Older Not Old -- #Stand4Science

I’ve been a registered dietitian for a few years now, long enough to observe lots of evolution in nutrition science. Nuts and avocados went from bad, especially for weight loss, to good. Cheese appears to be transitioning from sometimes and only in moderation to maybe okay. Same story with whole milk, whole milk yogurt, and lean beef, to name just a few. But that’s the nature of science — it evolves as tools become more sophisticated and lines of questioning deepen. A lot of folks don’t understand that and assume that scientists don’t know what they’re talking about because they keep changing their minds. Superimpose our current culture where beliefs trump science, and science takes a serious beating.

I was reminded of the nature of the scientific process while reading a book chosen by my book club, “Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore. The book tells the charming fictionalized history of the relationships among Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and attorney Paul Cravath in the late 1800s. In addition to the story, I’ve particularly enjoyed reading the chapter opener quotes that are credited to historical figures. Many pertain to the scientific process, and I thought I would share them here:

  • “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” Thomas Edison
  • “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” Thomas Edison
  • “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this–you haven’t.” Thomas Edison
  • “Science may be described as the art of systematic oversimplification–the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.” Karl Popper
  • “Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: There will always be some who misunderstand you.” Karl Popper
  • “No matter how many instances of white swans we have observed, that does not justify the inference that all swans are white.” Karl Popper
  • “Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.” Karl Popper
  • “A scientific revolution is not fully reducible to a reinterpretation of … stable data. In the first place, the data are not unequivocally stable.” Thomas Kuhn
  • “Science seldom proceeds in the straightforward, logical manner imagined by outsiders.” James Watson
  • “What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what is going on.” Jacques Cousteau
  • “At the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes–an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense.” Carl Sagan
  • “Headlines, in a way, are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline, and gradual improvement is not.” Bill Gates
  • “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” Steve Jobs
  • “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

Older Not Old -- Advice for Feeding Kids

I got into a declutter mood after carrying and accumulating “stuff” over many years, and decided to digitize the hundreds of articles that I’ve written over the course of my career. We’re having a blizzard and maybe changes in barometric pressure are giving me crazy ideas! Anyway, after being hit with a “who cares” moment, I decided that a better use of my time would be to digitize just my articles on feeding kids and create a book to give my boys if/when they start their own family.

There’s nothing like writing about what you’re living, so food and nutrition for children was a natural fit for me in the 1990s when my kids were in their early eating years. I was fortunate to serve as nutrition editor for Child magazine for eight years and also wrote for other magazines and several food companies. My writing was a combination of science, personal observations, advice from our pediatrician, the fabulous Dr. Pete, and guidance from my child feeding guru, Ellyn Satter, author of How to Get Your Kid to Eat, But Not Too Much.

So here is some advice on feeding kids … and grandkids, since many of my older not old friends have them:

• Allow your baby to feed when showing signs of hunger and stop feeding when showing signs of fullness. (Growing Leaps and Bounds™, with funding from the Dannon Institute)
• The more familiar you are with your child’s individual likes and dislikes, the easier it will be for you to communicate with him or her about a healthy lifestyle. (Getting Kids to Eat Well & Be Active, with funding from Weight Watchers International and the American Health Foundation)
• For breakfast, include foods from at least three food groups, for example, one serving each from the grain, fruit, and dairy groups. (Child magazine)
• The best time to introduce finger foods may be when your child grabs for your hand and tries to push the spoon into his/her mouth, or reaches for food on your plate. (Healthy Kids Birth-3)
• Don’t turn mealtime into a battleground – the most important point is to provide your child with a balanced diet for growth and normal development. (Healthy Kids 4-10)
• Snacking has a place in a healthy child’s diet. Most children burn more calories than they can eat in three meals. And use snack time to fill in what may be missing from your child’s diet. (Child magazine)


• Children’s tastes change as they get older, and chances are that your child will someday learn to enjoy eating vegetables. (Child magazine)
• It’s a mistake to turn meals into battles. Instead of pushing, parents should decide what to feed a child and then allow the child to decide how much to eat. (Child magazine)
• It’s okay to allow your child to have a small piece of candy or other sweet even once a day. That way they’re seen as “no big deal” rather than something to indulge in. (Child magazine)
• Don’t overreact or get overly worked up over a picky eater – this is how kids exert their limited independence. And if your child refuses to eat a meal or snack, the next opportunity is just a few hours away.

