Heart of the Matter: Eating for Life (HotM 9)

Ilva first brought up the idea for Heart of the Matter to me last March, when I wrote this post. Back then, it didn’t have a name and was just an idea being tossed around between blog friends - something to try, to put out there for the world to find, and to see what happened. Back then, I was smack in the middle of ramping up to finish my degree and trying find some semblance of balance in my life, so we kept putting it off until a day “when I wouldn’t be quite so busy” (ha ha ha). Unfortunately, my life just kept getting busier and busier...the actual writing of my dissertation began, I was planning a wedding, and trying to apply for future jobs. So when she told me about Joanna - and who more perfect to carry this idea forward than someone who had experienced the devastation and lifestyle changes that a brush with heart disease requires (read Joanna’s story here) - I told them to go ahead without me, with hopes that I would be able to join them later.

Between the two of them, these lovely ladies have turned this little idea into a true force – a resource for those of us seeking heart-healthy recipes and a healthy lifestyle while maintaining a focus on delicious and interesting food. The site is filled not only with helpful links, thoughts and recipes, but also encouraging words and a sense of community, providing a forum to discuss the ever-present threat of this rapidly growing disease. And I, dear readers, am lucky enough to be able to join with them now as host for November’s Heart of the Matter – Eating for Life (HotM 9). With the all of the many holidays coming up in the next few months: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Boxing Day, St. Andrews Day, or whatever other holiday(s) you may celebrate in the upcoming months, we decided that it would be good to get recipes together early so that we would have heart-healthy alternatives (or additions) to our normal holiday fare. So the theme for November will be: Holiday Food.

What do you think of when you think of holiday foods? I think of family recipes – for Thanksgiving in the U.S., what comes to mind is the crisp skin of a roasted turkey, sweet potatoes studded with tiny marshmallows and sitting in a pool of real maple syrup, gooey and cheesy artichoke dip, sweet-tart cranberry sauce and tender, moist stuffing - nearly all of it dripping with butter, full of cholesterol and fat or sugar. In December, as Christmas grows nearer, there is spiked eggnog, homemade Christmas cookies and indulgent mincemeat pies. There has to be equally delicious alternatives to some of these treats – let’s make them so that we can enjoy them without feeling guilty, and knowing that we’re doing a good thing for the hearts of our loved ones as well as our own. Whatever the holidays you’ll be celebrating, think about the food you’d like to have then.

Can you re-work an old holiday family favorite to make it heart-healthy? Do you have Christmas treats that you like to give as gifts (for what better gift than the gift of health?)? Do you have a seriously good rendition of a classic holiday dish that just happens to be good for you, or have you spent long hours perfecting one? Why not share it with us all? And while you’re at it, if you’d like to, tell us a little bit about the holiday you’re cooking for and what it means to you.

You can start submitting your entries as soon as you’d like – simply send me the link to your entry at my email address (mphilli4 AT uoregon DOT edu) by November 18th. This is a little earlier than the usual deadline (the 23rd), but since Thanksgiving is on the 22nd for those of us in the U.S., I’d like to get them rounded up for you by the 20th in case there are Thanksgiving recipes so you still have time to run to the store when you see that perfect heart-healthy recipe you’d like to bring to your own table. Plus, having all the recipes in by this time, especially Christmas recipes, leaves us already prepared with healthy menus as those busy holiday days encroach when we’re strapped for time between shopping and eating and holiday parties (Ilva will be hosting a fabulous theme full of quick and easy recipes for HotM in December, just to make sure we all have a repertoire of heart-healthy foods to use as a defense against those nights when we’re exhausted from running back and forth to and from just such occasions).

In your post, make a link to my site, The Accidental Scientist, or to the HotM site if you’d like, so that your readers can find the event and see the round up when it comes out. If you’re new to this (like I am!), the rules to eating a heart-healthy diet are nicely laid out in Joanna’s Basic Rules, and we ask that you consider this as a one-entry event, ie. that you don’t use your entry for other events as well. Feel free to browse the other recipes on the HotM site for inspiration if you’d like – we can’t wait to see what you have to share!


My First Crush

*this post has been updated with wine terms (in bold) and more links

In my experience, there are people who are passionate about food and there are people who are passionate about wine. Sure, food people generally enjoy good wine (oh yes, how we do) and wine people generally enjoy good food, but there is a reason that people think of themselves as a “foodie,” or as my very own mother refers to herself, a “wineaux” (we do like to tease her this is actually a “wino” but she prefers the more noble spelling). As I imagine it, most people in these two groups either find themselves pouring over cookbooks and Gourmet magazine, or vintage charts and Wine Spectator (usually with a healthy dose of the opposite affliction thrown in) but not necessarily both (we would go broke buying all those different magazines and books anyhow!). Or, watch their eyes and their hands when they start describing the way an apple-quince crisp comes together - browned butter and cardamom offsetting the tart astringency of the quince - or describing the crisp, apple tones of a beautifully clean pinot gris. Or, perhaps, simply notice which they start talking to you about first...

