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Monday, January 2, 2012

A Few Favorite Food Photos

Pretty Plate: Chef Johannes Klapdhor, Old Edward's Inn, Highlands NC  

Chef de Cuisine Chris Suerta's take on beef tartare with egg: this is crab meat with mango gelee! 

Time for an elegant dessert at Madison's in Old Edward's Inn: raspberry sorbet with elderflower "cocktail"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Energize Your Eating for Hectic Holidays

Just when you’re supposed to be at your sparkling best the hectic holiday rush can run you ragged. But, before you reach for a caffeine-charged energy drink to reboot your mood take heed of warnings to consume these beverages responsibly. According to a federal government report emergency room visits associated with energy drink use increased more than ten times from roughly one thousand in 2005 to over thirteen thousand in 2009.  Most of the adverse reactions such as insomnia, nervousness, nausea and rapid heartbeat were in those who downed between two and eight energy drinks. However, a few rare cases involved seizures, cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrest, particularly in people with underlying medical conditions. Bottom line- energy drinks can contain a lot of caffeine and most do not list the caffeine content on the label. Unlike soft drinks which the FDA limits to 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce serving; energy drinks are considered “dietary supplements” and no such limit applies. Depending on the brand, energy drinks contain about 10 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. A cup of strong coffee can contain about the same amount, but hot liquids are often consumed more slowly over a period of time not gulped back quickly like a “shot” of tequila.

Energize your eating
While the risks of relying on energy drinks continue to be debated here are a few suggestions for energizing your eating habits over the holidays.

Don’t Miss the Morning- Before you race off reward yourself with breakfast to bank energy for the day. The best breakfasts contain a source of protein and whole grains. Take the time to sit down, relax and enjoy a bowl of yogurt with fruit, whole grain cereal with fat free milk, a scrambled egg or peanut butter on whole wheat toast. 
Prevent the crash - Skipping meals is like forgetting to put gas in the car. Overfilling your tank isn’t a good idea either. That’s because big meals (remember Thanksgiving?) require the digestive track to work overtime and sap the energy you need to stay on the move. Instead, eating frequent small meals every 3 or 4 hours gives you sustained energy throughout the day and helps prevent mood swings during the stressful holidays. If you’re going to sample Christmas cookies or other seasonal sweets enjoy with a glass of fat free milk. Protein in the milk helps keep blood sugar levels on an even keel and your energy level humming.
Feed Your Thirst Even mild dehydration can cause you to feel lethargic and tired. It slows down your metabolism too and that’s no good during the all-you-can-eat holiday food fest. Drink plenty of water or other unsweetened beverages throughout the day. Fresh fruits and vegetables count toward fluid intake too. A fresh orange for a simple snack hydrates and provides nutrients needed to help keep you healthy during cold and flu season.   
Coffee or Tea?  A cup of coffee works in the short term to boost your energy and even improves mental focus needed for holiday shopping. But, too much too late can disrupt sleep patterns and there’s no worse energy robber than tossing and turning all night. Caffeine content of coffee varies widely -between 100 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per cup - depending on coffee bean variety and strength of the brew. What about tea? Studies show that a cup of black tea, which contains caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine can increase alertness while keeping you calm.  
Chocolate Break- A bit of dark chocolate can boost mid-day energy levels too. It contains caffeine and a stimulant called theobromine. Avoid eating chocolate, including hot chocolate late at night. 
Restless Nightcaps - Too many holiday toddies or toasts can prevent a deep sleep and disrupts sleep patterns leading to fatigue the next day.  The dehydration caused by a holiday hangover contributes to a next day energy crisis, too. An electrolyte balanced sports drink can help.  
A glass of this helps a hangover too!
Keep moving – Instead of a nap, a brisk 15 to 30 minute walk can help pep you up. Breathing in some fresh air with a little physical activity helps you feel more energetic. An exercise escape is a good tactic for stress relief while visiting the relatives, too. Let's dance!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Healthy Vacation Food Finds in Florida

This is the time of year when South Florida starts filling up with visitors from colder climates in search of the sun’s warmth and ways to play outside. A getaway to golf, go boating, swimming and fishing or simply walk on the beach lures folks to the “Sunshine State” each winter season.

