Split Pea and Celeriac Soup – Perfect.

If you want to know my perfect Saturday in NYC, here it is…

Wake up latish – 8 am. Shower and have a cup of coffee while you plan tonight’s dinner. Make a shopping list, set up a loaf of bread to rise, then hit the streets with Mr TBTAM on the bikes. Ride across town, through Central Park, chatting a bit on the phone with your little brother who often calls you on Saturday mornings  (love my wireless airpods),

across the West Side to Riverside Park

and the West Side Greenway.

If it’s a cold day in November, dress warmly – scarf, gloves – and don’t let the wind bother you, especially if the sun is out and the wind is keeping the crowds off the Greenway.

It’s just you and the joggers and bikers. And the folks debarking from their cruise ships.

No worries, you’ve mastered the bob and weave of biking the Greenway and the streets of NYC.

Turn off the Greenway at 16th St and head under the High Line

to the Grey Dog for breakfast.

(An alternative here, if it’s warm enough, would be to park the bikes, pick up coffee to go from Blue Bottle and head up to the High Line to see if you can snag a recliner facing the Hudson. But today you need warmth, so it’s the Grey Dog.)

But wait – Look! There’s a new and marvelous antique garage across the street! What a find!

So much to see!

Wonder where you’d put those bendy manikins (maybe the living room sofa?)

or if the cast iron painted cow is too heavy for the ride home (yes it is).

Text a few pics to your friend Amy, who makes jewelry from found objects, to see if she wants you to buy anything for her. No – unfortunately the bakelite button molds have no holes for stringing. But you promise to see one another soon.

Now you head into the Grey Dog. Your latish start and antiquing detour means there’s a bit of a line. But it moves fast, and the gay couple sitting nearby has a one month old baby, so there’s plenty to ooh and aah about, and before you know it, you’re ensconced at a table with your Cappuccino and avocado, poached egg and salmon salad and the Saturday crossword, which promises to be a bear.

By the time you leave, crossword only halfway done (it is indeed a bear), the line is wrapped all the way to the door. Yep, you gotta go early to the Grey Dog…

Back on the bike, fighting to keep your eyes on the road and not on the gorgeous autumn sky,

your next stop is the Union Square Farmer’s Market. At the market, you pass Linda Rodin, but decide not to stop and pay homage. You are, after all, both New Yorkers. Plus, there was that time you ran into Bill Cunningham at the Union Square Market, and he seemed none too pleased to talk…

In addition to celebrity icons, there are cranberries and apples, of course.

And the root vegetables are everywhere.

But mostly you are here to find celeriac, which is technically not a root vegetable though it sure looks like one, for tonight’s soup dinner.

There’s plenty of celeriac to be found, and you exchange soup recipes with the young man selling you yours. His co-worker tells you she eats raw celeriac like an apple, and that you can cook it like a potato if you want to. The most fun part of the farm market is talking with the growers and their staff, and today everyone’s in a talkative mood.

You also grab a honey nut squash to roast for tonight’s salad, along with some greens.

Then it’s back on the bike, to head east to the protected bike lane on First Avenue, then north towards home, with a quick detour to the Fairway on 32nd and 2nd for a slab of ham and some dried peas. It’s always a thrill to drive past the UN building (which looks great after its multiyear renovations),

and you’re pleased to realize that all those long bike rides this past summer have left you with the leg muscles to tackle the hills up to 42nd and 57th streets with nary a break.

Home at last, where the sun is streaming under the doorjamb and hits you square in the eye as you enter your apartment. The bread you put up to rise before you left is ready to be shaped, and it’s a perfect afternoon to spend in the kitchen, making the perfect pea soup. If you’re lucky and they’re home, you’ll even talk to your girls while the soup cooks.

This evening, your friends will be coming over for dinner. You’ll serve said soup with the bread and a salad and then you will all walk to the neighborhood cinema for a movie (Can You Ever Forgive Me? – fabulous!). You’re home well before midnight, early enough to clean up the kitchen together before heading to bed for a well-deserved night’s sleep. Tomorrow is another big day – Chorus sectional in the morning, then brunch and theater with your book club (Gloria: A Life – I highly recommend it, and I’d see Christine Lahti in anything.)

So there you have it. A perfect Saturday. It doesn’t happen often, but I’m gonna’ do my best to be sure it happens again. And for sure I’m making this soup again.

Hope your Saturday was as fun as mine. What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Split Pea & Celeriac Soup

This is not that thick, meconium like paste most of us think of as pea soup. It’s what pea soup should be –  light, flavorful and satisfying. You don’t puree all the soup, so you get to taste all the individual ingredients, and the peas remind you from whence this soup comes. The celeriac acts like lemon does in a dish – brightens and enhances it. I’ll never make that goopy, heavy stuff again.

The recipe is modified from the Greens Restaurant Cookbook. I adjusted the oil and spices, replaced their croutons with ham and skipped the parmesan topping since I was serving it in the salad. If you’d rather forgo the ham, make the optional croutons at the end of this recipe and pass the Parmesan.

We served this with a salad of arugula, roasted honey nut squash, shaved parmesan, salted red onions and a lemon vinaigrette. And homemade bread.

Serves four to six.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried green split peas
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into small dice
  • 3 inner stalks celery, cut into small dice
  • 1 celeriac, trimmed and cut into small cubes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a Savignon blanc)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 ounces cooked ham, cut into small cubes (I used smoked Italian ham)
  • (Optional croutons) – 2-3 slices white bread, cubed. 4 more tbsp olive oil and a rosemary branch.
  • (Optional garnish) Grated parmesan and chopped parsley or chervil

Directions

Sift through the peas and pick out any stones or debris. Rinse well, place in a bowl and cover generously with boiling water. Soak for an hour.  (If you have time to soak the peas overnight, no need to boil the water and more power to you. I’ve never had enough foresight to overnight soak anything).

Gradually warm 3 tbsp olive oil in a soup pot with bay leaf and rosemary for about 3 minutes to flavor the oil. Add the garlic and cook over low heat another minute without letting it brown. Add the vegetables, salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, over medium heat.

Add the wine, raise the heat and reduce.

Drain the peas and add them to the pot, tossing for a few seconds before adding the stock and the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the peas are soft, about 1 1/2 hours.

Blend a few cups of the soup in a blender (or, as I did, transfer it to another smaller pot and puree using an immersion blender). Add the puree back to the soup pot, stir and season again if needed with salt and pepper.

