Home Tour: HGTV Urban Oasis 2015

Have you entered for a chance to win this year’s HGTV Urban Oasis home yet? If not, get on that so we can be Asheville buddies!!

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House
A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to check out the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis home in west Asheville and have a chat with the folks who made it happen. To say I was pumped was an understatement. When home planner Jack Thomasson found this 1920’s bungalow it had a long way to go. Very similar to lots of older homes in Asheville, including the house that Z and I rented when we first moved here, the home had a number of tiny, closed-off rooms, weird layouts and no flow. That said, it was in the ideal location. (Seriously, that was our ideal neighborhood on our house hunt, but it was a bit too rich for our bank account!)

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

It’s on a quiet street, but comfortable walking distance to the main drag of West Asheville. The Hop’s vegan ice cream, West End Bakery’s freshly baked bread, and, most importantly Biscuit Head‘s cat head sized biscuits and jam bar are literally at your doorstep! But I digress…

They had a lot of work to do to make the house and amazing as its location. Jack contracted with Jody Guokas from JAG Construction and Calder and Aaron Wilson from Wilson Architects to totally blow out the floor plan creating an open layout for the main floor. Working with pretty much the same square footage, they turned it into a home that works for the modern family. Having lived in one of these little bungalows, I was really impressed with the flow that they achieved. I absolutely loved great room with its cozy sitting area, functional dining space, sweet loft space, and ah-mazing kitchen. Its clearly the hub of the house.


Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Bryan Flynn worked hard to create a design that was as uniquely Asheville as the house. The house is bright, colorful, and full of art from Asheville artists. Most impressive to me is how well he balanced using old antiques from estate sales with new furniture, rugs, and accessories from Overstock. Also impressive was his use of panelling to make the bedrooms seem bigger. Its such a nice architectural touch that is so unique and lovely.

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House
Clearly I’m smitten with this house. While I have to admit that I’m not-so-secretly crossing my fingers for my parents to win it so we can have in town babysitters whenever the seedlings come along, you should totally enter. Not only do you win the house and all the furnishings in it, you also win a 2016 Acura TLX and $50,000!! Get to entering!!

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

Kiwi and Peach: My Trip to the 2015 HGTV Urban Oasis House

On Work/Life Balance + Low Country Boil

I’ve been hesitant to jump back into the blog because I have been a total hypocrite and I knew I’d have to fess up. I have some ‘splainin’ to do about the not so homemade meals we came to rely on when I went back to work. You see, when you start your first year teaching, work a part time job as well, buy a house, and plan a wedding in the same year, there is very little time to think about anything other than the task at hand and how very, very exhausted you are. I’m totally making excuses here.

When I read back through old posts and see sentences like “it only takes an extra couple of minutes,” I cringe. Please girl! Extra twenty minutes?! Those words were clearly written by a lady who has too much time on her hands. Those couple of extra minutes it takes to make stuff by hand is just not happening on a week night because that’s an extra couple of minutes that I could be getting my never ending work done (or giving thought to exercising but then crashing on the sofa instead.)

I don’t have any radical ideas on finding balance between my domestic and professional life. While it’s something that I think most women struggle with at some point or another, everyone is in a different situation. When my professional life was on hold, I threw my energy into the domestic life–exploring cool, new food, testing my skills in the kitchen, putting a house together–as a form of self preservation. Look, see, I accomplished something today. Even if it only benefited my boyfriend/fiance/husband, I created something I can be proud of.

Then, quite suddenly, I had other work to do. I couldn’t concentrate on that stuff any more for far more pressing matters like teaching kids that mac and cheese wasn’t a vegetable. Zane always bragged about the variety of dinners I made, that he never got bored because I was always coming up with something new and I took a lot of pride in that. However between meal planning, grocery list making, grocery shopping, and cooking, I couldn’t keep up. I felt like I was letting not only him, but you guys down as well if I couldn’t keep the fresh new dishes flowing. So I stopped blogging…

Kiwi and Peach: Low Country Boil

…and life went on. Our priorities shifted and we started to find that balance. Zane cooked more. We discovered the wonders of utilizing our freezer. We started working smarter, not harder. We ate good food.

