Beating the Barbecue Blues

Ah, summer! Along with sunny days, warmer temperatures, and the urge to want to leave work early come invitations to graduation parties, barbecues, and picnics in the park. Tempting as these may be, you may end up feeling sluggish, bloated, and upset with yourself after indulging in some of the more unfavorable foods served at these events. The best summer party accessory is a healthful-eating action plan.

BBQ.jpg

(image credit: https://static.pexels.com)

On the days before and after, make a conscious effort to eat nutritiously so that, if you do splurge a bit, you don’t suffer guilt (or stomachaches) later. Have a hearty breakfast the morning of your gathering, or a small snack—like whole grain pretzel sticks and peanut butter—a couple of hours before the event. As you’re heading to the venue, visualize your plate piled high with colorful and varied foods. At the very least, most functions will usually have salad fixings, so fill up on the items that will give you the most nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, then reward yourself with a small portion of something decadent. After all, you are celebrating!

Aromas may entice, but barbecued and fried foods like steaks, burgers, pork ribs, and chicken wings can be high in fat, calories, and sodium––especially if accompanied by seasonings, sauces, and buns. (Not to mention the potential food safety issues at these gatherings, when foods that contain meat and dairy have been sitting outdoors for too long.) A basic cheeseburger will run you about 350 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 600 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 25 percent of your daily recommended value. Even a handful of nuts come in at 10 grams of fat, and that refreshing cup of sangria will cost you 20 grams of sugar. You don’t have to cut out everything completely, but keep these numbers in mind before you approach the food tables, especially if you’re concerned about weight management and caloric intake, or have a pre-existing condition like high cholesterol or hypertension.

Consider the following:

  • Plan ahead. Call and ask the hosts what they’ll be serving the day of their event and ask if you can bring a plant-based side dish with you (a three-bean salad, baked kale chips, or carrot sticks and hummus) if there’s going to be nothing but fried foods and salty snacks.
  • Choose wisely. If the venue doesn’t allow for outside food, then make smart adjustments. Forgo the bread; select a leaner meat and omit the toppings; replace anything fried with salad. And always—always—eat off a plate.
  • Keep moving. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Take a lap around the buffet before every course. Engage in a game of volleyball or two in between servings. Each little burst of movement will keep your nibbling to a minimum, and your calories in check.

While you are out of your element, you can still be in control when it comes to your nutrition as long as you plan on being mindful before you even walk out the door. With a healthful eating strategy, you can successfully face that smorgasbord of potentially harsh foods on the other side.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on June 29, 2014.]

Bigger Fish to Fry

When it comes to getting away (from it all and for a decent stretch of time), how often is too often, if there even is such a thing? How much is not enough? I just returned from a week-long vacation after having not been on one for over three years, so, to answer my own question: three years might be too long to go without getting away.

This trip was pure bliss, not just because I was traveling with my honey, but because I’ve been so bonkers with school and business responsibilities, I promised myself I’d embrace the feeling of doing nothing. Being ever the planner, though, I enforced a strict dress code of “nothing with buttons or zippers!” and made sure everything we packed fit into carry-on luggage only so we could whiz through the airport as we pleased. Nothing will hold me back from bliss!

Thankfully, I’m not the outdoors-y, adventurous type to begin with, and the bf accommodates my lackadaisical ways, so it was easy to forego signing up for excursions and saying no to the local tour vendors who marched up and down our beach every hour, trying to lure us from beneath our umbrellas and onto a parasailing boat.

TCI Beach Umbrellas

I’m fine right here, thanks.

Grace Bay Beach ranks every year as one of the best beaches in the world and is located on the island of Providenciales within the Turks & Caicos Island (TCI) chain. We’ve been to Grace Bay three times and it was our second time back to Alexandra Resort (the same spot we booked the last time we took a vacation), which just turned all-inclusive and lost on us because we don’t eat a ton while we’re away, I’m a teetotaler, and see above regarding excursions. Meal prices onsite seemed a little exorbitant for us as a pay-as-you-go couple and TCI imports almost everything, so, while we made a point to go grocery shopping as soon as we landed and most of the items at Graceway Gourmet were equivalent to what we’d find shopping at home, quality-wise, it was a little challenging sticking to our food budget.

Version 2

“Ugh with this view,” said no one ever.

I think it goes without saying that when you’re on an island getaway, you’ll be eating a ton of fish (if pescetarianism is your thing). In TCI, though, most of that fish is in the form of conch fritters or fried grouper, so we were happy that our supermarket haul allowed us to give our tummies a break every few meals.

Version 2

A delightful veggie platter from our grocery trip.

