Friday, December 31, 2010

Good riddance, 2010

Tough year for me, overall, despite some blessings and happy times.

This posting isn't about food but why have a blog if you can't use it to sum up a challenging year in your life?

I'll start with what was good about the year:

  • A couple of great trips last summer -- Cape Cod in June, and the West (Denver, Moab, Monument Valley, and Santa Fe) in August;

  • At year's end, my physical health is fine, my mother is hanging in at almost 90--she lives in a nursing home near our house, and my loved ones all made it through the year in decent health;

  • My nephew Lee and his wife Savannah had a baby boy in July -- the first of that generation in our family;

  • My stepdaughter and her husband had their first wedding anniversary and their happiness is a source of continuing joy in my life;

  • My day job (university professor) is engaging and fulfilling;

  • I have an astonishingly wonderful emotional support system of family and friends, and this year is especially noteworthy in that my father's sister, Aunt Jean, came into our lives with her kindness and grace at just the time we most needed her (a God thing);

  • I have found greater comfort in God than in many years prior -- and also found a new church that I like a lot.

So with all those blessings, what have I got to complain about? It's a shorter list, but with some major stuff on it:

  • In March, the healthy foodie was shocked to learn that she had two arteries that were at least 90 percent blocked. I ended up spending 5 nights in hospital and getting 4 stents in those two arteries. I'm on all the meds now to keep my heart healthy. The cardiologist said there was "nothing" that I could do different, habit-wise, to improve my chances for no recurrence. In other words, my lifestyle is heart healthy, my genes are not.

  • My mother fell and broke her arm in January. She went into nursing care (from an assisted living apartment) and then the facility informed us that she would have to spend the rest of her life in nursing because of her advancing dementia.

  • Over the summer and without my knowledge, my husband's drinking got out of hand and he got into trouble with the law. He was arrested in September on a felony charge, and convicted early this month. Since Sept he has been on house arrest awaiting his (our) fate. His crime was on local TV and on the front page of our city's newspaper. I never could have imagined such a thing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Enjoying New Year's Eve

Whether you're going out or staying in, one of life's "shoulds" is that you've got to party on New Year's Eve. I was much more into that in younger days, but 12/31 remains a good occasion to get together with friends and celebrate new beginnings. (After the turmoil that happened in my life in 2010, I'm ready for something different!)

Here are a few thoughts about how to make the evening fun, safe and healthy.

1. If you drink alcohol, drink bubbly on this night. One of my favorite at-home celebrations is to invite couples to bring a bottle of bubbly and I'll provide the food. If you invite wine-savvy people, some interesting stuff will show up and it's a treat to compare various styles of sparkling wine. I am partial to Champagne, the real stuff from France, but there's a lot of variation there too and I like to try different styles of Champagne.

2. When you don't want to spend $$$ on Champagne, buy another type of sparkling wine and make "champagne cocktails." To cut back on alcohol consumption, mix your bubbly with orange or cranberry juice. Or pour a little Chambord (raspberry liqueur) or Grand Marnier in a flute and top with the sparkling wine. These drinks are just as festive as straight Champagne, sweeter (which many people prefer), and might lessen any ill effects on New Year's Day--also known as a hangover.

3. Be vigilent about drinking and driving: don't do it. There are ways to get around having to drive after you've imbibed, and you really have no excuse to get out on the roads in the early morning hours when you're impaired. My strategy of choice is to host a party at home, usually with guests who live in our neighborhood and don't have far at all to travel--some can walk home, even. Find a way.

4. Eat mindfully. By this point in the holiday season I am completely stuffed with extra calories from things I normally do not eat. I haven't gotten on a scale lately but know that a few pounds have piled on that I need to be getting rid of soon. For me, New Year's Eve may not be a diet day, but it's also not going to be an overly indulgent one, either.

All the best,


Friday, December 24, 2010

Top Food & Health Stories of 2010

Here's a roundup of the biggest food news of the year, and how these developments can affect our health (in a good way).

1. New Health Care Law includes requirements for restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.
Whatever else the health-care overhaul did or did not do, one result is that it should help diners know what they are eating. Eating out is probably the biggest diet-buster in modern life -- something I love to do, by the way -- and when the FDA writes the new rules in 2011 about what restaurants have to divulge, this will be a good thing for our waistlines. Of course, we can choose to ignore the information, but we'll have fewer excuses.

2. U.S. Senate passes Food Safety Modernization Act.
All those food recalls in 2010 were scary, especially the recall of millions of eggs after more than a thousand people got sick from eating contaminated eggs, serve as a reminder that our FDA lacks the authority it needs to keep our food supply safe. This bill is not law yet -- it has to be reconciled with a more stringent bill passed earlier in the House -- but let's hope the new Congress does the right thing and finishes this important work.

3. New York City asks food manufacturers and restaurants to lower sodium content of foods.
This is not a requirement, but a request: that sodium be reduced by 20 percent in most foods over the next five years. Since most Americans consume way too much sodium, anything that makes us more aware of the need to cut salt intake has to be a positive development.

4. Concerns about overfishing leads to greater care in our seafood choices. We need to choose carefully when we eat fish and shellfish. According to Eating Well, here are the six best and the six to avoid. (Albacore tuna, some shrimp and wild Alaskan salmon are good; Chilean Sea Bass and monkfish are not.)

