Beautiful on the Inside

Mother and sun snuggling in the kitchen with an assortment of colorful, fresh pearsThis week a coworker said to me, “My son doesn’t eat fruits and vegetables, but it’s okay. He looks healthy.” Uh oh, this sounds familiar. Rather than what’s on the outside, the question we should ask is, “What does he look like on the inside?” Thinness does not imply healthy, and those who look like they are a healthy or expected weight on the outside may, due to poor diet or lack of exercise, harbor risk factors for chronic diseases on the inside. Medically this is called metabolically obese normal weight and socially called “skinny fat.” Unfortunately, like obesity, this condition is associated with insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood lipids, predisposing individuals to premature diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [1]

National data suggest that metabolically obese normal weight individuals make up more than 20% of the normal weight population, and about half of all American adults have one or more illnesses associated with poor diet. [2,3] And it’s no wonder. Americans tend to eat too much sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish that may protect against chronic illnesses. [4] Additionally, Americans don’t move enough; only 21% of US adults meet the national physical activity recommendation of 150 minutes per week. Weight is only one indicator of health status: The scale does not replace eating well, exercise, and an annual physical exam.

Like I discussed with my coworker (and just about anyone who will listen), small changes to increase fruit and veggie consumption and movement will go a long way – especially in children who are building lifelong habits. As we’ve been told a million times in our lives, it truly is what’s on the inside that matters.

 
1. Suliga E, Koziel D, Gluszek S. Prevalence of metabolic syndrome in normal weight individuals. Ann Agric Environ Med 2016; 23:631-635.
2. Wildman RP, Muntner P, Reynolds K, McGinn AP, Rajpathak S, Wylie-Rosett J, Sowers MR. Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes Among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004). Arch Intern Med 2008; 168:1617-1624.
3. Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults: A 2012 Update. Prev Chronic Dis. 2014;11.
4. Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, National Cancer Institute. [Accessed Apr 16, 2017]; Usual Dietary Intakes: Food Intakes, U.S. Population, 2007–2010.

Pear “Toasts”

Pears sliced lengthwise topped with delicious toppingsYou’ve probably noticed how trendy the idea of toast has become, with food magazines, cooking shows, and restaurant chefs across the country coming up with enticing toppings for a humble slice of bread. There are even entire cafes dedicated to the concept. But what happens when you have the wacky idea to exchange a slice of pear for the bread? Magic!

Here are four delicious ideas for topping pear “toasts” at home. Consider this a jumping off point for coming up with your own creative combinations, using whatever variety of pear you have ripening on the counter, and any tasty toppings sitting in your fridge or pantry. The options are practically endless, since pears taste amazing with both sweet and savory flavors. These quick creations are a yummy snack for kids and adults alike, whether the craving strikes after school or at the office. But really they are great anytime of the day, from breakfast on the go to a midnight snack.

The first step is to slice a ripe USA pear lengthwise, cutting on either side of the core to create 1/4-inch thick planks. Next, get topping!

Toast 1:
USA Green Anjou Pear
Almond Nut Butter
Banana Slices
Honey Drizzle
Cinnamon Sprinkle
Poppy Seeds

Toast 2:
USA Bosc Pear
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Cucumber Slices
Crumbled Feta
Chopped Kalamata Olives
Dill Sprigs

Toast 3:
USA Bosc Pear
Gorgonzola Dolce Cheese
Salami Slices
Chopped Hazelnuts
Chopped Parsley

Toast 4:
USA Red Anjou
Vanilla Greek Yogurt
Chopped Dried Apricots
Mint Leaves
Black Sesame Seeds

Spring is in the Air

pear blossoms on a tree in springSpring is in the air. And along with that, at least for me, comes the feeling of renewal – out with the old, in with new. First thing I like to do is go through my closet; sandals to replace boots, t-shirts replace sweaters, and long sleeve dresses make room for sleeveless ones.

Next stop, the kitchen. I try year-round to make sure my cupboards and refrigerator aren’t stocked with foods that have expired. But part of my spring-cleaning ritual still includes a thorough review. And after the gloominess of winter, I long for a kitchen stocked with fresh produce that make me feel great.