Older Not Old -- Silly Teen, Smarter Adult

Getting older (not old) means facing moments of truth about health decisions made earlier in life. What’s going on now with metabolism, bones, and health may be the result of decisions made during the teen years, when planning for the future seemed so far off!

Let’s look at my metabolism. I assumed that it was pretty high – I am warm most of the time, I work on muscle building at the gym, and I am a lifelong fidgeter. What a surprise when I measured my resting metabolic rate (RMR), i.e., calorie burning, using the pretty nifty BodyGem.  My RMR was at the lowest end of the normal range for someone of my age and size. Where did I mess up? Losing too much weight too quickly in and after college, and causing my metabolism to drop? Maintaining a body weight that is too low for where my body wants to be? Not building more muscle when I was younger, before the inevitable post-menopausal muscle melt set in? I don’t know the answer, but it’s clear that I need to keep exercising and taking the neighbor’s dog for walks every day to be able to eat enough food for a balanced diet.

Another surprise was the result of my recent bone density testing. My mom has osteoporosis so I’ve been taking calcium and vitamin D supplements for the past several years. My blood work looks good and I’m healthy. But I have low bone density in my spine. The only explanation my doctor and I could come up with is that I didn’t get enough calcium to build up my body’s stores during the all-important teen years. Now, at an age when the body naturally takes calcium from bones, I have too little on deposit and have overdrawn my calcium account. Short of taking medications that help rebuild bone, there’s no turning back. Still, I have at least 2 cups of milk every day, along with one of my favorite foods that happens to be high in calcium, cheese. And it turns out that cheese might not affect blood cholesterol, which is great news! Can’t wait to pick out some cheese from a favorite retailer, DeCicco and Sons in Millwood.


And now, my heart health. Heart disease runs in the family so I do as much as possible to keep my cardiovascular system in good shape – maintain a healthy weight, exercise, avoid smoking, eat healthfully. What I haven’t been doing is taking a fish oil or omega-3 supplement. Omega-3s benefit heart health by helping reduce serum triglycerides, maintain function of the arteries and heart muscle, and control inflammation. And sure enough, my blood omega-3 index is in the “needs improvement” range. So it’s time to start. Because I am very nervous about the infamous “fish burps” associated with omega-3-rich fish oil supplements, I’ll be trying both fish oil and an algae-based omega-3 product to see which one gets along best with my stomach.

Older Not Older – The wrong fork in the road, Part 1

I recently attended a conference that was sponsored by a dozen companies and organizations. This information contained in this blog post represents my synthesis and interpretation of the material presented. I was not paid for or asked to write this post.

 As an older not old adult, I am truly amazed at how decisions earlier in life, forks in the road and forks on the plate, can manifest themselves later in life. As parents travel through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood, they make decisions about feeding their kids that can have a profound effect on a child’s health as an older adult.

Childhood experts and researchers talk about the importance of the first 1000 days, from the start of pregnancy to about the second birthday. As I summarized in a blog post for the Kerry Health & Nutrition Institute, weight gain during pregnancy affects a mother’s health, the course of her pregnancy, and health of her child. Vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, choline, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and iodine are extremely important during pregnancy, and many of these nutrients warrant attention during breast feeding also.

It is all too easy for parents to overfeed young children. In a 2012 study, Li et al found that bottle-fed infants consumed too many calories compared to those who are breastfed. Why? Because with the bottle, mom and dad decide how much baby should be drinking; with breastfeeding, babies regulate themselves. Overfeeding at such an early age can override the infant’s natural responses to hunger and fullness, and this can last a lifetime. What this means is not recognizing the signals of having eaten enough and getting used to eating more calories than needed.