Keep the soup warm while you saute the ham in its own fat in a small frying pan.Serve the soup, passing the sauteed ham around to be added to the bowls of the carnivores at the table.

Croutons and Parmesan for topping (optional for vegetarian version)

Warm 5 tbsp olive oil in a small skillet with a rosemary branch. When the oil is hot and fragrant, remove the rosemary and toss in crouton squares cut from 2-3 slices of white bread. Fry till crisp and golden. Remove to a paper towel to cool.

Save the oil to serve with the soup. Top with croutons and freshly grated parmesan. A little chopped parsely or chervil wouldn’t hurt either.

Should You Get a Mammogram?

Leda Derderich wishes she had.

Dederich had stage IV breast cancer diagnosed at age 45, two years after she and her doctor discussed and dismissed the need for a routine screening mammogram while breastfeeding at age 43. That decision to delay screening mammograms may have meant that she lost the chance to find and treat her breast cancer before it had spread beyond the breast. It’s a decision she regrets now, and blames on the confusion around mammogram guidelines.

I have had a much harder time accepting that I was not screened for breast cancer before it was too late. Not because I couldn’t be bothered, was too anxious, or didn’t have health insurance, but because the guidelines for screening women in my age range are one hot mess of a controversy, and I fell through the cracks.

Two years before my diagnosis, when I was 43 years old, I asked my doctor if I should get a mammogram. I had a vague understanding that breast cancer screening protocols were in flux, but I wanted to be sure. My risk profile for the disease was very low. I was nursing my infant daughter, and I really did not want to stick my breasts in a vice grip (it’s not really that bad, but that’s how I was imagining it). My doctor told me that if I didn’t want a mammogram, I didn’t need to get one.

Her counsel was based on a set of widely used guidelines at the time that say having a mammogram is an “individual” decision for women under 50 at average risk for breast cancer. She had no reason to believe I was at risk, and I had no reason to believe I should question her judgement.

What I didn’t know, at the time, was that there are multiple and conflicting breast cancer screening guidelines for women between the ages of 40 to 49.

Dederich is right. There is controversy around what’s best for women in terms of screening mammograms, a controversy that began in 2009 when the US Preventive Services Taskforce rocked our world with their recommendation against knee-jerk, routine mammogram screening in all women between ages 40 and 49.

Now, almost a decade later, the guidelines for mammogram screening still vary, though not as much as you might think. With one notable exception. Allow me to summarize for you.

Screening Mammography Guidelines – Not as Out of Sync as You Think

With some minor differences in wording and nuance, the US Preventive Services Taskforce, American College of Physicians (ACP), American Academy of Family Physicians and 2017 ACOG guidelines in essence recommend that women at average risk for breast cancer be offered mammogram starting at age 40, but make informed, individualized decisions about having mammograms depending on their individual risk, personal values and concerns. The frequency of mammograms, if women choose to have them, varies between one and two years. The American Cancer Society guidelines recommends individualized choice between ages 40 and 45, with all women starting screening at age 45.

Wrapped into those guidelines is the fact that delaying mammograms to age 45 or age 50 accepts a small but real increase in breast cancer deaths – on the order of around 1-2 extra deaths per thousand women. In return for delaying mammograms, women get less false positives and less unnecessary biopsies. It’s estimated that if you have an annual mammogram starting at age 40, you have a 60% chance of a false positive and a 7% chance of having an unnecessary biopsy, compared with a 40% chance of false positive and 5% chance of biopsy if you wait to age 50 to start routine mammos.

Also considered in the guidelines are the fact that mammograms do not prevent breast cancer and do not find all breast cancers at an early, curable stage. They miss about 10% of cancers, and may not detect rapidly growing cancers that arise between routine mammograms and spread beyond the breast almost from the get go. In addition, the cancers mammograms do find may be the slow growing kind that would never kill you anyway, or are not really cancer (we’re talking DCIS), but can lead to surgery, radiation and even mastectomy.

The American College of Radiologists continues to recommend annual mammograms for all women starting at age 40

The one group still recommending routine annual mammograms for all women starting at age 40 (ie, no individual choice) is the American College of Radiology (ACR). The ACR is now on a campaign to re-inform women about mammogram screening, putting their own spin on the data to get their message out to the public that the everyone else’s guidelines are just plain wrong.

Is the ACR right? Should the US medical profession just go back to telling all women to have a mammogram starting at age 40 ? If so, we’d be at odds with most of Europe, where women at average risk of breast cancer are not invited to screening till age 50, and where breast cancer deaths are not higher than those in the United States.

As a compromise, the ACP and ACR in 2012 issued a joint statement on points of agreement designed to ensure that mammograms remain affordable and available to all women starting at 40 who want them regardless of risk. But the differences in recommendations between the ACR and other organizations remains.

Which brings us back to the fact that when it comes to mammograms, for now, women have a choice to make.

It doesn’t matter what the guidelines say if the decision you make about having a mammogram is the wrong decision for you.

Dederich regrets the decision that she and her doctor made, and feels that she did not have the information she needed to make the right choice for herself.  She feels that because the medical community is conflicted, our patients are confused and therefore misinformed.

Smart, dedicated people are deeply engaged in this issue. But while they compare data sets, grapple with the statistical significance of lives like mine, and churn out conflicting guidelines, far too many women are left confused and misinformed about what is best for our health and long-term survival.

This is exactly why my colleagues and I created Breast Screening Decisions*, a free website and Iphone App designed to help women make an informed decision about screening mammograms. Using BSD, a woman can determine her own risk of breast cancer (which, even among low risk women, is not zero), explore her own personal values around screening, learn about the benefits and harms of screening mammograms, and see for herself what the difference is between starting annual mammograms at 40 vs waiting till 50 or having them every other year vs. annually. There is a real difference in mortality, but it’s small, and we’ve created visuals to help you see it accurately.

Some women don’t care a hoot about false positives or unnecessary biopsies or the fact that their mammogram might detect a cancer that would never kill them but results in them undergoing surgery, even mastectomy. It will all have been worth it if they catch a cancer early. And even if they don’t catch it early, at least they feel they did everything they could have done to do so.

On the other hand, there are women who want to avoid mammograms at all cost. Perhaps they or a loved one had a bad experience with a false positive, or a biopsy that resulted in complications, or they just believe they will not get breast cancer and don’t want the harms of mammography.

What’s important is that women feel they’ve been given the information they need to make the choice that’s right for them.