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a self-described food junkie. In the past, as I read through my (ahem, many) food magazines when they came in, I generally glanced over the monthly wine selections and (shhhh...) skipped the wine articles entirely. It’s not that I don’t like wine (quite the opposite, I love to drink it), it’s just that given the time I have to read something (not very much time these days), I’ve been more interested in learning new cooking techniques, discovering new ingredients or browsing through new recipes for inspiration than learning about the hottest new wines - though I have always wanted to learn how to pair wine with food. Really, I think it stems from the fact that there is just not enough time (in my life anyhow) to learn all the nuances of both food and wine, so it’s been easiest to focus on one or the other. Do tell me if you disagree – if you feel you are well-versed in both, let me bow my head to you in reverence – because it's certainly impressive and something I would love to be!

All biases aside, food and wine do go hand-in-hand. They have much in common, both in the science behind them and the depth and complexities of taste and flavor and the balance (or as one wine friend pointed out, and perhaps farbetter put, the "harmony") between the components involved - they are, simply put, the yin and yang of what it means to truly experience a meal. Not being one to miss any kind of opportunity to delve my hands (literally) into anything remotely food or wine related, when I was offered the opportunity to become a “lab assistant” at a local winery here, I wasn’t about to pass it up. I had no idea what I was in for...a mix of familiar and not-so-familiar lab chemistry, a lot of fruit-loving insects (including earwigs and large spiders), a very healthy dose of good old-fashioned physical labor, and a better appreciation of what goes into making that stunningly beautiful and complex Oregon Pinot Noir that pairs flawlessly with wild-caught Oregon salmon or juicy, russet-colored bosc pears layered over soft mesclun greens (topped with toasted hazelnuts and perfectly pungent, grey/blue-studded Rogue River Blue cheese of course).

Better yet, I got an awakening of the rarest kind that only an experience such as this could garner...I found that I can spend several straight hours on my feet, seven days a week, with my pant legs and my shirt sleeves soaking wet, my hair up in a pony-tail (which I never, ever do in public), my hands brownish-purple and sticky and swollen, and sweating profusely as I “punch” down grape skins...and find myself falling in love with it. And now I’m suddenly feeling the urge to go dig out all those old food magazines - just to catch up on the wine articles... (Ha! I knew there was a reason to keep them!)

Crush,” as it’s called in the wine industry (amusingly called “The Industry” by those that buy, pour, make and sell wine), begins mid- to late-September in Oregon. This is the harvest season – when ripe (and sometimes if the weather is not ideal, not-so-ripe) grapes are harvested from their vines, de-stemmed, pressed if needed (mostly white wines – but I’ll tell you about that a bit later) and fermented to begin that age-old process of making the wines we love to drink. It’s an intense period of time with long hours in the fields, long hours cleaning, sterilizing and prepping equipment and tanks, and very little rest for the people who make this industry their lives. You’re suddenly dependent upon nature, which makes no compromises in the weather this time of year, and you’re trying to harness living organisms (yeast) and coax them into transforming grape juice from something sweet into something spectacular.

Do I know anything about wine? No (hell no, actually)...but I am learning. Feel free to join me as I chronicle my experience – trudging from my daytime laboratory research job, where I am attempting to sequence the genome of a tiny worm, to my nighttime job - learning the ins and outs of making wine in a small winery in Oregon. My fellow food-lovers beware: expect to see more posts here about food and wine experiences than actual recipes or cooking until Crush is over (mid- to late November, just in time to start planning my Thanksgiving recipes)...mostly because I simply just don’t have much time to cook. LB has rapidly become my “house-husband,” so perhaps I can eek out of him a guest recipe or two, and be on the lookout in November, because I am lucky enough to be joining two incredible women, Ilva and Joanna, in their quest for heart-healthy living for November’s Heart of the Matter, and I hope you’ll join me. I’ll still pepper in recipes and other things as I am able to, of course, but bear with me (and maybe we can learn together) as I enter this new world of wine...

Wine words:

Crush: a term used to describe the initial stages of winemaking, when the grapes are crushed to release juice; also used in The Industry (see defininition below) and at the winery, to describe the harvest season when all the grapes are coming in (however, "Harvest" is the word used by the people picking the grapes and managing the vineyards)

foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news. Foodies are different from gourmets, who simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food. For this reason, foodies are sometimes viewed as obsessively interested in all things culinary.