But I’ve missed sharing it with you guys and hearing and learning from you…

Like that time we tried Blue Apron, I wanted to talk about it. To chat about the awesome recipes and abhorring amount of packaging. (Seriously, what are you supposed to do with 4 huge icepacks every week?!)

Or those times when the event company our venue used couldn’t keep a wedding planner so we had 4 different wedding planners over the course of a year. (How do you stay organized through that?!)

Or that time we threw a bonfire the night before our wedding complete with a s’mores bar and things were crazy but it ended up being almost as much fun as the wedding itself.

Or each of those times we figured out how to get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes, when you know you’ve nailed it, and you feel like “We are the Champions” should be playing in the background.

I’ve missed chatting with you guys.

So I’m just going to leave this here for you. Have you ever done a low country boil? There was a sorority at uni that hosted a big low country boil every year as one of their fundraisers. It was always a huge hit, but I had never thought to try and make it myself. I tried it for the first time earlier this summer after seeing Joy the Baker’s post and it has become one of our favorites. There is next to no prep. You just throw things in and 30 min later you have dinner. It’s messy to eat, but that’s half the fun. It’s also super easy to scale up or down if you want to make some to eat on for lunched during the week or if you’re having folks over.

Kiwi and Peach: Low Country Boil

Low Country Boil

{serves 2}

4 cups chicken stock
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 of a red onion
juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup creole spice or any cajun spice
3 tbsp salt
1 pound baby potatoes
2 ears of corn
1/2 pound of raw shrimp
2 links of andouille sausage
2 Tbsp melted butter
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt, pepper, and paprika for sprinkling

In a large pot bring the stock, garlic, red onion, lemon juice, thyme, salt and spice to a boil. Add the potatoes then reduce to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes then add the corn. Cook 5 more minutes. Add the shrimp and sausage and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes, corn, shrimp and sausage to a serving bowl along with about a 1/2 cup of the broth. Pour the melted butter over the top and sprinkle with the parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper.

Turn on “We are the Champions” and serve.

The One Where I Catch You Up On Our Year

Hello dear friend! It has been quite too long! Sometimes you’re in a season of life when it gets too full and something just has to give. This past year, that was our season and unfortunately the blog is what had to give. I know you’ve all been there, so I make no apologies except to say that I’m sorry I didn’t give any warning and that I’ve missed you! This has seriously been a year of dreams coming true. It’s been full of new job opportunities, the exciting yet oh so time consuming process of buying our first house, and of course there was that wedding we were planning. There was barely time to do the eating and sleeping thing let alone pause to document. We want to fill you guys in on what’s been going on around here then we’ll go back and share some of the finer details on the most exciting stuff later! We’ve often joked that I took a year off of blogging to build up enough material to last  for the rest of my life!

So quick recap. Around the time out our last post, I found out that I finally landed a pretty perfect teaching job. This was kind of huge for us. After we moved to Asheville, I starting working part time for a fabulous non-profit called FEAST teaching after-school cooking/nutrition classes at local middle schools twice a week. While incredibly rewarding, two hours a week does not a career make. I needed a full time job. The field of Family and Consumer Sciences is pretty specialized and if you want to teach in public schools there tends to be a very limited number of positions per school. I checked pretty much every day for a year to see if there were any open positions in Asheville or the surrounding counties. There had been nothing and it was pretty disheartening. We had started contemplating moving to Athens, GA, where my best friend lives and where there was a teaching position. I had taken the Praxis to get my teaching certification in other subjects to make myself more marketable. The focus was get a teaching job, any teaching job. While in Ireland with my mom and grandmother, my dad emailed to ask if I was still checking on openings while on holiday because, if not, I should check. There was something on there — a high school position in FACS at a school 15 min from our house! While not perfect since all my experience has been with middle school or younger and high school kind of scared the shit out of me, it was something and beggars certainly weren’t going to be choosers over an age preference. If they would hire me, I’d teach it. Hire me they did, and so began my second, first year of teaching. First year teacher. ‘nough said. Plus I kept teaching my two classes a week for FEAST.