My colorful fishing buddies on the Naples Pier
Staying active is an important part of a healthy break, but so is finding fresh, nutritious foods to eat. Florida’s long been known for seafood places and citrus stands but there’s a lot more to discover to please ‘foodies’ on vacation today.   
Chilled Crab Gazpacho at Swan River Seafood in Naples

Organic Options
Frank Oakes and Carolyn O'Neil at his organic farm east of Naples. 
During a recent trip to Naples in south west Florida I made it my quest to avoid the well represented chain restaurants and food stores to learn what enlightened locals were serving. Right down the road from Whole Foods Market I found the bustling independently owned Food & Thought Organic Farm Market & Café.

Owner Frank Oakes, who looks a lot like actor Paul Newman in his later years, told me that everything his market sells - from soups and sandwiches in the café to shampoos on the shelf- is 100% organic 100% of the time, “We don’t fill in with stuff that’s called natural. That doesn’t mean anything. Right now I’d like to stock lemons but the only organic ones I can find are from California at ninety dollars a bushel. Can you believe in this citrus state no one is growing organic lemons?”  Oakes runs a small farm east of town to supply his market with organic produce including strawberries, tomatoes and sprouts; but the aisles are filled with foods from other organic producers, too. Cases of organic green beans from Homestead caught my eye, a major center for Florida agriculture. “People come to the organic table for the absence of toxins,” says Oakes of his customers, “But the real reason is to buy for the taste and nutrition that’s in organic foods.” 
Adorable healthy looking young gal making my smoothie at Food & Thought  
I chose a mid-morning fresh juice smoothie made with beets, apples, carrots, ginger and parsley. How did it taste? Uh, healthy.
Feel like a stroll after dinner and a scoop of ice cream? You can still go organic. Over on Naples’s fashionable
Fifth Avenue South, Marion
and Jen Schupperhauer (originally from Heidelberg, Germany) have recently opened Adelheidi’s Organic Sweets.
The bright little shop features freshly made sweet and savory crepes and baked goods made with organic ingredients as well as house made gelatos with fabulous flavors including strawberry basil, avocado honey and lime black pepper. How did they taste? Really good!

Can't write a post on Florida foods without a basket of oranges!
Organically grown ingredients are even showing up at area attractions. The café at the Naples Botanical Garden features farm-to- table lunch and snack creations prepared by chef Greg Shapiro’s Taste Buds catering team. He says, “It’s a beautiful place and now visitors can relax and enjoy a wrap sandwich or salad just as fresh as the flowers.”

Florida Fresh

It's ocean to table at Sea Salt Restaurant in Naples.
Seafood is still center stage in south west Florida. I was fishing for healthy seafood preparations and found two favorites. At Sea Salt Restaurant on swanky
Third Street South
chef Fabrizio Aielli uses just the right touch of salt from his unique collection of over 100 sea salts from around the world. The grouper cooked with tomatoes and capers was delicious and a much lighter choice than the usual fried seafood platters served elsewhere. But you don’t have to eat upscale to find healthier fish dishes.

Chef Matt and pretty server at Swan River Seafood & Market
On busy Tamiami Trail in a strip of stores, I found chef Matt Ferreira’s chilled crab gazpacho and grilled grouper sandwich with a non-mayo cabbage slaw at Swan River Seafood and Fish Market. He says “I cook with the fish and shellfish sold in our market. I know it’s fresh.”   This is my kind of Florida sight seeing.  

Sign on Naples Pier- are they serving Bait Smoothies?

Oh, and I literally ran into the Governor of Florida while jogging through park in Naples on Veteran's Day.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Argentina's Tasty Tango of Food and Wine

