Bosc Pear With Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction
“Darya, my biggest problem is…I have a sweet tooth. Are there any recipes or desserts you suggest?”
One of the hardest things about transitioning to a healthy diet is cutting down on sugar. I definitely remember this from my own experience.
Luckily this difficulty is temporary.
The longer you go without sugar, the less you want it. In fact it has taken me awhile to reply to this question because I have not been motivated to make dessert in such a long time.
I eat sweets on occasion, but almost always these situations are circumstantial: a friend’s birthday, a favorite restaurant or other special occasion. And I am only excited about the experience if the dessert in question is profoundly exquisite. (In San Francisco, this is way more common than it is in most places.)
What this all means is I rarely find reason to seek out and/or make dessert.
But after creating this recipe, I may reconsider. This dessert is incredibly delicious, and not unhealthy at all. I thinly sliced some bosc pears and briefly sautéed them in butter with cinnamon. I reduced some balsamic vinegar for a semi-sweet topping, but otherwise did not add any sugar. I garnished the pears with toasted walnuts and shredded basil.
This recipe also works with other firm fruits such as apples, peaches and strawberries, all of which are available this time of year at the farmers market.
Sauteed Bosc Pears With Toasted Walnuts, Balsamic Reduction and Basil
One bosc pear, cored and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, core and cut bosc pear into 1/4 inch slices.
Place balsamic vinegar in small sauce pan and gently heat until simmering. Allow to reduce, swirling occasionally until reduced to 25-30% volume, about 10 minutes. Reduction should be dark and thickened. Test by seeing if it coats the back of a spoon (and tastes good). Do not over reduce.
While vinegar is reducing, place walnuts on a cookie sheet and put in oven. Toast walnuts, turning once or twice for 6-7 minutes. Do yourself a favor and set a timer. It is very easy to burn toasting nuts. I set the time for 3 minutes, toss the nuts, then reset for another 3 minutes. Remove nuts from oven, allow to cool, then coarsely chop.
Heat butter in a pan on medium heat until it begins to foam. Add pear slices and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook gently until slightly tender, about 3 minutes on each side. Turn with a thin spatula.
Place pears on a plate and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Sprinkle on chopped walnuts and basil. I didn’t try it, but I bet this would be awesome with gorgonzola and port (or other dessert wine).
To be honest, I’m a little surprised I even need to write this. In a national survey, over 90% of American voters favored labeling genetically modified (GMO) foods. Labels for GMOs are already required in the European Union, Japan, Australia, and dozens of other nations. In direct expenses, adding a label costs next to nothing for both companies and consumers.
I was a bit annoyed when I started seeing ads calling Prop 37 unnecessarily complicated and poorly written, but I didn’t think TV ads could close such a huge gap. Before the television blitzkrieg by the anti-Prop 37 contingent, it looked poised to win in California by a landslide, and I figured the lead was large enough to hold.
However, anti-Prop 37 contributions have totaled over 45 million dollars, with the biggest donors being Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico, and other giant food producers. (In comparison, the pro-Prop 37 contributions total just over 6 million—a little less than Monsanto contributed alone). As a result the most recent polls show Prop 37 is in a dead heat, and we are in danger of losing this opportunity to add transparency to our food system.
Despite what negative television ads have claimed, the proposition is neither complex nor poorly written (you can read it for yourself here). It’s fairly straight forward in fact. Prop 37 states that any raw food commodity that has been genetically manipulated must have a clear label stating such. Any processed food that knowingly contains GMO ingredients must also have a label.
Prop 37 does not require labeling for specific ingredients, meaning that if a product contains both genetically modified corn and soy (as most processed foods do) the ingredient list will still just say “corn” and “soy.” However, somewhere on the package it must say that the food contains genetically modified ingredients.
Restaurant food is excluded, so you could still enjoy your genetically modified BigMac in blissful ignorance. Animal products that are fed genetically modified foods (most industrial meat production relies on GMOs for feed) do not need to be labeled. Alcohol is also exempt. Organic certification already prohibits the use of genetic modification, so organic foods will not be affected.
The only additional provision, which I think makes sense, is that GMO foods and those containing GMO ingredients cannot use the word “natural” or anything similar (e.g. “naturally made”) on their labels.