In September we took a little holiday to the south of France for Z’s childhood friend Nick’s wedding to Cecile. Cecile is from Nice hence the beautiful location of said wedding. This had been on the books long before there was even a glimmer of hope at a teaching job, so I was really fortunate that my school worked with me so that I could still be able to go and be a part of their beautiful wedding.

Kiwi and Peach
When we got back we decided that since the final piece of the puzzle, me getting a teaching job, had fallen into place that it was time to start looking for a house. Our lease was up at the end of December and while we had the option to renew it, we were kind of ready to find our forever home. Engaging the help of a realtor, we looked and looked and looked at lots of ugly ducklings before finding the one. Not without it’s flaws, but definitely livable, we bit the bullet and bought a house! We’ll talk more about that process another day, plus we have lots more projects coming up as we make this house on the hill our own.Second semester rolls around, I get a new batch of kiddos and I get to start repeating curriculum (making my life exactly 1 million times easier). We realize that we are getting married in about 6 months and aside from finding a venue, dress, and photographer we haven’t planned anything. So we get down to it. I can’t wait to share some of the more exciting details of the wedding with you guys as well as some awesome DIYs. Our wedding couldn’t have been a more perfect representation of our love and the community we share that love with. Afterwards we set off to explore the rainforests of Costa Rica for a week with NO internet! We got to hike everyday. We went surfing, kayaking, rappelled down a few waterfalls, met lots of monkey friends as well as a baby sloth(!); it was perfect.

And so here we are, back in the real world with a real world amount of stuff to fill up our days. Our plan is to get back into the blogging game slowly and as more of a team than a one woman show. We are eager to share some of the insights we’ve learned over the past year as well a the QUICK recipes that have been working for us on these busy days. Talk soon!

DIY Bedside Table from an old TV tray stand

We’ve been in  Asheville for six months now. Six. Months. Where has the time gone? Wasn’t I just in Germany like yesterday? Didn’t we just move in? Yes and no. These six months have flown and dragged both at the same time. I’m not going to lie, January and February were some pretty terrible months. Reverse culture shock was strong, we hadn’t made the friends we’d expected to, the job situation was bleak, and well, we were just homesick for a place that two years ago neither of us thought would ever be our home. As we emerged from winter though, opportunities sprouted, new friendships blossomed, and we began to explore these mountains and the new town we call ours. I’m not sure when the “I’m new here” wears off, but I can say, with more certainty than ever before, that we like it here and think we’ll hang around for a while. My favorite part of any move is to making the house we are in feel like a home that represents us. Though our current home is temporary, we have been so lucky to get to infuse as much of our personality as possible into the space. I’ll eventually move on to what we’ve done in other rooms, but I want to share one last project from the bedroom! So far we’ve shared how Zane made our bed and how I made a rustic piece of art for our wall. Today let’s chat about bedside tables. Our current bedroom is kind of small with awkward window placement. Our ginormous bed takes up most of the room, so we knew that we were going to have to think small for the bedside table. Small in size and in cost. Our budget for this was low, low, low so we had to get a little creative. In the end, it cost us nothing because we used stuff found in my parents basement and leftovers from the bed. However, even if you had to go buy some of the materials, we’re talking less than 30 bucks here! All measurements are based on the size of our base and the height of our bed. I’m pretty sure both are pretty standard, but if your bed is super high or super low fret not. Just figure out the height you need and then adjust the measurements from there. Our table measures 20 inches long, 14.5 inches wide, and 24 inches high. DIY Bedside Table from Kiwi and Peach Here’s what you’ll need:

  • an old TV tray stand
  • 1 yard of wide upholstery ribbon
  • needle and matching thread
  • offcuts from a 1×8
  • offcuts from a 1×2
  • 8 screws
  • sandpaper
  • stain (We used the same soy based oil stain as the bed, Varathane in Provincial)
  • sealer (We love the Tried and True Wood Finish made from linseed oil and beeswax)

Cut List:

  • from the 1×8 — 20 inch piece × 2
  • from the 1×2 — 10.5 inch piece × 2
  • upholstery ribbon — 25.5 inch piece

