Lose weight while you sleep?

During aerobics class today, the instructor said: “You should be talking and sweating. Talking means you’re breathing. Sweating means you’re burning calories, because calories are heat.”

Does that mean I can lose weight through hot flashes?

Wastin' away in Bananaville

The fruit flies are telling me that it’s time to either give up on those bananas on the kitchen counter or be frugal and bread-ify. But I’m in a tropical mood this morning. I don’t want your Mama’s banana bread. I found some coconut and walnuts in the freezer, and a can of pineapple and bottle of black rum in the pantry. This is the result:

Bananaville Bread

1 stick unsalted butter or unsalted margarine at room temperature (I use the dairy-free margarine for my dairy-allergic husband)

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 tablespoons dark rum

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed ripe banana

3/4 cup flaked coconut, toasted in the oven

1/4 cup crushed pineapple, well drained

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted in the oven

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts and coconut in separate pans and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Spray a 9 1/2-inch by 5 1/2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, rum and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the creamed butter and sugar on medium speed. When combined, add the banana, coconut and pineapple. On low speed, stir in the walnuts.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then turn the bread out onto a rack and cool completely before storing or freezing.

Cracking up over deviled egg plates

I thought I’d heard every deviled egg-related question there is. I literally wrote the book about deviled eggs, to be exact, “Deviled Eggs: 50 Recipes from Simple to Sassy,” published by Harvard Common Press. So in light of that, and of the sheer number of deviled eggs I’ve eaten in my Southern life, I consider myself an expert.

Then came an email from Lynne Oliver, editor of The Food Timeline, a site devoted to food history. “One of our readers wants to know why traditional deviled-egg plates have an odd number of indentations. Might you be able to help?” Lynne wrote.

Not being sure what a “traditional deviled-egg plate” is and intrigued, I counted the indentations in the eight different deviled-egg delivery vehicles I own. My friends find them a popular gift for me, for some reason. Lo and behold, one of the plates has 15 spaces for eggs. The rest have 12. Hmmm.

Why? Assuming that one egg will be demolished in peeling? Allowing extra yolk for the filling? Or is the cook entitled to the 16th half as a snack? I favor the last reason – since I take one for myself, anyway. (The empty space? That’s what parsley is for.)

Tell it, Sisters

I love a good story. I love it even more if it’s true, and if it has to do with food. So the Kitchen Sisters are irresistible for me. Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva (sisters in spirit, but not blood) started out in Santa Cruz, Calif., collecting oral histories of stonemasons, railway workers, cowboys and an assortment of other folks. Nothing about food at all in the beginning, they told a group at The Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last week.

Gradually, food found its way into their stories. The Brazilian woman who cooked food under a tent before dawn for San Francisco cab drivers. Clambakes in Maine. In 2004, they pitched a series on these places, called Hidden Kitchens, to National Public Radio, where they had worked on the Lost & Found Sound series of unusual, rare sounds and recordings. The Hidden Kitchens series received a duPont Columbia Award in 2006.

The women found that food goes along with so many things, as Silva told the group. As an example, she played a recording of a piece from the series, about the George Foreman Grill. An appliance. No big deal, right? They found that those without kitchens – homeless people, those on the edge living in cheap one-room places – relied on the grill. The recording included a homeless man in Chicago describing in detail how he used the grill beneath the bridge where he lived. Then, Foreman himself, talking about how he grew up poor and hungry. So many intersections. Hear the piece and find out more about the Kitchen Sisters here.

If I didn’t do what I’m doing (whatever that actually is), and were smart enough, I’d be an oral historian, because this stuff gets me so excited.

The women have collected some of the stories and recipes in a book, “Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More from NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters.” They’re working on a new project about the life of girls around the world.

Sips on a Sunday afternoon

I’ve sipped iced tea, herbal tea, fruit tea and green tea. But until Sunday, I’d never encountered tea that smelled like my grandmother’s closet. It was the third selection of six teas that were part of a guided tasting at 3 Cups in Chapel Hill. Kit Conway of Chapel Hill, a certified tea specialist from the Specialty Tea Institute, a tea industry group, took the group on a tour of Chinese teas from white and green to oolong and black. Conway conducts tea tastings, Chinese Gong Fu tea ceremonies and other events through her business, Tea Chi.

Like wine, fine teas have an amazing variety of flavors and colors, and are influenced by terroir, that mystical mixture of soil, air and climate. White and green teas are lowest in oxidation, Conway said, so what you taste is closer to the pure leaf. As you progress through oolong to black, the tea is more heavily oxidized, usually through the work of the tea maker. What you taste becomes more influenced by how the tea was produced. For example, the leaves of the Super Fancy Formosa Oolong I sampled are both twisted in rolling machines and fired in an oven rather than in the traditional wok over a charcoal fire.

Some varieties are picked only at certain times of day, or times of year. Conway said that the best Dragonwell teas are picked only during the first two weeks of the season. The Chinese Dragonwell Green (also sometimes called Long Jing) that I tasted was strongly astringent-tasting, and smelled like walking through a grassy meadow. Conway said that it takes three years for a new processor to master the traditional techniques used to produce the tea.

Some teas use only the “first flush,” which means the first shoots of the growing season. Only the leaf bud and first three leaves are plucked from each stem of the tea plant for these finer teas – both for flavor and to make sure the plant can recover and grow.

I found myself using wine-tasting words to describe the brews. The Chinese Royal Golden Yunnan, a black tea, had a smoky aroma and an earthy, mushroomy flavor. The Chinese Pai Mutan White was smooth and sweet with a refreshing scent, like a fine white wine.

Then I put my nose into the Green Dragon Oolong. I smelled cedar and mothballs so strongly that my head jerked back. If the tea had included a hint of White Shoulders, it would have smelled exactly like my grandmother during the winter. I can’t tell you what the tea tasted like because I just could not get past that aroma. And the thought that my grandmother, if she had been there, would have said that tea needed some sugar and ice.

It's easy being a Green Plate Special

I enjoy the Moore Square Farmers Market in downtown Raleigh, but it’s kind of tough for me to get to from my suburban burrow – I have to deal with one-way streets, endless construction and deck parking, all of which I have a low tolerance for. However, for downtown workers and the increasing number of residents, it’s a delightful gift. This will be the fourth year that it has sold pasture-raised meats, organic vegetables, free-range eggs, artisan breads and other goodies from more than 20 vendors. Around July last year, some of my friends who work downtown held a tomato lunch in their office: ‘mater sandwiches using fresh heirloom tomatoes straight from the market. That beats a drive-through anytime.

Good news this year, if you’re as lazy and/or easily annoyed as I am. A number of downtown restaurants will offer Green Plate Specials on the last Wednesday of the month, featuring produce and other items from the market. Scheduled so far are Zely & Ritz (April 29), Second Empire (May 27), Poole’s Diner (June 24), Jibarra (July 29) and Mo’s Diner (Aug. 26).

The market will open for the season on April 15 and operate each Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. through August. Most of the items are grown or produced within 90 miles of the market. The market is produced by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.