Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday slacking and soda taxes

Ok, I admit it, I've been slacking with the writing of late--the holiday madness and tidying up projects before 2008 shuts down has gotten the best of me. I'll be posting a few quickies over the next few days and then back to the big guns come Jan. 1 (when you'll really be ready for a swift kick of healthy food in order to detox from every cookie, cup of hot cocoa, cocktail and heavy holiday meal that's crossed your path the past few weeks).
This peaked my interest last week. Thought I'd share it for all you politico-health conscious-foodie New Yorkers. Gov. Paterson has proposed an 18% tax on non-diet soda and sugary-sweet juice drinks (those that contain less than 70% fruit juice). Termed the "obesity tax," the proposal targets rising obesity rates while raising nearly $400 million per year for state health programs. One in four New Yorkers is obese, up from 14% in 1995. Pretty shocking and pretty impressive on Paterson's part. Whether or not the tax will actually deter people from drinking empty-calories and consuming high-fructose corn syrup is hard to say, but I'm hopeful that it will, at the very least, open people's eyes a little wider, making them think twice before reaching for liquid calories that have zero 'value add'. Here's to hoping the proposal will further open the conversation about the state of this country's diet and health status.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Decoding your way through December

It's going to be a boozy, schmoozy holiday season, so great ready for a bumpy ride people. It's December 10th, Christmas and Hanukkah are just 2 weeks away with New Year's following close behind. Which means...you've already logged a handful of holiday parties and have 4 more to go, are still reeling from last Saturday's Santa pub crawl (doesn't wearing a blazing hot Santa suit burn off extra beer calories?), are gearing up for your office party (oh wait, that was last year when your office could actually afford one), and are prepping yourself for the onslaught of over-bearing, eggnog-pushing relatives come the holidays themselves.
So if we're counting down, by the time all is said and done (and to all a good night) we've tallied: 12 pigs in a blanket, 11 mini egg rolls, 10 bacon wrapped dates, 9 pieces of fudge, 8 pieces of brie, 7 shots of spiced rum, 6 handfuls of cocktail nuts, 5 stuffed mushrooms, 4 glasses of that damn eggnog, 3 candy canes, 2 pieces of chocolate cheesecake, and enough cocktails and Christmas cookies to make your head spin (literally) and send your weight off the richter scale (thank god for New Year's resolutions right?).
If the shrieks are sounding in your head, put the brakes on...the scale isn't broken just yet. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we typically gain just 1 single, teeny-weeny pound per holiday season...but it's that single pound that adds up to 5, 10 or more over the years. Damn all those innocent handfuls of red and green M&M's...damn them to hell. In all seriousness though, I love to indulge during the holidays just as we all do...and I think more than ever, we ALL could use a few seriously stiff drinks this season with the economy in its current state of utter bleakness. Here are 10 no-fail tips to get you through the rest of the month unscathed and with cheer, enjoyment, and delight without busting your bathroom scale. If you still find yourself chained to the treadmill come January 2, that's your own call.
10. The holidays occur on simply a few DAYS - that doesn't give you a free hall-pass for the entire month of December! Enjoy the actual day itself to the fullest, indulge -- smartly -- without having a smorgasboard.
9. Keep up with your typical routine throughout the month so that you can add in extra cocktails and treats and a holiday meal here and there. Start your day off with your head in the game. Set the tone of your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast and it won't cause a snowball of mindless nibbling and heavy eating. Your mood and energy levels will keep running full speed.
8. If you have multiple social engagements in a given week, keep tabs on the booze intake, plug in 1-2 special (ie. heavier) meals, and balance things out with exercise, water and lighter fare (read: pack in fruits and vegetables, focus on smaller portions at meal times).
7. Take a second look. Scaling back slightly on portion sizes will allow you to account for the extra 100-300 calories, or more, you're downing on a party-hardy day.
6. Cocktail party situation: before you lay a finger on a coconut shrimp, scan the room, assess your options, and build your plate with strategic confidence. Fill up on fruit and vegetables and lite appetizers if they're available and then choose 2-3 naughty (but oh so nice) hors devours and you're good to go. DON'T stand directly next to the table with the bowl of cocktail nuts, chocolate truffles or tortilla chips (will power doesn't come easy, why punish yourself?) Engage in conversation - whether it's with a friend, colleague or if you're unattached, a potential dating prospect. Hey, they hung misteltoe for a reason!
5. Best cocktail for all you boozehounds (and you know who you are): If you're going for the bottle and it's going to be a long night, skip the calorie-rich eggnog, rum punch and chocolate martinis. Champagne's a 'boozy best' at 85 calories a glass. Ain't nothing wrong with a little bubbly. Otherwise, stick to the basics...red/white wine, vodka and club soda, Johnny W. on the rocks or with a splash of ginger ale. Stick with what you know...and an amount your body can tolerate. Nothing's more humiliating than getting smashed beyond belief at your office party and telling your boss something you probably shouldn't.
4. Save dessert for when it's really worth having. Store bought cookies that have been sitting on shelves for weeks don't generally taste that good. Again, seek options, divide (into a slightly smaller portion), and conquer the dessert table.
3. The office issue. Every year your office gets inundated with gift baskets, boxes of chocolates, random brownies, cupcakes and sugar cookies and the endless bowls of candy wherever you turn. Turn auto-pilot off and step away from the M&M bowl. Think about what you're reaching for and save those calories for when you really want them...just two handfuls of M&Ms or 4 teensy Hershey's kisses can rack up an easy 100 calories in no time flat.
2. Get sufficient sleep and drink enough water...it'll help with those morning-after hangovers.
1. Bring back the basics after a night of holiday cheer. Back on the horse and you'll prevent the slippage and skidding that can lead us into a very sticky New Year.

Ok, now that you're armed and dangerous, go out and have a killer holiday season!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pear-Pomegranate Fall Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
It's become tradition for me to make this salad every Thanksgiving -- otherwise my family might bar me from sitting down at the table (if you've ever met my family, you understand). I decided to get a little racy this year and tossed in some whole wheat garlic croutons. I know you're thinking croutons are 'nutritional blasphemy', so I swapped the bread for whole wheat for some wholegrain, higher-fiber goodness. Yes, there's a wee bit of olive oil and butter involved, but 2-3 mini croutons won't set you back too much and they're so freaking good! Everything in balance friends - this salad gets nutritional bonus points...pomegranate seeds are jam-packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and the walnuts are a great soure of healthy omega-3 fats!
Serves 8-10
-1 & 1/2 bags of Mesclun greens
-2 red pears cored and thinly sliced
-1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
-1/3 cup dried cranberries and/or golden raisins
-4oz (1 small log) goat cheese, crumbled (can substitute w. gorgonzola cheese for a stronger flavor)
-1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chamapagne vinegar
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ small shallot, minced
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk together mustard and vinegar, slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking. Add shallot, salt and pepper and whisk until well-blended.

Whole wheat croutons:
1 small whole wheat baguette, cut into small, bite-sized cubes
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp - 1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
fresh rosemary or thyme (about 2 tbsp)
Melt butter in butter over medium heat, add garlic cloves and cook for about 30 seconds. Add in bread, drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle in fresh herbs (I used a mix of rosemary and thyme). Stir bread until well-coated. Turn off the heat and transfer croutons to a baking sheet. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes, until golden brown and crisped.