Get started by prepping your wood. Sand it well, stain it, and seal it. Allow plenty of time for it to dry and cure between stages. My tip for creating cohesive design when it comes to using lots of wood pieces  in your home is to find a stain you love and roll with it. A note about the stain and finish—a little bit of product goes a long way. We absolutely love these products and have used them on a number of projects around the house like the bed, these tables, a bookcases and a set of shelves. In all of that, we’ve used just over a quart of stain and maybe half a pint of the sealer. Once the wood is finished we can put the pieces together. Place the 1×8s next to each other so that their long edges are touching. Center the 1×2s on the seam. It’s important that the 1×2s fit down in the frame so be sure that they aren’t too far apart. Ours are about 7 inches apart which leaves about 3.5 inches on either side. When you’re happy with the placement, screw them in place.

DIY Bedside Table from Kiwi and Peach DIY Bedside Table from Kiwi and Peach Our TV tray stand was super old and there was nothing to keep it from collapsing when we put the top on it, so we used the upholstery ribbon to keep it at the height we wanted (about 2 ft). Measure and cut your upholstery ribbon then wrap it around the top of the frame overlapping the ends. Using a needle and matching thread, hand sew the overlapping pieces together to make a loop. This will be on the bottom so just do the best you can! Adjust the ribbon so the seam is on the bottom and then sew the two layers of ribbon together on either side of the frame to anchor it. Slide the ribbon to the middle of the frame. DIY Bedside Table from Kiwi and Peach (In the picture you’ll see that I did two of these. Honestly, its structurally unnecessary to have two and I know that no one sees the bottom, but I liked the aesthetic more and I had the extra ribbon so I went with it because I’m crazy like that. One is sufficient.) Sit the top on the base. They should fit snuggly into one another. Turn it right side up and you’re finished! DIY Bedside Table from Kiwi and Peach

Pruning Your Basil

Hello my lovelies! I hope y’all had a wonderful week last week while we were off galavanting about the Southeast! Since we chatted last we’ve had a wonderful engagement party hosted by my sweet, sweet parents, found my wedding dress (!), visited both Savannah and Charleston, and we’ve eaten some really great food in the process! As soon as I get through the massive amounts of pictures I have from Ireland, the party, and our lowcountry trip, I’ll have lots of pretty things for y’all!

Today though, let’s talk about something a bit more practical. While we were gone, our basil got out of control! We have a row of basil in the same container as out tomatoes because we heard they get along just swell. It’s clear they are besties even if our poor tomatoes did get a case of early blight. Anyway, when we got back we also had a whole bundle of basil from our CSA so clearly it was pesto time!

How to Prune Basil from Kiwi and Peach

When we first started growing basil a few years ago, every time I pruned it for pesto I ended up killing it. Then, my strategy was to take a few leaves from each stem leaving enough for the plant to keep growing. Unfortunately I was having to take a lot, so that didn’t always work out. Eventually a friend showed me how to prune them correctly so that they could continue making new stems and my mind was blown. Talk about a light bulb moment!

So, dear friends, here’s the tip.

Cut the stem just above a set of opposite leaves.

How to Prune Basil from Kiwi and Peach

So simple! Another stem will pop up from the little nook there and make lots of new leaves.

We used our pesto (and some home-grown tomatoes from my grandmother’s garden) on a Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Grilled Pizza from our summer recipe collection for The Seasonal Supper. It tasted exactly like summer should!

What about you, friends? Do you have any gardening tips for this novice? What are you growing this year?

Bourbon Peach Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

Tis the season for lots and lots of visiting. Hope y’all are following along with us on Instagram because while it might be a bit more quiet than usual over here, it’s certainly not quiet in real life! Ireland was absolutely stunning and deserves a post unto itself. We had some wonderful moments and surprisingly, some really delicious food! I have tons of pictures, tips, and food recommendations with y’all, but it’ll have to wait…

The Kiwi’s folks arrive tonight!