Toward the end of our stay, we ventured back to have a meal at Lupo (you can’t really take me anywhere without me having a pasta craving at some point), a delightful rustic Italian restaurant that we found during our last stay on Grace Bay three years ago. I was thrilled to see they were still open for business and thriving.

Version 2

Enjoying Lupo leftovers (with a handful of greens thrown in, of course) on the balcony.

Now that we’ve returned from our getaway, I think I’m still in vacation mode and hope this feeling lingers a little longer. Being in New York City, it’s easy to get caught back up in the whirlwind of this environment and forget all about riding that wave of rest and relaxation. But, I’ll tell you this much: there is no way I’ll be letting another three years pass without giving myself another proper vacation. After all, what’s more important than to empty out your brain every so often, visualize amazing things, and take in some of the beautiful gems that nature and life have to offer you?

How Convenient

I often tell people that I’m very busy and important––busier than Oprah, if that’s even a relevant reference these days. Starting a private practice while finishing grad school and landing a lovely little part-time weekly gig as an in-house prenatal nutritionist at an ob/gyn office in midtown east (NYC/Manhattan) has definitely put a lot on my plate. It’s been three months since my last blog post in which I wrote about a 10-day hiatus I was taking from social media. In that time, half a dozen holidays and other celebrations have come and gone as has an entire season. But, as busy as I get, there has always remained one non-negotiable in my schedule: meal-planning.

Regardless of how much work I have to do, how quickly school assignment deadlines are approaching, or how little sleep I’ve gotten, I always carve out about half a day on Sundays to grocery shop, prep, and cook my meals––or, at least, the ingredients for my meals––for the week. It’s what keeps me in line for healthful eating…and sane during the week when I’m exhausted and don’t want to so much as lift a finger to point at food I want to eat. In fact, a recent study1 showed that at-home meal planning improved diet quality, nutrition and food variety, and weight status in over 40,000 people who participated in it.

Even with planning ahead, though, there are times when I forget to schlep my pre-made meals with me or want to treat myself to something different. The ob/gyn office is located where convenience foods abound, but meals in that area can be a little costly or might not be as healthful as I’d like them to be. Enter Eatsa, a “futuristic power bowl automat” (according to Gothamist) that serves up a wide variety of delicious, nutritious, customized, plant-based lunches, all for the pocket-friendly price of $6.95.

Burrito Bowl closed.jpg

The day I checked out Eatsa, I ordered the Burrito Bowl which packs in 25g of protein, 25g of fat (mostly the good kind), 89g of carbs (primarily complex), 17g of fiber (nearly 70% of a woman’s daily needs!), and only 9g of sugar (I’m assuming from the salsa and corn); however, the sodium was a little high at 1112mg (an issue for anyone with high blood pressure), and, at 653 calories, you’d really get your money’s worth as there’s enough food here to cover a meal and a snack for most people.

Burrito Bowl open

While I realize spending half a day cooking and cleaning in order to plan a week’s worth of meals might not be realistic for some folks, options like Eatsa are a wonderful––and affordable––alternative. Currently, this chain is only located in a few neighborhoods in NYC, DC, and California; but, hopefully, we’ll see an expansion soon to other places across the country.

And in keeping with the theme of another celebration that’s almost over, National Nutrition Month‘s “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” please check out the resources below to help you make the best decisions for times when convenience is of the essence:

References:

  1. Ducrot, P., et al. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(12), 1-12.

Turkeys and dressings and pies…oh, my!

With the end of the year comes invitations to holiday parties and the potential to indulge on some not-so-great foods. Tempting as these are, overeating–especially the wrong foods–can not only leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, and upset with yourself, it can bring you steps closer to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. The next best party accessory to your sparkly bangles or your festive tie is a healthful-eating action plan.

Thanksgiving Table

Aromas may entice, but dark meat turkey with skin, fried onion casseroles, pecan pie, and egg nog are high in fat, calories, and sodium–even canned cranberry sauce carries four times the amount of sugar you should normally have in a day–especially if accompanied by seasonings, sauces, and biscuits. (Not to mention the possible food safety issues at these occasions, when meats and dairy items sit out for hours.) A simple serving of mashed potatoes will run you about 240 calories with 9 grams of fat and over 600 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly 25 percent of your daily recommended value. A handful of nuts comes in at 10 grams of fat, and that cozy cup of gingerbread latte will cost you 40 grams of sugar. You don’t have to cut out everything, but keep these numbers in mind before you approach the dining table.

