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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

STRIKING GOLD WITH TURMERIC

Spiced Crème Brulée

Successive bottles of golden turmeric powder have graced my spice rack over the years. Each was used only on occasions when a curry recipe called for its earthy aroma and brilliant color. Every year or so the old bottle was replaced by a new one. I have faithfully waited and hoped for the day when this intriguing plant would enter my white bread world.

Turmeric is a thickened underground stem that looks like a bloated caterpillar, much like its cousin ginger root. Under a brown paper-thin skin is copper colored flesh that surprises the uninitiated by staining everything it touches with a brilliant yellow dye. Turmeric has also been a home remedy, like aspirin, in the Asian subcontinent for centuries.

 

A chance encounter with turmeric's healing properties finally drew me into its orbit. I sampled a tincture of turmeric mixed with a little water at a farmers' market while vacationing in Scottsdale last year. To my surprise, the nagging pains in my joints disappeared in minutes. I have since learned that the curcumin compound in turmeric was responsible for my amazingly rapid relief. In a concentrated form, turmeric enters the bloodstream immediately, acts to repair damaged cells, blocks inflammation and, in effect, slows the aging process.

Since the 1920's, Americans have been sold enriched foods like Wonder bread with the promise that it would "build strong bodies 12 ways". Only in the past two decades have we finally proven that large scale food production destroys more nutrients than it replaces with manufactured vitamins. Our current mantra to consume fresh "superfoods" reflects our awareness of the micronutrients in natural foods. What's stopping Big Pharma from making these new micronutrients their next drug frontier? Nothing, they already have.

Nonetheless, it came as a shock to see a bottle of cinnamon pills in the vitamin section of my local supermarket the other day. Cassia cinnamon and turmeric are now being sold together as well as separately as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  I mixed them in equal parts and was amazed by the aromatic harmony of  warm, sweet cinnamon and cool, earthy turmeric.  Why not use them together in cooking?

Braised Baby Potatoes with Coconut Kale and Seared Sea Scallops 

Freshly ground black pepper makes this combo work more effectively as a seasoning and nutrient. Much of the nutritional benefit of turmeric is lost because it metabolizes quickly in the gut. It isn’t easily absorbable either. Peperine acts to slow the body's metabolism allowing curcumin to remain available longer and improving absorption. Again, almost as if by design, peperine's heat on the tongue and its fresh pine aroma complements the combined aroma of turmeric and cinnamon. Voila!

 

So, why do I prefer to cook with these spices when popping them in pill form is so much easier and avoids having to wash dishes?  Aside from the sensuous pleasure of inhaling their intoxicating scent, I have the satisfaction of knowing they are real.  The dietary supplement business has been unregulated since the enactment of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act,  A study this year found that 80% of the turmeric supplements were within 20% of their stated amounts.  The less expensive brands probably contain a new cheaper petroleum-based synthetic curcumin that lacks helper compounds.   In summary, there is no assurance you are getting what you see on the bottle label.

This spice mix - 2 parts each turmeric and cinnamon powder; 1 part ground black pepper; 1/2 part sea salt -  is my “wellness” grade seasoning. I’ve stirred it into olive oil and brushed it on eggplant slices and carrots before roasting; beaten it into eggs for an omelette, blended it into coconut milk to braise baby white potatoes and replaced vanilla with it in crème caramel. Am I afraid of an overdose? When dealing in teaspoons with spices whose active ingredients constitute at most 7% of their weight, it’s hard to consume too much.

One nagging question remains.  Why has it taken Western medicine so long to appreciate the 5000 year old healing traditions of India, China and our own native Americans?  That is a subject for another blog.

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A HANDS-ON CHERRY SEASON

A quick glance at a woman's hands will tell whether she gathers or she shops for summer produce.  Hint: harvesting fruits and vegetables will wreck long, impeccably polished nails in the time it takes apply insect repellant. My own nails were a  manicurist's worst nightmare last week.  The dark, goulish stains around and under my  fingernails were the price I readily paid for the pleasure of picking cherries from the tree in my front yard.

When cherries are ripe there is no time to lose.  The window of opportunity lasts less than a week.  The process of picking two to three pounds, culling, rinsing off debris  and relieving them of their pits takes the better part of a morning.  Every year I test several cherry pitters hoping one will magically prove to do the job quickly and cleanly.  Yet again, this year I found impaling each cherry with a plastic straw was the most efficient but messy solution.  Note: Eat as you work; there are fewer to pit.

