you were looking at your mid-30s, a little less if you were a woman, since childbirth was so perilous, but really if you made it through childhood you had a good chance of living longer. It was the high infant mortality that dragged overall life expectancy way down. In any case, though, few made it to old age. Accidents or disease dragged them off, since once you were sick you were basically a goner, however many times the local doctor might "bleed" you to be helpful.

On the plus side, food was local and unprocessed and low in sugar, so, even if you had a long enough life to develop metabolic syndrome, you usually didn't. Only the very rich, with access to lots of sugar and delicacies, suffered from gout or even tooth decay. (Henry VIII became famously enormous and unhealthy, and even Elizabeth I was reported to have blackened, rotting teeth.) So what did Shakespearean-era people eat? According to How to Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman, the common folk ate a lot of bread. But not bread like we know it.


Depending on where you lived in the country, your life might contain different combinations of grains. Bread made entirely from wheat was called "manchet bread" and was reserved for special occasions. The rest of the time your wheat would be mixed with rye or barley or oats or even acorn meal. But even manchet bread wasn't exactly equivalent to our modern loaves because Tudor wheat was not modern wheat.

Enormous genetic changes have occurred in varieties of bread wheat over the past 400 years, affecting the look, the yield and the nutritional make-up of the plants. Modern varieties of wheat are knee-high when fully grown, and the uniform grain-bearing stalks are tightly packed together in the field, each ear holding a dense cluster of up to fifty fat grains with plenty of gluten inside to give that soft, light, springy texture to bread that we have come to expect. (p.126)

But Tudor wheat? The author examines wheat found in thatched roofs and finds "short ears and long ones, hairy and smooth ones, red, white and grey ones, some which resemble spelt or emmer or rivet" (p.127) And the different varieties yielded different kinds of bread; for example, grey wheat "was often used for second-best bread, known as 'cheat bread.'" Not only was the wheat different, the yeasts and milling and kneading and baking techniques were different.

So what do they all taste like, these different grains, leavens, and bakes? In general they are good. The flavours are much stronger than most modern, commercially produced breads, which can be a little disconcerting to those accustomed to bland neutral flavours in their white loaf. Even the lightest, whitest of manchet breads is heavier, nuttier, denser and more filling than most of us are used to, and the commoner maslin and dredge breads are solid indeed by modern standards. (p141)

All of which means, if you decide to go on the Shakespearean diet, you're going to need to special order the heirloom wheats, mill it on stones, catch some yeast, and build your own bake oven. On the plus side, that chewier bread will strengthen your jaw muscles, which atrophy with age and disuse.

In addition to bread, the Tudor folk ate plenty of "pottage," or seasonal stew. Think pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold. You started with stock, added any meat or fish you had, thickened it with grain or pulses, jazzed it up with herbs, and added vegetables near the end. These stews live on in modern cooking, though we don't pay much attention to the seasons anymore.

If you were better off, you enjoyed open-roasted meats and imported ingredients, but in general, the masses were plagued by malnutrition diseases: rickets, scurvy, and anemia. The downside to local food, of course, being when local crops get hit hard. The rich would get by, as they always do, but if you didn't own land and couldn't make up calorie losses by hunting and fishing from your stocks, times were tough.

Maybe any historical diet takes a misleading view of history. After all, no one pictures themselves as the penniless beggars in period dramas, only as the well-to-do in their lovely outfits. So if I were to write a Shakespeare Diet book, I'd focus on the local, fresh, seasonal, genetically-varied food, with limited sugar and processing and--oh, wait--that diet book's been written a hundred times already.

I guess some things never change.