Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #146

Chicken Saag with Homemade Garam Masala Recipes, Spotlight on Cinnamon and Black Peppercorns, Spices and Your Health, and Food as Medicine

Over the course of 20-plus years traveling the globe—first as a food, wine, and travel writer and then as The Olive Oil Hunter—I’ve savored dozens of delicious and diverse cuisines at farmers’ tables, Michelin-starred restaurants, and everything in between. As different as these meals were, they shared one common denominator: the masterful use of spices—spices that weren’t common at all but rather were the brightest and most intense. 

Over the next four newsletters, I’m going to share the eight essentials I reach for most often, with recipes and tips for using them, starting with cinnamon and black pepper. I love them all so much, I’ve put them together in a collection for you, the latest of my Curated Culinary Selections.

Also in this issue is news about a very important initiative from the American Heart Association called Food Is Medicine. It focuses on diet as prevention, something those who follow the Mediterranean diet for the health benefits of olive oil, nuts, fruits, and vegetables know so well.

Garam Masala

  • Garam Masala Powder Garam Masala

    Many home chefs shy away from exotic cuisines, but you can master any dish with the right ingredients, starting with the right spices. There are as many recipes for the essential Indian spice blend garam masala as there are chefs! This truly exceptional one comes from my friend Prasad Chirnomula, a trailblazing chef and restaurateur in Connecticut whose latest restaurant is Chef Prasad in New Canaan. Prasad’s amazing chicken saag, which uses garam masala, follows. 

    Ingredients

    • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns
    • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 2 teaspoons cloves
    • 1 teaspoon green cardamom
    • 2 pods wild cardamom if available
    • 3 pieces star anise 
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

    Directions

    Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat and sauté all the spices, except the cinnamon, until fragrant, about 3 minutes—don’t step away, as they can easily burn. Cool slightly and process in a spice or coffee bean grinder (you may need to do this in two batches). Transfer to a bowl, whisk in the cinnamon, and then funnel into an airtight glass storage jar.

    Yields about 1/3 cup

Chicken Saag

  • Chicken Saag Chicken Saag

    This Indian classic is brimming with vegetables and wonderful spices.

    Ingredients

    • 6 cups fresh spinach, tightly packed, washed, and drained, or 2 cups frozen spinach, defrosted
    • 1 tablespoon butter 
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 large white onion, chopped
    • 2 green chilis, stemmed and finely sliced
    • 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste*
    • 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala 
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder  
    • 1/2 salt or to taste
    • 1 cup fresh chopped tomatoes or diced canned tomatoes  
    • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
    • 1/2 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaf (crushed to powder)
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

    Directions

    Step 1

    If using fresh spinach, blanch it for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water, and then use a large strainer to transfer it to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Squeeze out the excess water, place the spinach in a blender, and purée it; set aside. If using frozen spinach, once it has thawed, squeeze it gently to remove any excess liquid.

    Step 2

    Heat a large skillet and, when it’s hot, add the butter and olive oil. Add cumin seeds, onion, and chilis and cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are light brown. Add ginger garlic paste, garam masala, cayenne, salt, and tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until firm and cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through. Add the nutmeg and fenugreek and stir for 2 minutes, then add the puréed spinach and a cup of water, and cook for another 5 minutes. For a creamier sauce, add the heavy cream and cook 3 to 5 more minutes. Serve with naan or over basmati rice.

    *To make your own ginger garlic paste, in a small food grinder process 2 ounces peeled garlic cloves, 1 ounce peeled fresh ginger, and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a paste consistency, adding water by the teaspoon if necessary.

    Yields 4 to 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Cinnamon and Black Peppercorns

Heirloom Vietnamese Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been valued the world over for centuries for medicinal purposes, for religious ceremonies, to make fragrances, and as a sweet and spicy recipe ingredient. Cinnamon became such a coveted commodity that wars raged between countries over its trade. The only “fight” today is over which cinnamon to use. There are a few different types, all species in the Lauraceae family: Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka (known by the country’s former name), Indonesian cinnamon, cassia cinnamon from China, and, what I prefer for its intensity and spicy sweetness, Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi).

