You Put What in Your Mouth?

Just yesterday, my thirteen-year-old, who has been my Bellevue Farmer Market shopping partner since she was teeny-tiny, asked, “Can we buy some maraschino cherries?”

Ye olde Wikipedia maraschino cherry

Ye olde Wikipedia maraschino cherry

Bad timing on her part. Not only was I driving, but I’d just that day read a book about the ingredients in our foods, in which was a section on those wretched “cherry cordial” candies, where you bite hopefully into a lump of chocolate, only to have it ooze out a tablespoon of cloying goo and a maraschino cherry. Ugh. Has anyone ever found that a pleasant surprise?

“Maraschino cherries are fake!” I cried. “They’re pumped full of sugar and dye!”

“But they taste good.” (This interchange is only a sample of why I now, with three teenagers in the house, consider myself an utter parenting failure and have set fire to any manuscripts of parenting books I was drafting.)

According to This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth, a compilation of columns with the same name from Wired Magazine, maraschino cherries are generally Michigan cherries pumped full of Red Dye #40 (petroleum-derived), sulfur dioxide (to prevent browning), and two types of corn syrup.

I: “I’ll buy real cherries.”

13YO: “But you never do!”

I: (Sputtering in the face of this outright lie) “I buy them when they’re in season!”

So you see, not only have I failed to impart a delight in fresh, whole foods, but somehow seasonality has totally escaped my children as well. Even though (apart from apples and pears brought out of cold storage) I never buy out-of-season fruit at the store. Alas.

In any case, if you’re still a hold-out for fresh, whole, seasonal food that isn’t highly processed, you may like indulging in Schadenfreude by reading this book.

 

Di Justo collects his fun, interesting findings and delivers them with humor. For example, who knew that it wasn't just your (disgusted) brain telling you wet dog food was stinky? Because dogs are scavengers and love the smell of freshly dead carrion, one of the "natural flavors" added to canned food is sort of “Death-y.” Or did you know that Beano's active ingredient breaks up the gas-inducing culprit raffinose into simpler galactose and sucrose molecules--you digest without the “music,” but you're getting about four extra grams of carbs for every hundred grams you eat.

If you’re a food reader, you may have already known that real cheesemakers wanted the canned stuff labeled as "embalmed cheese" because of its sodium phosphate (embalming fluid) component, but did you also know that locust bean gum was used by ancient Egyptians to keep those mummy wrappings nice and tight?

Some foods tend to be not as awful as I would’ve imagined. Take Slim Jim “meat sticks,” for example. Really just salami-like material. So, if salami doesn’t gross you out, neither will a Slim Jim. Nor was I dismayed by sugarless gum and the thought of chewing tree sap that also gets used in tires(!!!) because who cares? People have been doing it for thousands of years.

The author ventures outside the food aisles as well, into such mysteries as hair dye and Rain-X and fabric softener. The fabric softener was an eye-opener—the secret ingredient being animal fat, to give our laundry that soft, silky feeling. Mmmm…

All in all, the book made for a quick, fun read, and if you never pick it up, I’ll just leave you with this tip: if you’re scheduled for a cranial MRI, skip the mascara. That thing won’t know if you have luscious lashes anyhow, and the metal in your mascara can throw off the readings! Who knew?

Eating Like Champions

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I planned not to watch the Super Bowl this year. I didn't buy any avocados; I didn't make any seven-layer dip; I didn't invite myself to anyone's party. Because I knew the Patriots would win and had no interest in seeing happy New England fans or supermodel-selfie-sideline celebrations. Of course, with our new Alexa dot, I couldn't help asking the score from time to time, and eventually I was lured by Atlanta's deceptive lead into watching the second half. My mistake. Ugh. Nauseating image courtesy of NBC News

However, Tom Brady's latest triumph has revived national curiosity: how does the man do it? How does he play so well for so long and marry a supermodel and win over and over and over again? One key put out there is the family diet: like a Michael Pollan book, the Brady-Bundchens eat mostly plants, no processed food, no sugar, hardly any meats. Business Insider headlines this as an "insane" diet, and, while I wouldn't go that far, I'd agree that it's a tough one for Americans to imitate. It's expensive, it requires lots of cooking and prep (tough, if you don't have a personal chef), and it makes you give up many ingredients that make life worth living. When asked what the Brady-Bundchens consider "comfort food," according to the article, their chef responded:

I've just did this quinoa dish with wilted greens. I use kale or Swiss chard or beet greens. I add garlic, toasted in coconut oil. And then some toasted almonds, or this cashew sauce with lime curry, lemongrass, and a little bit of ginger. That's just comfort food for them.

Tasty? Sounds like it. Comfort food? Uh...I guess if you take comfort in how your money and elite lifestyle shelter you from the mac-and-cheese of the masses.

But while we can't all live round-the-clock like triumphant Brady-Bundchens, we can try to inject a little Food of Champions into our week. To help you out, I'm including a couple recipes I'm sure they'd approve.

Confetti Quinoa Salad from THE NO MEAT ATHLETE COOKBOOK

 

Confetti Quinoa Salad

2 cups cooked, cooled quinoa (see what I mean about lots of time to cook?)

1 cup diced pineapple

1 cup corn

1 diced red bell pepper

1 diced red onion

2 scallions, sliced

1 large tomato, chopped

lime-cumin vinaigrette or avocado-lime dressing till moist (use your fave recipe--Deborah Madison has a good one)

1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts

1/4 cup cilantro

Toss all together and salt and pepper to taste.

And then there's the kale salad I've eaten and then made numerous times, and which a recent non-kale-fan declared "the best salad you can make with kale." Don't skimp on using all the dressing because it weighs the ingredients down and makes the kale tasty.

More than a Pinch of Yum

 

Pinch of Yum's Chopped Thai Salad w Sesame-Garlic Dressing

5 cups Baby kale or slivered dinosaur kale, stems removed

2 Bell peppers, julienned

3 lg Carrots, grated or julienned

1 cup Cilantro, chopped

16 oz Edamame, cooked and pulsed a couple times in food processor

3 cloves Garlic, minced

3 Green onions, sliced

3/4 cup cashews, toasted and chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, leaving out the cashews if you're not serving it right away. Then, combine dressing ingredients and toss. Right before serving, sprinkle with the cashews.

Dressing:

1/3 cup Canola oil

2 tbsp Distilled vinegar, white

1 tbsp Sesame oil

2 Tbsp water

3 Tbsp soy sauce

squeeze of lime juice

squeeze of lemon juice

2 Tbsp honey

There you go. With these two salads, prepare to conquer.

Ingredient Impostors - Mourn or Celebrate?

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[et_pb_section admin_label="section"] [et_pb_row admin_label="row"] [et_pb_column type="4_4"] [et_pb_text admin_label="Text"] Ever since the time I bought Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) crumbles as a meat substitute, on a vegetarian friend’s recommendation, I’ve been leery of food products masquerading as actual foods.

Better just to eat vegetables than fake meat! Even tofu climbed higher on my list than TVP.