Decisions are Not Easy

The hard thing about making decisions is that the decision we make today might be different than the one we’d make in hindsight, when we know how those odds we considered actually played out. I try when I can to tell my patients who are making choices to project themselves into future, having either a false positive, DCIS or a breast cancer diagnosis, and ask themselves if they would then regret the choice they are making today, whatever that may be. If their choice remains the same, it’s probably the right choice for them. If not, then they may want to rethink it.

____________________________________________________

* Breast Screening Decisions (BSD) is completely free as well as ad-free, was built using funding from the NIH, and is maintained using private unrestricted institutional donations.  I have no financial interest in BSD. 

More from TBTAM on Mammograms

Healthy, Low Calorie Cauliflower Breadsticks

Do you think whoever named the cauliflower plant knew that one day we would evolve into overweight, carbohydrate-overloaded, gluten-intolerant creatures, who, in searching for a suitable lo-carb substitute would find their holy grail in that crucifer whose name is homonymous with the ground product of the very thing we both crave and shun?

Think cauliFLOUR.

Then go grind up a head of cauliflower in the food processor (or be lazy like me and buy Trader Joes riced cauliflower), steam or microwave it for 10 minutes, strain out the liquid in a tea towel, pour into a large bowl and add two egg whites, 1/4 cup hemp or flax seeds, 1/2 low fat grated cheese (Trader Jose’s Lite Mexican Blend works perfectly) and a tbsp of minced fresh herbs (I used thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano). Spread out onto an 8 x12 inch rectangle on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake it in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, toss a little more cheese atop and bake 5-10 mins more and Voila! You’ve got a delicious, healthy, low calorie, if somewhat floppy breadstick. I cut mine using a pizza cutter while still warm, and got 32 cracker size pieces at 25 calories apiece. (If you want yours crisper, after cutting them, turn the oven off and put them right back in for 1-2 hours to crisp up as the oven cools down.)

I served these tonight to accompany Cream of Mushroom Soup. The flavors complemented each other well.

Maternal Use of Estrogen Hormonal Contraception Just Before Pregnancy – A Risk for Childhood Leukemia?

In a well done and very interesting study in Lancet Oncology, Danish researchers have identified an association between use of estrogen-containing oral contraceptives in the three months prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy and the risk of childhood leukemia in the offspring of that pregnancy.

The study’s conclusions are strengthened by the fact that the data come from three reliable nationwide Danish databases –  one registering births, one registering cancers and the other registering prescriptions –  and included over a million children born between 1996 and 2014, with a median of 9 years follow up from birth.

How high is the risk?

The hazard ratio for childhood leukemia was about 50%-70% higher among children born to women taking estrogen-containing contraceptives in the three months prior to or during pregnancy, compared to that in the offspring of women not using these contraceptives immediately before or during pregnancy. The risk was confined to non-lymphoid leukemias.

Because the overall risk of leukemias is low (most children do NOT develop leukemia), the actual risk translates to one extra case of leukemia for every 50,000 potentially exposed children, or in Denmark, about 4% of leukemia cases over the 9 years studied.

That’s not a large risk, but it is worth looking at.

Which hormonal contraceptives were implicated?

The risk for childhood leukemia was only found for use of estrogen-containing oral contraceptives in the 3 months just prior to pregnancy or during pregnancy. No association was found for non-oral preparations, but there were few cases of these.

No increase in risk was found for ever use of any hormonal contraceptive prior to the 3 months immediately preceding pregnancy.

No risk was found for use of non-estrogen containing hormonal contraception (think the mini-pill, levonorgestrel IUD and Depo-Provera) at any time, even immediately before or during pregnancy.

Is this really true?

Let’s be clear. Association is NOT causation. But it is a signal that warrants further study and a plausible explanation.

In this case there is a biologically plausible mechanism, in that estrogens can inhibit certain enzymes that protect DNA from cancer causing mutations. There are also other proposed mechanisms.

But there could be alternate explanations for the study’s results. For example, what if the mother carries and transmits to her child a genetic predisposition that not only increases the risk of leukemia, but also causes her to have heavy periods that necessitated her use of birth control pills? Or if by chance, in this study, more women with a genetic predisposition happened to take birth control pills? The researchers did not have genetic information on both mother and child, and that’s important.

Results of other studies exploring the birth control pill-leukemia link have been mixed.

So we need further studies.

But still, it begs the question – what should we do until we have the results of these further studies? After all that can take years, and women are getting pregnant now.

What should you do with this information?

What you should NOT do is let this study scare you away from using birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Oral contraceptives continue to be among the safest, most effective ways to prevent pregnancy. Not to mention their benefits in treating irregular, painful or heavy menses, endometriosis, acne, hirsutism and in some women, PMS.

But until we have further data, I don’t see any harm in playing it safe – which means stopping estrogen-containing hormonal birth control and using either the mini-pill or a barrier method of birth control (such as condoms or diaphragm) in the 3 months prior to attempting pregnancy.  (Theres no reason to change to a long acting method such as Depo-Provera or the IUD for just 3 months.)

If you’re an inconsistent oral contraceptive user worried you may become pregnant due to missed pills, this may be another reason why you may want to change to a more effective method such as the IUD for long term use.

As they say, talk to your doctor.  

With my own patients, I tend to take an “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach to birth control. Which means, if you are happy and healthy using estrogen-containing birth control, don’t let this be a reason to stop using it. But do have a plan for transitioning off when you want to become pregnant.

_______________________________________

References

  • Pombo-de-Oliveira MS. Maternal hormonal contraception and childhood leukaemi. Comment. Lancet Oncology 19:10. p1261-1262. Oct 1, 2018.
  • Hargreave M, Mørch LS, Andersen KK, Winther JF, Schmiegelow K, Kjaer SK.
    Maternal use of hormonal contraception and risk of childhood leukaemia: a nationwide, population-based cohort study.Lancet Oncology. 2018; (published online Sept 6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1470-2045(18)30479-0.)

Bread – Let it Sing

Listen closely.

That crackling sound you hear is the bread “singing”.

It’s why you should never cut into a piping hot loaf of bread fresh from the oven, tempting as that may be. Let it rest and sing for awhile as it finishes the process of baking all by itself.

