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?

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!

Flex your mussel


Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: MUSSELS

The term “mussel” is used for several families of bivalve molluscs inhabiting lakes, rivers, and creeks, as well as intertidal areas along coastlines worldwide. The freshwater and saltwater mussels are not closely related, and are grouped in different subclasses, despite some similarities in appearance. The freshwater Zebra mussels and their relatives live attached to rocks in a manner similar to marine mussels, but are classified with the Heterodonta, the taxonomic group including most bivalves referred to as “clams.”

Archaeologically, there is much evidence for humans having utilised mussels as a source of food for thousands of years. Nowadays marine mussels are still a popular seafood item, especially in Belgium and the Netherlands, where they are consumed with French fries (mosselen met friet or moules frites). In Italy, they are a popular dish, often mixed with other seafood, or eaten with pasta. In Turkey, mussels are either covered with flour and fried on shishs (midye tava) or filled with rice and served cold (midye dolma). In France, the Éclade des Moules is a mussel bake popular along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay. In Cantonese cuisine, mussels are cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black bean. In New Zealand, they are commonly served in a chili based vinaigrette.

Mussels can be smoked, boiled or steamed. As for all shellfish, mussels should be alive just before they are cooked because they quickly become toxic after they die. The mussel shells open by themselves when cooked. (Discard any that remain closed after cooking.) Months with an “r” in their name (September to April) are said to be the in season for mussels.

Intertidal herbivorous shellfish such as mussels and clams can help people reach a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in their diets.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this delicious dish:

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 med shallot, minced
1/3 c white wine (or white cooking wine)
2 lbs mussels, rinsed, drained, and debearded
6 oz prewashed baby spinach
3 plum tomatoes, deseeded and diced
2 tsp tarragon

In a large pan over low heat, sauté garlic and shallot in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add white wine and mussels, cover pan, raise heat to medium-low, and steam mussels until shells open, about 7 minutes.

Uncover pan and transfer mussels to a warming dish. Turn heat to high and allow liquid to reduce (by boiling) for about 5 minutes. Lower heat back to medium-low and add remaining ingredients, cooking and stirring frequently until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove mixture from heat and pour over mussels. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.