Thanksgiving rebound

I have officially overdosed on my turkey quota for the year. After 3 days straight of turkey and Thanksgiving leftovers in some form or another, I'll save Mr. Turkey for 2009. I hope you all had a warm, family and friend-filled Thanksgiving holiday...overflowing with good food. My family loves the holiday so damn much, we tend to opt for two Thanksgiving meals and all the leftover turkey sandwiches you can eat (I come from a long line of Jewish mothers, what can you do). I must say though, our table (both of them), is always well-balanced...roasted turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, a pear-pomegranate salad (see recipe below), roasted Brussels-sprouts, garlic mashed potatoes, orange-cranberry relish, and my grandmother's classic recipe for insane stuffing. Good thing dinner is actually pretty darn healthful, despite plentiful, because desserts are off-the-hook in my family -- between my uncle's infamous cheesecake, my mom's killer apple pie and a newly-fangled pear-almond tart by yours truly, you could easily go into sugar shock by the end of the evening. (And for the record, I did not have all 3 in one sitting...small slices is my secret to having a little of everything!).
All said and eaten, it's amazing how you can go into the holiday with the best of intentions, keep meals relatively reasonable, and still come out of the weekend feeling like the poor turkey probably does...plump, roasted, and totally over-done. That's the goodness of comforting holiday meals, and I love every bite of it. The trick is to maintain your normal eating routine as much as you can in the days before and after the big feast. Keep tabs on portions of leftovers and treats so you can work them in smartly...like the remains of my fave homemade pumpkin bread that was stashed into my bag on my way back to NYC (thanks Dad!).
Take some time to reboot and rebound from a few days of heavy nibbling and imbibing. Back to basics for most meals, weaving in leftovers and treats here and there (if you still have any). With yesterday's cold, nasty weather, I decided it was the perfect day for a little post-Thanksgiving chicken soup to warm me up and set me up for a nice week of rebounding back into my normal routine...kind of like when you're rebounding from a break-up. It ain't easy to pull yourself out of the depths of relationship despair, but once you do, you feel like a million bucks. After a big grocery shopping trip, I successfully restocked my fridge with tons of fresh produce and all my standard staples to set me smooth-sailing for the week.
So back to the chicken soup...if you never thought you'd be able to whip up homemade chicken soup, think again. This might be one of the easiest, fail-safe recipes ever -- I added some brown rice this time for some depth, but you can leave it out if you wish.

Your Mama's Chicken Soup
1 small whole chicken (ideally free-range or organic)
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped (leave the skin on for extra fiber and save time on peeling)
2 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup brown rice, if desired
1/2 cup chopped leeks, if desired (chop up the white part)
2 small Russet or golden potatoes, if desired
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan or pecorino romano cheese for grating

Get out a massively large pot (like a good-sized pasta pot), wash the chicken and plop it in the pot. Fill up the pot to cover the chicken, about 3/4 of the way to the top. Add in chopped onion, carrot and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then turn heat to medium and let simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked. Turn the heat off, take the chicken out and skin it, removing white meat (and a little dark if you like) from the breast, thighs and wings. Dump the meat back in the pot. Add in your rice, potatoes and leeks and simmer on medium-low for another 45 minutes until the potatoes and rice are fully cook. Serve up in small bowls with 2-3 tablespoons of the pecorino cheese (my fave because it adds a nice kick of salty, cheesy goodness!).
Makes about 6-8 servings. Sorry, no pic, but I promise it's really tasty!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Turkey Fest '08

What could be better than good friends, good food and a little kickstart to the holiday season. Every year, my friends and I throw a pre-Thanksgiving potluck turkey fest--ringing up a little warmth and cheer before we all head home for the real deal. Typically the one hosting the festivities, I love spending a good part of the day (and usually the day prior) in the kitchen doing some serious, cold-weather cooking. There's something a bit more soothing about cooking during fall and winter -- dishes sometimes take slightly longer to cook, but it's certainly worth the time. Braving freezing cold weather or being active in a warm kitchen (I swear, prepping for a big dinner is a workout in itself!)...I'll take the kitchen thanks. Anyhow, some good 'ol standbys made a repeat appearance on the menu this year - obviously our turkey mascot this year was on hand, recipe to come). This post kicks off a bunch of tasty, not-too-time-consuming, deceptively healthy recipes for the holidays. Stay tuned for tips and tactics throughout the month on how to navigate your way through the holiday season, absolutely doing it up without going overboard and kicking yourself come January 1. Nothing's worse than feeling like you have to be strapped to a treadmill for a month straight in order to work off a few too many holiday benders. Something I often remind people of is that you can always find healthful balance and an upside to your holiday spread -- Thanksgiving staples like sweet potatoes and squash are loaded with antioxidants, beta-carotene and fiber; green beans are packed with vitamins K, A and C; even your favorite pumpkin pie brings value to the table stacked with antioxidants and beta-carotene. True, those sweet potatoes can be loaded with butter and marshmellows, the green beans smothered in mouthwatering bacon grease, the pumpkin pie isn't complete without a buttery-flaky crust. The key is -- drumroll -- moderation. I know, I know, it ain't sexy or fun, but it's true. Have the good stuff, just head into the game with your head on. Play smart and take small amounts of your favorite, heavier dishes. Zone in on lighter basics like roast turkey, salad, cranberry sauce and veggies. And if you're facing really dire straights at the in-laws, a friend's or relative's, remember it's one meal...smart portions let you leave room for dessert which is a T-giving must-have in my book. And if dessert really isn't all that worth it, wait for something that really is -- trust me, I guarantee you'll have your pick throughout the month.
Ok, to start off some holiday recipes, I'm posting up course 1 -- an appetizer that has evolved into an annual tradition among my friends. I created this a few years back out of a love for all things butternut squash, parmesan cheese and cherry. Sounds odd, but you'll be coming back for more.

Butternut Squash Bruschetta w. Pine Nuts & Sour Cherries
1 medium-large butternut squash (roasted, peeled and cubed)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1 can cannelini beans (white beans), rinsed and drained
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup sour cherries, jarred in natural juices and drained
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped (1-2 Tablespoons)
½ - ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
salt, to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

1 crusty French or whole wheat baguette
additional olive oil for brushing

Preparation: Cut butternut squash in half, brush with olive oil and roast at 350 (cut side down) for about 30-35 minutes, or until about ¾ the way done (still slightly hard, but able to be cut). For an easy shortcut, places both halves in the microwave for 7-9 minute. Allow squash to cool, peel/cut skin off and cut into small chunks. Heat oil in a deep frying pan/saucepan and sauté onion until translucent. Add in cannelini beans, squash, chicken broth & rosemary -- decrease heat and bring to a medium-low simmer. Add salt to taste, add in cherries, parmesan and pine nuts, cook until majority of broth evaporates and ingredients become warm and “stew-like” – squash should be slightly mashed/slightly chunky.

Cut baguette into thin slices about 1" thick. Arrange on a cookie sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Toast in oven at 350 for 4-5 minutes. Place a spoonful of squash mixture onto bruschetta toasts and arrange on a serving tray or plate.
Makes 2-3 dozen bruschetta
pics, beginning and end:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meeting the 'Naked Chef'!

What an incredible chance meeting this morning walking through the Union Square farmer's market. I'm a huge fan of one 'naked' chef who's doing some incredible things across the pond. I had the pleasure and good luck of running into British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver this morning while he was filming some greenmarket footage. Why am I such a fan of Jamie? He's taking the way Brits view food by storm...and it's working. He recognized the growing problems with Britain's (and the U.S.'s) growing waistlines and increasing dependence on convenience and processed foods. Over 60% of Americans (and Brits) are overweight or obese and only 27% of Americans consume 3 or more serving of fruits and veggies daily -- umm...that's just damn scary. Through a number of different avenues - from his blogs, website, hit tv cooking shows and non-profit programs like Fifteen, Jamie is working to get people in the UK back in their kitchens -- getting excited by fresh, good-for-you ingredients, simple nutritious (and delicious) dishes. He's making good, fresh food cool again and he's been leading the charge in reforming the school food system in Britain, getting not only kids, lunch ladies and parents on board, but also the Prime Minister. His latest campaign, Ministry of Food, serves to re-educate Brits town by town, one community a time, in healthier ways of cooking -- encouraging people to spread the word, get friends and family involved...let's make cooking freaking fun again people!
I have to say, what he's been able to do overseas in such a short time is impressive and damn exciting (I admit, I was little gitty chatting with him this morning). The guy's just plain cool. Check him out on the Today Show this week - he's in town promoting his new cookbook, Jamie at Home.
In a single sentence this morning, Jamie summed up why he's doing what he's doing and it directly echoes why I write this blog and do what I do when working with clients and the media through Nourish. In speaking about the lack of healthful eating habits and the growing overweight epedemic Jamie stated: "The UK is f*cked and America's even worse." Classic line and unfortunately dead on. What can we do to take the momentum he's grown in the UK and really infuse our society? I'm hoping that President-elect Obama will help make better eating in this country a priority over the next four years...because it absolutely is one. My vote's an overwhelming 'yes'. What's something simple you yourself can do to get cooking again?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's the Great Pumpkin!

Staying on track with the Halloween theme this week, I thought I'd give a quick shout out to both Charlie Brown and the nutrient-packed pumpkin. Can't get much better than this bright orange winter squash when it comes to health benefits and taste. Pumpkin blows many other vegetables away with it's beta-carotene/carotenoid content -- carotenoids are a type of antioxidant that helps prevent disease/cancer and gives pumpkin its vibrant color. Pumpkin also contains other types of antioxidants, lutein and ziazanthin which promote eye health and lower the risk of macular degeneration. Pumpkin blows nutritional charts out of the water in vitamin C and potassium and is a good source of dietary fiber. Surprisingly, canned pumpkin is much higher in beta-carotene (vitamin A) -- nearly 10 times greater thanks to its nutrient concentration and low water content. Pumpkin's a healthful addition to muffins, pies, cookies, and breads as well as just on it's own. Cut into chunks and roast it up just like you would squash (drizzle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper) for a nutrient-rich side dish or to toss into a seasonal salad. Make a pureed pumpkin soup spiced with curry and diced apple. And don’t forget about pumpkin seeds which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats and may help lower cholesterol levels. Love those crunchy little suckers, but think of them like you do nuts...a little goes a long way. They pack in alot of healthy fats and protein, but can also rack up in calories quickly so aim for a small handful per serving. Don't trash the seeds after carving your pumpkin, here's an easy recipe for roasting them.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or paprika
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups raw whole pumpkin seeds
season with salt to taste
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Combine the butter, spices, Worcestershire sauce and pumpkin seeds. Mix thoroughly and place in shallow baking dish. Bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Makes about 10-12 servings
Nutrition facts: 210 calories, 17g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 1g fiber, 12g protein

Finding the Health in Halloween

Trick-or-treat people! We're about to hit that infamous day of the year when munchkin-sized ghosts and goblins (or Don Drapers and Sarah Palins) and sugary-sweet candy corn and toostie roll pops come out with a vengenance. And I LOVE everything about it.
Yup, this nutritionist adores Halloween, the day of everything-orange-and-black...spooky, scary, fun, and loaded with any dietitian's and dentist's dreaded nightmare...endless heaps of candy.

If you didn't get a chance to read my monthly e-newsletter, here's the piece I wrote in praise of this frightful annual holiday. Have a read and rejoice in finding a little bit of health in this year's Halloween! (and if you're not signed up for my newsletter, click here and scroll to the bottom to get on the list!)

I'll come out and say it, I love Halloween. Odd words coming from a nutritionist, but it's always been one of my favorite holidays (maybe I'm just a sucker for dressing up and carving pumpkins). And I'm not gonna lie, I like a little candy once in a while too. There's a time and a place for a few milk duds, sweet tarts, candy corn or peanut m&ms -- wrapped up in black and orange packaging, they bring back trick-or-treating memories from childhood. Sure, on a daily basis, candy isn't something I encourage or take part in -- most of candy's ingredients are void of any decent nutritional value. But here's the healthy catch with Halloween: a) it's 1 day a year b) Halloween candy usually comes in bite-size, baby portions. Genius! Actually, these mini-sized candy bars or boxes are what actual portions should be. Two or three, and you're golden...you've gotten your sweet tooth fix and haven't gone crazy on the calories. Halloween can absolutely teach us something about healthful indulgence: baby bites = smart portions.

Here's a quick run down of your fave Halloween candies and their calorie counts:

  • candy corn (1 serving, 22 pieces) 140 calories, 0 grams fat

  • fun sized snickers or milkway (1) 75calories, 3.5 grams fat

  • fun sized m&ms (1 pack) 90 calories, 4.5grams fat twizzlers (3 pieces) 130 calories, 5 grams fat

  • peppermint pattie minis (2 pieces) 110 calories, 2 grams fat

  • reese's peanut butter cups (3 minis) 90 calories, 7 grams fat

  • snack sized butterfinger (1) 100 calories, 4 grams fat

  • fun sized raisinets (1 pack) 65 calories, 2.5 grams fat

  • fun sized goobers (1 pack) 85 calories, 5 grams fat

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm obsessed...

You know when you've found a hidden gem of a restaurant or bar when you get giddy just thinking about it...and can't stop talking about it all week long. Earlier this week I had the good fortune of discovering the wine bar downstairs from Peasant, a rustic Italian restaurant -- with phenomenal food -- in Nolita. The wine bar was just as phenomenal. The perfect setting for my friend's birthday, for a date, or just for grabbing a glass of wine and some antipasti nibbles with friends on a chilly autumn evening. The cavernous, candlelit interior, wooden tables and extensive wine list warmed me up super fast. The vibe is laid-back and friendly and the food is perfectly simple. I hear crowds can get kind of rowdy late night, but this is definitely one place to check out sometime soon.

And on a random side-note, I'm also obsessed with my friend's band's hit song and video "Obsessed with You" . Check out the Orion Experience on itunes, their songs were recently featured on the Hills and they frequently play in NYC and LA. They rock!


There's nothing wrong with upping your game once in a while. By no means do I declare myself a professionally-trained chef...or even a professional cook for that matter. I'm a self-taught (and mother-dearest taught) home cook who loves to play with food, create delicious dishes, serve em up to friends and family, and more often than not, make a decent mess of my tiny New York City kitchen.
A classic over-achiever (call me type-A, I can take the blow), I decided to sign up for some cooking classes to hone my culinary prowess in the kitchen...I rarely tend to use recipes which clearly contradicts the 'precise' over-achiever in me, but I love the thrill of creating something purely from my senses and from scratch. Anyhow, recipes and preciseness aside, I was excited to take a series of classes at ICE (Institute for Culinary Education) in Manhattan. Did I take the "healthy cooking" course? Hells no! I wanted to refine the basic methods of basic cooking - nothing too elaborate, nothing overly gourmet, just good sound skills that I'd be able to apply anywhere, with anything. When you experiment in the kitchen and build up basic cooking skills and knowledge, you can really translate them to making a dish as healthful...or unhealthful as you wish. That's the beauty of getting to really know your food.
I must say, "The Essentials of Fine Cooking I" was an excellent class...and the instructor, Richard Ruben (author of the Farmer's Market Cookbook) will keep you cracking up, amused and thoroughly engaged the entire 4 hour class period. From killer knife skills (not literally) to braised lamb shanks to perfect omelets, the course was a great refresher...or a comfortable introduction for some.
Do you find yourself daunted by your kitchen, by the mere thought of using your stove? Take a gamble, have some fun and experiment with a recipe, a concoction of ingredients or check out a local cooking class near you. Happy honing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


If you haven't seen this article yet, hit print, run to the printer and start reading. You know I'm a big fan of sustainable food and agriculture mastermind, Michael Pollan, (see August's posting). Well, he's back in the media this week with an incredibly interesting, lengthy letter in the NY Times Magazine 's food issue this past weekend--one of the many articles I mentioned in Monday's post. "Farmer in Chief" speaks directly to the next president-elect, urging him to make our food industry and agricultural system an urgent priority. Pollan explains how food policy directly impacts national security, our move towards greener energy sources, the state of the economy and our national health care system. He makes a sensible case for a serious overhaul. Let's just hope the next administration actually listens.
Go and get reading!!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

From scratch...