Here’s what Jim Lahey has to say about singing, in his book My Bread, which is where I get my bread recipes and technique –

Just after you take a loaf out of the oven, something strange often happens: it begins to make wierd noises, a rapid-fire crackling sound, one pop after another. This “singing” as some bakers call it, is especially loud and obvious in the professional bakery, where dozens of loaves may be pulled out of an oven at the same time and placed together in a basket. They become kind of a snapping chorus. The singing lasts for several minutes – the temperature of the room will determine how long – as the bread cools.

This singing is evidence of the last phase of cooking, which takes place out of the oven- and is why you should always given a loaf time to cool before slicing it. The exterior of the loaf is very dry at the moment it’s removed, but the interior is still wet. During cooling, the two elements of the bread start to even out somewhat, although the crust will remain brittle and the crumb soft. The crust is shrinking and cracking. Steam escapes through the cracks, which is the racket you hear, as it forces its way through, while the crumb solidifies. At this moment, the bread seems alive.

I know its a romantic idea, but it’s how you get to feel when you fall in love with a simple, but beautifully baked rustic loaf.

So wait till the song is over before you cut into that loaf of bread. It’s well worth the wait.

The Best Easy Dinner You’ll Ever Make

Okay. Maybe I’m being hyperbolic about this meal because I’m back on my food delivery diet (I still have a few more pounds to go..) and so all I could do was have a small taste after watching Mr TBTAM cook it. But I really don’t think I’m overstating it.

Skillet Chicken With White Beans and Caramelized Lemon. One of the easiest amazing dinners you can make.

What makes it special is what Alison Roman at the New York Times calls “the liquid gold in your skillet“, that secret ingredient Jewish grandmothers have been sneaking into their children’s vegetables for centuries – chicken fat.

I admit to keeping a jar of the stuff in my freezer, but this is the first recipe I’ve seen that uses every drop of chicken fat right in the skillet in which it was formed.

Its a one pan dinner, less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Add a side of rice or potatoes if you want, or some crusty bread, but you really don’t need it.

You’re probably thinking you could pour a little of the chicken fat off to keep the calorie count a bit lower. Well don’t. Its perfect just as it is.

The Recipe is here. You’re welcome.

Title X – Free Speech Under Fire. Again.

It’s deja vu all over again, as the current administration, borrowing a never-implemented move from the Reagan administration, attempts to gag physicians who provide reproductive care to women.

New proposed regs would forbid Title X funded providers from freely providing information about abortion to their patients, limiting such conversation to the provision of a list of names to women who have already decided to have an abortion.

Given that close to 50% of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned and that a significant proportion of women with unplanned pregnancy are unsure what they will do at the time of diagnosis or presentation to their doctor, the ruling is effectively a gag rule for any encounter around unplanned pregnancy. Or a planned pregnancy that goes wrong. Or that occurs in a woman with medical issues placing her health in danger during pregnancy. Or anytime when a pregnant woman is unsure what she wants to do regarding her pregnancy.

There’s more to the ruling that just the gag, much of it targeting Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health services to 41% of Title X clients.

By imposing extensive physical and financial separation requirements, the proposed rule effectively excludes from Title X any safety-net health center that provides abortion using non-federal funds. Specifically, Title X-funded entities would have to maintain separate accounting records, physical spaces (such as waiting and exam rooms, entrances, and exits), workstations, phone numbers, email addresses, staff, patient health records, educational programs, and signs.

The Ruling also lowers the bar and redefines family planning to allow Title X Funds to flow to programs that don’t actually offer medically approved contraception, but instead focus only on fertility awareness (rhythm), adoption or abstinence.

If you, as I do, oppose the proposed Title X changes, then I urge you to submit a formal comment and make your voice heard.

You’ll be joining the AMA, AAP, ACOG and ACP and almost 600 bipartisan elected officials in opposing this attempt to limit the free flow of healthcare information to women seeking to make choices among legal medical options. If you’re not great with words, head over to PRH Website for some more freely given text.

Here’s the comment I submitted today. Feel free to share, copy and paste.

Dear Secretary Azar, Senior Advisor Huber, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Foley:

I am writing you at this time to express my strong opposition to the proposed changes to Title X funding rules, which would limit Title X-funded providers in dispensing information or referrals for abortion services.

The proposed rule effectively gags both health care providers and their patients, limiting free speech within the patient-provider relationship.

Many, many women at the time of pregnancy diagnosis are unsure of their plans for that pregnancy, and wish to discuss their options with their provider. Limiting abortion discussion and referrals to women who have already decided to have an abortion is tantamount to malpractice, as women who are unsure of their options are not provided by their clinician with the critical health information they need to make a choice between the legal options available to them.

As a practicing physician I vehemently oppose this attempt to dictate medical care. Abortion is a legal medical procedure, safer than carrying pregnancy to term when performed by qualified providers, and information about it must be freely available to women, who need unbiased, factually correct, evidence-based information to make the choices that are safest and best for themselves and their families.

The proposed regulations unfairly and unconscionably impacts low income women, who frequently have no other options for reproductive health care other than that provided by Title X providers. The proposed rule changes create a two tiered system of reproductive education and care – one for women of means, who are given the information and counseling they need to make decisions about their reproductive health, and the other for poor women, from whom information about legal, safe reproductive options is deliberately withheld. If the legislation has its intended impact, women will lose trusted providers such as Planned Parenthood, which currently provides care to 41% of Title X patients.

Finally, the government cannot, though its funding mechanisms, require physicians to deliberately withhold information about completely legal health care options from our patients.  This violates our free speech, promotes unethical behavior and violates the patient-physician relationship.

I urge you to withdraw the proposed changes

Thank you for allowing me to comment.

Sincerely,

Margaret Polaneczky, MD

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Blackened Shrimp with Citrus and Roasted Fennel

It’s been quite a long hiatus from blogging, and I for one am glad it’s over.

Nothing special made me stop blogging, just the overwhelming business of life and work. It’s a good life, but one that for the past year or two has lost the balance between work and private life that I seem to have achieved when I was blogging more frequently.

At any rate, things in general have settled down a bit and I find myself actually having free time again to write. And so the blog is back!

What’s new, you ask?

Well, I am about 30 pounds thinner, that’s one big thing.  Nothing magic or amazing, just a food delivery diet that let someone else do the work for me. I still have at least another 40 pounds to go, but decided to see if I could take myself there without the crutch of a delivery diet. And so, I’m on a mission to find a stable of light and healthy but delicious meals that I can begin to incorporate into our life and my diet. It’s only week two of this new on-my-own diet and I am pleased to tell you I have found one amazing dinner that I know I’ll be making over and over again.

