IS COGNITIVE DECLINE INEVITABLE?

My mind goes often to this non planet

If I knew where my mind was, I’d be able to find it. 
My mind goes to Pluto at the drop of a hat. 
What did I come into this room to get?
And where did I park my car?

As we age, we lose brain cells. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My mother claimed we kids were responsible for the early grey in her hair and its white was the result of the loss of brain cells, which she attributed to our wild ways driving her crazy. Neurons in the brain do die every day, but the brain grows new ones into a person’s seventies. 

Previous research suggests cognitive decline doesn’t begin before the age of 60, but this view isn’t universally accepted by scientists, much less the common public. We all have met people who’ve quit growing intellectually in their 30’s, while some have flexible minds and continue to learn new ideas and adjust their previously held thoughts when new information is presented. Some people’s capacity for memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) can start to deteriorate from age 45. 

Happy Birthday—Don’t return the favor.

This is why 40 was once considered “over the hill,” but folks today think of 50 as that apex. When my brother decorated my desk with dead plants and black balloons for my 40th birthday, I’m sure he meant it with tongue in cheek. However he might have been also alluding to my well known “space ranger” wandering mind. I don’t think I had cognitive decline; rather mine was more imaginative daydreaming, also known as “not paying attention.”

When I was 60, I watched a program on dementia and cognitive decline. The difference between forgetfulness and cognitive decline is the first happens occasionally and the latter affects your daily living negatively. On my recent vacation I forgot to bring toothpaste. I bought a tube at the grocery store. Cognitive decline is when you forget how to brush your teeth, you get cavities, and don’t make dentist appointments anymore. Then you lose the teeth and get dentures. Most likely someone also has to remind you to use the bubble cleaner on them and rinse them before they go in your mouth again. 
Since understanding cognitive aging will be one of the challenges of this century, especially as life expectancy continues to rise, we have to ask, what can we do to for our whole health? 

As easy as popping a pill sounds, a large recent review of studies found no solid evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements have any effect in preventing cognitive decline or dementia. The whole internet is full of health claims for this and that supplement, drink, bar, or detox tonic. While B vitamins; beta carotene; vitamins C, D or E; zinc, copper or selenium may be needed in your diet for other reasons, none of these have proved effective in preventing cognitive decline. 

How can you prevent cognitive decline? Try this combination strategy:
Four steps can improve your mental skills, even as you age—
1. following a healthy diet, 
2. getting regular exercise, 
3. socializing, and 
4. challenging your brain.

The results of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), which is the latest and most impressive study, goes a step further by suggesting that if you follow all four practices, you may even reverse lost mental capacity. The FINGER study indicated those who did so not only kept cognitive skills from declining, it also improved their reasoning skills and speed in performing mental tasks.

The volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. One set of participants—the study group—received personal nutritional counseling, exercise instruction from physical therapists, and cognitive training. They also underwent seven medical exams during the study period. They frequently met in groups for cooking classes, cognitive training, or exercise instruction. The other participants—the control group—had three medical exams, during which they received general health advice. Both groups were given mental function tests again at the end of the study.

Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of The Harvard Guide to Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, says “Healthy lifestyle behaviors can benefit people of all ages. But to have the greatest impact on late-life mental function, get started early.” 

The FINGER study’s results should offer additional encouragement to pursue a healthy, active, engaged lifestyle with regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and challenging mental activities because these can help preserve your mental acuity. Moreover, the FINGER study reminds us it not only helps to combine these practices, but it also helps to enjoy them as we do them. 

This wasn’t a quick fix, either. The FINGER program lasted for two years and the participants stuck with it because they were enjoying themselves. They also had become friends with others in their training groups. Although the experiment was demanding, only 12% of participants dropped out. Plus, these folks worked at their exercise—attendance was over 85% at training sessions, which included three to five exercise sessions a week, as well as 10 to 12 sessions of nutrition counseling and 144 cognitive training sessions over two years.

If you’re having trouble making healthy changes, a cooking or exercise class may help you get started and open a new circle of friends. Volunteering as a tutor, joining a community choir, or working on a political campaign can offer new intellectual challenges and social engagement. The key to making lifestyle changes is in finding a way to enjoy making them—and that is often among a group of companions who are striving for the same goal. 

