Monday, June 25, 2018

What Is Your Risk Of Alzheimer's?
Testing For AoeE Proteins
Our Results and The Challenge Ahead

Alzheimer's is the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

Alzheimer's Disease
If there was a scary disease contest, Alzheimer's would be pretty high on the list, if not on the very top. While the rates of the top two leading causes of death, cancer and cardiovascular disease, have decreased, the Alzheimer's death rate is going up. Between 2000 and 2014, it has increased 89%.

Today more than 5 million Americans are living with this disease and by 2050 that number is projected to be 13.8 million. What makes it scary is that professionals claim that it is the only  leading cause of death that cannot be prevented or cured. Thankfully there are those that believe prevention is possible and some who even think it can be reversed. We will cover that in future blog posts.

It's Personal
Both my mother and grandmother died from brain-related diseases. Although neither had Alzheimer's, (my mother had water on the brain and my grandmother a brain tumor), I watched them both lose their mental faculties before they died. Nothing is more sad than to watch a love one show signs of dementia. 

My mother had an amazing memory. She worked as the executive assistant to the President of Columbia Pictures. If you watched a movie with her, she could tell you the name of every actor in the film. Then she would tell you who they were married to, how many kids they had, their ages, and anything else you wanted to know about them. My first clue that something was wrong with her was when she asked me how many years my brother was married. She just didn't forget things like that. It turned out that she had hydrocephalus. She eventually lost all her capabilities, including the ability to speak. 

My husband's grandfather died of Alzheimer's in his 80's and his uncle started showing signs in his 60's. His cousin is now struggling with some form of dementia.

With these family issues we are both very concerned with brain health. We, of course, do many things for our health that should help prevent this terrible disease, but we wanted to know if we needed to step it up a notch. So we decided to get tested for the ApoE gene. A lot of our friends say they don't want to know, but we did.

ApoE is a protein in the brain that helps clear the harmful plaques that are characteristic in the brains of those with Alzheimer's. These toxic plaques consist of damaged amyloid-B proteins which stick together and form around nerve cells.  

There are 3 main ApoE proteins - E2, E3 and E4. 
* E2 is the good ApoE protein as it is the most effective at removing the amyloid-B plaques from the brain. It is the least common form of ApoE.
* E3 is the most common and doesn't seem to affect the risk of getting Alzheimer's.
* The E4 ApoE protein does a very poor job at removing the plaques.

A person has two copies of these genes so you can be E2/E3 or E2/E2, etc..

Interpreting the ApoE Test
If you have two copies of the E2 allele, you hit the jackpot and have the lowest risk of Alzheimer's disease and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. 
This combination of variants shows a decreased risk of Alzheimer's.
This combination shows no increased risk.
E2/E4 or E3/E4
One copy of E4 with either an E2 or E3 variant shows an increased risk of Alzheimer's.
Two copies of the E4 variant shows a significantly increased risk of both Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.

The Statistics (from 23 and me)
The general population has a less than 1% chance of getting Alzheimer's Disease (AD) at age 65. 
At 75, their risk increases to 3%. 
When they reach 85, the risk for men is 11% and 14% for women.

The population that has no E4 variants have less of a risk. 
At age 65, both men and women have less than 1% risk.
At age 75, both men and woman only have a 1.2% chance of getting AD. 
At age 85, men have a 5.8% chance and women a 6.1% chance of getting the disease. 

If you have one copy of the E4 variant, your risk goes up.
At age 65, men have a 1% risk and women have less than 1%.
At age 75, men have a 4.7% risk and women a 5.7% risk.
At 85, the risk increases to 20.23% for men and 27.3% for women.

Those with two copies of the E4 variant have the highest risk.
At age 65, men have a 4% risk and women a 2% risk.
At age 75, men and women have a 28% risk of getting AD.
At age 85, men have a 51% chance and women a 60% chance of getting AD.

