The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

September 15, 2014 | Oldways Table

Hypertension – or high blood pressure – affects 30% of adults in America and is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

But, there’s good news for anyone diagnosed with hypertension. Studies confirm that what you eat can have a positive effect on your health.

Foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, olive oil, and low-fat dairy are perfect partners to help you lower and maintain a desirable blood pressure level. Add in a little exercise everyday and you’re well on your way to a more healthy you.*

Another aspect of eating well is controlling sodium intake. It’s recommended that those with high blood pressure should limit their salt consumption to 1200mg (that comes to 2/3 teaspoon per day if you were wondering).

And that’s what’s so wonderful about the foods mentioned above – they are full of flavor, fiber, nutrients, vitamins and minerals – and low in salt and calories.And when you season your foods with herbs and spices, you’ll add tons of wonderful flavor without the need for added sodium.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve a desirable blood pressure level:

  1. Include fruits and vegetables with each meal. Even for breakfast, you can add veggies to an omelet, or sliced fruit or berries to your oatmeal. Try to eat 5 or more each day.
  2. Snack smartly. Eating a small snack between meals can help satiate your hunger cravings; a piece of fruit, or a handful of unsalted walnuts or almonds can do the trick. The calories from snacks should be incorporated into your overall calorie intake, not in addition to it, however.
  3. Know what you’re buying. Read Nutrition Labels and Ingredient Lists to make sure you know just how much sodium is in each serving. Speaking of servings, pay attention to the amount of the serving size. You might be eating more than the serving size, meaning you’re consuming more calories, fat, and sodium.
  4. Add some physical activity whenever possible, 30 minutes a day is all it takes to reap the benefits. Can’t carve out a dedicated 30 minutes to exercise? Look for ways to add activity throughout your day. Take the stairs, walk whenever possible, and do some stretches or light exercise while watching TV. It’ll amaze you how it all adds up!
  5. Stay hydrated. Drink 8-10 glasses of water, eat hydrating foods like carrots, celery and cucumbers. Water keeps our bodies functioning properly and also helps keep hunger in check.
  6. Cook more of your own meals. Studies show that most of our salt intake comes from restaurant and highly-processed foods. When we cook for ourselves, we’re in control of how much salt we add to our meals.

For more information on managing your blood pressure, check out our ONE September toolkit. We provide more tips, easy recipes, some research, information on different types of salt, as well as a shopping list you can use to plan your weekly shopping trips – and even a fun quiz to test your BP IQ!


*Always check with your doctor first before changing your diet or exercise routine.

September 10, 2014 | Oldways Table

Born and raised in the Midwest, there are two things that I hold innately reverent: basketball and agriculture. It wasn’t until I moved to Massachusetts a few years ago that I realized not every household in America had a basketball goal in the driveway and a game on the television during suppertime. It wasn’t until I left home that I realized that driving your tractor to school day was a rather strange concept, that abutted cornfields were not the only way to establish property lines, and that not everybody’s summer was perennially capped off by carefree days spent with family, friends, and friends to be at the local fair.

You can imagine my elation, then, when I was asked on behalf of the Cheese of Choice Coalition to be a judge for the cheese competition at the Big E fair.  Located at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains in West Springfield Massachusetts, the Big E is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard. For two weeks every autumn since 1916, the New England states have come together to exhibit their food, heritage, and tradition of agriculture. Complete with concerts, food vendors, and a host of other attractions the Big E is one of the most popular fairs in the country. And for me, it’s a veritable taste of home.

The Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competition is only seven years old but it has quickly distinguished itself as the most competitive and prestigious awards contest devoted entirely to New England cheese. Each year nearly 150 local cheeses, made by scores of cheese producers, are entered. And each year, without fail, the quality of the entries celebrate the abundance of truly wonderful cheese produced in the region. The 2014 competition, that took place a few weeks ago, was no exception.

Judging a cheese competition may sound like a great deal of fun (and it most certainly is) but it also very serious business. Cheese producers invest their lives and livelihoods into these wheels and wedges and it is the job of the judge to ensure proper, fair, and discerning assessment.  For the Big E competition, the cheeses arrived to the competition hall on the day of the event and were subsequently unlabeled and distributed into appropriate categories (Blind tasting guarantees objectivity and categories help establish standards by which to judge for quality). A team of judges, one aesthetic and one technical, graded the cheeses with a combination of a well-trained palate and sophisticated scoring sheets that quantify sensory characteristics such as aroma, flavor, texture, and appearance. One by one, category after category, we judges smelled and tasted, analyzed and observed, rinsed and repeated. It was and always is a laborious but gratifying process.