Last week was packed with item after item to blog about -- so jammed packed I'm not exactly sure where to begin. Let's start with some basics in the world o'nutrition news.
Aside from the economy tanking last week, food news covered the papers. Check out this intriguing article in last week's NY Times titled, "In Bad Economic Times, Are People Healthier?" You probably wouldn't normally link better eating habits to a clamp down on your wallet, but the article cites that this year in particular, tough times and scrimping may actually do a body some good. A market research firm reported last May that 53 percent of consumers were cooking more from scratch at home than they did 6 months beforehand, thanks to rising food costs and cutting back on extraneous expenses like dining out at restaurants. Rising healthcare costs aside, cooking more from scratch has the potential to significantly impact our health and what foods are appearing on our plates. (Hopefully that translates to a better balanced of fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources and whole grains). We know that real food has a much greater "bang for your buck" (both nutritionally and literally) than anything boxed, bagged, processed, or wrapped in plastic -- and usually taste better too. Let's start putting that concept into practice. Good quality, healthy food doesn't have to be exhorbitant. A pound of chicken breasts, 4 potatoes and a head of broccoli will cost you an average of $10-14 and feed 4 people v. your $5 frozen dinner that just feeds one and often leaves you rumaging through your barren refrigerator hungry for more.
Just something to consider. Convenience is obviously another topic to tackle entirely, but I'm sticking to basics for now. How has our current economic state affected you and what you are or are not eating (or spending on food)? What's in your grocery cart these days? Personally, I've been hitting up the farmers market more than ever and am really trying to curb how often I eat out during the week -- a 'quick bite' with a friend or colleague can easily add up to $40-50 in this city...multiple times a week! I'm also making an effort to actually EAT my leftovers -- yes, I'm definitely guilty of making extra and dumping it after a few days of sitting pretty in the fridge. Put it in the freezer if you can't stand looking it for the 3rd or 4th time in a row...magic, you've automatically got healthy convenience food at a much lower cost!
Next up on the blogging radar later in the week: The New York Wine & Food Festival that occurred in NYC this past weekend, welcoming celebrity chefs and culinary speakers from around the world. I was lucky enough to attend two fantastic talks over the weekend. More on my experience hearing the mother of the organic food movement, Alice Waters and Nigella Lawson, in all her Brit gastro-porn greatness, to come. To accompany the festival weekend, the Times dedicated this Sunday's magazine entirely to the topic of food (see pic above)...everything from food policy issues, taking food seriously, locavorism and a soon-to-be-released documentary, Food Inc., that aims to raise social consciousness -- though it might seriously make you sick to your stomach or make you think twice where your poultry and beef is coming from in the process. I'd much rather go with the latter and pray it doesn't leave me with nightmares (I have no love for horror movies).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Carbs and running...what's the deal?

Hello there! I am fresh off my first half-marathon...completed in stride this past Saturday in Central Park. I have to say, for someone who hasn't always been a fan of running, the race was awesome. My legs felt the repercussions for a few hours afterwards, but it was a really fun, energizing way to start my weekend off. Sorry to say, I have no pictures to prove anything, so you'll have to take my word for it.
As the New York Marathon is quickly approaching, I figured this would be a great time to bring up the whole 'carb-running' discussion. Inevitably, every year around this time, someone -- or multiple people -- ask me about race training and carbohydrates...which is an excellent question. When, what type, how much? When to taper? Ever thought, "I'm running a race tomorrow -- this is the perfect excuse for me to have a ginormous pasta dinner!"
Sorry to put a damper on your pasta party, but you'll be much better if you incorporate good quality carbohydrate sources into your diet throughout your training period -- whether you're training for a 5K, 10 miler, half-marathon or the whole 26mile load. Overloading on carbs a few days or the night before the race doesn't give your body enough time to create a storage space for energy reserves (the technical term being glycogen)...which you'll slowly and steadily release during the race. Essentially, you've trained your muscles to hold and use energy reserves effectively and efficiently. This is the idea around 'complex' or wholegrain carbs, they're slowly digested and thus, they slowly release a steady stream of powerhouse energy.
About 2 weeks before the big race, you'll want to start tapering your workouts to allow for your muscles to build up enough energy stores. Since you're not as active, you can bump down the amount of carbs you're eating each day just slightly. Continue to focus on complex carb sources which serve as our body and our brain's optimal fuel source. We're talking brown rice, sweet potatoes, lentils and beans, quinoa, barley, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, wholegrain breads and cereals. Having a huge pasta dinner the night before the race may just make you feel unnecessarily full and may potentially upset your digestive system if it's a bit sensitive...and that's definitely the last thing you want to deal with on the morning of race-day!
The morning of, reach for a light, energy-packed breakfast (under about 300 calories or so) for peak performance. My personal fave: banana with peanut or cashew butter, but a slice of whole wheat toast with PB or a bowl of oatmeal or cereal with fruit with also do the trick. Whatever has been working for you during your training period, stick with it. Trying something 'new and supposedly improved' right before the race could wreck havoc on your stomach if it's sensitive.
Lastly, make sure you hydrate and hydrate some more in preparation for race day. Learn when and how much to drink. Drink 4 to 8 glasses of extra water for a few days prior to the event. For an endurance race like a marathon, drink 2-3 glasses of water up to 2 hours before the guns go off. Then drink 1-2 cups 5-10 minutes before the start of the race and then ¼ to ½ cup of water or Gatorade every 15-20 minutes or so during the race. For endurance workouts, races and exercise greater than 60-90 minutes, you may want to try out sports drinks to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to give you a boost of fuel. You may also want to try carbohydrate gels during a marathon again to replenish muscles and keep energy levels running strong. Again, test-drive gels, ShotBlocks, sports jelly beans, and sports drinks prior to race day to prevent any digestive problems.
Most importantly...have a great run, have fun! When it comes to running and food, slow and steady definitely wins out every time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More fall recipes!

A few recipes to add to the list. I developed these over the weekend, and I've gotta say, they're damn tasty. Enjoy!

Chicken with Mushrooms & Red Wine Sauce
Makes 2-4 servings

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into thinner cutlets and then into pieces
2-3 Tbsp minced shallot
1 heaping tsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth *(or water)
6-8 mushrooms, mix of button and cremini, or whatever suits your fancy; wash, trim and slice mushrooms
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a medium to large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium to high heat. Add chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper. Brown chicken, about 4-5 minutes, and add in shallots during final minute. Remove pan from heat and set aside. In separate saucepan, melt butter and add flour to make a roux. Add wine, chicken broth and chicken. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. In pan used to cook chicken, add in mushrooms and cook with remaining oil left in pan, about 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms to saucepan along with fresh thyme. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Allow sauce to thicken and simmer on low-medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.
Nutrition Facts: 240 calories, 11g fat, 4.5g sat fat, 0g fiber, 24g protein

Heirloom Tomato & Zucchini Gratin
Makes 8 servings

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, extra for drizzling
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 large heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced in thin rounds
1-2 medium zucchini or yellow squash, sliced in thin round
3/4 cup freshly shredded Gruyere cheese
2 tsp thyme leaves
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat over to 375. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium frying pan and add sliced onions. Brown onions and transfer to a 13x9” glass baking dish. Layer tomato slices and zucchini rounds into 4 alternating rows. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle with thyme. Drizzle additional olive oil over vegetables. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove dish from oven and remove foil. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese evenly over vegetables and bake, uncovered, for another 20-30 minutes until cheese is slightly golden-brown. Cool for 10 minutes and serve.
*For a comfort-food twist, replace 1 zucchini with 1 medium yellow potato, sliced thinly.
Nutrition Facts: 90 calories, 6g fat, 2.5g sat fat, 1g fiber, 4g protein

Banana-Walnut Bread
Makes 12-16 slices

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 ripened small-medium bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp almond or vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
¼-1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Mash bananas in a medium mixing bowl and mix in baking soda. Let stand while creaming butter and sugar with an electric beater. Add eggs, flour, nuts, almond/vanilla extract and bananas to the butter-sugar mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into a loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly on top of batter. Bake at 350 for about one hour, or until done. Cool for ten minutes and remove from pan, or cut into 14 thin slices. Served best when warm.