Well, hello, Anjou pear.

Yes, I could have enjoyed you when it was snowing outside, but honestly, I got sidetracked. Packed with satiating fiber and with the powerful antioxidant of Vitamin C, you are a welcome addition to my refreshed, spring lifestyle. Since I’ll be even more active than I was in the winter (just completed my yoga teacher training last month!), I’m going to need to stay satiated and energized with the right foods.

Here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy pears:

1. Sliced and cooked into my morning bowl of oatmeal for some sweetness.

oatmeall topped with pears and walnuts in a bowl2. Thin slivers on a slice of 100% whole wheat bread with peanut butter for crunch and sweetness (instead of jam). Perhaps with a drizzle of honey. Whole wheat toast topped with peanut butter and sliced pears
3. Slices or cubes added to any type of mixed green salad with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar for crunch and sweetness. Goodbye croutons and sugar-laden salad dressings.Mixed greens topped with fresh, sliced pears
4. Cut into wedges served with a tablespoon of almond butter for a delicious snack.Sliced pear wedges with nut butter for dipping

And now, I’m feeling properly prePEARed for spring!

Pickled Pear and Irish Cheddar Toasties in a Bread Basket

Little grilled cheese and pickled pear snadwiches stuffed inside a hollowed out bread loaf on a green plateLittle toastie sandwiches, filled with melting Irish Cheddar and piquant pickled pears, are (adorably) presented right in their own hollowed out bread loaf. This recipe makes 2 pints of sweet and tangy pickled pears perfumed with caraway and bay. You won’t need that much for the toasties, so you’ll have pickled pears in your fridge for a month, if they last that long! Enjoy them with cheeses and charcuterie, in salads and sandwiches, or as a tasty snack.

Makes 8 toasties; serves 4 (because everyone will want 2!)

Caraway Pickled Pears
2 medium ripe or slightly underripe Bosc pears
1¼ cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
6 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
2 bay leaves

For the Toasties
1 unsliced loaf of hearty whole-grain sandwich bread (AKA a “Pullman” loaf)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
7 ounces Irish cheddar cheese, sliced and at room temperature
16 slices Caraway Pickled Pears

To make the pickled pears: Halve and core the pears, and slice each one lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Pack the slices into 2 wide-mouth, pint-size glass canning jars, or other heatproof container(s). Bring the vinegar, water, honey, salt, caraway seeds, and bay leaves to a boil over medium-high heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the honey and salt are dissolved. Boil for about 2 minutes. Pour the hot brine into the jars, completely covering the pears. Cover the jars with lids and set aside to allow the brine to cool to room temperature as it pickles the pears. When completely cooled, use right away or refrigerate the pickled pears for up to 1 month.

To make the toasties: First preheat the broiler.

loaf of bread on a cutting board with the crust and top intact, but the middle removed in a blockUsing a bread knife, saw off the top crust of the bread, just where it begins to dome (if it is a flattop loaf, then just saw off about ½ inch of the top crust); set the top aside. Now cut out the inside of the bread in one giant rectangle, so that you will basically have a crustless smaller loaf within the outer shell of crust. Here’s how to do that: Saw around the perimeter of the bread parallel to the long and short edges of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on all edges and without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. Now cut a slit through one of the long edges of the crust that runs parallel to the bottom crust, about 1/2-inch from the bottom of the loaf, leaving about a ½-inch border on either end of the loaf so as not to completely slice off the bottom crust; this will free the inside bread rectangle, leaving a long slit toward the bottom of the bread bowl (but that won’t matter, it’s a secret!). Carefully remove the now crustless interior rectangle of bread and cut it into 16 slices.

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet and brush the top sides with butter. Place them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the top heating element, until nicely toasted. Flip and toast the slices on the other side. Remove them from the oven, and now preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Top 8 of the toasted bread slices with a slice of cheese and then 2 slices of pickled pear. Place the other 8 bread slices on top, creating 8 little toastie sandwiches. Stuff the toasties back into the hollowed out bread “basket.” You will likely only be able to fit about 6 of them inside, so set the other 2 aside for now. Replace the top of the bread. Wrap the entire loaf in a sheet of aluminum foil and place it on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheese is melted, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the remaining 2 toasties on a small baking pan and heat them in the oven a few minutes before the big loaf is done, just until the cheese is melted.