When we told them we were engaged, one of the first things his mum said was that she wanted to come for the engagement party. To be honest, we really, really wanted to have one, but seeing as how the whole point is for the families to get to know one another we didn’t see much point if they couldn’t be here. We were so excited they wanted to make the trip over to celebrate with us and to meet my family!

With all the folks in town this weekend, we have been cooking up a storm to make sure all of these bellies stay full and happy. One of my favorite things to make for breakfast when we have company is banana bread. To me, baked goods for breakfast is the ultimate treat and having some one make it especially for you is so my love language. When our guest room is a revolving door (which we love, btw), I love making up a few loaves to share.

Bourbon Peach Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread from Kiwi and Peach (via Joy the Baker)

Bourbon Peach Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

My absolute favorite banana bread recipe is from Joy the Baker via Cup of Jo ages ago. It’s one of the few recipes I follow to the letter, and I’ve never had any reason to stray from her method or ingredients. It’s got almost everything you need in a banana bread; bananas, nuts,  chocolate chunks, and a splash of bourbon.

However, last time I made it, I started getting the itch. We had a spare peach on hand. Peach + bourbon = a winning combination, so I chopped that puppy up in 1/2 inch cubes (peel and all) and threw it in there when I folded in the chocolate and nuts. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better… Oh my stars, y’all! I didn’t change a thing about the rest of the recipe, so it seems silly to rewrite it here because Joy did such a good job with the orig. Do me a favor though, make this, add peaches (while they’re in season), and wait for your belly (and your guests’ bellies) to be oh so happy!

What is Trans Fat?

Trans Fat has been in the news a lot lately here in the US, since the FDA has proposed to ban it from food. Yet hardly anybody seems to know what trans fat is. Fox News host Tucker Carlson responded to the news by saying “Let me be the only person in America who stands up for trans fats by asking the obvious question, which is ‘If they’re so bad for you, why are they in foods?’ And I suspect the answer is probably because they’re delicious.”

No doubt to Carlson’s chagrin, it was Stephen Colbert who immediately rushed to his defence: “Now that might sound like an idiotic thing to say, but let me be the only person standing up for Tucker Carlson: if he’s so stupid, why is he on Fox News?”

Just making up nonsense when you don’t know the answer to your own question does, indeed, sound pretty idiotic. But the question is completely valid, and while Colbert correctly pointed out that trans fats have “no particular taste”, he never actually answered it either. Why are trans fats really in foods?

The short answer is because they’re cheap.

The long answer is quite a bit more interesting, though. It’s a tale of good intentions, scientific breakthroughs, hubris, and a bit of organic chemistry. (The presence of the latter explains why I am writing this blog post instead of Lauren—a combination of an incompetent high school Chemistry teacher and a college course in Organic Chemistry that doubled as a weed-out class for pre-med students has left her with a phobia of the subject.)

Organic Chemistry 101

Both fats and carbohydrates (two of the three macronutrients that are essential to animal diets) are comprised of various arrangements of hydrocarbons—that is, chains of Carbon atoms, surrounded by Hydrogen atoms, in various configurations. Each Carbon atom has four available bonds, each Hydrogen atom one, and the bonds repel each other. Other elements can be incorporated in the chain, and have varying numbers of available bonds. There’s an enormous variety of different combinations, but they all stem from a small set of building blocks so their names are derived in a mechanical way according to a fairly simple grammar. The simplest hydrocarbons are called alkanes, so let’s look at one of those first:


Hydrocarbons are named for the lengths of their main chains of Carbon atoms. The first few prefixes are meth-, eth-, prop-, but-, pent-, hex-, … &c. The molecule in the diagram above is an alkane with four Carbon atoms, so it is called butane. Note that this is not a fat—you know it as lighter fluid. If it were a fat, we might say that it is saturated, because it has as many Hydrogens as can possibly fit on a chain of this configuration.