Nutrition Facts: (per slice) 150 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 2g fiber, 4g protein

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ditching the 'diet' drinks

This post is purely a big, huge shout-out to a good friend and old colleague who called me last week with earth-shattering news (and I'm dead serious here). "I've been Diet Coke free for 3 days and counting," she tells me. We're now going on 8 days but who's counting. This is an incredible feat for someone who formerly drank the stuff like water. We're talking starting the day off, definitely not coffee or a grande latte, but with a nice 32 ouncer of DC. Something clicked a few years ago and every time I would touch base with her, the consumption of this bubbly, sweet, calorie-free beverage was whittling it's way down little by little. Congrats my friend, you've officially broken a habit - some might go as far as calling it an addiction. That's an incredible accomplishment!

What's honestly so vile about diet sodas though? I mean, come on, they're calorie-free, bubbly, give you that little afternoon 'sugar' boost. Call them what you will -- satan or a god-send -- the bottom line is that diet sodas are artificially sweetened. The research is still out on the long-term affects of sweeteners, though some studies are now showing that consumption of them in large quantities may impact weight gain. I know, crazy to think because they don't have calories. But they do have an extremely sweet taste, which in my experience with many, many clients I've worked with, may heighten your flavor palette for sweet things (calorie-laden or not) and can urge you to crave more sweets, more frequently. Not such a great pattern to get into. Check out this Purdue study that came out earlier this year, citing that articifically-sweetened (sugar-free, 'diet', no sugar added) foods may trick our brain and stomach in not feeling a sense of satiety, and thus, eating more than we really need to. In essence, the sweeteners don't register.
If you're a frequent sipper, ditch the DC and my guess is you'll feel drastically different. Much less tired, much more energized, fewer sweet/carbohydrate cravings, more satisfied at mealtimes...the list could go on.

So what's my friend drinking instead of darling DC these days? She's found a new love for green tea mixed with raspberry zinger over ice...um, delish and a nice little shot of antioxidants too boot. Lastly, a small plug for my good friend's amazing artwork (yup, that gorgeous painting above is hers!). Checkout her paintings and website here.
Cheers LL!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The newest dieting trend

Well, it appears to be official, "eating for pleasure" is on track to become the hottest new diet trend. GREAT article in the New York Times yesterday by Tara Parker Pope entitled "Instead of Eating to Diet, They're Eating to Enjoy," definitely worth reading. The article sites a shift toward “positive eating” — people are shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates. Finally! Apparently the number of dieters is down-shifting. According to market research, 39% of women and 29% of men were dieting in 1990. Today, stats have dropped to 26% and 16% respectively.
Check it out...are you on the bandwagon?

A few other smart reads in the news this week:

A Dozen Ways for Kids to Eat Better

Deciphering the Good Old Egg

Update on Weight Loss Surgery

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Last call for summer eats

I admit, I'm back-tracking here, but I thought it might be useful to do a post with all the seasonal recipes that were featured in this summer's Nourish Newsbites newsletter. (If you're not receiving it, you're missing out! Sign up here).
So bear with me as I catch up to speed and post a string of refreshing recipes great for hot weather (keep scrolling down for additional recipes).
Here's a recipe I developed that's turned into one of my favorite 5-minute weeknight dinners (yes, 5 mintues and it's insanely good!):
Egg Scramble with Mozzarella w. Fresh Chives
1 whole egg
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons part-skim grated mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon fresh chives, minced
1 teaspoon unsalted butter (or olive oil cooking spray)
salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper with a wire whisk or fork until blended and sort-of "fluffy". In a small/medium saute pan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add in eggs and let cook for about 30-45 seconds until they start to set on the bottom. Use a good spatula to scramble lightly, moving eggs around pan to cook evenly. Add in cheese and chives and cook for another 30-60 seconds until fully cooked, turn heat off before eggs brown. Serve with mixed greens drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil and a slice of whole grain toast.
Makes 1 serving.
Nutrition Facts: 145 calories, 11 grams fat

Watermelon-Feta Salad w.Olives, Mint & Arugula
1 cup seedless watermelon chunks
1/2 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained *(optional, great for a heartier salad, chickpeas add a punch of protein!)
1/4 cup chopped kalamata or Greek black olives
1/4 cup Greek or Bulgarian feta cheese
1 tablespoons fresh mint, shredded
4 cups arugula, rinsed
Basic balsamic vinaigrette
1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste
Makes 2 servings
Toss first 5 ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Divide and arrange arugula leaves on plates, top with watermelon-feta mixture. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and serve.
Nutrition Facts: 270 calories, 17g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 4g dietary fiber, 9g protein

Seared Scallops with Fresh Corn & Tomato Relish
8 oz fresh caught scallops
2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 ear of fresh corn, schucked and cooked
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, extra leaves for garnish
1 teaspoon butter
salt, fresh ground black pepper to taste
Makes 2 servings

Cook ear of corn in boiling water, about 8-10 minutes. Allow corn to cool and cut kernels off of cob. Place in bowl with diced tomatoes. In a small Cuisinart mixer, combine olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and basil and blend until smooth. Pour 3/4 of mixture into corn and tomato mixture and season with salt and pepper.
Season scallops with salt and pepper. In a medium skillet, heat butter and cook scallops 3-4 minutes on each side. Divide corn-tomato mixture onto 2 plates and place scallops atop mixture. Drizzle plates with remaining basil oil and sprinkle extra basil pieces (torn into small pieces or cut into a chiffonade) on top of scallops. *Serve with steamed green beans or sauteed asparagus or a simple mixed greens salad.

Nutrition Facts: 320 calories, 18g fat, 3.5g saturated fat, 2g dietary fiber, 22g protein

Market Fresh Tomato & Basil Summer Pasta Salad
1-15 oz box regular or whole wheat penne pasta (can substitute bowtie pasta if desired)
6-8 ripe plum, vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes, diced 1 cup fresh basil, rinsed, torn in small pieces
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar (enough to evenly coat pasta)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oilsalt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
¾ - 1 cup fresh shredded pecorino romano cheese
Boil water for pasta. Once water boils, cook pasta 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Once pasta is cooked, drain and allow to cool. Combine pasta, tomato, basil, oil & vinegar in large bowl or tupperware container, mix thoroughly to evenly distribute. Season with salt & pepper, top with pecorino romano and mix lightly again. Serve at room temperature or cold. Toss in some grilled chicken breast or chickpeas for a quick punch of protein!
Makes about 10-12 servings (1/2 cup per serving)
Nutrition Facts: 220 calories, 8g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 8g protein

Spinach Salad w. Balsamic Berries, Goat Cheese & Toasted Walnuts
1-6oz bag organic baby spinach
1 ½ cups strawberries, hulled & quartered
½ pint blueberries
¼ cup walnuts, toasted & chopped
2 oz goat cheese

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp shallots, minced
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Assemble salad ingredients in large serving bowl and mix together. Combine ingredients for salad dressing in separate container and shake well, may be prepared 1-2 days ahead of time. Drizzle dressing over salad, mix well and serve.
Serves 6
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
Calories 130; Total Fat 9g; Saturated Fat 1.5g; Carbohydrate 12g; Fiber 3g; Protein 3g

Artichoke & White Bean Bruschetta w. Lemon & Garlic
1-14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed & quartered
1-15 oz can cannelini beans, drained & rinsed
1 ½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh lemon zest, additional zest for garnish (zest from 2 lemons)
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 18-inch wholegrain baguette, sliced into 16-18 1/2 -inch pieces
extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place ingredients, artichoke hearts through lemon juice into a food processor and puree, mixing well until desired consistency is reached, may be smooth or slightly chunky. Season with salt, pepper and lemon zest.
Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake baguette slices for 8-10 minutes until toasted and slightly browned. Spread 1-2 tablespoons dip on top of bread and arrange on serving platter. Garnish each bruschetta toast with extra lemon zest if desired.

