OF ORDINARY MIRACLES

Greek yogurt with cocoa, fruit and nuts

“Fabulous Fermented Foods” have been part of my family’s history for generations back. In the rural antebellum South, folks made cornbread with buttermilk and bacon grease. They didn’t waste soured milk in those unrefrigerated days, just as they used every bit of the pig but its squeal. “Waste not, want not,” was an adage my forebears took to heart, even to my embarrassment of their saving balls of string or aluminum foil for reuse. The latter I thought unsanitary, in my modern worldview, but I’d never experienced great want of any kind as they had.

I enjoyed helping my nanny can food by pickling peaches and cucumbers, but that was a different process than fermentation. My mother did ferment a fruit compote with alcohol, which we all devoured with gusto over ice cream during the holidays. “Is it ready yet?” was as frequent a question as “When can we open a present?”

Of course we ate pimento cheese sandwiches, especially during those long lazy days of summer, but none of us ever connected the cheese making process to fermentation by good bacteria or yeasts. We ate, enjoyed, and never gave it a second thought as we sought the shade or a cool dip in refreshing water. Like many people of our day, we were incurious of the many ordinary miracles which surrounded all of us.

Now I’m well into my seventh decade and understand these trendy (but ancient) foods have potential health benefits. Fermenting foods changes their taste and texture, along with their chemical and biological properties.

Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.

FERMENTATION PROCESS

What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization.

Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surströmming.

HEALTH BENEFIT CLAIMS

Behind the Health Benefit Claims. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the fermentation process changes the health-promoting characteristics of foods,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, professor emeritus at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

For example, large studies have suggested an association between consumption of fermented dairy foods and weight maintenance that is not seen with unfermented dairy products, and frequent yogurt consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.

Some data show kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish ubiquitous in Korean cooking, is associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits not seen with unfermented cabbage. Some of these suspected health benefits may result from the presence of the microorganisms themselves, but emerging research indicates that changes those organisms make to the food constituents, and new constituents they create, might have health benefits in their own.

HEALTH BENEFITS INCLUDE

Some of the potentially health-promoting effects of fermentation include:

1. Adding to our gut microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers.

Some bacteria used in fermentation are known probiotics (or are similar to probiotic species). If fermented foods and beverages contain live microorganisms when consumed, a relatively large number of these organisms apparently make it through the human digestive system alive. “During the last decade, the number of studies has exploded regarding gut microbiota and their impact on the health of not only the gut but also the brain, heart, and immune system,” says Blumberg.

2. Changing existing compounds. In fermentation, the microorganisms break down food constituents. This process may have health benefits. For example, in fermented vegetables certain bacteria help convert health-promoting flavonoids into a more readily-absorbed form.

In dairy products, the bacteria break down lactose, making yogurt and cheese easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest.

3. Creating new compounds. Fermentation may create new compounds that have health-promoting actions in the body.

For example, one common result of bacterial fermentation is lactic acid (lactate), which recent research indicates is involved in anti-inflammatory and possibly antioxidant processes.

Other strains of microorganisms actually synthesize B vitamins or vitamin K; discourage “bad” bacteria from taking hold in the gut; or produce molecules not found in the original form of the food that play a variety of potentially health-promoting roles in the body.

4. Deactivating undesirable compounds. In addition to creating (mostly) desirable compounds in foods, fermentation can also remove undesirable compounds. In some plant foods, so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to nutrients like iron and calcium, decreasing the amount of these nutrients available to be absorbed by the body.

Fermentation can reduce phytic acid levels, which frees up more nutrients for absorption. Additionally, some food components are typically fermented in the gut by gut bacteria. This can create gas and trigger digestive problems. Fermenting foods before consumption leaves less work for gut microbes, and may help ease digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

5. So far, there is not a lot of clinical data backing up the potential health benefits discussed above, or the health claims often attributed to fermented foods.

But tasty foods like yogurt, hard cheese, the fermented yogurt drink kefir, cabbage-based sauerkraut and kimchi, or the increasingly popular fermented tea kombucha are delicious ways to add nutritional variety to your overall dietary pattern.