So you could say I was leery of food impostors. No high-fructose corn syrup, no non-dairy creamer, no margarine, no soy cheese in our house. Recently, however, in reading about the vegan diet I posted on earlier, I gave almond milk a try. With guilt, of course, because almonds require so much water to cultivate, and I spoke to a Washington beekeeper who had stopped trucking his bees to California to pollinate the almonds because it was too stressful on them. I would have stuck with regular milk, except the vegan book suggested too much dairy might be linked to acne. I've got three teenagers at home; this caught my attention.

What was on sale at QFC

Almond milk in smoothies might prove to be the "thin end of the wedge," as 20th century British books like to say. Meaning, the first impostor ingredient that opens the door for many more. I haven't tried it straight or in cereal or my tea yet, but it's worked great in smoothies and baked goods. Moreover, I switched my kids from the sweetened varieties to the unsweetened, and no one noticed. I might give rice milk a go next time, though it's not like you can grow rice without a ton of water, either.

But maybe the thin end of the wedge had already been inserted. Because a couple years ago I had a to-die-for cashew "cheesecake" at sometime BFM purveyor Jujubeet, and I was a believer. I even went so far as to attempt to make them at home. (They were fine, but not as good as Jujubeet's. If you're curious about the recipe, here's the site.)

The (anti-)sugar book I posted on last week had me rethinking sugar substitutes because author Gary Taubes talked about the smear campaign Big Sugar launched against artificial sweeteners. But, as is the case with TVP, would it not be better just to eat less real sugar, rather than to replace sugar with chemical artificial sweeteners? That seems the easiest solution, although the food industry is excited about a new, "all-natural low glycemic index sugar" developed by a Nobel prize winner. This sugar molecule is "hollowed out" without losing its sweetness, thus possibly enabling manufacturers to reduce sugar by leaps and bounds without resorting to artificial sweeteners. Interesting.

Basic building blocks of the food industry [pic: Food Dive]One impostor I'm curious about is Bee Free Honee, basically an apple jelly gone awry that can be used interchangeably with honey in recipes. I still have real honey in the house and certainly want to support our BFM beekeepers, but I've definitely cut back on cooking with honey because of its price! Maybe I could save the real honey for tea and topping cornbread, but make granola with a honey substitute. At $8 for a 12-oz jar, however, it's not like the bee-free variety is exactly a bargain. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, there's always real food to be eaten. We had these "Launcher Quesadillas" from the vegan cookbook, so named because they reportedly "launched" doubters into the lifestyle. Not everyone in my family was launched, and they were a pain to try to flip, but they were certainly tasty. Sweet potatoes, black beans, bell pepper. I added the sour cream and thought they could have used some cheese, but whatever.

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Sugaring Off in 2017

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One week remains on the yearly No-Sugar January, but I read the perfect book to help me continue the trend into February (my all-time record is until March). Reading this book, in fact, had me drinking Oolong tea for two days, so that I could forego the usual teaspoon I put in a cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey.

They say when you find a hammer, the whole world is a nail, and that is indeed the case with Taubes. In the book, sugar gets blamed for the whole suite of Western diseases: diabetes (and insulin resistance), obesity, high triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, inflammation--even gout and possibly certain dementias! Indeed, something has to be blamed for the rise in these illnesses all around the world, tracking perfectly with the Westernization of diet around that same world. As became more apparent as time passed, the culprit wasn't saturated fat, as we were told for decades, so the witch hunt was back on.

Going through the research, as Taubes does at length, there are some major strikes against sugar:

  • Processing fructose in the body requires the production of insulin. (Table sugar is made up of half fructose and half glucose, which abets the digestion of fructose.) Consuming a lot of sugar leads to chronically elevated insulin levels.
  • Calories that get stored as fat only get released from fat cells and burned as energy when insulin levels in the body drop. So, if your insulin is always elevated, the fat never gets released, and you get fatter and fatter.
  • Chronically elevated insulin levels lead to insulin resistance, which is tied to everything from high blood pressure to elevated triglycerides to inflammation to creating and feeding hungry cancer cells.

The problem with most studies done on humans is that there is neither the money, time, nor inclination to do long-term research, and sugar takes a while to wreak havoc. One study thought sugar was just fine, but that was when consumed at the then-current rate of forty-two pounds per person per year. We blew past that number decades ago and now sit at about ninety pounds! Even if we don't drink soda or eat many desserts, sugar is omnipresent in processed foods, from bread to salad dressing to cereal to most peanut butters. (After reading this book, I'm switching brands of whole-wheat bread. Too much sugar in the one we have in the house.)

Another fascinating path Taubes goes down is to recount the tobacco industry's history with sugar. I had no idea "American blend" cigarette tobaccos mixed a roasted, caramelized tobacco variety with another variety that had actually been marinated in sugar solution! The sweetness both increased the inhalability of the tobacco and the nicotine delivered. Amazing. Toxic, addictive, and amazing. Sugar helped tobacco lure new smokers, and it made the smoke more deadly.

As I head to the dentist for more fillings this morning, it's hard to argue that sugar needs to be eaten. Yes, it tastes wonderful, preserves food, and does seem to provide a brief, accessible energy boost, but, as Sugar-Free January proves every year, it can be eaten in miniscule amounts and not be missed, for the most part.

Laura and Mary during annual "sugaring off" time in Wisconsin [Garth Williams]So consider extending your reduced-sugar period this year and saving the sugar blowouts for special occasions. Your triglycerides will thank you for it.

Tiny Habits Make a Big Impact

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You all might know I love brain books. How the thing works; how the thing doesn't work when it gets damaged or old; what can be done to make the thing work better, and so on. For example, some favorite recent reads include: How the thing works

 

What happens when the thing gets damaged

 

What can be done to make the thing work better

In this season of New Year's Resolutions, I was particularly interested in how we form habits. After all, the only hope we have of keeping a resolution to eat better or exercise more is to make it habitual, rather than an act of willpower. Willpower falters sooner or later, and when it does, things tend to come down with a crash. We not only put the weight back on, but we add more. We not only skip the gym, but we decide to binge-watch a TV show while we lounge on the couch eating ice cream. We need the power of habit on our side. If we automate the good choices, they require no effort and are much more likely to happen. A book I read some years ago claimed we go through 40% of our daily activities on autopilot! That's a lot of the day. So why not use it to our advantage?

40%, says Charles Duhigg

Stanford tweeted out this interesting article on exactly this question: how do we form new habits and use this technique to make the habits beneficial ones? It turns out the answer is baby steps. Or "tiny habits," to use their phrase.

And lo, anyone could participate in a five-day-long tiny-habit training for free! i joined immediately, participated last week, and am now reporting back on my findings.

It works like this:

  1. You pick something you already do habitually, and tack on a TINY habit at the end. They give the example of: "After I brush my teeth, I will floss ONE tooth."
  2. When you have completed the tiny habit, you mini-celebrate, so that it gains a positive association in your brain.
  3. You practice a few times in a row before the five-day session begins, and then you just do it when it naturally occurs during the five days.

During the session, you get a daily email checking on your progress, and you can watch videos on Facebook and ask questions with a coach. They ask that you attempt three tiny habits in your sessions. The general theory is that, once you know how to create a helpful mini habit, it will lead into better behaviors and enable you to add other good habits incrementally.

So I picked:

  • After putting breakfast dishes in dishwasher, I will wipe one surface. (Promote cleanliness.)
  • After taking off my shoes when I come home, I will go up the stairs and back down. (Promote exercise.)
  • After getting into bed at night, I will thank God for one thing that happened that day. (Promote spiritual growth and attitude of gratitude.)

For the mini-celebrations afterward, I totally forgot to celebrate wiping a surface (and that habit was the most frequently forgotten), but I did "Felix" after going up the stairs and back down--

How Felix reacted to his perfect game, and how I reacted to keeping my tiny habit

and that habit stuck! Sometimes I found myself leaving my shoes on longer because I knew I couldn't run upstairs right away and didn't want to get out of the habit of doing those two activities back-to-back. I also forgot to celebrate my last tiny habit after getting in bed but found this was an easier habit to remember because there isn't a heck of a lot going on the second you crawl under the cold sheets.

Did I get cleaner? Well, I wiped a few surfaces and also made the bed twice. Did I get more active? Apart from going up and down the stairs when required, no. Did I get more spiritual and grateful? Actually, I'd say I found it was a great way to end the day. And I'm still continuing the habits this week, so the experiment was an overall partial success. Certainly worth doing again and adding in another tiny helpful habit or two.

So if your New Year's Resolutions have already gone by the wayside, don't give up! Just start smaller. Sign up for a Tiny Habits session and see what happens. And feel free to "Felix" if you find something to celebrate.

Steel-Cut Oats Three Ways

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Oh, the conflicting nutritional advice! As you know, I'm on a Good Gut kick for the New Year, keeping the microbiome happy with fruits, veggies, fiber, and probiotics. Hence the morning smoothies, including this latest peach-mango version which didn't feel as fibrous as the berry because I didn't have to chew seeds with each sip. Next time I'll throw in flaxseed meal to make up for it.

But then a friend said she and her husband are doing thirty days of ONLY meat, fruits, and vegetables. No grains (even whole grains) and no dairy.

And then this book which I'd put on hold came in at the library:

I'd been interested because I wanted more vegetarian recipes, but Rip Esselstyn is not just vegetarian, he's vegan. Good-bye, dairy with probiotics! The man doesn't even use oil to fry or roast. What the heck? And, just when you think you'll ignore all the health claims and try some recipes, he's got testimonies sprinkled throughout of people who rescued their cholesterol, their diabetes, their blood pressure, etc. after just--you guessed it--seven days of this "plant-strong" vegan diet. If you're at the end of your health rope, you may want to consider this extremism, though I had questions about some of the claims. Knowing calcium is fat-soluble, how will I get enough from dark, leafy greens, if no oils or butter are used to cook them? And how long were the rescued able to sustain their adherence to the diet? Unless you have a philosophical reason to be vegan, I think it would be difficult, and it requires a lot of cooking and a LOT of fruits and vegetables to keep up, which are expensive in time and money.

All that aside, there are definitely recipes I've bookmarked. First off, I tried this one:

Banana Steel-Cut Oats

1 super ripe banana, smashed

3 c water

1 tsp vanilla

1 c steel-cut oats

1 Tbsp chia or ground flaxseeds

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 kiwi, peeled and sliced

1/4 c berries, fresh or frozen

 

In a small pot over medium heat, mix the smashed banana, water and vanilla. Stir in the oats and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to low, stirring, occasionally. Cook 15-20 minutes, depending on how chewy you like your oats. Add the seeds and spices and serve, topped with fruit.

Esselstyn claims this makes two servings. Maybe two servings for horses. It makes a lot. Frankly, while it was tasty, it made more oatmeal than I wanted to eat, even in two sittings. And if I were forced to down half of it at one sitting, I don't think I could eat steel-cut oats again for at least a week. A small bowl of it was great, though.

What to do with the leftover oats?

You can just stir in a little milk the next day and nuke them, but congealed oatmeal looks so unappealing. Instead I opted for muffins that obeyed none of the new rules. Here's the original recipe, and here's my guilt-induced modification:

Leftover Oatmeal Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 c whole wheat flour

3 Tbsp sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

½ cup add-ins (such as nuts, chopped chocolate, coconut flakes, fruit, etc. I used coconut and choc chips)

1 large egg

1 cup (185 grams) cooked oatmeal, preferably steel-cut

½ cup (120 ml) whole milk

2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

 

Preheat the oven to 400°F, and grease or paper a 12-cup muffin tin. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and add-ins. In another bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the oatmeal to the egg, and mash with a fork to break up clumps. Add the milk and the butter, and stir or whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and stir briefly to just combine. Divide the batter evenly between the wells of the prepared muffin tin. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

So that took care of another cup of the oatmeal...

This morning I looked at my container of congealment and did more internet searching. Someone suggested slicing it, frying the rounds in butter and serving with maple syrup. Ooh...not vegan, again, but appetizing. I went for it. No picture because it basically looks like you're frying up veggie burgers, but I will pass on my learnings:

  • Make the slices as thin as you can because, as with all fried things, it's the crunchy bits that are the best.
  • A skillet set on medium works, with about a 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Flip the cakes when the first side is nice and brown.
  • If you were trying to convince someone other than yourself to eat these, you may want to invest in some powdered sugar or fresh-fruit garnish, to decrease the hamburger-y appearance.

That's it for today's diet adventures. This week I'm experimenting with the formation of new habits and will report in next week!

Gutting It Out

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Have the New Year's Resolutions survived the one-week mark? I'm happy to report that our good-gut-promoting food resolutions are hanging in there. To review, in order to keep the zillions of healthful bacteria in our guts fed and happy, we proposed:

  1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  2. Ditch the refined flours.
  3. Reduce the meat a little.

To up the fruit intake and the probiotics in the mornings, I've added a homemade smoothie. I see why the things are so danged expensive, but I'm betting the ingredients I put in at home are better than the ones in the mass-marketed products, and because the portion size at home is reasonable, the kids aren't getting super-sized sugar.

Bit o' Berry Smoothie

About 1 cup of whole-milk plain yogurt

a few sections of mandarin orange

about 1 cup of frozen mixed berries

a big slosh of vanilla-flavored almond milk (you could use any kind of milk you like, but if it's unsweetened, add a little vanilla and honey/sugar yourself)

a tbsp of ground flaxseed

Whirl in ye olde blender and serve.

We've been eating a lot of spinach salad in the evenings: spinach, pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds, feta cheese, and a balsamic vinaigrette. But whenever we run out of salad fixings, we switch to a mini crudite platter of carrots, celery, and cucumber, which I served last night, accompanied by my favorite Deborah-Madison-dip that conveniently features probiotics.

Yogurt Sauce with Cayenne and Dill

1/2 cup whole milk yogurt

1/4 cup cultured sour cream

1 small garlic clove, pulverized with 1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp dill

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix and refrigerate.