That need not be the case, however. If we take a pair of Hydrogen atoms out, we can form a double bond between two Carbon atoms. For fats, this is the difference between a saturated fat and an unsaturated fat. Simple chains that contain at least one double bond are called alkenes. There are obviously a bunch of ways to do this, which get reflected in the name. There’s usually a number to indicate which of the bonds is the double bond, so if we were to create an alkene (which is still not a fat, by the way) with four Carbon atoms where the second C-C bond is a double, it would be called but-2-ene. But double bonds also have a new property: unlike single bonds, they can’t rotate so any asymmetries are locked in. So, in fact, there are two variants of but-2-ene:

Geometric isomers of But-2-ene

We call these variants cis-but-2-ene (where the two adjacent carbons are on the same side of the double bond) and trans-but-2-ene (where they are on opposite sides), respectively. Bear in mind that this is a 2-dimensional representation of what is really a 3-dimensional structure, but even so you can see that these molecules are quite different despite comprising the same components in the same order.

We haven’t seen a fat molecule yet, but we now already know what a trans fat is: a fat molecule with at least one double bond where the chain continues on different sides of the bond. Immediately you should be suspicious of the entire premise of the trans fat debate. Fats are much more complicated structures than alkanes, and each has many different features in their structure. It’s highly questionable, if not actually absurd, to talk about ‘Trans Fats’ as a single thing, as if the direction of one particular bond does more to determine the behaviour of a molecule than all of its other properties combined. We have located the origin of the name ‘Trans Fat’, only to find that it is shorthand for something else. That something else is the industrial process of partial hydrogenation.

All about Fat

So far we’ve learned the basics of hydrocarbon chemistry with reference to lighter fluid and an industrial ingredient of synthetic rubber that you’ll never encounter. What does a fat look like in comparison? The building blocks are pretty similar. “Fatty acids” are just longer chains with a few Oxygen atoms included in strategic locations. The most common fats in food, known as triglycerides, comprise three of these fatty acid chains joined together at one end. Here’s a typical example:


This triglyceride comprises the fatty acids Stearic Acid (top right), Oleic Acid (left) and Linoleic Acid (bottom right), all attached to a glycerol molecule in the centre. (No chemist actually draws molecules this way, for obvious reasons, but you get the idea. Remember that the real molecule is three-dimensional and all of the single bonds are free to rotate.) Note that Oleic and Linoleic Acids contain one and two cis double bonds, respectively.

By the way, the terms ‘fat’ and ‘oil’ are interchangeable here for our purposes. Fats that are liquid at room temperature are generally known as oils. There are exceptions, but not based on any physical differences. Animal fats contain a high proportion of saturated fat—remember, those are fats with no double bonds. A few plant oils, like coconut and avocado, are saturated fats too. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, thanks to their regular structure (which makes for stronger attraction between molecules).

Most plant oils, however, are polyunsaturated. That means that each molecule includes multiple double bonds. This gives them a much more irregular shape, and as a result polyunsaturated oils are generally liquid at room temperature.

Although polyunsaturated fats are generally considered the best for you, there’s one big down side to them that partially explains why trans fats are still with us: they go rancid much faster than saturated fats. The reason is that rancidity occurs when free radicals break bonds in the fat, initiating an oxidation reaction. The easiest bonds to break are the double bonds. Therefore the more double bonds a fat contains, the sooner it is likely to go rancid.

It is possible to add Hydrogen atoms to an unsaturated fat and turn it into a saturated fat, in a process called (unsurprisingly) hydrogenation. Typically, however, one double bond is left intact to make a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are generally semi-solid at room temperature. As you may have guessed already, this process of partial hydrogenation is how margarine is made (and the reason it is softer than butter, which is largely saturated fat).

At the time this was invented, it would have been considered a great achievement of modern science. The prevailing scientific model held that fat was bad for you, and that saturated fat in particular was especially bad for you. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil could be produced from plants at much lower cost than animal fats—which require huge energy inputs in comparison—plus they lasted longer, were supposedly better for you, and came in a handy spreadable form just in time for the invention of the refrigerator. Everybody wins, right? As we’ll see, this is where the hubris came in.