Overfeeding is even more prevalent when kids start eating food. According to the Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study, conducted in 2002 and 2008 and scheduled for 2017, infants and toddlers get too many calories and too much protein; also too much saturated fat and sodium as they get older. After 2 years of age, kids typically eat more servings of sweets and desserts than fruits and vegetables. Since little kids can’t shop or cook for themselves, it’s up to parents to decide what to serve and when, but for kids to decide how much to eat … and parents to let them stop.

Another life-changing decision has to do with allergies. Until very recently, parents were told to avoid feeding their children the most allergenic foods – cow’s milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, tree nuts, and especially peanuts. Allergies in general, and peanut allergies in particular, are on the rise. But not in Israel, where children eat a puffed snack made with peanut butter at a very young age. So researcher and pediatrician George Du Toit conducted a study where he fed peanut butter to infants starting at 4 to 6 months of age. A few kids had minor allergic reactions and very few developed peanut allergies. At the conference I attended, Du Toit explained that waiting too long to feed children peanut butter allows their body to develop an allergic response. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued recommendations to introduce peanut protein as early as 4 to 6 months, under the guidance of a pediatrician for kids who may have other allergies. The amount can be small, just 7 grams or so per week in Dr. Du Toit’s study.

Moms who get the okay from their pediatrician can make a sauce from smooth peanut butter to stir into baby’s cereal or mix into mashed vegetables. Another option is stirring a bit of powdered peanut butter into foods. I recently received coupons from Peanut Butter & Co. for its powdered peanut butter, and I am looking forward to trying it!

For this blog’s recipe, I created a quick, kid-friendly dish made from sweet potato flour and peanut flour. What I like about this is that Mom can pack it in a small covered bowl, toss it in the diaper bag, and prepare it on the fly with water. You can use mashed sweet potatoes or any other mashed vegetable, and either peanut powder or smooth peanut butter. Any introduction of peanuts to the diet of an infant should be done ONLY with the approval of the pediatrician.

 

 

Sweet Potatoes with Peanut, inspired by Dr. George

2 teaspoons mashed sweet potatoes (can use sweet potato flour)

1 teaspoon peanut powder (can use smooth peanut butter)

Warm water to thin

Mix together sweet potatoes and peanut powder in a small bowl. Add warm water teaspoon by teaspoon to thin to the desired consistency.

Older Not Old -- Warding Off a Broken Heart

No, this post is not about romance or about secrets of a lasting marriage! But with Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to think about hearts in general and my heart in particular. Nearly every late relative on my dad’s side of the family had heart disease and I’ve been taking medication for mild high blood pressure for years. So it looks like I am proudly sitting on that branch of the Hermann family tree. My doctor says to keep doing what I’m doing, which is staying slim, exercising, eating healthfully, and not smoking. But at a recent sponsored conference in Vienna, I learned about other things to consider. This blog post was inspired by information gathered at the sponsored conference but the content was developed independently by me.

First, I need to stop being a wimp about omega-3s, a type of fatty acid shown to boost heart health, as well as aid in brain and eye development and health. They’re found mostly in fatty fish, walnuts, eggs from chickens that eat omega-3-supplemented feed, and certain fortified foods. Omega-3s also are available in supplements. I never really worried about omega-3s but I recently took a blood test that showed my blood omega-3s in the intermediate range; my blood work report recommends supplements so I guess I’d better get those started. Brand suggestions are welcome, as I’m nervous about how well I will tolerate them — some people complain about fish burps!

At the same sponsored conference in Vienna, I heard good news about one of my favorite foods, cheese. Various studies suggest that it might not be bad for heart health, even though it is high in saturated fat. A 2015 review credits the fermentation process used to make cheese and also yogurt – but additional research is needed. The calcium in cheese also may play a role. The same blood test that assessed my omega-3s said that my blood has a lot of saturated fat. Guess that’s the cheese talking.