Since we always kick off the New Year with "Sugar-Free January," cutting extra sugar and most of the refined flours that made up all those Christmas desserts was a freebie. I think we go through as many bags of white flour and sugar in November and December as we do in the other ten months combined...

The meat resolution still poses a challenge, and I do wish the gut book had mentioned how much meat is too much. We eat about 1/5 of a lb each, 5-6 days a week, which I'd be inclined to say wasn't excessive, but what do I know? Stay tuned.

Go With Your Gut in 2017

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It turns out that we were on to something with expressions like "my gut tells me" and "I just have a gut feeling." As I first read in

last year, our bowels have a mysterious emotional connection to our brain, producing 95% of our seratonin, for example. And there's a reason nervousness gives us butterflies in our gut, not our brain. We ignore our guts at our peril, in terms of our emotional health.

Well, this December I picked up another book on the under-appreciated gut:

The cover makes it sound like a diet book, but, really, the authors, who hail from Stanford, give a great laymen's background on our gut and its bacterial population. Yes, they give some tips for improving gut health, which I'll get to, but first they just have plenty of fascinating information to share.

First off, whether or not you have the gift of hospitality, your body hosts bazillions of bacteria. On your hand alone "there are more microbes present...than there are people in the world." For germaphobes, this news might freak them out, but the Sonnenburgs want us to know that the bacteria our bodies have learned and evolved to live with are largely helpful. It's only when the helpful little guys are absent or decimated that the few bacterial villains gain a toehold and make us very, very sick. Our "gut flora" help us extract nutrients from food, bolster our immune system, and communicate with our brains. They can even determine if we tend toward leanness or obesity! When the populations of various bacteria are underfed, they might go extinct (freeing up more gut space for harmful bacteria) or start eating the mucus lining of our large intestine, destroying the protective layer between everything coming into the body and the bloodstream.

In our modern Western world,

Four factors have greatly changed gut flora in individuals in our population over the past few decades. They are: 1) increasing consumption of industrialized, processed foods, 2) widespread use of antibiotics, 3) the alarming rise in Caesarean deliveries, now accounting for one in every three births, and 4) the decline in breast-feeding.

What happens when our gut flora get out of wack?

Dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance, is observed in people with a variety of health problems such as Crohn's disease, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, and even autism. In fact, it is getting more and more difficult to find a health condition that has not been linked to aberrations within the microbiota.

The authors are careful to emphasize that correlation is not causation, and they go carefully through the data (mostly on mice studies at this point), but certainly promoting gut health wouldn't make any of those conditions worse and would probably yield related and unrelated benefits. There's absolutely nothing to be lost in promoting gut health.

Some circumstances we can't help, like being born by unexpected C-section, but the authors ensured that their C-section daughters received a good swabbing with mom's birth canal bacteria, since that first essential exposure populates the infant's clean system with tried-and-true good flora. Breast milk further provides some incredibly complex carbs too expensive to reproduce in the lab, feeding those good bacteria and ensuring that they flourish. If you missed both those boats with your kids, despair not, but do try to keep them off the antibiotics when possible, since "antibiotic use in children is associated with an increased risk for a number of ailments such as asthma, eczema, and even obesity." Similarly, antibiotic used in adults usually wipes out plenty of the healthy bacteria along with the culprits, leaving us vulnerable to the bad guys taking hold and creating super bugs. (Wonder why old folks are so vulnerable to food-borne bacterial infection? Aging decreases the variety of our gut flora!)

The good news is, we can impact and maintain the health of our gut flora with a few key decisions. With these in mind, I came up with my 2017 New Year's Resolutions.

  1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables--for the fiber! No matter what health/wellness book you read, there's no escaping this one. All that natural fiber keeps our flora hard at work, keeps them from eating the mucosal intestinal lining, and reduces inflammation.
  2. Ditch the refined flours. In order for our flora to have something to eat and break down and work on, they need food that doesn't turn instantly to sugar before it even gets to them. Go whole grain. Watch for "glycemic load."
  3. Reduce the meat a little.  I'm looking at you, Paleo dieters. This one will be tough with us because I have a teenage son who needs the protein and is constantly starving.

Several studies show that a meat-centered diet impacts the microbiota in a way that is detrimental to health. Within four weeks, dieters on a high-protein, reduced carbohydrate regimen had a dramatic increase in both the amount of [short chain fatty acids] and fiber-derived antioxidants they produced and a buildup of hazardous metabolites in their colons. This type of environment would negatively affect long-term colon health by increasing the risk for inflammatory diseases and colon cancer.

Finally, you may wonder if consuming probiotics helps. All the marketing gimmicks aside, consumption of live-culture yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, etc. increases the number of transient bacteria moving through your system, and "there is evidence that the presence of probiotic bacteria passing through us reinvigorates our body's defenses against invading pathogens." Not bad, for tourists. They also promote the secretion of that glorious, protective intestinal mucus. So let's say, as a last Resolution:

4. Add some probiotics to the diet.

I'm headed to the store to pick up some yogurt and maybe some kefir to experiment with. I'll keep you posted.

 

Thinking Ahead to Christmas Breakfast

When I was nine, my aunt and uncle took my sister and me on a vacation to Hawaii. Having children of my own now, I can't explain this behavior, because the last thing I would want on a vacation is more children around. Especially when I had my own firstborn infant in tow, as my aunt did, and when the extra children weren't particularly helpful with said baby, as we weren't. Not my aunt, snorkeling in http://www.hanauma-bay-hawaii.com/

In any case, I'm glad they took us, and several memories stand out from the trip: my one and only visit to Pearl Harbor (and a flea market being held there); my aunt being bitten by a fish while snorkeling in Hanauma Bay; sunrise on Haleakala (where I missed every shooting star on the drive up), and breakfast at King's Bakery in Honolulu.

The meal at King's Bakery is last-but-absolutely-not-least in that that list. This was back before their round loaves of "Hawaiian" Portuguese sweet bread were found in every grocery store. Back when they were just a place known to locals and former locals like my aunt, who had gone to the University of Hawaii. Which means we tourist nieces were completely unsuspecting of the culinary treat that lay ahead of us.

Sixteen years before the memorable breakfast

I still remember the fresh, ripe papaya half that strangely did not smell of gym socks, like every papaya I've had since. And I remember the French toast. W-o-w. Sweet, eggy, fragrant. Like no French toast I've had since. Which is why I've decided it'll be our Christmas morning breakfast this year. The cinnamon rolls I usually labor over have been rated "just okay," so they're off the list forever. I also looked at a half-dozen strata recipes and pictured the faces each child might make, based on that strata's ingredients. Not worth it. Let's stick with eggs, bread, sugar, and milk, for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

How King's website's version turned out

King's Hawaiian Bread French Toast

Large eggs

1/2 cup Milk

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla

1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon

1 tablespoon Butter

1 loaf of Hawaiian or Portuguese sweet bread

Slice bread crosswise so that each slice is about 1-inch thick. Cut larger slices into halves or thirds, if desired. Set aside.

In a shallow mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Mix occasionally to ensure it's well-blended.