We Took the Test
Since we are members of Life Extension, we bought their test. 
You don't have to fast. You just do a quick cheek swab with each of the three swabs they provide. You mail it back in a prepaid envelope and you get the results in 2 to 3 weeks.
The Results
My results were good. I had a E3/E3. I don't have the protection of the E2 variants, but the E3s have no increased risk.

My husband's results were not good. In fact, he had the results we dreaded, given his family history - an E4/E4 - a double copy of the E4 variant. 

Although this is a terrible outcome, we strongly believe our gene expression can be modified by good nutrition, diet, exercise, love, and more. 

My next posts will cover things that you can do to try and prevent this horrible disease. Doug and I are ready to take on this challenge and we will share everything we learn with you! So don't be afraid. Take the test (many companies offer it - 23 and me, Life Extension, LabCorp, to name a few.) It's good to know what hand you are dealt.

Remember, you can still be at risk for Alzheimer's even if you don't have the E4 allele. And having E4's doesn't necessarily mean you will get the disease. Your lifestyle is everything!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Instant Pot Steamed Artichokes
Instant Pot Quinoa Made In Artichoke Water

Instant Pot artichokes are so tender.

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Instant Pot Artichokes
Some nights we make an entire dinner out of giant steamed artichokes dipped in creamy hummus accompanied by a glass of our Sauvignon Blanc. Cooking the artichokes in our Instant Pot produces really tender leaves and, best of all, produces delicious and healthy cooking water that you can enjoy as tea, use as a broth for soup, or use to cook grains. 

Artichoke leaves contain some powerful phytonutrients - cynarin, silymarin, quercetin, rutin, and gallic acid, which can help protect us against liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. 

Artichokes are rich in vitamin C, K, folate, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese, much of which ends up in the water when you cook the artichoke.

The cynarin in artichokes helps stimulate bile production and is beneficial for your liver. Silymarin is also a very good liver protectant so artichoke tea and broth are excellent for helping you detox.

Artichokes are a natural diuretic and can help prevent water retention and allow you to shed some water weight. And when you eat the artichoke, with all its wonderful fiber, it will act as a natural laxative and remove additional waste and toxins. Just one medium artichoke has a whopping 7 grams of fiber. And your gut microbes will have a feast too!

Clean the Artichokes
Holding the stem, cut the pointed top of the artichoke with a sharp knife. Then, with a pair of scissors, cut the tops of each of the remaining leaves by about ½ inch. Remove the bottom stem with a knife so that the artichoke can sit flat. Peel the stem and set aside. Wash the artichoke under cold water while slightly opening the leaves. 

Place the artichoke directly in the Instant Pot with an 1 1/2 inches of water. Sprinkle with salt. Place the stem on the top of the artichoke. 

Secure the lid and press the "Manual" button, setting the time for 30 minutes at high pressure. (Note: this time is for the giant artichokes we get here in Northern California. They can be 5" in diameter. If you are cooking smaller ones, cut the cooking time down significantly.) When done, press the "Off" button and let the pressure come down naturally. 

Open the lid carefully and test a leaf to see if it's tender. If not, cook for another 5 minutes. 

Remove the artichokes carefully and SAVE the cooking water.

Serve the artichokes with your favorite creamy hummus. Dip each leaf in the hummus. When you get to the bottom, clean out the choke material and fill the bottom with more hummus. That's our favorite part!

           *                        *                           *

Quinoa with Artichoke Broth
Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes six (1/2-cup) servings]

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups artichoke water

Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer with cold running water. Drain and place in the Instant Pot with the artichoke water.

Artichoke water

Secure the lid and press the "Manual" button, setting the time for 5 minutes at high pressure. When done, press the "Off" button and let the pressure come down naturally. Open the lid carefully. Fluff with a fork and serve. 

Quinoa with artichoke broth

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Happy Cinco de Mayo
Some Recipes For Your Celebration!

Serve Sangria at your Cinco de Mayo party.