To serve, place the bread basket and extra toasties on a large platter, and enjoy while the cheese is hot and melty!

Put Your Best Fork Forward!

Woman with curly blonde hair in an orchard excitedly about to bite a fresh pearHappy National Nutrition Month! Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages getting back to the basics of a healthful diet, and moving toward healthful habits can be as simple as changing the next bite. Lately, I have been hearing of more nutrition and food fads and myths than usual. It seems the internet has made everyone a nutrition expert. (Insert a shrug and a sigh.) My personal pet peeve is the use of the phrases good food and bad food. Unfortunately, nutrition isn’t black and white unless you’re eating a hot fudge sundae. When I was an obese teen, I’d come home after school and cram my mouth full of snack cakes, potato chips, whatever packaged food I could find in our overstuffed pantry. These, of course, were not nutrient-dense choices and I don’t ever recommend eating this way. But can we still splurge on perceived bad foods while maintaining a healthful diet?

Yes. Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as starting with the next forkful. Each bite is important, but never splurging is an impossibility. I eventually overhauled my diet and my palate – but I didn’t start there. I started with one simple change. I added more fresh produce. Notice I didn’t say I cut out the junk, ran five miles a day, and added fresh produce, because I didn’t (at first). I made a conscious decision to add fresh foods to my plate. Sometimes it was as simple as a few carrots in addition to my chips. Sometimes it was a piece of fruit after a meal. Over time, I started to feel a little better and liked how fresh foods tasted – and it wasn’t terribly difficult to maintain one bite at a time. Now, I feel great and I definitely still splurge!

Considering it is National Nutrition Month, let’s focus on a simple change, such as improving the next bite. Do I wish as a teen I had stuffed my face with pears and carrots instead? Of course. But starting with the next bite can turn into a lifelong habit!

Grill Master

grilled pearsTo me, summer means sunshine, farmers’ markets and grilling. I personally love the flavors of grilled foods and regularly grill veggies as a side or base for meals. One of the greatest challenges I have faced in my years of counseling and teaching is that people have been trained to think they don’t like fruit and/or vegetables, and they don’t venture outside the norm for ingredients or culinary techniques. The remedy is simply to get a little creative in the kitchen – or backyard – and be okay with failing once in a while. I base most of my meals on produce, and in the summer that means adding a treat of grilled fruit at the end!

Grilling is probably one of the simplest culinary techniques for fruit and veggies. In the beginning, it’s a good idea to stay close to the grill to keep an eye on your food; err on the side of slightly lower heat so it doesn’t burn, then turn up the heat at the end for beautiful grill marks. Grilling infuses fruit with smoky and savory flavors and causes caramelization of sugars, leading to more color and flavor changes. It’s a whole new way to experience fruit! In my food science lab, we talk about how sugars in fruit, when exposed to high temperatures, start to melt: The sugars are inverted and water is released, resulting in sugar molecules rearranging and binding together to form chains. Organic acids and other flavor compounds also accrue, resulting in different flavors than the original sugars. Basically, the compounds are altered so we sense a unique flavor on our taste receptors.* Science is fun!

My favorite treat is to slice pears in half, set them on the top rack to soften, then pop it onto the heat for a bit at the end. I serve them drizzled with honey or chocolate sauce, then sprinkle with walnuts or a dollop of whipped cream. Delicious and a pretty presentation! Want more ideas? Check out a few of my favorite grilled pear recipes, including grilled pears stuffed with mascarpone and bacon, at USA Pears.
*McWiliams, Margaret. (2012). Foods Experimental Perspectives. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla

compoteThis super simple compote is a beautiful and delicious way to preserve some of fall’s fading flavors. You’ll make a simple infusion which combines the unique flavor of Earl Grey tea with vanilla and orange, and then simply stir in sugar and fresh pears. Serve this compote over yogurt or ricotta for a delightful breakfast or snack, spoon it over vanilla ice cream, or try it atop crostinis spread with your favorite soft cheese.

