Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

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?

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

A Spring Cleaning for Healthful Eating

Life is busy, and before you know it, priorities—like eating healthfully—go out the window. The key to success is to have a plan and do your best to stick to it. Keeping on track is easy when you already have a weekly menu lined up and good foods in your home; otherwise, you risk impulse eating something not-so-great and regretting it.

You might think advance planning requires adding time to your already busy schedule. According to wellness pioneer Dr. Frank Lipman, though, research shows that the average American watches more than five hours of television each day, yet spends barely half an hour on food preparation. Take a good look at your less-than-productive hours and put them to better use by developing a smart and manageable food strategy.

Plan and make meals to get you through the week by mixing and matching what you have on hand—whole, healthful foods in a variety of colors—with supplements from the grocery store. Be creative, but don’t overburden yourself trying to whip up something too fancy or intricate. Instead, spotlight one ingredient in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, grill up some chicken to use one night for dinner and on another day for lunch, shredded in a whole grain wrap. Hard-boil enough eggs to have for breakfast one day and to toss into a mixed greens salad a couple of days later. Cut up a bunch of carrots into sticks; put half into snack bags and cook up the other half into a simple glazed carrot side dish.

Consider the following:

  • Check your calendar every week and mark off the days where you will realistically be able to grocery shop, cook, eat dinner at home, or bring leftovers with you for lunch at the office.
  • Inventory your kitchen by writing down everything in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry, and grouping like items together on your list (meats, veggies, nuts, etc.). Toss any item that’s expired. Based on your calendar and kitchen inventory, design meals to last you the entire week. There are plenty of websites and smartphone apps like Supercook and BigOven that can generate recipes based on what you already have on hand. Shop for any items you need to add/replace. Click here for *FREE* downloadable templates to help you with inventorying, shopping, and meal planning.
  • Cook for the week. Prepare what you can in bulk—a pot of chili, steamed string beans, mashed sweet potatoes. Divide everything up into small containers or snack bags and freeze/refrigerate them. All you have to do from this point forward is refer to your weekly meal plan each day or the night before, then defrost, reheat, or assemble your meals accordingly.

Planning ahead and preparing meals for yourself or with your family not only puts your mind at ease, but guarantees nourishment for your body as well. Regularly inventorying your kitchen, planning a weekly menu, and having a shopping strategy will save you frustration later on, so honor and appreciate the time and effort that went into creating your healthful and delicious meals.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on May 25, 2014.]

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/7/15): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that my boyfriend and I will be hosting a viewing party of the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat” at our apartment in the East Village, New York City, on Saturday, March 7, 2015. As I did last year, I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog.

OTHER INFO:

  • Food will be provided (menu still TBD), but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:00 pm ET. Since we have a teeny apartment, we are asking everyone to RSVP by Wed, 2/25 for their preferred session(s), noted below, so it doesn’t get too crowded. (I’ll e-mail you our exact address after you’ve replied).

Session 1 (10:30 AM – 12:25 PM)
Introductions
Nikiko Masumoto – Legacy of three generations of Japanese American family farmers.
Anim Steel – Food justice.
Ali Partovi – What’s the real reason organic food costs more? (Hint: It’s not because it’s more expensive to produce.)
Stephen Reily – How do cities build platforms to help the local food economy achieve sustainability and scale?
Film clip: The Meatrix, re-make and re-launch of the hugely successful 2003 viral phenomenon
Michele Merkel – What is legal is not always right: Fighting for justice in rural America.

BREAK 12:25 – 1:35 PM (webcast offline)

Session 2 (1:35 – 3:35 PM)
Marcel Van Ooyen – Scaling up local food distribution to take it from niche to mainstream.
Robert Graham – Teaching doctors about the importance of food to health.
Stefanie Sacks – How small changes in eating can make big differences.
Joel Berg – The only real way to end hunger in America.
Dana Cowin – The power of ugly vegetables: Why ugly, bruised vegetables are the future of food.
TEDxManhattan Award Winner – Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine. School. Kids. Community. Food. The educational community center Steve is building in a school in the Bronx.
DJ Cavem – Health education through art and hip hop music.

BREAK 3:35 – 4:15 PM (webcast offline)

Session 3 (4:15 – 6:00pm)
Henry Hargreaves – How end-of-the-world doomsday preppers are thinking about their food.
Film clip: Anna Lappe, Real Food Media Project winner
Shen Tong – The impact of venture capital money and investment dollars in the food system.
Kendra Kimbirauskas – The rift between the good food movement and the explosion of factory farms in the U.S.
Film clip: Regina Bernard-Carreno and Alison Cayne
Danielle Nierenberg – Why the food system will fall apart without women farmers.
Danny Meyer – Fine dining and chain restaurants: The evolvement and overlap of the two.

END 6:00 PM (webcast offline)

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here to visit the official TEDxManhattan website. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/1/14): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that I’ll be hosting a viewing party tomorrow, Saturday, March 1, 2014, for the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat.” This may seem like a nutty move, but I’m very trusting of my readers, so I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog. I’m not crazy enough to post my exact street address here, but I’ll say that it’s at my apartment in the East Village, New York City.

If you’re interested, please click here to RSVP and I’ll send you the address.

OTHER INFO

  • Food will be provided, but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:30 pm EST, but you can drop by whenever your schedule allows and stay for as short or as long as you wish; however, if you’d prefer to join us for a particular session, here are the details:

10:30 AM – Session 1
Brian Halweil, Editor, Edible East End; Publisher, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn
Peggy Neu, President, The Monday Campaigns
Kathy Lawrence, Program Director, School Food FOCUS
Michael Rozyne, Executive Director, Red Tomato
Tama Wong, Principal, Meadows and More
Megan Miller, Founder, Bitty Foods
Steve Ritz, Founder, Green Bronx Machine
Andrew Gunther, Program Director, Animal Welfare Approved
David McInerney, Co-Founder, FreshDirect
Dr. Lance Price, Professor, George Washington University
Bill Yosses, Executive Pastry Chef, The White House
David Binkle, Director of Food Services, Los Angeles Unified School District

1:40 PM – Session 2
San Van Aken – Tree of 40 Fruits, Artist
Stefani Bardin, Faculty, The New School
Matt Moore, Family Farmer, Artist, Activist, The Digital Farm Collective
Maisie Ganzler, Vice President, Bon Appetit Management Company
Regina Bernard-Carreno, Assistant Professor, Baruch College, CUNY
Ann Cooper, Founder, Food Family Farming Foundation
Sunny Young, Director, Edufood Consulting
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Virginia Clarke, Executive Director, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders
LaDonna Redmond, Founder, Campaign for Food Justice Now
Alison Cayne, Owner, Havens Kitchen
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability, Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group
Nikki Silvestri, Executive Director, Green for All

4:20 PM – Session 3
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President, James Beard Foundation
Myra Goodman, Co-founder, Earthbound Farm
Kerry McLean, Director of Community Development, WHEDco
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United)
Cheryl Kollin, Founding Principal, Full Plate Ventures
Clint Smith, Educator, Parkdale High School
Peter Hoffman, chef owner of Back Forty and Back Forty West
Chellie Pingree, Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives (Maine)
Kenneth Cook, President and Co-founder, Environmental Working Group
Tom Colicchio, Chef, Restaurant Owner, Head Judge “Top Chef”, Cookbook Author

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here or here. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.