Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hollywood's dieting rollercoaster

Front and center in today's NY Times Sunday Styles, here's one more article casting the spotlight on the ups and downs of celebrity diets. The yo-yo diets of Hollywood figures like Kristie Alley, Oprah, and Valerie Bertinelli and the emotional rollercoaster battles that often go along with them. More evidence, eaten up (literally) by the press, that diets just don't work. With continued talk and attention, I think we're finally, slowly starting to grasp hold of the idea that deprivation isn't really worth it (or effective), and that stringent programs, and boxed meals and liquid lunches are plain old miserable and usually serve to do nothing but screw with our metabolisms and set us back another 5, 10, 20 (or more) pounds. Not fun and certainly not pleasurable. Our bodies don't register what the hell we're attempting to do. And then throw into the equation the massive wrench of all the underlying emotional and pyschological factors that tie directly to what we toss into our grocery carts...and how much of it we're eating in a given sitting. Somehow, we've made eating an incredibly complicated (and sometimes painful) experience. It's sad, unfortunate, frustrating, and unthinkable -- how could we have possibly veered so far from the basics?
Yes, the basics that you learned in kindergarten (the whole 5 food group thing). I harp on it alot, and I'll continue to do so...but fresh, real food in the appropriate portions (often about 15-30% less of what many of us are currently eating at each meal) does a body good -- real good. I was thoroughly impressed with a straightword, in your face, article in this month's issue of GQ magazine. It's not online, so snag a copy from the news stand. Page 98-104. It's written for the alpha-male, but you know what, the alpha-male just wants the facts - plain and simple. And that's precisely what the article serves up. Five basic guidelines to eat by:

1. Recognize the need to start reducing now. (read: portion sizes!)
2. Learn your portions. (see above. think the good 'ol fist trick here)
3. Eat your fill of fruits, veggies, lean protein like meat and diary. Make it interesting and curb calories by sauteing, roasting, and grilling vegetables and lean sources of protein. *they also note to have the fruit/veg component of your diet outweigh the amount of meat you're eating. simple way to cut daily calories by a few hundred - that adds up over the year...10, 20, 30 lbs.
4. Keep it simple. Don't try to change too much too fast, you'll drive yourself nuts. Try incorporating healthier habits one at a time and make them stick. Their example - swapping a salad for lunch instead of a burger and fries.
5. Indulge every once in a while. Please!!! I'm a full supporter of this statement. Any food can be included somehow into a healthful, balanced diet - it's all about figuring out the right amounts and the frequency to make it work for you. Don't let nachos, chocolate, wine, fries derail you. Indulge occasionally and love it. You'll end up being that much more conscious of what's on your plate.

nice job GQ. today's lesson: think like a male, simple and straightforward!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Farm to Table...all about local foods

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of chatting with Zachary Cohen, creator of the upcoming food and farm reality TV show Farm to Table: The Emerging American Meal. Zachary and I discovered that we had quite a bit in common and likely could have talked about the local and sustainable food movement, food policy, cooking, health, nutrition, farm fresh restaurants around NYC and so much more for hours on end. As a result, we decided to put our thoughts to paper, or rather to our respective blogs, and conduct a series of back-and-forth interviews on topics relating to all-things food. What both of us, and many of our fellow New Yorkers, are (or are not) eating and why. Here's the first interview in which Zachary asks me for my thoughts around local food--plain and simple. Check out the highlights below and read about why we should care about and support local food and how to easily work it into your life bite by bite. Stay tuned for additional interviews and learn more about Zachary's own blog and his upcoming reality cooking, education and travel show, Farm to Table.

Introducing Marissa Lippert, Local Foods Nutritionist

I personally believe that local foods will be one of the essential ways in which our country rescues itself from the enormous hole we’ve dug for ourselves. Eating local foods begins the reparation process in ways that extend beyond just health and wellness, though certainly those are critical areas that need immediate attention. Supporting local food systems connects us to the providers of our food, it keeps money in the community, it increases employment; furthermore, every dollar not spent in support of industrial agriculture is a meaningful way to speak with our wallets. Still, the most tangible and long lasting effects of a heart local foods system in this country will be better health and better food. I do not know anyone that would argue with that.