Food companies add and remove food labels all the time—imagine how quickly they’d change the label if they learned processed foods protect against heart disease. However, major food producers like Monsanto, Kraft, and General Mills anticipate people avoiding GMO foods if they are labeled, so they see this proposition as a threat to their profits.
Prop 37 will cost consumers next to nothing, unless you choose to buy non-GMO food that happens to be more expensive. While anti-Prop 37 ads claim the cost to consumers will be $400 annually, that is based on a study (funded by the No on 37 camp) that assumes they will have to switch to non-GMO foods and charge more for them. This is a strange assumption that does not reflect the language of Prop 37, which does not ban GMO foods.
Some have argued that the more likely outcome is that they will start putting “May contain genetically engineered ingredients” on everything (over 80% of processed foods are currently made with GMOs) and hope we learn to ignore it, similar to what happened with Prop 65. This scenario would negate the costs projected by their study. Another study (with equally dubious funding) found that there is unlikely to be any additional costs to consumers. Importantly, labeling GMOs did not increase the cost of food in other nations.
So what’s all the fuss about? Are GMOs dangerous for us to eat or not? This is not particularly easy to answer, because the term “genetic engineering” is incredibly broad. Just as cancer is not one disease, genetic engineering is not one kind of biological change. The safety of each manipulation must be determined on a case-by-case basis, and testing should be rigorous and exhaustive to detect all potential problems, side effects and unintended consequences.
As anyone who has worked extensively with genetically modified animals can tell you (I did for years), the effects of a single gene deletion or insertion are often very surprising and can be quite subtle. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes crazy things happen, and sometimes you can’t tell what happened until you let the animal’s life run its course and study it extensively. That isn’t to say we aren’t able to have a solid understanding of some genetic manipulations, but it is not a simple science.
It gets even more tricky when you’re talking about releasing GMOs into the environment. It’s very difficult to contain genetic material in an ecosystem. It tends to spread, and ecological balance can be very fragile. This is why you are not allowed to bring fruit with you on international flights. Even native, non-genetically altered species can disrupt an ecosystem, and the same concerns apply to new or altered species created in a laboratory.
I’m not making the case that GMOs are somehow inherently unhealthy or bad for the environment. Indeed, in some cases the potential benefit of GMO crops may justify their prudent use. My point is that as a culture we should understand that genetic manipulation is a messy science that requires thoughtful consideration and rigorous oversight. We should not take this subject lightly.
What’s at Stake
Big Food has always fought tooth and nail against any kind of labeling regulations, but are quick to seek approval of health claims to put on the front of food packaging whenever possible. It’s obvious why. For food manufacturers labels are about marketing, not about health. Positive labels sell more food, while negative labels discourage sales.
Our current food system is shrouded heavily in secrecy, and this is intentional. Food companies rightfully fear that if we know more about what is in our food and how it was produced, we might start asking more questions and demanding better. Currently corn, soy beans, cotton, sugar beets, canola, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookedneck squash are genetically modified. Billions of dollars have been invested in this technology and the big food companies would not be happy if some of us decided to stop eating these foods.
What this really comes down to is transparency. Honest businesses with nothing to hide only win when more transparency is available. This is largely why organic food is such a big supporter of Prop 37—the organic certification system is incredibly rigorous and these companies have already invested in the transparency of their businesses.
Consumers also win with more transparency, because it enables them to make better informed decisions. If we believe certain GMOs are safe to eat, we can eat them. If some of us are more skeptical of one kind or another, we can skip them. Even Big Food benefits in the long run with more transparency, because it creates more confidence in their products as they are proven safe.
Prop 37 does not make any judgement on GMO foods. It does not ban them and it does not regulate their use. It simply requires food companies to indicate on their label if GMOs are present, so consumers can know with confidence what they are buying and eating. If you think this small act of tranparency is reasonable, you should support Prop 37 and vote yes if you live in California.
This week we learn that probiotics fight colds, raw food limits brain growth, and why longevity may require more than diet and exercise.
Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato, Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
Links of the week
The Island Where People Forget to Die <<A healthy lifestyle means more than just diet and exercise. This is long, but a great read for anyone interested in longevity and traditional diets. (New York Times)
Nearly 80 Million Americans Won’t Need Vitamin D Supplements Under New Guidelines <<Based on these arguments I’d consider 20 ng/ml to be the bare minimum, and there’s no reason not to try for over 30 if you can. Keep in mind too that for most of us it’s impossible to tell how much vitamin D we should take without knowing our levels at various times throughout the year (our main source is sunshine). (ScienceDaily)
Celery Stir Fry <<I was just thinking about how celery is underrated as a flavor and ingredient, then Elise goes and features it in a simple and delicious sounding recipe. How serendipitous! (Simply Recipes)
It’s weird for me to even write this, but it has been nearly 3 years since I’ve had any illness.
Seriously, not even a cold.
Like most people, I used to get a cold once or twice a year. And every few years I would get a nasty flu that would keep me in bed for days.
That’s just life, I assumed.
Or is it?
Since I’ve been taking better care of myself I really haven’t gotten sick at all. While I would love to attribute this streak of robust health to my vegetable-filled diet and subsequently invincible immune system, there are likely other factors that play important roles in keeping me healthy.
Some of these tips I picked up by seeing first-hand in the lab how easily germs are transmitted and propagated. Others I learned by trial and error. But over the years I’ve seen much of this advice confirmed by scientific data.
These are my top 10 tips (in order) that I attribute to helping me avoid and conquer illness.
Top 10 Tips To Prevent Cold and Flu
Wash your hands. You get sick for one reason and one reason only: germs. Bacteria and viruses make you ill by finding a way into your body through physical contact. Don’t let them get you. Since most of your contact with the world happens through your hands, washing them can stop germs from making the leap from contaminated surfaces to inside your body. Bacteria especially grow and proliferate very easily, so simply touching a lot of different things can spread them all over the stuff you work with daily. Hand washing is especially important after riding public transportation, moving from one environment to another and before eating or preparing food. This review study on hygiene and illness agrees.
Don’t touch your face. Even if your hands are relatively clean, chances are some germs will find a way to survive there. But these parasites will only compromise your health if they can get into your body. The easiest place to transmit illness is through mucous membranes such as your eyes, mouth and nose. Keep your hands away from your face (and food) and make it difficult for germs to find you.
Avoid sick people. Germs are everywhere, but they are particularly concentrated in people who are sick. Keep these people away from you and disinfect everything they touch. I especially recommend avoiding anyone who regularly works with children (aka little disease factories) like teachers and pediatricians. Sorry guys, you’re contagious!
Don’t eat group food. In flu season, I completely avoid large party dips that involve dipping directly into the bowl rather than scooping with a clean spoon onto individual plates. Why? People may use the hand they just sneezed in to turn a chip around a few times until they find the perfect dipping angle. That means they are adding their nasty germs directly into the salsa. Yuck.
Get enough sleep. Although I haven’t actually gotten sick, there have been times when I felt as though I might come down with something (this last weekend for instance). One of the best ways I found to avoid getting seriously sick is to get extra sleep for a few days. Recently this recommendation was backed up by some hard science on sleep and illness.
Don’t drink alcohol. Another way to avoid coming down with something serious if you are starting to get sick is to skip on drinking for a few days. According to one study drinking large amounts affects your immune system, making it weaker for 24 hours.
Hydrate. When your body is fighting an illness your immune system is working overtime. Make sure it has everything it needs to function at its best, including plenty of water.
Skip a workout. If you feel like you might be getting sick but aren’t sure, don’t go to the gym. Your body needs all its extra resources to fend off whatever virus or bacteria you’ve been exposed to, so save all the energy you’ve got.
Eat well. You may be disinclined to eat if you aren’t feeling well, but be sure that whatever you do manage to get down is nutritious and healthy. It’s not a good idea to eat foods that induce inflammation (simple sugars and starches) when your body is already weakened.
Take your vitamins. One of the most consistent things I’ve noticed that correlates with my health is how often I take my multivitamin and vitamin D. I take a food-based multivitamin from Megafood. Many people are vitamin D deficient, so it is worth getting your levels checked even if you live in a sunny area. To keep mine in a healthy range I take 2,000-4,000 IU vitamin D3 (Carlson), depending on the season.