Here’s another thing that I’m doing right, eating beans. Noted researcher John Sievenpiper, from the University of Toronto, pointed out all the benefits of legumes in the diet, including steadying blood glucose, lowering LDL cholesterol, managing blood pressure, and aiding weight loss, possibly by making people feel full. He is conducting a study on the effects of adding beans to the Portfolio Diet; I wish I could take part but Toronto is too far a commute! Draining and rinsing canned or cooked beans helps remove compounds that can make beans “noisy”; it also lowers the sodium.

My newest business venture, Your Kitchen’s Wardrobe, helps my clients makeover their pantries and fridges in a way that makes healthful meals the easy and fashionable choice. One of my favorite items of kitchen clothing is canned beans. I use them in soups, stews, salads, and sides, and also to make a quick creamy dip that resembles hummus. My dip recipe is really versatile – any bean, any oil, any seasoning. Here, I use small white beans, walnut oil for omega-3s, garlic, white wine vinegar, and Penzeys herbes de Provence. This dip is named for my friend and colleague Chris, who helped weave together the conference’s positive food messages about heart health.

 

Chris’ Bean Dip a la Provence
Makes 4 servings

1 14-16 oz can small white beans, drained and rinsed
2 garlic cloves, preferably in their husk
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

 

  1. Place the beans in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Microwave the garlic cloves for 15-20 seconds or until soft. Remove from the microwave, peel, and place in the food processor bowl.
  3. Add the oil, vinegar, and herbes de Provence. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to thin the consistency.
  4. Garnish with walnut pieces, plus a drizzle of oil and sprinkle of herbes if desired. Serve with crudité and pita, flatbread, or crackers. A cheese plate makes a tasty complement.

Older Not Old -- Looking Past the Promise

Marketers love my mom. They phone, send her snail mail, populate her inbox, and come at her with more and more promises, thinking eventually she may say yes. Like my mom, many older adults are the targets of scammers trying to sell hope. Maybe in that way older adults are similar to people trying to lose weight – the promises sound so appealing.

I wrote my first diet for a national women’s magazine many years ago. Ever the conscientious dietitian, I made sure to include balanced meals and snacks with foods that supplied enough vitamins and minerals – I included kale before it was trendy – and provided a sensible number of calories. As magazine editors did at the time, the team overseeing my article met to conceive of a cover line for my story and came up with “Lose 20, 30, 40 Pounds by Summer.” I was crestfallen to see my carefully crafted diet reduced to an empty promise.

Fast forward to today, with years of articles and books behind me. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but the cover lines, covers and promises assigned by marketing teams don’t really tell the story of what’s inside. One of the best-selling books I worked on was “400 Calorie Fix: The Easy New Rule for Permanent Weight Loss.” Liz Vaccariello, then editor-in-chief of Prevention, was the lead author. I never expected people to think that 400 calories meant 400 calories per day. Actually, the eating plan was built around 400 calorie meals, with readers choosing from three to five meals each day, depending on activity level and whether they wanted to lose or maintain weight. And the most important lessons in the book, in my opinion, were on managing calories when eating out. It takes careful planning to limit restaurant calories to under 1,000, let alone 400.

I’ve crunched numbers for books that showcase weight loss success stories. While stories are inspirational, results are highly individual and usually not replicable. Again, people who looked beyond the cover promise could find solid guidance on how to put together meals that didn’t overshoot calories, especially when eating out.

The Ultimate Volumetrics is the straightest-talking book I’ve worked on. Dr. Barbara Rolls, a world-renowned researcher at Penn State University, based the book on her extensive research on hunger and fullness, and I was honored to be her “with” on the book. No outsized promises on the cover, just call-outs for feeling fuller on few calories and simple, science-based strategies for losing weight and keeping it off. Dr. Rolls’ research shows that eating “low energy density” foods that don’t have a lot of calories for the amount of food – think soups and green salads – fills people up and helps them eat less, often without realizing it. The book should have been a runaway best seller like Dr. Rolls’ first book, but it came out the same month that Borders Books closed. Still, the Volumetrics philosophy continues to be named among the best approaches to weight loss, most recently by U.S. News.

