Graying boomers will learn the challenges many of us already face | WHIDBEY RECIPES

Reading in Jessie Stensland’s story last week that the population of Island County is growing grayer by the year was no surprise. Even Boomers are eventually going to gray, no matter what their hair color may appear to be, and we all know there are plenty of them who’ve settled on our island.

I’m not a Boomer, unfortunately. I say unfortunately only because I’d prefer to be in that age group rather than the one I’m in.

I’m the mother of a Boomer, and yes, she’s graying rapidly, and moaning about it. Early gray happens to be a genetic factor on my father’s side of the family, and both my daughter and I inherited that particular gene.

My mother and maternal grandmother had little or no gray until well into their nineties, whereas my paternal grandmother was white-haired by 40, and I was almost there at the same age. As you see from the photo with this column, I’m white now, and have been for some time. Not gray; white.

Thus, I feel somewhat qualified to add my commentary to Ms. Stensland’s column, particularly when it comes to the needs of an aging population. Yes, we need to address the medical needs of a larger population of “older” people. And yes, the services offered in the way of activities designed to keep all of us active, interested and interactive may be a challenge. And certainly, affordable, comfortable, manageable housing is a priority.

But there are other challenges, and I’m acquainted with many, too many, of them.

We must, for example, do something to force a change in packaging. When was the last time you opened anything easily? Not just your medication bottles; I’m talking about almost everything we buy these days. I’m tired of breaking my fingernails, tired of having to find pliers, scissors or a hammer to get at whatever it is I bought. Even the milk cartons that say “to open push up” don’t open when I push up any more. They used to, back when cartons replaced bottles, but now they’re glued so solidly, I have to use a sharp knife to gain access to the milk.

And don’t get me started on shrink pack, DVD cases, cosmetics; the list goes on and on.

We can take heart in the fact that the growing numbers of aging people will undoubtedly bring about more study and research into the processes and problems of growing old and, hopefully, more insights into how we can avoid warehouses full of helpless elderly people staring into space, waiting. Just three or four days ago, I came across an article about a recent study done on dementia and ways to avoid it that was both surprising and encouraging.

Dementia, as we know, is one of the major terrors in store for aging people, and we’ve yet fully to understand either its cause or its cure. This study, however, discovered that out of all the various physical activities we are encouraged to employ to stave off that mental deterioration as we age, there is one, only one, that appears to actually combat dementia. It’s not walking, jogging, swimming, working out, golf, or tennis, all of which help to keep us moving and fit but apparently do nothing to keep us from mental decline. Are you ready for this? Turns out, it’s dancing!

That’s right, dancing. The article went into how the act of dancing does something to our brain synapses, and other, more complicated neural connections, that no other physical activity does. I personally was overjoyed to read that because I took up tap dancing about 15 years ago and have always considered it therapy as well as exercise.

Now I can also think of it as ADM, anti-dementia medication.

As Bette Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Come on, all of you “graying” islanders, LET’S DANCE!


Taste is among many things that change as we age, and many of us find ourselves looking for new ways to stimulate those taste buds, as well as come up with meals we haven’t eaten a hundred times before. Less and lighter is often the formula these days in our kitchen, although I still crave the occasional big, fat hamburger with all the trimmings. If you’re looking for lighter, fresher tastes, these may be helpful, no matter what age you are.


1 can low sodium chicken broth

3/4 cup dry vermouth or dry sherry

2 T. butter

2 T. chopped cilantro (or Italian parsley, if preferred)

1 T. soy sauce

1 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 t. finely grated lemon zest

1 T. minced garlic

2 Dungeness crabs, cleaned, cooked and cracked

In a large covered pan over high heat, bring chicken broth, vermouth, butter, cilantro, soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, and garlic to a boil. Add the crab pieces, cover, and simmer over med.-low heat, stirring occasionally, just until crab is hot, about 4 min. Spoon crab pieces into wide bowls; ladle broth over crab. Serve with crusty Italian bread to soak up broth, and a tossed spinach or green salad.

Do you love macaroni and cheese, but know it’s not what you should be eating now, or it just doesn’t taste the same? Try this lighter version, made with gluten-free brown rice pasta (trust me, it’s OK) and the addition of spinach. Try it; you just might like it.


2 cups low sodium chicken broth

3 cups brown-rice elbow macaroni

5 oz. smoked ham steak, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about a scant cup)

2 1/4 cups (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 10 oz.)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 T. cornstarch, optional (see instructions)

1 pkg. (10 oz. pre-washed fresh spinach, chopped

Smoked paprika (optional)

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Combine the broth and 2 1/2 cups water in a deep-sided skillet and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Stir in the pasta and boil uncovered for 3 min. less than the minimum indicated on the package, stirring frequently and separating any pasta that sticks together. Toward the end of the cooking, the pasta will not all be underwater.

Reduce heat to med.-high, stir in the ham and cheese. Add salt, if needed, and pepper to taste. If there is too much thin sauce, blend the cornstarch into 1 T. water and stir the slurry into the pot. Continue stirring as it begins to thicken. Stir in the spinach and continue cooking, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is creamy and thick, 1-3 min. If the sauce becomes thick before the pasta is tender, turn off the heat and cover the pot for a minute or two. Transfer to warmed bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of smoked paprika, if desired. Serves 4.

And finally, because rhubarb is always one of the first signs of new life in the spring, what could be finer than a rosy, tart and tangy rhubarb crisp?


6 cups sliced rhubarb

1 apple (such as gala or Fuji), cored and diced (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup sugar

3 T. instant tapioca

2 T. orange juice

1 t. cinnamon}

1/4 t. nutmeg } or use 1 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice in place of these

1/4 t. ginger}

6 sheets phyllo dough (perhaps one or two more, depending on your preference)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

6-8 t. sugar

3 T. sliced almonds

2 T. turbinado sugar (optional, but it’s such a nice touch)

Combine rhubarb, apple, sugar, tapioca, orange juice and spices in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand 15 min., stirring occasionally. Taste; add a bit more sugar if it’s too tart. Pour the fruit into a 9-inch pie plate.

Place a sheet of phyllo on a flat surface (keep the other sheets covered with a damp paper towel to keep them from drying out). Lightly brush the sheet with butter and sprinkle with 1 t. sugar. Roll the phyllo sheet into a loose tube about 2 inches in diameter. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets.

Starting at the outer edge of the pie plate, gently place the tubes you’ve made end to end in either a spiral or concentric pattern, your choice. Drizzle any remaining butter over the phyllo and sprinkle pie with almonds and the turbinado sugar, if using. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 1 hr., or until golden brown. Let the crisp cool for 15 min. before serving, with or without a small dollop of whipped cream or spoonful of ice cream of choice. Serves 8, maybe.


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