Since someone will probably ask, no I do not get flu shots. I have nothing against them, but as you can imagine a painful injection to prevent illnesses I don’t get is not a huge priority for me. I may regret this someday.
Also, I do not take echinacea. Every rigorous analysis I’ve seen says it doesn’t work, and it has never been effective for me. Take it if you like, but probably any benefit you get is due to the placebo effect.
How do you avoid cold and flu?
Originally published Sept 28, 2009. Full disclosure, since writing this I had a brief spell of pneumonia in the summer of 2010 that I seemed to catch from my boyfriend. It was apparently a very virulent strain, since pneumonia is not typically contagious. I’ve not been sick since.
With extra candy, alcohol and fun everywhere, there is no point in pretending health will be your top priority by the time the weekend rolls around. But that’s a good thing.
Being healthy is important, but if you don’t learn to make room in your life for fun too then what’s the point?
My challenge to you is to use this Halloween weekend as an opportunity to practice rational indulgence. That is, enjoy things you have a reason to enjoy (i.e. foods you like) in quantities that leave you satisfied, but don’t abandon your health or get too obsessive about what you should or should not eat.
This is not the same as practicing “moderation” (an overused word, in my opinion). Instead I’m talking about a head change. Generally the term moderation is used to mean restraint for restraint’s sake. On Halloween this might involve consciously eating only half a cookie or counting out pieces of candy for your allowance.
Moderation is fine for daily life, especially when you are just learning to cook and eat healthy foods. But equally important is getting in tune with the real reasons you eat: taste, pleasure and enjoyment, and using this awareness to guide your behavior and create natural boundaries.
Embrace Halloween as a special occasion for you to live and enjoy, while understanding that this is not the first nor will it be the last time you get to eat a cupcake. There is no need to go out of your way to be “good” or “bad.” Just have fun and try not to think in terms of guilt or temptation. It is thoughts like these which lead to too many drinks and eating that entire bowl of peanut butter cups on your friend’s coffee table.
But, of course, for rational indulgence to mean anything it requires a context of healthy eating. If your typical daily food intake isn’t already mostly healthy, then Halloween isn’t really an indulgence so much as an excuse. But that doesn’t mean this advice isn’t applicable to you. No matter what your baseline, it is easier to indulge rationally if you are well-nourished and in the right state of mind.
Strive for the general goal of eating healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods and feel free to add a few Halloween treats along the way.
Here are 9 strategies to help make rational indulgence a little easier.
9 Tricks To Make Halloween A Treat
Leave your guilt at the door. Halloween will probably not be ideal for your health, but if you are going to indulge you may as well enjoy it.
Eat what you want, but not any more than that. Remember that indulgence is not a race. You don’t need to eat everything in sight just because you allow yourself a couple days off. Stop occasionally and ask yourself if you are eating for pleasure or from compulsion.
Do not skip meals. Halloween usually involves late night parties and candy, things that should not interfere too much with your regularly scheduled food program. Trying to eat light during the day to compensate for eating junk food later will probably just cause you to eat even more junk when you find yourself starving at 2am—not a wise strategy.
Have a healthy, satisfying dinner. You would be surprised how easy it is to skip the third mini-Snickers if you are not hungry or are even a little full. Better to be full of stir fry than trans fat and sugar.
Eat protein, vegetables and healthy fats before you go out. The main danger on Halloween is sugar. Too much sugar causes blood sugar to rise and insulin to skyrocket. Ultimately this leads to insulin resistance, weight gain and more hunger. To avoid this, slow down the digestion process by eating healthy foods first.
Easy on the carbs. You will probably be getting more than your fair share of sugars and starches this weekend. Minimize extraneous carbohydrates in your meals by skipping bread and pasta. Limit carbohydrates to vegetables, fruit and legumes.
Keep moving. One easy way to make up ground if you are eating extra calories is to burn them off as you go. If you are out at a party, be sure to keep moving. Walk to your destination, play Halloween Twister and be the last to leave the dance floor.
Brush up. Toothpaste can make candy taste pretty bad, so be sure to brush and rinse with fluoride before you leave your house and as soon as you get home. Sugar is also really bad for your teeth.
Be safe. No matter what you do or do not eat, it is always important to make good decisions when you go out on the town. Be smart and make it home in one piece or none of this advice will do you any good.