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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?

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Serious Food and Drink shouldn’t be taken too seriously

Here we are at the start of a new year, and everywhere there are earnest reminders that we should be striving for more, improving, setting goals, accomplishing new things…. it’s exhausting, isn’t it? How about we start by maintaining the good we’ve already done, and celebrate that little victory? After all, we deserve a pat on the back for showing up, don’t we??

With that attitude in mind, my post today is about keeping one’s sense of humour. I don’t know about you, but I have been known to get all fired up about new things (like trying recipes, for example), only to discover that success was not as obvious as expected. I just deleted a draft of a recipe I had written here and wanted to post: “Banana Coconut Cream Pie with a Chocolate Crust”. Sounds awesome, right? Yeah, well, it didn’t look awesome when I made it. It looked like something my dog might have well, put back in the bowl, if you know what I mean. And it didn’t taste all that great either. Not only did the custard not set, but the bananas went brown almost immediately, and the crust was soggy in some spots and like cardboard in others. So much for sharing that Pinterest find. We did have a good laugh about how awful it was, though, as we substituted homemade sundaes for dessert that night. What else could I do?

ice-cream-sundae

So, I am not making any resolutions to go on a diet, or eat gluten free, or start up longer work outs or lift more weight. I’m working on keeping up with my efforts from last year. Thankfully, being married to a chef and interested in good food, I eat pretty healthy most of the time. I also treat myself often (my workout schedule is a combination of vanity and a calculation that accounts for regular chocolate, ice cream and alcohol consumption). Don’t look here for any recipes that feature restrictions – look for dishes that feature interesting tastes and combinations of flavours. They might be extra-healthy, they might be gluten-free or Paleo, but most importantly I think they are delicious.

Alright, enough said for today. (I don’t want to seem preachy.) Get out there and have fun – eat something interesting! And then congratulate yourself for living life to the fullest. If you’d like a relatively healthy recipe idea, how about Chicken with Cinnamon and Dates ?  It’s one of my favourite chicken recipes.

If you need more inspiration, the wonderfully funny folks at Urban Daddy came up with a great New Years list for the first month of the year: 31 Reasons to Have a Drink. Since I’ve managed to stick to my 2017 plan for two days in a row, I think I’ll toast my small success with a glass of wine 🙂

Cheers!

… Comes Around

this is part 2 of my earlier post, What Goes Around… where I offer a way out of the “food guilt” that we foodies may feel amidst the mass production of a plethora of foods and the slippery slope between following every new trend and being true to your food.

lemons and olive oil Happy GourmandI am a believer in moderation and practicality. For most people, the idea of living within the concept of the 100 mile diet is not something they are willing to do. I know I enjoy lemons and coffee and olive oil too much to say I will swear off eating them. My husband says anything that is called a diet puts him off immediately (chefs don’t like being limited).

I like the concept of Slow Food, that says you support local producers and encourage traditions to continue as part of everyday life in working towards a sustainable food community. That can include supporting the local store that sells  organic lemons and fair trade coffee and  artisan olive oil, as they are likely the place that also sells local strawberries (instead of the imported ones shipped by the pallet-load) and other seasonal fare.strawberry fields

I also think that education is crucial, and it happens to be another Slow Food pillar. We all need to understand our food – where it comes from, how it grows, what connection it has to our history and our future. If the only way we see food is wrapped in plastic, already portioned, then our education suffers from a lack of information. Children should know that bacon comes from a pig, not a grocery store. When they understand the pigs can live a happy life then maybe they don’t need to think they should be vegetarians because we are cruel to animals. If there is no sharing of traditional celebrations or recipes and their preparation, then our palates suffer from a lack of distinction in flavour. Grandma’s recipes should live for generations, and not just because they were published. Often the secret is in knowing just how to prepare a dish, or season it, so that it has that special something. We all deserve to be thrilled with our own food.

Maybe I did play a part in creating the monster. Now that it has reared its ugly head, though, there seems no reason I can’t be of help in getting a lasso around its neck so we can train it to work with us instead of against us. If sharing my enthusiasm can include the encouragement for others to learn the whole picture and not just the processed one, then perhaps we can reach a happy medium. Everyone deserves to have access to good, clean, fair food – food that tastes good, and is free from unnecessary chemicals, and for which the producer receives a fair price. All these advantages are then passed along to the consumer, who is aware and supports all of these tenets.

I am fortunate enough to live in a region where there are many people connected to the land, and happy to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge. Slow Food is a new organization in our community, but its philosophy is already alive and well here in the Okanagan, and I am proud to be a part of it. There is an orchard down the road from our house that is owned by the same family who planted it one hundred years ago (in the Canadian west that’s a long time!)Okanagan peaches Happy Gourmand They sell the fruit at the fruit stand on the corner, and the taste of fruit picked that morning simply does not compare to the same variety packaged in crates and shipped and sold in a major chain store. In season, the fruit stand prices are close and sometimes even cheaper than the stores, but I for one am willing to pay a bit more for the taste of fresh Okanagan sunshine packaged that way. Maybe the extra pennies are like penance for my foodie sins, but I don’t mind – it’s worth every delicious bite!

