Paris: Eating Like a Local

I’ve been thinking about my trip to Europe last October because my sister, Cheryl, will be traveling there soon. We’ve talked about how food is a major part of the travel experience. And we definitely love food.  What does it mean to “eat like a local”? It can mean eating where locals eat; eating the way locals eat (with locally-used utensils or hands) and even eating at the time of day locals eat.

Of the three European cities I traveled to, I spent the most time in Paris. I love French food, but my diet has changed over the past eight years. No béchamel sauce, crêpes, croissants, pastries, and baguettes for me. So I thought. But, I also figured I could navigate my little food quirks, even in Paris.

The French take their entire culture — language, art, music, wine, and food, very seriously. They are clear about what it means to be French. France has a Minister of Culture presiding over touchstones of French identity and French contributions to the arts. French words pertaining to food, like restaurantgourmet, café, connoisseur, and cuisine are commonly used in English language.

French cuisine has always been a gold standard for trained chefs; and I have read that the cuisine is in crisis.  So what does that mean? Food at an authentic-looking bistro may have been previously frozen, perhaps pre-assembled, and not totally prepared in-house with raw ingredients. Read about it here.

(Good lord…that sounds like American restaurant chains! I didn’t have to leave home for that!)

So, with that awareness, I decided to be discriminating about where I would eat in Paris, same as I am here. I would not eat at bistros with burgers and pizza on the menu. I can get that food here (if I were so inclined — which I am not). But, then again, when you’re fresh off the plane and it’s lunch time, you might just bust those standards and eat anywhere. People who know me know that I go from very hungry to “hangry” fast.

I found Bistrot La Bonne Cécile a mere two blocks from my Airbnb and ate lunch there. The menu is rotated seasonally. The restaurant served fresh food made in-house. I could not have been more delighted with my first meal on the Continent, and glass of Sancerre. The restaurant was charming and the service was exceptional. (Tip: you do not tip in France.)

Soup course - La Bonne Cecile - Paris

Soup course – La Bonne Cecile – Paris

Entree seafood pot and rice - La Bonne Cecile - Paris

Seafood pot and rice – La Bonne Cecile – Paris

Coffee is big in Paris, but I don’t drink it. I indulged, instead, in chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) made with milk and cream. Made right, it’s oh-so-rich. I’m lactose intolerant and didn’t get a stomach ache from drinking it!  Best cups are made with chocolate, not cocoa powder. As noted in this blog, using a powder instead of a high-quality chocolate bar with its rich cocoa butter, is really hot cocoa and not hot chocolate.

Paris has an abundance of ethnic restaurants. I enjoyed them, too. I also had great meals at very casual restaurants. One of them was Le Pain Quotidien. My friend, Charlotte, asked me to meet her there. We have one in D.C. — that I’d never been to — and I didn’t expect to go to that chain in Paris. Well, it was a cut above and delicious! I had a great salad, gluten-free bread, and a bowl of soup. I’ve since been to Le Pain Quotidien in D.C.

Some other casual restaurants in Paris:

Divin’ Art, near Arts et Metiers Metro, is a gluten-free crêperie in walking distance of my Airbnb. I ate a savory crêpe (smoked salmon, soft-boiled egg, and peppers), carrot soup, green salad, and a chocolate crêpe.

Savory gluten-free crepe - Divin Art

Gluten-free crepe from Divin’ Art in Paris (Marais)

While walking in search of Paris’ street art in the Oberkampf neighborhood, I found this vegetarian and gluten-free restaurant. I had a fresh juice, carrot soup, and a vegetable rice and almond dish. Simple, healthy, and delicious. And the meal was cheap!

Vegetarian gluten-free in Paris

L’esprit Tchaï – Paris

Rice and vegetables

I also ate food that was a little out of my comfort zone. The complete meal here was the salade niςoise and escargot, with a glass of white wine.

Salade nicoise

Salade nicoise with anchovies

Eating escargot was a challenge. I eat escargot because they are a super-beneficial food for my blood type. I take an almost medicinal view toward it.  I don’t go into a swoon over the taste, but escargot is more than just palatable. The challenge was dealing with the little animal in its shell, which was a first for me. The escargot I’ve eaten has always been hidden — thankfully, because they are rather ugly — under a garlic, parsley and butter sauce in a snail plate. No shells included.  But, I had on my big girl panties and would eat escargot like the French.

I asked the server to show me how to use the snail tongs. First, you grip the shell, which is when I had the Pretty Woman moment. The shells are indeed “slippery little suckers,” but at least they didn’t go flying across the room. Next, you use the little fork to pull the critter out. After an embarrassing struggle, I managed to grip three shells and pull out three escargot. I couldn’t get the last two out of their shells.  As far as I was concerned, no one was home. The server was watching me, so I asked him to try. I wish I’d taken a video of him trying to find the snails. He probably thought it was just me. He gave up, too, and put in an order to replace the two snails that had gone missing.



See this video for how to eat escargot.

Another outside-the-comfort-zone food was this dish of wild mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, and parasol) and poached egg.  I don’t like poached eggs, but I gave this dish a go.  It was a work of art, interesting and tasty. The restaurant, La Mazenay, was lovely; and the service was meh.

Le Mazenay - wild mushrooms and poached egg

A highlight was lunch with Charlotte at elegant Bofinger’s near Place de la Bastille.  I had this delicious fish and vegetable dish.

Fish and vegetables in sauce - Bofinger's

I also ate this dish of sauerkraut, or choucroute. It was not part of my order. It came from the table of diners next to ours. I was eye-ballin’ their sauerkraut because they weren’t eating it, and it looked good. They were eating the pork all around it instead. Charlotte asked the diners if I could have a taste. That was a little tacky, I know, but I guess they decided to help the American out.


Another food that is not everyday fare in the U.S. is  rabbit, or lapin. I had this very tasty rabbit and prune stew at Le Pichin 3 — a family-owned restaurant in the City of Chartres near the Cathedral. Damn, it was good!

Lapins at the market

Lapin at the market before one was turned into stew

rabbit and prune stew at le pichet 3

Rabbit and prune stew at Le Pichet 3

In addition to chocolat chaud, I enjoyed two other kinds of sweets:

Macarons — looking like colorful little hamburgers, these gluten-free cookies made of almond flour have a flavored cream filling. They are everywhere in Paris. Quality matters. Eat enough of them and you can distinguish the mediocre from the sublime.


Les Macarons

Panna Cotta — the best I’ve ever had in my life came from a tiny Italian restaurant Charlotte and I ducked into to escape the rain. This was Charlotte’s dessert. After a taste, I had to order my own. The texture was perfectly smooth, and the sweetness came from the berries and sauce.

panna cotta in Paris

Panna Cotta

My main dining event was a six-course dinner at Pierre Sang in Oberkampf. The hostess took everyone’s food restrictions and preferences. You don’t order from a menu. The six courses are the chef’s choice and everyone gets the same dish, customized as requested.  The hostess answered our questions about what we had eaten afterwards. I was fine with that. It was part of the experience. Reserve a seat at the bar so you can watch the chefs and talk with other diners, especially if you’re solo.

I was thrilled that the Pierre Sang experience was only €45. For the same price here in D.C., a diner could pay that or more for uninspired fare.

There are so many options for dining in Paris. You can dine satisfactorily or fabulously for good value in this city.  Challenge your food comfort zone when you travel, and eat like the locals!



Comfort Food: A Mostly Mediterranean Summer Menu

Summer is my favorite season. I don’t complain or whine about the heat, or even the humidity. Many days this summer have been over 90ºF; and the sun and heat make me happy.  All I need to remember is how unpleasantly cold — really freezing — it was this past winter. In summer, I’m happy to spend time outdoors in a way I’m not when the weather’s cold.

Summer produce is my other favorite thing about the season. Savor summer fruits and vegetables now when they’re at the height of flavor. Farmers’ markets in some areas are already introducing late summer/early fall produce. It’s the in-between season and the new fall produce is not as flavorful as it will be later on. For instance, apples won’t be really sweet until there is a chill in the air. Eat summer produce while you still can!

My sister, Cheryl, and I put together a mostly Mediterranean summer lunch menu and tried it out on some friends. I want to start entertaining more since I do it so seldom. Plus, my friends wanted to check out Cheryl’s issues of American Womankind magazine (reviewed here).

Our lunch menu is a departure from usual summer barbecue fare, but it’s still about comfort food. We checked out what produce between our two kitchens we already had on hand.

Tomatoes are such a summer vegetable (though it’s really a fruit), which also means  they’re especially flavorful now. I decided to make a Greek yogurt tomato soup.

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Prepped ingredients for a tomato soup

Greek yogurt tomato soup

Greek yogurt tomato soup

I had a couple of huge zucchinis in the refrigerator and more ripe tomatoes that needed to be consumed. Ratatouille was starting to look like a menu item, so I bought an eggplant. This menu was shaping up to have a Mediterranean flair.

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Eggplants at the grocery store

What else would go with this meal? Mushrooms! Cheryl sautéed wild mushrooms: etoki, shiitake, oyster, portabello, and crimini.  (Wegman’s has the best grocer selection of wild mushrooms I’ve ever seen!) Mushrooms, by the way, are also powerful support for the immune system. I eat them almost daily.

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What to do for protein? A favorite summer comfort food is deviled eggs. I served two types as an appetizer: wasabi and Indian curry. The curry deviled eggs were our favorite! Umm!!! The nicoise olives in the center were another Mediterranean touch.

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2 types of deviled eggs: wasabi and Indian curry

We also had a small platter of Jamon Iberico de Bellota — the finest Spanish ham there is.  This type of ham is sliced paper thin. It is so rich and buttery. Unlike the ordinary ham in the States, you don’t need to cut off the fat on Iberico de Bellota ham because it’s very edible.  A few of these slices suffice for a delightful gustatory experience. (Shout out to Wegman’s again for carrying precious packages of this pork.)

Jamon Iberico de Bellota

Cole slaw is another familiar comfort food. Cheryl’s version was an Asian slaw. It was delicious and added a crunchy element to the meal. (Don’t underestimate the power of cabbage. It’s a cancer-fighting food. Cabbage is in the family of cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts, watercress, bok choy, and cauliflower.)


Main course - vegetarian

The Menu


Deviled eggs (Recipes – D’Lish Deviled Eggs by Kathy Casey)

Nicoise olives

Iberico de Bellota ham

Main Course

Greek yogurt tomato soup – (Recipe – Moosewood Restaurant:  Cooking for Health)

Ratatouille (Recipe – originally from Alice Waters, found here.)

Sauteed wild mushrooms (Recipe – Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalusia by Jeff Koehler)

Asian slaw (Recipe – Adapted from Yum Universe by Heather Crosby)


Peach, nectarine, and blueberry crisp (gluten-free) (See recipe here.)

Peach and wild blueberry crisp

If you follow a Paleo diet, you’d want to replace the topping on the gluten-free dessert because it contains oats. A possible solution could be to replace the oats with a combination of unsweetened coconut chips, chopped almonds, and almond flour. It won’t be quite as crunchy as the oats, but it would be Paleo-compliant. Any suggestions from the Paleo community are welcome!

Also, if you eat the Paleo way, you’d want to substitute the dressing in the slaw and the mayonnaise in the deviled eggs. They contain sesame oil and canola oil, which the Paleo community refers to as “industrial oils.” I haven’t found a mayo in stores yet that is made from 100% olive oil.  The easy switch for the Paleo diet is to make a cole slaw with a homemade mayonnaise containing olive oil. The mayo can be used in both the slaw and the deviled eggs. You can find a mayo recipe here.

Last, but not least I had another special, very well-behaved guest: Lulu, Cheryl’s Havanese. She was easily thwarted from her one mad dash for the ham.

Lulu - lunch guest

See how you can make the most of the last of summer’s bounty. Enjoy!

Comfort Food Redemption: How to Beat the Diet Blues

You just discovered your diet needs an overhaul if you are to be healthier and feel good again. You go into mourning immediately with the thought of losing the food you’ve loved and eaten forever.  No worries — you’ll go through these 8 stages of grief:

  1. Deprivation: Someone stole my cheese. All I can think about is cheese.  I’m miserable.
  2. Panic: What the hell CAN I eat, then?  All food choices seem to have vanished.
  3. Denial: I don’t eat much sweets or bread. Maybe if I have just one cookie, I’ll be OK.
  4. Resignation: Uh oh…I’m bloated (or constipated). Not OK.  Misery is assured.
  5. Fear: Will I ever be invited out to dinner again? Where will I find something to eat?  I’m doomed to eat bland, medicinal food.
  6. The Quest: I need help, answers, hope, or a big fat cheeseburger on a sesame seed bun.
  7. Re-education: I need a moment to digest the restrictions. The real work is in figuring out the food possibilities.
  8. Joy: There’s a lot of great stuff out there.  I’m re-training myself to eat mindfully, and, hey, the results are surprisingly yummy!

