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Stories written by symnspolo

Enlist in my culinary boot camp this weekend

Memorial Day has evolved into a three-day weekend with different strokes for different folks. Sure, it kicks off summer and grilling season and allows white clothing to come out of protective closet custody, but the heart and soul of the holiday has to do with not only white, but red and blue as well.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, the holiday is a patriotic celebration in remembrance of the brave soldiers who lost their lives and limbs while serving the United States of America in the name of freedom. Originally, the day was meant to honor those who died in the Civil War, but now incorporates the tragedies of the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Unfortunately, our Memorial Day keeps swelling to cover more hostilities across the globe as we now also honor those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This Memorial Day, try some defensive culinary maneuvers — put charred meat and mayonnaise on AWOL. Swap out oink and moo meats for fish and fowl, and replace mayonnaise-drenched salads with vinaigrette-based ones.

With salt, there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on

Salt is one of the most overused, good-boy/bad-boy seasoning in our culture with a rich history, a dominant present and a promising future. I’ll help you navigate your way through the world of salt to get the most out of this basic yet beloved mineral.

When in Rome

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that people of the Neolithic period were extracting salt from spring water as far back as 6050 B.C. Ancient Egyptians were using salt as funeral offerings and bartering salted fish for cedar, glass and other commodities from the Phoenicians. In fact, salt was considered such a valuable commodity for its food preservation qualities that historians believe Roman soldiers were paid partly in salt, giving birth to the word “soldier” which translates to “sal dare” — to give salt.

Summer is the time to load up on energy-boosting foods

The other day while shuffling through my house I noticed a large, slimy slug suctioned to my patio windowpane. It was an omen as I am moving kind of slow myself these days, at a snail’s pace.

Fatigue can stem from many sources — perhaps the change of seasons bringing along allergies, viruses and spring fever; maybe a sluggish thyroid, low blood sugar or slight anemia; sleep deprivation or just everyday stress.

I’ve scouted out some foods to hoist energy levels to fortify us for the outdoor activities of spring and summer that require well-tuned physical and emotional stamina.

Before I go take a nap, here are my top energy-boosting picks:

Too many food choices are driving me nuts (or crackers)

I am overwhelmed by choices, particularly with regard to food, methods of preparation and other assorted culinary affairs. I let them rule my life and my family’s so much that I’d swear I’m running a B&B called Catharine’s Cafe and Bakery.

Putting on my “kitchen shrink” hat, I’m undergoing some self-analysis for my obsessive-compulsive choice disorder. Perhaps this stems from my desire to please the world or be the perfect host … or maybe it’s from my own appreciation for variety or my secret career desire to run a restaurant. So please forgive and indulge me as I vent about this problem that seems to be a pervasive one in our culture.

The myriad of choices begins at the breakfast table when I ask my kids if they want orange, apple or grape juice, and then throw in the calcium alternatives of moo, rice or almond milk.

Fast, easy recipes leave more time for play

When spring fever hits, we’re antsy to leave the house and spend more time outdoors. Between housework, school work and work work — phew! — the only place we can trim some time is in the kitchen.

It might also surprise you that cooking healthfully takes less time, is easier, and for savvy shoppers is less expensive than dining out. Here’s a menu of some of my healthy short-order faves that’ll give you the luxury of soaking up some divine vitamin D-enriched sun rays.

My salad days

Easy salads can be delicious, hearty meals when jazzed up with some protein, be it fish or fowl, cheese or hard-boiled eggs. Whip up a new-age Greek salad with organic feta, grilled shrimp or scallops; do a healthy twist on the Tuna Niçoise by swapping out the mercury-laced, bad-boy fish with heart-healthier chunks of wild-caught salmon; do an organic turkey or chicken Cobb with crumbles of turkey bacon; arugula with pine nuts and goat cheese; or concoct a breast of duck mandarin Asian salad with crispy whole-wheat noodles.

The berry best pickings, round two

This is Part Two of a primer on my best berry picks. Part One (last week) included blueberries, cranberries and açaí berries. This one finishes the list and ends with a berry quiz for your amusement.

Raspberries: edible ruby roses

Raspberries, a member of the rose family, are the most ubiquitously grown berries globally. The typical raspberry is reddish-pink with cultivators growing designer hybrid shades of black, white, purple, orange and yellow.

High in vitamins A, B6, C and E along with antioxidants, and a host of trace minerals and other phytochemicals including potassium, copper, manganese, niacin and folic acid, the raspberry has been lauded as a diabetic-friendly miracle berry. It endows health benefits ranging from reducing risk of neurological diseases to slowing down the aging process. Whip up raspberry lemonade, crepes and tarts or toss them in your oatmeal or smoothies.

Berry time brings harvest of valuable micronutrients

The berry invasion has arrived, enticing us with ruby, royal purple and crimson-colored super foods to dial-up our lives and energy now that spring has sprung. Here’s Part One of a primer on my top picks for the best of the berries. Next week brings Part Two and a short berry quiz to see if you were paying attention!

Blueberries: the purple powerhouse

I grew up on wild Canadian blueberries, and I still fantasize over the sweet, yeasty blueberry buns of my childhood, their blissful aroma filling every bakery throughout April and May.

Blueberries, first cousins to cranberries and bilberries, are either cultivated or picked from wild bushes. The latter tend to be smaller and have a rich, intense purple hue.

Set it and forget it: A primer on crockpots

As the slow food movement is gaining steam, so is the revamped slow cooking crockpot, a far cry from its pioneer prototype of the ’70s that soon became the brunt of wedding gift jokes.

Around the globe, spring feasts are for renewal

This season welcomes a stream of festivals and holidays to celebrate rebirth, freedom and, of course, food. Spring fever has also inspired the calendar gremlins to declare March 21 as Children’s Poetry Day. In honor of the latter (please, forgive me), my contribution is a food-inspired poem:

Fevered by March and literary greats

Even the Kitchen Shrink celebrates

Speckled Easter eggs and roasted lamb

Fresh rhubarb and strawberry jam

Primavera pasta, asparagus and peas

Tall tumblers of pink blossom iced teas

Frothy banana, kiwi and mango shakes

Coconut macaroons and Passover sponge cakes

St. Patty’s Day is not for couch potatoes

On March 17, all the hibernophiles — Irish lovers of whom we have 40 million in this country alone — will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to commemorate the death of Ireland’s patron saint.

Even if you don’t have a single ancestor hailing from the Emerald Island, get out and join in the food fun. Pubs usually serve green Guinness and chili con blarney; pizza joints top their pies with green peppers, green olives, green onions and spinach; and delis whip up moss-green matzo balls and broccoli bagels. McDonald’s features its minty Shamrock Shakes, while ice cream parlors will be concocting banana splits with pistachio and mint ice creams, and perhaps green bananas.

Of course, potatoes are the most defining food of the Irish people, and are responsible in large part for the substantial influx of Irish immigrants to the United States in the 1800s. Here are the meat and potatoes on this tuber, and some culinary suggestions for celebrating St. Patty’s Day using American’s beloved spud.