In the Virgin Islands, Fungi Tells a Story

Korsha Wilson wrote . . . . . . . . .

At Petite Pump Room, a waterfront restaurant in Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, lunchtime usually finds locals and visitors filling the tables and bar, taking in the island’s hills and watching seaplanes take off and land in the harbor from nearby St. Croix.

Since 1970, the Petite Pump Room has been a meeting place, offering a menu of local favorites — stewed conch in butter sauce, fried local snapper with a Creole sauce of tomato and bell peppers — alongside typical fare like sandwiches and salads. But the restaurant’s fungi, a side dish made of hot cornmeal that’s easy to overlook, is cherished by those from the islands but remains unfamiliar to most visitors. “A lot of them will try it once you explain it to them,” said Judy Watson, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Michael Anthony Watson.

Fungi (pronounced foon-GEE), a cooked yellow cornmeal mixture dotted with tender okra and thinned with chunks of butter, is a staple on dinner tables and was once a fixture on restaurant menus across the Virgin Islands.

But it is hard to find at newer restaurants, leaving institutions like Petite Pump Room, De’ Coal Pot on the east side of the island and Gladys’ Cafe in Charlotte Amalie to keep the dish alive on their menus.

Most native Virgin Islanders fondly remember fungi as a part of their childhoods, and as a key element of fish and fungi, a common meal, said Mr. Watson, 59. “We ate it once a week or so growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed it,” he said. “I used to beg my older sister to make it for me.”

But the recipe also represents an important piece of Virgin Islands history. Fungi’s roots extend back to the 18th century when, under colonial rule, food was rationed for enslaved Africans on the islands as part of a 1755 law that required slave owners to provide enslaved persons with corn flour or cassava, as well as salt pork.

In his 1992 book, “Slave Society in the Danish West Indies,” the author and professor Neville A.T. Hall writes that this amount would have been two and a half quarts of cassava or cornmeal per week, a small amount considering the hard labor required during harvest season. To fill in the gaps, enslaved Africans grew their own provisions on land hidden from slave owners. Okra, a key ingredient in West African cooking brought to the Caribbean by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, was likely added to the cornmeal around this time, increasing the dish’s nutritional value, adding an earthy flavor and stretching it into a meal that could feed many.

Preserving this part of Virgin Islands history is important for Julius Jackson, the chef and manager at the cafe and bakery of My Brother’s Workshop, a nonprofit organization that teaches managerial skills and culinary arts in Charlotte Amalie. “When they make it, they usually say their grandparents and the adults in their life eat fungi,” Mr. Jackson said of his students.

The decline in the dish’s popularity isn’t unexpected, as it requires more preparation than other staples like fried plantains or rice and beans. The process of whipping, or “turning” it, is a time-consuming task that prevents lumps and aerates the mixture.

But the appeal of fungi is that it uses few ingredients to create a flavorful accompaniment to a stewed or fried protein.

In the cafe and in Mr. Jackson’s cookbook, “My Modern Caribbean Kitchen,” his recipe for fungi is simplified: Cook the okra until tender before whisking in a steady stream of cornmeal. The goal of his lessons at the cafe — and this simplification — is to encourage a new generation of cooks to make fungi at home.

He serves his fungi in a bowl of kallaloo, a hot soup made with spinach, pork and seafood, similar to the Nigerian dish efo riro. In teaching younger cooks about recipes like fungi, he hopes to illustrate how many Caribbean dishes are linked directly to West Africa. “There’s so much history in our food that tells our story, and I can actually show them that,” Mr. Jackson said.

As more restaurants specializing in global cuisines arrive on the island, traditional dishes have become harder to come by. But that doesn’t mean they should disappear completely, said Digby Stridiron, a chef who grew up on St. Croix. “If there’s a restaurant here that does traditional food, they should serve fungi,” he said. “Just like you see jerk in Jamaica or roti in Trinidad, because that’s what we eat here.”

Mr. Stridiron is in the process of opening a restaurant on St. Thomas and believes that one way to preserve fungi may be to modernize it. For his menu, he wants to source high-quality cornmeal from producers like Anson Mills as well as dehydrated okra pods to enhance the flavor as they are cooked with the cornmeal.