Makes 16-18 servings (2 Tbsp dip per serving)
Nutrition Facts (per serving, 1 bruschetta)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fall recipe series!

I'm kicking off the season with a smattering of delicious recipe posts. Keep your eye out each week for new delectable dishes. Look on the right-hand side bar for an archived list of recipes.
First up: One of my all time favorite salads, the blend of flavors is absolutley perfect for the fall. This has become a staple request at my family's Thanksgiving table (read: I'm not allowed at the table if I don't make it!) .

Pear & Gorgonzola Salad w. Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 4
- 1 bag mixed greens or baby spinach
-2 red pears thinly sliced
-1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
-1/4 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped
-1/4 cup dried cranberries
-1/3 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (can substitute w. fresh goat cheese for a milder flavor)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic or Champagne vinegar
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons shallot, minced; salt, fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine ingredients, make dressing 3-4 hours prior to use, to allow flavors to intensify.

Nutrition facts: 280 calories, 18g fat, 4g saturated fat, 7g fiber, 5g protein.

Euro-eating...yes, bring on the bread, cheese and wine PLEASE!

Sounds somewhat funny, but I figured the term "Euro-eating" (and more likely 'bread, cheese, and wine') would surely grab your all's attention! So as I mentioned in last Friday's post, I thought it'd be worthwhile to dish a little on what European, in this case French, eating means and why it can be both MORE pleasurable and more healthful than the typical Western/Americanized style of stuffing our faces. In this case, less really is more.
In reading the latest issue of Gourmet magazine over the weekend, I came across a wonderful account of an American writer, who eases the reins a bit and eats her way through Paris...happily. She writes, "I realized for the first time that pleasure makes moderation possible."
Halle-freaking-lujah! I love this quote (I also love Ruth Riechl, the masterful culinary editrix behind Gourmet). Anyway, the quote holds alot of truth. When we let go of eating for every reason under the sun aside from simple goodness and enjoyment (whether it's out of stress, a never-ending string of crazy diet fads, or out of extremely harried convenience), all the pleasure and fun is sucked right out of food. And then we end up eating wayyy more than our waistlines bargained for.
Consuming small amounts of really flavorful, fresh, well-prepared food allows you to savor it...and not need seconds, or thirds. That's taking the clutch and putting our 'super-size' culture in reverse.
To highlight a personal example, I'll throw it back to my recent vacation. I was lucky enough to spend some time in St. Barts, a French island in the Caribbean. I indulged in lounging on gorgeous beaches, swimming in water so blue it was piercing, and taking in a week of plain old relaxing. I also indulged in exploring the French-influenced groceries, markets and bakeries around town. And yes, I whole-heartedly got on the bandwagon of having small amounts of fresh-baked bread, incredible cheese, and refreshing rose` wine on a frequent, if not daily basis. I balanced things out with lots of fresh fruits, veggies and fresh-caught seafood as well as some ridiculously tasty plain "naturale" yogurt -- European yogurt tends to only be sold in 4oz containers...as opposed to our 6oz servings here in the US (which confirms my point that less is often more). And you know what, I felt fantastic and rocked a bikini all week long.
Longing for something a little more European and seasonal when I returned home, I decided to make the trip to Fort Greene in Brooklyn this past Sunday to check out iCi, an adorable French-style bistro with a killer outdoor garden that serves up seasonal, local fare. I'd been wanting to go for a while and it was well worth the trip. One last nod to my summertime fave, I shared a watermelon-feta salad and poached eggs and grits with a teensy bit of truffle sauce (amazing!).
So what's your take on Euro-eating? What foods do you find the most pleasure in?

lunch at iCi in Brooklyn!

Friday, September 5, 2008

FALLing back into your groove

After a nice little hiatus and a much needed escape from everything work-related for a week or two (see left), I'm back, as is el blogo, and I'm ready to jump into fall. Before delving into all the glory of fall...and fall-food-finds, I think it's important to comment on the necessity of taking a break from things -- from the stress of daily life, from your gym routine and your die-hard, uber healthy eating mantra (if you have one...you know I'm a big believer in balance).
Today's post was inspired by my good friend Margarita, who has been blogging for Glamour magazine about her weight-loss journey for the past 6 months...and is kicking some serious as*! She just returned from vaca as well and writes about letting go a little and eating foods that truly satisfy, taking in everything about a culture and their culinary-fare (she had the pleasure of discovering all the goodness of Croatia's cuisine and sites recently). Check out her blog, super cool and incredibly inspiring!
Ok, so why are vacations so damn beneficial? Why is it that we often return home a little lighter on the scale?

1. You finally are able to let your guard down and relax. Your stress hormones are shot to the point of no return for a few days (or hopefully weeks) and thus, your body actually sheds a few lbs that it was holding on to. Consistently high levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, can often cause our bodies to hold on to weight for dear life...no matter how impeccable your eating habits are. Yeah, not so fun.
2. You are likely more active on vacation than you think and hence, burning through those calories at a steady clip.
3. Thanks to your carefree 'do-it-up' vacation mindset, you're likely eating foods you normally wouldn't...possibly foods that are actually satisfying -- which typically means we end up eating less of them because they're satisfying. And shocker, you end up consuming fewer calories in the long run! I've termed this "Euro-eating". More to come in my next blog post on what the hell "Euro-eating" is and why Europeans tend to eat more 'indulgent' foods but are still slimmer and healthier than Americans.

So there you have it. Makes me want to plan my next vacation asap!
How can we now take this period of recharging and restoring and head into the fall season that's upon us? Get back into your groove with a new outlook, fresh for fall. Think back to high-school (scary as it may be) -- a new school year, a new fall sports season. Get psyched and get going! (I can't believe I just used the word psyched on a professional blog site). Make a mini goal list and post it on your fridge, at your computer, wherever you'll actually see it and stay mindful of whatever it is you've set out to accomplish -- whether it's incorporating more fresh produce into the picture, tackling the grocery store and your kitchen, losing (or gaining) a few lbs., or running a race (that's my personal goal, I've signed up for a 1/2 marathon in October...don't ask me why). Keep reading in upcoming weeks for the low-down on fall fruits and vegetables (and how to get them onto your plate) along with some delish autumn-inspired recipes.
More to come next week on my own vacation (that's me above in St. Barts) and my thoughts on "Euro-eating"!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer in the streets

This post is a quickie. I just wanted to mention the "Summer Streets" program that's currently going on in NYC. For the next two Saturdays in August (16th & 23rd), the city is shutting down Park Avenue/4th Ave from the Brooklyn Bridge all the way up to 72nd Street. That means no cars, buses or taxis allowed from 7am to 1pm. Bloomberg's ushering in runners, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, you name it. I did a test run myself last Saturday, the first day of the program, and I have to say, it was great to see the city's streets from a whole new perspective. Here's me (post-run, pretty sweaty) in the middle of 4th Avenue.