On the days before and after a special event, make a conscious effort to eat nutritiously so that, if you do splurge a bit, you don’t suffer guilt (or stomachaches) later. Have a hearty breakfast the morning of your gathering, or a small snack—like whole grain pretzel sticks and peanut butter—a couple of hours before you head out. On your way to the venue, visualize your plate piled high with colorful and varied foods. At the very least, most functions will have salad fixings, so fill up first on the items that will give you the most nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, then reward yourself with a small portion of something decadent. After all, you are celebrating!

Consider the following:

  • Plan ahead. Call and ask the hosts what they’ll be serving the day of their event and ask if you can bring a side dish with you (a three-bean salad, baked kale chips, or carrot sticks and hummus) if there’s going to be nothing but fried foods and salty snacks.
  • Choose wisely. If the venue doesn’t allow for outside food, then make smart adjustments. Forgo the bread; select a leaner meat and omit the toppings; replace anything fried with salad. And always—always—eat off a plate.
  • Keep moving. Mingle, mingle, mingle. Take a lap around the buffet before every course. Engage in a dance or two. Each little burst of movement will keep your nibbling to a minimum, and your calories in check.

While you are out of your element, you can still be in control when it comes to your nutrition as long as you plan on being mindful before you even walk out the door. With a healthful eating strategy, you can successfully face that smorgasbord of harsh foods on the other side.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on June 29, 2014.]

Image credit: iStock

Take the cannoli

Even though we only live across the river, it’s rare the bf and I get many visits from our friends and family in New Jersey, so you can imagine how excited we got when my cousins came into the city a couple of weekends ago to spend the whole day with us.

What I love most when we have visitors (aside from eating with them) is getting to view our neighborhoods through their eyes. Rushing through the streets of Manhattan, as a resident is wont to do, I often miss out on the little details like sidewalk vendors and graffiti art on buildings. It’s only when I’m walking with an “outsider” that I manage to stop and take in these nuances.

Our tour was very haphazard; we zigged and zagged according to the traffic lights’ changing patterns. We started at our place in the East Village, then meandered over to SoHo, then pitched a hard left and shot our way toward the East River Promenade and South Street Seaport, which, while the effects of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy were visible, still thrives with everything from an outdoor trapeze school at Pier 16 to a food market where vendors’ wares are housed in individual shipping containers.

I’m outside!

After our leisurely stroll through the south end of Manhattan, we realized how hungry we were getting, so we high-tailed it back up the busy streets of Chinatown toward Little Italy and decided to be super tourists by plopping down to dinner at the ever-famous, ever-infamous Umberto’s Clam House, now relocated down Mulberry Street a bit from its original Broome Street location.

While I took in the sights, sounds, and smells of our venture outdoors, I noticed something else: I was moving slowly and loving it. I sat on a bench for nearly ten minutes and stared at the Brooklyn Bridge. I watched people dressed in colorful leotards hurl themselves in mid-air on trapeze bars and then land softly on the net below them. I took pictures of things and nothings. I often joke that I don’t go outside (unless I’m on a beach) because I’m very busy and important, allowing pressing tasks or other priorities keep me indoors, but being out and about was a true gift that I would very much like to continue giving myself.

 

Brunch Bunch: The Pancake Edition

Not too long ago, a group of us were craving pancakes and met up for brunch at Café Orlin on St. Marks Place. The lines outside of this place are notoriously long and if there’s one thing I won’t do it’s wait in a long line. (I am very busy and important, plus, there are a gajillion places to eat in New York City and, if you keep me waiting, I will move on.) Thankfully, our party was seated quickly and I was excited to find out what the big deal was inside this place.

My first impression was, “It’s huge in here!” Exorbitant rents usually keep city food establishments from having more than a handful of tables and barely inches between them, if that. At Café Orlin, there was room aplenty and enough tables to accommodate a large family gathering, but it never seemed overwhelming. The dark woods and large windows made it feel warm and bright at the same time.

The restaurant’s fare is deemed “eclectic and international,” though it leans Middle Eastern with baba ghanoush and tabbouleh plates on the menu. Brunch, offered on Saturdays and Sundays, is your usual choice of eggs, pancakes/French toast, or salads/sandwiches, but Café Orlin puts such a clean and organic spin on everything that you’ll think you’re eating on a farm instead of at a bustling restaurant in the heart of the East Village. Everyone at our table chose a main omelet dish and then split a side of pancakes in order to sample as much as possible in one sitting. The verdict: delicious!

One of my rules of living in the city is that I rarely frequent an eatery twice because there are just too many places from which to choose and I want to try as many as possible, but, with Café Orlin, not only will I make an exception, I already did. My boyfriend and I loved it there so much that we invited his entire family out to join us one Sunday and they fell just as much in love with the place as we did. And I’m glad we went back because our first server was underwhelming where as the one we had during our second visit was extremely friendly and accommodating.

