Let’s Embrace – for a Long and Bright and Happy Life

My extroversion muscles have atrophied while my introversion muscles are bulging,” writes David Brooks in a recent NYTimes column. How true is that?!

My CC college friends (friends for almost 60 years) echoed that same feeling on a Zoom call the other day. But we labeled it “inertia,” and most felt it was a COVID-related issue. It seems that getting back into the post-vaccination socializing groove isn’t coming easily.

A BBC series on Worklife recently posted a helpful article “Why we may have to re-learn to socialise.” (which, oddly, enough is followed up by this article: “Can online sex fill the connection void.” I’ll save that topic for another blog…in hopes that you keep reading! 🙂

Yes, we may want to take it slowly, but we’d better get off our couch (or up from our computer chair) and get back out into the world. It doesn’t take much reading or research to figure out why.

Are dogs and cats enough? I don’t think so.

Hot off the press is a UC San Diego School of Medicine study which focuses on loneliness and gut health, as well as wisdom and gut health. I’ve been interested in gut health and food ever since my blog from a while back, so I know that richness and diversity in the gut microbiome is good. But I didn’t realize that gut health may possibly be improved if you’re socially engaged – and not lonely. To quote the researchers: “It is possible that loneliness may result in decreased stability of the gut microbiome and, consequently, reduced resistance and resilience to stress-related disruptions, leading to downstream physiological effects, such as systemic inflammation.”

The light?

In 2010 (notably pre-Pandemic) researchers from BYU published an article in PLOS Medicine which analyzes 148 studies (totaling over 308,000 participants of all ages, races, and genders). Their conclusion? Social relationships influence the health outcomes of adults – and lack of social interaction negatively impacts our longevity the same as does smoking, not exercising, drinking too much, and obesity (how many of us in this last year have had little social interaction – AND have been drinking a lot, eating more than we should, and not exercising? How much is that all going to impact our life span? Yikes.)

Maybe the most interesting research on this topic comes from a Harvard study. I’m sure it was the title that caught my attention – “Good genes are nice, but joy is better.” Beginning in 1938, Harvard tracked 268 of their students over an 80-year time period, observing their physical and mental health. The result?

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.” 

That’s pretty up-beat, don’t you think? We may have little or no control over social class, IQ, or genes, but we sure can work at forming and maintaining close relationships.

The truth?

Now I tend to think that all Harvard studies must be perfect, but I believe there’s an important caveat here that maybe isn’t addressed adequately. The study followed men. Why? Because there were no women at Harvard when the study began. I discussed that concern about no women participants with my CC sorority-sister friends. And they all agreed – the way men react wouldn’t necessarily predict the way women may react. That said, I’m hoping the study’s findings apply to us women too.

Pre-vaccination social distancing in Sonoma…I’ll eat at the counter and you eat at the table! The question is: did that help our longevity because at least we were under one roof – or hurt our longevity because we weren’t exactly hugging?

We plan to meet and greet – and, yes, embrace…lots of friends this next year. Andy is hoping to laugh with lots of friends this year – see today’s Andy’s Corner – where Andy will also introduce “The Sunshine Lady.”

There are so many folks we’ve missed…including our Waco/Houston friends who didn’t come to SF this year because the American Sociological Association meeting there was cancelled due to COVID; Sonoma friends who moved to Toronto during the pandemic – and haven’t been able to get back for a visit nor has Canada welcomed visitors there; Boulder friends whom we normally would have seen when we take our biannual trip to visit Colorado and my Fort Collins brother.

In my effort to keep these special social connections active (and my brain brighter), I emailed each of these foodie/friends and asked them to send me a favorite recipe that they’ve been cooking this weird year, and explain why they chose it. The explanations are as special as the recipes: we appreciate the aroma of food; we crave something simple and quick and one that provides more than one meal; most-importantly, we need a dinner with good food and with that necessary social companionship that can help cheer up the gloomiest of days. I’ll embrace that!

Juicy Skillet Pork Chops

From our Toronto friends: I’ve cooked [this] a few times and it’s become a family request. First time I made it, one of the kids was struggling with something that I could not fix, so I decided to make a delicious dinner. Over the last few months, I’ve fallen back on the idea that no matter what’s going on for everyone, if we can all sit around the table and enjoy a tasty meal made with love things seem a little brighter. 

Juicy Skillet Pork Chops

Ever-so-slightly-adapted from a recipe on InspiredTaste.com

  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 1-inch thick and 6 to 7 ounces each (if using bone-in chops, cook a few minutes longer)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 T flour
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey or brown sugar
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T chopped fresh parsley, optional

    Take the pork chops out of the refrigerator and season on both sides with salt and pepper — we use just less than 1/4 teaspoon of fine salt per pork chop. Set the chops aside to rest for 30 minutes.