Try it, and I predict you will be too.

Blackened Shrimp with Citrus and Roasted Fennel

This recipe is a modification from a recipe found in Cooking Light, a magazine I highly recommend for anyone, not just dieters, who is looking for great recipes. The recipe written here is with my modifications, mostly made to accommodate my larder, which did not at the time include fresh herbs or more than one shallot. I also made my own rice/grain mix. (The original recipe called for a box mix.).

Next time I will add an additional fennel bulb – found myself wanting more! You could also add a few more shrimp when serving 4, as this only gives about 7 per person. Farro would make a nice alternative to rice.

Ingredients

  • 2 oranges
  • 2 medium fennel bulbs with stalks (about 7 oz. each)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 large shallot, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, peeled and cut into quarters

For Shrimp:

  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on

For Rice-Grain mix

  • 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa (I used a red/white quinoa blend)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • Reserved orange rind

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

Grate one orange to equal 1 teaspoon rind; reserve for use in the rice/quinoa mix. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. Remove stalks from fennel; chop fronds to equal 2 tablespoons and reserve for garnish. (Save the stalks for future use in a salad, broth, meat braise or fish dish.) Cut fennel bulbs into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Combine orange slices, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, shallots, garlic, onion and fennel wedges on a rimmed baking sheet, spreading them out in a single layer to cook. Bake at 425°F for 25 minutes or until fennel is tender and lightly charred.

While veggies are cooking, make the rice/quinoa mix.

Cook the rice: Rinse rice well under cold running water; drain. Boil 3/4 cup water in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave. Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a small pot till shimmering. Add rice and salt, stirring well while sauteing over medium high heat for about 2 minutes, till slightly toasted. Add the boiling water, cover and simmer over a low heat until done.

Cook the quinoa: Rinse quinoa well under cold running water. Add to saucepan with water and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until done.

While rice and quinoa are cooking, combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, paprika, thyme, garlic powder, oregano, red pepper in a small bowl. Toss with shrimp, being sure it is evenly coated with the spice mixture. Hold in the fridge if veggies and rice mix are not yet done. (You’ll be cooking up the shrimp at the last minute before serving.)

Toss cooked rice and cooked Quinoa in serving bowl with the reserved orange rind. Cover to keep warm while shrimp cooks.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes, tossing frequently, or until done. Arrange fennel orange mix on serving platter. Top with shrimp and garnish with fennel fronds.

Serves 4. Shrimp/fennel/orange mix has 141 cals per serving. Adding 1/2 cup cooked rice/quinoa brings it to 428 cals per serving.

TBTAM’s Top Ten Podcasts of 2017

You know you’re a radio junkie when you find yourself scribbling not just prescriptions, but lists of podcasts for your patients to listen to on their long plane flights or drives to Florida or wherever else they are heading for the winter months. I figured if I wrote them all down, I could save myself the scribbling and just share a link to the list.

And so here, in no particular order, are the podcasts I found myself recommending over and over again this past year.


S-Town

Part mystery, part bizarre tale, part crazy sad but also totally wonderful and addicting. I fell in love with this guy John B McLemore, quirks and all.  Not to mention this is one gorgeous website.

And some great theme music.


Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin 

A veritable who’s who of modern media and culture sit down for one-on-one’s with Alec. He’s not the worlds best interviewer, and sometimes I wish he’d shut up and stop trying to impress us, but the truth is I love him. He’s not afraid to seek common ground with his guests, who range from Judd Apatow to Kristin Wiig to Patti Smith to Jerry Seinfeld.


Fresh Air

Terri Gross is a true national treasure, and her interviews just get better and better with time.

She makes me so proud of my hometown, Philadelphia. And WHYY, still my fave radio station ever.


More Perfect

Thanks to my daughter for introducing us to this podcast about the Supreme Court, that branch of government no one but Nina Totenberg seems to understand. Until now. Learn about the cases that define the court and the nation. The Imperfect Plaintiffs and Object Anyway, from season 1, are must-listens for every American.


The Axe Files

David Axelrod, former Obama campaign strategist and White House Advisor, interviews key figures in the political world. Broadcast from the University of Chicago, where Axelrod heads the Institute of politics.

Naturally, a highlight was his interview/discussion with Barack Obama (12/16/16), but if you’re a political junkie, you won’t stop there. Great listening, this.


The New Yorker Radio Hour

Somehow I never find time to read the New Yorker, but I do listen to the podcast. The episode on how Oxycontin was sold to the masses is a tour de force, and David Remick’s conversation with Hillary Clinton is one of her best post-memoir interviews she’s given.

 


Freakonomics Radio

Stephen Dubner hosts this wonderfully creative and interesting podcast, exploring ” the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature”. A three-part series “Bad Medicine: explores the underbelly of medicine and the drug industry. The July 5 episode tying the fracking boom to local population explosions and the decline of marriage is fascinating. And “When Helping Hurts” will change forever the way you think about what “doing good” can really mean.


This American Life

Of course.

 

 

 


Missing Richard Simmons

One day Richard Simmons, fitness guru, weight loss coach and darling of the aerobics set, just up and disappeared from public and private life. Dan Tuberski wants to know why. If you think it’s none of his or your business, don’t listen. Or rather, try not to listen.

 


Number Ten 

Actually, I only have 9 top podcasts of 2017.

I’m still searching for number 10, which I hope to listen to on drives back and forth to Philly over the holidays.

Contenders are :

  • 36 Questions (a three part podcast musical);
  • Dirty John (True crime mystery, supposed to be riveting); and
  • Sincerely, X (Anonymous Ted type talks about things no one really talks about- including one doc’s medical error that lead to a diagnosis of burnout).

Let me know in the comments which you think I should listen to first.

And if I’ve left your favorite podcast off the list, tell us what it is and why it’s your favorite.

Happy listening, everyone!

Acupressure App – Does it really alleviate menstrual cramps?

The media is abuzz over a study reporting that use of a cell phone app to train women in self-acupressure is effective as pain medication for treating menstrual cramps.

The Android app is called AKUD and is written in German, so unless du sprichst Deutch, it won’t do you much good. But let’s ignore that for now. Here’s the study intervention:

The study intervention

Participants received a menstrual tracking App that included instructions on acupressure for cramp relief. They also got one-on-one instruction on the location of specific acupressure points and use of acupressure using drawings and video. The App reminded them to apply acupressure starting five days before the anticipated menstruation. Control participants received a version of the app that did not include acupressure info and got usual care.