As a gluten-sensitive person, I experienced every one of these stages.  I’m also lucky enough to be an inveterate researcher and cookbook collector; so, when I reached Stage 7, I gathered my curiosity, energy, and tools to make myself food-happy again.

Eliminating much-loved foods and ingredients from your diet is unsettling.  You lose your balance.  So, I’ve road-tested a summer comfort food meal for you, guided by delicious recipes in Well Fed – Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat by Melissa Joulwan.  Check out Clothes Make the Girl for more recipes and information on her cookbooks. Joulwan follows a Paleo regime.  I have found Paleo to be most compatible with my love of meat and need to be gluten-free.  It is not the only solution for a healthy diet, but we will visit others as time goes on.


Grilled Chicken Thighs

Coconut Almond Green Beans

Jicama “Potato Salad” 

Dessert (Optional) – Easy fruit crisp recipe from an earlier post found here.


Grilled Chicken Thighs


Summertime is about The Grill. The key to richly-flavored, moist and juicy thighs is to smoke them. First, season the thighs with salt, pepper, and paprika.

To smoke the thighs, I use Woodstock Lump Hardwood Charcoal.  You can help this along with 4-5 fast-starting briquets.  When the briquets start to get that ashy color, check the wood charcoal.  When there are no more flames, you’re ready to go.  There should be a lot of smoke, but no fire. Put your chicken on the grill. Cover and smoke the meat for an hour.

Coconut-Almond Green Beans

coconut green beans 2

These green beans are a riff on the ol’ green bean casserole, but without the canned beans, canned soup, frozen onion rings, and outrageous amount of sodium. All I can say about these green beans is WOW!!  I followed this easy recipe to a tee.  If you love Indian food, these beans will resonate with you.  If you aren’t familiar with Indian food, these beans are a real flavor festival. Truly, cool beans.

Jicama “Potato” Salad


I adapted this recipe from Well Fed. Don’t be intimidated by this 3-part recipe — it’s easier than you think.  Jicama is a large root vegetable from Mexico.  It is a great substitute for potatoes because its texture and flavor is similar to a raw potato,  with one caveat — start preparing the jicama early, really early—like 48 hours before you serve the meal!

Jicama Ingredients:

2 pounds jicama

1 teaspoon salt

Salad Ingredients:

4 strips sugar-free, nitrate-free bacon

4 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1 medium  stalk celery, diced (about ½ cup)

About 1/2 cup of diced medium yellow or (and) red onion

½ cup fresh cilantro, minced

2 tablespoons dried chives

¾ teaspoon dried mustard

½ teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

¾ cup olive oil mayo (see recipe below)




Dice the jicama into ½ inch cubes.  (It’s up to you whether or not to peel it.)  When you’re done chopping, you should have about 6 cups of cubes.  Place the jicama and salt in a slow cooker and add enough water to cover the jicama by about 2 inches.  Cover and cook on high for 12-24 hours.  The longer the jicama simmers, the more tender it becomes.

[Note: The recipe says to cook in a slow cooker for 12-24 hours.  I suggest 18 hours, as a baseline, and check every 6 hours after.  My jicama was fork tender at 23 hours.]

When the jicama has cooked, drain, pat dry, and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the salad.


Cut the bacon crosswise into ¼ inch wide pieces.  Place the chopped bacon in a cold skillet, turn the heat to medium-high, and fry the bacon until it’s crisp, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the pan with a wooden spoon and drain on a paper towel.

Place bacon, eggs, celery, onion, parsley, chives, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.  Blend with a rubber scraper, then add jicama and mix again.  Add mayo (recipe below) and gently fold until combined.  Chill for 20-30 minutes before eating to allow flavors to meld.

Olive Oil Mayo Recipe


1 large egg

2 tablespoons Lemon juice

¼ cup + 1 cup light-tasting olive oil (not extra virgin!)