I thought of Volumetrics last week when I was inspired to make a pot of white bean and escarole soup. We had come off of a couple of weeks of holiday parties so it was time to eat more healthfully. Also, I heard a lecture on “brining” beans before cooking to make them creamier yet firm and I had to give it a try. We used a vegetable-broth base, like Dr. Rolls recommends, plus white beans and slivered escarole, plus cheese tortellini to make the soup a bit heartier. Everything went into the slow cooker midday and was ready by dinner. The recipe isn’t in Volumetrics but it upholds the book’s philosophy.

White Bean and Escarole Soup for Barbara

Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

4 cups vegetable broth, preferably reduced sodium

2 cups cooked or canned, drained white kidney, navy, or cannellini beans

1 bunch escarole, about 12 ounces

10 twists McCormick Italian Blend (grinder)

1 cup dry or frozen cheese tortellini

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 cup shaved or grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to the crockpot.
  2. Add the broth, beans, escarole, and Italian Blend to the crockpot. Turn the heat to high, cover, and cook for about 3 hours, until the escarole is very soft.
  3. Add the tortellini and cook until al dente, about 15 minutes for frozen and 30 minutes for dry.
  4. Season to taste and garnish with the cheese.

Older Not Old -- Food Legacies and Traditions

Thanksgiving is just around the corner so my mind is on our dinner menu. The stakes are a bit higher this year, as we are hosting my son’s future in-laws, whom we will be meeting for the first time. They, like many people, eat a fairly traditional meal. And I, making Thanksgiving dinner for only the fourth or fifth time in my life, plan to make pretty standard fare – turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green salad, cranberry sauce, rolls, and three pies. Those of you who know me know that this is a big departure from my usual style. First, that’s an awful lot of carb dishes in one meal. Second, I am not incorporating a single ethnically-inspired dish. Thanksgiving is not a time to mess with people’s culinary expectations.

Maybe it’s the confluence of Thanksgiving, my husband’s birthday (which he shares with my late father), Veteran’s Day, and a suddenly uncertain world that got me thinking about food legacies and traditions. My German-born dad loved a cake called bienenstich, which means bee sting cake. It is filled with custard and has a caramelized almond topping. In the absence of bienenstich or readily accessible recipes when I was a kid, my dad adopted the very American Boston cream pie as a new favorite. On his birthday, Eric ate a Boston cream doughnut and I was reminded of my dad. My mom evokes memories of the rhubarb pie that we continue to share every time I visit, marble cake that she no longer makes, and a bar cookie we invented called a scrunchy. What is my legacy? I don’t know.

I alluded to the fact that my cooking style is multi-ethnic. It started long ago when my then-boyfriend and now-husband and I looked for common ground on Jewish holidays. We intersected at the corner of food and Jewish traditions around the world. Our tradition has evolved into hosting family and friends on the second nights of Pesach and Rosh Hashana for an exploration of Jewish holiday cuisine around the world. Each year, we pick a country that has been in the news (for Rosh Hashana) or whose Jewish population has a freedom story (for Pesach) and we cook the entire meal with that country’s recipes. We explored Cuban cuisine this past Pesach and Turkish on Rosh Hashana. I am notoriously unsentimental so I’ve kept no records of what I made, except in those years when Eric created a menu for our guests. I am not proud of that.

I assume my kids have warm memories of holiday meals but I have no idea what foods they remember from their childhood. They might think about my homemade challah, but Eric took that over years ago because he’s a much better braider. Maybe they remember the hodgepodge of culinary exploration that defines the way we eat not just on holidays but year-round. Maybe they remember eating lots of dishes with fruits and vegetables, always having a balanced meal, and rarely eating the same dish twice. But as far as associating me with a particular dish on the holidays, there’s not much there, except my gingerbread cake on Thanksgiving weekend.