5. "Meatless Monday" trend encourages less meat consumption. I try to limit red meat to once a week, at most, and have a couple of totally meatless (and fishless) days per week. Consuming less meat is good for the environment and our health, among other things. So this is another very positive trend that gained steam in 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shrimp and Grits -- the gold standard
The late, great Southern chef Bill Neal perfected shrimp and grits at his wonderful Chapel Hill restaurant, CROOK'S CORNER (which by the way is still going strong and serving marvelous food many years after Neal's death).

His recipe has wide currency in many Southern kitchens. Last week I had some in Raleigh at a restaurant called NoFo, the result of which is pictured above.

Click here for the recipe, should you care to try this at home. Beware, though, it's not exactly health food.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Spectacular Magnolia Grill

I spent last weekend with my brother and his family near Raleigh NC and we took the opportunity to eat at Durham's renowned Magnolia Grill. Chef Ben Barker is a past James Beard Award winner, the restaurant was named #11 in the country on Gourmet Magazine's list of America's top 50 restaurants, and pastry chef Karen Barker (Ben's wife) makes some of the best desserts you'll ever eat. I have dined at Magnolia a few times over the years, but not at all recently, so we made the pilgrimage and had a pretty near perfect experience.

The ambience is not at all formal or stuffy, and diners feel welcome and comfy enough to linger over the fascinating menu and lovely wine choices.
Pictured, from top:
Citrus-cured Loch Duhart Scottish salmon with Indian River pink grapefruit and Valencia oranges, shaved fennel and arugula, mascarpone orange crema (loved this!);

Pan-seared Chesapeake Bay wild striped bass on flageolet beans with calamari and chorizo, tomato-red wie ragu, local arugula and shaved fennel;

Pumpkin gingerbread with apple-date compote and caramel ice cream;

Dark chocolate waffles with peppermint stick chocolate chip ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to lose fat around the middle

The worst place on your body to accumulate fat is around your belly. Extra inches on the waist is the most dangerous kind of fat, inviting heart disease and possibly shortening your life.

A new study reporting in Real Age suggests that the best way to "banish belly fat" is perhaps the opposite of what you might think: don't starve yourself, don't get obsessive about everything you eat, and don't keep a detailed food diary. Instead, EAT!

The study showed that women who followed a strict, low-calorie eating plan for several weeks experienced a spike in stress hormones, which actually tell your body to store more fat around your middle, just where you especially don't need it.

Go here for tips on how to manage your weight healthfully and avoid putting inches on your stomach.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Shopping at Findlay Market

Don't forget Cincinnati's downtown gem of a market for your holiday gift shopping. Despite the cold, there are plenty of local vendors this weekend and next week.
Pictured here are some goods I saw Saturday morning. Most of these folks will be there on Sunday and all of next week, through Christmas Eve at about 3 pm.
Santa works for Blue Oven Bakery -- peerless artisan breads -- and that's his real hair and beard.
The handmade soaps make lovely, fragrant stocking stuffers. There's some unique jewelry, baked goodies of all kinds to serve your family, and delicious locally made foods for gifts or for your own enjoyment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Super-yummy party appetizer

If you make the pieces small (as in the recipe), it goes a long way at a party. If you have just a few people to feed, I love this preparation as a dinner appetizer, a side dish with fish or chicken, or a vegetarian main course.

Recipe: Crispy Polenta with Tomato Tapenade

(Makes 48 bite-size pieces)

1 16- to 18-ounce tube prepared polenta, ends trimmed and cut into 12 slices
Canola or olive oil cooking spray
2/3 cup soft sun-dried tomatoes (see Tip)
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 teaspoons rinsed capers
1 small clove garlic, chopped
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

Preheat broiler. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Place polenta slices on the prepared baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Broil in upper third of oven until starting to brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Turn and broil until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, pulse sun-dried tomatoes, oil, parsley, capers, garlic and pepper in a food processor (a mini food processor works well), scraping down the sides as needed, until coarsely chopped.
Transfer the polenta slices to a clean cutting board and cut each into quarters. Top each wedge of polenta with about 1/4 teaspoon of the tapenade.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

BEST TIME TO EXERCISE: before breakfast?

This is really interesting news, as published in the NY Times this week. Apparently, getting your workout in the morning before you eat can help counteract any over-indulgence you may have committed on the previous day. Here's part of the article, and go here for the whole thing.

The holiday season brings many joys and, unfortunately, many countervailing dietary pitfalls. Even the fittest and most disciplined of us can succumb, indulging in more fat and calories than at any other time of the year. The health consequences, if the behavior is unchecked, can be swift and worrying. A recent study by scientists in Australia found that after only three days, an extremely high-fat, high-calorie diet can lead to increased blood sugar and insulin resistance, potentially increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Waistlines also can expand at this time of year, prompting self-recrimination and unrealistic New Year’s resolutions.

But a new study published in The Journal of Physiology suggests a more reliable and far simpler response. Run or bicycle before breakfast. Exercising in the morning, before eating, the study results show, seems to significantly lessen the ill effects of holiday Bacchanalias.