Quickly dip slices (do not soak) in egg mixture and cook in frying pan until golden brown on both sides.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with warm coconut or maple syrup.

Mele kalikimaka!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Your Holidays

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I'm pretty sure I do a version of this post every year, but here goes 2016's edition! Recently King County Waste Less News sent out an email about greener holidays, and the first link I clicked on made me think there was not enough time in my day to be green. No, I will not be making my own gift bags this season:

Because these look better than re-using gift bags you already have in the closet?

And then there was the one about re-using metallic chip bags, with unspooled VCR tape as ribbon(!!!). It's a joke, right?

I guess if you're over 80 and still have VCR tapes sitting around and the time to pull the tape out of the plastic case and floof it into a decorative heap...and the gift has got to be pretty small to be wrapped in a rinsed-out potato chip bag.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a craft-y person, and I'm becoming more of a Grinch every year because I hate junk piling up. I hate plastic packaging; I hate plastic toys and things that break or get boring and then take up space for the rest of eternity; I hate clutter and things that don't have a function. I've even started purging our book collection because I love how my Kindle and its library take up no room. Because of my own aversions, I dislike giving people things that come in plastic packaging, break and take up space, or otherwise add to the clutter of the world. This includes electronics. If you saw my house, you wouldn't believe me, but it's because I live with four other people who don't share my love of spareness. Come visit me in a few decades, when I'm in the nursing home, and you'll see. It'll be some pictures on the wall, my Kindle, and a drawer full of socks and underwear. Done.

All of which is to say, if I could redesign Christmas, we'd only be allowed to give food, clothing, things that take up no room, and experiences. (If you still have little kids at home, you're stuck with plastic junk for a few more years, but maybe just let grandma and grandpa buy that stuff.)

How about a food gift basket? If you don't like to cook yourself, maybe you loaded up at the Bellevue Farmers Market before it closed.

Take one of those empty baskets you have laying around in the garage, from when someone gave you a gift basket, and fill it yourself with favorite foods. You wouldn't even need to do sweets, so they could enjoy it in January, after the sugar binge is over.

Or how about tickets to a local movie theater or live theater show or favorite spa? Maybe handmade coupons for something like dogsitting or babysitting or a ride to the airport. I see my kids' swim coaches spending lots of time reading on their Kindles at meets, so they usually get an ebook or Amazon $ and some suggested titles to enjoy. And there can always be something to open under the tree, even for the electronic or the intangible. Print out a picture of the non-physical item, box it up and you're good to go.

Every year I take pictures from the past twelve months and format them in a photo book for everyone to pore over. As the years go by, they make a nice collection.

Rather than have the season be about a quantity of expensive, useless gifts, build traditions throughout the month: videos you rotate through, certain cookies you bake and foods you eat, places and people you visit. The presents will be forgotten (until your kids are moving you to the home and have to dispose of all that junk in a yard sale), but the memories and habits prove more durable.

As a final suggestion, for those extended families who are up for something creative and less expensive, try a themed Christmas:

  • "Recycled" Christmas. (Re-)gift items you already have or that you found used at a thrift store or garage sale. No new items allowed. Recycled Christmases can be funny (white elephant) or as nice as possible.
  • "Together Time" Christmas. Skip the presents and rent/borrow a place to hang out all together for a couple days. Each branch of the family could plan an activity or game.
  • "Edible" Christmas. Only edible items allowed.

In any case, whatever you do this season, I hope you know to save any nice gift bags, tins, ribbons/bows, sturdy wrapping paper. Then, at least, next year you'll be spared having to do this:

Sing We Now of Christmas Cookies

Here it is, the last day of November, and the first Chris2014-jan-upload-005tmas cookie exchange of the season has already landed on my calendar. (Actually, the first first exchange happened in November, but I was overwhelmed and came empty-handed.) If you've ever found yourself worrying about upcoming cookie exchanges, I thought I'd share three tried-and-true recipes for different situations. But first, if you have any turkey left, may I recommend enchiladas? I tried this homemade sauce and it made the Pinterest cut because I'll certainly be making it again.

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Okay, so much for Thanksgiving. Back to cookies. Use a stand mixer for these, if you have one. Three recipes, three cookie exchanges--or three treats for you!

Your Basic Sugar Cookies

1 cup (two sticks) butter

2 c sugar

2 eggs

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

4 c flour

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla until well-combined. Sift together dry ingredients and add to wet mixture until well-incorporated. Refrigerate dough at least one hour. (I usually divide the dough into four portions and wrap them individually in plastic wrap, so I don't have to process all the cookies at once.) Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/4" thickness and cut out. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

When completely cooled, you can freeze the cookies to frost later, or go ahead and frost. We like to do a thinner frosting that hardens: 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 1-2 Tbsp milk, and artificial coloring, if desired.

(Thank you to M. V. for this now-traditional family recipe! Don't freeze this dough, or it will spread, but they keep in the fridge nicely overnight if you don't have time to do all the cookies at once. After they're frosted they can still be frozen, but they won't be as pretty.)

If you're looking for something even more arduous than frosted sugar cookies, I guarantee no one at your cookie exchange will have the following recipe, which I used to make for my husband's grad school advisor, a Jewish man from the Upper East Side (i.e., someone who knew his rugelach).

Polish Rugelach (adapted from Dec 1996 Bon Appetit)

DOUGH

1 c butter, room temperature

1 8-oz pkg cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 c sugar

2-3/4 c flour

1 tsp salt

FILLING

1 c sugar

1 c dried cranberries, diced

1 c chopped, toasted walnuts

2 Tbsp + 1/2 c melted butter

2-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1-1/4 tsp allspice

For dough: beat butter and cheese until light. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in flour and salt. Gather dough into a ball and knead until smooth. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Flatten each into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. (As with the sugar cookies, you can make the dough a day ahead.)

For filling: mix all and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F. Roll out a disk of dough until it's an 8" round. Spread 3 Tbsp filling over it, leaving 1/2" border. Cut the round into 8 wedges, like a pie. Starting at the wide end of the wedge, roll it up tightly like a crescent roll. Place cookies, tip pointing down, on ungreased baking sheet. Brush cookies with egg and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on racks.

The rugelach freeze well and are unbelievably tasty. Don't even waste your time eating bakery rugelach because you'll go away thinking you don't like rugelach, when, really, you don't like bakery cookies because they skimp on butter and expensive ingredients.

And then, lastly, I leave you with a relatively simple recipe that I usually whip up because it's the easiest but still looks festive. This one comes from Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook.

Almond-Toffee Triangles

BASE

2/3 c butter, softened

1/2 c brown sugar, packed

1/2 c corn syrup

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

2 c flour

1/2 tsp salt

TOPPING

1/3 c brown sugar, packed

1/3 c corn syrup

1/4 c butter

1/4 c heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 15-1/2" x 10-1/2" x 1" jelly roll pan or line it with aluminum foil.