Both groups reported a reduction in menstrual pain, but participants who used the acupressure-containing app had a greater reduction in menstrual cramps compared to those who did not get the app to use, and use of birth control pills to control cramps was higher in the non-app group. Note that menstrual pain was not eliminated by use of the app,

So does acupressure help menstrual cramps?

I don’t know. Why? Because the study did not include an appropriate control.

The right control would have been to give controls a sham app that taught them ‘acupressure’, but used the wrong acupressure points.  This would have controlled for what may be a significant placebo effect of the use of the acupressure app.

A Cochrane review of acupuncture and acupressure for menstrual cramps concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend the practice. I would say this new study does not change that conclusion.

Could it hurt? 

Probably not. Although a few users of the acupressure app reported bruising and pain at the acupressure sites, only one user stopped the app due to these symptoms.

Bottom Line

For milder menstrual cramps, a lay down with a hot water bottle or a nice tub soak may be all that’s needed. Or ask a friend or loved one to massage your lower back. And don’t be afraid to exercise during your period if the cramps are not debilitating.

NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and mefaminic acid are first-line medications for treatment of more bothersome menstrual cramps. Midol (combo tylenol, caffeine and an antihistamine) may work for milder cases.

Your doctor can prescribe stronger doses of NSAIDs or a cox-2 inhibitor such as Celecoxib if needed. And if you also need birth control, birth control pills and the hormonal IUD are good treatment choices.

Save your phone space for a good podcast

In my opinion, your phone app space would be better spent downloading a good podcast. In fact, I think my next blog post will be some podcast recommendations. Stay tuned…

It’s not gonna’ kill you to take hormone replacement

It’s not going to kill you to take hormone replacement therapy.

That’s the take home message from the latest analysis of the Women’s Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized trial of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in menopausal women.

After almost 18 years of follow up in the WHI, there was no increase in overall mortality, including death rates from cancer, in women taking HRT for up to 5.6 years (estrogen plus progestin) or 7.2 years (estrogen alone). There was a non-significant reduction in mortality among those who started HRT between ages 50 and 59, the group most likely to be prescribed hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms.

I’ve blogged before about the results and limitations of the WHI, which found, on balance, that the health risks of HRT (breast cancer, blood clots, stroke) about equaled its health benefits (protection against colon cancer and osteoporosis). The study (and the US Preventive Services Task Force) concluded that there was no reason for women to take HRT for preventive health reasons.

The biggest criticism of the WHI was that 70% of its participants were 10 or more years post-menopausal. The study did not include women most likely to benefit from taking HRT – those with hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and other menopausal symptoms – or enough women in the 50-59 year age group. These women start HRT at menopause, not a decade or more after it’s over. In this younger group, more recent research suggests there may be a reduction in heart disease risk not captured by the WHI. Or not. It’s an ongoing debate among health experts not likely to be decided very soon.

In the meantime, millions of women enter menopause every year, some of them with significant symptoms that impact the quality of their life (and sleep), who must decide whether or not to use HRT to treat their symptoms.

For these women, this newest update from the WHI is reassuring.

The breast cancer mortality data from the WHI are complicated, and based on a small number of cases in the study population. Let’s just say there was no statistical increase in deaths from breast cancer among users of estrogen and progestin. Since the breast cancers occuring in HRT users are not inherently less aggressive, its more likely the lack of increased breast cancer mortality is because most breast cancers are not lethal, while those that might become lethal are effectively treated. Paradoxically, there was a significant decrease in breast cancer mortality among users of estrogen alone, perhaps related to the fact that estrogen, when taken after a long hiatus, actually inhibits breast cancer growth. (I told you, it’s complicated. You can read more about this here.)

Will this new information matter to women deciding about using HRT?

The use of HRT has plummeted in the years since the WHI results were published in 2002.

In my practice, the reason for the decline is clear – women don’t want to increase their chances of getting breast cancer, however small that increased risk may be.

I tell my patients this : “If you take HRT for 20 years, your risk of breast cancer will be about 1% higher. Use it for 2-3 years for menopausal symptoms, and that increased risk is less than a quarter of a percent”.

After considering this, the majority of women thank me for the information, and decline to use estrogen. Their symptoms are just not bad enough to entertain even that small a breast cancer risk. (I’m happy to prescribe HRT or non-hormonal therapies for those who opt to use them.)

This new study won’t change that conversation much, but I will now add that taking HRT for a few years around menopause to alleviate its symptoms will not increase mortality. I’ll also tell them that the data on breast cancer mortality, while complicated, seem to suggest no overall impact. That’s most likely because the overwhelming majority of breast cancers are not lethal, either due to their inherent behavior or our improved treatments.

I’m curious to see if this changes the choices they make.

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More Reading on Menopause and HRT 

Tomato Jam

My sisters and I are planning on putting up a some tomato jam next weekend. Before we invest a whole afternoon (and 22 pounds of tomatoes) to it, I figured I should try out the recipe at least once.

I had the loveliest afternoon doing it. A gorgeous, sunny day, with the breeze coming in through the kitchen window, a batch of bread rising on the counter, NPR playing in the background, and me shuttling back and forth between the kitchen and the den, where I’m working on a little writing project that I’ll hopefully tell you about one of these days soon. It was one sweet day.

As sweet as this jam – sweet and savory, with just the right bite to make it the perfect accompaniment to cheese, or as we ate it that evening, broiled lamp chops. Be careful with this stuff – it’s addicting.

TOMATO JAM

Another winner from Mark Bittman. He makes his as a small batch refrigerator jam, which will keep in the fridge. But the recipe is ok for canning as well. Makes about a pint of jam. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds good ripe Roma tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger (I used crystallized ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Small pinch ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Red pepper flakes to taste

Preparation

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (No need for it to be too thick – it will gel as it cools.) Taste and adjust seasoning.

Towards the end of your cooking time, sterilize your jars. Sterilize the lids in a smaller pan.

To refrigerate – Pour into sterile jar, cap, cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep up to 6 months.

To can – Ladle the jam into sterile jars. Wipe the rims, apply mason jar rings and lids and screw to finger tight. Process the jars in a boiling water bath, covered by 1-2 inches of water, for 20 minutes. Remove from bath, cool and then further tighten lids. Label and store for up to 2 years.

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More on Tomato Jam

Einkorn No Knead Artisan Bread (and a primer on ancient wheat)

All wheat is not the same.