Pear Compote with Earl Grey & Vanilla
Ingredients
1 cup boiling water
2 Earl Grey tea bags
1 orange
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
¾ cup sugar
3 firm ripe USA Pears, such as Comice or Red Anjou, small dice

Directions
Place the tea bags into the cup of boiling water and steep for 2 to 3 minutes to make a very strong tea. Remove the teabags and discard. Peel two long strips of zest from the orange using a vegetable peeler. Stack them on top of one another and slice them on a diagonal into very thin strips. Slice the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a medium saucepan. To the same saucepan add the tea, orange zest strips and vanilla paste, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 5 – 7 minutes or until reduced by half. Once reduced, add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Return to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes (but no longer) to lightly caramelize the sugar. Stir in the diced pears, cover, and cook for another 5 – 7 minutes until the pears are just tender. Allow to cool for one hour and then transfer to a pint jar, being sure the pears are submerged in the syrup, and refrigerate (the compote will thicken considerably as it cools). Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 1 pint of compote

Thanks-Living

Stuffingturkeyhires

The holidays are here, possibly the happiest and unhealthiest time of year. On Thanksgiving when we’re giving thanks and celebrating friends and family, we seem to put health last. Start a new tradition and make health a priority this year! Why not start the holiday with a Turkey Trot or family fun run/walk in your neighborhood? And eat breakfast, even though you may plan to eat a large meal later. Studies show that exercise and breakfast keep us from eating too much throughout the day. For breakfast try fiber and protein-rich foods to keep you satisfied, maybe a veggie omelet with a side of fruit. And, for the big meal, keep two or three of your family’s favorite traditional holiday foods and scrap the least favorites for fresh veggies and fruit salad. Research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab suggests that if your table has fewer options, you’re likely to eat less! Try tossing diced pears, persimmons, and oranges with dried cranberries and pecans for a new fall favorite. Yum!

Finally, I have a confession: My favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is dessert. To keep from binging too much, my family has a rule. We won’t eat pie right after the big meal; we wait a few hours when we’re ready for leftovers. As strange as it sounds, we eat less this way! Cheers to you, your family, and health!

The Pear Witch Project!

fruits and veggies

Halloween is here and so is the candy… I’ve devised some tricks, not treats, to keep the candy calories at bay. Start the holiday by filling a bowl full of yummy, healthful snacks that include pears, apples, and your other favorite fruits and nutrient-dense grab-and-go items. Snack on these instead of the bowl of candy while the ghosts and goblins ring your doorbell. Speaking of that bowl of candy, leave it by the door, on the porch, or somewhere where you can’t easily grab a treat. Even better, get out of the house and walk with your kids or your friends’ kids as they collect treats – you get the benefit of spending time with friends AND getting in your steps!

Now that all of that collected candy is in the house, put it out of sight – maybe in a cabinet or pantry. Small amounts are fine now and then for you and the little ones, but studies suggest that if you put temptations out of sight you are less likely to snack! Also, take the candy out of the Halloween-themed bag or pumpkin and put it into a plain bag. This allows storage that doesn’t call out for you to grab a treat every time you see it. Happy Halloween!

Halloween fun fact: Did you know that pears don’t float? Pears are denser than apples; that’s why we bob for apples on Halloween!

photo credit: www.dartbeat.com

Fructose: Good or Bad?

fruits and veggiesI am often asked if fructose is bad for one’s health. To be honest, this is a sticky question because there are different sources of fructose in the food supply, some of which are healthier than others. Fructose is a monosaccharide, meaning it is a simple sugar that the body can use quickly for energy. Eating fructose from natural plant sources, such as fruit, is a healthy way to get energy! In addition to supplying energy, fruit contains water, fiber, and important vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, processed foods that contain excess sugar or high fructose corn syrup are less healthful choices because eating too many processed foods may add calories to the diet without a lot of nutrition. In other words, many processed foods are high in sugar and not much else!

If you want to eat well for your health, eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy. Start by adding pears to your diet; they are in season and if you replace a sugary snack with a piece of fruit, you are eating a nutritious source of energy to keep you charged throughout the day!