As mentioned above, everything in Café Orlin is fresh, fresh, fresh, including their freshly brewed coffee, which means refills are not free, but it’s a small price to pay for quality.

Stuffed

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this year, you might be tempted to jam your craw full of whatever happens to be on the table, including the decorative gourds, which I advise against. As yummy as everything looks and tastes, you will hate yourself the day after for having done so and I don’t want you to hate yourself…because you’re awesome and I love you and nobody hates the people I love. Worse would be if you thought you might as well keep on that downward spiral since more holidays are on their way and you’ll just start eating healthier once everything is over and it’s nice and quiet again come the new year.

And so it begins. You don’t want to give in, but you know willpower goes out the window when you’re surrounded by delicious, homemade food, and people who want to feed you.

How do you partake and not offend? The better—and saner—option would be to sample everything without overdoing it or eat half of what is offered to you and immediately pack up the remaining half as leftovers. Be mindful of how much you’re eating, but, also, savor every bite you take. If you go into every holiday meal with this game plan, but don’t over-think it or berate yourself with every little nibble, you will succeed at being able to enjoy yourself, commend those who made the dishes, and get on the scale the week after without cringing.

Photo credit: Epicurious.com

Meat, meet un-meat.

One of my favorite vegan spots, Peacefood Café, has recently opened in the East Village/Union Square area and I am thrilled! There are so many creative savory and sweet options to choose from there, mostly made with meat substitutes like tempeh and seitan, but there are also some whole food dishes, like roasted or steamed veggies, green salads, and that sort of thing.

For our meal the other night, my bf and I shared The Other Caesar Salad with tempeh “bacon” bits and a plate of deliciously spicy Chickpea Fries as starters, then he ordered the Penne Un-chicken Parmesan for his entrée and I had the PFC Un-chicken Basket (meat-substitute chicken fingers) served with a mild chipotle “mayo” dipping sauce on the side. I barely ate my meal since I couldn’t stop picking at my bf’s dish, so I ended up having it packed up as leftovers. Our dessert was a shared slice of peanut butter dairy-free cheesecake, which was a little on the gummy side; I might have preferred one of the monster cookie options instead.

The issue with vegan foods is that not everything is healthy, so, if you’re opting for one of the meat substitute dishes (which are, technically, processed) or anything that doesn’t resemble a whole or raw food, just be sure your tummy can handle whatever’s in the recipe—like deep frying, soy, or wheat gluten—and be sure to ask your server if you’re not positive about what’s in the dish.

For me, this kind of vegan eating is a treat as I have a very sensitive stomach, so I can’t overdo it; otherwise, it’s the same as someone eating a gallon of ice cream when she’s lactose intolerant. Since I’ve been on a liver detox cleanse the past two weeks, I probably should have waited it out before stepping into Peacefood Café, but I gave into temptation and, unfortunately, ended up paying the price for it—a sour stomach and a raging headache. Was it worth it? Probably, but I’ll definitely mix it up a little more next time and not eat something so heavy and processed in all three of my courses.

Crying in my Suba.

THIS EVENING: A dinner in three parts.

INT: Suba, on the Lower East Side, recently renovated from a late-night club into a painfully chic, contemporary, Spanish restaurant.

A couple is seated at one of many tables located on a platform that, they kid you not, appears to be hovering over a pool of water.

Dude: What’s that smell?
Chick: I think it’s chlorine. Kind of inappropriate for inside a restaurant, no?
Dude: We’ll find out.
Chick: I think I’m sitting over the filter mechanism, although I’m not sure I’m complaining just yet.

A server arrives and explains the menu to the couple. There are no daily specials. It is painfully chic.

Dude: So, this is some kind of tapas menu?
Chick: Yep. I suggest we get a bunch of stuff, really mix it up. I barely recognize any of these ingredients and I, mind you, am a total food snob, so I would love to sample what they have to offer so I can blog about it and sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Dude: Ok, then, you choose because I trust you.

The couple places their order and sits quietly for approximately 8 – 10 minutes, awaiting their dishes and casting their eyes about the room in order to discern if they are, in fact, in a cavern of some sort that houses a giant, chlorinated pool, or a painfully chic restaurant on the Lower East Side. It is, they deem, too soon to tell.

The server returns with their first course: a “Tortilla a la Sidrería,” described as a cider-house omelet with bacalao (salt cod), carmelized onions, and American Sturgeon caviar and another froufrou dish called “Gambas a la Plancha” which is made with Maya prawns, seasoned pickles, chorizo sausage, garbanzo purée, and harissa (chile paste).