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Some Cinco de Mayo Favorites
Let's start with a beverage - Sangria! Check out Enrique's Apple and Pear Sangria Blanca

Or make make Ryan Fitzgerald's Margarita recipe.
For each drink: 2 parts Tequila, 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice, and 1/2 part agave nectar. Shake with ice and serve in a chilled glass or over ice with a slice of lime. 
Some replace the agave with 1 part Cointreau.

I prefer a Reposado tequila for Margaritas.

For appetizers, make a Healthy Vegan and Gluten Free 7-Layer Bean Dip with Walnut Taco Meat. 

7-layer dip

Or, since Manilla mangos are in season, try this easy to make Mango and Avocado Salsa.

Mango and Avocado Salsa

A good main course could be Easy Black Bean, Corn and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers with Enchilada Sauce.

Stuffed peppers

Or, try using Soy Curls to make Vegan Fajitas.


End your meal with a Mexican Chocolate Cake with Strawberries. Top with some vegan vanilla bean ice cream.

Mexican Chocolate Cake

Whatever you serve, have a wonderful Cinco de Mayo!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Beyond Meat's Beyond Sausage
Now Available In Whole Foods

Vegan Beyond Sausage - Soy and gluten free.

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Beyond Meat Burger Lovers
For those of you who have fallen in love with Beyond Meat Burgers (see my review), the vegan hamburger that really tastes like a hamburger, you've no doubt been waiting anxiously for their Beyond Sausage. I personally have been stuffing the suggestion boxes at every Whole Foods in my area asking for them ever since I read that Beyond Meat had a sales agreement with Whole Foods.

So I was pretty excited to find them in my little Sebastopol Whole Foods last week. I grabbed all three flavors and couldn't wait to cook them. 

Although some vegans avoid foods that even look or taste like meat, Beyond Meat makes great products for vegans and vegetarians who miss burgers and sausages and for meat eaters who are trying to eat less meat or who are transitioning to a plant-based diet. Most of all, people eat products like this because they taste great.

Beyond Sausage comes in three flavors:
Brat Original
Hot Italian
Sweet Italian

Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up
The first one we tried was the Brat Original. It didn't taste like a bratwurst. In fact, it had an anise flavor which we weren't expecting. My mini focus group (me, Doug, and our nephew Cody) gave it a rating of 3.5 to 4 out of 5 in terms of flavor and texture although Doug and Cody both said that they would eat them again. Unfortunately I give the brat a thumbs down.

The brat was just OK. I was disappointed in the flavor.

Today I made both the sweet and hot Italian Beyond Sausages. They were wonderful! The sweet was yummy and the heat of the hot sausage was just right. They earned a 5 out of 5 rating on texture and taste. We will definitely buy them again.

I mixed them with bell peppers, onions and mushrooms (but do not cook them together.)

First I sautéed the vegetables, removed them from the pan and set aside.

I grilled the sausages using the same pan.
Then, removed them from the pan and cut in pieces.
I put the vegetables back the pan to heat and to get the flavoring of the sausages. 
The dish tasted like traditional Italian sausage and peppers. Delicious!

I give both the sweet and hot Italian sausages a big thumbs up!

Like the Beyond Meat Burgers, these aren't what I would call a health food but they aren't a sinful one either. They are made with pea, rice, and faba bean protein and have fat from coconut oil and sunflower oil. They are 190 calories each, providing 16 g of protein, 12 g of total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g carbohydrates, 3 g of dietary fiber, and 500 mg of sodium. 

I cooked them on a ceramic coated pan with no oil, since they have quite a bit already. I found that they take a few minutes longer than the 7 minutes they recommend. And like I do with the Beyond Meat burgers, I blot them lightly with a paper towel to reduce their fat content. 

I look forward to making the Italian sausage again and putting them on top of a big bowl of spaghetti! And if I do buy the Brat Original again, I will try cooking it on a BBQ grill.

Thanks Beyond Meat!
You've got to love a company that has a mission like this:

We believe there is a better way to feed the planet. Our mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare. At Beyond Meat, we want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious meal at a time.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Should You Be Alarmed By The Latest Study On Alcohol Consumption?