Of course when we say “yogurt,” we mean the plain, unsweetened product, to which you control the additional fruits and sugar content. The presugared/fruit purée style is not a healthy choice. Look for a yogurt with more grams of protein than in carbohydrates (Greek usually fits the healthier choice).

The same goes for other milk products, or any prepared food or drink. If it has added sugars, leaving it on the shelf is the best way to keep it from showing up on your own body. If you have a body like mine, these sugar bombs explode in one perturbing place, every single time, as if there were a hidden sugar magnet inside my body! Every. Single. Time.

Yet we can do this! I keep weighing my food, keep a food diary, and exercise. I realize 30 minutes a day doesn’t seem to be enough to lose weight, but it is enough to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure in check. I either have to work less and workout more, or accept 2/3 of my efforts are good enough for someone in the later years of her life.

I’ll probably be working on the last 1/3, just because I can’t rest until I get it ALL. This means I need to cut back on some of my “working.” I’m going to post more monthly on this blog than every two weeks from now on. My Facebook Cornie’s Kitchen page will get more frequent posts.

Joy and peace, Cornie.

Tufts Nutrition Letter, Articles, November 2018 Issue

https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/14_11/current-articles/Fabulous-Fermented-Foods_2487-1.html

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Herding Cats and Food Jags

Cat food. People food. Ever get too much of a good thing?

Folks who grew up in the Great Depression were glad to have chicken on Sundays. In Louisiana, politicians promised “a chicken in every pot and every man a king.” My family ate fried chicken at my grandparents’ home every week, until my Nannie passed away.

When that happened, my daddy let my mother know we should plan a different menu for Sunday lunch, that is, anything as long as it wasn’t fried chicken. He was tired of the same meal week in and week out. Mother went along with this, for she knew it wouldn’t be too long before daddy would be craving some fried chicken. She was right. It wasn’t worth arguing over.

Grief hits everyone differently. My dad kept his feelings about the unchanging menu to himself for the sake of family harmony. Mother kept her grief and loss sublimated to care for her father and our family, even if she allowed herself to cry on the anniversary of her mother’s death every year.

I’ve gone on food jags before, and then lost my taste for that food. I find I crave snack foods and breads when I’m stressed, but when the stressor leaves my life, I wonder why I have this unopened bag of potato chips on the top shelf of my cabinet. Go figure! Since I have to pull out the step stool to get it, I have to think twice, “Do I truly want this or do I merely crave it?” I find myself leaving it there more often than not.

Maybe the “cat diet tips” can help you with your cravings too. Just think of your unhealthy food choices as the “cat’s favorite wet food” —just like a perverse kitty, yass—I’m not going to eat it, just cause!

HOW HOT IS IT? 

If the Lord had a choice, he’d pick another day to make his return. If there’s already weeping and gnashing of teeth due to the heat, who’d know if they were being consigned to the hot place? While it’s true we don’t know when the Lord will return, I’m thinking these dog days of summer are a “bye” for us. 

While we wait, we can always cool our fevered brows and slack our thirsty throats with homemade limeade. I enjoy making mine fresh with my grandmother’s depression era milk glass juicer. I realize juicers now are high tech and will pulverize any vegetable or fruit, but this treasured one reminds me of many a sleep over and breakfast at her home. 

My recipe is simple: juice of two lines, Splenda to taste, and two cups of water. Pour over two tall glasses of ice. Add a sprig of mint if you want a different taste. Take the glass somewhere cool and relax. Don’t think of anything difficult or distressing until the drink is finished. 

In fact, once you finish it, don’t think of those distressing  things at all! Let go of them. You’ve had enough trouble for today. Rest. Let God handle those troubles for a while. Tomorrow you can work refreshed and renewed. 

I’m on the couch now, with the cold air conditioning blowing over my bare feet. I almost feel human again. Every sip I take brings me a bit closer to being able to find the kitchen and supper! It will be cold and fruity, not hot and savory. Enjoy your day or evening. 
Joy and Peace, Cornie. 

SNAP CHALLENGE AT NASCAR

Can I live on $4.17 per day for 7 days? I went to Texas Motor Speedway for NASCAR and Indy Car racing. While I was at the Lodge I stay at when I go over for these weekends, I usually shop at the Brookshire’s grocery in the next town over bay. 

