Do you want to be in the "Blue Zone?"

Healthier ways of living

For many of us these last 18 months have been a drastic change in lifestyle, and for a variety of reasons. If our focus was to not get sick, did that make us healthier in our lifestyle choices?

Maybe you stopped doing the office commute or you changed up your gym habits for other activities. Perhaps you changed your entire perspective on life and now you value different things like more family time or more home-cooked meals. I’m sure we can agree those could all be healthier options.

But we started this pandemic in lockdown, sitting on the couch eating potato chips while watching Netflix. The only supply no one worried about running out of seemed to be alcohol. The “Covid 15” (as in pounds) became everyone’s new baggage. That part wasn’t so healthy. However, its effects did motivate many folks to begin new diets and take up more exercise habits.

What if I told you that diet and exercise changes are not the number one reason people live longer and healthier lives? To start with, both of these changes are often time bound. A real shift in quality of life tends to come from long-term changes, as in new habits that are an automatic part of our regular days.

Habits are easier to keep if they are common in a community.

• If more people in the community eat healthier in their day-to-day routine, then the grocery stores are more likely to continue carrying healthy items.

• When it’s easier to take public transit or walk in a community, people only use their cars for specific trips.

• Having accessible green spaces and trees encourages people to get out, and people out and about take pride in their community, maintaining it well.

An added benefit from this sort of community-building is a reduction of the carbon footprint. How fortuitous that efforts to improve one area of our world ends up helping another one too. It’s as if the universe wants us to do the right thing.

There was a study done years ago by National Geographic showing the places in the world that consistently have the longest living souls. They analyzed what factors in those environments were making this happen and discovered it was due to everyday lifestyle. There was no special pill or quick fix, you had to put in the time. Diet and exercise contributed only when they became part of a commitment to a healthier life. They called these places Blue Zones.

Have you adopted healthier habits that will continue as the world shifts back into a regular routine? Do you feel less stressed than you did before the pandemic, or more? If you’d like to consider what seems to work to live longer and enjoy the extra miles.

Here are the common principles people in Blue Zones have:

• Move naturally. It’s not about being a weekend warrior between those stressful office days or running a marathon or pumping weights. Activities that encourage us to move without thinking about it are the secret. Tending a garden (especially by hand, without machines to do much of the work) is a great example of this principle.

• Have a purpose. People who know why they wake up in the morning and get out of bed have a life expectancy as much as seven years longer than those drifting aimlessly.

• Down shift daily. Taking time to reflect, meditate or connect deeply with oneself keeps our stress levels lower. (Napping, praying and even a happy hour with loved ones are examples from Blue Zone communities.)

• 80% full is full enough. When eating meals, we need to eat slowly and have our biggest meal not at the end of the day.

• Plant-slant is the way to eat. Established Blue Zone communities eat meat only five times per month. Legumes are a major source of protein and serving sizes are three to four ounces.

• Wine at 5 (p.m.). People in four out of five Blue Zones drink a glass of wine a day, with friends and food.

• Faith counts. Being part of a faith-based community adds years to your life, according to generations of Blue Zoners. Attending regular services is crucial.

• Loved ones First. Families stick together in Blue Zones. Everyone cares and looks out for everyone else.

• Find your right tribe. A social network of even as few as five people (all of them with good Blue Zone-style habits helps us all live longer.

Let’s face it, even if we don’t live longer, doing these things, can at least put more life into the years we do have left.

We all deserve to come out of this mess better off than when we went in.

Cleanse gives new perspective on what and how writer eats

Clean eating

A couple weeks ago I did a healthy living retreat that involved a cleanse. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a cleanse but for someone like me who savours a variety of cooked food and drink, this was a big step outside my comfort zone.

I approached the whole thing with an open mind, wanting to learn as much as possible. I was reassured to discover that our household’s philosophy of eating unprocessed foods in season whenever possible was a very good foundation. I was lucky not to be someone with a daily hankering for junk food or coffee or chocolate.

Let me pause here and say that I am not espousing any diet plans or eating regimes. I have no authority in the subject of nutrition, this is merely my opinion after participating in a program. Oh, and I reserve the right to be tongue in cheek about it.