Mix butter, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and egg in large bowl. Stir in flour and salt. Spread in prepared pan. Bake 18-20 minutes until light golden brown.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 c brown sugar and 1/3 c corn syrup in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Stir in 1/4 c butter and the cream. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Sprinkle almonds over the baked layer. Pour the cooked mixture over the almonds and spread evenly. Bake 15-20 minutes or until light brown and set. Cool completely. Cut into 6 rows by 4 rows; cut squares diagonally in half.

Image result for almond toffee triangles

Thanksgiving Traffic, News, and Weather

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If you're reading this post and considering when to head over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, I'm reposting these handy charts from WSDOT: i90ewed

if you head to the Tri-Cities, for example, today (on Wednesday, after school or work), and

i90eastthxgiving

if you go Thanksgiving morning. What the DOT doesn't mention is the weather report for the passes:

weather

Sorry for the eye chart there. The key details: lots of snow. As in, 100% on Thanksgiving Day. Therefore, you might trade traffic congestion for traffic congestion. I'm hoping the forecasters are wrong, like when they all freaked out about the Ginormous Windstorm to End All Windstorms that turned out to be less than your average stiff breeze.

In any case, pack snacks for the car, unless you want to arrive at your destination without the food you were supposed to contribute. And, speaking of contributions, my realtor Coco Fulton provided this year's pumpkin pie, thus checking one item off my to-do list. (I've replaced that to-do item with "replace tires," so we don't get stuck on the Pass. See above.)

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So much for the traffic and weather. On the Thanksgiving news front, in addition to commuting some prison sentences, President Obama also pardoned this year's turkey. And we can work off our food comas by seeing Moana, which opens today. There might be more news happening in the world, but this is supposed to be a Thanksgiving post...

Happy holiday and safe travels to all.

Thanksgiving Run-Up

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Just in time for the holidays, our outside freezer has busted. And, for complicated tax reasons, there will be no replacement until January. Truly a first-world problem, but, as I look at the crowding in my remaining side-by-side freezer, I can't help but pity myself. On the very first day of the Great Transfer I was digging something out of the bottom bin, and a loaf of bread that my daughter hadn't stuffed hard enough into the heap on the top shelf plummeted and knocked me silly. I guess I should be thankful it wasn't a frozen roast. All of which is to say, this Thanksgiving run-up I can't do my usual favorite thing of making lots ahead and freezing it. I did already bake the rolls (part of the overcrowding problem in the side-by-side), and the cranberry sauce is in the fridge because all the sugar would preserve it until 2018, but that's it.

Even the bundt cakes I had to bake for my oldest's swim team banquet had to be delivered to a friend's house for freezing:

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But let's assume you have a working freezer. That puppy can hold your rolls, your green-bean casserole, your baked or unbaked apple pie. You fridge, meanwhile, can stash the cranberry sauce, homemade salad dressing, and the best-ever "bean salsa" I found for you.

Freeze-Ahead Bread Machine Rolls

2-1/2 cups bread flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

2 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp softened butter

1 tsp salt

3 tsp bread machine yeast

1 cup warm water (nuke for one minute)

1 egg

Place all the ingredients in your bread machine and set on the dough cycle. When the cycle completes, remove the dough to a floured surface. Divide into 16 balls and set in a buttered 13x9 or 9x9 pan. Cover with a dish towel and let rise 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake rolls 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool thoroughly on rack.

Then load them in freezer bags and freeze until Thanksgiving. On that day, throw them on the counter to thaw. You can warm them up again in the oven, if there's any room in the oven. Otherwise, they're good to go! (I adapted this recipe from Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook, cutting the sugar and adding the whole wheat.)


Now, if you're anything like our family, Thanksgiving dinner isn't served until 2-3 in the afternoon, and you spend the day torn between wanting to eat a little (to take the edge off), but not enough to spoil the foodfest that awaits.

I have a solution. Around about 11, pull out this "bean salsa" that I recently got the recipe for.

Bean Salsa

1 can black beans, drained

1 can black-eyed peas, drained

1 can corn, drained

1 can white beans, drained

1/2 red onion, chopped fine

4-5 red or green jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

1 bunch cilantro

Dressing:

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sugar (I would reduce this to 1/2 cup and see what happens)

1 Tbsp hot sauce

salt and pepper, to taste

Mix the salsa ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients and pour over. Toss and serve with tortilla chips.

Happy prepping.

 

Disaster Preparedness Planning

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Yesterday, as Americans sat down to watch election returns, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on people stocking up in case of electoral disaster. The accompanying photo made me laugh food

because I'd actually purchased a bin of Legacy Foods off Amazon the other week. Not because I was fearful of our political future, but because our family has been getting ready for The Big One. As a fresh and homemade food fan, a bucket of freeze-dried entrees is far from appetizing, but fresh and homemade food might be hard to come by in the aftermath of a big event. The City of Bellevue advises having five days' worth of food on hand, but I've heard numbers up to two weeks.

Seriously, folks, if the Big One hits this winter and you haven't yet formalized your plans to emigrate to Canada, damaged roads and infrastructure will make it difficult to walk there, much less drive there.

At first I thought I'd stockpile canned food, but the options for canned are pretty limited. How many times do we want to eat oversalted chili and soup varieties? Canned foods also weigh a ton and take up tons of room. So, freeze-dried. But remember--if you buy freeze-dried, you're going to need water. Lots of it. But, in addition to hating pre-processed food, I'm anti plastic water bottles. And how many little water bottles will it take to rehydrate entrees for a family of five and however many neighbors show up?

Therefore you need a volume water filter. Something that can handle water you might find anywhere: in the Lake, in the creek running behind your house, in a standing pool in your yard.

We went for the five-gallon Berkey Bucket:

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So, if you're freaking out because Donald Trump was elected, channel your fear into disaster preparedness this week. And if you're pleased as punch by the voting results, celebrate by preparing for the Cascadia earthquake, an event as unpredictable, it seems, as American elections.

Why Diets Make Us Fat: Book Review

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As one of the few remaining people in America who've never seen a TED talk, I came upon Sandra Aamodt's fascinating research findings via a good old-fashioned book. dietsIt seems that 108 million Americans went on a diet in 2015. "Yet research shows that dieters almost always regain their lost weight within a few years, no matter which diet plan they follow. In fact, they often regain more weight than they've lost" (p2). This isn't news, right? Everyone who has dieted or who knows someone who has dieted has also probably known a yo-yoer. The questions seems to be how long of a string their yo-yo has: will the weight come back in six months? A year? Two years? Hard to say because, as Aamodt points out, most diet studies end after six months, when a reasonable success rate can still be claimed, and then by two years, the yo-yo has returned to its starting point (if not overshooting it), and the person has gone on to the next diet. Oh, the humanity.

What is Aamodt's response to the ineffective-diet dilemma? Stop dieting.

Why? Because it doesn't work.

Why doesn't it work? Isn't it just because I've tried the wrong diet, or I got stressed out and blew it and just need to get back on?

The brain has a body weight range that it prefers and will defend for each individual. The brain's weight-regulation system will maintain a stable, healthy weight for most people, if it is allowed to do its job without interference (p3).

There was good news and bad news in that statement. The good news: a body in tune to its hunger and fullness cues will maintain its preferred weight range, irrespective of occasional indulgences or lapses in trips to the gym. The bad news: if you're trying to go below your body's preferred weight range, you're fighting a losing battle.

Aamodt goes into a thorough discussion of the evolutionary purposes of how and why we gain weight under different circumstances, and how our body fights to maintain the preferred weight range. Sadly for us, living in our age of easy food abundance, while we cannot lower this preferred weight range, we can RAISE it by continual overeating and making temporary weight gains permanent. Bummer. The brain learns to defend the new higher weight.

When we diet, cutting calories and possibly increasing exercise, our body compensates. It makes us hungrier. It lowers our metabolism and energy levels. Maintaining the diet and fitness requirements requires active thought and effort, something our body tries to minimize when possible because they're energy-intensive. As a result, when a stress hits us, we lapse back into low-energy habits. Our willpower goes out the window as too expensive, energy-wise, and we wolf down whatever we can get our hands on. The yo-yo heads back upward.

Only 15 percent of dieters managed to maintain a weight at least 22 pounds below their starting point for three or more years. And the more weight people lose, the more likely they are to gain it back...Within four years, two out of five dieters end up heavier than they were before they lost weight. Deliberate attempts to become thinner strongly predict weight gain over the long term, even when researchers take initial weight, diet, and exercise habits into account. Because dieting is more likely to make people fatter than thinner in the long run, the increased prevalence of dieting over the past few decades may itself be one cause of the increase in the obesity rate. (pp20, 22)

What solutions does Aamodt offer?

  • Learn to accept your weight range. It doesn't necessarily mean you're in bad health, especially if you do exercise moderately.
  • Healthy is better than thin. "Women at the low end of the so-called normal range, with a BMI of 18.5 to 20, have the same risk of early death as women at the low end of the obese range, between 30 and 35" (p189). Who has the lowest risk? "People in the so-called overweight range," indicating the ranges are set too low.
  • Eat mindfully, to prevent your defended range from creeping up. Here the usual tips come in: use smaller plates, turn off the TV, wait five minutes before going back for more, stop when you're full. Develop new habits, since so much of eating is habitual. Don't practice deprivation; allow yourself your favorite foods, but stop when you've had enough. The first bites always taste the best anyhow--we just stop noticing and shovel the rest in.
  • Move around more. Don't become a crazy exerciser, because that just makes you hungrier and can't be maintained, in most cases. Just move more.

Diets do offer the comfort of those boiled-down rules and regulations, to be followed for however long you last on it, so Aamodt names four health habits which "predict much of the risk of dying over the next fourteen years, regardless of weight" (p202):

  1. Don't smoke.
  2. Exercise at least twelve times per month.
  3. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  4. Drink (wine), and do it moderately. <1 drink a day for women; 2 drinks per day for men.

Bummer for me, since I hate exercise and drink about a glass of wine per year, but there's still hope for the rest of you!

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Our Market may be over for the season (sniff!), but don't let that stop you from keeping up the good eating habits. Kick off your off-season with this Ham and Sweet Potato Hash that my whole family actually eats!

A Tale of Two Squashes

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Sigh. The final Bellevue Farmers Market of the 2016 season is upon us, and we face a November forecast of "equal chances of below normal, equal to, or above normal temperatures for the entire state" (OWSC). Ha ha. Meaning it will either be colder than normal, normal, or warmer than normal in November. Good job covering those bases, Washington State Climatologist! But they do predict more precipitation, which means, no matter the temperature, we'll be holing up indoors more. The official vegetable of Holing Up has got to be the squash.

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You can't just cut up a squash and eat it raw, dipped in ranch dressing. Squashes require planning and prep and sometimes long cooking times. (If you hate long cooking times, reach for the Delicata in the picture above.)

It so happened at the last Market that Adrienne's had pumpkin pies on offer, and that immediately gave me pumpkin pie on the brain. I had to have pumpkin pie! Well, I mentioned this craving to one of our farmers, and he pointed me to the pile of Kabocha squashes.

"I made a pie out of one of those squashes," he said, "and it tasted just like pumpkin pie. Once you add all the spices, you could use whatever squash you wanted. But the secret is our eggs. I used four of our eggs, instead of the the two the recipe called for."

What could I do? A need is a need. I bought the squash, and I bought a dozen eggs!

Now, the trick to squash is to cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and throw it in the slow cooker on LOW for a few hours. Piece of cake. Although, if you plan to eat it just like that, it would taste better roasted in the oven, for caramelization. Since I planned to pumpkin-pie my squash, the slow cooker worked just fine. And since the recipe only called for two cups of cooked "pumpkin," I had enough left over for a pumpkin-sausage pasta and still have another cup-and-a-half in the freezer.

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What I didn't have enough of was 9" pie pans. I had to use this too-large one; therefore my pie had no rim to it. No matter. I still managed to eat three-quarters of this pie entirely by myself over the course of five days. If the pie in the picture above were a clock face, I ate my way from noon to nine o'clock.

Pilgrim "Pumpkin" Pie (from the Good Housekeeping Cookbook)

one 9" pie crust, unbaked (used the recipe from The Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook)

2 cups mashed cooked squash or pumpkin

12-oz can evaporated milk

3 eggs (I didn't dare use four)

3/4 c packed brown sugar

1.5 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, with mixer at medium, beat pumpkin and remaining ingredients until well-mixed. Pour into your pie crust and bake 40 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

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The extra egg gave the pie more stiffness and a more custard-y flavor. Delicious. And even better the next day. And the day after.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to grab another squash or two to stock the pantry because my husband's butternut crop disappointed this year. Hope to run into you all one last time!

Five Reasons to Hit the Market Before It's Over for the Season

Only two Markets left for the 2016 season, and they'll be held, rain or shine. In fact, the only time I can remember the Market being cancelled was that one Saturday Market with the huge gusty winds which blew canopies away, turning them into projectile missiles... As the sun and pleasant temperatures give way to that monoseason which lasts from October to July, I thought you might need a little motivating to get out there two more times:

ONE: The apple pie contest was moved to this week, October 20! It's not too late to turn out and have your mouth water while you look on.

apple_pie

TWO: It's time to stock up. Last year I experimented with "cold storage" for apples. I put a cooler outside and put a couple bags in and then just ate them at a regular rate. Worked just fine. This frees up refrigerator space for the bags of pears and Asian pears! Potatoes also keep fine in the fridge, and we let squash go all winter just sitting on the floor in the pantry.