Once the initial judging had concluded, and the gold’s and silver’s and bronze’s and “better luck next time’s” had been divvied out, came the true treat for a judge— the opportunity to taste for Best in Show. All the gold medals, the cheeses that have received at least 95 points out of a possible 100, were brought back out to be evaluated a second time by the entire roster of judges. For this year’s Big E, thirty-three cheeses, all truly exceptional, were closely scrutinized. One cheese however stood out as a giant among the crowd.

Best in Show went to a cheese called Reading, a raclette-style cheese reminiscent of the kind traditionally produced high in the Swiss alps for nourishment through the long winter and now generally consumed after long laborious days of downhill or cross country skiing. Like traditional raclette, Reading is pleasantly stinky, unctuous, sweet, milky, and nutty all at once. It melts beautifully and when smeared on crusty bread and accompanied by cornichons it makes the most wonderful simple meal.

But Reading is not made in a remote part of Europe, it is made on a small farm nestled amidst the pastoral landscape of rural Vermont. Spring Brook Farm is managed by Jeremy Stephenson who very early on sought out a European dairy consultant who was known for breaking all the rules when it came to modern cheesemaking. His approach derives from the Beaufort region of central France where his ancestors have been making cheese with traditional techniques of animal husbandry and production for more than a thousand years. With this expertise, Jeremy was able to replicate the traditional terroir (the taste of place) driven approach of the French Alps, on his own pastures in the Green Mountain State.

What’s more, Jeremy has made it his mission to not only produce fantastic cheese, but to support the agricultural education of urban youth. To this end, Jeremy has teamed up with the Farm For City Kids Foundation and the farm and cheese room act as an experiential classroom for which the students learn about chemistry, microbiology, nutrition, economics and generally build a better relationship with the origins of their food. The kids don’t have their hands in the vat but they are no less a part of the process. Every wheel of cheese produced on the farm has their education and the preservation of the rural working landscape in mind.

Of course, we judges don’t know all this when we’re in the tasting room— all we know is that we’re in presence of a truly exceptional cheese that deserves to be recognized. The social mission of Spring Brook, then, came as a pleasant surprise. The terroir and tradition driven approach of the farm and cheesemaker, so closely aligned with the goals of the Cheese of Choice Coalition and Oldways, resonated in the quality of the cheese. (We aren’t the only ones to recognize it; it has been a very big year for Spring Brook who also took home the most prestigious cheese award in America at the recent American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento.)

Although the judging has passed the Big E Festival begins this week (September 11) and will continue until the end of the month. Many of the medalists will be there, showcasing their labors of love (and pairing them with regional wines!). If you live in the region, I encourage you to spend an upcoming weekend in Western Massachusetts. Celebrate the rich agricultural and alimentary heritage of New England. Take a moment to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and the frantic pace of modern life. Commemorate the passing of seasons and rejoice in the coming of the harvest. And be sure to say hello if you see me there. I’ll be entertaining nostalgic memories of my youth and Indiana home.


September 8, 2014 | Oldways Table

Sometimes the truest statements are the boldest ones: This is the best soup I have ever tasted. Seriously. How could it not be, when it combines some of the most delicious cooking ingredients ever—potent leafy greens, creamy coconut milk, fruity and fiery habanero pepper, and palate-warming allspice—all in one pot?

If you’ve ever traveled through the Caribbean, then chances are that you’ve tasted callaloo. Callaloo is a popular Caribbean soup, created by enslaved Africans using African heritage and wisdom and indigenous plants. The main ingredient is the green leafy tops of either the amaranth plant (called callaloo or bhaji) or taro root (sometimes called dasheen). Outside of the Caribbean, spinach and other delicate greens are used.

Throughout the Caribbean there are many variations of callaloo soup, which may include crab and other seafood, meats, different chili peppers, and other seasonings. Callaloo is the National Dish of Trinidad and Tobago, but it is prepared all over the Caribbean, from Jamaica to the Virgin Islands. You may find it paired with rice, macaroni, roasted breadfruit, boiled green bananas, or cornmeal dumplings, depending on what country you’re in.

I used easy-to-find ingredients—fresh spinach leaves in place of callaloo, and habanero peppers in place of scotch bonnet peppers. The result was a quick and easy, soft and buttery soup packed with so much flavor, color, and nutrition! The heat from the peppers is perfect, coming on slowly and evenly with every bite. And, like with a green smoothie, blending greens into a puree increases nutrition by breaking down the fibers for us (almost like pre-chewing), and making their nutrients even more bioavailable.

We enjoyed ours with a slice of sourdough bread for dipping. Cornbread next time! 

We’ll be enjoying this surprising, kicking little soup throughout the coming cold months. We hope you will too.

Oldways Callaloo Soup
This Caribbean soup combines buttery soft greens with a peppery heat perfect for autumn.

*Note: Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers pack a ton of heat. Leave your peppers whole, sliced just in half, to lend their heat to the pot. Remove the peppers once the soup is ready to be served.

