Thursday, May 31, 2012

Next two weekends: Vintners' Festival in an overlooked wine region

Even if you have no chance to make it to the Santa Cruz (CA) Wineries Vintners' Festival the next two weekends -- alas, I won't get there, either -- this is a great time to consider the under-appreciated but many excellent wines coming out of this lovely part of America's best wine producing state.

First of all, click here for info about the festival, if you are lucky enough to consider getting there on June 2-3 or 9-10.

Also go to this link to check out a slide show about some of the region's best, and widely available, fine bottlings.

One of the most well-known wineries in the region is Bonny Doon, famed for its fun-loving owners, whimsical bottle labels, and devotion to Rhone-style blends.
Click here to enter the world of Bonny Doon.

Their Vin Gris de Cigare rose is a reliably pleasant summer wine, so why not start there if you're in the mood for something Santa Cruz-y?
Bonny Doon's owner, Randall Graham

Monday, May 28, 2012

On the road again: Good Eats in Chapel Hill NC

We went to the Raleigh area for my nephew's high school graduation.
We also managed to spend a day and night in Chapel Hill, where I went to graduate school in the 1990s (and have visited fairly frequently since those days).
The highlight was brunch at the wondrously good, reliable standby Crook's Corner, the restaurant that set the gold standard for SHRIMP AND GRITS (the Bill Neal recipe) back in the 1980s. OMG, was that dish of food delicious!
World's best shrimp and grits
My husband had a fine "spring omelet," with a side of cheese grits, but nothing compares to the shrimp and grits. I've eaten at Crook's, probably my favorite Chapel Hill restaurant -- and there are many worthy ones -- but it's been years since I've ordered this dish. After scarfing it down, I had to wonder why. Next time, I'm definitely having it again.

For dinner a bunch of us, family and friends, ate at the Il Palio restaurant at the Siena Hotel. We all agreed that the best item of the night was a scallops entree, pictured here.
Scallops at Il Palio in Chapel Hill NC

Friday, May 25, 2012

Hahahahahahaha -- Laughing and your health

Thanks to a reader for sending this article, which I'm excerpting below. To read the whole thing (11 reasons laughter is great for us), click here.

“We’ve all heard the old saying that laughter is the best medicine, but new research is demonstrating that there may be some serious weight behind the adage. Numerous studies have shown that laughter can have a powerful effect on your well-being, happiness, and overall health and longevity, often in ways of which you aren’t even aware. Want to learn more? Read through our list of the health benefits of laughter to get a quick education on the matter. You may just find yourself wanting to watch a comedy, call up a funny friend, or even take a laughter yoga class after learning all the amazing benefits a good laugh can offer your overall health.

Some benefits of laughing include:

It's relaxing to your whole body
Boosts the immune system
Releases endorphins
Reduces stress
Helps us cope
Strengthens relationships

Happy Memorial Day weekend -- let the summer begin! -- and I hope you have some good laughs over the holiday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Blueberry season! Try these blueberry & apple tarts

Although we can get blueberries year round nowadays, the really good ones start to come in around the middle of May. The season isn't actually all that long -- it goes until the end of August, max.
Blueberries are my favorite fruit and this time of year, I eat them obsessively.
My friend Mary Ann Barnes -- a healthy dessert specialist -- came up with this recipe. When the blueberry crop is plentiful, try it out!

RECIPE:  Blueberry, Apple and Walnut Tarts
Serves 8
Ingredients and supplies:
2 pre-made pie crusts
Parchment paper
3 baking apples (such as Jonathan), cored and cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons lemon juice.  
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup natural sugar
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut parchment paper into 8 5-inch squares.
Roll each pie crust into a 12-inch square.  Cut each pie crust into quarters, about 6-inch squares.  Place one piece of pie crust onto a piece of parchment paper.  Press into a cup in a cupcake pan, molding pie crust onto the side, but keeping parchment paper from folding into dough.  Repeat until all eight cups are molded.
In a medium bowl, toss apple pieces with lemon juice.  Combine remaining ingredients and toss lightly to coat.  Divide apple mixture into each cup.  Fold dough down over apple mixture and sprinkle lightly with a pinch of natural sugar.
Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until crust is lightly brown.  Serving suggestion: top with Greek yogurt.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Worst exercises for your joints

As we age, our bodies' joints (knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, and so on) are among the first (of many, alas) parts to wear out.
After years of step aerobics, my knees began to hurt so much that I went to an orthopedic specialist and asked her if she could fix my knees so I could do step classes again. She said, we can work on fixing your knees but you're going to have to give up step aerobics.
Lesson learned! I rarely use a step for exercise, and even then use one or sometimes no riser.
Step isn't the only exercise to avoid if you want to preserve your joints. Check out this article for the "8 Worst Exercises for Your Joints. Here's the top five (or should I say, bottom five):

Jumping jacks -- not a good idea!

