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Wednesday, November 28, 2012


It's the holidays.  And during this time of the year, many foods, both sweet and savory, include warm spices--things like clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Nutmeg is the seed of a tropical tree that has been an important part of culinary and world history for hundreds of years.  (The spice, mace, by the way, is from the same tree.  It's the dried covering of the nutmeg seed.)

The spice trade, so important--especially to the Dutch--in the 1600's, was centered largely on nutmeg.  It was the spice of choice of the wealthy and was used in many different ways--as a cooking spice, for medicinal purposes and even as a hallucinogen. 

You may know the story of how Manhattan Island was traded to the English for nutmeg--in a way.  From an NPR article:
In the 1600s, "the Dutch and the British were kind of shadowing each other all over the globe," explains Cornell historian Eric Tagliacozzo. They were competing for territory and control of the spice trade. In 1667, after years of battling, they sat down to hash out a treaty.

"Both had something that the other wanted," explains [culinary historian Michael] Krondl. The British wanted to hold onto Manhattan, which they'd managed to gain control of a few years earlier. And the Dutch wanted the last nutmeg-producing island that the British controlled, as well as territory in South America that produced sugar.

While you wouldn't trade an island for nutmeg these days, it's still a fairly expensive spice. I recommend not using pre-ground nutmeg. It loses it's pungency and flavor very quickly. Buy whole nutmegs and grate them as needed. It's strong stuff, so don't overdo it. But you'll reap the benefits--both flavor-and health-wise.

Like most spices, there are a number of health benefits to having nutmeg be a part of your diet.  It is known to help reduce fatigue and stress.  It's a sedative and pain reliever (an important part of Chinese medicine).  Many use nutmeg to help digestion problems and it has antibacterial properties that can help eliminate bad breath.  It's known to help with liver and kidney health, skin care and as a sleep aid. 

So when you sprinkle a little bit of nutmeg on your egg nog this holiday, think about how you are continuing the great history of this little seed.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving 1.0

There is no holiday that has more of a connection to food than Thanksgiving.  And rightfully so.  The original Thanksgiving feast was a harvest festival.  Those who immigrated to the New World gave thanks for their crops and all the food that they had that would help them to survive the coming winter.

As you probably know, the original Thanksgiving was much different than what many of us now celebrate in this country.  First, the harvest festival was most likely held in October, not November, as it is now.  And it was probably a 3-day celebration filled with eating, games and overall fellowship.  I could go for that!

Today, when we picture our holiday table, we think of turkey, stuffing, sweet and mashed potatoes and a load of other yummy dishes.  Most of these things that we eat today, though, either weren't available in the 1620's or were too expensive to eat.  So it was those ingredients that were abundant in early Massachusetts that were on the table.

Since so many of the early settlers lived along the coastline, the menu of the first Thanksgiving would have been full of seafood.  Cod, eel, lobster, oysters and mussels would have been abundant.  The deep woods would have provided venison, duck and wild turkey.  Being a fall festival, the bulk of the food would have been fruits and vegetables that were either cultivated or available wild--things like corn (thanks to the Native Americans), parsnips, turnips, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin, squash, dried beans, dried blueberries, grapes and nuts.  Cranberries would have been used as ingredients in dishes to provide tartness, not as a cranberry sauce since sugar was too expensive for the colonists to afford.  (So there probably were no pies or cakes either.)

Some of our traditional dishes weren't served because the main ingredients wouldn't show up for many years.  White potatoes, for example, were virtually unknown to the English at that time.  Sweet potatoes were imported to England from Spain and only the very wealthy would afford them.

Even though our modern Thanksgiving menu might not resemble the original very much, the spirit of the celebration is very much the same--fellowship, thankfulness, family and friends.  So whatever ends up on your holiday table--enjoy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everybody Nose

Have you ever had the unfortunate situation where you are eating a wonderful meal while you have a cold?  Your nose is all stopped up and you can't taste anything.  It's such a bummer.

That's because our perception of flavor is a combination of taste and smell.  I've heard about this experiment, but haven't tried it until today.  Hold your nose while eating something.  I just tried it with a piece of black licorice.  With my nose held, I feel like I'm chewing on a piece of plastic.  Barely any taste at all.  But as soon as I let go of my nose, the unmistakable taste of the licorice flowed up through my senses.  Try it--use a jelly bean or Skittle or something like that.  Go ahead, I'll wait....