So get out there and get moving! Finally, a quick note: I'm taking a breather and will be on vaca next week. I promise to return rested, refreshed and ready to blog!

Are you a conscious eater?

I'm reporting back from last Friday's event (better late than never) at the PS1 Urban Farm exhibit where Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, spoke about the current state of our food system in the U.S. If you've read any of Pollan's 5 books or long list of newspaper and magazine articles, you know this guy isn't messing around. Pollan writes and speaks about agriculture, the environment, farming and food systems -- all from "the plant's" perspective -- and all to raise our consciousness around what we're eating. His subtitle of his latest book that quickly has become a mantra in many circles: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Pretty powerful words when you take a moment to think about it. Pollan's speech last Friday focused on discussing the power of the plant's point of view and why it can play an important in solving some of our environmental issues.

Aside from the insanely hot room where the lecture was held (we're talking hotter than Bikram yoga on an August evening), Pollan's speech hit home with the audience. He referenced the value of sustainable agriculture, moving away from genetic engineering and "factory farms" that view animals as merely machines (scary to think that's what ends up on your plate)...and moving towards bringing farming back to small, local farmers -- who with a little ingenuity, actually have the capability of feeding a whole lot of people. In basic terms, think ecosystem v. factory. Personally, I'd much rather live in an ecosystem than wonder if I'm actually eating "chicken" and if so, wondering where it came from -- a farm with grass, space and room to walk, or a huge coop where chickens and other animals are packed in like sardines.
How exactly do we achieve the return to an ecosystem -- that's still to be determined (Pollan is indeed working on some pretty significant ideas though, keep your eyes peeled on the New York Times magazine over the next few months).
I'll sign-off with my favorite quote of the evening: "There are ways to get what we need and leave nature in better shape than when we found it."
Yes, it's somewhat of a broad quote, but you can certainly start small and take baby steps to make a difference. For me, that means purchasing the majority of my fruits, vegetables, eggs and poultry at my local farmer's market. I have a better understanding of where my food is coming from and how it was raised or produced. If a greenmarket isn't an option for you, you could simply start by looking for 'locally-grown' items at your neighborhood grocery store.
So my question to you all is, what would you want to change about the way you eat -- how would you "vote with your fork"?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What are we really eating?

Not that it's a huge surprise, but there never ceases to be a lack of nutrition and health news...and this week was certainly par for the course. I'll leave you with 2 quick mentions and let you read for yourself. (and no, the New York Times is not my only source of news, they're just always publishing great things to blog about!).

1. "The Overflowing Dinner Plate" -- I found this recent NY Times article and the crazy display of metrics attached to it to be fascinating, go ahead, call me a nerd. The article looks at what (and how much) Americans were in eating in 1970 v. what we eat today. Shocking statistics -- actually, they're really not all that shocking if you think about the obesity epedemic we're dealing with these days. In 1970, we consumed an average of 16.4 pounds of food a week. Today, we're talking 17.8 pounds of food per week. Crazy to think that in 1980, 15% of U.S. citizens were obese according to the CDC. As of 2007 however, that number sky-rocketed to well over 30% of the population -- with over 66% of the population hitting 'overweight' status. Any correlation to a serious increase in portion sizes and a +353% increase in the amount of corn syrup we consume each year? Hmm...could definitely be two of a plate-full of contributing factors. Anyhow, I thought the graphic (below) was pretty interesting. What's on your plate these days?

2. As a follow up to my recent post on the 'latest and greatest diet study,' the diet wars drudge on. Dr. Dean Ornish, a nutrition and diet expert and professor at the University of California, San Fran comments on the recent Israeli study that found an "Atkins-like" diet shed new light on potential cholesterol-lowering capabilities of saturated fat and proved to have benefit for weight loss (remember -- this is the study that had participants eating a vegetarian form of the Atkins diet). Ornish decodes the study and reminds us of the basic tenets of healthy eating -- eating well and keeping the weight OFF. He'll address the scientific validity of the controversial study in weeks to come (don't worry, I'll blog about that too!). One of my favorite quotes from the story:
"What matters most is a person’s overall way of eating and living. If you indulge yourself one day, eat healthier the next. Otherwise, if it’s a diet you go on, it’s a diet you go off. Even more than feeling healthy, most people want to feel free and in control. This also gets away from moral judgments about food. It’s a small step from eating “bad food” to thinking of yourself as a “bad person,” and no one wants that. Food is to be enjoyed. Pleasure is sustainable; feeling deprived and controlled is not."

Next up: I'm going to hear Mr. Michael Pollan, author of The Ominvore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food tomorrow evening. Check out what he's got to say early next week!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bouncing back from a bender!

I hate Mondays. Ok, hate is a strong word, but after a long week and an even longer weekend, Monday morning isn't always something I look forward to (as much as I adore my job!). Here's a breakdown of the past 5 days:
Thursday -- Birthday. It's a new decade for me people...need I say more? Awesome, delicious, long and relaxing birthday dinner with my girlfriends at Rayuela in the Lower East Side, sort of a pan-Latino mix with great seafood and possibly the best lobster ceviche I've ever tasted. And of course the birthday girl had a few bites of cake...well, cake wasn't on the menu, but a few spoonfuls of chocolate mousse is a close second (see picture at left, a log-like take on chocolate mousse, darn tasty).
Friday -- long car ride to DC for the weekend. Caught up with close friends over dinner-- a salad, half a chicken burrito and a glass of red wine.
Saturday -- friend from college's baby shower. Lite brunch food and babies go well together! Later that evening, a nice dinner out with my family in DC -- salad with dried cherries and a sprinkle of blue cheese along with a halibut entree. (thankfully this multi-day/meal birthday celebration only occurs once a year!). Met back up with friends for a drink.
Sunday -- friend from college's bridal shower (different friend, we just like to jam-pack weekends every so often!). Lunch and homemade orange sorbet (unbelievably light and refreshing...and served in a scooped out orange rind!) LONG drive back to NYC. I have no love for the Jersey Turnpike. Lame attempt to catch up on sleep and go to bed 'early'.
Monday -- recovering and ligthening up my plate a little

As you can see, it's been quite an eventful past few days. We all have heftier eating or traveling weekends now and then, and once in a while, a bender of a night thanks to one too many margaritas or glasses of wine. How do you handle it without wrecking havoc on the scale? A small secret called PACING! You're heading into a long weekend, you recognize this so take a second to think before your fork dives in at every meal. Here are a few quick tips for social-heavy weekends and getting back into your groove:

1. choose 1 meal (not 5) to live a little, try something new and exciting
2. portions - do your damnest to watch em at meals, restaurants typically serve 2-3 times what a normal serving should be!
3. alcohol - just watch the intake (do you seriously need that 4th vodka and soda?), sip slow and drink some water over the course of the evening to stay decently hydrated
4. the best way to bounce back from a heavy night out with a healthy breakfast and lunch, I swear.
5. lighten it up come Monday morning -- you're back home and your normal routine is back on track. Lots of water, fresh fruits and veggies. skim back on eating out this week and be mindful of working portions back down to their normal state...your stomach often expands a little after heavier weekends/holidays etc and you may find you're able to eat more food than usual.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kids and cholesterol drugs -- a bad mix?

