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Home Plate: Are you feeding your gut what it needs?

I am giving two food demonstrations this week – one this afternoon at the Canterbury Farmers Market (4-6:30 p.m.) and the other Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Warner Area Farmers Market – and I have begun to worry that my topic isn’t exactly appetizing. That’s because I’m going to be talking about the something like 500 different species of beneficial micro-organisms that live inside your large intestine. Yum.

But seriously, this is an important topic, important enough that the National Institutes of Health has an on-going, 115 million-dollar project to investigate just what the 100 trillion (yup, that’s trillion) micro-organisms that live on and in us are up to.

In our bodies, human cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other tiny creatures that call us home. And most of them, it turns out, are living symbiotically with us. That is, we feed them and they help us.

The ones in our guts do amazing things for us. They break down carbohydrates that we can’t digest into short chain fatty acids that give us energy and keep our organs running smoothly. They train our immune systems to kill bad microorganisms. They synthesize vitamins, like K and a whole range of Bs. They can turn neurotransmitters on and off (one reason food can actually make us happy or sad). And a whole lot more.

The scientific investigation of the human biome is in its infancy, but it seems, already, that there will be major medical breakthroughs coming our way soon based on what we find out. One thing we know already is that every person has a unique garden in the gut. The better we care for that garden, the more it will help us stay healthy, both physically and psychologically.

In preparation for my events, I’ve been doing lots of research (check out humanfoodproject.com for some fun articles). One book has been especially helpful, Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. There I’ve learned useful tools, such as the fact that cooking potatoes then chilling them for 24 hours will convert their starches to a form that is broken down much more slowly by the body. That is, they go from being a high-glycemic food, to a moderate-glycemic food, one that won’t spike blood sugar as rapidly, even if you reheat them.

I also learned that low-fat salad dressings actually keep our bodies from benefitting from all the nutrients in a salad, because we need a bit of fat to absorb them. And that a great reason to eat organic produce is that for many fruits and vegetables, the greatest nutritional value is in the skin, which we wouldn’t want to consume from conventionally grown produce because of pesticide residues.

Below you’ll find a few recipes I’ve been working on that put to use some of the research I’ve been “digesting” while getting ready for my market talks. If you’d like to taste these dishes without the work of making them, stop by in Canterbury or Warner and I’ll have free samples, as well as lots more information about your own gut garden.

Aliatha

1 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled (to taste)

pinch sea salt

2 waxy new potatoes, cooked till very tender with skins on and cooled overnight (to make about 3∕4 cup mashed)

juice of 1∕2 lemon (you may use more, if desired)

1∕2 cup olive oil (approximately)

In a sturdy mortar, crush the garlic and salt with a pestle until it becomes a paste. (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, either mince the garlic or put it through a garlic press then put it and the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer set up with the paddle attachment and proceed with the recipe – don’t use a food processor, because the mixture will wind up gummy).

Pull the skins from the potatoes. Add the peeled potatoes to the mortar, squeeze lemon juice over them, then mash with the garlic. Begin drizzling in oil, mashing and mixing with the pestle as you do so. Incorporate each addition of oil before drizzling more in. Ultimately you should have a fairly smooth, mayonnaise-like sauce. How much oil you actually use will depend on the moisture content of the potatoes.

Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice or salt, if desired. Use immediately, or store, refrigerated, for up to 2 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Aliatha Egg Salad Sandwiches

4 eggs

1∕2 cup Aliatha

4 slices good, crusty bread

2 pieces bacon, cooked

1 small sweet red pepper, chopped into small pieces

1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and leaves pulled from stems

Place the eggs in a saucepan, cover with an inch of cold water, then bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off the pot and cover it with a lid. Wait 10 minutes, then place the eggs in a bowl of ice water. Knock them together a bit to crack their shells.

After 5 minutes, remove them from the cold water and peel them.

Place the eggs in a bowl and mash them lightly with a fork. Add the Aliatha and combine.

Place a layer of parsley on each piece of bread, top with egg salad, then sprinkle with red pepper and bacon. Serve immediately.

Overnight Potato Salad

1 1∕2 pounds new potatoes, cooked with skins on, then refrigerated overnight

2 small cucumbers

1∕2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped

1 small sweet red pepper, washed and chopped into small pieces

1 tablespoon chopped dill

juice of half a lemon (more if desired)

3 scallions, washed, trimmed of roots, and chopped (include the green part)

1∕2 cup Aliatha

salt and black pepper to taste

If the potatoes are organic, leave the skins on. If not, remove them, then cut the potatoes into 3∕4-inch chunks and place in a bowl.

If the cucumbers are organic and have thin skin, simply wash them and leave the skins on. If not, peel them. Cut the cucumbers into 1∕2-inch chunks and add to the potatoes.

Stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice or a smidgen of good olive oil, if desired.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed. This salad is best eaten the day it is made. Serves 4 to 8 people.

Blueberry Walnut Cake

3 eggs

grated rind of 1 orange

1∕2 cup orange juice

3∕4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus a little extra for the pan)

1 generous cup walnut pieces

3∕4 cup sugar

2∕3 cup whole wheat flour

2∕3 cup white flour (plus a little extra for the pan)

1 1∕2 teaspoons baking powder

1∕2 teaspoon baking soda

1∕2 teaspoon salt

1 1∕2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8-inch square pan, line with parchment paper, oil the paper, then dust the whole thing with flour. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, then whisk in the orange juice and olive oil. Set aside.

Place the walnut pieces, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the walnut-sugar mixture and whisk until homogenous. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until mixture is well combined and there are no large lumps of dry ingredients remaining.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top of the cake. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, turning once so it cooks evenly.

Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, before turning out and cooling completely on a wire rack. The cake will keep well for several days, wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator.

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