October Springtime in the vineyards of Familia Zuccardi in Mendoza 

Autumn menus in Atlanta might be adding the deep orange colors of butternut squash, earthy brown nuts and other fall foods, but it’s spring time in Argentina.
An October trip to visit my daughter, Katie, who is studying in Buenos Aires for a junior semester abroad, had me struggling with the concept of temperatures warming up while the weather at home was cooling down. I quickly adjusted the first day by walking around bustling Buenos Aires’ wide boulevards lined with purple and pink flowering trees and the promise of springtime fresh fruits and vegetables with delicious cuts of lean beef on restaurant menus. Of course, Argentines don’t need to wait for sunny weather to throw steaks on the grill.
Pork and Malbec in Mendoza
Beef with Bold Sauces
When in Argentina, eat beef. Argentines eat 160 pounds of beef per capita, and their tender, deeply flavored grass-fed beef typically charred on an open fire is considered the best in the world. What I loved most were the condiments that are traditionally served with the grilled meats at steak houses called parrillas.
The expertly seasoned and grilled beef, lamb or pork may be center stage, but interesting salads, such as arugula, hearts of palm with tomato, marinated cauliflower and broccoli, bean salads and roasted beets grace the tables, too. Condiments such as pickled onions, salsas, herb- and garlic-based chimichurri sauces and other savory treats add punch to the parrilla plates, so you don’t have to eat Texas-sized portions.
This is Argentina and the dining style is more European, with smaller portions, and the pace is slow and easy.

Wine and Roses for Madre Day in Argentina
On Sunday of our visit, which was Mother’s Day in Argentina, Katie and I, along with our friend Liz McDermott, enjoyed a typical parrilla lunch on the patio of the Grill Q at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Mendoza, the center of Argentina’s wine country.

Argentine problem: malbec or torrontes?

Bodega means Winery
Argentina’s best-known grape varietal is Malbec, a velvety smooth, red wine with all the aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon, but with the black currant and spices of Merlot. Another red varietal, Bonardo is coming along, too, with more Burgundian style with soft tannins. Argentina is becoming known for its white wines, too, especially Torrontes, which is lighter than Chardonnay.

Jose Albert Zuccardi greets us with his sparkling rose

During a lunch visit to one of Argentina’s top wine producers, Familia Zuccardi, we tasted another delicious product beginning to make its mark as an export -- olive oil.

Miguel Zuccardi proudly pours his golden elixir - Zuccardi Olive Oils 
New Gold in the Vineyards  
While his father Jose Albert and brother Sebastian focus on the family’s wine production, Miguel Zuccardi tends the olive groves and newly constructed olive oil bottling facility.
“Like our wines, we have an advantage that the quality of the olive oil produced in Argentina is very high and the cost is less than oils from other regions,” Zuccardi said.

A Memorable Lunch....of what WE can remember! 

This photo of Liz basking in the glow of empty wine glasses tells the story of our multi-course, multi-wine tasting luncheon enjoyed at the beautiful restaurant of Familia Zuccardi. Spring's poplar trees sprinkled the al fresco table with tiny blossoms making it even more magical.

Do these glasses look good on me?


Culinary Surprises at Familia Zuccardi 
To further demonstrate how the culinary offerings of Argentina are world class and go beyond the parrilla, a memorable lunch presented at the Familia Zuccardi restaurant featured courses such as a tiny savory pastry stuffed with road runner and topped with crispy amaranth grains,
Mushroom Ice Cream with Crispy Oat Chip 
a delicious mushroom ice cream, local trout with pistachio and beets, succulent pork on lemon mashed potatoes and chocolate ice cream infused with cayenne pepper and topped with sea salt and a layer of golden olive oil.

Ever Tasted Road Runner? 
The afternoon ended with a toast to the beautiful spring day with a sparkling wine from the Zuccardi’s cellars made in the method of Champagne but it all began in the winery with a barrel sample of caramel colored fortified "orange wine" that sipped like cognac as smooth as silk.

Viva Argentina! Liz, Carolyn and Katie's great day at Zuccardi!
Can't leave without dessert! We had several but this meringue ice cream ice cream is topped with a dried strawberry that the Familia Zuccardi chef says took days to create!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Numb to Nutrition Numbers?

The Lady of the Refrigerator on Good Eats is numb from the cold, not nutrition numbers. 

Have you noticed that most nutrition advice ends up with a number you have to remember? OK, we get the four food groups and three meals a day but when it comes to recounting the number of milligrams of sodium you’re limited to per day (2400 mg) or number of times a week you’re supposed to eat fish (two 3.5 ounce servings) – the memory can be a bit foggy.  That’s why the USDA’s replaced the Food Pyramid with its easier to digest nutrition icon called MyPlate. The image shows a round plate with colored partitions to help consumers better visualize what to put on their plates. Half is filled with fruits and vegetables and the remaining two quarters are for protein and grains respectively. A cup of milk off to the side represents a serving of dairy per meal. Dig deeper and you find that dairy should be fat free or 1% low fat milk, yogurt or cheese. Further direction in grains suggests half be whole grain varieties. In the protein group lean cuts of meat are advised. If you want to substitute nuts remember that 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is the protein equivalent to one ounce of meat, fish or poultry. No wonder consumers complain of nutrition number numbness. “We are in number denial. Too many, too often and too confusing,” agrees dietitian Leslie Bonci who is co-author of “Run Your Butt Off” and Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, “It has to be relevant, so instead of numbers, I say to my athletes, never eat anything larger than your head. And it is MyPlate, not my trough. People understand that.”

Meals not Milligrams: “I think people should focus on the food, not the nutrients,” says author of “Nutrition Unplugged” dietitian Janet Helm, “The numbers should be all about servings, not grams and milligrams. To me, one of the best numbers is ‘half’. Fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables. If we can get people to do that, it would be a huge improvement.”

Mind Over Math: Nutrition advice today focuses on being more mindful. Are you too full to finish what’s on your plate? “Number madness leads us to what we “should do” instead of what feels right,” says dietitian and weight management expert Marsha Hudnall of Green Mountain at Fox Run, “Instead of eating in a way that feels good, we try to manage our food intake intellectually. Be mindful and tune into hunger cues.”

Grades without Numbers: “Telling a mom that her child should have x number of fruits, veggies, and whole grains per day seems okay, but if the child has not met that goal they may get discouraged, ” notes co-author of “No Whine with Dinner” dietitian Janice Bissex. “As long as they are improving and moving towards the goal of increasing consumption of these healthful foods they can feel good about their progress.”

Meals Together Add Up: “Research shows that teens who eat family meals at least five times a week have better grades, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and have better overall nutrition,” shares Mary Martin Nordness dietitian with the Southeast United Dairy Association. “Unfortunately, only a third of American families are eating together on a regular basis.”

You’re Number One: Toby Amidor, nutrition expert for says, “The most important thing to remember is that your health and well-being come first. With a little guidance, education, and practice, the numbers turn into routine and don’t get as confusing.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

School Lunch in the Bag Basics

Back to school fashions are strutting their stuff in the cafeteria, too. Brown paper bags are fading away and insulated lunch containers are taking over.
The Little Mermaid for Little Lunchers 

Bento Boxes are great for kids who don't want food "to touch" 

 The simple sandwich is being replaced by a selection of bites presented bento box style, “It’s kind of like making your own “lunch-ables," says Sandy Nissenberg dietitian and author of Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade. “You buy a plastic container and fill the compartments with fun lunch options like cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes on a kabob, turkey tortilla roll-ups, cold chicken pasta salad or mini chicken drumsticks. Add a fruit on the side, get milk at school and you’re good to go.” Nissenberg likes this mix-and-match small bites approach because it appeals to child-sized appetites and lunch periods at most schools are pretty short, “By the time a child finds a seat, talks to his friends, and finally pulls out his lunch, there may be only 15 minutes to eat. Most large lunches will probably get thrown out." Easy to peel Clementines or pre-sliced oranges and apples are more likely to be eaten than whole fruit. That’s especially true for kids with loose teeth or braces.  
Kids don't know the half of it.....half should be fruit/veggies. 

My Lunch MyPlate
Whether the cafeteria bound container is festooned with Hello Kitty, Justin Bieber or the Atlanta Falcons’ logo – what’s inside matters to child nutrition experts. The new USDA My Plate nutrition icon indicates one half of a healthy plate should be filled with fruit and vegetables, with the two other quarters occupied by a lean protein and a whole grain starch. To complete the meal -on the side of MyPlate is a cup of milk. This same food philosophy can be used to fill a lunch box. How do you get beyond the usual carrots and celery sticks solution?  Liz Weiss, dietitian and co-author of No Whine With Dinner suggests mixing in chickpeas and blanched broccoli florets to pasta salads and add variety to veggie snack offerings, “Cucumber wheels, red or orange bell pepper strips, sugar snap peas or snow pea pods. Add some Ranch or other dressing like hummus for dipping because the oil in these dips actually helps kids absorb more nutrients from the veggies.”  
What about the teens and ‘tweens easily distracted by the lunch time social hour? That table of ‘gossip girls’ busy checking out the handsome new boy don’t want to be seen gobbling a big sandwich like a hungry ranch hand. The new breed of whole grain sandwich or bagel ‘thins’ might be a better fit with 100 calories and 5 grams of fiber. For something sweet yet figure-friendly they may prefer to daintily dip grapes, strawberries or pineapple chunks into protein packed Greek yogurt.