Since we recently put a treadmill in our basement and the weather outside has gotten way too cold (and icy sidewalks) for outdoor exercise, I've been doing about 30-35 minutes on it before breakfast for the past couple of days. Who knew that this was a brilliant move? :-)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A perfect meal in Atlanta

The best meal (by far) I had in Atlanta last weekend -- and one of the highlight dinners of the year, anywhere -- actually was at a restaurant in Decatur, GA, just outside Atlanta. It's about a year old and is on Decatur Square, a rather marginal area full of lesser eateries, none worth going out of your way for, as far as I can tell. But what a foodie gem sits among them!

The Spanish themed Iberian Pig Kitchen & Bar has two dining rooms, one on the main floor adjacent to a hopping bar, and another smaller one on the second floor. We went on Saturday night and the decibel level was over the top, making me leery of what this experience was going to be like. We had a reservation and were ushered right to our upstairs table.

The wine list boasted many unusual, adventurous choices, heavy on selections from Spain, of course. Since my knowledge of Spanish wine is not deep, I trusted the waiter to bring me glasses (or 3-ounce tastes) of whatever he thought would match my food, and he did really well. The wine was excellent. But the food -- amazing!

To start, I had what turned out to be the best salad I've tasted in many moons. Called Ensalada de Marcona, this scrumptious concoction included butter lettuce, delicious Marcona almonds, cherries, shaved Manchego cheese, chorizo, caramelized parsnips, crispy shallots and sherry vinaigrette. Lick the bowl good.

My friend's braised veal shank ravioli, a tapas portion, was so wonderful that she ordered a second plate of it.

For an entree, I tried a vegetarian dish called Quinoa y Verduras (middle photo above), and it rocked. (the menu description: red quinoa with basil, arbol chile corn sauce, grilled hearts of palm, asparagus, confit heirloom tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, salsa verde -- yes, it was as good as it sounds!)

I was on a roll and didn't want to quit eating at this place, so I ordered dessert, too: a trio of ice creams -- pistachio, fig & sherry and dulce de leche.
I would go back to this restaurant in a minute. HIGHLY recommended, anyone who will be in Atlanta anytime soon. It's near a subway station so even if you don't have a car, you can get there on MARTA. Do it!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Go ahead, have a cookie!

Go ahead and have a cookie, or maybe two. The idea is, trying to stifle a craving just makes it bigger, and eventually you won't be able to resist. Then you'll eat far more than you should. So it's way better to have 1-2 cookies now than a dozen or more later.
A study of female college students found that when they were asked to sit alone for a few minutes and think about chocolate, avoid thinking about chocolate, or think about whatever they wanted to, when they afterward were given chocolate, the ones who ate the most were those who had been told to NOT think about the stuff.
Here are a few tips (from Real Age) about when to give in to a craving.

Pick your battles. The longer your standoff with that chocolate-peppermint bark, the more dramatic your surrender may be. Allow yourself an occasional, sensibly sized treat. And afterward, don't feel bad, advises RealAge expert Keith Roach, MD. "Okay, you had the cookie. Now, don't beat yourself up about it," says Dr. Roach. "Because if you do, you're more likely to do something you'll really regret. Instead, actively enjoy -- and don't feel guilty about -- eating that cookie. Then, go make your home beautiful for the holidays."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Spa day -- with spa cuisine

We spent most of the day at Chateau Elan, about an hour's drive north of Atlanta. It used to be the middle of nowhere up there but now of course the winery/hotel/golf course/spa complex has plenty of company.

We had lunch -- photos are of me and my friend Susan at table, and the crabcakes we both had -- and then our spa treatments, followed by hours of relaxation (whirlpool, sauna, lying around reading or dozing, etc.) and then a 45-minute hike on their wooded trails. We topped it off with a light tea before driving back down to Atlanta.

More Atlanta dining stories to come......

Dining in Atlanta

I'm in Hotlanta for the weekend, doing restaurants and a spa.

Details, and photos, coming soon!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Healthy quick dinner: Pasta with beans and tomatoes

From the NY Times health pages this week, a version of pasta fagioli that you can make any night of the week because all the ingredients should be in most folks' pantries -- canned tomatoes, canned white (cannellini) beans, dry pasta. It's a breeze, and a palate pleaser.

Recipe: Pasta with White Beans and Tomatoes (makes 4 servings)


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

4 sage leaves or basil leaves, cut in slivers (optional)

3/4 pound pasta, any shape

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic, and stir together until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes with juice and a pinch of sugar. Raise the heat slightly, and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are bubbling vigorously. Lower the heat to medium-low, and cook gently, stirring and mashing the tomatoes often with the back of your spoon until they have cooked down into a thick, fragrant sauce, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the beans and the herbs, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

3. When the pasta water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the pasta. Cook al dente, following the recommendations on the package but checking about a minute before the indicated time. When the pasta is just about done, check to see if the tomato sauce seems dry. If so, add up to 1/4 cup of the pasta water to the pan and stir. Drain the pasta, toss with the sauce and serve, passing the cheese for sprinkling.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Snack on this for weight control

Want to stay faithful to your diet or lose more weight? Eat a handful of nuts when you get the munchies.

