Cynthia Lair has been a member of the nutrition faculty at Bastyr University since 1994. She is the author of Feeding the Whole Family and Feeding the Young Athlete. Her humorous web cooking show can be found at Cookus Interruptus.
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Editor’s note: This item is cross-posted on Cynthia Lair’s website, Cookus Interruptus.
I sometimes listen to “This I Believe” on NPR. A few years ago, a woman with five children who was going through medical school and a divorce (does it get harder?) talked about “Sweet Fridays,” a ritual she learned about in the Republic of Georgia and brought to her family. Every Friday afternoon, they invite the neighbors to come have cake in their home.
“It is not just the extravagant sweetness of the afternoon or the regularity of the occasion that qualifies this as a tradition,” she says. “It is the attention to detail and the anticipation — always a tablecloth (if maybe not ironed) and always a centerpiece (pine boughs, a pumpkin, or some flowers from the garden). My children and I fantasize about the event all week long. And then, walking home from school on Fridays, we round up everyone we pass.”
Continue reading Sweet Fridays »
Each year during the holiday season, we give our friends a warm feliz navidad with a big huevos rancheros brunch — the Buena Onda Brunch. This year, our sixth annual, we had a record 17 people in our small home. Spirits were high, the food tasty, and the smiles wide. Buena onda, after all, means “good vibes.”
For each diner, we serve two butter-softened tortillas with a fried egg on top of each. The top is covered by a hot salsa, which cooks the top of the egg. That’s the whole authentic dish. To American-ize it a bit, we sprinkle some cheese and avocado slices on top, and give diners a scoop of chipotle black beans on the side. The bright red salsa, green chile peppers, golden egg yolks, and tortillas beam bright holiday colors.
Continue reading Our Buena Onda Brunch »
My mother-in-law, Lura Jane, was a risk-taker. She was undaunted by any “no” that crossed her path. This was lucky for me (you’ll see why in a minute). After 88 good years on this earth, she died several weeks ago. Family surrounded her in her Leavenworth, Kansas, apartment, as her breath grew slower and slower until it faded.
Rain poured at the pretty Midwest graveyard where we gathered with umbrellas after the morning church service. No one said much. I felt a desire to speak, but the legacy I wanted to share didn’t fully form until I was on the plane back to Seattle.
Continue reading Lura Jane’s only cookbook »
Miso-making is considered a fine craft in traditional Japanese culture, and miso itself has been a staple of Japanese cooking for 2,500 years.
Miso is thought to promote long life and good health and has also been touted as neutralizing some of the negative effects of smoking, air pollution, and radiation sickness.
Miso is a savory, salty soybean paste made by combining soybeans with a fermented rice culture called koji. Koji is made from a lactic-acid-producing bacteria, a grain, and Aspergillus oryzae. The soybean/koji mixture undergoes an intricate fermentation and aging process for six months to two years.
Continue reading Making the most of miso »
In Michael Pollan’s 2007 article “Unhappy Meals,” he bemoans America’s lack of a traditional food culture. I see how “nutritionism” has usurped any traditional way of eating, and that fast food may have become the American food culture. But I disagree with the idea that we have lost any healthful “American” way of eating.
I grew up in Kansas and witnessed a Midwestern food culture that has deep roots. My Aunt Phyllis also grew up Kansas, just outside of Newton, in the 1920s. She was raised on food harvested from the local land: wheat grown on their acreage went into flour for freshly baked bread; beef, chicken, and eggs were provided by the family farm or a neighbor; pickles and canned peaches were put up from the summer harvest.
Continue reading Meat and potatoes for the 21st century »
Years ago, Holly was my daughter’s kindergarten teacher at the Seattle Waldorf School. She became one of my best friends. We take lots of long walks and like to do things like garden and cook together. Holly is an intuitive cook, rarely using a recipe.
The third year that we made stuffing together, I decided that I had better write it down. I loved the way Holly made the whole dish by touch and taste. She often takes a bite and proclaims, “Needs more sage.”
One of my tiny parenting triumphs was getting my daughter, as a resistant-to-everything 15-year-old, to help make the stuffing. Now it is ritual that she lends her hands to the task.
