Category Archives: education

What You Eat Can Make You Smarter

I was catching up on my foodie reading today and I came across an interesting theme… research that studies the correlation between what foods are in our diet and how that affects not only our physical health but our brain capacity as well. Can what we eat really make us smarter?

As a small child, I was a big fan of fruit. I didn’t eat a lot of meat early on, but fruit was always popular with me, and still is. So of course I was interested to read more about an article that said primates who ate fruit had bigger brains.  If monkeys of similar social groups developed larger brains just because they ate fruit instead of leaves, I should go to the head of the class.

In case you don’t want to read the entire article, the gist is this: searching for hard-to-find fruit over leaves that were abundant and closer to ground level meant fruit eaters were more innovative and critical thinking than their lazier leaf eating neighbours. It made perfect sense when I thought about it.

The bad news is that eating more fruit doesn’t do you or I much good as this kind of development takes evolutionary time to realize the effects. Generations of fruit-eating progeny are required before we would see results. Maybe your great great great great grandchildren would be smarter, but you’re just not getting scurvy.

There is good news, though. The other research article I read was about healthy snacks versus nibbles that had less nutritional value. Did you know that if we have to wait for our food we choose to eat more healthy? Perhaps that is the real reason fast food is mostly junk – if it took longer we would be eating a salad. The researchers called it a time tax on less healthy food choices. They used vending machines at a university, with a 25 second delay on less healthy items and no delay on healthy ones.

Since the experiment did show a positive result, there is talk of extrapolating the concept for more food activities. One suggestion was that grocery store shoppers who chose more healthy options could be streamlined to a faster checkout than those with less healthy items in their cart.

Is this discrimination? Should we be allowed to be unhealthy if we choose? We know people don’t like taxes on “undesirable behaviour” (such as the taxes on alcohol and tobacco). Perhaps positive reinforcement is a less offensive option to encourage our society to “do the right thing”. I guess the catch is, who decides what the right thing is? Today we’re talking about being healthy. Tomorrow what will be the encouraged choice?

Food Tastes Better with Friends

Yesterday I spoke of comfort food, and how the company that shares the food sometimes has a lot to do with the comfort we get. I am often singing the praises of sharing a meal to bring people together. But what about the times when we eat alone?

You stand out as a solo diner.

I don’t want to say that eating alone can’t be enjoyable; sometimes people want to have quiet time to themselves. What I am referring to are the times when we yearn for company but don’t have any. Then food can taste bland and one can feel much less than nourished after the meal.

Having been a person that didn’t fit in to a group most of my life, I can relate to the loneliness of not being popular as a kid and I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t make any friends at school. I was lucky, and found some great companions. I never ate lunch alone.

Sometimes it is the food that heals, and other times it is the company who helps us move forward. In a world of reality TV that promotes singling people out, where the pressure to fit in is even stronger than in generations past, we need to have friends with whom we can feel nourished. Who says that can’t start by “paying it forward” and making a new friend?

Perhaps my teenage memories are why I was so struck by a piece I saw on CBS Sunday Morning today. This show of mostly heartwarming news is always inspiring, and I especially love the stories from Steve Hartman. Mr. Hartman took over for the delightful Bill Geist in delivering tales of everyday heroes that offer hope and inspiration, and today’s entry was no different. #WeDineTogether is a wonderful group of young people… see for yourself:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/starved-for-company/

I’d like to think this idea can spread, just like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. As Steve Hartman says, maybe the grown ups can learn just as the kids do. Perhaps we could extend the camaraderie from around the table to a philosophy of life. It’s just an idea.

 

 

My Moment of Zen

In a world where things move at 4G (or is it 5G now, I can’t remember) and there is a lot of non-stop noise, it’s nice to enjoy a slow and quiet moment. One of my favourite reasons for walking the dog is to have those kind of moments. Another way I take a deep breath is to spend time in my garden. The first method I discovered for stepping back from the fray was reading.