Several years ago, one of my friends made the most delicious gingerbread from a Gramercy Tavern recipe. It is a dentist’s nightmare with its gobs of sugar and molasses, but it’s really tasty. I started making it a few years ago for Thanksgiving and now make it every year, whether we have dinner at home or not. Because it’s too soon for me to make it this year, I borrowed a photo posted by lunasea on GroupRecipes.com. For those who follow dietary laws, the cake is pareve. Try it – maybe it will become your tradition too.

And be sure to ogle this beautiful pumpkin pie in an article on Thanksgiving food memories that talks about my colleague Priscilla Martel.

gramercy-tavern-gingerbread-cake

 

 

 

 

 

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread Cake
Adapted by Epicurious.com
Serves up to 16
1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Special equipment:
a 10-inch (10- to 12-cup) bundt pan
Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously coat a bundt or angel food cake pan with cooking spray and dust with flour, knocking out excess. (Mindy’s note – Be sure to coat well with flour on the sides and stem so that the cake comes out of the pan cleanly. If you use an angel food pan, cut a parchment ring to fit on the bottom of the pan, then coat and flour.)
  2. Bring the stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. (Mindy’s note – I am going to use McCormick’s new gingerbread spices this year.) Whisk together the eggs and sugars. Whisk in the oil, then molasses mixture. Add to the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. (Mindy’s note – I find that the batter takes a fair amount of whisking to incorporate all the flour and prevent flour pellets in the baked cake.)
  4. Pour batter into the prepared pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in the middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Run a plastic knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn it out onto the rack and cool completely.
  5. Serve cake, dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

Older Not Old - Family Meals with Mom

I am a first generation American daughter of parents who were born in Germany. They worked hard to assimilate into American culture — Dad ditched his German accent in high school to avoid being teased by his classmates, Mom made time for youth sports by allowing my sibs to skip Hebrew school on occasion, and both were active in community organizations like Little League. But our family meals were decidedly old country. We all ate together almost every night. And none of my friends had dinner like we did, with a fruit salad or grapefruit starter, followed by a green salad, then a main course plus veggies and starch side, then dessert. The green salad was dressed with lemon juice and sugar, an oddity here in the US that embarrassed me when friends came for dinner. Imagine my surprise when I saw that dressing option on a menu in Stuttgart, my mom’s home town! Here I thought it was her unique culinary creation!

I spent the last two weeks with my mom in Southern California, where I took my turn cooking for Mom. So no lemon-sugar salad dressing, but still plenty of veggies and fruit. We ate grilled cheese, a classic that I haven’t eaten since childhood, not once but twice. The first was at Rogue Creamery, where the indulgent, artisanal bleu-cheddar combo with local honey was a far cry from the American cheese classic I grew up with.

The second was my healthier take, below. I switched to whole grain bread, the fabulous European Style Whole Grain Bread from Trader Joe’s. Each sandwich had a thin slice of Havarti cheese, a couple of thin slices of Granny Smith apple, some crumbles of bleu cheese, and a drizzle of honey. No butter needed — we baked the sandwiches in the oven.

In honor of September’s Family Meals Month, I’m happy that I could share this family meal with my mom. She’s not sure whether real kids would like it, but grown-up kids sure do!

Mom’s Grown-up Grilled Cheese
Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 slices Trader Joe’s or other European style whole grain bread
  • 2 ounces sliced Havarti cheese
  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, cut into thin slices
  • 2 ounces crumbled bleu cheese
  • Honey

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. Place half the Havarti slices on each of two slices of bread. Top with apple slices, bleu cheese, a drizzle of honey, and a second piece of bread.
  3. Loosely cover with a piece of foil.
  4. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Note: A panini maker, griddle, or skillet would work also.

 

 

Older Not Old - When Life Gives You Zucchini....