Studies on alcohol consumption often contradict each other.

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The Latest Study
It seems like every month or so drinkers get good news or bad news with respect to their drinking habits. Studies on the positive side have indicated that moderate drinking can be good for your heart, reduce the risk of stroke, possibly reduce your risk of diabetes, and even clear your brain of toxic waste. On the negative side, alcohol use has been linked to certain cancers such as breast, mouth, throat and esophageal cancer, as well as pancreatitis, liver disease, and forms of heart disease and stroke. 

In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, the US defines moderate drinking of alcohol to be one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. These limits differ in other countries. But this latest study challenges and significantly reduces what has been regarded as safe amounts to drink.

This recent study, that has everyone talking, very specifically links the amount of alcohol consumption to years of reduced mortality. Their results indicated that men or women drinking more than 7 standard drinks a week increases the risk of death from all causes and lowers life expectancy. Drinking 7 to 14 drinks a week was estimated to shorten the lifespan of a 40 year old by half a year and drinking 14 to 25 drinks per week would shorten life by four to five years. Note that, according to this study, men no longer get to enjoy twice the alcohol as women do or said differently, men have health risks at the same low levels as women. 

Before you start writing your own obituary or cleaning out your liquor cabinet, I think we need to  evaluate the big picture. After all, the Blue Zone centenarians drank moderately and regularly and lived to be 100 or more.

How Alcohol Effects the Body
Alcohol consumption can effect the heart, brain, liver, pancreas, immune system and more. The amount you drink can surely have negative consequences but to specifically set the bar at 5 drinks a week is a bit simplistic. It is my opinion that we need to look at the how else the body is being taxed.

Let's take the liver for example. It is often the organ that takes the biggest beating from alcohol abuse. The liver has an extremely important role. It filters blood and also detoxifies chemicals, and metabolizes the drugs you take. It also produces bile and makes proteins, such as those necessary for blood clotting. Besides alcohol, there are many things that can stress and damage the liver.

The liver converts sugar to fat. Too much refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup can lead to fatty liver disease. Obesity can also lead to liver disease.

Taking excessive acetaminophen, can damage the liver, especially when taken while drinking alcohol. Acetaminophen can be found in over 600 medications! So pay attention, read labels, and add up the different sources of acetaminophen that you are exposed to.

Many other prescription and over-the-counter drugs can tax the liver. Certain antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heart medications, gout medication, methotrexate, certain antidepressants and antipsychotics, seizure medication, and more. 

Eating too much saturated fat, salt, and processed food can lead to liver damage. 

On the other hand, there are dietary and lifestyle choices that can help the liver such as eating broccoli, nuts, greens, and blueberries or drinking green tea and coffee. Certain herbs can cleanse the liver such as milk thistle, dandelion root, and schizandra. 

Mortality Stats
My point here is that a person who has an unhealthy diet, is overweight, stressed out, and who is taking numerous prescription and non-prescription drugs (especially those containing acetaminophen) is going to be much more at risk from drinking over the 5 drink a week limit recommended by this recent study. They might be at risk if they drink at all. Whereas a person who has a very clean diet, has a healthy weight, drinks plenty of water, takes liver cleansing herbs, and exercises regularly may enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner each night and live a long and happy life. 

I think it all boils down to common sense. Alcohol isn't a health food so people who don't drink shouldn't necessarily start. People who have a healthy life style and are in good health can probably enjoy drinking in moderation, even by the US standard of 1 drink a night for women and 2 drinks a night for men, without alarm. 

Full disclosure: One, I'm Italian and starting sipping wine as a baby. Two, we live on a vineyard and make Pinot Noir.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Finding my Italian Roots
A Trip To My Homeland

Me standing on the street where my grandfather lived - Casamassima, Bari, Italy.

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Been Busy
Sorry I haven't posted much lately but I've been buried in genealogy research (as many of you are), brushing up my Italian, and traveling to Italy to discover my roots and the rich history of southern Italy.  