I remember once talking with Chef Josh Eden of Shortys.32 in New York’s Soho neighborhood. He had just put a new dish on the menu, a Jerusalem Artichoke soup, and asked me to try it. To my knowledge, I had not ever tried Jerusalem artichokes, and if I had I surely wasn’t aware of it. The way Chef Eden, or "Shorty," as everyone calls him, talked about his soup, it was as if he was talking about his child or perhaps even a lover. The fantastic amount of thought he had put into it was clear. He cared whether I liked it. I could see it immediately.

I’ve witnessed this same sense of connection in countless conversations with servers, sommeliers, cheese mongers, baristas and of course farmers. And I can tell you, these people are not in it for the money. Crappy pay, worse hours, poorly behaved customers (or animals); the reasons NOT to go into the service business (or farming) are legion. But what I have heard time and again, is that every so often there is a perfect moment when one truly "serves" a customer, when one gives something to someone that they need. It is these moments that make it all worthwhile. Food provides sustenance to people, both physical and spiritual; therefore a sort of halo effect is conferred upon the people who have chosen to be the providers of that sustenance.

This halo effect extends even further than just those in the service business.

Marissa Lippert, a nutritionist in New York City with a practice downtown, contacted me recently. She had found the website and wanted to chat. We rattled off some names of books, authors, specific articles we both had read. Marissa relies heavily on incorporating local and sustainable foods in her nutrition programmes. It was clear we needed to explore more about each others work as it seemed like we were on the very same page regarding health, food, nutrition, and the deleterious effects the mismanagement of these issues has on peoples’ lives. What was also clear was the care with which she had examined the nutritional habits of her customers, and also the society as a whole. It made me think of Shorty. She simply got it. The halo was there.

So it is with this in mind that I interviewed Marissa, so that we could all get a professional’s take on local foods movement. Does it help people with their nutrition? Can we design local food programmes that serve both our ideals and our waistlines?

Below is the result of our first interview of which, I am sure, there will be many others. Welcome to the Farm To Table family Marissa! Her full contact information is at the end of the interview, but you can always hit up her website.

What does local food really mean to people?

I think ‘local’ has a very basic meaning to most people — food that’s grown, produced, and/or raised closer to home. The ‘locavore’ movement that developed a few years back, defines local as food being produced within 100 miles of where you live. The term local suggests that food is fresher, often more flavorful and more nutrient-rich – particularly with produce because it’s being harvested when nutrients are at their peak and we (as the consumers) are getting that produce soon after. Local means less travel and storage time. It also allows us to connect with the person who’s actually growing or producing the food we’re eating, which is a huge bonus. I think something happens when we’re able to connect our food back to its starting point. You build relationships – with local farmers, with your community, with how a food tastes and what it does for you both, from a health and a pleasure standpoint.

How are average city dwellers making local foods more of a priority?

Average city dwellers, like you and I, are making local foods more of a priority simply by paying more attention and making a conscious choice to purchase them rather than another product. Hitting up your local greenmarket or scoping out “local” and “seasonal” signage at the grocery store. Even taking a small step and making a conscious effort to buy 15-20% of your total groceries/produce from local vendors/farmers is significant. I encourage people to start small. Look for seasonal, local fruits and vegetables at the grocery store if they’re not able to get to the farmers market. If it’s January and you’re looking at tomatoes shipped in from South America, they’re probably not going to taste too great…and that’s a decent amount of travel time/food miles…not to get too “carbon footprinty” on anyone. Make smart choices when you’re able to – you don’t have to go full-force locavore in a week…or even a year, but making the purchase of local products more of a priority can absolutely add up over time.

If not, why not?