After five days of drinking my full body weight in ounces of water, I felt a bit like a jellyfish - all jiggly. But even just that felt very cleansing. I have never been so well hydrated in my life.

I was also drinking another forty ounces of fruit and vegetable juice each day. The smoothie recipes were tasty, and I can see the attraction for people rushing in the morning to start their day. I prefer to chew my food though. I spent a month mostly drinking everything as a teenager, after having my jaw wired shut for orthodontic surgery. That put me off liquid meals.

We also ate all raw foods for the five days. I do love the flavours of fresh fruit and veggies but I was glad we weren’t in the dead of winter doing the cleanse. I would miss having a heartwarming stew or even a bowl of oatmeal for a whole week of winter.

There was one liquid experience I found especially exhilarating, and that was the ice bath. Anyone who knows me has seen how little I enjoy being cold; this was the exercise I was most freaked out about. “What do you mean I need bags of ice (as in more than one, even!) to make my tub of water colder?” But I had accepted the challenge of the full experience, and I told everyone I’d be doing it.

We did Wim Hof breathing (link: https://youtu.be/0BNejY1e9ik ) beforehand. This guy holds the record for time in cold water so his advice seemed worthy of following. But I was still very nervous looking at all that floating ice.

I can tell you I managed to get in and stay submerged for more than my one minute goal—all the way to three minutes. Maybe knowing there were hundreds of others going through it at the same time was part of what kept me going. (This was a virtual event with about 2,000 people around the world participating.)

It sounds corny, but the key is this:

1. Get all in, cold turkey (yes, pun intended)

2. Surrender to it - you can’t control it, so don’t try. (I know, I could have just not gotten in, but, well then, there’d be no story.)

3. Don’t overthink it. Just relax.

The longer I was in, the more relaxed I felt. When I got out I felt the coldness of the air, but I didn’t shiver or feel cold. It was amazing. And it is apparently an excellent exercise for the lymphatic system.

We did plenty of other activities during the five days—yoga, rebounding, dancing. I also continued my workout program of weights and stretches for 45 minutes a day. I won’t lie, I was hungry. It was a test to stick to the fruits and veggies alone but I did it.

We had exercises in mindfulness as wel—meditation, journaling, rhythmic dancing and a beautiful experience called a “sound bath”. I can highly recommend taking time to let yourself slow down and listen to the world spin. It gives us a chance to review our perspective.

The perfect balance was achieved when they added in humour. We had plenty of laughs along the way and even a comedian who spoke, reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously in anything but having fun in our search for our best lives.

After five days of living this way, my body and my mind did feel “cleaner” and my energy was positive. I wasn’t tired or cranky at the end of the day, just bored with drinking and chewing only fruits and salads. On the last day, the menu included a half avocado and I have to tell you, fat never tasted so good.

The event ended on a high note, with a great virtual dance party and plenty of high fives for the feelings of accomplishments. It felt very rewarding to share new experiences and learn new things.

I went gently back to my eating habits, being more conscious of any processed foods I eat and where all my food comes from and how it’s made. I continue to feel cleaner than before and happier that I found new friends who have the same newfound respect for their bodies and their lives.

That was my big takeaway on the food front, that deconstructing our meals and really caring about each ingredient is not a fad or a diet technique but rather a better way to feel connected to our community and to the earth.

Being grateful for those connections helps us respect the value of what we put in our bodies. The most interesting thing to learn over those five days was the same principles work for our minds too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Writer compares road to Dr. Seuss street

Living on a magical street

When I was growing up, my Mom read us bedtime stories.

I was a big fan of Dr. Seuss, and one of my favourites was “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street”. It was a story about a kid who travelled down this one street that had all kinds of fantastical creatures and people. It was a real adventure. I always wanted to live on Mulberry Street someday… and now I do.

We live on a street at the edge of Westbank, one that is mostly agricultural land. It is certainly not your average suburb. The houses are far apart, and there is a vineyard, and a huge vegetable farm alongside the fruit orchard at one end of the road. Behind our house is a vegetable patch full of tomatoes and cucumbers and basil. Every morning the farm crew is out there picking.

There are not only dogs in the yards, but also horses, chickens, goats, and even a couple of alpacas and deer wandering through. On a fine summer day you may hear the alpacas talking to each other.