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Reach for cinnamon to top your lattes and add sweet spice to smoothies and oatmeal. It elevates fruit-based desserts like apple crisp, a rich babka or richer baklava, brioche raisin bread or gingerbread, or spice cookies. It adds depth to both savory and sweet dishes, from dried-fruit-and-nut-laden Persian rice and Moroccan tagines to Mexican moles and churros to Vietnamese pho to Greek moussaka. Cinnamon is also a magical ingredient in many global spice blends that you can mix up and have ready to go for a dry rub or a flavor boost for hot drinks.

Vine-Ripened Black Peppercorns

Black pepper is the most widely used spice on the planet. The origin of black peppercorns (Piper nigrum, a member of the Piperaceae family) can be traced to Kerala, a province in southwest India, and their written history goes back at least 4,000 years. Once the most coveted spice in the world, peppercorns were the original “black gold.” Black pepper has a place in almost every cuisine, as you can tell from the fact that it’s part of spice mixes from Cajun blends to the French quatre épices to Indian garam masala.

I adore the vine-ripened black peppercornsgrown in one of the most exotic destinations on earth, the Zanzibar archipelago, nicknamed the “Spice Islands” for good reason. Its location just off the coast of east Africa, with fertile soil perfect for growing spices and other crops, put it at the heart of the spice trade for centuries. 

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Enjoy freshly ground black pepper on favorite foods like eggs, mashed potatoes, and tuna salad. And have fun finding new ways to appreciate its flavor: It makes a perfect crust for steak or duck breast and enlivens roasted sweet potatoes and winter squashes, vegetable slaws, cold pasta salads, and the Italian pasta classic cacio e pepe. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Tasting Spices

So often we add spices to recipes without taking the time to appreciate how they taste on their own. Get to know the flavor profile of a spice before you use it in a dish. Open the lid and inhale the aroma. How do you describe it? Sweet? Pungent? Herbal? (If you don’t smell anything, it’s past its prime and should be replaced.) Next, rub a pinch in the palm of one hand and inhale again. Does it have the same qualities as before, or new ones? Now place another pinch on your tongue and see how your taste buds react. Another way to experience a spice is to make a tea—stir a quarter-teaspoon into a small cup of boiling water and let it steep for five minutes. Take a sip. Swirl it around in your mouth as you would a good wine to engage all your taste buds. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Spices and Your Health 

Even though we only enjoy pinches of spices at a time, they contain plant-based nutrients and have been used for health purposes for centuries. In ancient times, cinnamon was the go-to remedy for respiratory and digestive ills. We’re still learning about its benefits today. According to a review paper in Pharmacognosy Research, the phytochemicals in cinnamon could be good for brain health, boosting the brain’s ability to use glucose, the energy source that supplies every part of the body. They’re also being studied as a way to help lower blood pressure, manage diabetes, and boost heart health, along with fighting off cell damage caused by toxins in our environment.

Ancient Indian and Egyptian cultures used peppercorns as an anti-inflammatory agent, an analgesic, and even a preservative. Contemporary research has found that there’s science to back up those early practices, thanks to the enzymes in the compound piperine—they help the body better absorb both conventional and herbal medications. There’s even the possibility that it could play a role in the development of medications to combat conditions as varied as Parkinson’s, cancer, and depression. Although research is in the early stages, with most studies being done only in labs, one day there could be value well beyond great taste for making pepper an important part of the diet. 

Fitness Flash

Why (the Right) Food is Medicine

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an estimated 90% of the $4.3 trillion annual cost of healthcare in the US is spent on chronic diseases. An unhealthy diet is a major risk factor for many of them. That’s where the AHA’s Food Is Medicine (FIM) initiative comes in. It represents a paradigm shift focused on the role of healthy foods to treat, manage, and prevent specific chronic conditions in coordination with the healthcare sector. Interventions could one day include medically tailored meals and groceries and even “produce prescriptions.” 

“To unlock the potential of Food Is Medicine and make it a regular and reimbursable component of healthcare, we need an ambitious and coordinated research approach,” said Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, American Heart Association volunteer, chair of the Presidential Advisory writing group, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and research lead of the Food Is Medicine initiative. “By addressing research gaps and integrating research efforts in collaboration with stakeholders nationwide, we will fuel cross-sector efforts that ensure Food Is Medicine programs improve health costs effectively and are feasible in practice.”

FIM programs aren’t new, but the study of these interventions in healthcare has been limited by factors including small sample sizes, non-randomized comparisons, and broad differences in data collection and measurement, states the AHA. The advisory proposes a coordinated research approach to compare how well nutrition-based interventions treat and prevent disease compared to standard medical care. This approach is the foundation of the Food Is Medicine initiative, first announced by the American Heart Association and The Rockefeller Foundation at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September 2022. 

“Food Is Medicine holds the promise to improve health outcomes for millions of patients living with or at risk for cardiovascular disease and other serious chronic health conditions,” said Mitchell S.V. Elkind, MD, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association, past volunteer president of the AHA, a member of the Presidential Advisory writing committee, and a tenured professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #145

Quick Pickled Cucumbers Recipe, Spotlight on Red Wine Vinegar, Rimmed Sheet Pans, and Is Heart Disease in Your Genes?

Oil and vinegar—it’s a match made in culinary heaven. But just as the uses of EVOO go well beyond salads, so do those of vinegar. As an acid, vinegar adds brightness and zest to recipes. In a marinade, vinegar helps break down and tenderize protein fibers for juicier meat. It’s an amazing addition to classic sauces like beurre blanc and béarnaise. And it’s perfect for pickling—one of its earliest uses—because vinegar preserves foods as it imparts tartness. See how easy it is with my recipe for quick-pickled cucumbers using red wine vinegar.

Also in this issue…how to choose rimmed sheet pans (one of the most versatile pieces of bakeware)…and why some people are more prone to plaque buildup in arteries.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers

  • Quick Pickled Cucumber Salad Quick Pickled Cucumbers

    These cukes make a zesty side dish and a terrific addition to sandwiches, burgers, and salads. They’re ready in less than an hour, but the flavor will intensify the longer they marinate in the fridge (bring them back to room temperature before serving).

    Ingredients

    • 2 large cucumbers, trimmed, peel left on
    • 1 large red onion
    • 1 tablespoon sea salt
    • 1 bell pepper, any color, cored and cut into thin rings
    • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
    • 2 tablespoons dill, minced

    Directions

    Use a mandoline or the thin slicing blade of your food processor to slice the cucumbers and red onions. Transfer them to a colander nestled in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Let sit for an hour to release some of their liquid. Rinse with cold water to remove extra salt and rinse out the bowl. Place the cucumbers and onions in the bowl along with the pepper rings. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and dill, and toss well. Allow the flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes before serving.

    Yields 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Red Wine Vinegar

Red wine vinegar is a must for your pantry. You’ll reach for it for quick-pickling, for making vegetable salads, and as a finishing touch for caramelized vegetables from beets to potatoes and for fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and cod, as well as fried fish. 

But red wine vinegar is only as good as the grapes used to make it, and that’s why mine comes from the Roboredo Madeira family. Members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club have come to know my dear friends Filipe, his brother António, and their father Celso—now 90 and still going strong—and the story of how Celso made the delicious decision more than two decades ago to revive the centuries-old olive groves on their estates. Celso thrust Filipe into the world of extra virgin olive oil before he had any idea how the olive pressing machinery worked! As someone who loves a new challenge, Filipe had the idea to repeat this experience of on-the-job training with vinegar making. 

Now 90 and still going strong, CARM founder Celso Roboredo Madeira (left) made the delicious decision well over two decades ago to revive the centuries-old olive groves on the family’s estates. Crafting red wine vinegar was the natural segue for his son Filipe (right).

“Our goal has always been to produce high-quality olive oils and wines, using only olives and grapes from our estates,” Filipe told me. “We already had a top olive oil, so we wanted to make a top vinegar to go with it, and make it ourselves from our own wine. My brother and I decided to use only Touriga Nacional grapes.” These are considered by many the finest of Portugal’s red wine grapes. 

Both red wine and red wine vinegar are made by fermenting red grapes, but the vinegar requires an additional step—the second fermentation that turns the wine’s natural sugars into acetic acid. The typical aging process for red wine vinegar is two years, but Filipe had other ideas. “We wanted to do something totally different. As we went along, we decided to continue the aging process well beyond two years and ended up creating a truly remarkable product that has now been aged for 22 years in American oak barrels! Along the way, we also built our own vinegar cellar and will dedicate one of our grape vineyards to future batches of vinegar.” The natural temperature changes over its many years of aging have made this Vinagre de Touriga a well-rounded red wine vinegar, intense yet velvety as well as tart. This vinegar is exceedingly concentrated, so use it sparingly. When making dishes, add, taste, and then add a little more vinegar as desired.

Why you should have this vinegar in your kitchen: It’s marvelous in soups, stews, and other hearty dishes, like beans with chorizo and rice, and in herb-and-vinegar-based sauces and marinades. It enhances wild greens and vegetable salads and sautés, antipasto platters, and grilled cheeses. 

Pure, clean, and bracing, CARM’s Vinagre de Touriga Nacional redefines red wine vinegar. I wasn’t surprised at all when took gold at a national competition in Portugal. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Rimmed Sheet Pans

The popularity of sheet pan dinners—limitless combinations of proteins and vegetables cooked together in the oven—have made this bakeware a kitchen essential. There are almost as many options as there are recipes in which to use them. These tips will help you choose and maintain the right ones for you.

Size: Look for a “half-sheet,” a 13″ by 18″ rectangle—those dimensions are half the professional 18″ by 26″ size and will fit most home ovens. A half-sheet is big enough to hold 4 to 6 servings, depending on whether you’re making a complete main dish or a side, like roasted potatoes. You might also want to buy quarter-sheets. These measure 9″ by 13″ and work for roasting 1 or 2 servings of food.

Shape: Rimmed sheet pans are rectangles with 1″ sides so that they hold in food as well as any juices released during cooking. Look for rolled edges around the rim, easier to grip with oven mitts.  

Material: Choose uncoated rimmed sheet pans made of heavy-gauge steel or aluminum. They stand up best to high heat. You can use parchment paper designed for 450°F to line your pan or sprinkle the surface liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Expect your pans to darken with use. 

Care: A quick wash in hot, soapy water and a towel dry is usually all the cleaning they need. For baked-on food, soak for a few minutes before scrubbing with a brush or nonabrasive sponge. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Is Heart Disease in Your Genes?

An international team of scientists has identified nearly a dozen genes that contribute to the buildup in coronary arteries commonly known as plaque. Early plaque deposits are soft, but over time they harden into what’s called coronary artery calcification. This cholesterol-and-calcium buildup can lead to life-threatening coronary artery disease, a condition responsible for up to one in four deaths in the United States. With this new discovery, it may soon be possible to target these genes in order to slow or halt the disease’s progression.

Despite the known role of genetics in plaque buildup, only a handful of contributing genes had previously been identified. Researcher Clint L. Miller, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Center for Public Health Genomics, and his collaborators identified new genetic factors that influence the risk for this buildup by analyzing data collected from more than 35,000 people of European and African ancestry around the world, the largest such meta-analysis conducted to date. 

By combining several statistical analysis methods, the scientists identified more than 40 candidate genes at 11 different locations on chromosomes linked to coronary artery calcification. Eight of these locations had not been previously connected to coronary calcification at all, and five were not yet reported for coronary artery disease. Genes at these locations play important roles in determining the mineral content of our bones and regulate key metabolic pathways in the formation of calcium deposits, among other functions. The researchers also identified genes in the adenosine signaling pathway, which is known to suppress arterial calcification. The findings were published in the journal Nature Genetics. 

“By sharing valuable genotype and phenotype datasets collected over many years, our team was able to uncover new genes that may foreshadow clinical coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Miller. “This is a critical first step in identifying the biological mechanisms to target for primary prevention of coronary artery disease.”

Even before people develop coronary artery disease, doctors can detect calcium buildup inside the walls of the coronary arteries using noninvasive computed tomography (CT) scans. This imaging can strongly predict future cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. Calcium accumulation is also linked to other age-related diseases, such as dementia, cancer, chronic kidney disease, and even hip fractures. “Coronary artery calcification reflects the vessel’s accumulation of lifetime exposure to risk factors,” Dr. Miller says. 

While additional research needs to be done to determine how best to target these genes and affected pathways, Miller says the new discoveries could set the stage for improved risk stratification or early interventions that prevent the progression of coronary artery disease before it can take hold. Some of the promising targets may even be susceptible to dietary changes or nutrient supplementation, such as with vitamin C or D. That could be a game changer for treating a disease responsible for more than 17 million deaths annually around the world.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #143

Creamy Crab and Corn Chowder Recipe with Sherry Vinegar, Spotlight on Spatulas, Positivity for Longevity, and Stepping for Heart Health

Soup’s on! Crisp nights (and days) call for heartwarming dishes. I’m sharing one of my favorite chowder recipes, full of flavor with a minimum of cooking time. It features an exquisite sherry vinegar from Spain, the country that put sherry vinegar on the culinary map.

I also want to share findings from two recent studies, both good for body and soul. One is on the importance of positivity and the other, a fresh look at the value of walking for a longer, healthier life—you’ll be surprised by how few steps it takes to start making an impact.

Creamy Crab & Corn Chowder

  • Creamy Corn and Crab Chowder Creamy Crab & Corn Chowder

    Shelled crabmeat is readily available at many markets, and this recipe is delicious whether you use claw meat or the more expensive lump crabmeat. Grating the onion on a box grater will separate out most of its liquid, making for a faster sauté.

    Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup grated yellow onion
    • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups milk
    • 1 cup half-and-half
    • 8 ounces cooked crabmeat
    • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh, canned, or frozen
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

    Directions

    Heat a medium saucepan. When hot, add the olive oil and onions. Sauté over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the onions are soft and any liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar to the pan. When it starts to boil, sprinkle on the flour and whisk vigorously until you get a thick paste, about 3 minutes, allowing the flour to cook. Add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, and continue to whisk vigorously, letting the mixture thicken before adding the next 1/2 cup. Add the half-and-half in the same way. Lower the heat to a simmer and fold in the crabmeat, corn kernels, thyme, salt, and pepper. Heat through, about 3 minutes. Adjust the seasonings to taste and serve.

    Yields 4-6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Sherry Vinegar

Spain is legendary for its sherry, which can only be produced inside a small area within the province of Cádiz in the southwestern part of Andalusia, a romantic region also known for flamenco and majestic horses. I remember my first visit—now more than 20 years ago—to the famous “sherry triangle” that connects the three cities of El Puerto, Sanlucar, and Jerez. Jerez is home to Bodegas Páez Morilla, and thanks to the efforts of four generations of the Páez family, the region is now also known for its delectable sherry vinegar. 

A toast to the founder of Bodegas Páez Morilla, Don Antonio Páez Lobato, seen in this beautiful mural. He saw the potential in sherry vinegar and brought it to the world stage back in 1940

Only certain grapes can be used to make sherry vinegar that meets the standards for DOP (Denominación de Origen Protegida, or Protected Designation of Origin), such as palomino, which is most commonly used, and the sweeter muscatel. The Pedro Ximénez Reserve Sherry Vinegar that I’ve just made available through my latest Curated Culinary Selections is a special reserva of Pedro Ximenez or “PX” grapes, a white grape variety left in the sun longer than usual to concentrate its sugars and give the taste and deep color of raisins. And it’s a customized blend of PX vinegars from the two of Bodegas Páez Morilla’s smallest-sized barrels for a sweeter rather than drier taste.

Why you should have this vinegar in your kitchen: Beyond my Creamy Crab & Corn Chowder, sherry vinegar is essential for classic gazpacho and for so many Mediterranean dishes that use olive oil, from salads and lentils to lamb and duck. You’ll want to drizzle it over sliced tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and fresh oregano; grilled or roasted vegetables, vegetable stir-fries, and boiled potatoes or carrots; reduction sauces, marinades, and pickling liquid; tuna salad and other fish dishes; sweet sauces like fruit coulis and caramel sauce; and citrus or high-acid fruits like strawberries.

As delicious as a fine wine, perfectly aged sherry vinegar is a delight for the senses. Because barrels are never fully emptied, some amount in every bottle of Bodegas Páez Morilla vinegar has been aged for decades! Tastings with their oenologist Raúl Guerrero, PhD, are something I look forward to at every visit.
Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Spatula Savvy

When it comes to inexpensive but efficient kitchen tools, spatulas top the list. They can help you with so many kitchen tasks, from easily flipping pancakes to scraping every last bit of batter from your mixing bowl. The only trick is using the right spatula for the task at hand. Here are some of the designs to consider adding to your kitchen utensil crock or drawer. 

The classic flipper spatula has a wide-angled blade and a long handle to protect your hands from getting too close to a hot pan. The blade might be solid, slotted, or perforated, which allows liquid or fat to drain away when you lift cooked food, like a burger, from your pan or griddle. A very versatile version is a slotted fish spatula with a very long blade with slits; it’s shaped to get under a good sized filet and lift it. When shopping for these spatulas, look for stainless steel or aluminum for durability. They’re also strong enough to use one side as a knife to cut and then lift cooked foods from baking dishes and the like. Though more expensive than other spatulas, they should last forever and are easy to clean. One caution: Don’t use them on non-stick pans because they can scratch the surface.