Fresh vegetables and Chicken breast in Olive oil

We all make a choice in our lives. If we want good health, but don’t want to give up our television programs, we either need to pick an exercise time outside of our favorite TV shows, or hit a gym with screens. For instance, I still eat fried chicken, but only on my vacation. I eat uncured bacon on Saturdays rather than every day, and pancakes once a month. I haven’t given up my favorite foods, but I’ve put a limit on the most unhealthy ones out of respect for my body. This gives me some room for when I feel the need to self medicate with two scoops of ice cream, as when my computer died last month and I had to replace it. Making a big decision is definitely an ice cream moment for me, but I don’t need it every day anymore. 

One of my goals at Cornie’s Kitchen is to learn new skills and information to benefit the majority of persons in our world today: half of Americans and 30% of the world’s population are obese or overweight, and the cardiovascular diseases associated with obesity are increasing worldwide also. Since our children are also impacted by this health risk, we have to change our way of looking at food, exercise, time, stress, life, work, and our means of balancing the competing and complex needs in our world. 

If I can’t wave a magic wand over you, say a magic spell, or cast a potion of power over you, then at least I can help you burn through a few brain cells. They’ll grow back. Grey hair is a sign of power and wisdom.  

Joy and Peace, 

Cornie 

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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

HALLOWEEN SPECTERS

HALLOWEEN COSTUMES
Have you readied your costume for the annual Trick or Treat event? I saw folks shopping for costumes as early as mid September, for both adults and children. Most of these garbs aren’t scary at all, unlike the one worn by the ghosts and ghouls of ancient lore, by which I mean my neighborhood companions and I.

19th Century Spookiness

We protect children today from such horrors, but back in the 1950’s, ritual exposure under adult protection was considered part of growing up. A very small child dressed as a ghost with a pillowcase over her entire body. Only the eyes and mouth holes were cut out, plus a slit in the front for holding the basket of treats. The shifting nature of the pillowcase was part of the plan—the child couldn’t race to the next house in the dark or the eyeholes would slip and then they’d slip too. I never realized how cunning my parents were.

1950’s Neighborhood Ghost Costume

LET THE HARVEST FESTIVALS BEGIN
Halloween is the official beginning of the harvest festival season in America.
First is the Chocolate Candy season, also known as Trunk or Treat in the church. Then 22 days later is Thanksgiving, a day given over to cooking and eating, with leftovers for a week afterwards. For the next month until Christmas, cookies and homemade treats roll out of our kitchens as if we were our grandparents. Once the New Year arrives, even if we make a resolution to stop this madness, we get an invite to a Super Bowl party on February 3rd, 2019. This is all happening in less than one hundred days (95).

We do this in addition to our regular lives, of course, for we don’t let anything go. No, we merely pile stuff higher and the wonder why it collapses. It’s called the Western Life Style.

TEEN COSTUMES

LIFESTYLE POSTER CHILD
The main negative features of this lifestyle include stress (long-term and continuous, psychological), positive energy balance (excessive energy intake and low physical activity), low-quality food (both high fat and energy dense, and at the same time poor in micronutrients), and disruption of chronobiology(insufficient sleep). What toe have I not stepped on yet? As my old congregations used to say, “At first you were preaching, but now you’ve done gone to meddling!”

WESTERN LIFESTYLE DEADLY
As countries around the world adopt the Western Lifestyle, rates of metabolic syndrome and diabetes are also increasing. For 2017, the International Diabetes Foundation estimated there were 451 million (age 18-99 years) people with diabetes worldwide. These figures were expected to increase to 693 million by 2045. Almost half of all people (49.7%) living with diabetes are undiagnosed. Moreover, an estimated 374 million people are likely living with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and almost 21.3 million live births to women were affected by some form of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy.

In 2017, approximately 5 million deaths worldwide were attributable to diabetes in the 20-99 years age range. The global healthcare expenditure on people with diabetes was estimated to be USD $850 billion in 2017.

DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE
“An acute disturbance in any of the physiological regulatory systems evokes reactions that tend to reestablish equilibrium. When the stimuli, even of moderate magnitude, tend to be repetitive or chronic, change and allostasis in one system impact on the other, and vicious cycles are created and reinforced.” The plain language translation is our bodies tend to seek equilibrium. If we lose weight, our bodies try to regain it. The vicious cycle many of us are most familiar with is losing the same amount weight over and over again.

Homemade Pizza Costume

THE FOOD WE EAT
Does what we eat make a difference? Every day a new diet fad comes down the pike, or at least a new packaging of an old one trots out for us to ride it for a while. Then we fall off that horse and look for another, with more appeal (cookie diet, anyone?).

