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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Pop a Strawberry: My Favorite Whole Grain Ever!

I'm in love.  A small, ruby-like kernel has stolen my heart and my palate.

I know I've had strawberry popcorn before, but this is the first year I grew some in my local community garden.  I chose this variety because it is short (about 4-5' tall) and I didn't want my little plot's crop shading my neighbors' gardens.  I had pretty much emptied out my garden and realized I hadn't harvested my strawberry popcorn.  The ears were so small I could have easily over-looked them, but I'm glad I didn't.  After removing the husks, I let them dry in a paper sack and then gently rubbed the kernels off the cob.  For those with less than hardy skin, I definitely recommend using gloves since while charmingly cute, these cobs are studded with pointy kernels that can poke or scratch.  
After blowing away some of the chaff, these little darlings were ready for popping.

Yes, this is the old-fashioned method - just a swirl of oil in a pan on the stove-top.

The crazy thing is that I think oil-popped popcorn is my indulgence, or treat because it tastes so much better, but it is only 5 calories more than air popped.  1 cup air-popped = 30 calories; 1 cup oil-popped = 35 calories.  Yum!!

Not a single unpopped kernel (which is why I generally prefer this to microwaving in a brown bag). And they tasted so fresh and yummy, adding butter didn't even cross my mind!

These delicate beauties are sort of stunning with their crimson hulls and white-as-snow  . . . um, I've no idea what the white part of popcorn is called . . . this is awkward.  Anyway, you know what I mean. Their unique charm may have stolen my heart, but their appearance isn't the reason they've stolen my palate.  No siree!  They provide the lightest, crispiest, delicately crunchy, quintessential popcorn experience your mouth will ever savor.  A few crops really do taste better when you grow them yourself.  As with tomatoes, home-grown popcorn really does significantly superior to store-bought.  So there you have it.  My favorite whole grain and popcorn-love-story all wrapped up into one strawberry popcorn package.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Culture of Food

Food is more than calories and nutrients.  The what, when, where and with whom we eat is so much more than just a sum total of nutrition it provides.  What identity, history and tradition are you passing on with the foods you eat and your food habits? Aside from delivering nutrients, food has many other roles.  Here are four to consider:

Relationships. The origin of the word “companionship” comes from the sharing of bread (or pan) with someone.  Inviting someone to share a meal or a beverage is often the first step in getting to know another person.  In some instances, it is culturally taboo in many ways to refuse an invitation to share a meal and could even be viewed as a rejection of the host or a hostile action toward them.

Trust.  Eating is a very unique experience for our body.  The GI tract is the only completely open organ system and when we eat we are  exposing ourselves to  some vulnerability.  Food could cause an allergic reaction, or make us sick, or in the extreme, be poisonous, so eating food prepared by someone else becomes an act of trust.

Control. Food is power.  Whether on a large national scale, or simply within your own family, the person who controls the food wields the power.  I remember as a kid, sneaking food to my bedroom – not because it was forbidden to eat that food, but just the thought that I could eat what, when and I where I chose was appealing.  Kids especially crave that power and it is a delicate balance in feeding kids to allow them some control when it comes to food.

Identity. Food shapes our identity as a group.  For example, if you are served fry sauce with your French fries, you know you’re among Utahns, but if your fries come with gravy and cheese curds, you know you’re amongst Canadians. Food shapes our identity as an individual.  For example, being vegetarian, being a dark chocolate eater, or maybe just being the only in the house that doesn’t like nuts creates a descriptive sense of identity.

Food teaches much more than nutrition and a list of how nutrients affect our health.  It teaches manners, patience, cooperation and sharing.  It hopefully teaches delayed gratification, serving others, organization and planning.  It tells a story of who you are, what you love, where you came from and often involves memorable stories within your family.  It hopefully teaches you about your past, but also how to be a wise steward of resources going forward.  If you haven’t thought much about food beyond what you can stuff in your gullet to silence the hunger, maybe you should sit down and think about what food means or should mean to you and how you are going to pass that cultural legacy along to others. 

Trimming Thanksgiving

Rumor has it that a typical American eats around 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But even with the more realistic number of 2,500 calories at one meal, Thanksgiving becomes a painful study in excess calories.  Here are some simple ways to eat less at Thanksgiving without overhauling or skipping your favorite dishes. 

Buffet all the way! Keeping the food at a slight distance from your plate makes dishing up an intentional, mindful act.  Having to get up from the table to refill your plate means you’ll most likely think twice before cramming in un-needed second helpings. 

Veg-out first.  No, this is not the call of the couch potato, instead, serve salads, veggies and other nutrient-dense, but calorie light foods first.  Filling up more on veggies will keep the higher caloric options in better. 

Downsize your plate.  If you can choose dishes with smaller plates, do so.  Plate size has increased right along with American’s waistlines – coincidence? I think not.  An 8 inch dinner plate is optimal for normal portion-size control, but if you struggle to find 8 inch plates, don’t choose anything larger than 9-10 inch plates.

Cut calories with color.  The color of your plate may actually make a difference in how much food you end up eating.  More contrast between the plate and the food means you’ll eat less, whereas a plate that blends in with the food will increase your chances of eating more. 

Slow down the meal with fun conversation.  Thanksgiving is a time to reconnect with family – so play that up at the dinner table.  If we converse more at mealtime, we eat slower and eat fewer calories.  If you have already moved the food to the buffet, you’ll have plenty of space on the table for creative conversation starters.  Consider incorporating family photos or mementos in the centerpiece of your table.  A kid’s table would really enjoy a few fun family trivia questions, or even some “would you rather. . .” questions on the back sides of their place cards. 

Think sliver not slice.  By the time dessert rolls around, most guests are fairly full.  Double the number of slices in your pies to allow guests to enjoy just a sliver, or perhaps try more than one without going overboard on dessert. 

Thanksgiving can be a festive, healthful and traditional meal without the painful fallout of overdoing it.