  

If all this sounds slow and low tech, it is.  Working with one's hands is also a hugely satisfying way to tune out the world.  And when you are finished there are enough cherries to prepare a refreshing Cold Cherry Soup for dinner and preserve a pound or more for the future.   This soup takes minutes to cook is also a beautiful ruby color.  A last minute garnish of red wine vinegar leaves a moire pattern on the surface.  It’s a picture suitable for framing.

It so happens that I have the perfect bowl and plate for serving it.   Some years ago I bought a set of blue dishes covered with a cherry blossom pattern in a seconds shop in Limoges.  Claude Monet himself had designed this tableware for his home outside Paris in Giverny.  He was inspired by the numerous Japanese prints that lined the walls of the dining room.  His careful curation of every element in that room has the stunning  effect of unifying life at the table with art.

 

How, I wondered, would Claude Monet's cook have preserved cherries in the kitchen at Giverny a century ago?  I checked for recipes in a wonderful memoir and cookbook, Monet's Table  written by Claire Joyes, the wife of Monet's great-grandson.  What she gathered from Monet's handwritten cooking journals and her personal contact with Marguerite, the cook, are rudimentary recipes by today's standards. Cherries were preserved by sealing them in jars with their juices, submerging them in a water bath and boiling the jars for twenty minutes. Brandies cherries were  macerated in a strong eau de vie (double distilled from raisin skins and seeds).

I chose to use recipes from contemporary sources for preparations of Pickled Cherries* and Spicy Cherries in Wine**.  Both the pickle brine and sugar syrup for the sweet preserve are easy to assemble.  The cherries will age in these solutions over a period of months in the refrigerator, although the cherry pickles are disappearing quickly.  They make a great garnish with cheese and a piquant addition to summer salads.   I will be guarding the spiced cherries for winter desserts.

* Six Seasons, by Joshua McFadden, pages 57-58.

** Jacques Pepin Celebrates, by Jacques Pepin, page 401.

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

WHAT'S NEW ABOUT OVERNIGHT OATS?

 I caught up with Millennials’ dining habits quite by accident in a recent phone conversation with my daughter Celia.  We often talk about what we’ve been cooking, and she mentioned she had prepared overnight oats for supper. What?  Had she forgotten to eat breakfast that morning?  She heard the disbelief in my voice and described what amounts to an instant meal in a Mason jar. 

 I was amazed to learn that oatmeal had escaped its morning niche to become a popular homemade carryout meal.  It consists of rolled oats mixed with a few chia seeds, layered in a Mason jar with fruit at the bottom and on top.  Milk of any variety is added to moisten the oats.  Yogurt and honey are recommended add-ins.  

 Although there’s no cooking involved, overnight oats is not a  source of immediate gratification.  The oats take at least four hours to absorb the milk in the refrigerator, so it ends up being an overnight process.  A video link Celia sent me showed how to plan a week's worth of meals choosing a different fruit combination for each day of the week.  Open the refrigerator on Wednesday and look for the jar with strawberries and bananas.  That’s the instant part.

 

As hard as I tried to imagine the pleasures of eating of cold, uncooked rolled oats, my mind kept defaulting to soggy cardboard.  When I shared my reaction with Celia, she assured me the consistency of overnight oats is closer to that of rice pudding.  There was only one way to find out.  I had to give it a try

Measuring and pouring ingredients into a Mason jar felt like lab work rather than cooking.  In this scientific mood, I recalled all the outrageously healthful properties of oats.  It has more soluble fiber than any other plus beta-glucan that makes it so effective in lowering blood cloresterol, regulating blood sugar and boosting the immune system.  What’s not to like? 

The next day I chose to sit on a shaded bench in the park to enjoy my chilled jar of overnight oats for lunch.  All the ingredients tasted as I predicted they would.  The oats were disappointingly thick, sticky and flavorless.  I wished I had added more honey and was grateful for the texture from the fruit. 

That evening I prepared a pot of old-fashioned oatmeal with steel cut oats.  I simmered them for four minutes in boiling water, took the pot off the heat, covered and left it at room temperature overnight.  The grains were plump, tender with a slight al dente finish by morning.  A quick reheating in the microwave renewed their comforting scent of toasted grain that invited a sprinkling of brown sugar, sliced banana and cold milk. 

Overnight oats may not be the first riff on a humble grain that’s been the staple start to the day since antiquity.  It’s best known previous reincarnation was Bircher Muesli, a health cereal created around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Brenner.  At every meal he treated recovering tuberculosis patients to a buffet of raw grated apples, rolled oats, dried fruit and nuts with a side of yogurt.   

So, would you like your oatmeal soaked overnight in milk, cooked in water or dry with yogurt?