1/2 teaspoon wasabi

½ teaspoon salt


Bring all ingredients to room temperature (including the egg).

1.  In a blender or food processor, break the egg and add the lemon juice. Put the lid on your appliance and allow the egg and lemon juice to sit and come to room temperature together, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

2.  When the egg and lemon juice are room temperature, add the mustard, salt, and ¼ cup oil to the canister.  Blend on medium until the ingredients are combined.  Incorporate the remaining 1 cup oil by pouring very, very slowly.  You want the skinniest drizzle you can manage; this takes about 2-3 minutes.

3.  If you’re using a blender, you’ll hear the pitch change as the liquid begins to form the emulsion.  Eventually, the substance inside the blender will resemble traditional mayonnaise, only far more beautiful. (Do not lose your nerve and consider dumping!) Continue to drizzle slowly.

4. When all of the oil is incorporated, revel in your triumph and transfer the mayo to a container with a lid.  (Mark a calendar with your egg expiration date—that’s when your mayo expires, too.)

5. Mix 3/4 cup of olive oil mayo with the assembled salad.

This meal is satisfying, filling, and beautiful to look at. The ingredients, for the most part, are familiar and comforting. Does this menu make you food-happy again?

– Cheryl

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2 Healthy Summer Treats

Did you know Americans consume an average 130 pounds of sugar a year? See this  infographic.

Recognizing that we human beings have an Undeniable Sweet Tooth, I’m sharing two easy recipes for healthy summer treats. I swapped the type of fruit in one recipe and the type of sweetener in both. What I know for sure is that the treats won’t contain crap like artificial coloring and “tastes like” ingredients. My theory is that maybe the treats also have a lower glycemic load than the original recipes, unless, of course, they’re so damn good that your portions are out of control.

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Strawberry and Greek Yogurt Popsicle – adapted from a recipe in


The original recipe can be found here. Here it is with my adaptations:


  • 2 cups sliced ripe strawberries
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons coconut nectar
  • 1 -1/2cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Place strawberries and 2 tablespoons coconut nectar in a blender.  Puree until mostly smooth, with some small chunks of fruit.
  2. Mix yogurt, vanilla extract, and remaining coconut nectar in a bowl until smooth. (The amount of coconut nectar is a guide; you can adjust amounts to your own sweet tooth, but do so sparingly.)
  3. Spoon 2-3 teaspoons of strawberry puree into bottom of each popsicle mold. Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons yogurt on top of fruit.  Keep alternating layers of strawberry puree and yogurt.
  4. Place popsicle sticks into popsicle molds. Cover and freeze until solid, about 2-3 hours.

This was a quick and simple recipe that did not involve making a simple syrup with more sugar.  The popsicles were refreshing. The flavor, like the popsicle construction itself, was alternately sweet and tart. Using plain yogurt instead of sweetened vanilla yogurt reduced the overall amount of sugar in this treat.

Next up….


One fun fact about the fruit used in this crisp … peaches and blueberries are summer season fruits and they have a lower glycemic load. You can find a list of low-glycemic fruits here, along with an explanation of “glycemic load.”

From prepping the fruit in the pan to putting the crisp in the oven took about 20 minutes. That is real fast for me because I am one slow cook. I adapted the original recipe found here.

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Prepped fruit — peaches (white and yellow) and blueberries


Fruit filling

  • 5 organic ripe peaches (mix of yellow and white peaches, cut in bite-sized pieces)
  • Pint of fresh blueberries (or most of a 10 oz. bag of frozen wild blueberries)
  • 1/4 cup coconut nectar
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch (it’s a thickener similar to corn starch)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice


  • 1 cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed almond meal / flour (If you have a nut allergy, you can substitute the almond meal with 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 3/4 cup oats)
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed organic coconut palm sugar (the color of brown sugar, but doesn’t turn hard as a brick when stored)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (The original recipe called for a 9 by 9-inch square baking dish. I don’t have one so I used an uncoated 2″ deep pan that is about 12.5 x 8.5 inches.)
  2. In the pan, mix together the fruit, coconut nectar, arrowroot starch, lemon juice, cinnamon and allspice.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the oats, almond meal/flour, almonds, coconut palm sugar and salt. Mix in the Greek yogurt and melted coconut oil. Stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened throughout. (Add a little more yogurt and oil, if necessary.)
  4. Evenly distribute the oat mixture over the fruit filling. (No need to pack it down.)
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown.
  6. Let the crisp rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Peach and wild blueberry crisp

Peach and blueberry crisp – recipe adapted from a simple gluten-free apple crisp found on

Oops!  I meant to take a photo of a full pan of the finished peach and blueberry crisp, but then I scooped out a serving for a friend. He went on and on about it, so I had to have a taste myself. Needless to say, this peach and blueberry crisp didn’t see the next day.  Portions were clearly out of control.  It was insanely delicious!!