Our food choices interact with our genetic, metabolic, and environmental factors. In obesity and metabolic syndrome, often dietary patterns are considered of central importance. In these, attention has been focused over calories, amounts, and proportions of macronutrients, and their effects on the energetic balance by themselves, and through metabolic regulators. You recognize this in the shorthand “calories in/calories out” slogan.

However, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes are way more complex operations than mere subtraction. A calorie isn’t just a calorie. That is, not all calories are created equal, although all whole foods have nutrients. Only recently have the acute effects of food ingestion, taking into consideration the type of food, and the specific effects of some nutrients, namely, fatty acids, began to be studied in relation with obesity and inflammation.

INFLAMMATORY ROLE OF FATS
Total dietary fat and saturated fat are associated with insulin resistance and high blood pressure as well as obesity-related inflammation. An immediate postprandial increase in plasma inflammatory markers after a high-fat meal had been shown in abdominally obese men. Consumption of a saturated fatty acid-rich diet resulted in a proinflammatory “obesity-linked” gene expression profile, whereas consumption of a monounsaturated fatty acid-rich diet caused a more anti-inflammatory profile. This means carnivores eating well marbled steaks every day aren’t doing their bodies long term good, but of course they’re too busy being important to have a real doctor test their blood. And they “feel fine.”

MUFA’s are foods and oils with higher amounts of monounsaturated fats, such as Nuts, Avocado, Canola oil, Olive oil, Safflower oil (high oleic), Sunflower oil, Peanut oil and butter, and Sesame oil. Everyone needs some fat in their diet, for it keeps our skin smooth, our hair lustrous, and our appetite satisfied. We don’t need fried foods or animal fats on a daily basis.

LIVER AND FAT STORAGE
The liver has two functions that directly impact the formation of excess fat: metabolism of carbohydrates (sugars) and digestion of lipids (fats). When we consume carbohydrates, our blood sugar rises, triggering a rise in insulin. That rise in insulin signals our liver to begin storing the excess glucose within its own cells. When the liver is full, it begins storing the excess carbohydrates as fat in our body fat. Sometimes that fat begins to accumulate in the liver cells, and the liver becomes fat.

Similarly, when we consume more lipids that the body can use for energy, the liver stores the excess lipids in body fat, and this excess of lipids can begin to accumulate within the liver as well. Whether the excess of food is made up of carbohydrates (sugars) or fat (lipids) —the liver stores the excess energy for future use. Often this results in excess fat accumulating in the liver itself. This is known as Fatty Liver, the first stage of NAFLD and should be viewed as a warning to change unhealthy lifestyle habits and adopt a low carbohydrate and low fat diet that is high in fresh vegetables and lean proteins.

TAKE OUT BOX
We need to eat enough quality nutrients to lose weight. Starving ourselves won’t do it, since this messes up our metabolism. Eating the good food, complex carbohydrates with fiber, for instance, and lots of vegetables full of water (spinach, zucchini, mushrooms) will help us meet our nutritional goals. Foregoing fried foods, highly processed foods, and fast foods will also improve our health. Exercise every day, if just to walk around the block. I sometimes fail on this. But I find a way to move more around the house or do big muscle chores.

Cornie’s Batgirl Costume

Time—we all have the same amount of it. What we do with it is the important thing. If I add an event to my schedule, something else has to go away. I’m not Wonder Woman. I’m not God. I might be Batgirl. I can’t do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me, but I can do all the IMPORTANT things Christ calls me to do in his power.

MORE SCIENCE
Below I’ve made some notes on the role of obesity, free fatty acids, and insulin resistance if you want more information. The link below has an excellent paper if you want to dig deeper. Low grade inflammation and free fatty acids are both implicated in NAFLD, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, which occurs when fat is deposited in the liver.

OBESITY AND INSULIN RESISTANCE
The reason why obesity is associated with insulin resistance is not well understood. Obesity is a condition characterized by an increase of body weight beyond the limitation of skeletal and physical requirements, as the result of excessive accumulation of body fat.

NOT A ROCK BAND
Free fatty acids (FFA) cause both insulin resistance and inflammation in the major insulin target tissues (skeletal muscle, liver and endothelial cells) and thus are an important link between obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation and the development of T2DM, hypertension, dyslipidemia, disorders of coagulation and ASVD.