Today I stopped at the local Chapters to stock up on reading material. I do have books at home, but I was looking for inspiration, new information to broaden my horizons. I also have to manage my time and focus on priorities. I don’t know about you, but if I have a good book I have been known to disappear inside it for lengths of time. I can only allow shorter intervals right now, so having something that was of shorter duration was more practical. A few food magazines was just enough to do the trick.

Just buying the magazines put me in a state of euphoria. Choosing publications that offered something unique was important; I don’t need to read about 15 different variations on brownies or omelettes. I wanted something outside the box.

Scooping up the last few issues of Lucky Peach was important; if you haven’t heard of this periodical yet, unfortunately it’s almost too late. The offbeat and ingenious effort from Momofuku’s David Chang and Peter Meehan will be shutting down later this year. (I invite you to at least check out their website for brilliantly written pieces.)

I am a fan of foodie travel, and my current favourite on that front is Saveur. There used to be a similar magazine called Intermezzo which I loved, but I can’t find it anymore. (You have to roll with the punches.) I have learned of cuisines in faraway places, and ingredients I never knew existed. I have added places to my bucket list and filled my kitchen with aromas that had me transported across the world.

As a treat, I picked up a special edition on California wine, as we are travelling there in the fall. Not only will I have some new pairing ideas, I might find a few pit stops. After all, travelling is thirsty work.

Hiding in the back shelves was a title I hadn’t seen before, so I splurged and picked it up too. I love to know how things work and Milk Street is all about the how’s and why’s of a dish. It’s a new publication; I’ll let you know how I like it.

I suppose you could call this literary gluttony a guilty pleasure. There are many websites with foodie information, and articles galore on every topic imaginable. But there is something comforting in putting my feet up and flipping those glossy pages, pondering the delectable food photos as I sip my tea. I consider this akin to meditation, a time for my mind to wander at leisure with no agenda. As much as my workouts are important to stay in shape and my recipe testing helps with my writing, a bit of mental free time helps me find my ways to new ideas. Sometimes, like a walk with Ella where I let her decide the route, my mind will wander down its own path and find a solution to a challenge that doesn’t even involve food.

I read an article today about Paula Wolfert, a renowned cookbook author and icon in the world of food and restaurants. She has Alzheimer’s disease, and so not only does she not remember how to cook many recipes anymore – she also has lost much of her sense of taste. And yet, she is still working with food and with people who want to learn from her. (I can’t wait to read the biography of her that is coming out soon. If you’d like to read the article, it’s on my Facebook page. ) 

Reading Ms. Wolfert’s story reminded me that every moment counts. Even with a life rich in memories, we need to make every effort to live our best life in every moment.  There is a zen saying:

Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.

I’d like my soul’s vocabulary to improve.

 

 

 

Blogger confession – time for a few Hail Marys and a new post

I have been a bad blogger. It’s been 7 months since my last post. I did keep writing my weekly Castanet column and I have put up more recipes, but I haven’t been present and for that I apologize. With a new year starting, I am resolved to post regularly again. So, here is the new beginning.

My new approach is this: How about a “Foodie Thought of the Day” ? Maybe it will be short and sweet – an image of something I found or a recipe I’m trying. Sometimes I’ll aim for more of a pondering post, with commentary on a topic. But every day I do think of food, so all I have to do is share that here, with you.

foodie-thought-of-the-day-banner

I’m hoping you’ll help me out… tell me if I’m crazy, or lucked out and found something you like. Complain if you think I ramble too much! Complain if you don’t think I’m sharing enough.

So, here it goes: 2017, the year of foodie tidbits!