Let me know if you try these healthy summer treats. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

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Healthier Eating in 4 Easy Steps

After my last post, some of you asked for “baby steps” toward better health.  I thought these four steps might be helpful. Some of you said that cutting back on sugar and certain other carbs is tough.

Giant Spanish donuts

Biggest donuts I’ve ever seen: Bakery in Madrid

I battle the sugar demon on a daily basis, so I get it. We’re not in total control of our fate; but if we were, wouldn’t you choose health over sickness?

We have control over what we put into our bodies.

Let’s get started:

I. Shop the grocery store’s perimeter for colorful, local, seasonal, and organic produce.

You have control over this.

The perimeter — or areas against or near the walls — is where you find meats, fish, dairy, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. This setup is used by both mega-grocers and organic grocers.  You don’t even need to buy all organic produce.  Find the list of pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, known as the “Dirty Dozen,” here.

Farmer’s markets, community gardens, and community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions are great sources for diverse, colorful, and local produce.

Community garden in downtown Detroit

Community garden in downtown Detroit

What does it mean to buy local produce? The theory — and it makes sense — is that local produce may be higher in nutrients because it doesn’t travel far or spend time in a warehouse; meaning less time between harvest and when it comes home with you. It is likely to be seasonal. For instance, summer is the season for stone fruits, like peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries. You can still find pears and apples in some grocery stores, but they are probably not sourced locally. Their season is really fall and winter. Believe me, fruits eaten in their season even taste better.

(Speaking of what’s in season and where it came from, I bought an “unseasonal” butternut squash from Mexico in July. I really, really wanted  some butternut squash.)

II.  Be Discriminating! Read labels on packaging. 


You have control over this.

Fats – Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. The right type of fat is, in fact, good for you. Check listed ingredients and avoid partially hydrogenated fats. Best fats are olive oil and coconut oil. I avoid products that list two or three different oils that might be in the product. Every time I eat a snack or meal, I make sure it has some good fat, along with protein and fiber. (Examples: nuts and 70% or higher dark chocolate.)

Sodium –  Good practices:  be aware of sodium content and taste food before reaching for salt. High blood pressure can lead to a lifetime of meds. Who wants that?

Restaurant meals, canned foods, soy sauce, miso, and cheese can be high in sodium. Bragg’s Amino Acids can substitute for soy sauce in stir-fries because it has a lower sodium content and it’s gluten-free.  At restaurants, you could ask for low-sodium entrees — that’s probably no fun — or ask the chef to dial down the salt.

Sugar –  Check for two specific things: the type of sugar in the listed ingredients; and the amount of sugar grams. Avoid a product that lists high fructose corn syrup, that being The Worst.  If food at home is sweetened with it, dump it. As for number of sugar grams, try to stay below double digits.

Yogurt is generally considered healthy. But, consider: a) the quality of the milk; b) the sugars already in milk; c) added sugar; and d) sugar in added fruit. All these things ratchet up the sugar grams. I think added sugar in yogurt defeats the beneficial value. You can retrain your taste buds for plain yogurt, which is supposed to be sour, anyway — and blend it with sweet, fresh fruit.

The Ingredients List – If you can’t pronounce the ingredient or don’t know what it’s doing in the product, leave it at the grocery store. Avoid products with coloring and flavoring ingredients. When I see words like “natural flavors,” I’m wondering, what the hell does that mean?  Answer:  lab work.

[Note: Local produce might not be certified organic or farmed according to organic and sustainable practices. Sometimes there’s a tradeoff.]

III.   Avoid Fast Food Restaurant Chains. If You Don’t, They Win — You Lose (with a notable exception)

You have control over this.

Be skeptical about food that is sold so cheaply and mass-produced.