I think people are often daunted by an over-abundance of information around food, health, diets, nutrition etc. What’s the latest trend and is it really something they have time in their life for? We’re not sure if we should be buying ALL local or ALL organic or a mix of both or all sugar-free or low-carb or what have you. The more people are informed with the simple basics around good food and where it comes from, the easier they’re able to decipher all the misinformation – sticking to basic whole, fresh foods as straight from the source as possible. The less “man-handled” the better.

As a nutritionist, how do you bridge the gap between eating healthfully and making food really enjoyable?

I really aim to keep things as simplistic, realistic and accessible for people as possible. Conveying great food and the idea of eating well in an exciting and manageable way allows really anyone to look at “healthful food” in a new light…and make it work to their advantage, working it into their particular lifestyle. Who said pasta, fresh pesto sauce, delectable dark chocolate, wine, artisan-baked bread and an amazing local cheese (just to name a few) can’t be a part of a healthful diet? I try to encourage people to get into the grocery store and take a trip to their neighborhood farmers market and then get back into the kitchen (or for a lot of New Yorkers, christen it!) – even if it’s just once a week, you’re getting excited about making and eating fresh, flavorful, healthful food that much more.

What is your approach with someone who is interested in incorporating local foods into their diets, but is weary of going totally local or seasonal all at once?

My approach is to help them figure out what’s most convenient and accessible for them…and what they might eat most frequently – have your fridge stocked with a few bare-bones basics at all times. Like a local yogurt or eggs or milk for instance. Or make it a weekly habit to stock up on 2 or 3 different fruits and different vegetables to always have on-hand. Make those particular picks your local ones…start small and then go from there.

What is "nutritionism?" How hard is it to negotiate all the variegated food and diet advice. How do you simplify the message for your clients?

I see clients everyday who are completely overwhelmed by “nutritionism” – or what I call the nitty gritty minutia of diet-world hell. It’s not fun, is totally confusing and often leaves people stuck in a worse relationship with food than when they started. Think of it like dealing with that psycho ex-girlfriend/boyfriend you just can’t break free of. I work with clients to drill back down to the fundamentals around food and eating…tapping into what our bodies are trying to tell us – what tastes good, what actually satisfies us, what we’re craving and why, when we’re hungry…and when we’re not.

1. Do you have rules?

I wouldn’t say I have “strict rules”…that sounds pretty miserable and in my mind, rules are made to be broken. But I do help clients set parameters and realistic (and sustainable!) guidelines to work with in order to achieve whatever their individual goals are. Everyone, particularly in our beloved type-A city, loves a little structure. It’s really about working to figure out the right balance for yourself. Between eating out frequently, drinking, eating on-the-go…there’s always a way to make things work in your favor.

2. Are they absolute or more flexible?

ALWAYS flexible! Life’s definitely not absolute and there’s no way that eating – seeing that you’re doing it multiple times a day – can or should be absolute either. Eating’s often an experience and should be pretty exciting. Make the most of it when you can.

3. If not rules are there any guidelines that you find effective with your clients?

Definitely. My top 3:

1. If you’re looking to drop a few extra lbs, reassess your portion sizes. Cut back by just 10-15% and you’ll see a significant difference over a couple of weeks. Something to note…most restaurants serve 2-3 times the amount of food we really need to be chowing down on!

2. Pile on the fruits and vegetables (ideally local when you can get them!). Vitamin, antioxidant, and fiber-rich produce should really be the foundation/focus of each and every meal throughout the day. Fruits and vegetables fill us up crazy fast off of much less.

3. Think about the concept of “balance” …develop a healthful foundation or ‘typical’ daily routine of solid meals and snacks for yourself that eventually become more of a constant in your busy life. Recognize what style of eating and what foods help you feel and look your best. What ‘staple items’ do you always want to have in your fridge/pantry or readily available at work? This way, when you have a ridiculous bender of a weekend or a string of heavy eating/drinking days (and we all have them), you can pick right back up on your healthful routine and keep on moving ahead.

Does the local movement help people simplify?

Yes, I totally think it helps us simplify things because it encourages us to purchase seasonal items – to shop, cook and eat more seasonally rather than having an overabundance of options in front of us at the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong, options are fantastic, but I think there’s something great (and certainly very nutritious) about seeing what local/seasonal items are available on a given week. I think it boosts our creativity around food and cooking, bringing new ideas to the table…new foods to experiment with. I’ve fondly termed it “renegade cooking”, but I also am not normally one to follow recipes, I like cooking ‘off-the-cuff’. It’s a fun challenge and you might just stumble on an incredibly tasty creation!

Why should we be eating local foods?

Plain and simple: more nutrition, more taste and flavor, and more community/agricultural support all for less money (usually) and less of a carbon footprint.

How does including local foods in your program help people?

It gets them thinking about food and what’s on their plate in a fresh light, from a different perspective – ideally. I think it places more value on what you put into your body and it makes healthy food much less daunting and boring and much more appetizing and exciting.

Where does cooking fall in all of this?

One of the most common issues I run into is people are so unaccustomed to cooking that asking them to get back in the kitchen is like asking them to climb Mt. Everest. For sure, definitely in a city of people who often use their ovens as storage units – for anything but cooking utensils. By no means do you need to climb Mt. Everest every night…or every week. But taking small steps to get back into the kitchen – stocking up your fridge, turning on a burner or two…it changes the habits and routine you keep. You’re able to take that much more control over what you’re eating – and do so relatively easily.

From a nutritionists standpoint, what does cooking do for people looking for help?

I really find that getting into the kitchen (again, even just once a week), connects you to the food you’re purchasing and eating. You often care just a wee bit more and can see, taste and feel the value of preparing your own food.

And how do you weave the importance of local foods into cooking or eating locally?

Like I mentioned above, TASTE and FLAVOR. Can’t go wrong there when it comes to buying and cooking local. I always use the example of the nasty mealy tomato shipped halfway across the country in the middle of winter – that versus the juicy, vine-ripened Jersey tomato that hits farmstands and greenmarkets in the height of summer. Absolutely no comparison hands down.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Summer internships go organic

Happy Memorial Day, summer's officially here! In the spirit of all those summer internships that are about to commence this week for countless college kids, I thought this post was quite fitting...and reflective of both our economic times and of the growing focus around this country's food systems. A new call to arms for the next generation? Check out this article describing the alternative internship route many students are taking this summer, opting for hard-labor and crack-of-dawn wake-up calls on an organic farm rather than corporate world coffee-runs and endless hours of filing and faxing. Food policy, Michael Pollan and farming is the new college vibe for many this summer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Twittered and tweeted...

After much hesitation, I'm officially up and running on Twitter (sometimes a seriously 'full plate' is a good thing)! You can follow me here. Tweet it up!

News Feed: "Local" goes big and Babycakes is out!

Lots of good news circulating today. A few quick updates on the news feeder:

* Check out Kim Severson's thought-provoking article "When 'Local' Makes It Big" highlighting the new twist on the local food movement -- local food goes mass food manufacturers. Sounds slightly contradictory. Severson writes of large scale food companies like Frito-Lay and Hunt's making the most of the 'local' movement, emphasizing the geographic origin of their food products. It sounds quite similar to the blow-up of organic foods a few years. Do Lays potato chips made with 'locally grown' potatoes really count as local food (see photo on the upper left courtesy of the NY Times)?
Where does health and nutrition factor into all of this...not to mention the concept of getting to know your local farmers and sourcing out seasonal, more nutrient-rich food when possible.
No surprise, Michael Pollan is quoted in the article and gives his two, much-appreciated, cents: "The ingenuity of the food manufacturers and marketers never ceases to amaze me. They can turn any critique into a new way to sell food. You’ve got to hand it to them.”
Jessica Prentice, an SF food writer who termed 'locavore' reminds us that "The local foods movement is about an ethic of food that values reviving small scale, ecological, place-based, and relationship-based food systems. Large corporations peddling junk food are the exact opposite of what this is about.”
Whether you agree with her or not, I absolutely think it's a valid statement and something we should muse over before we're inundated by a whole lot of food marketing, which is what all of this appears to be.
For me, local food is all about connecting yourself back to the food at its most simple, flavorful and wholesome origin...and understanding what fresh, real, locally-grown food does for us and our communities. There's a relationship there that develops when you breakdown the process of getting food truly from the farm to your table. And yes, of course not everyone is able to have access to farmers or farmers markets within 100 miles of where they live. But, do food manufacturers really have our best interest at heart? They're making efforts, but at the end of the day, who wins out? Empty-calorie 'local' potato chips from a bag or iron, potassium and fiber-rich real potatoes from your local greenmarket? You tell me. If nothing else, I think it's progress that we're bringing the ideal of non-processed, sustainable food to the table. Let's keep the discussion going.

*Also of major note today (or officially last week)...Erin McKenna, who founded the infamous gluten-free bakery, Babycakes in NYC and now also in LA, has released her first gluten-free, vegan cookbook - check it out here on Amazon. Her stuff's good people, REALLY good! And check out her killer commercial announcing the launch of the book - it totally ROCKS! Congrats Erin!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Daily Graze: Ramp it Up

Ramps are officially in season and have hit your nearest greenmarket or if you're lucky enough, nearest grocer. A what? A ramp? Ramps are classified as wild leeks, in the onion/garlic can smell them a mile away, they're delicious and they're only in season for a brief but bountiful 6 weeks or so. It's kind of amusing how amped up people get over these harbingers of springtime flavor. I've actually spotted a few festivals across the country dedicated solely to ramps in my web research, but then again, there seems to be a festival for just about everything. Ramps are quite the tasty bunch though. Checkout the WSJ's recent article/review...I love the sub-head: "The real scent of spring isn’t the tulip or the cherry blossom but the stench of fresh ramps."
Here are 5 quick ways to get ramps onto your plate:
1. Ramps & eggs - chop them up (both the green and white parts are edible) and mix them into scrambled eggs an omelet, or a springtime frittata. Instant flavor boost.
2. Ramps & pasta - change up your standard garlic routine and swap in some sauteed ramps and a simple sprinkling of parmesan cheese or pecorino romano and red pepper flakes for a fast, delicious pasta dish. Just this week I had buccatini pasta with ramps and pecorino at L'Artusi in the West Village this week and it was pretty phenomenal. Also check out this recipe for ramp risotto.
3. Ramps on pizza -- Ramps as a pizza topping? Oh yeah. They're so versatile you can really do just about anything with them.
4. Ramps & roasted potatoes - pair some fingerling or baby potatoes with ramps. drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss in some chopped ramps and roast at 425 for about 20-25 minutes.
5. Pickled ramps - sounds kind of odd, but if it's good enough for Tom Colicchio (the head judge of Top Chef and one of my favorite NYC chefs)... Check out his recipe on

What's your favorite way to use ramps?

In good taste,

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Everything's in the cookie...

...Literally everything. I had a craving this past weekend for something sweet (but still semi-wholesome) and chock full of "stuff". Taking some inspiration from Momofuku Milk Bar, one of my favorite dessert spots in NYC's East Village, I decided to experiment with my version of their "Compost cookie" -- basically, throw in a whole lot stuff and hope for the best. The end result, was a cookie bursting with deliciousness, texture, the perfect amount of sweetness and even some healthfulness. This "trash can cookie" is chock full of heart-healthy oats, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and raisins, healthy fats from walnuts and peanut butter and the random addition of pretzels for that sweet-salty crunch. I've aptly named this cookie for my new book due out next April, The Cheater's Diet. The "Cheater's cookie" crams in a whole lot of health, flavor and indulgence into one tiny cookie (hopefully that tells you something about the rest of the book!). *Fair warning, the batter makes a mountain of cookies, so these are great for gifts, to bring into the office or even store in the freezer for when you’re dying for something sweet.