Despite their high fat and calorie count, nuts are the perfect diet food. Research shows that people who eat nuts lose more weight and are more likely to stick to their weight loss plans than people who don't nibble on this ultra-satisfying munchy.

Perfect Helper Food
Nuts boost weight loss efforts in three ways. First, they satisfy hunger, helping people to eat less later. Second, research shows that eating nuts helps people burn more calories at rest. And finally -- because of how the body digests them -- nuts might actually deliver fewer calories than you think (in fact, fewer calories per serving than nutrition labels suggest). Yep, sounds like nuts just might be the superfood of all superfoods.

Nuts About Nuts
Of course, noshing on nuts isn't a shortcut to weight loss. To drop pounds, you still need to cut calories from your day -- either by eating less or exercising more. And you need to stick to the regimen. Still, most diets fail because nagging hunger takes over, and healthy "diet" foods tend to lose out over junk food when hunger gets out of control. But nuts can help with both of those diet pitfalls. As a snack, nuts have a delicious, crunchy, satisfying texture. And they help you feel full, so you're less likely to overeat later on. Check out more health news about nuts:


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Quick vegetarian supper

I actually meant to add meat to this "pasta" dish (in quotes because it was spaghetti squash and not true pasta) but forgot. To give it some protein, I sprinkled shredded Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts.

This is a very healthy meal, and super easy. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine of your choice. If you prefer red wine, go for it.

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash with Sauteed Vegetables
Serves 3-4

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 T canola oil
3 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise and sliced into 3/4-inch half moons
1 red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese, to taste
Pierce skin of spaghetti squash 2-3 times with the point of a knife. Place on a microwave safe plate and cook in microwave on high for 3 minutes. Let sit in the oven for 4-5 minutes to cool slightly. Be careful as the squash will be hot -- let it cool longer if need be. (I about burned my hands on the next step!)
Carefully cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp in the middle. Using a fork, scrape the meat out of the squash -- it will come out in strands not dissimilar from spaghetti. Season the squash with salt, pepper and little olive oil if you want. Put in a bowl, cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini, pepper, garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables start to tenderize, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, water and seasonings. Reduce heat to medium-low, stir well, cover and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
Reheat squash in the microwave for 30 seconds and divide among serving plate.
Spoon vegetable sauce over squash.
Sprinkle with pine nuts and cheese; pass more cheese at table.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tips for buying wine for the holidays

Whether you're thinking about throwing a party, or giving wine as a gift, here are some thoughts about how to get your best bang for the buck with your wine purchases in December.

1. Buy by the case. When you find a wine you like, get more than one bottle for yourself and for gifts. Most wine shops will allow you to mix a case (12 bottles), not just buy 12 of the same one. In either option, you will save 10-15 percent over the by the bottle price.

2. Look for wines with screw caps. I am a huge fan of this type of closure -- great for parties because you don't have to mess with a corkscrew, and frankly, I love the ease of opening for drinking with dinner at home, too. Some types of wines are mostly screwcaps, including two of my faves -- New Zealand sauvignon blanc and Oregon pinot noir.

3. Select food-friendly wine varietals that will satisfy a range of tastes. Click here for some ideas.

4. Look for affordable sparkling wines. These make great party choices, too. Try Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, or one of my favorites, the New Mexican (yes) sparkling wine by Gruet.

5. Use inexpensive bottles for punches.

Source: Food & Wine

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Losing Thanksgiving Pounds

It's only a couple of pounds, but they are being stubborn about going away.

Two pounds may sound trivial but my philosophy has always been to nip these things in the bud before two turns into five turns into ten.... and so on.

Also the older I get, the harder it is to drop even a couple of pounds. This week I've been pretty good -- no alcohol, one of the first tactics I turn to when trying to lose a little weight. No extra treats such as cookies. Only healthy snacks. Really diligent on the exercise. And thus far, my bathroom scale shows just one-half pound less than on Monday morning.

Guess I'll have to redouble my efforts...........doggone it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seasonal scones -- lightened up

More comfort food made healthier: pumpkin scones.

I love the scones at the Cake Rack at Findlay Market, and none more than their (only once in awhile) pumpkin scones. But their version is a once in awhile treat. How nice to be able to have this lighter take on them, and perhaps eat them for breakfast every day. More good news: they freeze well, so you can put half the batch away for later enjoyment.

Whole-wheat flour, lowfat buttermilk and a judicious amount of butter makes this a healthy-foodie style scone.

Recipe: Pumpkin-Ginger Scones

(Makes 12)


1 cup whole-wheat flour

3/4 cup regular flour

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not seasoned)

1/4 cup lowfat buttermilk

2 T maple syrup

1/2 cup chopped candied ginger


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together the first five ingredients, through baking soda. Place in the bowl of a food processor, add butter, and pulse a few times until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

In a separate bowl, beat the pumpkin, buttermilk, and maple syrup. Scrape into the food processor with the dry ingredients. Add candied ginger and process until the dough is mixed.

Scrape onto a lightly floured surface and shape the dough into a square about 3/4-inch thick.