Food Safety Patrol
Thrown in a locker, stuffed in a backpack or stashed under a desk for several hours, sandwiches and other lunch foods can linger in the bacteria friendly room temperature “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees for too long.  Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin found that 95% of packed lunches in a recent study were at an unsafe temperature. That’s why insulated lunch bags and boxes- many with a space to add an ice pack- get an “A” from food safety experts. Dietitian Jo-Ann Heslin author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books suggests you start thinking ‘cool’ the night before, “If you pack lunch in the morning, chill the lunchbox in the refrigerator overnight. If you pack lunch at night, put the food in the lunchbox and refrigerate both overnight. This helps keep all foods cooler longer.”  A thermos can keep hot soups hot but it can keep salads cool, too so they’re still crisp and cold at lunch time. Note: Perishable foods can sit in the danger zone for up to 2 hours before the lunch becomes risky.
Some lunch bags are built to carry cold packs 
Something Extra.
Since fast food restaurants succeed in attracting attention to their childrens’menus with toys and prizes perhaps two can play at this game. Nissenberg suggests, “Don't forget to add a character napkin for fun or maybe an inspiring note or fun message. It will bring along a smile during lunch.” 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spa Menu Raises the Bar with Healthy Cocktails

The Old Edwards Inn and Spa, Highlands NC 

Spa treatments are stepping up to the plate.  Chefs and mixologists at the Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands, North Carolina are pampering palates with a new menu of light bites and beverages especially created to pair beautifully with rejuvenating spa escapes. Far beyond the usual list of sips and salads offered at many spas today, Executive Chef Johannes Klapdohr literally serves up a garden of creative delights harvested from the inn’s organic vegetable and herb farm.
A sampling of Chef Klapdohr's garden of delights.
The Vegetable Carpaccio with House-Cured Trout and Micro Herbs tossed in a Light Apple Cider Vinaigrette is made with  beets and greens fresh from the farm. Already in bathrobes and slippers, guests can relax further knowing the menu is designed to be low in calories and high in taste appeal. Klapdohr, who is committed to featuring sustainable and healthy cuisine says, “We want the foods to allow you to enjoy the whole spa experience and leave you feeling happy and good.”   

Drink Your Vegetables
The Hummingbird Cocktail (broccolicious)
A new collection of culinary cocktails adds to the happiness quotient, too. Herbal teas and lemon infused spring water may be the beverage basics for spa goers; but mixologist Thomas Keenan created five wellness inspired cocktails for the Old Edwards Inn and Spa. Refreshing blends of beet juice, broccoli, cucumber, herbs and edible flowers get a kick from vodka, tequila, rum, brandy or moonshine. The garden green colored Hummingbird cocktail starts with vodka muddled with fresh pea shoots, sweetens the broccoli base with a splash of local honey and is garnished with flowering pea tendrils. The bright purple Beetiful cocktail named for its main ingredient is sweetened with pomegranate and blueberry juices and topped with beet foam. Because the drinks are made with vitamin and antioxidant rich fresh fruit and vegetables they’re a health and beauty treatment too. What you won’t find in these potent potables is a lot of alcohol; each drink calls for only an ounce or ounce and a half of spirits. “We are trying to focus on flavor and nutrition with less alcohol,” says Klapdohr, “That way you can enjoy the beverage without hitting the wall.”  So while massages, facials, saunas and steam baths may still be the main focus for enjoying time away at a spa; but resorts are raising the bar with food and beverage menus designed to complement the experience.

The Farm at Old Edwards Inn, Chef Johannes Klapdohr, Farmer Dave Taylor and Chef Chris Huerta