A lot of the adjustments when the kids move out are pretty easy — less laundry, a lower water bill, not as much “stuff” around the house. But it’s really hard to get a handle on the food situation when you go from four to two. Often I buy more than we can eat before it goes bad or I make too much and we’re stuck eating the same thing for days. And all bets are off when our vegetable garden goes into overdrive, like it has during this hot, dry summer, or friends share the wealth (usually zucchini) from their garden.

Pattypan

I really don’t have anything against zucchini. Admittedly its flavor and texture are a bit meh and there’s only so much to do with it. And it becomes even more challenging when I’m dealing with my own oversupply of a squash relative, patty pan squash, and yet another multi-pound Lunch Lady gourd. Enter the spiralizer, a gift from my neighbor Patti. It turns zucchini and other long, skinny squash into spaghetti-like strands. You can saute them with garlic, use them like a low-carb pasta, or put them in a favorite zucchini bread recipe. But I learned an important lesson — you have to cut the strands into short pieces before adding them to bread or muffin batter. Otherwise it feels like you’re eating hair in your muffin. Ew.

Spiralized zucchini

I made zucchini bread with zucchini from my friend Sue’s CSA share, inspired by a recipe by Melanie Barnard and Brooke Dojny in the AMA Family Health Cookbook.

Sue’s Zucchini Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 cup safflower or other vegetable oil
  • 2 cups packed shredded zucchini or summer squash
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Spray a standard loaf pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together the egg, brown sugar, milk, and oil in a small bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir until nearly smooth; avoid overmixing.
  4. Fold in the zucchini.
  5. Place the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, until the top is light brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then gently remove and finish cooling on a rack.

 

Older Not Old - Gardening and Composting

We’ve been in our house for 18+ years and it didn’t take long for us to build a garden. I’ve never had much of a green thumb and I always thought of gardening as an activity for retirees. But there we were, parents in our 40s with two 10-year-old boys, carving a 12×24 foot garden out of a patch of lawn at the back of our property. We call it Fort Knox because it is rimmed with a high fence that keeps Bambi and family away and buried mesh to keep out Thumper, Flower, and Alvin.

Garden early June

The first year was the best — too soon for the bugs to know that the next meal was in our yard. Lots of years later, we’ve had good and bad, along with plenty of garden pests who told their friends that we garden chemical-free. But this year stands out like no other as the year of the volunteer. Let me explain….

Once the kids left the house, we decided that we had the time and motivation to compost. We started dutifully throwing all of our fruit and vegetable scraps in our black cousin-of-R2D2 compost bin.

Immediately we noticed a difference — a mere half-bag of trash remained on most weeks. And after TWO years, we finally had enough compost to spread in the garden. We were under the misconception that compost gets hot enough to kill any seeds that might decide to grow. Wrong, it turns out.

In addition to the beans, greens, and peppers we planted, a whole mess of squash family volunteers took hold from the compost we spread around the garden. I pulled out some of them but others looked so happy that I moved them to strategic spots and let them do their thing. Truly survival of the fittest, the volunteers are besting what we planted in terms of resistance to bugs and ability to live through a very hot, dry summer. The crown jewel is what we think is a Lunch Lady gourd. I picked the first 10-pounder, not knowing that it could get to 20 pounds and needed to dry on the vine. Curious to see what it looked like inside, I cut it open and tasted it. Delicious! So into the oven it went for roasting. Squash in the oven

Wouldn’t you know that the plant would set another one and we’re letting it get to 20 pounds this time. I see lots of squash soup and muffins in our future!

Lunch Lady #2

Here’s a picture of another volunteer, an acorn squash. We’ll harvest it next week. From what I can tell, we also are growing butternut squash, round zucchini, and watermelon, all of which volunteers.

Acorn squash

For a split second, we decided that we should throw away all the fruit and vegetable seeds rather than putting them in the compost bin. But this surprise harvest is so much fun that I think we’ll keep doing what we’re doing!