“The islands are a transitional place where people are coming together and leaving their mark through food,” he said. “It’s always evolving. As chefs, it’s our responsibility to keep dishes alive and innovate them, while getting to the root of the dish and not losing sight of the flavor and the concept.”

Source: The New York Times

5 Critical Steps to Help Prevent a Stroke

Laura Williamson wrote . . . . . . . . .

If there’s one good thing that can be said of strokes, it’s this: The vast majority of them don’t need to happen.

Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and working with health care practitioners to control stroke risk factors. Researchers have identified numerous steps people can take to lower stroke risk, but health experts agree, trying to do them all at once can feel overwhelming.

“The biggest mistake people make is they are overly ambitious, and then they fail and give up,” said Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, a Canadian neurologist and global expert in the field of stroke. “You have to start small.”

The rewards are enormous, said Dr. Cheryl Bushnell, a neurologist and director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s “not just for preventing stroke, but for preventing dementia as well. You can do the same things to prevent both. You are killing two birds with one stone.”

Here are five ways to get started on the road to prevention.

If you smoke, quit

Studies show that for every five cigarettes a person smokes each day, the risk of having a stroke goes up by 12%. For Black adults, smoking cigarettes more than doubles the risk of stroke compared to never smoking, a 2020 study found.

“People understand that smoking causes lung cancer, but they don’t understand it also damages the brain and blood vessels,” Bushnell said. “In terms of stroke prevention, quitting smoking is the lowest hanging fruit.”

Move more

More active men and women have a 25%-30% lower risk of stroke than those who are least active. Physical activity has been shown to lower cholesterol, help maintain a healthy weight and lower blood pressure – all factors that can reduce stroke risk.

“The evidence for physical activity is undeniable,” said Bushnell, who co-authored a 2014 statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association on stroke prevention. “Even just moving around for 10 minutes every hour is better than sitting for an extended period of time. You don’t have to run a 5K.”

Hachinski placed exercise among the top three things a person could do to lower stroke risk – and agrees it needn’t be overly ambitious. “The worst thing that can happen is to sit all day. Walking is the best exercise there is. Get up and walk around.”

Keep blood pressure under control

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is the leading cause of strokes. Half of all men – 52% – and 43% of women in the U.S. have blood pressure that is too high, according to AHA statistics. While it can be controlled through lifestyle changes or by taking medication, only about 1 in 5 adults keep it properly managed. Smoking, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and eating an unhealthy diet can push blood pressure out of the healthy range.

At-home monitoring and regular communication with doctors to make sure medications are working are important to keep high blood pressure in check, Bushnell said.

“People have to keep track of their own blood pressure,” she said. “They have to know what their numbers are, know their medications and how to take them.”

Eat a healthy diet

“One of the most subtle things that happens to people as they get older is they put on weight,” Hachinski said.

Being careful to choose healthy foods can minimize weight gain, he said. But there’s value to making healthier food choices regardless of weight.

“Nutrition is more important than weight loss,” agreed Bushnell. “There are multiple diets shown to decrease the risk of stroke,” such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or Mediterranean diets. Both emphasize eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish and nuts, while cutting back on foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol and trans fats.

Start early

Strokes happen to young people, too. About 10%-15% of all strokes occur in adults age 50 or under. Recent research shows Black young adults have up to four times the risk as their white peers.

And recent research shows the same factors that cause strokes in older adults – such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes – are causing strokes in younger adults.

“You don’t think about disease when you are young,” Hachinski said. But that’s when good habits should start.

Hachinski recommends people start monitoring their blood pressure, cholesterol, lipids and blood sugar levels as soon as they transition from a pediatrician to a primary care physician as a young adult. “If you’re going off to college or leaving home, your habits will change at this time. You begin eating on your own. This is a good time to think about how to prevent disease.”

Other life transitions – such as moving in with a partner – should also be triggers for checking health metrics, he said. “It’s a good time to take inventory, because it’s when habits will change.”

It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking, Hachinski said. Focus on just one thing to get started. “Identify the most important thing you are lacking,” he said. “Is it exercise? Are you snacking too much?”