What we now call wheat is actually the product of hybridization and cross breeding of wheat species to increase crop yields, ease harvesting, decrease costs and scale up production. As a result, where there were once just 5 or so species of wheat, there are now literally thousands, which genetically, may be virtually unrecognizable to ancient grains from which they are descended.

Allow me to introduce these so-called ancient grains to you now:

  1. Einkorn Wheat (14 chromosomes / Diploid): The first known wheat ever cultivated by humans (circa 3300 BC in Europe) is Einkorn Wheat, which has just 14 chromosomes (diploid) and has a hull. Einkorn has great flavor, and has higher lipid, protein, vit E, lutein and carotenoids that modern bread wheat, and may be better tolerated by those with gluten sensitivities. (But not Celiacs, who should avoid all wheat, ancient or otherwise).
  2. Emmer and Duram Wheat (28 chromosomes / Tetrapoloid): About 10,000 years ago, Emmer Wheat appeared in the Middle East, as a product of natural cross breeding of Einkorn with wild goat grass (Aegelops speltoides). Emmer is a hulled wheat, has a lower glycemic index and is higher in protein and anti-oxidents than typical bread wheat. Some varieties may be lower in minerals than bread flour. Durum wheat is a domesticated form of emmer used for pasta and is a naked wheat (no hull).
  3. Ancient Bread Wheat and Spelt (42 Chromosomes / Hexaploid): Sometime before biblical times, it is thought that Emmer bred naturally with a durum wheat grass called Aegrolops squarosa to yield Triticium aestivum, a higher yield and better baking species that we call “bread wheat”. It is a naked wheat (no hull). Spelt is another hexaploid species that probably formed a little later than bread wheat, and has a hull.  Spelt has similar gluten, and is higher in protein, lipids, and unsaturated fatty acids and minerals when compared to bread flour. It is lower in fiber than bread wheat, and I am told that it does not make as good a bread.

The hexaploid bread flour species are genetically pliable, having 42 chromosomes with thousands of genes available for natural selection and breeding by man. Still, by the mid 18th century, only 5 species of bread flour were being grown in Europe, and until the mid-20th century, most bread flour was pretty similar.

But beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, aggressive modern breeding practices began that created literally thousands of different varieties of hexaploid bread and durum wheat. Much of the breeding was done to improve crop yields and battle environmental scourges such as drought and pests. Some have made wheat easier to process, but dependent on man-made assistance from pesticides and irrigation. Still other breeding may have been done to improve the nutritional content of wheat. But virtually none of the new wheat varieties was ever tested in humans before introduction into the food supply.

While we know how these species perform on the farm and in the wild, what we don’t necessarily know is how they may affect the humans who ingest them. The question now being asked by many is this – In selecting for things like crop yield, harvest ease and bakeability, have we created wheat species with genetic and nutritional profiles that are unfriendly to our bodies? We are not just talking gluten sensitivity here. We are talking glycemic index, fat and protein content, vitamin and mineral profile. Not to mention the effects of the additives food manufacturers add to baked goods to improve shelf life, taste and other qualities that will increase their appeal to consumers.  Many of us are asking if the symptoms we experience such as bloating, weight gain, skin rashes, headaches, allergies, joint pains – in the absence of identifiable disease – may in fact be the result of sensitivities to the proteins found in modern wheat.

Not everyone is waiting for answers. Instead, they are turning back to the ancient grains nature created before modern man got his mitts into Triticum’s genetic pool. American farmers are belatedly joining their Eupropean counterparts in growing Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt, as the demand from consumers for these grains begins to rise. Some of us are enjoying using Farro – the wheat berries of Einkorn, Spelt and Emmer – in salads and side dishes. Others are using the flours of these wheat species to make their own breads and pastas. The anecdotal evidence seems mixed on whether or not there are really any health benefits to using ancient wheats. We know they cannot be used by those with true gluten allergy.

My interest in the ancient grains comes from reading Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis’s program for eliminating wheat from the diet to lose weight. I’m still reading it, and have not tried his program – if I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, like many, I see no reason not to try these ancient grains. Farro for sure has already won me over.

This recipe is my attempt at seeing what kind of no-knead bread I can coax from Einkorn flour.

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EINKORN NO KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD

Readers of this blog know well my enthusiasm for Jim Lahey’s No knead bread making techniques, made famous by Mark Bittman of the NY Times. (If you don’t, stop right now and go to my previous posts about this technique, and learn it first before trying this recipe.) For this Einkorn bread loaf, I used a recipe from Jovial Foods, makers and distributor of Einkorn Flour.

It was an interesting experience. Einkorn flour has an almost baby powder-like silkiness and consistency, and is clearly a more moist and fatty flour than standard issue modern bread flour. One needs to use 5 cups of flour to get a similar size loaf to Lahey’s, and this flour ain’t cheap. The dough is much stickier and harder to work with, so make sure your board is well floured and use a dough scraper rather than your hands when forming the bread round.

The Jovial bakers do not use Lahey’s cloth technique (probably because the dough is so wet), or let the dough rise a second time before baking. I did both, and next time will avoid since it really was a mess, and the Jovial chefs state it is not necessary.

The results?

First and foremost, there is no such thing as a not delicious home made bread, and this was no exception. The bread is flavorful, moist and dense with a hard crust, and it is just lovely toasted.

But I have to say that it disappoints when compared to the incredible results I get with Lahey’s technique using regular flour. The crumb structure is more cake than bread-like, and I miss the big air pockets and incredible crunch that regular bread flour gives.

I’m going to give it one more try, avoiding the second rise and cutting back a bit on water (which I admit I upped a bit to get the dough to look more like Lahey’s.) The recipe below is exactly as I will make it next.

EINKORN NO KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD

Ingredients

  • 5 cups (600 g) of Jovial Einkorn Flour
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 g) dry active yeast
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt
  • 1¾ cups (410 g) of warm water

Instructions

  1. Whisk flour, salt and yeast together in a large mixing bowl (Do not use a glass bowl, as the dough will darken if exposed to light).
  2. Add water and combine using a wooden spoon or spatula (dough will be wet).
  3. When the flour is incorporated, push down sides of dough and flatten the top.
  4. Cover the bowl with a large plate and let rise for 12-14 hours.
  5. In the last half hour of the rise, preheat a covered ceramic or cast iron Ditch Oven in the oven to 500°F.
  6. Turn out the dough on a heavily floured work surface. Using a dough scraper, fold the dough ala’ Lahey (See video here), nudging and tucking the dough into around shape.
  7. Plop the dough right into the pot, cover, lower the heat to 450 degrees fahrenheit and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes to darken the crust.
  8. Lift the loaf out of the dish and place on a cooling rack.
  9. Let cool for at least one hour before slicing.
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More Einkorn Links

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

Summers in the mountains means bread.