Another essential is the scraping spatula with its rectangular blade, excellent for folding ingredients and transferring batters from bowl to cake pan and cold salads to serving dishes. Some are wood-handled with a silicone blade—they come in a variety of colors. One advantage of silicone is that it can withstand high heat, often up to 600°F, so you can use it without it melting when cooking on the stovetop. There are also more heavy-duty one-piece silicone designs. Aways buy certified BPA-free silicone. Most blades are flat, but the curved blade, called a spoonula, is also great to have—its shape makes scooping easy. These spatulas come in a variety of sizes, ensuring that you have the right one for every job.

A great tool for bakers is the offset spatula with a thin metal blade set at an angle to the handle. It’s excellent for smoothing the tops of batter in cake pans, spreading and getting an even surface with frosting, and slipping under cookies when you need to loosen them from a cookie sheet. 

And if you’re a cake baker, a cake spatula, big enough to slide under a cake round, makes easy work of stacking layers and transferring finished cakes to a serving plate.

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Positivity to Last a Lifetime

For the study “The development of subjective well-being across the life span: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies” published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, researchers from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany looked at how feelings of well-being change over a person’s lifespan. “We focused on changes in three central components of subjective well-being,” explains Professor Susanne Bücker, PhD. “Life satisfaction, positive emotional states, and negative emotional states.”

The findings show that the life satisfaction decreases between the ages of 9 and 16, most likely due to changes to the body and social life that take place during puberty. Then it increases slightly until the age of 70, at which point it decreases once again until the age of 96. 

“Overall, the study indicated a positive trend over a wide period of life, if we look at life satisfaction and negative emotional states,” says Dr. Bücker. After the decline in the preteen and teen years, satisfaction rises again from young adulthood onwards. In very late adulthood, all components of subjective well-being tended to worsen rather than improve. “This could be related to the fact that in very old people, physical performance decreases, health often deteriorates, and social contacts diminish, not least because their peers pass away,” she speculates.

The study highlights the need to promote subjective well-being across our lives. Need a positivity boost right now? Positive thinking is a habit you can develop with practice. Here are ideas from experts at the College of Health Care Professions in Texas:

1. Engage in positive self-talk. Be as accepting, understanding, gentle, and encouraging with yourself as you would be with a loved one. 

2. Practice gratitude. Taking a step back to reflect on things you’re thankful for can help you maintain a positive attitude. Make a habit of reminding yourself why you’re grateful every day. 

3. Challenge negativity. When a negative thought pops into your head, evaluate it from a logical perspective. If you conclude it’s illogical or not serving you and your happiness, try reframing it in a more positive light.

4. Spend time with positive people. Their good attitude can rub off on you. Optimistic people tend to be more fun to be around and can help you enjoy life more and stay motivated when times are tough. 

5. Take care of your physical health. When you feel good physically, you’re more likely to feel good mentally and emotionally, have more energy and stamina, think more clearly, and make better decisions. 

6. Laugh more. When we laugh, our bodies release endorphins, which have natural mood-elevating properties. Laughter also reduces stress and improves immune function.

7. Treat your “self” well. When you make time for self-care, you’re investing in your overall health and well-being. And while it may seem like a luxury, it can promote a positive mindset. 

8. Create morning and evening routines. To set the tone for your day and promote a sense of calm and well-being, when you wake up, take some deep breaths, set your intention for the day, and stretch or do some light exercises to get your body moving. In the evening, wind down with a relaxing activity, write down three things you are grateful for from the day in a journal, and then spend a few minutes visualizing your ideal life and what you want to manifest in the coming days. 

9. Be curious. Curiosity can lead to greater creativity and problem-solving ability, promote a positive mindset, increase knowledge and understanding, and provide a sense of satisfaction. 

10. Seek out new experiences. Take your curiosity further: Experiment with a new recipe, learn a new skill, or explore a different part of your city. When we step out of our comfort zones, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and give ourselves a chance to learn and grow. 

Fitness Flash: Exercise: Exercising to Burn Fat

Fitness Flash

Step to It

It’s no secret that a sedentary lifestyle is a heart disease risk factor. You’ve probably also heard that the magic number of daily steps you should take is 10,000. However, according to the study “The Association Between Daily Step Count and All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality: A Meta-Analysis” published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the optimal number of steps—both the minimum it takes to see health benefits and any upper limit—is unclear. A group of European researchers set out to find some definitive answers.

They analyzed 17 studies on the topic involving a total of 226,889 participants and found some surprising and hopeful news, starting with the fact that you will begin to see health benefits by taking even 2,500 to 4,000 steps a day. They also found that people can progressively lower the risk of dying from heart disease and from any cause as they add to those steps: every 1,000-step increment correlated with a significant reduction of all-cause mortality (dying from any cause) of 15% Even a 500-step increment correlated with a reduced risk of CV mortality (dying from heart disease) of 7%.

To put numbers to those percentages, people who exceeded 5,500 steps a day saw their relative risks of all-cause mortality dropping by 48%. Go beyond that and the benefits go even higher: It dropped by 55% with 7,370 daily steps and by 67% with 11,529 steps. Looking at CV mortality in particular, taking about 4,000 steps a day lowered the risk by 16%, 6,661 steps a day by 49% and 10,400 steps a day by 77%.

The researchers hope that these findings will spur taking more steps among people who thought much higher numbers were needed to get results and, as a consequence, didn’t even try. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #141

T. J.’s Super Smoothie Recipe, Spotlight on Flaxseeds and Strawberries, The Useful Mini Grinder, and When the Daily Grind Takes a Toll

How can you take a basic smoothie and super-power it? By adding high nutrient ingredients that taste great, too — it doesn’t take any extra time yet can really boost the quality of these oh-so-easy breakfast drinks. Read on and you’ll find out why strawberries should be one of your go-to fruits—fascinating research that could put them on a par with blueberries and raspberries. Plus a reminder of why it’s so vital for body and soul to find satisfaction in your work.

T. J.’s Super Smoothie

  • T. J.’s Super Chocolate Banana Strawberry Smoothie T. J.’s Super Smoothie

    There’s no faster breakfast (or snack) prep than a smoothie. While you might be tempted to pick one up at a drive-thru or favorite coffee haunt, when you make it yourself you can enhance puréed fruits to boost their healthful benefits. My recipe is loaded with protein, thanks to the yogurt, and healthy fats from EVOO of course, but also from fiber-rich flaxseed. I love the frosty taste of a smoothie made with frozen fruit, but you do need some liquid to get it started in a conventional blender — that’s where your milk preference comes in. Drink up!

    Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup dairy or non-dairy milk 
    • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt 
    • 1 banana or 4 ounces frozen banana slices
    • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries or mixed berries
    • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
    • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
    • Optional: stevia or your preferred sweetener, to taste

    Directions

    Fill your blender with the ingredients in the order given and process on high until the frozen fruit chunks are almost completely broken down. Taste and add your choice of sweetener if desired.

    Yields 2 small servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Flaxseeds

These tiny seeds have been garnering a lot of attention in recent years and for good reason. Derived from the flax plant, they’re loaded with both soluble and insoluble fiber for good digestive health, alpha-linolenic acid or ALA (an omega 3-fatty acid), and phytonutrients called lignans. Lignans are plant-based estrogens that appear to help lower high cholesterol and the risk for heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer, and some symptoms of menopause.

Bags of toasted golden or brown flaxseeds are available at many markets and online merchants such as nuts.com and vitacost.com. While ground flaxseed (often called flax meal) is available, whole seeds are likely to retain more nutrients and you can grind them as needed.

Grinding flaxseeds before eating them is essential — when whole, the seeds will pass right out of your body undigested. To best preserve their nutrients, grind only what you need each day, and store any extra in a jar in the fridge. Aim for a tablespoon or two a day: blend it into smoothies and pancake or waffle batter, sprinkle over yogurt or cereal, and add to recipes including baked goods. Ground flaxseeds also make a great swap for breadcrumbs.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

A Great Addition to Your Appliance Garage

An under-appreciated kitchen workhouse is the mini grinder, often called a coffee bean grinder or sometimes a spice grinder. It’s perfect for grinding flaxseeds, whole spices like cumin and black peppercorns, and nuts, turning small amounts into meal. 

For the easiest clean-up, look for a grinder with a removable bowl, like the Cuisinart Electric Spice and Nut Grinder. However, less expensive fixed bowl models, like the one from Krups, can be wiped out with paper towels (first a damp one, then a dry one).  

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

The Power of Strawberries 

According to UNLV School of Integrated Health Sciences associate professor Arpita Basu, PhD, RD/LD, strawberries pack a serious punch when it comes to health benefits. She has been studying their ability to help reduce the risks of diabetes and improve overall metabolic and cardiovascular health for over a decade.

“A key takeaway from our strawberry studies is a marked improvement in blood total and LDL cholesterol among participants. And better numbers in these areas are shown to reduce the possible risk of heart attack and stroke,” she says. “I’m quite passionate about the concept of food as medicine…It’s gratifying when working with patients and research study participants to give them something natural – instead of medication – to lower their risk of diabetes.” Thinking of food as a form of medicine incentivizes people to eat better, she adds.

What makes strawberries so healthy? Any fruits with a deep color are typically good for you, but the darker the color, the greater amount of health benefits. “This is especially true for strawberries because they are all red in color. All that red comes from different plant pigments. Some people use red wine as another common example, but berries have less sugar content than grapes,” Dr. Basu explains. 

She also points out that you don’t need to consume a pound of strawberries each day to see a difference. Her studies of 8-week and 12-week trials with participants who had high LDL cholesterol and features of metabolic syndrome found that two-and-a-half servings of strawberries each day looked to be very beneficial in improving insulin resistance and lowering diabetes risk. Dr. Basu plans on continuing her research with larger groups of adults with pre-diabetes to assess the benefits of strawberries for them. It bears repeating that almost all berries have powerful plant-based nutrients. Her study on the effectiveness of blueberries for women with gestational diabetes also found improvements in their blood glucose levels.

Fitness Flash: Exercise: Exercising to Burn Fat

Fitness Flash

When the Daily Grind Takes a Toll

A recent study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a peer-reviewed American Heart Association journal, found that job strain combined with high effort and low reward doubled men’s heart disease risk. The three psychosocial stressors are each associated with heart disease risk, and the combination is especially dangerous, similar to the magnitude of the impact of obesity. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of having work satisfaction. Results on how work stress affects women’s heart health were inconclusive.

The study included 3,118 male and 3,347 female white-collar workers engaged in a wide range of jobs in Quebec, Canada, including employees working in senior management and in professional, technical, and office workers roles. Education levels ranged from no high school diploma to a university degree. At the start of the study, participants had an average age of about 45 years old and were free of heart disease; they were followed from 2000 to 2018.

“Considering the significant amount of time people spend at work, understanding the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular health is crucial for public health and workforce well-being,” says lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, RD, MS, doctoral candidate, of the Population Health and Optimal Health Practices Research Unit, CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center in Quebec, Canada. “Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers.

“Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work. High demands can include a heavy workload, tight deadlines, and numerous responsibilities, while low control means the employee has little say in decision-making and how they perform their tasks,” Lavigne-Robichaud explains. “Effort-reward imbalance occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return — such as salary, recognition, or job security — as insufficient or unequal to the effort. For instance, if you’re always going above and beyond, but you feel like you’re not getting the credit or rewards you deserve, that’s called effort-reward imbalance.

“Our results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing stressors from the work environment could be particularly effective for men and could also have positive implications for women, as these stress factors are associated with other prevalent health issues such as depression,” Lavigne-Robichaud adds. “The study’s inability to establish a direct link between psychosocial job stressors and coronary heart disease in women signals the need for further investigation into the complex interplay of various stressors and women’s heart health.” Positive interventions might include different approaches, such as providing support resources, promoting work-life balance, enhancing communication, and empowering employees to have more control over their work, she says.

Though the research involved Canadians and the results might not fully represent the diversity of the American working population, the study findings may still be relevant to white-collar workers in the United States and other high-income countries with similar job structures, according to Lavigne-Robichaud.

“The U.S. workforce is among the most stressed in the world, and these workplace stressors can be as harmful to health as obesity and secondhand smoke,” commented Eduardo J. Sanchez, MD, MPH, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association. “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the workplace should be prioritized as a vehicle for advancing cardiovascular health for all. The American Heart Association remains committed to and engaged in providing employers with the resources and information they need to actively support the health of their employees and communities through science-backed changes to policy and culture.”

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