Not everyone is keen to live in such a unique atmosphere, but for us it works very well.

Everyone is interested in the neighbourhood and the people in it. Neighbours watch out for each other. We have gotten to know pretty much everyone on the street and often they will stop and chat as they go by walking their dogs or kids, or maybe coming back from having an ice cream or coffee at the fruit stand.

I bet many of you just re-read that last paragraph, didn’t you? She has a place to get ice cream at the end of the road?

There is something extra-special about being able to enjoy your ice cream sitting amongst the fruit trees, or wandering down the road enjoying the animals, the view, the neighbours. It’s just as wonderful as living on Mulberry Street, I think.

There aren’t any houses for sale on our street, but you are welcome to enjoy the ambience.

Ice cream weather may be coming to an end, but you can come by and pick a pumpkin, or choose some heirloom organic peppers, or apples or pears… well, you get my drift.

Before fall has ended you really need to plan a trip out to one of the many local farm stands and take in the fresh air and the ambience.

If you need an idea of what to do with your pumpkin besides having a Jack O’ Lantern, try this recipe.

Pumpkin Pound Cake
2 1/2 cups cake flour ( all purpose flour is OK too)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 eggs, separated (at room temperature)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup puréed pumpkin

Powdered sugar for dusting

- In bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom. Set aside. (Cake flour just makes the end result an extra bit lighter. Sub in ½ whole wheat flour if you like.)

- In large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Gradually add in brown sugar. Add vanilla and beat approximately 3 minutes.

- Gradually add beaten egg yolks. Add pumpkin puree and beat until smooth.

- Add flour mixture, a little at a time, and mix well. Set aside.

- In a separate bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gently fold whites into pumpkin batter.

- Spoon batter into greased tube or Bundt pan. Bake in lower third of oven 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees F. (Internal cake temperature should be 195 F, or insert a toothpick to see if it comes out clean.)

- Allow cake to cool 10 minutes, then invert onto cake plate. Once cake completely cools, dust with powdered sugar.

Bounty of the harvest available locally

Tasting in the moment

When I was a kid growing up in Calgary back in the 70s, shopping for groceries was a much simpler exercise.

For example, the selection of fresh fruit was much more limited - and in some cases less appealing- than it is today. Imported fruit was only available in its season - except for bananas, and maybe some grapes. Those along with apples, oranges and pears were the common eating fruits.

Pears were the fruit I just couldn’t stand - unless they were from a can. The fresh ones were overripe and mealy, with a bitter taste. The canned ones at least had better texture if not much in the taste department.

Now, as an “Amma” (Icelandic for Grandma), I will regale our granddaughter with tales of how luscious the pear trees are where we live, and how delightful the fruit tastes. Living in the Okanagan during summer and fall when produce is being harvested, we have the chance to really understand what fresh food tastes like. It is truly magical.

I am blessed to live next to the orchards of Paynter’s Fruit Market on the Westside, so I walk through them every day. On an autumn morning when the light is just right, the ripe pears on the trees glow like fairy lanterns. If you get them fresh from the market, you can taste the fairy’s magic, I’m sure.

Paynter’s has many varieties of pears, all worth sampling for their unique tastes and textures, but the pears of my youth were Bartletts (the most commonly grown pear outside Asia), and they are now my favourite.

Pears ripen from the inside out, so you should pick one that doesn’t look too ripe or it will be mushy. But hit it just right and with a Bartlett you get a combination of floral, honey and - well, pear - notes. Nothing at all like those mealy fellows I knew as a kid and dreaded in my lunchbox. I’m so glad I didn’t write them off for life.

The Bartletts have been picked at Paynter’s but there are Boscs and Anjous still available for u-pick if you want the do-it-yourself experience. (They have Italian plums too, second only to the beloved Damsom on my palate). Contrary to Bartlett’s, these pears with firmer flesh keep much better. Jennay, the owner of Paynter’s, told me once that Anjous are also known as “Christmas pears”, as they can be kept for eating then if stored properly.

Do yourself a favour in the next week or two and make an afternoon of it: visit a local farm stand and support their family as you make memories with yours. Take the time to savour the taste of the fruit you pick and take in the fall colours as you enjoy it. If you look carefully, you might even catch a glimpse of a fairy.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories