It's Quite Obvious It's Not Butter - Fake Food 2019-Style

Remember the height of the anti-fat craze, when butter was considered so bad for you, and we hastened to switch to fake butter and to substitute sugar and carbs for the fat in processed foods? That didn’t work out so well for us in the health department, or in the taste department. I couldn’t quite handle Parkay Margarine, but I do remember buying little tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

The one-time bad guy, straight out of a noir film [Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash  ]

The one-time bad guy, straight out of a noir film [Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash ]

I ate fake butter. I drank watery, nonfat milk. I cooked with tofu at least twice a month. I even tried a recipe or two with that TVP (textured vegetable protein) stuff, the original fake meat. Once was enough. I didn’t even like TVP when I used it to stretch actual meat. And a friend made the wise remark, “It’s better just to eat things for themselves, not things trying to be other things.”

I bring all this up because one of the hot food trends of 2019 is fake meat. What exactly is this newest version of fake meat? Good question. Take the meat-ish product produced by Impossible Foods, Inc. If you watch the promotional video, as I did, you’ll learn their “beef” is made of wheat and potato protein, mixed with amino acids, binders, sugar, coconut oil, soy, and—the magic ingredient—”heme.” Heme is the protein molecule found in hemoglobin (and other places) that turns blood red and carries oxygen around.

Impossible patties

Impossible patties

They certainly look more appealing than TVP anything, and since I’m not averse to black-bean burgers occasionally, I definitely will give one a try in the future. At a recent gathering of about 120 people, I asked for a show of hands: who has tasted this latest trend of fake meat? About five people, or, 4% of those present. Not bad for January 15.

The rationale for fake meat is environmental. Conventionally-raised cattle take a hefty environmental toll, and all the corn they’re fed makes the meat not so good for you either. Of course, the pastured meat we are privileged to buy at the Bellevue Farmers Market is exempt on both counts: no crowded feedlot and no corn, soy, or antibiotics. But there’s no denying that old-fashioned pastured meat is expensive and not a global possibility anymore. As a meat fan, I fully intend to keep eating meat, the good stuff, for as long as I can afford it. But, as a planet fan, I don’t mind eating vegetarian a couple times a week (more, when I ship the teenage boy off to college).

So put “try fake meat” on my 2019 to-do list. It just may be possible to have our burger and eat it too.

Gardening Baby New Year

Before you ask the doctor for that round of antibiotics to treat that cold you picked up over the holidays, blow your nose and read this book:

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Diversity is the answer to everything, it seems. World peace, weeds, robust ecosystems, soil fertility, pathogens. I think I’ve told you that I’m no fan of antibacterial soap. I would politely thank my mother-in-law for the bottle of whatever antibacterial, Bath-and-Body-Works, super-synthetic, overfragranced soap she would give me at Christmas, but then refill it with run-of-the-mill, this-barely-works-for-beans liquid soap as soon as the original contents ran out. Diversity is our friend. And that goes for the thousands (no joke) of bacteria varieties colonizing our homes and bodies.

(Parenthetical note about handwashing:

Hand washing prevents the spread of pathogens and saves many lives a year, but it doesn’t do so by sterilizing your hands. Instead, hand washing appears to remove microbes that have newly arrived, but not yet established on the hands. For example, when scientists experimentally put nonpathogenic E. coli on people’s hands, washing with soap and water removed much of the E. coli. It didn’t matter if the water was cold or hot. It didn’t matter for how long people washed (so long as it was at least twenty seconds). Also, ordinary bar soap was more effective than antimicrobial soap at getting rid of the E. coli. (p.250)

Yay, bar soap! I love bar soap!)

Twenty seconds of soap and water. [Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash  ]

Twenty seconds of soap and water. [Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash ]

According to Rob Dunn, doctors in the late ‘50s were struggling with certain Staphylococcus aureus type 80/81 infections of newborns in their hospitals. They did various experiments that wouldn’t meet current standards of medical ethics and came to the realization that, if newborn babies’ bodies were first colonized by beneficial bacteria, 80/81 couldn’t get enough of a toehold to infect anyone. Bacterial diversity provided protection against a particular pathogen. Invasive species have a hard time taking over a field full of lots of different plants, grazed by different herbivores. But an empty field? Or one planted with only one crop? Easy pickings.

When we pump that antibacterial soap and squirt that antibacterial cleanser, we might get rid of certain harmful bacteria, but we’re also wiping out the good guys. Then, on our newly clean surface (i.e., our empty field), when something like E. coli wanders over, it finds lots of room to spread out and set up shop. The result? We get sick.

Same thing goes for when we kill our gut bacteria willy-nilly. Hence everyone downing the latest, trendy probiotic foods to try to pump up diversity. And the evil bacteria we were targeting in the first place only mutate, share the trait, and come roaring back stronger.

What are the best ways to increase diversity in order to prevent the bad guys from taking over? Dunn offers some suggestions.

  • Eating fermented foods made by hand is a good place to start. In fermented foods, like sourdough bread, they find that the flavor is influenced by the microbes present in the flour, on the baker’s hands, and in the bakery itself. Part of why a particular cook’s foods taste a particular way might be because of the particular microbes she and her kitchen pass along!

  • Leave the windows open, to bring more environmental goodies into the house.

  • Wash dishes by hand to prevent “the fungus that lives in dishwashers” everywhere(!).

  • Get a pet.

  • Plant a diverse garden.

  • Buy local foods, covered in local soil and microbes.

So garden your home and body, this new year, with plenty of diverse microbes, and keep the bad guys at bay!

New Year, New Thoughts on GMOs

This past summer, my family was in Bend, Oregon, where we explored some lava tubes. It wasn’t particularly thrilling, but the ranger talk beforehand addressed the plight of the area’s bats. Like bats across America, they were in danger of “White-nose syndrome,” a deadly fungal infection which we cave explorers might unwittingly carry on our clothing or gear, from other caves we’d explored. Hey, I’ve read The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, and I know the efforts to prevent invasive species from spreading to new territories is well nigh impossible, so it’s just a matter of time before the Bend, Oregon, lava-tube bats succumb to white-nose syndrome.

Or is it?

I kicked off the new year by reading an exciting book that got me re-thinking genetic engineering of the natural world:

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Kornfeldt, a Swedish science journalist, kicks off the book with a bang, talking about a Siberian scientist’s efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth and restore a Pleistocene ecosystem, thus saving (or helping to save) the planet. In brief, because ancient DNA can’t just be purchased, fully intact and ready-for-prime-time at the corner drugstore, little dribs and drabs and bits and pieces have to be revived through insertion in living cells. Say, those of the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative: the Asian elephant. We don’t get the actual woolly mammoth living again, but rather a new creature bearing genetic similarities. I will leave you to read this wonderful book on your own and draw your own conclusions, but I have to say, after Kornfeldt talked about the impact of species “resurrection” on other fields, I was won over.