Cut into triangles, 12 in all.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Avoiding the (inevitable?) dreaded HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN

We're into the thick of it now -- and I can already feel the thickening around my middle, too. I sure don't want to wake up on January 1st with extra pounds, and so I try to look at the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve as a time to be as vigilant as possible about what goes into my mouth -- and of course the calories burned in exercise.

Here are eight proven strategies for avoiding packing on weight during the holidays.

1. EXERCISE more faithfully than ever. If you usually walk, run or work out three times a week, increase it to five. Or if your workout time is about 30 minutes minimum, up that to 45 minutes. How? Use your imagination. Park as far away from the mall entrance as possible and hoof it, and come back with your packages a couple of times at least. Take the stairs, no elevators. Hire a personal trainer. It can be done!

2. EAT FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Count up your servings and make sure you have at least 6-8 per day. This isn't hard either, just remember to have a couple of servings of fruit for breakfast daily and at least one kind of veggie at both lunch and dinner, and you're mostly there.

3. LIMIT YOUR TREATS. No way we're going to pass up all the special goodies that pass before us this time of year. But how about allowing yourself one treat a day? And keep it to one cookie, one piece of fudge, a small piece of pie, etc. -- not a binge.

4. DON'T GO PARTYING HUNGRY. Whether it's a house party or a night out clubbing/dining with your friends and family, eat something before you go. This is easy, too. Carry cereal bars in your purse or car, or a small baggie of mixed nuts. Those are somewhat filling and generally healthy, and will cut your appetite for the high-calorie stuff you'll encounter.

5. CHOOSE CAREFULLY AT THE BUFFET TABLE. Use a small plate, avoid anything that looks greasy, fried, or floating in mayo or cream. Go for those veggies. If it's a potluck, make your contribution a tasty but healthy vegetable dish or fruit salad, and eat lots of it yourself. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll post some of my favorite potluck recipes.

6. PLAN AHEAD TO AVOID TEMPTATION. Here I'm thinking about bringing treats to work and passing them around, or letting yourself eat everything anyone offers you. Pop a stick of sugarless gum in your mouth before you walk into your office, for instance, if you're pretty sure there'll be holiday goodies in there to tempt you. I am amazed at how well gum can make me uninterested in food, for a few minutes at least. Sometimes that's all it takes.

7. FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE YOU'RE WITH. Step away from the food and drink tables and chat up the folks around you.

8. JUST SAY NO, BUT NICELY. Learn to politely refuse extra helpings or more than you know you should eat. They'll get over it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cooking with leftover wine

Did you open too many bottles this weekend that didn't quite get finished? Were some of them brought by guests who didn't know how to select a decent wine? Rather than dump it down the drain, Food & Wine has some ideas for cooking with leftover Thanksgiving Weekend wine.
For instance, the recipe for Poached Salmon with Corn and White Wine-Butter Sauce can be a healthy foodie winner if you just substitute canola or olive oil for the butter, or at least for part of the butter.
You poach the salmon -- cook it very gently -- in a wine-infused broth. Corn, shallots and zucchini add to the health profile of this tasty dish. Click here for a link to the recipe.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Quick test of heart health

Whether you overdid it just a litle, a moderate amount, or a whole lot yesterday (Thanksgiving), your heart probably dealt with a heavier than usual load of saturated fat.

Here's a surprising (to me) way to test how well your cardio system is working: try to touch your toes.

A new study suggests that whether or not you can touch your toes (especially as you get older) might reveal something important about your heart, and about how stiff the arteries are that supply your heart's blood.

Somehow -- and researchers aren't sure about the reasons for the connection -- flexibility in your muscles also correlates with flexibility in your blood vessels.

For more details on why flexibility is so crucial to heart health, click here

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Surviving Thanksgiving Day, Healthy Foodie Style

Next Thursday, millions of Americans will consume literally thousands of calories, overeating to the point of feeling ill. For those of us so blessed with material abundance, the meal on Thanksgiving is the holiday season's greatest health challenge. How to cope? Here are some healthy-foodie ideas for a Thanksgiving without guilt.

1. Eat a full breakfast and a light lunch. Don't "save up" for the big meal--you'll be famished, a perfect recipe for overindulgence.
2. Take a walk before dinner, weather permitting. Even if the weather isn't all that great, get off your duff for at least a half hour of exercise--more if at all possible. It can be before noon, while the turkey is in the oven, or during half-time if you're involved in watching football. Find the time!
3. Lay off the booze until dinner is served. Pre-dinner alcohol lowers your inhibitions and leads to useless extra calories, not just in the drinks themselves but also in snacks you'll likely add on.
4. Decide in advance whether and how much wine or other alcoholic beverages you will drink. Then pace yourself so you can stick within your pre-set limits.
5. Eat only your favorite dishes, and pass on the others. Pick only one out of these three: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and bread stuffing/dressing. Easy on the gravy, too!
6. Wait at least a half hour between dinner and dessert. If this requires a request to your hostess before the meal, go ahead and ask. If you have no influence over the timing, step away from the table and come back later. Make up an excuse if you need to. Waiting for dessert is crucial--your brain will have time to get the message from your full stomach, and you won't want as much dessert, or maybe not any.
7. Pick one dessert or very small portions of more than one.
8. Take a walk after dinner.