After a slight R&R hiatus this past week, I'm back and the latest news in the papers is scary enough that it's prompting me to put pen to paper...er rather, fingers to my laptop's keyboard. Anyhow, after reading one too many articles about the American Academy of Pediatrics' recent recommendation to prescribe statin drugs (like lipitor) to help lower the cholesterol of at risk children over the age of 8, I felt the need to quickly comment. "At risk" meaning they're at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes down the road and have high levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol (above 130).
All of this of course, is linked back to the overweight and obesity epidemic that has our country and food companies at their knees. A news article just published yesterday stated that 14 major food companies, Coca-Cola and Kellog's among them, who are members of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative are planning to make a serious effort at marketing "healthier for you" foods to children in an effort too keep weight off. Great to hear, but will it really illicit change? What will really hit home with kids, what role do parents and guardians play? I'm not so sure medicine should be the got-to answer and it appears many others feel similarly because the American Academy of Pediatrics is getting a whole lot of flack right now. How did we get to this state of continuously expanding waistlines in a country that focuses so much attention on losing weight and spends millions each year on "diet" foods? Less time in front of the tube or computer, more time outside or actively playing along with smaller portions and simple changes towards healthier 'kid-friendly' foods might just do the trick--saving medical alternatives for when they're truly necessary. What do you all think?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Latest and greatest diet study???

Ready or not, the latest diet study has hit the fan. Last Thursday the New England Journal of Medicine released results from a study comparing a low-carb (aka Atkins) diet, the Meditteranean diet and a low-fat diet (30% fat). Over 300 dieters were put to the test, assigned to one of the 3 diets. Researchers found that those on the Mediterranean and low-carb diets lost more weight than those on the low-fat diet after the first 5 months (10 pounds and 14 pounds respectively). Of course the dieters regained some of the weight after two years, finishing off with a total loss of 6 and 10 pounds (Med and low-carb).
What's almost more interesting, and more controversial, is that the low-carb diet which was higher in saturated fat and the low-fat diet, both helped lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol. Interesting because the Atkins diet traditionally has been scolded for encouraging unhealthful, cholesterol-raising amounts of saturated fat from rich calorie-laden sources like red meat, bacon and butter.
So behind the scenes, here's what the news stories are forgetting to mention:
1. the study was funded by the Atkins Research Foundation...I don't smell bias do you?
2. dieters put on the low-carb Atkins-like diet were actually encouraged to get their fat from vegetarian sources like nuts, oils etc which are healthy unsaturated fats and may outweigh the health/cholesterol impact of whatever saturated fats were additionally consumed.

Bottom line: It's a single study and there appears to be a number of confounding factors going on here. As Tara Parker Pope put it in her NY Times blog post, it's additional evidence that 'diets' just don't really work. A 10 or 6 pound sustained loss over two years doesn't sound ovewhelming to me. So what should we take away from all this? Stick with the basics people! The Mediterranean diet--or a version similar to it--has proven again and again to positively impact health, disease prevention and keep the scale hovering at a friendly number. A day-to-day diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbs like whole grains and legumes, healthy sources of fat like olive oil/grapeseed oil, nuts and avocado and a focus on seafood and fish has worked well for thousands of years. Eat fresh, eat whole, eat on smaller plates (ie. smaller portions) and you're good to go.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The scoop on ice cream

I admit my vices when it comes to food (we're all human) and I have a slight love affair with ice cream, always have, and most likely always will. The affair heats up when summer hits, nothing goes better with a hot Sunday evening than a scoop of delectable ice cream. My love affair got even more steamy last weekend when I ventured down to Soho to check out the new butter-yellow truck that dishes out Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (pictured above). I love that co-owning brothers Pete and Ben's motto is "Fresh. Local. Pure. Simple." And their ice cream really is just that (in addition to utterly amazing). They take pride in working with local dairy farmers, using organic cream and hormone-free milk, and sourcing some of the best ingredients around -- like fair trade Columbian coffee, Sicilian pistachios, organic peppermint and real, fresh strawberries. Not to mention the napkins, cups and spoons are made from environmentally-friendly renewable resources. Pretty nice guys, huh.
I can tell what you're thinking...how can a nutritionist encourage eating high-calorie, full-fledged ice cream? Isn't that a little contradictory to the idea of 'healthy eating'? Actually, it's not at all. Part of being healthy and eating well is enjoying small indulgences -- when they're REALLY worth it. I was completely satisfied with my small, single-scoop peppermint-chip cone this weekend. When we allow ourselves to eat real food made with fresh ingredients our bodies register the good stuff and we don't end up craving more...and more. We're satisfied and that's that. If fat-free, taste-free frozen yogurt doesn't really do the trick for you and you end up eating a huge portion loaded with too many toppings to count, what's really the point? You've probably wasted more calories than you would have with one small scoop of the real stuff and it wasn't exactly an enjoyable experience. Food should be enjoyable people--when it is, the less we end up eating overall. It's like magic! So here's why, when and how to get your kicks, have a good lick of your fave ice cream AND still strut your stuff at the beach this summer:
1. make it worth it -- don't just eat any old ice cream, only the best of the best will do
2. timing is everything -- if ice cream's your thang, pick just one time a week to have your little treat
3. flava flav -- order a single scoop of whatever you've got a hankering for, save on calories without compromising flavor
4. love every lick and don't dare feel guilty afterwards

My personal favorite ice cream flavor? That's tough one, I'd have to go with Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio (I know, random) or an incredibly intense Vanilla. What's your favorite?

(refreshing peppermint-chip...I'm in love)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gone fishing in NYC

Good seafood can be hard to come by in this city. But sometimes on a warm summer evening, that's all you're looking for--a little beachy nostalgia wrapped up in a nice, simple seafood meal. Though I'd heard rumors of terribly long waits (even for NYC), I decided to brave the crowds and met a friend at Mary's Fish Camp in the West Village for an incredibly quaint, delicious dinner. A small, white-washed corner cafe with a few tables, curved counter with bar-stool seating, and more fresh fish options than you could ever imagine. There's something wonderful (and healthful) about simple, clean food and Mary's gets it right on. My friend and I decided to share a few dishes, starting off with a tomato-feta salad with some of the crunchiest cucumbers I've had all season. Lobster knuckles (at left) were up next--freshly steamed, they were so amazing who really needs butter to clutter the taste? For the entree, we split spot tailed bass accompanied by a tasty summer corn-avocado relish. (A nice little boost of omega-3 healthy fats in there!)
If you're on the healthy-eating straight and narrow, this is certainly one restaurant that provides a ton of tasty, lower-calorie and heart-healthy choices. With a daily listing of whole fresh fish, you're able to take the driver's seat and request your preferred cooking method...grilled is always a great call. Tack on a side of fresh veggies or some corn on the cob and you've got a really well-rounded meal. And if you're in the mood for sharing something a little more spurlge-worthy, don't worry, the fried oysters and lobster roll are staples on the menu.
I'll definitely be headed back in the near future. Happy fishing!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Herb gardens go urban

Sometimes you have to make the best of things living in NYC. Having outdoor space in this city basically requires being blessed by the real estate gods...or being lucky enough to have inherited a spacious, rent-controlled apartment from your grandparents or some long-lost relative you met once when you were 5. Unfortunately, I fall into neither of those categories.
So, I thought I'd share a quick, inside look into my attempt at creating greenery within the confines of my apartment. Sure, I'd love to have a sprawling garden with flowers, herbs and fresh vegetables, but the linoleium flooring in my kitchen doesn't exactly fit the bill. Alright, I'm a compromising person. Call me what you want, a culinary dork, a nerdy nutritionist (which I'm not thank you!), but I really wanted to have access to fresh herbs for when I'm cooking, makes a huge difference in flavor. Say hello to my makeshift herb garden on my kitchen windowsill. It's a bit sparse at the moment, but I've got some incredible basil perfect to pair with summertime tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and sweet-smelling mint, great for tossing into salads, marinades, iced-tea etc. Thankfully my kitchen gets lots of sunlight--the herbs are growing at light-speed. I'm planning to add a few other herbs down the road (I'm thinking rosemary and thyme for the fall).
What's the moral to today's semi-random post? It doesn't take much to boost the flavor and healthfulness of your food....no matter where you live. Fresh herbs and spices are a no-brainer!