In the Blue Zone

Messakti beach, Armenistis, IkariaIkaria, Greece

I don’t live in Okinawa, Japan, Ikaria, Greece, Sardinia, Italy, Nicoya, Costa Rica or Loma Linda, California. People in these communities often live well beyond 100 years and those places have become known as “Blue Zones.” To qualify as a Blue Zone, these communities also have to be largely free of afflictions like heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.

What are they doing right? It doesn’t seem to be as eating kale, or even about food alone, though food is a factor. Researchers study people who live in those Blue Zones and they do find some overlap in the Venn diagram of longevity.

They move their bodies a lot. This doesn’t mean going to the gym or jogging, but walking and moving rather than sitting and typing blog posts on a laptop.

They have friends and inter-generational social circles and those people also embrace and reinforce healthy behaviors. They are part of communities. Some are religious ones. (Loma Linda has a large population of Seventh-day Adventists.) They are family people.

Most drink a bit of alcohol but not more than once a day (and not in Loma Linda).

They eat smaller meals more often, mostly plants, and no refined sugar or processed foods.

I remember hearing this story back in 2008 when the original book was published, and now there are a number of Blue Zone books and guides.

On this cold, rainy weekend in Paradelle, sitting in Ikaria with a glass of wine, surrounded by family and friends, and a table of Mediterranean food to graze upon sounds pretty sweet.

A long, healthy life is no accident. Not much you can do about those genes, but bad habits can be changed with effort. Of course, this isn’t a new year resolution. It’s a whole bunch of resolutions.

Dan Buettner, who wrote the original book, gives what might be seen as a modest result if you can adopt the Blue Zone lifestyle – you may live up to a decade longer. As the end nears, a single year would sound pretty great.

Make Mine Mead

Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage made from honey. The June or July full moon was sometimes called the Honey or Mead Moon because it was the time when hives were heavy with honey, and so a time to make mead.

A honey wine, called mead, is one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages—maybe the oldest. It dates back thousands of years, archeological findings suggest.  Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, although its origins are lost in prehistory.  Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case that the invention of mead was the marker of the passage “from nature to culture.”

Though honey is 84 to 86 percent sugar by volume (compared to 14 to 18 percent for grapes), not all mead is dessert wine. Depending on how much water is mixed with the honey before yeast is added, triggering fermentation, mead can be sweet, semi-sweet or dry. (The more water, the drier the mead.) It can vary in color from pale gold to dark ruby, in alcohol from 8 to 18 percent by volume, and in flavor from delicate to robust.

In Norse mythology, the Mead of Poetry  is a mythical beverage that whoever “drinks becomes a skald or scholar” able to recite any information and solve any question. The drink is a metaphor for poetic inspiration, often associated with Odin the god of ‘possession’ via berserker rage or poetic inspiration. Mead was discovered by Irish monks during medieval times and it figures in both Gaelic poetry and Irish folklore.

In the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, the fearsome giant called Grendel, attacks the Danish king where he’s vulnerable, in his mead hall. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the miller tells his lusty tale drunk on mead.

Mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility, while also contributing supposed aphrodisiac qualities. As a result, mead quickly found its way into Irish wedding ceremonies. Some historians and etymologists say the term “honeymoon” came from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon (a month) after their weddings. Today, some Irish weddings still include a traditional Mead toast to the newlyweds.


How About a Cricket Bar?

Humans have been eating insects for centuries. They are a plentiful and resource-efficient source of protein. And pretty gross.

Eighty percent of the world’s people regularly eat edible insects as part of everyday normal diets. In Mexico, chapulines are popular and on the table are stir-fried red tree ants in Cambodia. In Japan, inago (grasshoppers) and hachinoko (bee larvae) are eaten. Order some casu marzu in Italy and you’re getting insect protein.

Insects provide lots of protein, iron and omega-3 acids and are very low in cholesterol and fat. But there is that psychological part to get past.

It’s not that the average American needs more protein. We consume about twice as much protein as nutritionists recommend. But our sources of protein are pretty limited, and the sources are often unhealthy and inefficient to produce.

Our global population continues to expand from 6 billion in 2000 to 7 billion today and probably 9-10 billion within our lifetimes. That puts a lot of pressure on our land and even more on water resources.

To feed cattle, pigs and chickens we use tremendous amounts of water and land. It’s rather shocking to consider that 92% of all freshwater consumed is absorbed by agriculture. A hamburger has the same greenhouse gas impact as driving a Toyota Corolla for 10 miles. Our water sources are already laced with antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

Soy and whey protein are two popular alternatives to meat, but they still rely on resource-intensive agriculture. For some people, they expose us to unhealthy levels of phytoestrogens and trigger dairy allergies.

i got exposed to the idea of protein/energy bars made from insect flour from a news article. Using insects (mostly crickets) in flour form gets rid of the crunching-a-bug part of the psychological block most of us have to the idea of eating insects.

The company that seems to be getting a lot of attention is Chapul Bars. They are not pure insect flour. They also have dates, peanuts, dark chocolate, a bit of agave nectar or lime, coconut and ginger. The bars come in peanut butter, chocolate and Thai flavors.

Chapul’s flavors are inspired by cultures where insects have historically been part of a healthy diet. They donate 10% of profits to water conservation projects in those regions.

Cricket farms are efficient as crickets need very little water to live and eat mostly agricultural by-products, like corn husks and broccoli stalks.

Pat Crowley is co-founder and spokesperson for Chapul, which is based in Salt Lake City. They launched in 2012. It is interesting that Crowley has a degree in hydrology and had worked in water management and conservation. he was inspired by a 2011 podcast about insects as nutritious and eco-friendly food sources. He was hit by the idea that insects convert grain and grass into edible protein as much as 10 times more efficiently than cows and pigs.