Remember, the fat-producing, health-sabotaging culprits in this meal are alcoholic drinks, gravy, sauces (such as that superfluous stuff people put on green beans at TG), toppings (I'm thinking of marshmallows on sweet potatoes, horrors) and desserts. Minimize those!

Take larger portions of turkey (especially the white meat), baked potatoes, roasted root vegetables, green veggies with as little sauce as possible, salads without mayonnaise, fruit salads, and just a little bit of cranberry sauce (too much sugar).

We have so much to be grateful for, including the amazing bounty that makes not eating too much such a concern. On Thanksgiving Day, let's appreciate the love in our lives, our family and friends, the pleasure of sharing this wonderful meal--and eat mindfully while we're at it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wine Guy Dining -- Not So Much

We ate a light dinner Saturday night at the new Wine Guy Wine Shop, Wine Bar and Bistro in Rookwood Commons, Hyde Park/Norwood. Based on this one visit and an earlier browse of the wine shop half of things, my initial impression is that the wine shop might be the best part of the operation.
While the place was being renovated and readied for opening, I had perused the posted wine and food menus, and frankly was rather underwhelmed, especially by the wine choices. While I was thrilled that someplace in Cincinnati finally was going to offer a selection of wine flights, so many of the offerings are rather boring, widely available and unadventurous choices. Click here to read the wine menu.
I ended up with a glass of the Firehouse Red from the red wine flight, something I hadn't drank before, and it was fine. But none of the flights did anything for me. That could just be me, but I predict that this is not going to be a destination for the area's wine cognoscenti, who'd be better off schlepping out to Milford to 20 Brix or checking in at Clifton's new La Poste, where even though our newspaper's dining critic was not wild about the food, sommelier Bryant Philips has made it an exciting wine venue.
Back to Wine Guy: my daughter's risotto of the day (top photo) was supposed to have chicken, mushrooms and several other ingredients but it was mostly rice. Her husband and I both ordered a nice-sounding Osso Bucco ravioli (tapas portion for me, second photo), and while it was tasty enough, it was overpriced IMHO.
The only house offering was a puny plate of a very few pita triangles with a mound of flavored butter -- any one of us could have polished off the plate, no problem. Although our server asked when our main food came if we wanted more pita, it was kind of too late for the bread to do our hunger much good.
The place is one very large and very noisy room, and it was hard to hear my companions across the table from me.
On the plus side, the wine shop is attractively designed and organized in a customer-friendly way, and I did notice a few interesting and unusual bottles here and there.
Time will tell whether they do well here; apparently, their Columbus area locations have been successful, and Hyde Park is probably their best bet in our area.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Curried Cauliflower and Squash

I made this for dinner, with brown rice and naan bread, the other night. We had plenty left over to go as a veggie side later in the week.
My husband said it was scrumptious!

Recipe: Curried Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side
3 T canola oil
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
2 cups cubed butternut squash, steamed or microwaved until not quite tender
2 T curry powder, or more to taste
1 cup water
1 14-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup bottled mango chutney
1/4 cup sliced nuts (preferably cashews, peanuts, or pumpkin seeds)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat.
Add celery, carrots, garlic and onion and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until veggies begin to soften. Add cauliflower and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, until cauliflower starts to brown just a little. Add squash and stir well.
Stir in curry powder, water and tomatoes. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, remove cover and test cauliflower for tenderness. When it's the way you like it -- not too soft -- stir in raisins, chutney and nuts.
Season with salt and pepper, and add a little cayenne pepper if you like more spiciness. You can also add more water if too much liquid has cooked out.
Serve as is, or over rice.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Keeping holiday pounds off

Today's Cincinnati Enquirer has a comprehensive story in the Health & Fitness section (a couple of pages, really, but a good addition to the Thursday newspaper nonetheless) about how to avoid packing on weight over the holidays.

Here are a few highlights, or click on the newspaper name above to read the whole article.

1. Don't go to holiday parties hungry

2. Drink plenty of water and other caffeine-free, alcohol-free beverages

3. Substitute healthier ingredients in favorite holiday recipes

4. Wear form-fitting clothes (especially around the waist) to holiday parties to help discourage over-indulgence
5. Eat a healthy breakfast every day, no exceptions
6. Exercise!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stuffing rules!

It's countdown time -- just a week until the 3,000-calorie (or more) meal, our big national blowout, Thanksgiving Day. We've all been around that table enough times to know which foods to eat in small amounts, and which to fill our plates with, right?
One of my favorite part of this meal is the stuffing -- or dressing, in Southern parlance. There are so many wonderful variations on this bread-based dish, you never have to have the same one twice. Unless that is, you have a recipe that just can't be beat.
I like to try all kinds of stuffing recipes, and the good news is, this is probably not the fattiest part of your meal. Keep the oil, butter, eggs and meat (such as sausage) to a minimum and stuffing should be a not-too-guilty pleasure.

This one has a relatively short ingredient list and yet combines sweet and savory while packing in some really healthful stuff. Give it a try!

