IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  April 1, 2008

For a romantic dinner, try steak au poivre for two

Although the origins of Steak au poivre are sketchy, the phrase in French means 'pepper steak" and is served as a steak encrusted with cracked peppercorns. The origins of peppercorns themselves dates back 4000 years when it is believed they were first cultivated on the Malabar Coast of India.

Peppercorns have been used as medicine and currency alike. During the Middle Ages, they were stored as monetary collateral. In 408 A. D., the Visigoths demanded 3,000 pounds of peppercorns as one of their terms for the release of Rome.

True peppercorns come in varieties of the balled fruits from tall cones on the black pepper plant. They include black (mature fruit), green (unripened), and white (mature fruit soaked from the outer shell).

Steak au poivre for two

2 eight-to-12-ounce sirloin strip steaks or 2 filet mignons.
6 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt
10 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 medium shallots finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup of brandy.

Crack the fresh, whole peppercorns on a solid surface using a meat hammer or using a cracking device. Lightly butter both sides of each steak and press the cracked pepper into the meat.

In a large, deep skillet, melt the remainder of the butter, along with the shallots, the 2 tablespoons of the brandy and the garlic. Reduce heat to low and cook one minute.

Place the steak in the sauce and cook five to ten minutes on each side or to your preference in the degree of rareness.

If you feel brave, you can now flame the steaks in the remainder of the brandy or add it to the simmering sauce. Mix the cream and sugar gently into the drippings and stir, reducing it over low heat.

Place the steaks on plates and spoon the sauce over them. Parsley can be added as a garnish. Serve the steaks with rice and steamed vegetables. A glass of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon compliments the meal.

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Games keep kids active without a computer

Some parents would like to get their children involved in today's active indoor games. They may wonder how to do it if they either don't have a computer or don't want young kids messing with their data.

Interesting and inexpensive physical-activity games that don't require a computer or TV are now available.

Wild Planet's Hyper Dash is designed for kids age 6 to 12 and has four levels of difficulty and different modes of play. It can be played indoors or outdoors. It consists of an electronic tagger and four targets. The tagger plays pre-recorded music and calls out which target you need to strike. It tracks the amount of time taken to complete the course. It retails for about $20

For use with a television, Dance Revolution video is such a good workout that some schools use it in gym classes. The home version includes a mat with nine squares on which to dance while you attempt to keep up with the musical commands that are on the screen.

Its various formats are for kids age 6 and up. The price starts at $40. It's available at konami.com.


Beans: a treat for your heart

If you don't know beans about beans, here's a start. They're good for your heart. They fight cholesterol even among people at risk for heart disease.

One study of pinto beans, the most common kind of bean, by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center shows that regularly eating just a small amount three times a week leads to cholesterol reduction. That means you don't have to cook a whole pot of beans to get that benefit along with other vitamins including vitamin B6

Pinto beans are a common filling for burritos. They can also be eaten whole, in broth, mashed or refried.

April is Cancer Control Month

New discoveries help you tip cancer odds in your favor.

Almost very minute of every day one American dies from cancer, according to President Bush's Roundtable on Advances in Cancer Prevention 2007. One of those minutes could be yours, but how you live can make a difference.

Skin cancer is the most common type for both men and women. As you spend more time outdoors, keep that in mind and wear sunscreen.

  • The next most common type for men is prostate cancer. Smoking and a diet high in fat appear to be factors. Recent studies by the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere show that eating more fruits and vegetables, particularly broccoli, is protective.
  • For women, breast cancer is the second most common type. Regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat diet help to prevent it. And one Harvard study of younger women showed they were 35 percent less likely to get breast cancer if they took supplements containing at least 548 IU of vitamin D each day. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Smoking is the most common cause. Need we say more?
  • Interesting new studies on diet and cancer prevention include one by UCLA showing that drinking coffee has a protective effect against colon, rectal and liver cancer. Another shows that eating just three servings per month of raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower) can reduce bladder cancer risk by about 40 percent. About 70 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. If young women were vaccinated against the virus, the current number of deaths per year would be greatly reduced.
  • People who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can decrease their risk for esophageal cancer by decreasing their body mass index.
  • If the esophagus is already precancerous, eating freeze-dried blackberries for 26 weeks (32 grams a day for women, 45 grams for men) can help. No other treatment has eliminated the risk for esophageal cancer.

    This study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference, December 2007

    For most of us, a healthy diet and weight, avoiding the sun and quitting cigarettes, plus getting some exercise, will take us a long way toward cancer prevention.