THREE: Disaster preparedness! In our home I've been assigned gathering canned/boxed food in case of The Big One. Clearly last Saturday's storm was not The Big One, which means it's still out there. If this nameless disaster were to hit today, based on the current pantry ingredients, my family would be thrown back on lots of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, tuna, a can of coconut milk, and some strange parsley sauce that was on clearance at QFC. Our Market offers tuna, of course, in more flavors and varieties than the grocery store, as well as pickled foods in jars, beef and tuna jerky, jams and honey, and beverages. Because if the power is going to be out or you've been pinned under a fallen bookcase, you might as well live a little.

preparedness

FOUR and FIVE and FIVE-POINT-FIVE: Because walking and vegetables and wine will improve your health. Read a great book this week, which I'll write more about later, but the author's main point was that "healthy habits matter more than weight." And, according to author Sandra Aamodt, "four health habits predict much of the risk of dying over the next fourteen years, regardless of weight." These silver bullets are: (1) not smoking; (2) exercising at least twelve times a month; (3) eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day; and (4) light to moderate drinking. The Market can't help you with your smoking habit, but walking the stalls can be part of your exercising, and there are fruits, vegetables, and wine bottles galore. (FYI, "light to moderate drinking" was defined as a glass of wine per day for women and two glasses for men.)

So you see, I've turned the last couple weeks of the Market into a life-or-death situation for you. So please--choose life!

Comfort Me With Apples (and a Little Kale)

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Don't forget! The first annual Bellevue Farmers Market Apple Pie Contest is this Thursday, and all pies must be sitting in the judges' tent by 5:00 pm for consideration! Remember, you can win for "Best Presentation," "Best 'Tried and True' Apple," and/or "Best 'Anything Goes' Apple," which had me wondering if anyone has yet attempted an apple and squash pie. Remember when Ma Ingalls made a mock apple pie out of unripe pumpkin, and Pa cried jubilantly, "You can't beat the Scotch!"? Something along those lines... charlescarolineingalls_2

Besides apple pie, nothing says fall and imminent-weekend-wind-and-rainstorm like roasts and stews and heartier vegetables. It's time to put away the kale salad recipes and try something warmer, which I did, when Market Director Natalie handed me a bunch of kale on my way out last week. This New York Times recipe for Sautéed Kale was delicious--I only wished I had two bunches because (1) kale cooks down, and (2) my husband and I liked it so much we didn't get to eat all we wanted.

kale

 

Sautéed Kale

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed, with leaves coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and red-pepper flakes to taste
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

Heat olive oil over medium high. Sauté garlic until fragrant. Throw in kale and broth and swish around to coat. Cover and cook about five minutes, until wilted. Then uncover and stir-fry until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat and season to taste. Mix in vinegar.

Don't say I didn't warn you to double it...

I've also seen some nice baby bok choy from our farmers, so we enjoyed this recipe last night from Cook's Illustrated. (I'd add the link, except they charge for admission. Here's the version I made from a page torn out of the magazine.)

Sesame-Soy-Glazed Baby Bok Choy

  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil, separated
  • 4-5 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 slice ginger, minced (optional)
  • 2 medium scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Combine soy sauce, broth, vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar in small bowl.

Heat skillet over medium-high until hot. Add 2 Tbsp vegetable oil and swirl to coat pan. Place bok choy in skillet, cut side down, in single layer if it fits. (If it doesn't, don't stress.) Cook without touching for 2 minutes. Then flip bok choy and cook on the other side another minute. Remove to platter.

Add garlic, ginger, scallions, and remaining Tbsp oil. Cook 20 seconds or until fragrant. Add soy sauce mixture and simmer until reduced. Return bok choy to pan and swish till coated. Turn off heat. Sprinkle on sesame seeds and serve.

Yum. We've going to have both those recipes again, now that I've typed them up and made my mouth water. And speaking of mouth-watering, don't forget that apple pie judging begins promptly at 5:30! Stand around and you may catch some crumbs or be able to wheedle a slice off a winner.

When Fall Hits Your Eye Like a Big Apple Pie

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Don't know if you saw the sign at the Market last week, but it contained two magic words: "pie" and "contest." photo-18

No way! Bellevue Farmers Market's 1st Annual Apple Pie Baking Contest??? Whole novels and movies are based on this scenario: the modest baker who enters a baking contest on a whim and becomes rich and famous. This could your shot at stardom, people. Or, at least, bragging rights. There's even a category for "Best Presentation," like a beauty contest for pies. Your pie might be gorgeous but with a terrible personality, and it can still win. Or, it might be homely but radiate inner beauty in the "'Tried and True' Apple" or "'Anything Goes' Apple" categories. Or, you might have baked the pie-to-end-all-pies, a winner in both the beauty and the taste contest.

You do need to pre-register for the October 13th showdown here, a rule designed to prevent the unscrupulous among us from buying a last-minute prize-winner over at the Adrienne's Cakes & Pies table and presenting it to the judges. This means you should sign up and buy your apples this week, so you're ready to go.

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Ask our farmers which are their favorite varieties for baking!

I should mention that first prize winners could walk away with $30 Market gift certificates, but we all know it's about the glory.

Not to give away my game, but I hold the firm opinion that the best pie crust can be found in the good old Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook. That would be Joyce's Never-Fail Pie Crust on page 71. And I should know -- ever since Joyce passed her recipe on to our family, we have made no other kind of crust, and it was I who submitted it to the cookbook to share the wealth.

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Keep in mind as well, that "Anything Goes" contest category. The Market abounds with creative possible additions to apple pie, both sweet and savory.

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There was one question the Market FAQ didn't answer about the Contest: is it too late to be chosen as a judge? My recommendation: if you'd like to be a judge at the 2nd Annual Apple Pie Baking Contest, volunteer as a Marketeer next season! You can, however, wheedle little tastes of pie from all the bakers because they each get to take 7/8 of their creations home afterward.

One Month to Go

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Somehow another Market season has gone whipping by, but before we reach Closing Day on Thursday, October 27, I wanted to mention a few must-tries for your shopping list. Nashi pear.jpg

  1. Asian Pears. Whoa. Martin Family Orchards had them last week, and I made the mistake of only buying three. These guys are juicy, crisp, sweet, and delicious.

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  2. Pumpkin Pie pops! This sounds like a treat straight out of Harry Potter. My daughter went with strawberry, but I'm hoping she'll give this one a try in the remaining month.

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  3. Adrienne's cherry pie. Now, I've never tasted anything I didn't like from Adrienne's Cakes & Pies, but the little cherry pie she had the other week really hit the spot. Maybe because it'd been years since I had cherry pie (it not being my husband's favorite). No sooner was it gone than I couldn't wait and had to go buy the ingredien ts to make my owncherry pie. I hadn't made a pie in almost a year, but I had to have another cherry pie immediately. That's how good Adrienne's pie was! I also used the promise of homemade cherry pie as a bribe to get my folks up to watch the kids while we're out of town, and it worked. So Adrienne's pie not only inspired me to make pie again, but also improved my life by allowing me to go on a mini-vacation. Top that!

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  4. Salmon and grass-fed beef for the freezer and tuna for the pantry. As most of us know by now, Americans get way too many omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, and high omega-6 ratios have been tied to inflammation, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, obesity, depression, and bipolar disorder! In eons past, the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s we consumed was around 1:1, but with all the vegetable oils, seeds feed to livestock, and processed foods that make up the modern diet, the ratio has skewed to 1:10. Yikes. Fight back with foods high in omega-3s. Lots of fish, yes, but don't forget that grass-fed beef is another omega-3 powerhouse.

Five Markets to go...let's make the most of them.