Finding my Italian Roots – A Trip to my Homeland
I was born and grew up in an Italian home in Brooklyn. Even though I was born in this country, I have always first thought of myself as an Italian. I talk with my hands. I could eat pasta for every meal. When I’m sick, the only thing that comforts me is a bowl of pastina. I’m emotional, passionate about everything I do, and stubborn. I often interrupt people when they are speaking. Sometimes, when I am just talking, people think I’m yelling. I can’t picture a life without children and grandchildren. I grow my own vegetables and I cook way too much food when I entertain - just in case. I love wine. Like I said, I’m Italian. 

Dad's Side
My father’s parents were from Bari. They came here as newlyweds when they were in their early 20’s. They had 8 children and lived a long and happy life but were never able to return to their home country, even to visit. I was told that for their 50th anniversary, their children saved up for them to either have a big party or to go back and visit Bari. They chose a party with their children and grandchildren. And what a party it was!

Pietro (Pete) Mummolo and Domenica Favale Mummolo, from Casamassima, Bari

Mom's Side
My mother's parents came to America when they were younger. Her father was from Messina, Sicily and her mother was from Naples. When I was a child we lived in the same apartment building with them and their only son, my uncle Benny, and his family. Both of my parents worked so this sweet grandmother pretty much raised me. 

Giuseppe (Joe) Giacobbe from Messina, Sicily
Vincenza (Jennie) Gargiulo Giacobbe from Naples

Living in certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s was like living in Italy. You could go to the grocery store, the butcher, the fish market, etc. and buy most of your favorite Italian foods and not utter a word of English. You could even buy the Italian newspaper, Il Giornale. I would venture to guess that my grandfather, who was a carpenter working on trolleys, probably had an Italian-speaking foreman. So it’s no wonder that despite living in this country for over six decades, my grandparents from Bari never mastered the English language and preserved their Italian culture, recipes, holiday rituals, card games, and language. My other grandparents, having come to America before they were married, spoke both English and Italian but they too lived an Italian life. 

My parents never taught us to speak Italian because it was the “secret language” that they spoke when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying. So when I went off to college, I studied the language for several years and was so excited to be able to finally speak Italian to my grandparents when I came home to visit.

Unfortunately, as a young person, I didn’t ask my grandparents all the questions that haunt me now. What was your country like? How did you feel leaving your home? Why did you come to America? Now, as they and all of their children have passed, I have no one to ask. They never went back to their country. None of their children or grandchildren had been to their towns. I didn’t know anything about my great grandparents. I only had their names and one picture of each of them. I wanted to know more because, as being the oldest generation now (I’ll soon be 70), I knew this information would be lost forever if I didn’t uncover as much as I could and pass it on to my children, nephews, cousins, and their children. So I’m obsessed with putting together the story of my ancestors. On I can discover pieces of the puzzle of their lives in America, but I was pretty “in the dark” about their lives in Italy.

As if a sign from the Universe, we received a brochure for a cruise that went to Italy and the itinerary included Bari, Messina, and Naples. I screamed out loud and immediately said to my husband, “we have to go!” Doug found a company that did genealogy research called “The Italian Side” to get more information about my grandparents before the trip. To my surprise, with just the small amount of information I was able to give them (a few names, birthdays and marriage dates), they were able to fill out my family tree for each of my grandparents back to the late 1700’s! It even had the addresses of where they were born, or at least the specific neighborhoods. They even provided me birth and marriage records from their research.

Casamassima, Bari
So off we went! In Bari, we hired a guide associated with the company to pick us up at the cruise ship and take us to their town of Casamassima and visit the block where my grandfather lived, the church where he was baptized and married, and the cemetery where his relatives were buried. It was an overwhelming experience. 

Chiesa Matrice di Santa Croce
The alter where the Mummolo's were married.

And where my grandfather was baptized.
Where some of my relatives are buried.