2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil (I used a vegan coconut butter for mine)
4 shallots, finely diced
2 large carrots, quartered and finely diced
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 habanero or scotch bonnet peppers, sliced in half and deseeded
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 bunch or 16oz box of spinach (or callaloo if you can find it)
½ cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons sea salt

Heat the butter or coconut oil on medium-low heat in a soup pot or Dutch oven.  Add the shallots, carrots, peppers, and slowly sauté for a good 5 minutes, covered, cooking until the carrots are soft and the aromas are full-blast. 

Pour 2 cups of vegetable broth into your blender. Add two handfuls of greens and blend, until totally pureed. Keep adding greens, adding as much broth as needed each time, until you’ve blended your bunch.

Add the pureed greens and the rest of your vegetable broth to the pot. Add the coconut milk and sea salt. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve in a cup or bowl as a starter, side or main dish. Delicious with a slice of bread for dipping.


September 3, 2014 | Oldways Table

QUICK - Think of a mistake that ruined a meal.  I bet many (or most) of you came up with something that was over or undercooked.  Well today we have your salvation in the kitchen.  James Peterson’s latest book, Done: A Cooks Guide to Knowing When Food is Perfectly Cooked, tells readers exactly that, how to know – by sound, smell, look and feel – when something is done.  How great is that?   

The beauty of this book is that you can read it from cover to cover, taking away special nuggets of knowledge with each page, or you can search for a particular food you may need help determining doneness for and James is there to help.  And today he is here to help our blog readers by answering some questions about his latest book.

OLDWAYS: Can you share a tale of something you overcooked and felt terrible about?
JAMES: About six months ago, I'm sitting at my desk and I get a call. A woman asks if this is James Peterson. When I say yes, she says: "You ruined my Thanksgiving dinner." Oh no, I thought. What have I done? She talked me through what she had done and indeed she had followed all the directions to the letter. However, when she cut into the turkey, she saw pink. Well, the only other person I know who embraces my assertion that poultry should be pink inside (but by no means raw) is Wolfgang Puck. So at least I'm in good company. So I asked her if she at least ate the breast meat which was probably perfectly cooked. She said that she threw the whole thing in the trash. So while this lady behaved like an idiot, it was ultimately my responsibility. I should have warned her that it would be pink and give her the option to cook it more to make it all brown.

And for an overcooked instance of my own making, I was at my aunt Jane's in Los Angeles. It was up to me to grill the steaks for dinner. Well, Jane thought she was a better cook than I so I always felt this competitive thing. The net result was that I ruined just about anything I undertook. So, those poor steaks, in keeping with my theme, ended up overdone and my reputation was ruined.

OLDWAYS:  When did you realize Done had to be written?
JAMES:  My editor came up with the idea but I rapidly concurred since that's what everyone says who claims they can't cook. Everyone says, "But I don't know when it's done." Since doneness is the Achilles heel of many foods, it is essential to know how to determine it.

OLDWAYS:  What foods do you think people most commonly overcook?
JAMES:  People ruin fish, pork, and poultry. The fish is always flaky and dry and poultry and pork are always just dry.

OLDWAYS:  Done is not a cookbook in the traditional sense, in fact you even call it a handbook. Why is it an essential to every home kitchen?
JAMES:  Done works on giving the people the cues for determining doneness. While it's impossible to impart how foods should feel or exactly look when they're done, I at least tell people what they should be aware of: such things as blood formation, resistance to the touch, and internal temperature.

OLDWAYS:  Glazing, braising, sautéing and more! There are so many methods and even more ingredients to apply to each. What are some common mistakes people make when approaching various methods of cooking?
JAMES:  People glaze with too much liquid. (Most recipes say to fill the pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the vegetables; I say a third.) Again, people braise with too much liquid. It's very important that the pan fit the size of the object being braised. Cooks need to understand that a braising liquid can be reduced. People sauté over too low a heat. Meat and fish must be cooked in a hot pan or they will release liquid that will accumulate in the pan and cause the food to steam.

OLDWAYS:  For someone just starting out in this ‘mastery of doneness’ is there an order of methods you suggest they master?
JAMES:  Feel is the most important, followed by blood or juice formation. For fowl, it's best to look at the juices in the cavity and the feel of the breast meat.

OLDWAYS:  If there is one golden nugget of information that you can leave with our readers what would that be?
JAMES:  Don't hesitate to take foods out of the oven or off the grill to check for doneness. There is nothing wrong with cutting into foods to see how they look. The important thing is to observe what the food looks and feels like from the outside as you check the appearance on the inside. Please don't overcook poultry and pork. Even a soufflé can be taken out of the oven, scooped into, and if raw in the middle just slid back in the oven.


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