I just spent $86 on a week’s groceries–my normal average. I normally eat “high on the hog,” as the old timers used to say. Eating unprocessed foods cooked in my own kitchen is healthier for my pre diabetic body than foods manufactured with too many salts and added sugars. These boxed preparations also have the fibers ground out of them for some reason. Maybe they’ve been between too many steel plates or under too high heat during the processing. Or, it could be the difference between a food cooked to an al dente texture versus mush. 
I did buy things I didn’t need: 

  • $ 4 Stacy’s Pita Chips (2 bags for price)
  • $10 olive oil (I didn’t remember if I had any)
  • $ 5 Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate baking cocoa
  • $10 beer (for medicinal purposes, you understand…)
  • $29 Extra food items. 

 This is still $57 total or about $28 over my total SNAP budget of $29.17

Obviously, I joined the SNAP challenge after shopping and while on vacation. In hindsight, this isn’t the best way to go! An interesting aspect of food insecurity in America today is how the economy is affecting younger seniors, aged 50-59, who typically don’t have small children at home and who are often the first to be laid off since they often have the highest pay. 

“Good nutrition is important to help keep the body’s immune system healthy and to prevent chronic diseases. Research has shown that access to enough food is necessary for a healthy life.20 However, we know that in America not everyone has access to nutritionally balanced meals at all times. As a result, millions of Americans feel the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of hunger and our nation feels the negative economic effects. Those who are food insecure experience significantly poorer health, are more likely to suffer from depression, and are more likely to see a psychologist.21 ” http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/aarp_foundation/2014-pdfs/SNAP-Access-Barriers-Faced-By-Low-Income-50-59-Year-olds-AARP%20Foundation….pdf (page 3)


This is the dinner I call Spinach Taco Salad. I don’t use lettuce because it has almost zero nutritional value, so it’s a waste of the food dollar. It has a tomato, a bell pepper, onion and garlic, and 4 ounces of 85/15 drained ground beef. It also has about one cup of baked sweet potato and one serving of Stacey’s jalapeño chips. This is 510 calories, 29 grams carbs, 29 grams protein, and 16 grams of fat. This is acceptable nutrition for someone with prediabetes who has their blood sugar under control with diet and exercise. 

Maybe we don’t shop with our eyes open because we’re worn out just trying to make it from day to day. How much emotional energy do you spend just trying to get home in one piece from your job? Some people spend that same amount of energy trying to hold their lives together while they look for meaningful work or any work at all. When you get home, your day got “valued” with a pay check, but their day was devalued because they received no remuneration. Unfortunately, we tend to devalue them as people also. This is wrong, but we do it. No wonder they become depressed–we would go there too, most likely. Maybe we need to rethink how we view those who struggle with hunger and unemployment. 

Seniors in Arkansas rank first in food insecurity in the USA, with nearly 40% of Arkansas seniors affected. That is a huge number! For resources see:

http://www.daas.ar.gov/seniorbenefits.html  and  http://www.arhungeralliance.org

Families have difficulty meeting the calorie needs of growing children, but WIC/Women, Infants & Children food subsidies can help. For a complete listing of acceptable foods see this link:

http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programsservices/wic/documents/foodlists.pdf

An interesting note: the only WIC acceptable potato is the sweet potato, never the white or baking potato, whether fresh or frozen. This is because the sweet potato has more nutrients and fewer calories than the ordinary potato. I almost never eat the white kind anymore. Just don’t sugar and cinnamon the baked goods up to equal the calories of the old white ones! 


https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/03/white-potatoes-vs-sweet-potatoes-which-is-healthier/

Some folks object to the WIC program’s restrictions on choosing the least priced item in the store (these are marked with WIC labels). As a frugal shopper, I shop the sales, what’s in season, and determine my menus from what’s available. There are months in the year when I don’t eat fresh tomatoes: too expensive, too little value, as well as too little taste. I will wait until a “real” tomato comes back into the store. 

