Thursday, April 14, 2022

Getting Ready for Blueberry Season!

Last summer I got some of the best blueberries at the Brick (NJ) farmers’ market & I am looking forward to it again this year. In case you are not aware, New Jersey is one of the leading producers of blueberries in the US (NJ is not known as the “Garden State” for nothing!) and blueberries are the official state fruit. The season begins in late June and runs into July, sometimes even August depending on the weather.

So in anticipation of the coming season, earlier this week I baked a Sour Cream Blueberry Banana Walnut Bread. I had a large container of Costco blueberries (from Canada, eh) and would never eat all of them before they went bad so I dug through my many, many recipes and found this one. It’s from an old Williams-Sonoma baking book (it’s so old I may have bought it when I was a W-S store manager back in the 90s!). As the name implies, it’s definitely more bread-y than cake-y, and not very sweet (only contains 3/4 C sugar), but perfect as a breakfast item, smeared with a bit of good salted butter or cream cheese. The bananas and sour cream give this bread its moist texture. If you’re going to use it as more of a dessert, I would sprinkle some confectioners’ sugar on top to give it a bit more sweetness.

Keep this recipe on hand when blueberry season comes to your area, or pick up a box now and practice! June is only two months away!

Sour Cream Blueberry Banana Walnut Bread (The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book)

Makes one 9x5” loaf


2 medium-ripe bananas

2 C AP (plain) flour

3/4 C sugar

1-1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

1/2 t ground cinnamon

1/2 C chopped pecans (I used walnuts)

2 large eggs

1/2 C sour cream

1 t pure vanilla extract

1/2 C unsalted butter, melted

1 heaping C fresh or frozen blueberries


Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 9x5” loaf pan with butter or butter-flavored nonstick cooking spray.

Mash the bananas well with a fork or coarsely puree them in a food processor. Measure out 1 cup and set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nuts. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, butter, and the 1 cup mashed banana pulp. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the banana mixture, and stir until just combined. The batter should be slightly lumpy. Gently fold in the blueberries, taking care not to break them up or mash them. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the bread until the top is firm to the touch and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Unmold the loaf onto the rack and let cool completely. Cut into thick slices to serve.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Blue Zone Greek Tomato Pasta Soup

For a while now, I’ve been following Dan Buettner’s research on “blue zone” populations. If you’re not familiar, blue zones are areas of the world where people generally live long, healthy lives (sometimes past 100). The original blue zone communities were Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; and Nicoya, Costa Rica. 

What do all these very different places have in common? They all practice what is called “downshifting,” the art of turning to down-to-earth principles to renew and recharge. Read here about the daily routines the people in these regions practice to keep them healthy. Reading these things, I realized that they are all such simple, common sense practices: 

  1. Go outside for at least 15 minutes every day - get some sunshine!
  2. Get together with friends
  3. Pray, reflect, meditate
  4. Tend a garden
  5. Boost your mood with food
  6. Take a nap
  7. Schedule a weekly friend date
  8. Don’t take life too seriously
  9. Plan a happy hour
  10. Call your grandparents
  11. Have a “reason to live”
  12. Make friends with someone older or younger than you

Simple, right? You may not be able to do all of these things, but if we try to incorporate some of them, we’d be ahead of the game. I think in these very troubling times we need some old-fashioned routines to keep us grounded. 

A few weeks ago I made the Greek Tomato Pasta Soup from Dan’s book. It was so easy & so incredibly delicious I had to share it with you. This recipe makes a big batch so take the opportunity to invite some friends to share the meal with you (#2 above). The recipe calls for vine-ripened tomatoes, but it was March in New Jersey so, no, thanks. Canned worked just fine!

Watch the short video (19 seconds) above for all the gorgeous bubbling tomato-y goodness of this soup!

The original recipe also called for “roasted” tomato sauce but I couldn’t find that so I used your standard “good” quality, supermarket sauce. And although not part of Dan’s original recipe, it wouldn’t hurt to add some fresh basil and freshly grated Parmigiana-Reggiano to the finished product.

It was delicious! Have a glass of red wine with it (also part of the daily diets of Blue Zone inhabitants). 

Mangia Bene!

Greek Tomato Pasta Soup (Dan Buettner)

4 C water 

2 C vegetable broth

1 fresh vine-ripened tomato, chopped (or one 15-oz can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes)

1 C roasted tomato sauce, fresh or store-bought


1 lb orzo pasta

1 t salt

Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, bring water and broth to a boil.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, olive oil, orzo, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine.

Reduce heat to low and bring pot to simmer. Cook until you see very small bubbles and broth is thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally so orzo doesn’t stick to bottom of pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.