"The Industry":
the word used amongst winemakers, wine sellars, vineyard owners and mangaers, tasting room people and in-the-know wine folk refer to themselves and the industry they are part of (ie. as heard when recently tasting wine, "Oh! You're in The Industry! You get The Industry discount!" ...sweet! I knew there were benefits to this job...)

Pinot Noir:
("PEE-no NoWa") a red wine grape variety of the species Vinus vinifera, but also referring to wines produced predominantly from pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the french words for "pine" and "black" alluding to the varietals' tightly clustered dark purple pine cone shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is mostly associated with the Burgandy region of France, and in the U.S., Oregon. It is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine (I plan to find out more about this last part, as I've heard it over and over but have yet to hear the reasons why...).

Wineaux: an informal term for someone who loves to indulge in, seek out and learn about wine (this term has not yet made it into Wikipedia, aside from a redirection to the less sophistocated term, wino...but there are all sorts of wineauxs out there if you Google it)


Crossing one off The List

So, I am a List Girl. I am one of those people that makes a list for everything. And when I say, “everything,” I mean: Everything. I am also one of those people who will make a list, add things I have already done to the list, just so that I can immediately cross them off and feel like I’ve accomplished something. I have folders upon folders of lists. Lists tacked up all over the place at work, stashed in drawers, laying on the table at home and hanging from my refrigerator. “To do” lists, Christmas lists, recipes to make lists, grocery shopping lists, old lists, new lists, lists of lists. Lots of people have a list of things they would like to do before they die. I, for one, like to think of these little adventures as things to experience while I’m alive, but that’s beside the point. One thing has been my list for quite some time, just waiting for the right opportunity, is a pig roast.

Vegetarians, beware. You might want to not scroll down the rest of this post. You might want to just close it nicely and come back in a few days when I have posted about something else. The last thing I want to do is horrify you with my picture of a roasted pig. The sight of a pig roasted in its entirety is not for the light of heart. But the reality of the matter is that all the meat that we eat comes from an animal that was once running around on its two or four legs and is running around no longer. I don’t mind this fact – I grew up on a farm where we slaughtered and ate our chickens when the time came, and I understand the circle of life that leads to my plate. BUT, I do try to be wise about the meat I do eat and the farmers I support by buying it...like trying to choose meat from local farms that treat their animals well while they are alive and that don’t inject them with hormones or chemicals.

Our local Slow Food group gave me the perfect opportunity to finally cross a pig roast off my list: a rare and wonderful opportunity to eat a locally raised (raised, in fact, about 50 yards from where we ate), slow-roasted organic pig – complete with a dinner grown and picked from the land where we were eating, with the farmers (and the family) who made it all possible sitting right down with the rest of us and reaping the benefits of their labor.

On August 26, LB and I treaded out to Creative Growers Farm in Noti, Oregon – where the pig roast was hosted by David and Laurie Hoyle. These are farmers that care about the animals they raise - feeding them grains and organic vegetables they raise on their farm, letting them run about in big, open spaces, giving them individual attention and caring for them in the best way they know how so that they have good lives before they are used for meat. In some ways, it goes back to how I imagine it used to be - when we had to raise and forage for our own food, can and put up for the winter not because it's enjoyable and saves money like it is now, but because it was absolutely necessary...back in the days when there weren't hormones and chemicals to ply our animals with to make them mature faster, grow bigger or have more fat.

The meal was prepared on-site by none other than executive chef Adam Bernstein and Melissa Williams from Adam’s Place Restaurant in Eugene, who built the cinder-block oven where the pig began roasting at 5 AM the morning of the event, prepped and cooked all the veggies, and made sure all the food was spectacular (and oh, it was). A whole lot of local volunteers and Slow Food members and a whole lot of work went into making the meal a beautiful and smooth venture (Thank yous all around).

They began the meal with ripe heirloom tomatoes, still warm from the sun and still scented of the vine they grew on just a few hundred feet away and each one with a unique and distinguishable flavor (my favorite was the Chocolate Cherokee). The kind of appetizer that I would never think of but that is absolutely perfect in its simplicity because of the quality of the ingredients.

We got a tour of the farm and an introduction to the farmers as well as notable local chefs (like Leather Storrs from Portland’s Noble Rot) while treaded the beautiful grounds, met the animals around the farm, and sipped on our hop-laden local Ninkasi beer and glasses of fragrant pinot noir and crisp pinot gris from Territorial Winery.