And just so you don’t think I’m jamming out on the first 2 days of the year here are the ideas already in my calendar:

  • I read a great little article in Saveur Magazine by a father who taught his daughters to cook at an early age. They both embraced the kitchen as a fun place; one of things they came up with was “Fakesgiving”, a celebration dinner like Thanksgiving that is held once a month, so everyone can enjoy those fancy or exotic dishes or try something new more often than just once a year. I’m going to have Fakesgiving dinners this year!
  • I had a persimmon for the first time this morning, inspired by an insistent vendor at one of my fave foodie haunts, the Granville Island Market. I highly recommend them – they are tangy, sweet, with a smooth texture and a beautiful exotic flavour. In case you’re skeptical, check out these benefits!

persimmons-why-they-are-good

See you tomorrow! Eat, drink and be merry 🙂

Jamaican Foodie Paradise

Whenever my husband Martin and I go on holidays, we are excited to try new food experiences. The last few years in Jamaica we have been lazy and relegated our enthusiasm to within the walls of the resort. We did enjoy trying local fruits, and traditional dishes like curried goat, jerk chicken and gizzadas (coconut tarts), but this year I wanted to kick things up a notch and rub elbows with some local foodies. I did an online search and found Zimbali Retreat, iPhone download Feb 22 2016 430a small property in the hills above Negril that offered a demo cooking class and tour of their organic farm garden. It seemed right up our alley! I was excited and invited a couple we know who are also foodies. They had shared our Vegas experiences so I figured they would like this taste of Jamaica. We had no idea just how much fun we were going to have…

We arrived at the gate after a bumpy ride up a narrow road that bordered sugar cane plantations and an old stone church.   iPhone download Feb 22 2016 427Martin was afraid we were going to have to carry the car or abandon it if the potholes got any bigger or the road got any narrower. The sugar cane stalks knocked along the side of the car as we drove through plantation land, and as we mounted the hill a local dog lying at the edge of the road didn’t even look up. It was only a half hour drive, but I felt as though I’d been transported to another place.  A short walk down a palm-covered pathway revealed mahogany beams that covered a cozy kitchen and airy sitting room, all overlooking the farm below. I felt a bit like I was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson on their deserted island! We were served a refreshing sorrel ginger drink while we cooled off. Just as we finished our last sip our tour guide arrived.

Clifford, who has been at Zimbali since the beginning (9 years ago), led us over much of the 6 acre terrain, stopping every hundred steps or so to show us another plant, most of which provided some benefit for the kitchen. We saw banana and coconut trees, pineapple plants, Caribbean oranges and grapefruits, June plums, star fruit, lemongrass, annatto, turmeric and ginger roots, breadfruit, all kinds of pumpkins and zucchini squash, beans, and then the crowning glory – noni fruit. This fruit is highly regarded as having great healing powers; the juice is said to be a cure-all. The bees on the farm love it too, said Clifford. Noni bloosom honey is his favourite.

Clifford showed us the right way to crack open a coconut (hit the 3 corners of the outer shell), and he told us about using cinnamon leaves in cooking. We learned that the bark of the mahogany trees was used to make the rich reddish-brown dye still common in Caribbean textiles. He showed us the massive African tulip trees taking over wild sections of the jungle, and how the rain brings on mango season (in May), when the fruit is so plentiful it sits in piles by side of the roads! The gardener in me was trying valiantly to remember everything he said as I tasted and smelled and strained my neck to see in every direction, absorbing every detail.

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a June plum tree, with the blossoms that will turn into the refreshing tangy fruit often used for juice

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here Clifford showed us the mahogany tree. One of the staff is returning to the kitchen with oranges.

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work on the terraced section of the garden, where squash and bananas are being planted

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annatto seeds from an achiote bush, used in cooking to impart colour and a slightly nutty & peppery taste.

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fresh turmeric root – from that brown patch. They grow ginger too, in the same way.

the noni tree, a source of great nutrients. Sometimes called uglifruit.

Martin smelling fresh lemon grass

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did you know banana trees only grow one stem of bananas? Then another tree starts beside it for the next batch of fruit.