I have a life of privilege. I’m on vacation. I was able to go to my doctor’s office to get treatment for a lingering sinus infection. I was self treating because I try to avoid use of needless antibiotics. When I began to over use nonprescription analgesics, lose my appetite, and snarl at all comers, I knew I needed real medicine. However, more than 4 out of 5 families unable to afford basic necessities are also classified as food insecure, illustrating that struggling families have difficulty not only meeting their basic needs, but also their need for food as well. People will brush their teeth without toothpaste, or use a toothbrush which has outlived its usefulness. Other ways to deal with food insecurity are skipping bills, delaying payments, putting off needed medical or dental care, or not changing diapers on babies as frequently. 

http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/our-research/in-short-supply/

The middle class calls these activities “slow pay,” or “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” but some of the efforts are the same. I used to cry when I couldn’t pay my bills by the due date. I felt like a failure. One of my clients told me, “You’re no different than most of my customers. I can’t pay my bills till they pay me. This is how America works. You pay when you get the money. Just don’t go crazy spending what you don’t have!” 

In a recent survey, in January, 2016, 56.3% of Americans admitted to having less than $1,000 combined in their checking and savings account. Over half the country is living “paycheck to paycheck.” In an emergency, 56.3% of Americans would need to borrow in order to survive. Rather than focusing on building wealth, the primary focus of a majority of American families is to get through the month. http://www.forbes.com/sites

While I was shopping, I noticed a small carton of six eggs was $1.78 with the second second carton only a penny more. Normally a whole dozen eggs at $3.29 is a bargain over two regular priced half dozens, but not if the small size is on sale. Usually you pay less if you buy in bulk, but not if they are selling the small stuff out. If you pay attention to the pennies, you can come up with the dimes later on. 

The same went with the salad I bought. I had the choice of a bag or a cellophane box, but I chose the bag for the $1 saving. This also means I’ll have to eat it quicker, for the box keeps it fresher. I did bring a keeper box with me, for I plan to take a meal out to the track each night. Yes, I brought those pieces of chicken pre cooked & ready to eat along with avocados and tomatoes from last week. 

One of the good aspects of the WIC program is it covers whole grains: whole wheat bread, pasta, oatmeal, tortillas and cereals. Both dry and canned beans are covered, but not flavored beans (baked beans, most likely exceed the sugar content). Likewise, mixed beans with flavors aren’t covered (high salt content, I suspect). Frozen and fresh vegetables and fruit are covered, but not if they are sugared or spiced up in any way. Cooking and prep work is encouraged. 

This might be the most difficult aspect of the SNAP challenge for modern families: cooking a meal nightly and sharing it. Many young people don’t have the experience of being at the table each night with the whole family. Dinner began early, after homework and play was done. My brothers and I would begin hovering nearer the kitchen steps, anticipating the smells coming from the oven and the stovetop, soon to be floating out over the Camilla blossoms and mixing with their scent 

“Wash your hands!” My mother would shout at us, as the screen door slammed behind the last whirling dervish to bolt into the cut through to the hallway. 

More slowly we returned, chastened by the scrubbing of the soil and sweat from our hands and arms. Most of the time we even washed our faces too, for once we were arm and hand clean, our faces looked and felt as if they belonged to someone else’s body. Looking into the bathroom mirror, we could tell we weren’t all that clean. Afterwards, we felt renewed, even if we didn’t have fresh clothes. By this age, we knew better than to get that dirty right before dinner!

Arriving in the kitchen, we lined up for tasks. My youngest brother got the simplest tasks, as was right. Later, after he mastered placing metal, he would move onto others. My next brother was onto the breakables: he was placing dishes and glasses in place. I was in charge of drinks and other service before hand. As the oldest, I was trusted not to spill. Tonight we all hoped daddy wouldn’t have late rounds, so he make dinner on time. I remember most of these meals as times of learning how to share about life, telling about heartache and triumph, and receiving encouragement and sometimes reprimand for my day. Other times, we regressed into silliness, telling jokes we’d heard at school, and playing I spy games. 