FAT TISSUE: FACTORY AND WAREHOUSE
Adipose tissue not only stores and releases fatty acids but also synthesizes and releases a large number of other active compounds. According to this concept, an expanding fat mass releases increasing amounts of compounds such as FFA, angiotensin 2, resistin, TNF-α, interleukin 6, interleukin 1-β and others. Some of these compounds, when infused in large amounts, can produce insulin resistance.

However, any substance, in order to qualify as a physiological link between obesity and insulin resistance, should meet at least the following 3 criteria:
0. the substance should be elevated in the blood of obese people;
0. raising its blood level (within physiologic limits) should increase insulin resistance and
0. lowering its blood level should decrease insulin resistance.

So far, only FFA can meet these 3 criteria in human subjects.

Plasma FFA levels are usually elevated in obesity because
0. the enlarged adipose tissue mass releases more FFA and
0. FFA clearance may be reduced

Moreover, once plasma FFA levels are elevated, they’ll inhibit insulin’s anti-lipolytic action, which will further increase the rate of FFA release into the circulation.

The liver is more insulin sensitive than skeletal muscle.

FAT PILLS ARE REAL
Nevertheless, there is convincing evidence that physiological elevations of FFA, such as seen after a fat rich meal, inhibit insulin suppression of hepatic glucose production (HGP) resulting in an increase in HGP (1).

Acutely this rise in HGP is due to FFA mediated inhibition of insulin suppression of glycogenolysis or releasing glucose from carbohydrates.
Longer lasting elevations of FFA, however, are likely to also increase gluconeogenesis, or making glucose from non carbohydrate substances.

Chronically elevated plasma FFA levels, as commonly seen in obese diabetic and non-diabetic individuals, also cause insulin resistance.

GENES AREN’T OUR DESTINY
We know there’s a genetic component linked to the UCP3_HUMAN or mitochondrial uncoupling protein 3 and 2. Healthy pancreatic β-cells are poised to respond rapidly and efficiently to acute changes in circulating nutrient availability to maintain metabolic homeostasis.

CHRONIC EXPOSURE TO OVERNUTRITION
However, it is well recognized that chronic exposure to overnutrition, such as what occurs in obesity, results in a blunting of the insulin response to an acute stimulus.

INFLAMMATION
Whatever its origin, be it or not obesity the main initiator, the chronic low-grade inflammatory condition that accompanies the metabolic syndrome has been implicated as a major player in both the installation of the syndrome and its associated pathophysiological consequences.

WEIGHT LOSS HELPS INFLAMMATION
In good agreement with this interpretation of things, weight loss of obese patients is repeatedly verified to be associated with a decrease of inflammation biomarkers accompanied by improvement of metabolic parameters, namely, insulin sensitivity.

Monteiro, Rosário, and Isabel Azevedo. “Chronic Inflammation in Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome.” Mediators of Inflammation 2010 (2010): 289645. PMC. Web. 11 Oct. 2018
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913796/

Diabetes Impact on World
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29496507

Wacky Wednesday Duo

Breakfast and Lunch in the Kitchen: Spinach and Avocado Duo

This Wacky Wednesday duo is due to my need to clean out the icebox before my next grocery run. My parents grew up during the Great Depression, so wasting food wasn’t on their list of things to do. At least one meal a week was “druthers,” as in “Would you druther have this or that leftover?”

Since I cook for one and measure out my food portions beforehand, I don’t have leftovers. I do have eyes bigger than my stomach when I shop, however. I try to eat my purchases while they’re fresh. Hence a double dose of avocado and spinach on my menu today.

Overstuffed Omlette

When my overstuffed sausage, mushroom, cheese, and spinach omelette fell apart this morning, I stuck the getaway mushrooms onto the avocado toast triangles. After I snapped the photo, I noticed the silly face. To see patterns in common objects is called pareidolia. As a child, my brothers and I entertained ourselves by naming the shapes in the white clouds which floated overhead. At night the shapes in the dark shadows of the vine draped trees were far more sinister than the brightly lit clouds of the day.

It’s a wacky Wednesday all right. Today I read about America’s changing workforce and how the eight hour work day became the norm. At lunch I tossed the chopped spinach with a quarter avocado and some hummus, plus a can of tuna, and a half ounce of walnuts. I tossed in 1/8 C raisins and Italian spices, plus a generous hit of cayenne pepper. I ate this with an ounce of veggie pretzels.