He recruited two friends to be the chef and run the business end of things, and they set out to create an all-natural snack made with cricket protein. They don’t farm the crickets themselves but use a cricket supplier from California. They used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $16,000 in 18 days.

They don’t hide the cricket factor – the bars’ wrappers have crickets and say “The Original Cricket Bar.” I found them in a store in New York City. If you didn’t know it was cricket, you wouldn’t flinch.

Right now they are in less than a hundred health-food types of stores, but the company is hoping to move into larger retails outlets like Whole Foods and Starbucks.

Here we come a wassailing


Seeing that today is Twelfth Night, I thought for those of you wanting to  do some “wassailing of the trees.” (or just indoor wassailing), I would provide a wassail recipe.

Wassail means “Good Health” in Old English. The tradition in most of England (especially in the South) of wassailing) in order to ensure a bountiful harvest of apples.

It’s easier to get guests to sing the traditional verse if you add  the sherry, rum or brandy to your hot cider mix.

Here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green,
here we come a wassailing so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you and to you your wassail too.
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
and God send you a Happy New Year.


1 qt brown ale
8 oz dry sherry
1/2 c brown sugar
3 apples
finely grated peel of 1/2 lemon or orange
1/2 t each of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel and core two apples and cut in thick slices. Place in a baking dish and sprinkle with brown sugar.
  2. Drizzle with 2 oz of brown ale.
  3. Bake until apples are tender (about 45 minutes).
  4. Chop the apples and their cooking juices in a food processor until smooth.
  5. Place in a saucepan over medium low heat and add remaining ale, sherry, lemon peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. Simmer gently for a few minutes. (If you’re not in a hurry and you want to keep it warm longer, use a crock pot/slow cooker.)
  6. For extra warmth, add sherry, rum or brandy.
  7. Peel and core remaining apple and slice. Add slices to the bowl and some cloves and serve warm.

Drinks for a Cold Holiday

We already had some snow in Paradelle as a follow-up to Hurricane Sandy, so I tested out the snowblower and started thinking about hot holiday drinks for this week. Hot chocolate works for the kids, of course. But my late Aunt Millie’s favorite (and mine) are hot toddies.

Sherry is good for sipping and conversation or after turkey dinner or while you are being hypnotized watching the Christmas tree lights blink.

My mom was a fan of brandy (she liked blackberry) for when you come in from shoveling snow. WE upgraded to whiskey after you walked home in the snow from Christmas Eve midnight mass.

George Washington was a fan of eggnog with rum, whiskey and sherry. No wonder they stayed camped out in the snow so long in New Jersey.

I also discovered a once classic winter warmer called the Tom and Jerry – a frothy mix of brandy, rum, beaten eggs, hot milk, sugar, and spices. It’s not from the cartoon characters. The origin is as fuzzy as those tree lights after Millie had her third toddy, but some point to Pierce Egan’s Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esquire and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (1821).

Pierce (an excellent name for a bon vivant, boxing and horse racing writer) seems to have whipped up a version of eggnog and called it a “Tom and Jerry,” in honor of his two mates.

If you want to bring back Pierce’s version (which was actually quite popular in the Currier & Ives days), try the recipe below or take your bartender’s guidebook along to a party or bar and educate someone.

2 large eggs, separated (watch out for Mr. Salmonella – coddle the eggs?)
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Small pinch ground allspice
Small pinch ground cloves
Large pinch ground cinnamon
2 2/3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon freshly grated whole nutmeg or ground nutmeg

Whisk those yolks, add sugar, rum, vanilla extract, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon, and whisk again. Go electric and beat the egg whites in another bowl until stiff. Then “fold” (a great cooking term) whites into yolk mixture, and set aside.

Last steps: medium saucepan over low heat, bring milk to simmer, remove from heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of egg batter to a mug, then 4 tablespoons of remaining rum, stirring constantly to prevent curdling (which can really ruin a party). Fill the mug with hot milk, stir, sprinkle with nutmeg, and serve.

You didn’t think it was going to be this hard, did you? Now you know why Aunt Millie preferred hot toddies! Well, you can also cheat and just buy the commercial eggnog and add 2 ounces of rum to a 6-ounce glass mug. (Okay, it doesn’t have to be a glass mug, but I do like that look.)

There’s also the Nutty Irishmen, Red Hot Ale, and hot buttered rum.

And, of course, a simple hot toddy:

1 tbsp honey
3/4 glass of your preferred tea
1 1/2 oz. (or more, if it’s really cold) of a flavored brandy, sherry, whiskey or peppermint schnapps
optional slice of lemon or cinnamon stick

Beautiful simplicity.

Okay, snow – I am ready.

The Mooncake Festival of Autumn

I saw some mooncakes in a bakery today and I had to buy some. Tonight, I plan to sit outside with one cup of tea and watch the moon.

Mooncakes are traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn (Zhongqiu) Festival which is a time for lunar worship and moon watching.

The cakes are usually round or rectangular pastries with a rich thick filling. and you cut them into small wedges and drink tea with them.

Westerners are not the only ones to mark the September or October Harvest Moon. The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival or Zhongqiu Festival and it is celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese people. It is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in our western Gregorian calendar. It is close to the autumnal equinox.

The festival is linked to the legends of Chang E, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality. According to “Li-Ji”, an ancient Chinese book recording customs and ceremonies, the Chinese Emperor should offer sacrifices to the sun in spring and the moon in autumn.