In Messina, because of a misunderstanding, we thought the port was too far from my Sicilian grandfather’s house to visit so we didn’t plan for a guide. But after spending the entire day in Taormina, with only two hours left until the ship disembarked, Doug tried Google maps once more and we realized that the house was just a twenty-minute walk away from our port! 

We ran off the ship and tried to find my grandfather’s house. We were pretty close but a bit lost when I was reading aloud the name of the street, “via Santa Maria la Nuova”. Suddenly  a ninety plus year old woman, with the exceptional hearing of a bat, popped out of her 3rd story window telling us where to go. Sure enough, we found the apartment and his local church. When we came back, the old lady popped out again asking, “la trovato?” (did you find it?). Besides her, two other kind people offered their assistance while lost. Having watched the entire Godfather series, I was pretty surprised how kind and helpful the Sicilian people were. Even the police, who gave us the original directions, were real sweethearts. We ran back to the ship with only a few minutes to spare. We celebrated our successful search with Prosecco.

S. Maria La Nuova
Church near grandpa Giacobbe's house
The address of Giuseppe Giacobbe. Looks like it was once a one story building and perhaps after the war the top 5 stories were built over it. His address, "13", was visible on the first story.
This monument, in front of the government building, was about a 15 minute walk from his house.
Our Lady of the Letter in the harbor of Messina
Cannoli are celebrated in Sicily. No wonder it was my favorite dessert before my dairy allergy.

On to Naples
Naples, the last stop, was the only town where we didn’t get to go to the actual neighborhood where my grandmother was born. But just stepping on the soil of my napoletana nonna sent chills up my spine. While in Naples, however, we did get to see Sorrento and Pompeii, which was amazing.  


City of Pompeii - discovered in 1748 after having been buried in ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD

I can’t begin to describe how meaningful this trip was to me. I discovered my roots. I now know the names of all of my grandparents and their grandparents back 4 or 5 generations. I have their birth certificates and marriage documents. I took pictures of where they lived, worshipped, and where the family that remained behind were buried. I have memories that will last a lifetime. I have all this history to pass on to the next generation.

If your parents and grandparents are still alive, ask them everything you want to know now about your family history. Take notes. Even if these things don't seem important to you now, they may be someday and you'll be glad you asked when you had the chance.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Roasted Turnips - A Lower Calorie Alternative To Potatoes

An easy and delicious way to prepare turnips!

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Here's a simple way to prepare turnips if you are avoiding French fries and watching your weight.

I bought turnips this week to make soup. I've been a bit under the weather with allergies so I've been living on soup. But since the rain cleared the pollen out of the air and I needed something different to eat, I thought I'd try doing something else with the turnips. So I fixed them like I would a roasted potato and was delighted at how absolutely delicious they were. The best news is that they are lower calories and more nutritionally dense than potatoes. 

Ounce per ounce, turnips are 1/3 the calories of potatoes yet they have 4 times the omega-3 and 2 1/2 times the calcium. But they are higher in natural sugars which is why they caramelize so nicely when roasted.

Turnips are virtually fat free and are a good source of vitamin B6, folate, potassium, calcium and copper and an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and manganese. 

A medium turnip has 34 calories
0.1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol
7.8 g carbohydrates, 4.6 g sugar
2.2 g dietary fiber
1.1 g protein
43 % DV vitamin C
5% DV vitamin B6 and folate
8% DV manganese
7% DB potassium
5% DV copper
4% DV calcium

Here's a quick and easy way to prepare them.

            *                              *                                *

Roasted Turnips
Vegan, Gluten and Dairy Free
[makes 4 servings]

6 medium turnips
1 to 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Peel the turnips and cut each one vertically into 8 to 10 slices.

Place them in a bowl with enough of the olive oil to coat. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss until well combined.

Place the coated turnip slices on a cookie sheet lined with a silicon mat or a parchment sheet. Spread them out on the sheet.

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes until they are cooked and brown on the edges. Remove from the oven and serve.