Take the plants and animals wiped out by invasive species, for instance. Those poor little bats, say, or the American Chestnut tree, which used to account for 25% of American deciduous forest cover, before fungal infection introduced by the imported Asian Chestnut tree decimated billions of American Chestnuts in fifty years. The American Chestnut didn’t have millions of years to evolve resistance to that dumb fungus, so it wiped them out. But what if we introduced, through genetic modification, just that ability? What if we revived the American Chestnut?

Chestnuts provided food for everything from squirrels, passenger pigeons, and insects to people. They were considered tastier than the European variety and were ground into flour for cakes, roasted over open fires, candied, or used in brewing. The timber was used in house building and the bark for tanning leather.

We need this tree back!

Families chestnutting, baby! [Thanks, Wikipedia]

Families chestnutting, baby! [Thanks, Wikipedia]

And we can have the American Chestnut back, through genetic modification. After disappointing efforts to hybridize American and Asian chestnut trees, the rescue changed directions. Scientist William Powell has been working on implanting a single gene, found in wheat, strawberries, bananas, and some other plants, that fights off various fungal diseases. Letting the American Chestnut benefit from the evolutionary and breeding know-how of other plants, that is.

Now, when we foodie types think of GMOs, we rear up in protest because we’re thinking of crops genetically modified to withstand repeated deluges of pesticides. Nobody wants that, obviously. But what about GMOs that are GM-ed to bolster resistance to invasive diseases and species? What about GMOs that are GM-ed to even the playing field in our new, globalized world?

Kornfeldt was very diligent in mentioning the fears and hazards of “playing God” with nature, but, to paraphrase someone she interviewed, we’ve already been playing God, but just not doing it very well. It’s not like nature and the planet are in tiptop shape at this point, so how can we use our new technologies and understanding for good? Let’s save our bats and our native species. If we’re going to mess with genetic engineering, let’s try to save some of our remaining planetary companions.

Read the book, if you get a chance. And, if you want to thank me, you can send along a genetically-modified American Chestnut sapling.

Guilty Pleasures

We live in a high-guilt world. Last night was my book club’s annual cookie exchange, accompanied by a white-elephant gift exchange, appetizers, a puzzle exchange, and, of course some book discussion.

Our cookies looked just about this good. [Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash  ]

Our cookies looked just about this good. [Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash ]

Plenty of sweets were consumed. Plenty of sweets were exchanged for later consumption. There was even some parenting guilt, as one member shared about writing letters for her children to read in future, and others of us realized a child or two of our own didn’t even have baby books, for Pete’s sake, never mind letters packed with love and wisdom. (My third child’s baby book has the ultrasound picture pasted into a blue book—I thought she was going to be a boy—and there the book ends. Mommy loves you.) Even the month’s book choice was something of a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t Literature, but rather a fun little rom-com set during WWII (which we gave high ratings and recommend):

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I’m not big into guilt. Every holiday food extravaganza is more than made up for by January austerity in our house, but I did stumble upon this interesting food-guilt calculator. (That isn’t what they call it, but that’s its basic intent.) Not guilt in terms of calories or nutrient paucity, but guilt in terms of carbon footprint. Check it out here. That habit I have, of drinking tea twice a day? For its production and processing and transport, it’s equal to 30kg of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Helpfully (or not helpfully), they translate this into driving a car 78 miles or heating an average home in the UK for four days. Well, that’s annoying. But suppose you don’t want to give up tea? It would’ve been nice to know if switching to loose tea (less processing?) brought the numbers down.

Apparently rice is harder on ye olde planet than potatoes, and dark chocolate once a day is BAD EARTH NEWS:

  • 116 kg of greenhouse gas emissions annually

  • equivalent to driving a car 296 miles

  • equivalent to heating that stupid UK home 18 days, and

  • dark chocolate also sucks up 1,937 liters of water, as if you took 29 eight-minute showers!

Planet-destroying lovers of chocolate, unite! [Photo by  Simone van der Koelen  on  Unsplash  ]

Planet-destroying lovers of chocolate, unite! [Photo by Simone van der Koelen on Unsplash ]

Who needs such an annoying site? But, if your guilty pleasure is feeling guilty about things and then making no changes, it’s kind of fun to plug things in. I’m frankly more bothered by plastic packaging than dark chocolate. You wanna save the earth? Reduce your purchases of food and drink in disposable or plastic packaging. As you’ve probably heard, microplastics move up the food chain. They’re in our food, our drinking water, our poop.

This holiday season, go ahead and reach for that extra cookie or two. Go ahead and try that homemade peppermint bark. But, if no one else gets you one for Christmas, treat yourself as well to a metal water bottle, some glass or metal food containers, and a reusable coffee mug for those Starbucks runs. Here was my late father-in-law’s favorite, which fit his morning Venti:

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That’s all until January 2 (no post next week). Wishing you great, guilt-free holidays!

Gift Guide 2018

Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest you give away anything you bought at this year’s Bellevue Farmers Market and have been hoarding to tide you over until May 2019. My cans of St. Jude tuna and my jars of market-made jam aren’t going anywhere but in my family’s bellies. But Christmas is still coming and there are other gifts to be given.

Here. It’s not tuna, but I promise it’s still good. [Photo by  Kira auf der Heide  on  Unsplash   ]

Here. It’s not tuna, but I promise it’s still good. [Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash ]

For Someone Who Cooks:

A copy of a favorite cookbook. The one you have in your kitchen with the stained pages falling out and which naturally falls open to your most-frequently-made recipe. My sister mentioned that she and her husband were going to try going vegetarian for a while in January, so I quickly got her a copy of my much-much-used Deborah Madison. And, before I wrap it, I’m going to take a highlighter to the index to mark recipes I know they’ll enjoy.

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A homemade mix for something. Those soups-in-a-jar are always fun to get, but I was making pancakes this morning and thought it’d be fun to get a pancake or waffle mix that had the grains already mixed up for you, along with baking soda, baking powder, salt, and a little sugar. The recipient would just add the wet ingredients: butter/milk, two eggs, vanilla.

For example, a mix for the Deborah Madison pancakes I made would include:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup spelt flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1/4 cup oat flour

1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp nutmeg

On the little label you include, you’d ask them to add 3 Tbsp melted butter, two eggs, 1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 cup milk (or all milk, but they come out flatter). Optional ingredients would be a sprinkling of sliced banana or blueberries. Mix all the ingredients and drop by 1/4 cupfuls on a medium-hot griddle. Proceed as normal for pancakes!