Set a specific and measurable goal, he said, and then break it into parts and stick to it until you reach it. Having a partner can help maintain motivation, as long as that person has healthy habits. “If you can get someone to do it with you, you double your chances for success.”

Source: American Heart Association

What’s for Lunch?

Mackerel with Miso Sauce Set Meal at Ootoya in Tokyo, Japan

The price is 810 yen (plus tax).

Are You Taking a Med That’s Raising Your Blood Pressure?

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Nearly one in five Americans with high blood pressure use medications that can cause blood pressure to spike, a preliminary study shows.

The researchers said the findings are concerning, given how many people have difficulty controlling their high blood pressure.

“A large number of Americans are not meeting their blood pressure goals,” said lead researcher Dr. John Vitarello, an internal medicine resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston.

This study points to medications as one possible culprit. Vitarello said doctors and patients should be aware of that.

Looking at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), Vitarello’s team found that about one-fifth of Americans with high blood pressure were using medications that can raise those numbers.

The most commonly implicated drugs were antidepressants; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve); and steroid medications used to dampen inflammation and immune activity in conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, or after an organ transplant.

Asked whether doctors usually caution high blood pressure patients about such medications, Vitarello said “it’s probably not happening enough.”

He said a key takeaway is that doctors should regularly review which medications patients are using.

For their part, people with high blood pressure should keep track of their readings at home, Vitarello said. If their numbers are not under control, he added, it’s worth asking their doctor whether any other medications they take could be a factor.

In some cases an alternative might be possible, Vitarello suggested, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) in place of an NSAID, for example.

In fact, acetaminophen should be the painkiller of choice for people with high blood pressure, said Dr. Eugene Yang, chairman of the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Council for the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

Cold and allergy remedies are other medications to be wary of, said Yang, who is also a professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Those remedies may contain stimulant decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, which can constrict blood vessels. So people with high blood pressure should avoid products that contain a stimulant, Yang said.

For the study, Vitarello’s team looked at data from the ongoing NHANES project that interviewed a nationally representative sample of more than 27,000 U.S. adults between 2009 and 2018.

Just under half had high blood pressure, using the current definition of 130/80 mm Hg or higher. (In 2017, the ACC and American Heart Association changed their definition of high blood pressure, lowering it from the old threshold of 140/90 mm Hg.)

Overall, 19% of people with the condition were using a medication that can hike blood pressure. The researchers estimated that if half of Americans in that category were to stop taking one culprit medication, an additional 560,000 to 2.2 million people might get their blood pressure under control.

Yang cautioned that it’s not clear how many Americans could get their blood pressure under control simply by stopping a medication.

What’s more, he said, many of the drugs people were using — like antidepressants or steroids — may be necessary.

“We’re not telling patients they can’t take these medications,” Yang stressed.

Instead, he said, “we treat the high blood pressure.”

That might mean upping the dose of a current blood pressure medication or adding an additional one.

Lifestyle is also key, Yang said. The general advice is to follow a healthy diet low in salt and rich in fruits and vegetables; get regular exercise; don’t smoke; limit alcohol; and maintain a healthy weight.

Vitarello was scheduled to present the findings at the ACC’s annual meeting, being held online May 15 to 17. Research reported at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Source: HealthDay

Crispy Harissa Fish with Lemon Couscous

Ingredients

1 tablespoon harissa
2 (175 g) firm white fish fillets, skin on
1 tablespoon olive oil
store-bought tzatziki and lemon wedges, to serve

Lemon Couscous

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup (200 g) instant couscous
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1-1/2 cups hot chicken stock
100 g baby spinach leaves

Method

  1. To make the lemon couscous, place the rind and juice, couscous, salt and pepper in bowl and mix to combine. Pour over the stock and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until all the stock has been absorbed and stir through the spinach.
  2. To cook the fish, spread the harissa over the flesh side of the fish.
  3. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and the fish, skin-side down, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Turn and cook for 1 minute or until fish is just cooked.
  4. Divide the couscous and fish between serving plates and serve with tzatziki and lemon wedges

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Fast, Fresh, Simple


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