I realize many people have divided food into good and bad categories, or foods for the light and the dark sides of life. Some never eat grain products, meat, beans, or any carbohydrates, ever. Their diets are marked by exclusion, rather than inclusion. Unless a person has an allergy or medical reason to eliminate a food, choosing moderate and/or occasional portions shouldn’t be a problem. Having a variety of foods keeps life interesting and enjoyable.

Tuna Dip in a Bunny Bowl

Another way to enliven meal time is to use the “special dishes.” If you’re still saving the “good” plates for an occasion, why not make today a special day? Why wait for a holiday, birthday, or anniversary? Sometimes I like to eat from my favorite bunny bowls, especially near the end of the month when I’m writing my “Rabbit! Rabbit!” post for the first of the next month. Plus I’m eating backwards today, so I’ll be having yogurt and fruit for dinner tonight, just to keep life interesting.

Tomorrow is another day, and I can go back to being normal, whatever that looks like. Shake up your meal plan every once in a while. Have breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast! Enjoy life!

Love from the Kitchen,

Cornie

SHARK WEEK CHOCOLATE BARK

Shark Week always grabs my attention. After all, that’s what sharks do! Or maybe because it’s far too hot to be outside in Arkansas or because my inner child loves to learn new things. I always loved the beach as a child, since the sea breezes kept the heat tolerable. Inland, folks just suffered in the sweltering humidity pods. Thankfully we now have modern air conditioning, an invention that didn’t come to my home until I was a teenager.

When the temperature was 99F at 10 PM, even a ceiling fan wouldn’t make sleeping comfortable. Cooking was out of the question. Daddy would barbecue or we’d eat cold cuts and fruit. Chocolate candy bark didn’t take long to heat on the stove, so it was a treat to make in the cooler mornings. It also reminds me of coral reefs, which Shark Week shows us nightly on the Discovery Channel.

Corals come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Some resemble deer antlers, trees, giant fans, brains, and honeycomb. Although many corals may look like plants, they’re actually animals; they’re most closely related to jellyfish and anemones. There are three different types of coral reef formations—barrier reefs, coral atolls, and fringing reefs. Barrier reefs help to protect lagoons and other types of shallow water; coral atolls (which are often mistaken for islands) are made from volcanic remains; and fringing reefs are found right along the coastline.

Coral reefs, which only grow at a maximum depth of around 150 feet, also grow very slowly, at an average rate of just two centimeters per year. This is because their biomes must maintain a temperature of 70 to 85º Fahrenheit. (Shallow water is more easily warmed by the sun.) Strangely, most coral reefs seem to grow on the eastern side of land masses, where the temperature is believed to be warmer than the western side. Stony coral groups are primarily responsible for building up reef structures.  Coral reefs grow upward from the sea floor as the polyps of new corals cement themselves to the skeletons of those below.

When I make Shark Week Chocolate Bark, I gather the following dry ingredients in a plastic bag or in a bowl:

120 gram(s) Wonderful Pistachios Roasted & Salted Shelled Pistachios

0.5 cup Dried cherries (tart montmorency)

12 pretzels Splits pretzels—break into pieces 1 inch long (I used the broken pieces in the bottom of the bag).

Also needed:

1 tbsp Vanilla extract —divided into 2 tsp and 1 tsp

12 tsp Coconut Sugar—divided into 8 tsp and 4 tsp

Then I weigh out 571 gram(s) GHIRARDELLI chocolate premium baking chips 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate — divided into 400 grams and 171 grams.

Take the larger amounts of chocolate baking chips first. Take chocolate and put into microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and melt them in the microwave. Stir well. The first or larger amount may need a second 30 second cooking. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Stir after each heating. Bowl will be HOT! Don’t over cook the chocolate.

Remove & add vanilla 2 tsp. Stir. Add 8 tsp sugar. Stir.

Turn out onto parchment paper on cookie sheet. Spread chocolate with spatula. Spread nut and pretzel mix out over it evenly. Gently press it into chocolate.

Take remaining chocolate and put into same bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. The hot melted pieces will melt the unmelted ones. Don’t over cook the chocolate. Add 1 tsp vanilla and 3 tsp sugar. Stir well. Drizzle over the surface and spread out. It will almost cover the whole nut layer.

Put into icebox for for 30 to 45 minutes to harden. Afterward, cut into small pieces about 1” x 1 1/2”. It will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks.

Serving Size: Makes 36 pieces appropriately 1 inch by 1 1/2 inch.