  • 1.       Jumping jacks
  • 2.       Running
  • 3.       Tennis
  • 4.       Boxing
  • 5.       Step aerobics

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Disappointed -- again -- at Jean-Robert's Table :-(

I really want to like -- no, love -- Jean-Robert's Table. Chef is such a superb citizen of our city, so generous in charitable works, and my francophilia (if that's a word) makes me want a French restaurant to be the best, and my favorite, in town.
But I haven't had a perfect meal there, or even a terribly interesting one. The room itself is lovely, but the food (alas) just never rises to the level I feel it should.
I went with a friend to try the Springtime in Paris Thursday night promotion, available every Thursday this month. The quality/price ration for this deal was excellent! Four courses for $40, with wine pairings for another $20 --can't be beat. The amount of food and wine you get for the money was outstanding; in fact, it was too much of both for me. I ran out of stomach room, and was already buzzed, after the second course.
That was actually OK, since the first two courses were the best. (Every one of the four wines was great, and our favorite was the finale.)
Shrimp salad -- delish!
First course (best of all): Shrimp salad with pineapple, snow pears, radish, cucumber and ginger, paired with a French Aligote -- best dish of the night.
Second course: Arctic char with polenta, sauteed peppers and watercress salad, along with Rochette Morgon Cru Beaujolais, another winner of a wine, and a decent preparation on the fish.
Arctic char

Things went downhill.
The "main course" was a lackluster Cornish game hen, served with a nice Bordeaux wine.
Dessert was almost inedible, billed as "Strawberry-violet charlotte," it was dry, tasteless ladyfingers arrayed around an insipid, custardy filling. The tasty Albert Bicho Rose burgundy (sparkling) pairing took the sting out of the ending of this meal.
Looks better than tastes
I realize that I am nobody and Jean-Robert de Cavel is a prominent citizen, renowned chef, and successful resterateur (did I spell that right?) in our city. But I'm just saying......I can think of several local establishments that have satisfied me more consistently than Table has. (Bouquet, Boca until recently, La Poste, Rue Dumaine, Abigail Street, Enoteca Emilia...) None of these has the ambition, or the reach, of Table, but they don't disappoint, either.
 That said, the Springtime in Paris deal is worth doing, if only for the first two courses and the really good wine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Springtime's "Super Foods"

We don't have to wait until the summer or fall harvests to chow down on incredibly healthy, locally grown, in-season foods. Local asparagus (now available at Findlay Market and others) and strawberries (still a couple of weeks away, most likely) taste way better than anything from the supermarket, but there are several other great foods that are being harvested now and available at local farmers markets.

They include kale, fennel, spinach, leeks and artichokes -- all wonderful, yummy ingredients for savory dishes (or eat the spinach raw in salads and as a substitute for lettuce in sandwiches).
Click here to read an article about the NINE SUPERFOODS OF SPRING and why they are such nutritional powerhouses.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dining on Vine (Gateway Quarter) -- the best in town!

No contest: the winner, hands down, for a vibrant and varied dining/bar scene in the Cincinnati metro area is the strip of restaurants on Vine Street off Central Parkway, known as the Gateway Quarter. Widen the geography just a little bit to extend a couple of blocks down to Main Street (where you can eat at Mayberry and drink Molly Wellman's great cocktails at Japp's), and your choices get even better.
On Vine Street itself, there's Abigail Street (our favorite as of now), A Tavola, Senate, Lavomatic, Taste of Belgium and Bakersfield. Plenty of young and not-so-young revelers have discovered this scene, and very few of the restaurants take reservations, so you either have to get there early, get lucky, or plan to wait. But the good news about waiting is that virtually all of the establishments have well-stocked bars, and there are a couple of other drinking spots right next door (a wine bar and a beer-oriented place).
Gnocchi at Abigail Street
Most recently, we have chowed down a couple of times at Bakersfield -- where the price/quality ratio is very high -- Lavomatic, and Abigail Street.
Abigail Street wowed us with every dish we tried, from a perfectly springlike flatbread topped with ricotta cheese and fresh peas to a lick-your-plate gnocchi and just-as-good sauteed cod. Everything is small plates here, so you get to try a few things rather than stick to one big entree. There are enough healthy choices to pass our healthy-foodie test. This is the one we long to return to, and will soon.
Bakersfield is one of the very few Mexican restaurants around here that makes their own corn tortillas, and their little tacos are delicious, filling, and cheap. The bar puts out some super craft cocktails, as well.
Tacos at Bakersfield

A Tavola packs people in for the artisan pizzas, and I'm also impressed by some of their cocktail offerings.