Recipe: Mushroom and Pear Stuffing Serves 8

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 large sage leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 demi whole-wheat baguette (about 8 oz), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large Anjou or Bartlett pear, cored and cubed
  • 1/4 cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice

  • Instructions:

    Heat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Cook mushrooms, celery, sage and thyme, stirring often, until mushrooms and celery soften, 6 to 8 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl; add baguette cubes, pear, prunes, broth and juice. Mix well and let rest until bread absorbs liquid. Transfer to an 8" x 8" baking dish; cover with foil. Bake 40 minutes, remove foil and bake until stuffing puffs up, about 5 minutes.

    Source: Epicurious

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Fight winter pounds with this food

    Weight gain and winter go together like -- what, peas and carrots? We're less active in these cold, dark times and on top of that, we crave so-called comfort foods.
    One type of food to keep on your menu is winter squash. It's filling, versatile (amazing number of ways you can prepare the stuff), and best of all, delicious.

    Here's some info about squash from Real Age, and then scroll down for a recipe.

    Research shows that getting more vegetable fiber into the diet could help prevent an expanding waist. It may even help people drop a few pounds. So go ahead -- eat up.

    Slimming Squash
    Be it butternut, acorn, or delicata, winter squash has a lot going for it nutritionally, writes Jonny Bowden in his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Squash is high not only in fiber -- about 6 grams of fiber per cup of mash -- but also in water. That means you can eat lots and feel full without going overboard on calories. Just hold the butter and brown sugar, of course.

    More to Love
    Whole grains are another good source of weight-controlling fiber. So why not make it a two-for-one by combining roasted squash with a toasty high-fiber grain like bulgur or quinoa. Try this EatingWell recipe that combines squash and whole grains in one delicious fills-you-up-without-fattening-you-up dish.

    Recipe: Butternut Squash and Barley Pilaf Serves 4-6

    1 T olive or canola oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 14-ounce can chicken or vegetable broth/stock
    1 3/4 cups water
    1 cup pearl barley
    2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
    1/3 cup chopped parsley
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    1 garlic clove, minced
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add broth, water, barley and squash; bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the barley and squash are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes. Add parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper; mix gently. Serve.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Give thanks with these wines

    Everything from sparklers to fruity whites and dryer reds ... from Food & Wine. All are great values, and most should be easy to locate. Perfect for your Thanksgiving Dinner, and/or the entire holiday period.


    NV Domaine Ste Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12)

    This pear-scented wine has a clean finish that makes it ideal with appetizers and main courses.

    NV Adami Garbèl Prosecco ($15)

    Italian producer Adami’s appley bottling is drier than many other Proseccos, making it particularly refreshing.


    2008 Château Guiot ($11)

    François and Sylvia Cornut grow cherries as well as grapes, and that ripe fruit seems to have lent its aroma to this lovely Southern French rosé.

    2008 Domaine de la Mordorée ($15)

    Mordorée is known for its expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but the estate also produces terrific affordable wines. One is this wild-strawberry-flavored, lightly smoky dry rosé.


    2008 Acrobat Pinot Gris ($12)

    This value bottling is peachy, zesty and lush -- an upgrade for pinot grigio fans.

    2008 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc ($12)

    Less peppery and sharp than many NZ Sauvignon Blancs, this snappy white from the country’s Marlborough region has delicious pineapple and melon notes.

    2008 Bodegas Montecillo Verdemar Albariño ($14)

    This venerable Rioja producer has branched out into Spain’s far-northwest Rías Baixas region to create this bright white. It’s chalky, citrusy and very easy to drink.


    2007 Heron Pinot Noir ($13)

    Wine producer Laely Heron has made a specialty of finding good vineyards in unexpected locations around the world. The result is wines like this chocolate-cherry Pinot, from the foothills of France’s Pyrenees.

    2006 Ruffino Il Ducale ($18)

    This Tuscan red has all the hallmarks of the region: black-cherry fruit, a firm structure and notes that recall fragrant dried herbs.

    2008 Seven Terraces Pinot Noir ($20)

    Acclaimed New Zealand winery Foxes Island Wines makes pricey bottlings as well as this impressive, affordable red. The wine’s svelte black-raspberry fruit gains complexity from spice and tobacco notes.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Lunch downtown

    While we're still enjoying "Indian summer," it's a good time to break up the routine and go out to lunch. That worked great for me on Veterans Day -- a holiday from my day job -- and it also happened to be a friend's birthday.
    We celebrated by going downtown and getting a window table overlooking Fountain Square -- Cincinnati's central gathering place, for readers from elsewhere -- at Palomino's. While it may not be my favorite downtown restaurant for the food and/or service, the second-floor setting can't be beat in our town.
    For some reason, service was excruciatingly slow. But we enjoyed the meal and the togetherness nonetheless. I had a Ginger Cooler cocktail, with fresh ginger, lime juice, Captain Morgan spiced rum and one other ingredient I forgot to record. It was quite good and I had to resist (successfully) going for a second one.
    Food wise, I ordered the prosciutto and arugula flatbread, asking for extra arugula and light cheese. It was tasty if a little too salty thanks to the prosciutto. My friends had a large chicken salad and a soup/salad combo.
    One more day of great weather here -- get out and enjoy it, everyone!

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Thanksgiving Wine Suggestions: 5 easy to find bottles that will complement your meal

    What to drink with our biggest meal of the year, Thanksgiving Dinner? We don't need to worry about what will go with turkey, of course -- the main course is so bland that almost anything will do. The real question is, how do we complement all those other flavors crowding our table (and our plates)?