My family tolerated my sculpting my food into shapes when I was a child or my playing games while I told stories about it as I ate it. I tolerated my daughter’s preoccupation with white foods. I knew she would eat a colored food when she got hungry. Every day she got a vitamin. My parents told me, “people are starving in China. You need to clean your plate.” I told my daughter, “I’m not cooking in between meals. Eat what’s on your plate or make it yourself. ”

I’m not sure either of these messages are good, but we don’t battle over food in my family. Parents aren’t short order cooks at a restaurant to meet a child’s whim of the moment. Parents know what a child needs because they are the grownup in the relationship, they have the experience, they have the training, and because, as my folks used to say, ” Because I said so, that’s why!”

After dinner, the cleanup goes apace: the brothers did their same chores quickly and daddy took them back for their baths before bed. Mother and I washed and dried the dishes. This was back in the 1950’s, when we were glad to have a clothes washing machine and an outdoor clothesline, but we still washed dishes in the kitchen sink. There’s a lovely rhythm of this routine if two hearts beat as one and four hands work together as if they belong to one body and one mind. Mothers and daughters can find this rhythm easier than sons and fathers or sons and mothers, I think, for we’ve not only heard the maternal heart, but we are connected to all the mothers’ hearts all the way back through our line. 

The sink fills with hot soapy water. A large hand washes the dish, passes it under the flowing stream of clear water in the empty sink, and passes it off to the small hand who drys it and lays it aside. If the washing, rinsing, passing, and drying work correctly, the laying down happens as the next dish comes up for drying. This can be done in silence, as is it were a meditative dance, or it’s an activity full of chatter and sharing. Sometimes it’s one, the other, and at other times some of both. One or both partners can get out of sync so easily, if only by following a stray thought too far. 

“A penny for your thoughts,” my mom would say to me. She was interested and valued my daydreams. Once upon a time, a penny was worth something. Then again, if you take care of your pennies, you’ll come up with your dimes when you need them. 

 

TUNA SALAD WITH AVOCADO, PECANS AND APPLES ON SPINACH 

  
One of my high school buddies from Louisiana saw this on my friend feed. “I put apples in my tuna salad too! I’ve never met anyone else who did. Do you think this is just a regional thing?” 

I’m thinking since we put apples in the chicken salad, we put them in the tuna also. I searched for recipes with this variation, but found none in the Times or epicurious on line apps. Of course, Martha Stewart did make an apple tuna variation. My childhood memories are of the classic Starkist tuna recipe: chopped sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish and chopped onions, heavy on the mayo. 

As for adding the apples, it might be a holdover from depression era cooks’ proclivity to stretch an expensive ingredient with a more available one in season. 

The Oxford Companion to Food & Drink tells about the introduction of tuna to the American menu. Bumble Bee was the first canned tuna. Folks said it “tasted like chicken.” 

The canned tuna has evolved to pouch tuna, and now we can get flash frozen tuna steaks. Some groceries even sell fresh tuna, and coastal cities even have fish markets to purchase the whole, fresh fish. Barbecue anyone!?

One dish I can no longer eat, for my taste buds grew tired of its variations and its constant presence in my early married poverty years. This is the tuna casserole. I made this with noodles, vegetables, condensed soup, dressed with the broken contents of potato chip bags (waste not, want not), and onions. It had the virtue of being filling, inexpensive, and providing easily reheated leftovers. 

But so does the classic tuna apple salad, which makes two large servings for salad greens, or four hearty servings for sandwiches. 

For tea sandwiches, it makes bazillions, for all the ingredients get chopped fine. Ladies, you understand, have delicate sensibilities, so chopping off the crusts and spreading the salad thinly is a must. Of course, none of these fragile feminine folk will ever get curly hair. To do this, my Nannie said I had to hide behind the closet door and eat these crusts in private.  👒

For more information on Tuna:

https://books.google.com/books?id=GZVweuXhZlkC&pg=PA596&lpg=PA596&dq=tuna+salad+recipe+civil+war+era&source=bl&ots=GM8z1s4VYa&sig=N1Orv282lf-ufXtObM51ESmZTLg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjJotrfrvzJAhWEQCYKHfzGCW0Q6AEIJTAE#v=onepage&q=tuna%20salad%20recipe%20civil%20war%20era&f=false