    Meanwhile, make the spice rub. In a small bowl, mix the flour, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika. After 30 minutes, use a paper towel to pat the pork chops dry then rub both sides of the chops with the spice rub.

    Heat the oil in a medium skillet (with lid) over medium-high heat. As soon as the oil is hot and looks shimmery, add the pork. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.

    Flip the pork so that the seared side is facing up. (If there is a fattier side of the pork, use kitchen tongs to hold the chops, fat-side-down until it sizzles and browns slightly; about 30 seconds.) Reduce the heat to low then cover the skillet with a lid. Cook 6 to 12 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 145 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the chop. (Since cook time depends on the thickness of the chops, check for doneness at 5 minutes then go from there, checking every 2 minutes). If you do not have a thermometer, you will know they are done, if when cutting into the chops, the juices run clear.

    Transfer pork chops to a plate then cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let the pork rest for 5 minutes.

    While the pork rests, make the pan sauce. Increase the heat to medium-high then add the chicken stock, vinegar, and honey. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan so that any stuck bits of pork come up. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. Taste then adjust the seasoning with salt, more vinegar or honey. Slide the skillet off of the heat and when the sauce is no longer simmering, swirl in the butter. Slide the pork chops back into the pan and spoon some of the sauce on top. Alternatively, slice the chops then place back into the pan. Scatter fresh parsley over the pork then serve.

Recipe brought to you by Sona and Dave in Toronto, BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.
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Easy Carnitas

From our Houston friends: Carnitas are so satisfying, but they can be an all-day affair. We have streamlined a Milk Street recipe (May-June 2020 issue) to be less hands-on. One still enjoys the whole-house olfactory experience, and there are abundant leftovers for subsequent lunches and suppers. The ingredients are as specified in the Milk Street magazine. Our version of the instructions omits some fuss associated with refrying the braised meat. And, yes, this is a lot of oil and fat. Think Mexican pork confit. It’s that good.

Easy Carnitas

Note from A&A: we cut this recipe in half and had equally great results – and still had leftovers for the 2 of us. Adapted from Milk Street.

5-6 pounds boneless pork butt, not trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
10 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 T ground cumin
2 T ground coriander
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Diamond kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 c grapeseed or other neutral oil

Heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower-middle position.

In a large (at least 7-quart) Dutch oven, stir together the pork, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, thyme, pepper
flakes and 2 teaspoons salt. Stir in the oil and 1 cup water. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook
for 3 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven. Stir the pork and return the pot, uncovered, to the oven. Cook
until a skewer inserted into the meat meets no resistance, another 30 minutes.

Other than breaking up any large chunks, that’s all we do.

Stir and enjoy with tortillas, slaw, and pickled onions. The meat is also great as an additional topping for nachos. As empty-nesters, we have plenty left to freeze in smaller portions.

Our Texas grocery chain, HEB, sells packages of cut-up “Pork for Carnitas” which are perfect.
No prep necessary. While the recipe wants a 7-quart pot, we have a 6-quart that works just fine.

Recipe brought to you by Tricia and Charlie in Houston, BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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And from our Boulder friends: I saw this recipe in the NYT and it stuck in my head.  One night when we didn’t know what to cook for dinner, I thought of this and luckily, we had everything at hand (radicchio keeps forever in fridge, we always have anchovies and eggs on hand and I know to buy packages of pappardelle or tagliatelle to keep in pantry).  And that’s the magic of this dish.  We have this when we come home from vacation and when we don’t know what to make.  It’s easy, takes no time and is a family favorite!  Never mind that there is an obscene amount of anchovies and garlic.  It works.  The fried egg is the frosting on the top. Yum.  

Pappardelle with Bagna Cauda, Radicchio and a Fried Egg

Adapted from the NYTimes Magazine and Nancy Silverton.

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
15 anchovy fillets
8 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 radicchio leaves, torn into small pieces
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces egg pappardelle

For finishing the dish:
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
Parmesan cheese
1 heaping T finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

To make the bagna cauda, place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, anchovies and garlic and cook, breaking up the anchovies with a fork and stirring constantly, until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, radicchio and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the pasta by bringing a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt until the water tastes salty and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

To finish the dish, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 2 minutes. Break 1 egg into a small bowl and pour into the skillet. When it just begins to set around the edges, break the second egg into the bowl and pour into the skillet. (By waiting a moment before adding the next egg, the eggs won’t stick together.) Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs. Cook until the edges are golden, the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.

Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water and transfer it quickly, while it’s dripping with water, to the skillet with the bagna cauda. Place the skillet over high heat. Toss the pasta to combine the ingredients and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.

Using tongs, divide the pasta among 4 plates, twisting it into mounds. Grate a generous layer of cheese over each. Place an egg over the cheese. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and serve with more grated cheese and pepper.

Recipe brought to you by Jina and Alan in Boulder, BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

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