Dude: Hm, that’s a weird texture.
Chick: Which? This icky, smashed-up-egg-in-a-martini-glass-thing? I’m not sure I get it. Is this slimy substance a half-cooked egg white? I’m feeling a little gaggy. You?
Dude: Definitely. Let’s eat the prawns instead. Their eyeballs are kind of freaking me out staring up off the plate like that.

The server returns.

Server: How’s everything?
Dude: Just great, thanks.
Chick: Perfect, thank you.

The server leaves.

Chick: Yum, these prawns are good. And this garbanzo purée is quite tasty. I’m not sure I see the chorizo, though. Isn’t there supposed to be chorizo in this dish? And why in the heck would they do that to a poor pickle? It looks like a coiled-up worm. Not very appeti…
Dude: HOLY COW! Did you just see that?!?
Chick: What? What just happened?
Dude: I cut into the head part of my prawn and it exploded!
Chick: WHAT?!?
Dude: Seriously, look. There’s…head stuff…all over the dish…and on my glass…and on the table next to us. (points at enough blood spatter worthy of a crime scene)
Chick: Oh, dear. I think I’m going to throw up.

The server returns.

Server: Here’s your next course: Croquetas. Two each of duck, crab, and ham/asparagus over complimentary sauces. Are you finished with your first course dishes? May I remove them?
Dude: Yes, please, thanks.
Chick: *gurgle*

The server leaves.

Dude: I’m scared.
Chick: Me, too. You first. Try the crab one.
Dude: (takes a bite) Not bad. It’s ok.
Chick: (takes a bite) Pretty good. No, very good actually. Let’s try the duck ones.
Dude: (takes a bite) These are good, too.
Chick: (takes a bite) Maybe things are looking up. Let’s try the ham/asparagus ones.
Dude: (takes a bite) Three for three.
Chick: Did you dip it in the sauce?
Dude: No.
Chick: (dips it in the sauce) It tastes like grass clippings.

The server returns.

Server: Your final course: Arroz Negro. This is paella made with squid ink and combined with baby squid, fava beans, sea urchin, and lemon. May I remove this other dish for you?
Dude: Yes, please, thanks.
Chick: *gag*

The server leaves.

Dude: I can’t see anything. What’s in the dish? It’s all black. Everything’s black.

Chick: I think I see a lumpy thing here. It might be a fava bean covered in squid ink. (tastes squid ink-covered fava bean) Yes, it’s definitely a fava bean. And I think these round, blackish rings are the baby squid.
Dude: (tries round, blackish ring) Yes, yes, it’s squid. Ok, so it just looks weird, but, so far everything tastes pretty…Gaa! What did I just eat?
Chick: What did it look like?
Dude: I don’t know. It was covered in squid ink. I couldn’t tell, but it felt like a wet sponge.
Chick: Maybe that was the sea urchin. Have you ever eaten sea urchin before?
Dude: No, but that was probably it. Here, taste it.
Chick: (tastes it) Yuck, that’s strong and fishy…and what’s with the bizarre textures in all of these dishes? Suba thinks it’s painfully chic and exotic, perhaps, but it’s so unappealing. (holding back vomit) This is some sort of highfalutin, crazy ingredient, pretend tapas place and I don’t feel well and I’m getting sweaty and I need to find my happy place.

The server returns.

Server: May I show you the dessert menu?
Dude: No, I think we’re done.
Chick: (starts to cry; she does not like to leave a restaurant hungry)

EPILOGUE: Chick knows that she’s a big wuss for not mentioning her less-than-pleasant experience to her server or restaurant manager and using her blog to bash the meal. She would appreciate it if you could not lose respect for her.

Dinner with friends.

L offered to make a risotto dinner for E and I (well, ok, we begged her to) at her place on the Upper East Side this evening. Risotto is a traditional Italian dish usually made with Arborio rice and is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy. L added sliced mushrooms, asparagus, and freshly grated Grana Padano cheese to her risotto. (Grana Padano is a semi-fat hard cheese very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano.) Along with our main dish, L prepared a mesclun salad with a tart but tasty pomegranate vinaigrette. What I loved most about being at L’s place is that she truly enjoys making food from scratch, so I was quite impressed to find out she even made her own chicken stock for the risotto from a leftover roasted chicken meal from last week.

While I only had time to pick up some fresh fruit (cantaloupe and strawberries) to bring with me to L’s place, E outdid herself and showed up with a homemade Toll House Pie to die for. Being as serious a chocolate addict as I am, E doubled the amount of chocolate chips noted in the recipe (smart girl) and ended up making the best dessert ever. Thanks, E! I have four new cavities now and a giant inner tube took up residence in my abdomen, but, boy, was it worth it!