I rarely make bread at home in New York City. Not that I couldn’t. After all, this bread is easy enough to make, and despite it’s long rise time, requires very little of my attention.

But thinking about making bread does require, for me at least, a relaxed, open mind. And the inward assurance that in 18 hours I will still be available to move the bread on to it’s second rise, and then to it’s baking. Coordinating that with my schedule in the city makes the bread making feel like a chore and not the joy it is when I undertake it here at the cottage. Here, the day and the next lay ahead of me, open and lazy. The only things on my must do list today are a morning lake trail walk and if its warm enough, a swim. Maybe a bike ride into town to the farm stand market to hunt for inspiration for dinner.

I put this bread up to rise last night at 10, just after we arrived. This morning we read, then I put the bread out for its second rise around 1. We stocked the beach locker with clean towels and then went to town for lunch and to check out the local shops for the first time this season, stopping to hear some bluegrass on the porch and chat with friends outside the Common Ground. After that, I came home and baked the bread while Mr TBTAM cleaned the gutters and mowed the grass and I read some more. By 5 pm the bread was done. It’s in the bread box now, awaiting tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch.  The salmon is marinating, we’re drinking wine and getting ready to start a fire. (Obviously it was too cold to swim today…) Tonight will either be a scrabble or a card game, and something made with the peaches I found at the farm market for dessert.

As I’m thinking about it now, bread making gives a kind of structure to an otherwise completely unstructured existence here on the mountain. It doesn’t depend on the weather (though it may vary a bit depending on temperature and humidity), and needs no one but me to make it happen. If we have company, as we will for much of the rest of the summer, I can adjust the timing accordingly, or make the shorter rise version. But every weekend will have it’s loaf at some point.

The bread making is a touch point for me, a way of grounding myself and transitioning from the hectic overdriven life in the city to the lazy days in the country. It gives me a sense of having accomplished something without demanding that I actually do very much at all.

And it tastes amazing.

NO-KNEAD WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

This recipe is from Mark Bittman, inspired by Jim Lahey’s now legendary No-Knead bread making technique. Before making this bread, watch this video of Mark and Jim making this bread together, and this video of Jim teaching Mark for the first time how to do it. Even better, read Jim’s book, which was what I read today while my bread was rising. And read my previous blog post on my experience making this amazing bread.

This was my first try at making a whole wheat no-knead bread. The results were fantastic – a light, tasty, moist and chewy interior with a crunchy crust. Not as hard and thick and crunchy as Lahey’s white bread crust, but this may have been because I mistakingly baked the bread at 450 degrees instead of the recommended 500 degrees Fahrenheit. (Lahey seems to go back and forth between these two temps a lot – find which is best for your oven and stick to that). 

I went to whole wheat flour looking for something healthier. To that end, my next foray will be to the land of the heritage wheats.  I ordered some Einkorn flour today, and will see what kind of no-knead bread I can coax out of it next weekend.

Stay tuned.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp yeast (Active dry or instant)
  • 2 cups water.

INSTRUCTIONS

Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour in water and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise for 12-18 hours at room temp till well-risen, with a bubble foamy top and the beginnings of darkening color.

Scrape out onto a well floured surface, and with floured hands fold over ala’ Lahey. Place seam sides down on a clean non-terry towel generously dusted with wheat bran or corn meal. Fold the towel over top the bread and let rise another 4 hours, till doubled in bulk.

During the last half hour of the rise, preheat a 4-5 quart cast iron or ceramic french oven on a pull out shelf in a 500 degree Fahrenheit oven.

Open the oven door, pull out the shelf and take off the pot lid. (If your shelf does not pull out, take the entire pot out and place on top of the stove or on a heat proof counter to accomplish the next steps, but work quickly.) Gently place the bread-filled cloth onto an outstretched palm and walk over to the pot. Remove the lid and lay the bread, seam side up, into the pot. (Watch the videos for this technique.) Shake the pot a bit if you need to settle the dough into place. Place the lid back on and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 15-30 minutes to develop the dark, almost burnt crust. Remove pot from the oven and remove bread from the pot. Let the bread “sing” as it cools for another 15-30 minutes before even considering cutting into it.

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More TBTAM Bread Making 

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

stufffed mushrooms

Tired of serving the same old cheese plate and cracker appetizer? Looking for something just as satisfying and crowd pleasing but without the calories or carbs?

Look no further than these delicious, easy to make, healthy spinach stuffed mushrooms.

Eat them with a knife and fork, cut into quarters and you have four incredible mouthfuls. Serve with a bowl of spicy olives – there’s nothing that tastes better than a bite of each in your mouth at the same time.

These mushrooms are so satiating that I’ve served them as a main dish. Add a side salad following a small bowl of soup and you’ve got a light but highly satisfying supper.

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

Look for large mushrooms with nice long stems, since you’ll be chopping those stems to make the stuffing. Adjust the amount of bread crumbs and cheese to your liking. Try not to eat any leftover stuffing – you’ll want to use it in an omelet tomorrow morning.

Ingredients

  • 12 extra-large white or crimini mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 large shallot or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 oz bag washed organic baby spinach leaves, chopped coarsely
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus another tbsp or so for sprinkling atop (latter optional)
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees centigrade. Find a small sheet pan or baking dish large enough to hold the mushrooms in a single layer and lightly brush or spray the base with olive oil.

Clean mushrooms. Remove mushroom stems and chop them finely. Arrange the mushroom caps in the baking dish, being sure they are not too snug.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and butter. Saute shallot till soft, the add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme and saute till mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes or so. Add spinach leaves and cook till wilted – about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat. Add breadcrumbs and season. Toss in the cheese and parsley. Stuff the mushrooms with the stuffing, being sure to press it in well with your finger to use all available space. Sprinkle a little cheese atop if you want (optional).

Bake for 30-40 minutes, till the mushrooms are well-cooked and the stuffing browned and crusty. (If pressed for time, turn up the heat to 375 degrees fahrenheit and cook for 15 minutes, but watch our that the mushrooms don’t shrivel.)  Serve warm.

Can be made ahead and reheated just before serving.