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    Big belly danger

    Doctors at Harvard Medical School are paying more attention to belly size than to body-mass index.

    They say health risks begin to mount at a measurement of 31 inches for women and 37 inches for men, especially if fat is around the abdominal organs. A waist size of 35 for women and 40 for men puts them in the danger range.

    Abdominal fat is a strong risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

    If your waist size is creeping up, the doctors say you should eat less and avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are filling but not fattening.

    You also need to exercise. If you don't have time to do much, build physical activity into your daily life. Walk up the stairs and walk to the store. Do chores around the house and the yard.

    Get out for a walk or a jog a few mornings a week. The doctors say you'll be sharper at work and be able to make back the time you invested in the walk.

    Set up an exercise bike at home. Use it even if it's just for five or 10 minutes.


    Your back-friendly home

  • Floors made of ceramic tile or hardwood can stress your lower back. If you have them, position thick nonskid rugs or rubber mats where you frequently stand. They absorb shock and comfort your feet.
  • Check your soft-cushioned chairs, say the editors of Prevention. Sofas and chairs without back support can triple the pressure on the disks in your spine. To help you sit up straighter, use a throw pillow behind the small of your back and rest your feet on a footstool.
  • Updating information on sleep aids

    The good news about sleep aids involves the popular Ambien. It is now available in a low-cost generic form.

    Modern prescriptions for insomnia include:

  • Zolpidem, Ambien, is most useful for sleep-onset insomnia, usually experienced by people who have trouble shutting off a busy mind. It works in seven to 27 minutes and has a low risk of dependence. Ambiem CR is a timed-release form which keeps people sleeping longer but may cause morning drowsiness.
  • Eszopiclone, Lunesta, helps to initiate sleep, works within 10 minutes and has a low risk of dependence. Its controlled release form keeps people sleeping longer but may also cause morning drowsiness.
  • Zaleplon, Sonata, works for night wakening, called sleep-maintenance insomnia. It wears off before morning and has a low risk of dependence.
  • Ramelteon, Rozerem, is a melatonin agonist and related to the natural hormone melatonin. It attempts to duplicate the body's natural mechanisms that stimulate sleep. It works in 30 minutes and is not habit-forming, but it's not as strong as other sleep aids An older class of prescription sleep aids is called benzodiazepines. They carry more risks, especially for the elderly, and they may interact with other medications. They are not recommended by the Mayo Clinic. This class includes such names as Restoril and its generics, Klonopin and generics and Halcion and its generics.

    Over-the counter sleep aids such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl and others) or doxylamine (Unisom and others) are designed for occasional use. They offer little help for actual insomnia and may have side effects, say Mayo doctors.


    Big breakthrough for kidney transplant patients

    After decades of searching, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have found a way to eliminate the need for anti-rejection drugs in kidney transplant patients.

    The key to the new treatment includes weakening the immune system's rejection response by injecting the patient with bone marrow from the donor.

    The treatment is successful for those who receive a kidney from parents or siblings who have slightly different tissue types. Many kidney transplants are similarly mismatched.

    Presently, kidney recipients must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. Side effects include excessive hair growth, bloating and tremors. The drugs also raise the risk of cancer.

    Minimally invasive surgery gets more minimal

    Using laparoscopy eliminated the need for large incisions for operations such as appendectomies. The small incisions healed faster, speeding recovery.

    Now, laparoscopy can be done with just one small cut. TransEnterix of Durham, N.C., has consolidated the cameras, lights, and blades previously used into a single instrument. When inserted through a port, the device fans out.

    Surgeons at York-Presbyterian Hospital say the new instrument eliminates scars, but it doesn't shorten recovery time.

    A link to gout and to high BP

    Scientists quoted in Hypertension say there is a link between sugary drinks and high levels of uric acid, which causes gout. They also found a link between sugary drinks and high blood pressure, but only in men.

    They studied 4,073 men and women over age 18 and found men with the highest levels of uric acid were most likely to have high blood pressure.

    The researchers think estrogen protects women from high levels of uric acid.


    Solitude yes, loneliness no

    People often enjoy solitude. Being by yourself can be restful and enjoyable.

    Loneliness is different. It comes from being socially isolated, alone too much of the time without social contacts. According to Current Directions in Psychological Science, the stress of loneliness can accelerate the aging process.

    Don't settle for loneliness. Having contact with others at work can be a plus for those who may become lonely. The key to having meaningful contact with others, however, comes from taking an interest in them and their work.

    For those who are new in the community or have lost someone they were close to, joining a church, a club, or taking part in sports activities can help to fill the gap in their lives at least temporarily.