Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's Good, Not Just "Good for You"!

So far I've made two recipes from Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson's The Healthy Mind Cookbook: Big Flavor Recipes to Enhance Brain Function, Mood, Memory, and Mental Clarity, a title whose big promises might make arouse skepticism in some readers. Well, I can definitely say that my experiences with this book so far improved my mood, since they were delicious, easy to make, and easy on my conscience because I knew they were healthy and good for me as well as gorgeous to look at! And they definitely deliver "Big Flavor."
The cover photo is of "Thai It Up Steak Salad" (which I haven't tried yet); most of the recipes are accompanied by similar full page illustrations, and if the two recipes I tried - "Avocado Citrus Salad" and "Mexican Hot Chocolate" - are representative of the rest, my tummy and taste buds are going to be very happy, and if my mind gets healthier too, well, what more could you ask?

The Mexican hot chocolate recipe is for one serving (thank you, Rebecca and Mat!), made with a cup of unsweetened almond milk, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, two teaspoons of maple syrup, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and tiny pinches each of salt and cayenne, whisked together in a saucepan while heating. I find cocoa powder easier to whisk in a bowl (no corners to hide in) so I mixed it up in my favorite cappucino mug and heated it in the microwave - even easier and sooooo delicious. The cayenne adds a delicious hint of a burn in the throat and the touch of salt kicks up all the flavors; this is hot chocolate for grownups, but I'm pretty sure the kids will love it too.

The Avocado Citrus Salad, pictured here, sounds like something I make often, especially this time of year with so many varieties of citrus available at the peak of their quality. The creamy avocado and the sweet bite of citrus are heavenly together. Add the peppery sharpness of arugula, plus shaved fennel, fresh chopped mint, and a bit of ginger in the dressing, and the whole becomes a marvelously complex melange of flavors in which each part is enhanced and elevated by the others. I'd want to eat this even if no one told me that avocado is one of the best fats, "full of brain-boosting vitamin E and a monounsaturated fat that helps lower blood pressure, which can help lower the risk of cognitive impairment" (70).

Katz began work on this book after her father's death from dementia at eighty, after a decade of struggling with the disease, left her feeling like she faced a similar timetable. What she found in her research, "the notion that what I eat can positively impact my mind [was] incredibly freeing" and left her "no longer feeling that [she's] a prisoner to [her] genetics." The introduction and the first two chapters further explain and develop this idea in engaging, engrossing prose; Chapter One, "Your Brain on Food," explains the scientific processes at work, including the relationship between the gut and the brain, a subject that's getting a lot of attention lately. Chapter Two, "The Culinary Pharmacy," lists foods from allspice to yogurt, what they're good for in terms of the brain, and how they work. That mint in the salad I made is good for for cognitive functioning, focus, learning, memory, and neuronal health not just because of its Vitamins A and C but also because studies show that "the scent of mint help[s] boost alertness and memory [and] helped subjects perform better on basic clerical skills, such as typing and memorization" (16-17). I knew that pot of mint in my back yard was more than pretty! And the fennel (I love fennel!)? It contains the B vitamin folate, which boosts mental performance and may help prevent the onset of dementia, as does its vitamin C, which "can also keep your spirits up," while its vitamin A "may deliver a boost to your learning abilities" (14). Hurray! Now I have more reasons to eat fennel than just the fact that I love it!

This book is beautiful: lovely to look at and full of useful and fascinating information in addition to wonderful recipes made with real food that packs real benefits. Katz (along with Edelson, an award-winning science, health, and sports writer) is not just a creative chef and serious researcher - she's a very good writer whose work is a pleasure to read, even if you never make any of her recipes. But please, please do make the recipes! I can't decide between the Cozy Lentil Soup with Delicata Squash and the Rosemary and Pear Muffins. Maybe I'll just make both! For more about Katz's work and some sample recipes (and pictures), you can go to And then go buy this book!

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