Number of Servings: 36

As you can see, making chocolate bark with broken pretzels, pieces of dried fruit, and nuts comes together much like a coral reef: it gets all the various pieces cemented with a binding agent, which in the kitchen is chocolate. I don’t suggest you go out into the sea and nibble on a coral reef. It wouldn’t be good for the pearly whites.

The Benefits of Coral Reefs

Scientists have discovered that many parts of a coral reef can be harvested to make medications. According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, coral reefs are emerging as the medicine cabinets of the 21st century: “Coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases.”

Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet. There are often more types of fish living in a two-acre area of healthy coral reef than there are species of birds in all of North America!

Coral reefs help to improve the quality of the surrounding water. They do this by filtering out things floating in the ocean, which leads to cleaner water. In addition to protecting shorelines, coral reefs are immensely valuable to the fishing and tourism industries. According to the World Resources Institute, the destruction of one kilometer of coral reef equals a loss of between $137,000 to $1,200,000 over a 25-year period. And yet, they estimate some 60% of the world’s coral reefs are currently threatened by human activity.

Dark chocolate has its own benefits to humankind. Without it, some of us aren’t fit for civilized company! We don’t need a massive shark bite full of this calming food to bring us into a harmonious state. This is because chocolate has multiple chemicals that produce positive feelings in us. Phenylethylamine is sometimes called “the love drug”, because it arouses feelings similar to those that occur when one is in love. Another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is a mood-lifter, as well. One chemical that causes the release of serotonin into the brain is tryptophan, found in (wait for it!) chocolate!

If chocolate were a drug, we might need a prescription. Or we might find the law regulating how much chocolate we could have in our candies. As far as I’m concerned, the darker the better, but small children often prefer milk chocolate due to the greater sugar and milk content. Dark chocolate has probiotics and prebiotics, magnesium, iron, copper, and antioxidants. Even commercial dark chocolate bars will have large amounts of sugar, so not all dark chocolate is good for people with diabetes or weight issues. Look for 15 g carbohydrates per serving as a limit. Chocolate is a snack treat, not a meal.

A little afternoon pickmeup or as a side nibble with coffee and a friend, and your mood will be adjusted in no time. Then you can go back to swimming with the sharks and they can’t bite you, since you now have on your impervious dark chocolate shark repellent suit. Enjoy!

Joy and Peace,

Cornie

Nutrition Facts

Servings Per Recipe: 36

Serving Size: 1 serving

Amount Per Serving

Calories

127.9

Total Fat

8.1 g

Saturated Fat

3.9 g

Polyunsaturated Fat

0.4 g

Monounsaturated Fat

0.8 g

Cholesterol

0.0 mg

Sodium

65.2 mg

Potassium

39.4 mg

Total Carbohydrate

15.1 g

Dietary Fiber

1.6 g

Sugars

9.1 g

Protein

2.1 g

Vitamin A

2.2 %

Vitamin B-12

0.0 %

Vitamin B-6

2.2 %

Vitamin C

0.3 %

Vitamin D

0.0 %

Vitamin E

0.0 %

Calcium

0.4 %

Copper

2.2 %

Folate

0.0 %

Iron

7.1 %

Magnesium

0.9 %

Manganese

2.2 %

Niacin

0.0 %

Pantothenic Acid

0.0 %

Phosphorus

1.7 %

Riboflavin

0.0 %

Selenium

0.0 %

Thiamin

1.7 %

Zinc

ARTISAN PIZZA

I made a beautiful and healthy pizza for supper last night with whole wheat and almond flours. I added a quarter cup of the latter to cut the carb content, but it doesn’t move the calories south at all. The mix takes 1 package yeast, 1/2 Cup warm water and 1 teaspoon actual sugar (yeast food).

Set this aside to focus on mixing up the flours—1 Cup whole wheat and 1/4 Cup almond flour. If you don’t have the almond flour, use all wheat, but the carb count is more. I didn’t use salt, since the spice mix I use has salt in it. I put a tablespoon of spice into the dough, poured the yeast mix into it, and kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes.

You might need to dust your board with flour if it begins to stick. I always work on parchment paper because I can slip that into the oven and not disturb the pizza. Shape it into a circle or rectangle, but don’t won’t if it’s not perfect. It is artisan pizza, handmade by an artist, and unique, not churned out by the thousands to be exactly alike.

I chopped 6 ounces of fresh tomatoes to put on the rolled out dough, which had a tablespoon of olive oil rubbed into it to seal it up. I left all the extra juice on the chopping board. Six ounces of Kraft Italian cheeses from the package, 8 ounces of precooked chicken, a dozen asparagus half cooked in the microwave, and a generous sprinkling of an Italian spice blend, heavy on the garlic, and it went into a preheated oven at 425 F.

I set the timer for 20 minutes and went into the living room to watch the news to find out if our present administration had given away the keys to the store. We seem to be safe for another 24 hours. As the program ended, the buzzer sounded, so I walked into my kitchen.

Once I got near, the aromas of pizza began to waft out from the oven. The good smells are the result of the food reaching an appropriate high temperature to release the scents, which are the result of chemical reactions taking place in your pizza or other recipe.

Another test for pizza doneness is the eyeball—the crust should be browned and the cheese bubbly. I tend to like my pizza crunchy, so I might cook it about 5 minutes longer than most. I also cook it on a pizza stone, which evens out the heat and keeps the crust proper.

The protein and carbohydrates are about equal in this recipe, so the pizza will stick to your ribs. Two slices is a whole meal of around 400-500 calories. It’s also very tasty. Other virtues are it’s ready in about 30 minutes and uses leftovers. It’s a good way to use up the last of the spinach, mushrooms, or any other veggie that won’t serve the whole family. Plus you can make one side meatless if someone in the family is abstaining from flesh.

The only negative is cleanup, but I’d assign that to someone who didn’t cook. For the individuals living single, I believe treating yourself to special cooking by an artisan chef is a pampering we all can appreciate, and we can save about $20 in the process. I can clean up my own pots and pans for that $20, thank you. And feel virtuous enough to either save it in my coffee can for my vacation or enjoy my fancy pants coffee without shame.

I have to admit, I no longer visit the local pizza joints as often since I discovered how simple pizza is to make. Twenty minutes of this recipe is sitting down and doing something else–this is just my style! I hope you try this Artisan Pizza Recipe. Tell me how it goes for you.

Love, Cornie

Christmas Baking for Emotional Eaters

I’m in Christmas cooking mode for the holidays in Cornie’s Kitchen for the month of December. Some of my favorite people who stop by for a visit might be drawn by some wonderful and enticing smells emanating from the door of my cozy condo home.

My mother was always baking at Christmas time, as was her mother before her. I never was in my great grandmother’s home at Christmas, or I was too young to recall her traditions. I do know she had an old cast iron wood fired stove. She must have had some skills to keep an even temperature for baking her homemade breads and cookies.

One of my earliest childhood memories at Christmas time is my mother in her bathrobe racing out of the little wood frame home in which we lived before my youngest brother was born. She was holding the foil wrapped fruitcakes in her hands and shouting for my daddy, who was backing up the brand new shining brown Pontiac as he was headed off to work.

Over the years, the fruit cake became cookies with candied fruits and brandy, for they knew more people to “gift” at Christmas time. Everyone needs a little something to know you care about them, now and then.

A homemade treat is the best, for you can expend your energies and anxieties in the working of the ingredients. As you smell and touch the different items which go into the treat, the part of your need to consume is already being sated by these sensations.

As you mix by hand—and I’m old school, I don’t use a blender or processor—you use up calories. If we are PWO (persons with obesity) we need to use all the energy we can. Also, doing this by hand gives us an immediate and direct connection with the food we’re making. We’ll feel the textures, the densities, and the thickness or thinness of our product. We’ll have a “feel for it.”

Could you make this quicker if you used electric tools? Yes. Would you lose the meditative opportunity to become “one with the food?” Also yes. I also think you’d be tempted to eat much more of the food if made more quickly, for slow food sates the emotional needs we have which cause us to overeat beyond what is necessary. As we wait for the the appropriate smell to waft from the oven, or the timer to go off to let us know the candy has chilled in the icebox, we can clean up the kitchen or have a little time to put our feet up with a cup of our kitchen’s best. Or maybe both. We shouldn’t work too hard after all.

When the goodies are ready, we divide them up, but there’s alway a few irregular ones, a little too imperfect to gift away. These will eat just as good, even if they don’t look so good. For quality control reasons, at Cornie’s Kitchen, I eat the broken ones, always remembering portion control. After cooking and cleaning, I find I don’t need all that many. If we know the effort our food takes, this might be the best argument for portion control yet.

Let’s cook more often, and take out less. We could practice “Life by Fork” instead of “Death by Fork.”

Love, Cornie