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pineapple plants take 10 months to grow a mature fruit

 

 

 

On our return from the tour we met the owners of the resort, Alecia & Mark. Alecia grew up in these hills, and learned much from her grandfather about the land and its secrets. She is a Rastafarian and has been all her life. Mark grew up in a military family and his travels as a youth gave him a desire for understanding cultures and experiencing life on a more simple scale. Both of them are “living the dream”, existing almost off the grid with solar power and the harnessing of rain water, not to mention that the farm provides about 70% of their food. This is not just an agritourism resort, it is a lifestyle, and their passion and sense of inner peace is evident when you talk with them.

We returned to the lodge dripping in sweat from the humidity. It didn’t matter. A quick splash of water on my face and a few sips of water and I was ready to get to the kitchen. Zimbali’s two chefs, Raymond and Rudolph,  were already hard at work of course, and their counter was almost overflowing with the bounty from the farm. We were truly spoiled as it was only us and our friends there that day. We saddled up to the bar to watch, learn and eat.

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the bounty awaits! fresh farm veggies on the kitchen counter

The first course was a breaded fritter that was juicy and delicate, green in colour. It was served with an escovitch, a Jamaican pickle made with onions & peppers in a chili vinegar brine.  Raymond asked us to guess what kind of vegetable he had used on the fritter and we thought we had it – zucchini! Nope, he said, guess again. It was the person in the group who is least a foodie who nailed it – green tomatoes. Not as firm as our green tomatoes and not as tangy, rather velvety soft and slightly sweet in contrast to the pickle. The sorrel reduction that garnished the plate was the crowning glory, refreshing and tart.

fried green tomatoes, Jamaican style

fried green tomatoes, Zimbali style

The next course was a sort of cake, like a crab cake but made with vegetables again, said Rudolph. Again we were stumped – cassava? No. Yam? (They had real yams as well as sweet potato on the counter, two very different things, and both used often in a Jamaican kitchen. Sweet potatoes are orange, yams are white – more fibery, not as sweet.) No. They gave us a few hints and we finally figured out it was cauliflower. It tasted much richer than I imagined cauliflower ever could, and was served with a banana purée and a sort of tropical succotash of corn, peppers and tropical fruit. It was delectable.

cauliflower cake with tropical succotash

cauliflower cake with tropical succotash

We were able to choose our main course, and I picked jerk shrimp, while Martin chose escovitch fish. Our friends had curried shrimp. They were all intensely flavoured and beautifully tender, and were served with a quick coleslaw, veggies in a seasoned coconut milk and a green plantain and banana rosti (shredded and pan-fried in a patty). Everything was prepared as we watched, even the coconut milk – we saw the coconut opened, the meat cut out and then shredded in the food processor, and the milk squeezed through a strainer.

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my Jerk shrimp, with banana & plantain rosti, coleslaw and veggies in coconut curry

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Rudolph & Raymond plate the main course

But wait, there was dessert too! I groaned under the weight of lunch, but my enthusiasm kicked in. How could I miss out on a slice of Raymond’s banana rum cake with caramelized melons & papaya? The cake had no eggs but was not heavy, rather silky with a hint of Jamaican spices (allspice, ginger, nutmeg). Raymond explained that he had long ago mastered baking without eggs, as he doesn’t eat them himself. His skill was evident in the finesse of the final product. It was the perfect end to a real gourmand afternoon.

Raymond's rum cake

Raymond’s rum cake

We hugged the chefs to show our appreciation and thanked our hosts profusely for their hospitality, all wishing we could return to stay and soak up the relaxing vibe. (I think on my next visit I might like to stay and experience a massage, yoga class, and a Rasta Tour!)

We hardly noticed the bumps in the road on the way back, being lulled into a sense of total relaxation after our retreat visit. Rain drummed on the car windows as the scenery went by in a blur. By the time we returned to our resort I had my second wind and was happy to tell anyone who would listen (and a few who didn’t seem to care) about what fun we had. I felt I had sampled a true taste of the tropics along with a healthy dose of Jamaican hospitality and respect, and having enjoyed it I was proudly displaying my enthusiasm like it was a diploma of achievement.

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