Let me just tell you that there is nothing like slow-roasted pork. The kind of succulent, incredibly juicy meat that literally falls off the bone with the kind of crispy, caramelized skin that you get from roasting an entire pig in the ground is just not something you can do in the oven in your kitchen. Not to mention how amazing it tastes when it’s paired with freshly picked and grilled heirloom zucchini, grilled marinated eggplant, a panzanella salad, freshly baked bread, and a perfectly executed zabaglione with fresh blueberries for dessert.

If you get the opportunity to share in an experience similar to this one – take it. Not only so that you can mark it off you own “list,” but so that you can really see what slow food really tastes like...it’s not just a meal, or even the ingredients of the food (quality as they may be) – it’s surrounding yourself with people that care about what they are doing and why they are doing it, eating food that was lovingly cared for along its entire journey to your plate, and knowing in your heart that you’re making informed choices and supporting something that is just honestly good...and I don't just mean the taste.


The Color Purple

As the landscape changes from the bright greens of summer to the quintessential yellows, reds and oranges that harken the coming of Autumn, life changes pace. Here in Oregon, we begin to huddle indoors from the rain that also signifies the coming of this gloriously food-rich season and our bodies start to crave warmer, starchier, heartier fare...slowly simmered stews, rich sauces, gratins, casseroles and curries. Like the palette of colors that paints the countryside, some foods embody the soul of this season by their colors, taste and texture. This time of year we have the subdued pastels of winter squashes like butternut and green kabocha, tart yellow quinces, sweet bosc pears, and golden, earthy chanterelles. On the other end of the spectrum, there are vividly orange cinderella pumpkins, crisp heirloom apples and dark emerald green kale. It's easy to eat that "rainbow" of fruits and vegetables that "They" recommend in order to get the correct amount and type of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. You know who I'm talking about - the proverbial “They” – those that are “in the know” and watching everything we eat, drink and do (I imagine them as men and women in business suits up in the clouds, pointing at us and shaking their finger after we down an entire bag of potato chips or sneak in that extra crème brulee after dinner).

But even with the plethora of options available, there is one color integral to any rainbow (hint: it’s the base of the rainbow, people!) that can easily get lost amongst the easier to find, brightly shining colors of fruits and veggies in the market: purple. Around our farmer’s market this time of year, we have purple potatoes, purple beans, purple bell peppers, purple (concord) grapes and the often overlooked, purple cabbage (some people say this is red cabbage, but I contend that it looks purple to me and at no point – neither before nor after cooking, does it ever turn red).

(Side note: Believe it or not – and I didn’t at first – but concord grapes really DO taste like grape juice -- or, if you prefer, the other way around!! I was convinced for the first many years of my life that grape juice was like "cherry" flavor, “They” just made that flavor up!!)

But just what do you do with purple cabbage? Throw it in a salad, of course. Perhaps make yourself some coleslaw? Yes, yes, and then...

...and then...

...yeah, just what the heck can you do with that head of purple cabbage? Especially in this cooler time of year when coleslaw and salad seem like the distant dishes of another time and place called, "Summer."

Well, peeps, I’ve found something delicious you can make with it. You can use that remaining half a head of cabbage you have left over after making your summer salad or your summer coleslaw, that has been dying a slow death of neglect in your vegetable crisper drawer over the last several weeks (my, cabbage does last a long time, doesn't it?). In fact, that just happens to be the perfect amount for this dish. And conveniently enough, you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry – or at least something you could substitute in and have it taste just fine and be just as beautiful.

So, don’t forget the purple on your plate – it’s good for you, and tasty!

The original recipe called for braising the cabbage in red wine with tempeh bacon and agave nectar instead of maple syrup...I didn't have an open bottle of wine, but did have an open bottle of marsala (go figure) as we are attempting to clean out our cupboards, and we had turkey bacon, not tempeh. It also called for peeling the apples, but since the skin of fruit actually contains quite a few nutrients, I left the peel on them and I couldn't tell the difference. I actually think that I would use marsala again instead of the red wine as it gave it a slightly sweeter flavor (but not too sweet) that went well with the rest of the meal. I served this with grilled Trader Joe's chicken apple sausages (they have maple syrup in them too...), and it was a perfect compliment.

Braised Cabbage with Fuji Apples and Onions, Serves 6-8
adapted from Delicious Living magazine

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
3-4 slices smoked turkey bacon, minced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 cups chopped red cabbage (1/2 cabbage)
2 ½ cups chopped Fuji apple
½ cup marsala
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook through, until browned and the fat begins to render. Add the onion and cook until tender. Add cabbage, apple and remaining ingredients. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 35-45 minutes or until the cabbage softens. Uncover and cook for about 10 minutes until most of the liquid hass reduced. Remove the bay leaf and serve hot.