The Cheater's Cookie

Makes 48 cookies

3 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup natural peanut butter, chunky or cremay

1 cup sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla *I like a lot of vanilla, so I usually put in 1 full Tbsp

1 ½ cups or 12 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate chips.

½ cup chopped walnuts

¾ cup raisins

½ cup pretzels, broken into small 1-2” pieces


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whisk together oats, flour, baking soda, spices and salt.

3. In a stand mixer, like a KitchenAid, beat butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until well-blended. *If you don’t have a have stand mixer, combine ingredients in a large mixing bowl and use an electric mixer.

4. Add in eggs and vanilla and beat until completely blended. Turn the mixer speed to medium-low and slowly add dry ingredients. Beat until blended and add in chocolate chips, walnuts, raisins and pretzels. If you have time, chill the dough for 2 hours or overnight.

5. With a spoon, drop rounded tablespoons of dough a few inches apart on a greased baking sheet – 12 to 14 cookies should fit on each baking sheet. Bake cookies for 15 to 17 minutes. Remove cookies and cool.

Eat up people and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gut reaction...what's "instinctive eating"??

It's funny how some topics of conversation just tend to repeat themselves like a broken record with every person you come in contact with over a matter of days or weeks. On my radar of late, "instinctive eating". What the hell is "instinctive eating" you might ask? I'll tell you what it's not - it's not getting swept up in the wave of crash dieting and weight loss -- all the knit-picking around the minutia that goes into tracking every calorie, fat, and carbohydrate gram along with sugar and sodium content.

It’s exhausting, it’s certainly not fun, and most importantly, it often steers us away from the end goal of eating well (note the emphasis on well). That valiant effort of losing a few extra lbs actually moves many people away from this inherent mindset around food and eating. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to muse over “eating with instinct.” For me, that means getting a good read as to what my body's screaming for...typically a lovely balance between fresh, seasonal, healthful food and a good dose of ice cream and vino (which can be healthful in their own rights!). I do my best to get that balance AND enjoyment out of every last bite and sip. I think it's often too easy to get wrapped up in everything but that which we should really be considering — what a food tastes like, how wholesome foods make us feel, and what we’re craving or not eating enough of (or too much of).

Bottom line? We sometimes miss out on what our bodies are trying to tell us. It might sound ambiguous, but it can have incredible effects. Not to sound preachy, but if you remove the packaged, processed, artificial, and “diet”-focused products and eat fresh, whole, flavorful foods instead, the results are pretty stellar. Magically, our energy levels shoot up, we’re sleeping more soundly, sugar and carbohydrate cravings drop off, and our portions shrink but somehow leave us more satisfied and fulfilled.

And as an added bonus, we tend to lose some of those extra pounds without even thinking about it — all from real food. Doesn't sound too bad huh? Maybe "diet" really is a four letter word?...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Casting call for new Farm to Table TV show!

For all you foodies and locally-grown fans out there, Zachary Cohen's new TV reality show, Farm to Table: The Emerging American Meal is looking for guest stars! The premise of the show, in Cohen's words is "following food from farm to table, sketching the journey our daily bread makes. Starting at the farm, meeting the stewards of the land, engaging them on their turf. And we simply follow the flow from there."
Not only will Farm to Table be following farmers, cheese makers, artisans, etc, but the show also wants real people, YOU, to write in and share stories, scenarios and questions around your thoughts on and experiences with the sustainable food movement, how you've made your kitchen and fridge a little greener, a little more local etc. Never know, they might contact you to film your story and bring your food experiences into the world of reality TV. The show sounds awesome, check out Cohen's website and blog and start sharing!