Do you have a favourite local food or traditional recipe? What is a delicacy where you live or where you come from?? I’d love to hear your comments. If you prefer Facebook, you can join me thereslow soup too!

If you are interested to learn more about Slow Food, you can check out their fabulous website with many stories. There are convivia (local chapters) in over 150 countries, so I’m sure there are like-minded souls near you. If you live in my neighbourhood, you can follow Slow Food Thompson Okanagan on Facebook.

Okay, here we go!

Well, it’s a new year. Here we are in the midst of being back at work and thinking about the resolutions, the plans, the things we wanted to improve for the future. If you are like me, you still have the Christmas tree up (I like to leave it up till Epiphany, when I close out the festive eating and drinking – watch for the Twelfth Night torte recipe!) I like to ease into things, so I am trying to remember to tackle my resolutions and new projects in small, manageable pieces. It’s sort of like approaching a buffet, I think – I like to sample lots of different flavours and get the most from the experience. I also enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task, and if you have lots of little tasks, then you have lots of accomplishments (instead of the daunting nature of a huge project viewed all at once).

One of the things I like to keep on the resolution radar is cooking everyday meals at home. I know that may sound a bit silly, but I am fortunate enough to have married a chef, so he thinks about getting meals made all the time. He also gets hungry faster than I do, so if I want to cook on a Tuesday night I have to get myself organized so that dinner isn’t the casual affair I might tolerate after a glass of wine and a bit of chatting over how best to adapt or customize a recipe. Last night I tried a straight-forward idea from my newly-arrived Bon Appetit magazine: Skillet-Baked Eggs & Spinach. In deference to them, I include their link for the recipe here. NOTE: I modified the chile aspect by using an assortment of dried Mexican chiles we have in our larder, along with a healthy pinch of smoked paprika. (In Kelowna, Turkish chili powder is not something you find readily.) It went very nicely with a glass of Okanagan rosé – perhaps a bit of indulgence on the Tuesday after the holiday season, but it was worth celebrating. After all, I had managed to organize an interesting meal and get it cooked in time for us to enjoy it and still be ready to depart for our movie night out. I could have cooked an old stand-by, like tuna casserole, but there is the rub: I am plagued by the desire to consistently try new ingredients and combinations when I eat. Hence my recurring New Year’s urge to keep one foot in the kitchen and the other in the specialty aisle of the grocery store.

I don’t think I am a food snob. Does it make me elitist if I don’t want to eat tomatoes in winter that taste like kitchen sponges that merely wiped tomato juice off the cutting board? I would rather look for some other tangy ingredient if the red billiard balls in my freezer (read frozen garden tomatoes) won’t suffice in a recipe. In the summer I know I will recover from this hiatus when we eat tomatoes at every meal. I like the thrill of finding a traditional winter dish that wraps me up like a cozy scarf on a cold day and makes me want to open a bottle of ponderous red wine from the cellar. That dish might involve local root veggies, or it might involve a stew recipe from a country halfway around the world.

I think everything has its place, even comfort food. Tuna casserole was always my favourite dish as a child, and when nostalgia strikes I like to re-create my Mom’s dinner that included jellied carrot salad as an accompaniment. I love a fancy dessert, but I also adore Mom’s lemon pudding cake, especially those late-night spoonfuls snuck from the bowl late at night (I always volunteered to take all the empty tea mugs back to the kitchen on nights when it sat on the counter :)). The taste of that stuff is as powerful a memory in my mind as my first taste of Spanish flan in Barcelona or Cape Brandy Pudding atop Table Mountain in Cape Town. Perhaps I have catalogued my food memories as unique accomplishments too, so that each one is a victory in itself. Or maybe that just confirms my status as a gourmand…

 

Table Mountain is known for her flat top and for the "cloth" of clouds that sometimes lays over it. Just the setting for a city of food lovers!

 

If you are looking to cut back on calories, or switch your diet to avoid gluten or dairy or meat or other substance, then I think it is even more important that taste become a priority. As far as I am concerned, food of any kind is meant to be enjoyed, not endured. A squeeze of lemon or a dash of herb or spice or a splash of oil or vinegar can make all the difference in the world. This philosophy could be applied to traditional favourites too. The Sunday roast might be sacrosanct, but who says you can’t put a bit of Dijon in those mashed potatoes? (If you have any secrets or tips you want to share, please leave a comment! One can never have too many options in the kitchen.)

 

So, in essence, the moral of this post is “One meal at a time”. There is always the potential for the next dish you eat or drink you sip to be something so sublime as to stop your world and create a memory. Wouldn’t that improve a hard day at the office?

Bistro at the top of Table Mountain - where they serve an awesome Cape Brandy Pudding!

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