Your favorite kitchen utensil. Do you always reach for a particular spatula first? A certain pair of tongs? Have you, in the space of a month, managed to melt both your meat thermometers (ahem)? Chances are, if you like the design and functionality of that puppy, another cook will too.

[Photo by  Caroline Attwood  on  Unsplash   ]

[Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash ]

And how about gifts for the person who doesn’t cook much?

If they like to read and love history and/or southern food, this memoir was wonderful:

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Chef and history re-enactor Michael W. Twitty goes in search of both family history and food history and finds how they intertwine. This book will make you want to eat, cry, travel to the south, travel to Africa, get your DNA done, and grow a garden.

Or say your recipient wanted to visit Paris but is now scared off by yellow-vest rioters. Maybe this gift could remove some of the disappointment:

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The French-and-American author couple go from pre-Roman times right up to the present, regaling us with lots of mini food histories, collisions of culture, and who-knew? moments. Great fun.

And finally, if your loved one doesn’t cook much and doesn’t read much, but strangely you still like to hang out with such a person, there’s always a gift certificate for dinner at your house or a meal delivered to them. Because who doesn’t love home-cooked food?

Have a great week.

The Day the Beef Ran Out

I was reading an article this morning on Food Dive, about how, in order to feed every last of the projected ten billion mouths on the planet by 2050, the whole world food system must be rethought.

What’s for dinner?   [Photo by  chuttersnap  on  Unsplash  ]

What’s for dinner? [Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash ]

Of course, the historical answer to food shortage questions has always been, the rich and powerful will eat (e.g., most Americans and citizens of the West, along with the power elite of the developing world), while the rest of the folk scramble or starve. And I’m sure plenty of this will happen in 2050. But suppose we wanted to think globally, for novelty’s sake? The World Resources Institute, the World Bank Group, United Nations Environment, the United Nations Development Program and two French agricultural groups got together to study and make suggestions, taking into account the increasing pressures of climate change.

After six years of research and modeling, the report shows there is no one solution, Searchinger said. Some of the report's directives include producing more crops, meat and milk on the same land, reducing both food waste and demand for beef and lamb, and using technology to reduce emissions. 

I’m on board with those directives, but I don’t know about reducing demand for beef. (Lamb, no problem. You are welcome to our share of the world’s lamb.) I think of my own household, where we probably eat beef twice a week. The only way we could reduce that number would be to get rid of my teenage son (which we plan on doing when he goes to college next year). He swims competitively and vacuums up the meat, especially beef. Of course, sending him to college only transfers the beef-consumption problem to the dining hall, and I’m betting they can’t afford to buy the earth-friendly, omega-3-rich, grass-fed beef we have at home, but I sure as heck don’t want to buy it for ALL those teenage boys with my tuition fees. (Back to the rich only wanting to feed themselves.) Maybe the world will do a version of what we do in my house: funnel most of the beef toward the one who needs it most. Growing boys, women low on iron, competitive athletes.

Last night, since I was making broccoli-beef stir fry, I knew my youngest daughter wouldn’t eat the beef, so I added a veggie curry. Everyone was happy. And, since the vegetable curry just sat in the crock-pot, it wasn’t a problem.

If you don’t have an ardent beef-eater in your house, give this recipe a try:

Vegetable and Chickpea Curry

(adapted from Cooking Light magazine)

1 Tbsp olive oil

one chopped medium onion

2 carrots, sliced

1/2 Tbsp curry powder

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1-1/2 cups cubed potato

1 c diced bell pepper

1 c green beans, cut in 1” segments

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

dash cayenne pepper

half-can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 cup chicken broth

1-2 c fresh spinach leaves

1/2 cup coconut milk

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Saute onions and carrots till tender, about five minutes. Add curry powder through jalapeno and cook one minute, stirring.

Dump mixture in slow-cooker. Stir in garbanzo beans through broth. Cover and cook on HIGH 6 hours. Add spinach and coconut milk and stir until the spinach wilts. Serve with rice.

***

The recipe is pretty versatile and makes a nice sauce. I could see adding chunks of sweet potatoes next time. If your family likes/tolerates tofu, you could add tofu in the last hour. Maybe some broccoli.

Even my beef-eater picked out the carrots and the potatoes from the veggie curry, so everyone got something and no one went away hungry. Which is our worldwide goal, I imagine.

Les Cochons dans une Couverture

I’m guessing there’s no exact French translation for “pigs in a blanket,” but when I served these Prosciutto Palmiers at Thanksgiving, one guest said, “They’re like fancy pigs in a blanket!” Which I took to be a total compliment because who doesn’t love pigs in a blanket?

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Not only were the cochons delicious, they were also super easy, and I plan on making them again in December for my book club’s hors d’oeuvres party and cookie exchange.

Prosciutto Palmiers

  • one box of puff pastry (make sure it’s made with butter)

  • 1/4 c honey mustard (or make your own mix of Dijon, honey, and a glop of mayo)

  • one package thinly-sliced prosciutto (about 5.something ozs)

  • 1 c grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1 egg

  • 2 tsp water

Allow the puff pastry to thaw in the fridge. Taking one sheet at a time, roll it out a little, into a slightly larger rectangle. Spread lightly with honey mustard, nearly to edges. Place prosciutto slices to cover rectangle, one layer thick. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll carefully and as snugly as you can from the outer, long edge to the center line on one side. Then do the same for the other side. Cut the rolled pastry in 1/2” slices with a serrated knife and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Mix egg and water. Brush palmiers with egg wash and bake at 400F for 10-15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve at room temperature.

Our youngest guest’s post-Celebrity overload

Our youngest guest’s post-Celebrity overload

Hope everyone’s holiday was a wild success. We did end up playing Celebrity, which I posted about last week, and the fun of it more than made up for the crock-pot of Mable Hoffman’s corn stuffing balls which I totally forgot to plug in. (I told everyone to pace themselves and popped them in the oven. When seconds came around, the stuffing balls were ready. And tasty!)

Pace yourself, this holiday season, and feed your family good food.

Fun and Games for After Dinner

Apart from eating like there’s no tomorrow, other Thanksgiving traditions might include flopping on the couch to watch football or going for a walk before flopping on the couch to watch football. Maybe you watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles to get in the spirit and because you can’t recall another movie set at Thanksgiving, off the top of your head. Maybe you even lift the ban on Christmas music after dinner or pop in the first Christmas video. Basically, it’s all about stalling until you have enough room in your stomach for the pies.

What the table might look like, if you have decorating genius, which I don’t. [Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash  ]

What the table might look like, if you have decorating genius, which I don’t. [Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash ]

I wanted to offer more possibilities, since Thanksgiving often gives families permission to be a little cheesy or to guilt teenagers off their phones. You may have too many around your table for board games, but if you have anywhere from 6-25 folks, give these a try:

Celebrity

  1. Cut up paper into uniform, smaller pieces. (Like an 8.5x11 sheet folded into 1/16ths. That is, folded in half four times and cut.)

  2. Give every player a handful of the pieces and a pen.

  3. On each piece of paper, the player thinks of a celebrity. You can set rules for how a “celebrity” is defined. We usually say someone at least one other person has heard of. Write the name on the paper, fold it in half, and put it in a bag.

  4. Once everyone has thought of several celebrities and put all their names in the same bag, you are ready for Round One.

  5. ROUND ONE. Divide into 2-3 teams. The play rotates among teams, and, within a team, the play rotates among the members. When a team is up, their player has ONE MINUTE to play. He pulls a piece of paper out of the bag and describes that person to the group until they guess it. Passing is not allowed. For example, if the name is Bing Crosby, you could say, “He sings ‘White Christmas.’” If you don’t know who the celebrity is, you could say, “The first name is a kind of cherry. The last name sounds like the TV comedian who was charged with drugging and assaulting women.” If the rest of his team guesses the name, the player throws that name off to the side and pulls another one out of the bag. He does as many names as he can get his team to guess in that ONE MINUTE. Then play rotates to the next team.

  6. ROUND TWO. Once all the names have been played in round one, all the pieces of paper are returned to the bag for the second round. In the second round, you have the same celebrities, but this time the player can only say ONE WORD to get his team to guess the name! Be careful picking your word! Many painful minutes have whiled away when the player blurts out a word that no one can connect to the original name. Taking the Bing Crosby example, you could say, “Cherry.” If your team was paying attention, they should be able to make the connection. Again, do as many names as you can in a minute, and then play passes to the next team.

  7. ROUND THREE. Once again, all the names are returned to the bag. In this round, you still have one minute, and this time you must ACT OUT the name, like in Charades. No sound effects or talking is allowed. For the Bing Crosby example, you could pretend to sing into a microphone.

A couple parting thoughts on Celebrity: when you come across duplicates, toss them. Don’t make names too easy, or there’s no challenge.

This guy would be a good name to put in the bag, if you could remember which pope we’re on.

This guy would be a good name to put in the bag, if you could remember which pope we’re on.

In the Manner of the Word

Another fun one for the whole group. You send one person out of the room at a time, and the remaining folks decide on an adverb. Say, “emphatically.” Then you call the person back into the room to guess the adverb. How? Well, the guesser can turn to any person or people in the room and get help. For example, they could say, “Jim, brush your teeth in the manner of the word.” And Jim would have to do his best to brush his teeth emphatically. If the guesser has no clue what Jim was trying to convey, he could turn to others and say, “Aunt Kathy and Uncle Ray, talk about football in the manner of the word.” Kathy and Ray would go to town, doing their best to talk about football emphatically. You keep going until the guesser guesses the adverb correctly.

Tip: don’t make it too easy, because most of the fun is in watching people try to do ridiculous things in the manner of the word.

Aunt Kathy, Uncle Ray, and thousands of friends, watching the game in the manner of the word

Aunt Kathy, Uncle Ray, and thousands of friends, watching the game in the manner of the word

Have a great Thanksgiving, all!

The Thanksgiving Countdown

Thanksgiving always seems to come at the exact right time—meaning, when everything looks pretty grim. This year is no exception, with its wildfires, its everyone-hates-everyone-else politics, its what-else-can-go-wrong-with-the-Mariners-now developments. It sounds like we could use a holiday about gratitude and gathering with people we love (or are supposed to love) to share a meal.

Nice pic, Priscilla.  [Photo by  Priscilla Du Preez  on  Unsplash  ]

Nice pic, Priscilla. [Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash ]

What’s on your menu? And what can you get started on now, to relieve the actual Day? So far I’ve got rolls and green bean casserole in the freezer. Cranberry sauce made. Pie crust dough standing by.

We’re a one-oven house, so I’m thinking of trying two sides in the slow cookers: mashed potatoes and stuffing, and I’ve farmed out the spinach salad to guests.

Join me in giving this Mable Hoffman recipe a try?

Mable Hoffman — if you have a crock-pot, you’ve got one of her cookbooks somewhere

Mable Hoffman — if you have a crock-pot, you’ve got one of her cookbooks somewhere

Mable Hoffman’s Corn Stuffing Balls

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 c chopped celery, with leaves

1 17-oz can creamed corn

1/4 c water

1/8 tsp pepper

1 tsp poultry seasoning

2 c (or 8 ozs) herb-seasoned stuffing mix

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 c butter, melted

In a bowl, combine everything but the melted butter. Form into 8 balls. Place in bottom of a slow cooker. Spoon the melted butter over the stuffing balls. Cover and cook on LOW 3.5 - 4 hours.

***

I was originally going to make a corn casserole recipe I saw, but then I considered the oven real-estate shortage and changed my mind.

Happy week-before, folks. Oh—and one other last-minute tidbit: at QFC last week, I saw turkey-shaped butter! That is, butter which had been shaped in plastic turkey-shaped molds. And it was real butter, just cream and salt. I’m not crazy about adding more plastic packaging to the world, and the kids will surely fight over who gets to whack off the turkey’s neck, but maybe the butter-turkey can absorb some of the political aggression around the table…?

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When Life Hands You Leftovers

Monday found me with a fridge full of:

3/4 c refried beans

1.5 c cooked chicken

1/2 c chili mac

1.5 c butternut squash gratin

That is, not enough of anything to make a complete second meal. Most people in these circumstances would either (1) toss everything in the yard waste or (2) make rock soup. However, (1) I hate to waste food, and (2) my teenage son has complained so bitterly lately if I make soup (it’s not filling enough for a swimming boy) that I didn’t dare.

Enter, enchiladas.

These are not what mine looked like, but I forgot to take a pic. These are Alexandra’s.  [Photo by  Alexandra Golovac  on  Unsplash  ]

These are not what mine looked like, but I forgot to take a pic. These are Alexandra’s. [Photo by Alexandra Golovac on Unsplash ]

Enchiladas, after all, use ingredients commonly on hand (at least in our house). Like tortillas from the freezer. Cheese to shred. Salsa. I had no enchilada sauce, of course, and didn’t want to go to the store for it, so I whipped out this recipe I’ve used before and found perfectly interchangeable:

Homemade Enchilada Sauce

2 Tbsp oil

2 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne powder

2 c water

6 ozs can tomato paste

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp salt

Heat oil, flour, and chili powder in a large saucepan and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

***

I find this recipe makes enough for two batches of enchiladas. Anyhow, for Leftover Enchiladas, you just combine your random assortment of refrigerator offerings, add a little salsa and shredded cheese, and then spoon 1/2 cup down the center of each large tortilla and roll up. Pour enchilada sauce over. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes, covered, and then remove the cover for another 5 minutes until the cheese melts. Often I’ll even broil it at the end, to make the cheese nice and toasty.