    Here's advice from a writer at Epicurious, one of my favorite foodie websites. Suggestions are based on whether your side dishes tend toward sweetness (sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, ambrosia), herbal (stuffing, veggies) or perhaps Southwestern.

    Sweet Flavor Profiles:

    Paul Hobbs Winery CrossBarn Chardonnay
    Sonoma Coast 2009

    (about $25)

    When it comes to serving a dry wine with sweeter recipes, look for fruit flavor without a lot of oak or austere acidity. Paul Hobbs' CrossBarn Chardonnay Sonoma Coast is ripe in a pure, unadulterated way, with strong apple and pear flavors. It's the kind of heavenly simplicity that can only be achieved by an experienced hand like Hobbs, a Sonoma legend. And it's the perfect match for those of us who love crispy brown turkey skin.

    Herbal Flavor Profiles:

    Montinore Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2008

    (about $24)

    Herbs get along well with earthy wines, and the Montinore Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, made in Oregon's famed Willamette Valley, has a touch of the woods about it. It also has subtle sandalwood and lavender accents, surrounding a core of fresh cherry. This is an elegant, biodynamically farmed wine that's more subdued than most American Pinots. Those of you avoiding highly alcoholic wines will be happy to see the figure 13.6 percent on the label—a food-friendly percentage, indeed.

    Southwestern Flavor Profiles:

    Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard
    Grenache Rosé 2009

    (about $18)

    Now hear this: Rosé isn't just for summer. Its in-between status—not quite a red, not quite a white—is exactly what makes it a go-to for tricky meals like Thanksgiving. It's also a classic match for spicy foods of all kinds. The Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rosé—courtesy of brothers Tom and Steve Beckmen of the Central Coast's Santa Ynez Valley—has the dry elegance of a Provençal rosé, with typical flowers on the nose and a unique, totally beguiling watermelon taste.

    Click here to read about the other suggested wines.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Make-ahead TG side: Butternut Squash Ratatouille

    I've used this recipe for years, but only recently has it become more easily doable, thanks to pre-peeled, seeded and cut butternut squash being available in stores.
    It's one of my staple purchases at Trader Joe's, and I know other supermarkets also carry this great convenience food in their fresh produce sections.
    You can make this delicious casserole a day or two ahead and keep it refrigerated, reheating in your oven after removing the turkey. It's also a great addition to a potluck party because it tastes just as good at room temperature as it does hot.

    This recipe serves 8-10, but you can cut all the ingredients in half if you want to try it for a smaller group.

    Recipe: Butternut Squash Ratatouille

    Flesh from 2 medium butternut squash, cut into approximately 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
    2 T canola oil
    1 cup carrots, diced
    1 cup leeks, diced
    1 cup zucchini, diced
    1 cup apple, diced (leave the peel on, or not -- your choice)
    1/2 cup minced shallots
    1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
    Salt and pepper, to taste

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash in a roasting pan and toss with 1 T of the oil. Roast until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
    Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes; add leeks and cook for 2 minutes longer; add zucchini, apples, shallots and roasted squash and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
    Stir in the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not too soft, about 10-15 minutes.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Comfort food made healthier: Oven-fried Chicken

    My mother and her mother -- Georgia girls -- were expert at frying chicken. Growing up, I had many a meal of the crispy stuff, accompanied by rice with milk gravy, oven-made biscuits and some sort of greens. When I started doing my own cooking, fried chicken was in my repertoire for awhile. But I gave it up quite some time ago, for any number of reasons. The obvious one is of course the calories, but there's also the mess it causes in the kitchen.
    Still, I hate to go through life without having crispy chicken, ever again. This oven version can satisfy my cravings. Use panko bread crumbs, if you have them, or any other variety you choose.
    (Shown served with butternut squash puree and a green veggie.)

    Oven-Fried Lemon Chicken (serves 4)

    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    Juice and zest of one lemon
    2 T olive oil
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 T chopped fresh rosemary
    3/4 cup dry bread crumbs (or panko bread crumbs)
    Salt and pepper
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    Lemon wedges, for serving

    Place chicken between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound lightly, to flatten slightly.
    Arrange in a shallow dish and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
    Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet. Add garlic, rosemary and saute, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in bread crumbs and lemon zest, then season with salt and pepper.
    Place egg in a shallow dish. Dip chicken breasts, one at a time, into the egg, then into bread crumb mixture, pressing with your hands so that the crumbs adhere to the chicken.
    Arrange the chicken breasts on a lightly oiled, shallow baking dish.
    Bake in a 400-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes.
    Serve with lemon wedges.

    Saturday, November 6, 2010

    La Poste, Revisited

    Made it back to Clifton's new hot spot last night -- La Poste, the wonderful restaurant that replaced the defunct & (was) missed Tink's. The new incarnation of upscale dining in our 'hood is quickly making the old one (Tink's) a fading memory -- going, going, gone.
    I had a crab cake and the pork tenderloin (pictured), but as upon my first visit the highlight of the evening was the wine pairings offered by sommelier Bryant Philips.
    I only wish I could fit in dinner at La Poste more often!