Continue reading A locavore’s stuffing »
Several groups are gathering e-signatures to petition our next commander-in-chief. Their common goal? To get the next president to encourage better energy usage and better eating habits (and hence better health) by putting in a kitchen garden at the White House.
It isn’t a new idea. John Adams tended his own garden at the White House. Some past presidents have planted fruit trees; others installed a greenhouse. And then there was Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous Victory Garden, which was mirrored all over the country during World War II.
The history of what has taken place on the White House lawn, including the current putting green, can be found in a video posted by Eat the View, one of the citizen groups asking our 44th president to plant a garden on the grounds of the White House. Another group is the Who Farm, aka The White House Organic Farm Project, a nonpartisan, petition-based initiative.
Continue reading White House vegetables »
When you eat, you are making a deposit in your body. If you choose to eat nutrient-dense whole foods, you have plenty of cash for the day, plus some savings — meaning you can maintain muscle energy plus have extra nutrients to do other physiological work.
When you choose cheap, empty calories, like white flour and high-fructose corn syrup, you leave a big fat IOU in your account. No kidding. You’ve got no bills in your pocket, and the promissory note tends to hang around your waistline. Those notes can start piling up on your behind.
Continue reading Food bank »
I spent a week last month at the Quillisascut Farm Culinary School in eastern Washington with 15 students from Bastyr University where I teach. Rick and Lora Lea, the owners of the farm, along with chef Karen Jorgenson, offer an enlightening experience to anyone who comes.
Our work began literally at the crack of dawn. The first morning after our arrival, Rick killed a goat, and we gathered round in the half light to quietly, respectfully skin and gut the goat. Later in the week, after the meat had aged a few days, we had a morning butchering class. Karen set out four hotel pans: one for meat that would be used for dinner, one for meat that would be used to make sausage, one for bones for stock, and one for scraps for the dogs. Nothing was wasted. Soups made from the stocks were heavenly, the roasted meat amazing.
Continue reading Authentic local »
A bit of depressing news is the recent recommendation that we start giving cholesterol-lowering drugs to children who are at risk for developing obesity and diabetes. That’s a lot of kids. Recent statistics claim that one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes.
Oh me, oh my. I do understand. Kids who are at risk typically come from families where one or more of the parents is obese, diabetic, or both. The chance that the parents are going to model eating and exercising in a way that will prevent the child from following in their footsteps is slim.
Continue reading Feed kids real foods, not drugs »
While we in the Pacific Northwest sit around pining for our local berries to come through after a (very) cold spring, we must focus on what is available. Sort of like the life lesson of staying in the present as opposed to the future (strawberries) or the past (apples). What cool spring weather makes plenty of are leaves: kale, collards, and chard.
Many folks are intimidated by how to cook greens and resort to steaming them, which absolutely does not show them off at their best. A sauté in butter and garlic certainly is tasty, but here are a couple of other techniques that work well.
Continue reading Let’s eat leaves »
When I ask my students at Bastyr University to feel the cookie dough in order to tell when the mixture is right, they ponder the words but have no idea what they mean.
When they ask if “this” part of the fennel is OK to eat, and I suggest that they see if their fingernail glides easily in or not to test for tenderness, I am met with the same alien stares. Touching the food, especially before eating it, seems odd. And if I talk about knowing when to take the cookies out of the oven by smell, they seem to think I am some breed of tantric chef — or have never heard of a timer.
Continue reading Out of touch »
I was interviewed recently for an article about baby food. As those who have read my book Feeding the Whole Family know, I don’t really believe in “baby” food; I believe in “family” food. Therefore I thought it was very open-minded of the writer to have a conversation with me.
A few years ago, several articles were published that debunked the measured way we feed babies. Basically the experts were saying that the idea of offering food in some particular order is silly. They agreed that serving babies food with no salt, no spices, and puréed smooth enough to feed a dysphasia patient is unnecessary. One doctor called the whole belief system about the way we introduce foods to babies “mythology.” A subsequent article from these revelations was called “Enchiladas not cereal.” I couldn’t agree more.
Continue reading Baby food isn’t rocket science »
We enjoy classic culinary combinations such as Champagne and caviar, meat and potatoes, salsa and chips. There are thousands of these pairings that make for joyful eating. Most are based on complimentary flavors, but there are also nutritional reasons behind some of these long-standing marriages. I want to talk about three whole-foods couples that have been paired together in dishes for ages, for reasons that go beyond taste.
Continue reading Nutritional combinations »
Once (or twice) a year, my friend Holly and I go to a beautiful Korean women’s spa. After soaking, scrubbing, and steaming, we have lunch in the spa’s small café. The meals are simple, usually rice with egg, tofu, chicken or beef, and cooked vegetables. But the best part is the half-dozen bowls of condiments that arrive with the meal, called banchan. Each one has raw, pickled, or fermented vegetables and sprouts. These unique flavors make the meal come alive.
Not only do these traditional foods add flavor and zip to grains, beans, meats, and cooked vegetables, they are helpful for the gut. Two major food components that aid digestion are enzymes and probiotics, or friendly bacteria. These are found in foods that are raw, pickled, fermented, or cultured. Most traditional cuisines include these as a traditional part of the meal. Some examples are pickled ginger, miso, aged vinegars, traditionally brewed soy sauces, beer, sour cream, kimchee, slaws, and salsas.
Continue reading Refreshing relishes, lively condiments »
To determine whether a food is whole or not, one must be completely awake when making food choices. Before we put a bite in our mouths, before we heat it up, before we even decide to toss it in our grocery cart, there needs to be a moment, a second, when we consider where the food came from.
What was its life like before it came to be on this grocery-store shelf? Foods that are in boxes can be pretty mysterious. For simple whole foods, foods that don’t need a list of ingredients, imagining what their journey was like is easier. I have found that the best way to determine whether a food is whole or not is to ask these questions:
Continue reading What is a whole food? »
When the media began reporting scientific research showing health benefits from eating soy products, Americans hopped on the soy wagon, gulping soy lattes, munching soy-based candy bars (referred to as “energy bars”), and slicing Tofurkey at Thanksgiving. The basic idea seemed to be that anything with soy in it was good for you. (And that was good news for U.S. soybean farmers, who were subsidized $1.6 billion this year by our federal government.)
Soybeans do indeed have some great things to brag about. They contain potentially healthful compounds called phytoestrogens. They are a good non-cholesterol protein source, are a natural source of lecithin, and are concentrated in essential fatty acids, including the beneficial omega-3s.
Continue reading To fu or not to fu »
When I’m out and about, I hear people talk about eating. Unfortunately, the talk isn’t usually about polenta, pepper-crusted salmon, and baked apples; it’s scientific words like omega 3, antioxidants, and cholesterol.
My new least favorite term? Glycemic index, a phrase that always gets hooked up with poor simple potatoes. People equate lovely pommes de terre with white flour. Folks, they are not the same. Potatoes are getting an unfair rap.
Carbohydrates that break down rapidly during digestion score highest on the glycemic-index scale. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream, have a low glycemic index. A lower glycemic index suggests slower rates of digestion and absorption of the sugars and starches in the foods. A lower glycemic response is often thought to equate to a lower insulin demand, better blood-glucose control, and a reduction in blood lipids.
Continue reading I eat potatoes »
We give the power of deciding what to feed our children away to food manufacturers and let them train our kids’ taste buds to prefer poor-quality food. Here’s how:
Continue reading The Macaroni Syndrome »
Eating whole foods is not just about fruits and vegetables. Don’t get me wrong; fruits and vegetables are amazing sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but they don’t have enough calories to sustain us. What about grains, beans, nuts and other whole-foods staples?
You need these staples in your pantry, to go along with those fresh fruits and vegetables. So here’s a whole-foods-pantry starter list.
With these items in your larder, you can make many whole-foods meals. For example, try the soba noodles with collard greens and fried tofu we show on Cookus Interruptus.
Continue reading Cynthia’s pantry list »
What keeps you from preparing family meals from fresh, local, organic food?
Is it time? Lack of cooking skills? Money?
Americans demand cheap food; they even brag about how little they spend for food. But as we all know, cheaper is not necessarily better for our well-being. And heavens to Betsy, it doesn’t taste better. If you don’t believe me, stop the car and really chew!
Did you know that in the 1960s, Americans spent 18 percent of their budget on food and 5 percent on health care? Today we spend 9 percent on food and 16 percent on health care.
Continue reading What roadblocks keep you from eating well? »
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