The process of partial hydrogenation is relatively straightforward in principle (though in practice actual formulations are closely-guarded secrets). Molecules always tend towards their lowest-energy state (that is, if they can release some energy, they will). Imagine you’re on a bicycle in a deep valley—all things being equal, you’re going to eventually end up at the bottom, where you have the lowest energy. A saturated bond has lower energy than a double bond, but before it can form the double bond must first be broken, which requires an input of energy. If there’s a hill between you and the valley, you’re not going to get in there at all unless you add some energy (by pedalling), or magically teleport yourself to the other side of the hill without passing through the space in between. (If you’re laughing, stop, because these are both completely valid options in the world of quantum mechanics, though not really relevant here.) So partial hydrogenation is performed by adding some energy, in the form of heat, plus a catalyst (imagine someone in a bulldozer who will temporarily lower the height of the hill for you).

Here’s the catch: a trans double bond is also a lower energy state than a cis double bond. As a result, the exact same conditions under which most of the double bonds are hydrogenated also cause the remaining double bonds to flip from their naturally-occurring cis configuration to a trans configuration a very high proportion of the time. Trans fat contamination is thus an inevitable result of partial hydrogenation.

There are a few trans fats that occur naturally in our food. For example, a small percentage of milk fat is a polyunsaturated fat with one cis and one trans double bond. (The FDA uses a technical definition of trans fat that excludes these naturally-occurring fats.) Current studies differ on whether this particular fat is bad for you, or actually good for you. However, the trans fats produced by partial hydrogenation are not found anywhere in nature. They are a completely new addition to the human diet in the past century. It turns out that not only is the hypothesis that saturated fat is bad for you on increasingly shaky ground, it is now widely accepted that the monounsaturated trans fats produced by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils are definitely bad for you, and certainly worse than the saturated fats they were designed to replace.

What to do?

So, this miracle product that was scientifically formulated to make us healthier has actually been making us unhealthier all along. What should we do about that? Compulsory labelling of trans fats on nutrition labels has already done a lot to reduce the amount of trans fat in our diets. As a result of labelling, margarine as we knew it has virtually disappeared from supermarket shelves. In its place are ‘spreads’ mostly made from butter cut with vegetable oil, containing no trans fats. Consumers are clearly embracing the health claims of butter over those of partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. Even the world’s largest margarine producer, whose CEO was decrying butter as evil as recently as 2010, is now adding butter to their spreads. So better education can help (you may consider this blog our contribution).

Many large food producers, including some fast food chains, have also begun phasing out trans fats from their cooking under pressure from consumer groups. Yet a lot of fast food and processed food continues to be cooked in trans fat. Mostly that’s because the slower rate of oxidation means the oil can be changed less frequently without it going rancid, and the resulting products last longer too. That’s a reason to continue using partially-hydrogenated oils, but not a very good one: other oils have been developed in recent years (by separating out the least-volatile components in plant oils) that last longer and do not contain trans fat.

It’s certainly not, as Carlson speculated, because of the taste. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be fond of quoting the maxim “fat is flavour”. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a gross simplification. In reality the compounds that add flavour are fat-soluble, and so they’re found along with the fat in foods. The fat itself really does have “no particular taste”. (Colbert: “That’s America’s favourite flavour.”) “Fat is a necessary but not sufficient condition for flavour” doesn’t pack quite the same rhetorical punch, but it’s more accurate.

There’s simply no reason for consumers to ever choose to eat trans fats, except because the products they want are not available without them—at least, not at a price they are willing to pay. The looming ban on trans fats in the US should solve the availability issue. And while the poor are the biggest beneficiaries of cheap food, they also bear the brunt of the negative effects. It’s clear at this point that the cost savings of partial hydrogenation are a false economy.

My biggest worry is the extent to which partially hydrogenated fats might be replaced with Palm Oil, which is another in that small handful of saturated plant fats. Large swathes of tropical rainforest are being razed every year to make way for palm oil plantations, which is one of the worst things you could do from a climate change perspective. Even as trans fats are cast on the dust heap of history, we will all have to remain vigilant consumers.

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The first edition of our Meal Planning guide, The Seasonal Supper, is available now! Check out the free, one-week Think Spring preview and then sign up to purchase the full four-week Summer Simplified meal plan. Our eating philosophy is food-based, so you’ll have no trouble avoiding trans fats.