Some great news here:  CHIPOTLE.


Check out Chipotle’s philosophy.  The restaurant tries to source local and fair produce. (“Fair” means the agriculture workers are treated right with decent wages.) My sister, Cheryl, eats at Chipotle often and confirmed this: Chipotle won’t offer an item on the menu if it can’t find a good source for it.  I love that the company puts itself out there with its philosophy. Is that integrity, or what?! Clean Plates — a service that lists restaurants that provide sustainable and healthy food — endorses Chipotle, too!

Food for thought:  Convenience foods are about time management. Work on that concept and you might not need to stop at a drive-thru window.

IV. Cut out soda. Period.

You have control over this.

Here’s the real skinny on “diet” sodas:  they don’t help you lose weight. In fact, you may head in the opposite direction. Regular sodas have 65-77 grams of sugar in a 20 ounce bottle; and some are sweetened with corn syrup. There’s no good news on the soda front.

Learn to love water and drink it liberally. If you need flavored water, you can infuse filtered water with real fruit and save money while you’re at it.

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Sparkling mineral water – better for you than soda (or, pop, as we call it in the Midwest).

These four steps will make you more mindful of what you eat and what you might crave. Do you think these four tweaks to your eating habits could make you healthier? You’re not powerless; you have more control than you think. What are you willing to do?

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The Best Pork Comes From Happy Pigs

I stopped eating pork many years ago, and I can’t even remember why.  For the last six years, though, it’s because of my diet. Pork is on the “Avoid” list. My body has become very sensitive to pork, and reacts badly to it.

Before I left for vacation in Spain, my friend, Mazie, and I were on the hunt in D.C. for a special Spanish jamon (ham) called Iberico de Bellota. On a tip, Mazie found Iberico de Bellota at Canales Deli in Eastern Market. It cost $67 for less than a half pound.

I asked Mazie what was so great about this particular pork. She said the pigs are raised to forage on acorns, and the meat has an extraordinary taste. She insisted I try a piece of the precious ham. I agreed to taste just a sliver, and took a chance on the pig’s acorn diet. I ate the sliver and fully expected to suffer in short order.

Expected to bloat. Didn’t happen.

Expected severe stomach cramps. Didn’t happen.

Expected to become violently ill. Didn’t happen.

(I was both relieved and impressed!)

This is what I’ve learned about the pigs. “Bellota” means acorn. These pigs are raised in a region of western Spain on pastures with oak tree groves. Certain pigs are selected to finish their lives foraging a pasture for herbs, wild mushrooms, and grasses, and, especially, acorns. The pigs are allowed to do what pigs naturally do — dig, roam, and forage for their food. They are considered “semi-wild,” and the Spanish government strictly regulates the Iberico de Bellota bloodline for quality and integrity.

In contrast, pigs raised in crowded industrial livestock operations nose-to-tail with other pigs suffer. I’ve read that pigs raised in this unhealthy environment are so stressed they often eat each others’ tails. I’ve also read that these industrial operations often supply pork to U.S. supermarkets.

Know this, if you find Iberico de Bellota cured ham in the U.S., it came from a very special, healthy and happy pig.

Iberico de Bellota ham comes from the pig’s hind leg.  It is hung and cured for at least two years, complete with the pata negra, or black hoof. The black hoof distinguishes Iberico de Bellota from other hams, like Serrano. It has only been sold in the U.S. since 2008, sin pata negra (without black hoof).

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Carving slices of jamon Iberico de bellota outside a tapas bar in Madrid.

Jamon for sale at Mercado San Miguel (Madrid)

Jamon for sale at Mercado San Miguel (Madrid)

Jamon Iberico de bellota for sale at Mercat Central (Valencia)

Jamon Iberico de bellota for sale at Mercat Central – Valencia

Now, about the ham and its taste… The color is more magenta than pink, like the typical American ham. The meat is nicely marbled with fat. I rolled it around in my mouth before chewing and experienced an almost buttery texture. Instead of cutting away the fat, I ate it. As for the taste? It was sublime.