Pretty cool, huh?

It just goes to show you how important our noses are when we're eating or cooking or shopping.  Don't be afraid to smell thing in the grocery store.  (A ripe pineapple, for example, should smell like a pineapple!  If it doesn't, choose another.)  In the kitchen, if your nose tells you that something might be burning, check it--it probably is.

Here's an interesting article on the subject that I ran across.  It's by a professional chef and really gives you an idea of how your nose can help you when cooking. 

That's just my two scents. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Holiday Help

We all know that the holidays can be a crazy time--especially if you're hosting a holiday meal.

So take a little bit of stress out of your holiday schedule and have Dinner's Done help you get a terrific meal on your holiday table--with your sanity intact!

I will make you delicious side dishes to go with your holiday meal. Most of them can be made ahead of time and frozen. Then you simply need to thaw and reheat them for your dinner, saving you loads of time and effort.

Just imagine how much more relaxed you'll be being able to serve dishes that you didn't have to plan, shop for or cook. (Hey, you can even tell your guests that you made them. Your secret is safe with me!)

For two side dishes (serving 10-12 each) and a homemade cranberry sauce, the cost is just $90 plus the cost of groceries. (Contact me for the price of adding additional dishes.)

So give yourself a holiday gift that you can really use! Holiday Help from Dinner's Done!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tea Totaler

Unlike most people, I don't drink coffee.  Just don't like the taste.  Never did and never will.

Tea, on the other hand, is a different story.  While I sometimes drink hot tea on a cold night, my drink of choice most of the time is iced tea.  I make my own from all sorts of different kinds of teas: flavored and unflavored, green and black and white and herbal, you name it. 

Now I never add any sugar to my iced tea--the somewhat bitter taste is what I like about it.  And I don't add milk or cream to hot tea either.

Turns out that adding milk to your tea could prevent you from taking advantage of the many health benefits that tea offers.

Different teas provide different benefits, but it's been well known that tea is loaded with antioxidants and other compounds that may increase the energy and calories you burn; regulate your blood pressure; help to prevent cancer, heart disease and clogged arteries; lower cholesterol; and reduce your risk of stroke, lung problems and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases.  The list goes on and on.

There are some recent studies (click here for an NPR article on one of them) that show that milk proteins may bind with the flavonoids in tea and make it harder for your body to absorb the good stuff and give you the benefits that you're looking for from tea.

There are some experts, as is the case with most studies, who dispute these findings.  They say that the amount of milk that most people put in tea is minimal, so it probably isn't an issue.

Still, you may want to enjoy your tea milk-less just to be sure you get the full effect of the benefits of tea.  As for me, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food for Thought

These are tough days. 

Every time you turn on the TV, you're hearing some candidate rip their opponent.  Don't get me wrong, I'm into politics.  But I'm so ready for this to be over.  The venom and real hatred that's out there from some people is astounding.

Then, to top it off, Hurricane Sandy hits.  We made it through relatively unscathed at our place.  Out of power for about 24 hours, Comcast service out for several days, a few tree limbs down, a little bit of aluminum blown off the side of the house, 5 days off from school for Jake. 

But as you know, so many are going to be dealing with the consequences of the storm for a long, long time. 

In the midst of the political crap and while so many are living lives that have been turned upside-down (sometimes literally), it's amazing how many good things you can find if you just look.

Like the many friends and family who showed up with chain saws at my parents' place to help them cut up the 16 trees that came down there. 

Like the millions of people who have volunteered and donated money to the Red Cross to help others who are worse off.

Like seeing President Obama and NJ Governor Christie tossing aside partisan differences to work together to help and sympathize those in need. 

Like the convoy of about 10 utility trucks that I saw today from New Hampshire.  These trucks were loaded with workers who have been away from their families for this past week.

It's a good thing.  People really are generally good.  Sometimes it just takes some kind of trouble to be able to see it. 

So keep your eyes open.  Let me know if you've seen any good actions in your day-to-day activities.