Most recently, we tried Lavomatic, where the healthy-foodie choices were pretty good. I had a vegetarian entree that was generous and filling: a delicious cup of gazpacho (my favorite thing of the meal) along with a vegetable terrine atop a bed of couscous salad. It was more than I could eat. For starters, we tried the warm goat cheese salad, and liked it.
Here are a few more photos from our dining adventures on Vine:
Crostini at Abigail -- half eaten!

Abigail Street Cod
Gazpacho & Terrine from Lavomatic

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My cocktail obsession of the week

This is called a Sweet Tea Sour -- a re-creation of the one I had at Table in Asheville NC. It's super easy to make; in fact, I make up a small batch and keep it in the fridge so it's ready for the 5 o'clock hour.
Here's the recipe for one drink, but it can be made in multiples of two, four, whatever.

Sweet Tea Sour
1 1/2 ounces good quality bourbon
1/2 ounce Amaretto
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 ounces sweetened (black) tea, or 4 ounces unsweetened tea and simple syrup, to taste
--Combine all ingredients in a small jar or cocktail shaker; shake well. Pour over ice in a tall glass and garnish with fruit of your choice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to achieve "Culinary Intelligence"

Peter Kaminsky has written a book called "Culinary Intelligence: the Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well)" that deserves the attention of all healthy foodies. He advises that we focus on foods that are loaded with flavor, but at the same time to limit the amount of these fabulous foods that we stuff into our bodies. Done carefully, his point is that we can enjoy delicious food while staying fit and healthy. Wait! That's exactly the motto of the healthy foodie! I think this guy is onto something.
Kaminsky advises us to enlist pleasure as our dietary ally, according to a fascinating interview with the author on the New York Times website.
Click here to read all about it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Taste of Asheville (NC)

Ploughman's Lunch/Table
Corner Kitchen Mussels
We stopped in (adorable) Asheville for about 24 hours on our way to a family get-together in western North Carolina. In such a short time, we managed to sample a couple of excellent restaurants. Here's a quick rundown.
For dinner: Corner Kitchen near Biltmore Village, a longtime favorite. This time wasn't quite as fabulous as on previous visits, as not all the dishes we tried worked well. When Corner Kitchen is firing on all cylinders, it can be great. The good stuff we did enjoy included the arugula salad with crumbled blue cheese and thinly sliced apples, a marvelous (best-of-the-night) plate of mussels, and a made to order vanilla souffle with chocolate sauce...all pictured here.
Corner Kitchen salad
Corner Kitchen Souffle

At lunch the next day before we hit the road again, we tried Table, a downtown hot spot next door to the destination shoe store, Topp's. This very small restaurant has a well deserved reputation for cutting edge food and drink, and we were not disappointed. In fact, this will be at the top of my list for dinner the next time we pass through Asheville.
They started off winning me over with the best cocktail of the trip, something they called a Sweet Tea Sour: Four Roses bourbon, Amaretto, lemon juice, simple syrup and 4 ounces of black tea. Super yummy.
My meal was this Ploughman's Lunch-- as you can see, a board with cheeses, meats, grilled bread (mmmm) and some greens.
Sweet Tea Sour/Table

Friday, May 4, 2012

Most common food allergies

Here's a list of today's most prevalent food allergies. (Thank goodness, I am not subject to these, or any, food allergies.) The question of why more people seem to suffer from these aversions puzzles many health professionals; it certainly is more common now among children than it was when I was a tiny tyke.

In any case, here is the list. Click HERE to read more.
1. Fish
2. Shellfish
3. Peanuts
4. Tree nuts
5. Milk
6. Eggs
7. Wheat
8. Soy

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Surprise: Access to healthy food doesn't mean healthier kids

Here's an interesting research finding: despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, people who live in neighborhoods without access to fresh foods (sometimes called "food deserts") aren't significantly more likely to be obese than those who do have those choices. Other factors, such as age, gender, and the BMI of kids' parents are more influential in how fat the kids turn out to be.
That's according to a highly respected RAND Corporation study just published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Among the findings:
  • The proximity of stores selling healthful food was limited for most study participants; 70% of families with children had no supermarkets within a half mile of home. Approximately 7% of participating families lived within a half mile of two or more supermarkets.
  • The distance to fast food restaurants varied widely across the sample. While “45% of adolescents had no fast food restaurants in 10-minute walking distance, 28% had three or more in proximity from school.”
  • The BMI of students was more closely related to gender, age, and their parents’ BMI than proximity to healthy food options. “Boys tend to consume less vegetables and fruits but more milk, fast food and soda than girls.”
  • While adolescents typically consumed “considerably more soda, high sugar foods, and fast food” than their younger counterparts, the intake rates of juice, fruits and vegetables were approximately the same for both groups.
  • Overall, the study “found no evidence to support the hypotheses that improved access to supermarkets, or less exposure to fast food restaurants or convenience stores within walking distance, improves diet quality or reduces BMI among Californian youth.”