Food Column: Can you cook up a brain-healthy recipe?

Rack your brain to come up with a brain-healthy recipe and you could win a personal consultation with a brain-health expert.

Emeritus Senior Living, a national assisted-living provider, is holding what it has dubbed the "World's Smartest Recipe Contest," open to home cooks around the country.

The prize is a 30-minute phone consultation with Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., national director of brain health for Emeritus, who also happens to be a Pittsburgh-area resident and adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Mr. Nussbaum contends that diet can have a major impact on the brain.

"We all know that foods change the structure of the body and can alter energy and therefore acuity," he said.

But diet is just one part of a brain-healthy lifestyle, he said. In his book, "Save Your Brain," he outlines five key areas of brain health: physical activity, mental stimulation, spirituality, nutrition and socialization.

For Emeritus, he leads staff-training workshops, works with chefs who prepare assisted-living residents' food, and helps to create a culture of brain-healthy living in Emeritus facilities. (The only local one is in Latrobe.)

Salmon, sardines, crab, berries, walnuts, broccoli, curry, avocados, spinach, brown rice, chickpeas and buckwheat are examples of foods that enhance mental fitness. Contest entrants should create recipes that use one or more brain-healthy ingredients. Entries will be judged on brain-healthiness, taste and originality. Recipes should be submitted to by Friday, May 16.

Five finalist recipes will be prepared and featured on social media on May 21, and the winner will be announced May 30.

Emeritus is offering the consultation with Mr. Nussbaum as a prize because of increasing public concern about preserving mental acuity as cases of Alzheimer's and other dementias continue to increase. In addition to the consult, the winner also will receive a $200 culinary-store gift card.

Mr. Nussbaum said he'll spend some initial time getting to know the winner, finding out about his or her habits and lifestyle choices, and then he'll tailor his recommendations to the individual using a holistic approach.

He uses a holistic approach at his Brain Health Center ( in Pine, where he combines traditional clinical exams with nontraditional interventions such as yoga, meditation, nutritional coaching and massage.

In general, he urges people to pay attention to their behavior. People tend to congregate in the kitchen and "pick at foods without even bring aware of what they're eating," he said. He suggests watching out for the things we eat that "aren't even real food" and then consciously choosing brain-healthy foods over junk food.

For an example of a brain-healthy recipe, see one accompanying this column at

Mother's Day

Not Your Usual Mother's Day Brunch: Take Mom to a homemade vegan brunch at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at Schwartz Living Market, South Side.

Mum & Me Tea: Moms and kids work together with chefs at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson to create tea sandwiches and petit fours. 10 a.m. Saturday, May 10, or Sunday, May 11, for moms with kids ages 5 to 8; 1 p.m. Saturday, May 10, for moms with kids ages 9 to 12. $30 per pair.

Ethnic food events

Eat Tacos for a Purpose: 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at Mad Mex. Shadyside. $42 benefits Pittsburgh Party for a Purpose. or 412-302-4284.

The Amazing Plantain: Plantain-based dishes, live performances and exploration of the history and cultural significance of this banana-like foodstuff. 7 p.m. Saturday at Most Wanted Fine Art, 5015 Penn Ave. Free.

Food gardening

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Growing Fig Trees: Learn to care for fig trees in containers and in the ground, including pruning, propagation, transplanting and fertilization, plus demos of fig-based recipes. Classes run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Earthen Vessel Outreach in Friendship. Choose one of three dates: Saturday, May 31; Saturday, June 28; or Sunday, July 27. $45; registration required.

Author talks

Michael Pollan: The author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" lectures at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts, Shady Side Academy. Chef Bill Fuller of Big Burrito Restaurant Group will interview Mr. Pollan onstage, and there will be a book signing afterward. $55.

Susie Fishbein: The American Orthodox Jewish author of the popular "Kosher By Design" cookbook series will do a three-course meal presentation followed by dinner. 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at Chabad of the South Hills. $65.

Kickstarter campaign

Farm Truck Foods: This is a mobile-grocery company seeking to get off the ground through a Kickstarter campaign. Farm Truck Foods would seek to bring wholesome, local food to people's doorsteps in "food desert" communities in the Pittsburgh area. They need to raise $40,000 within 40 days, and the campaign started April 25. For more information or to donate, go to and search on "Farm Truck Foods."

James Beard Culinary Reception: Faculty of the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh will honor Cafe Zinho Chef Toni Pais at this reception, which will also include live entertainment and an auction. 7 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Art Institute, Downtown. $75 per person; $65 for James Beard Foundation members. Proceeds benefit the JBF for aspiring student scholarships. (search "Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner").

Brain power salad (Spinach salad with salmon, avocado and blueberries)

Emeritus Senior Living shared this recipe on its Facebook page to help spur entrants' ideas for the brain-healthy-recipe contest. We substituted flax seed for the chia seeds.

8 ounces smoked salmon, roughly chopped

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced

4 cups baby spinach (or mixed greens)

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

1/4 cup light feta or blue cheese crumbles

1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Half a red onion, thinly sliced

Honey Chia Seed Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Toss first 7 ingredients together until combined. Drizzle or toss with vinaigrette. Serves 2.

Honey chia seed vinaigrette

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients together until combined and emulsified.



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