The good news? My teenage son, who wouldn’t touch the butternut squash gratin, obliviously consumed it when it was mixed with other ingredients he liked. I might never purposely make enchiladas again. I’ll just wait and see what my fridge accumulates and whip up another batch.

Have a great week, and don’t let any food go to waste!

Halloween Party Treats

Wishing everyone a Happy Halloween, and I hope you still have some candy left to hand out, if anyone comes by. We ate through our first batch (a bag of Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins and one of Twix), which I foolishly bought a week ago. Either they don’t put as many in the bag as they used to, or we all ate more than we realized. Probably some of both.

[Photo by  Maddy Baker  on  Unsplash   ]

[Photo by Maddy Baker on Unsplash ]

If you know your neighbors well enough, you might invite them in for some candy alternatives that are almost equally unhealthy but at least have the merit of being homemade!

Toffee Dip with Apples

Dip:

3/4 c brown sugar

1/2 c powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

8 ozs cream cheese, softened

Combine the dip ingredients and beat with a mixer on medium until smooth. Add 3/4 c toffee bits and stir well. Cover and chill.

When ready to serve, slice up to twelve apples, thickly, and combine them with 1 c pineapple juice. Toss well. Drain and serve.

Actually, once you serve your slices with toffee dip, no one will notice a lackluster presentation. [Photo by  90 jiang  on  Unsplash   ]

Actually, once you serve your slices with toffee dip, no one will notice a lackluster presentation. [Photo by 90 jiang on Unsplash ]

The recipe above has the added bonus that it doesn’t glue your teeth together. Therefore, you may also want to serve this one:

Maple Popcorn

1 c maple syrup

3 Tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla

8 cups popped popcorn

Lightly butter a 9x13” pan and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, combine maple syrup and butter. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until a candy thermometer reaches 275F (syrup separates into hard, but not brittle, threads, when dropped into very cold water). Remove from heat, add vanilla. Pour over popcorn. Pack the mixture lightly into the prepared pan; let cool completely. Cut into small squares. Makes about 16 pieces.

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Of course, if you become known as the house that offers homemade treats, you may have to up your scare game to get people to leave!

Have a good evening, and my no one blow out or kick over your pumpkin.

Hit Hard with Health

I don’t know how things are going in your corner of the world, but it seems like an unusual number of folks in my corner are going through health struggles: cancer, anxiety and depression, heart issues, brain issues. Now, I know food isn’t a magic bullet. There are plenty of people who can afford to eat healthily and do eat healthily, and still they get one of the above ailments. But eating well certainly doesn’t hurt, while eating poorly actually does hurt.

Open your wallet and spend lots of your free time prepping food, and you too can eat like this. [Photo by  Dan Gold  on  Unsplash   ]

Open your wallet and spend lots of your free time prepping food, and you too can eat like this. [Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash ]

It’s one of the shames of this country that unhealthy processed foods are so danged cheap, and real food can be a bank-breaker. If we all were content with a life-expectancy that hovered around 45, we could eat whatever we wanted (however cheaply) and all just keel over suddenly, like in the good old days.

Living longer means we have to put more expensive fuel in the machine and baby it a little more to keep it running. That is,

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they be fresh or frozen.

  2. Limit the sugar and 90% of the foods found in the center of the grocery store.

  3. Get off our butts and move around more.

I know, it’s hard. And it doesn’t even guarantee better health. But it does up our chances.

I hate exercise, but at least the rest of my family doesn’t. Some processed foods we cannot do without: breakfast cereals; breads; ice cream; the occasional delights of the snack aisle, like peanut-butter-filled pretzels, crackers, and tortilla chips. We love homemade desserts and eat them frequently. So that means, out of the three Must-Dos for Increased Chances at Good Health, the only one I feel much motivation about is the fruits and vegetables.

The American Cancer Society offers these tips for increasing your produce intake (and I’ve added my own comments after each one):

  • At each meal, fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables. (If you’ve got to slather them in dressing or Parmesan cheese, go for it. Better to have the fiber and goodness than to avoid the fats. But, hey, olive oil and cheese are good for you.)

  • Layer lettuce, tomatoes, beans, onions, and other vegetables on sandwiches and wraps. (Substitute hummus for mayo. Leave a pan of sliced onions on the stove for a half-hour to caramelize slowly, if that makes them more appetizing for your family.)

  • Add tomato sauce and extra vegetables to pastas and vegetable soups. (Or even puree some cooked veggies into your sauce. It’ll never be noticed.)

  • Choose a vegetarian dish when eating out. (Tried No Anchor in Seattle the other night, and —oh my goodness— the beetroot “dumplings” were to die for. I only wished they gave me 25% more.)

  • Challenge yourself to try new vegetables from the produce aisle, frozen foods section, or your local farmer’s market. (When’s the last time you made a salad with hearts of palm? When did you last reach for jicama or a sunchoke?)

  • Keep dried fruits in your desk drawer and glove compartment (but watch the sugar content!). (Because of the high sugar content and the sticky tendency to adhere to your teeth and cause tooth decay, I would mix these with nuts.)

  • Keep a bowl full of fresh veggies and fruits on your kitchen counter for quick snacking. (If it’s too much trouble to prep, there are always bananas, apples, easy-peel oranges, sugar snap peas, those little peppers that taste like bell peppers…)

  • If you’re short on time, look for pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables, such as baby carrots and broccoli florets, at the grocery store. (If you must. I confess to avoiding these because I think they’re all old and have lost a lot of nutritional value. Better to spend an hour on the weekend prepping your own veggies and bagging them up.)

We’ve entered the long Marketless season, which means we have fewer enticements to try a new fruit or vegetable or variety, but it can still be done. When in doubt, if it’s a vegetable, I bet it tastes good drizzled in olive oil, sprinkled with fresh-grated Parmesan and roasted until brown. I would eat a shoe, if it were prepared like that, and I’m betting your family would too.

Boot. It’s what’s for dinner.  [Photo by  Mika  on  Unsplash   ]

Boot. It’s what’s for dinner. [Photo by Mika on Unsplash ]

The Cooking Family

Last chance to buy tickets for Thursday’s Bellevue Farmers Market Happy Hour! Come celebrate, drink, nibble, and continue to support our community treasure from 5-7pm at Pearl.

[Photo by  Scott Warman  on  Unsplash   ]

[Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash ]

I’ve been thinking about how food brings people together, whether they want to be connected or not. In the case of chef and culinary historian Michael W. Twitty, he discovered both the connections and the “or not” when he researched his family’s background and interwove it with the history of slavery and food in the American South.

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If you love to trace food history globally, this is the book for you. With the importation of slaves, the traders also brought foods (and food know-how) native to several locations on the African continent to America and the Caribbean. Once enslaved cooks were scattered across their new locations and faced with some new ingredients to accompany familiar ones, variations on tradition African dishes were adapted into the cuisine we now think of as “Southern.” Hoppin’ john, jambalaya, sweet potatoes, greens, okra preparations, gumbo spiced by a “holy trinity of bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes…that is as Senegalese as they come, or Dahoman or Kongolese” (62). Because slave food rations were so limited (all the good food they cooked landed on the slaveowners’ tables), slaves kept garden patches to supplement their diet. When Twitty hits a rough financial patch in his own life, he plants his own garden, based on family knowledge:

During those lean times I had to be strategic. Corn was tasty but carried with it too many chances to attract pests and bacterial infestation. Cabbage did too. No Southern garden was complete without either in its due time, but I could not afford to waste space on buggy plants. My father taught me how to make weak lye-soap sprays. My provision patch would be organic as much as possible, bugs picked off and squashed underfoot, with things grown together to confuse buggy pests, conserve water, and to crowd out weeds.

What does he grow? Six varieties of sweet potatoes, pattypan squash, cowpeas, herbs, peppers, pole beans, okra, greens, four heirloom tomatoes, peanuts, lettuce, garlic, onions, melons, and more! He had me wondering if such abundance was even possible in a Pacific Northwest patch, or if I’d have to buy a million-dollar greenhouse with a heating system and import soil from Virginia to recreate his abundance.

But the book is about more than food and making connections to African roots. The Cooking Gene is also a family story. The amount of research Twitty (and others helping him) have put in boggles the mind--he can name way more of his forebears than I can. The history of slavery in the South played out personally in his family's movements geographically and in their genetic makeup. While most African-Americans are about 10-15% "white," Twitty is 28%, meaning he can call a greater number of great-great-great-grandmothers unfortunate members of the #MeToo movement than most. Ouch. It’s one thing to trace genealogies when nice official records were kept, but since slaves were considered property, names and personal information were rarely written down about them. Instead, you might find a brief description, a vague age, and a “value” assigned. Uncovering so much of his background involved mighty detective work.

Nor does Twitty leave the DNA stone unturned. I was fascinated to read about the different DNA-analyzing companies and the differences between them, and what he and other family members discovered by getting their numbers done. Twitty even found the comparatively rare white female forbear in his family: a white woman who had had children with a non-white man! He conjectures she might have been an indentured servant because, heaven knew, that wouldn’t fly in many other circumstances.

The Cooking Gene isn’t a demand that white chefs quit appropriating black African-influenced cooking, but rather that Southern cooking be honest and embracing of its true origins and give respect and credit to the cuisine’s pioneers, people who were able to wring from slavery and oppression beautiful foods and a way to hold on to their lost cultures.

Last Market of the Season!

How will we remember the 2018 Market season? Maybe as the smoky one? The one where berries came early and lasted the whole rest of the time? The season where we tried that new melon variety or drank enough kumis and kombucha to repopulate ten antibiotic-decimated guts?

I’m looking at you, mango flavor.

I’m looking at you, mango flavor.

But all good things must come to an end. (Though, have you ever thought about that saying? Why on earth must they?) In the case of living on our seasonal planet, we’re entering the season of cold temperatures and little outdoor growth, when we all get to take a break from yard work, at the cost of not getting our fresh, local, seasonal produce.

Look, Ma, no lawnmower! [Photo by  Simon Matzinger  on  Unsplash  ]

Look, Ma, no lawnmower! [Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash ]

Be sure to get down to the Market one last time this Thursday, for that last bag of Honeycrisp apples or slice of pizza or baked mini-pie or bouquet of flowers! And then, remember, you can celebrate another great season and enjoy tasty hors-doeuvres at the Happy Hour Fundraiser the following Thursday. Get your tickets now!

The season ends, but my obsession with food goes on... I’m reading M. F. K. Fisher for the first time, thinking about food legacies and breakfast cereals, so you’ll be hearing about all that in future posts. Thanks, folks. Thank you. If you enjoyed the blog, I’ll be here all year.

Two More Markets and a Bonus!

When Alexa told me this morning it was only 41F out, and today’s high would only struggle up to 58F, I broke down and turned on the furnace. Blah. But two bonus days of no furnace beat zero bonus days, right? (I can see all your heads nodding because, based on an informal poll of asking random people around me, I now draw the sweeping conclusion that, here in the greater Puget Sound, we don’t like to turn on the furnace until October 1. It could be blizzarding outside, but it the calendar says September 27, that furnace stays off.)

Don’t touch that dial…

Don’t touch that dial…

While we’re talking about bonus days, I have some bad news and good news. The bad news is, there are only two Market days left. Two more Markets where you can stock up on all that fresh produce and meat and goodies. I here provide a “Do You Have Enough?” list:

Do You Have Enough…?

  • honey

  • tuna

  • wine/beer

  • meat

  • berries (to freeze)

  • baked goods (to freeze!)

  • tomatoes (make soup or sauce and freeze, and one last pico de gallo)

Don’t forget to have your last pop or slice of pizza, as if you needed reminding… With the baseball playoff season upon us, I’m adding a bag of fresh tortilla chips and one of salted, roasted peanuts to my list.

And the good news? Well, after our two remaining Market days, there’s one last hoorah planned for Market-lovers. Happy Hour! You’ve supported the Market all season (or perhaps for multiple seasons), so why not join in for some drinks and Market-y hors d’oeuvres, accompanied by live music, hanging out with fun folks, and some casual opportunities to show financial support for this beloved community treasure? I’ve already invited a couple friends and look forward to a fun time on October 18, 5-7pm at Pearl Restaurant. Why not make it total evening out? Start with Market Happy Hour and then go catch A Star is Born or First Man at Lincoln Square?

Imagine what shared vision can accomplish

Imagine what shared vision can accomplish

Just like with popular movies, you’ll want to buy tickets ahead! Let’s see if together we can’t ensure our wonderful Market finds solid footing for many seasons to come.

Eating Like the Ten Percent

I just had my yearly physical and tried not to lie too much about my actual level of exercise, which ranges from “nonexistent” to “a couple walks” in a week. I’m not sure what lying to the doctor actually accomplishes, since, like murder, bad health will out. My cholesterol had been pretty borderline unacceptable last year, and I expected more of the same, although I whined to the doctor that “I eat lots of vegetables!” She only smiled at me, knowing no amount of wishful thinking can lower cholesterol.

[Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash  ]

[Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash ]

Imagine our mutual surprise when the results of my blood work came back: I was in the normal range for everything! Not “living on the edge” in any category! God bless vegetables because I know for a fact (nearly total lack of) exercise didn’t save me.

And yet, do I really eat a lot of vegetables? I have some fruit with breakfast, maybe half a cup. Some fruit or veg at lunch — maybe another half to whole cup. And then veg at dinner — say one cup.

Photo taken by a guy who at least hangs around with ten-percenters [ ja ma  on  Unsplash  ]

Photo taken by a guy who at least hangs around with ten-percenters [ja ma on Unsplash ]

So my average daily totals come to about a cup of fruit and 1.5 cups of vegetables. And I love produce and the farmers market! It turns out I’m not the ten-percenter I thought I was.

The Center for Disease Control recommends 1.5 - 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 - 3 cups of vegetables. Why do only 10% of Americans hit this mark? The CDC posits high cost, limited access and higher prep time. All true, compared to cheap (subsidized), ubiquitous, ready-to-eat processed food. Then there’s the taste factor: I usually eat salad because I ought to, not because I like it. And if I like it, it’s usually because it was prepared with a dressing loaded with sugar. (If you don’t believe me, check the labels on the bottles of salad dressing in your fridge.)

But fall is a lovely time to try to eat like the ten percent. Not only are plenty of seasonal fruits available, to be devoured out of hand with no trouble at all, but we can all take a break from salads and just throw everything in the oven and roast it. Onions, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, tomatoes. You name the fall vegetable, and it can be roasted. All at the same time (or in stages on the same pan). Easy peasy. And you can make a ton, when you’re in a chopping mood. Anything left over can just be reheated the next day in the oven. This is a great strategy for families, too, since everyone can just pick out the vegetables he or she finds palatable. Leftover roasted vegetables can also be thrown in pastas, soups, sandwiches, and tacos, or used to top pizzas.

This week at the Market, grab a barrel of seasonal vegetables and have a roast-a-thon. Eat like the ten percent, if only for a week, to see how it goes.

It beats exercise, anyhow.

Okay, I Guess It's Fall

Summer departed abruptly, probably from having burnt itself out with those hot, smoky days, one after another. The house sits at 67F, but we refuse to turn on the heat until October 1 because — well, because you just have to stick to your principles. No heater till October 1, no flannel sheets, no fires in the fireplace. No matter if the lows are already dipping into the high 40s.

Although we might shiver in the house, I have waved the white flag in the kitchen. No more barbecue — it’s time for the the slow cooker and fall fruit. This upside-down pear-apple-almond cake, to begin with:

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Martin Family Orchard had some lovely, ripe Bartlett pears and Gala apples, and the two of them made a tasty combination in Deborah Madison’s recipe. The recipe only calls for two pears, but since I only had 1.5 pears left, I substituted a half an apple. Perfect. Also a perfect excuse for everyone to try “a sliver” of each flavor.

I’m not the only one thinking fall…Check out these Halloween-themed cupcakes at La Panaderia:

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How cute are they? Eyeballs, ghosts, tombstones,…something pink? Talk about being done with summer—they’re even through with September and most of October. Since we only have a few Market days left, you may need to skip ahead as well! And if you haven’t had their tamales yet, don’t let another week go by. I got two beef tamales last week, to supplement the light dinner I’d prepared, and you should have seen the mournful eyes when everyone finished their half a tamale and wanted to know why on earth I hadn’t bought more!

Aspens [pic by my friend Alice]

Aspens [pic by my friend Alice]

Despite all the fall-ness and making the best of it, I still have my fingers crossed for a few last gasps of summer. The Louisiana Sweet watermelon I got at Alvarez last week was one of the best of the season, ranked right up there with the darker, more spherical Sugar Baby I bought midsummer.

There’s still time for a last half-flat of berries to freeze and a few pounds of peaches and nectarines. It may be fall-ish here on Thursday, but it’s still summer somewhere in Washington!

Tess of the Whole Milkmaids

This week marks the beginning of a 19th-century literature class I’ll be teaching at a local senior living development (center? resort?), and one of the books we’ll be discussing is Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

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If you’ve never read any Hardy, there are two main things to know about him:

  1. His tragedies are Tragedies, with a capital T. They’re not just a little sad; they’re over the top sad/awful. And,

  2. Writing toward the end of the 19th century, he recorded the decline of pastoral, rural England at the hands of the Industrial Revolution and the railroads.

Anyhow, in Tess, the eponymous heroine travels a ways from her hometown to get away from her shady past. She ends up working at a dairy called Talbothays, which Hardy describes in Edenic terms. It’s summer. It’s green. It’s lush. She falls in love with a fellow named Angel.

And in this little Eden they milk cows and skim cream and make cheese for the folks in London, having this conversation when they drop the goods at the train station:

Tess: Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts tomorrow, won’t they? Strange people that we have never seen.

Angel: Yes, I suppose they will. Though not as we send it. When its strength has been lowered, so that it may not get up into their heads.

Tess: Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and tradeswomen, and babies who have never seen a cow.

Angel: Well, yes; perhaps; particularly centurions.

Angel is laughing at Tess’s inclusion of “centurions,” but there are two jabs at us urban folk here: we can’t handle full-strength dairy products and need them watered down, and most of us have never seen a cow up close and personal.

Tess at Talbothays, from the 1891 edition

Tess at Talbothays, from the 1891 edition

Clearly, urban nervousness around full-fat, unpasteurized dairy has a long history. It’s as if Hardy anticipated the lowfat, nonfat era which, thankfully, is passing. Not only does full-fat dairy taste a lot better, as Tess and her fellow dairy workers knew, but one of the fatty acids present in full-fat dairy might help prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke. Those late 19th century Londoners might have appreciated some pasteurization, however, considering this other scene from the book, where the dairy owner lights into one of his workers:

For Heaven's sake, pop thy hands under the pump, Deb! Upon my soul, if the London folk only knowed of thee and thy slovenly ways, they'd swaller their milk and butter more mincing than they do a'ready; and that's saying a good deal.

Or maybe not, now that the cleanliness of our surroundings has given us wimpier immune systems. Certainly 19th-century Londoners never imagined there could ever come a time when people were not exposed to enough dirt!

Cheesemaking and -mongering is no easy way to make a living nowadays, competing against vast, industrialized outfits (ever visited the Tillamook factory?). And the numbers and varieties of dairy providers at the Bellevue Farmers Market have changed over the years, but re-reading Tess made me think those small outfits should bolster revenues with weekend dairyman/maid retreats in the summers. Up at 3 a.m., milking, skimming, poring over the fields for stray wild garlic, afternoon naps, hearty meals, and then home again with some fresh whole milk. Sign me up! Or—at least—sign up my kids!

We’ll never know how much full-fat dairy products would have benefited Tess in the long run because—spoiler—it’s a Hardy novel, and Tess doesn’t have a long run, but clearly diet and an active lifestyle kept her healthy and strong enough for cross-country escapes and some parkour at Stonehenge. I’ll say no more.

Do read the book. It’s wonderful.

Some Thoughts on Antibiotics

I just read the most fascinating book. If you happen to like biology and history of science, which I do.

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Apparently a lot has been learned since I took AP Biology in high school (and, just to date me, one of my most vivid memories of that class is my teacher flipping on the television because the Challenger had just blown up). Meaning, we never learned about molecular phylogeny or horizontal gene transfer in the caveman days; nor am I going to explain those things in a blog post. But I did double-check with my own 17-year-old who just took his AP Biology class, and I'm happy to report my taxpayer dollars were at work. With a few probing questions I discovered he had learned about these new-to-me concepts. Knowledge marches on.

Anywho. The reason I do bring all that up here is that (1) it was an awesome book, which I highly recomment, and (2) the author David Quammen did touch on antibiotic use in the meat industry.

As you probably know, antibiotic use is widespread in Big Meat not because the cows and such are always coming down with pneumonia, but rather because folks noticed it helps the livestock gain weight faster. And faster weight gain equals less time to market equals cheaper meat for us consumers.

Hit me with your best shot. [Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Hit me with your best shot. [Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As you probably also know, the world has a growing problem with antibiotic-resistant microbes, which the widespread application of antibiotics to industrial livestock only makes worse by leaps and bounds. In the caveman days (i.e., when I learned biology), we thought this was because of straightforward Darwinian natural selection: you hit the wee bugs with the antibiotics, and whatever survived lived to reproduce another day, and after awhile that was all that you were left with, the survivors.

It turns out the wee bugs have much faster-working crafty methods. As Quammen explains,

resistance to multiple antibiotics among bacteria spreads horizontally. It can happen by conjugation. It can happen by transduction. It can happen in a sudden leap. Consequently, it has become a dire problem. And the problem is especially severe in hospitals, where such huge volumes and such variety of antibiotics are used, selecting for resistant bacterial strains that then infect people who are already ill.

I had no idea before I read The Tangled Tree that resistance was a problem as early as 1955, when penicillin had been in use only from 1942 onward, or that MRSA emerged as a worldwide concern by 1972! And I had no idea that resistance could spread so rapidly through so many avenues, making natural selection look poky and harmless by comparison.

Quammen blames the overuse of antibiotics on patients and on livestock. I can't help your hypochondria (except to urge you to let your healthy microbiota flourish as much as you can, rather than wiping it out with antibiotics unless you absolutely must), but I can encourage you to buy meat not produced by relying on antibiotics.

Globally, total consumption of antimicrobials (that is, drugs against dangerous microbial fungi as well as bacteria) by livestock was roughly 126 million pounds, with China using even more than the United States, and Brazil in third place. Most of that total goes into cattle, chickens, and pigs. A significant fraction of it involves drugs that are also important in human medicine.
...So there's an extraordinary amount of evolutionary pressure, out there in the world, forcing bacteria to acquire resistance or die. But the most startling aspects of the trend have been how speedily resistance has spread and how many different kinds of bacteria have acquired multiple resistance--that is, resistance not just to one antibiotic but also to whole arsenals of different kinds.

In addition to rapid spread of multiple resistance, Quammen discusses a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the spread of resistance from the bacteria in chicken guts to human guts:

...[The] intestinal bacteria of chickens, if the birds ate tetracycline-laced feed, acquired resistance to the antibiotic within a week. Less expected, more worrying, was that the bacteria in the bowels of farm workers on the same site acquired the same resistance over a period of months.

How? It's complicated. Meaning, do read the book. 

Now, meat raised without antibiotics is more expensive. Of course, because it takes longer to raise. But I think most of us eat more meat than we need to, and once my teenage boy heads off to college, I plan on reducing the meat the rest of us consume significantly. If we reduce overall meat consumption, then the meat we do eat can be better meat. Pastured. Raised without antibiotics.

Ask our Market farmers how they raise theirs this week. And grab some vegetables, while you're at it. This book didn't mention it, but other gut books have: the best way to keep nasty bugs from taking hold in your gut is to keep all the good bacteria prosperous, numerous and healthy. And that takes lots of vegetables and fiber.

Oh, and try not to touch anything or have any open wounds the next time you're in a hospital.

A Tale of Two Recipes

I know, I know. Real cooks don't need recipes. But I think people who are able just to whip something up with ingredients on hand have never been a dime a dozen, and I'm betting the skill has become rarer than ever now, given how few people actually cook.

The only things I wing nowadays are smoothies and salads, and while the smoothies are mostly fine (n.b.: adding avocado means your smoothie will turn an unappealing gray if it sits for any length of time), the salads are never as good as ones I've made with a recipe.

Banana, spinach, avocado, fig, berry, watermelon, yogurt, flax seed, milk

Banana, spinach, avocado, fig, berry, watermelon, yogurt, flax seed, milk

Anyhow, we had two delicious things this week that you probably wouldn't just whip up on your own, even if you had that talent, and since 'tis the season for the ingredients, I didn't want you to miss out.

Corn-Tomato Salsa (from the New York Times)

1/2 small red or white onion, diced
kernels from one cooked ear of corn (please don't use canned or frozen)
1 lb ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp lime juice

The original recipe called for it to be served with cooked chicken in soft tacos, which is how we ate it, but it made so much salsa that I had it the next day on scrambled eggs, and my husband just packed the rest for lunch and ate it as is. It's that delicious! 

And then last night we had a modified version of one of Deborah Madison's pizza recipes:

Kind-of Deborah Madison's Provencal Potato Pizza

1/4 oz sun-dried tomatoes, packed without oil and reconstituted in boiling water
2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 lb small potatoes, thinly sliced (I used a Yukon Gold from Alvarez)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Favorite pizza dough recipe for one crust
1-1/2 c thinly sliced red or white onion
1-1/2 c shredded mozzarella or half of a fresh mozzarella ball, sliced
1/4 c grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 ripe tomato, sliced

Toss the potato slices in the oil and garlic and salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake 350F for 10 minutes or until tender. Set aside.

Roll out your pizza dough (I also use her recipe, but pick your favorite) and spread with the remaining oil/garlic mixture. Arrange onion slices over dough and sun-dried tomatoes. Top with potato slices and cheeses. On the very top, put your sliced fresh tomato. I baked this on a pizza stone in the oven at 425F for about 15 minutes until the top was golden brown. SO good!

If you wanted, you could even skip the sun-dried tomatoes and go with fresh. She also recommends a sprinkling of fresh sage, but I didn't have any.

The time is now, people. The food is now. Get out there and eat like fall is coming!