My first taste of Jamon Iberico de Bellota was before I went to Spain. Madrid’s gastronomy is very pork-centric; so I was happy to know I could experience that part of Spanish cuisine, and easily find the ham there. From what I could tell, it is the most expensive ham in Spain, though it is still much cheaper there than here in the U.S. It is so precious, in fact, that a native of Madrid, now living in Baltimore, has a guy in Madrid who vacuum-packs his Jamon Iberico de Bellota so he can stuff as much of it as he can inside the clothes he packs in his suitcase when he returns to the U.S.

By the end of my travels in Spain, I *got* it.  This pork is special. It is the only brand I will eat, although sparingly, and on rare occasions. The exception was my last night in Madrid:  I was the happy pig. I tore up a plate of tomatoes and a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota meant for two to share!

No shame or consequences!

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A Misty Thanksgiving – Part 2

I love most dogs, but I don’t like dumb dogs. I think German Shepherd dogs are dumb. They are slow to figure things out. That makes them suspicious. That makes them good guard dogs and police dogs.  I don’t like German Shepherd dogs.

(I just had to get that out.)

Now that I have alienated and offended owners of these dogs and they have left this post, I will continue.

When I arrived Thanksgiving morning, my first stop was Kim’s house. We had a short reunion chat where she gave me the breakdown on what Cheryl had prepared and how they came to the decision for the change of venue. We drove to Cheryl’s house in Baltimore to join the gathering of Larry (Cheryl’s boyfriend), Phil (Kim’s friend), Jamil (my nephew), and Jamil’s then girlfriend.  While getting out of the car, upon our arrival, Kim chose that moment to reveal the fact that Misty, Larry’s dog, had been invited as well.

Cue the sound of a wrench being thrown into the gears, tires screeching from sudden braking, and a phonograph needle sliding violently off the record. She invited a dog to Thanksgiving dinner.  Not just a dog, but a German Shepherd dog to a familiar house full of people not so familiar to her.

There is the unpredictable chaos of family relations, which one gets to enjoy whole hog, warts and all — beautiful in the twists and turns of our relationships with each other. Conversations spring from recent inspiration or familiar gems mined from the past. Then, there is the predictable chaos presented by a certain type of dog in a certain type of situation. I knew how this was going to go.

On our arrival, we were greeted by barking and found Misty in her containment cage in the dining room. Yes, the dining room.  Misty was not made to feel isolated from her loved ones. But, Misty did not like the cage and so she barked until she had reassurance from her handlers that all was well.

From that point, the room tipped and it all began to slide south. The layout of the appetizers was enticing, and noticeably, at dog level. Conversational flow was interrupted by the repeated reassurances to Misty, and admonishments  for being both fretful and a pain. To appease Misty, she was released, but muzzled, to reassure guests that she would be well-behaved. Soon after, she found the hors d’oeuvres table and began licking the apples and cheese fondue.

Dinner was approaching. Cheryl, in Martha Stewart fashion, had taken the whole organic turkey out of the oven and presented it on the platter for all to admire. She took the platter back to the kitchen and began to carve the bird. We heard her shriek. The turkey was nowhere near ready. The timing of the dinner was off; the hors d’oeuvres were no longer in play; the alcohol flowed unabated and unchecked; and through it all was the call for Misty! Misty! Misty….!

A degree of equilibrium was reestablished after Jamil’s girlfriend departed for her family’s gathering, taking Jamil with her. Kim busied herself in the kitchen with Cheryl, while Phil, Larry and I formed a sort of boy’s club at the table. Phil provided a buffer between myself and a well-lubricated Larry, probing for salacious details of my past — don’t know how he went there; and Misty was returned to confinement. As if she sensed her work was done, Misty finally settled down to relative quiet as we ate a meal that arrived in fits and starts; but was as amazing as I had hoped.

And, just as quickly… it was over. Cheryl had just sat down to visit with us in the living room when Larry called out to her from another room. When she screamed back, “What?!!! What now?!!!” and stomped out of the room, Kim said she had had enough and it was time to go. I wasn’t ready as I had not had time with my sisters, only their guests. The party was clearly over.

It was disappointing that I did not have the heated and stimulating conversations that I had come to expect from a gathering with my family. Though the food was good, it was not about the meal. Though the effort Cheryl put into the presentation of that meal reflected tremendous desire for a wonderful experience, it did not win the day. What was lost was her presence and conversation while she struggled mightily against the forces of confusion arrayed against her.  What was lost was being together, because that’s what we should be doing when we get together.

Food addresses the common need and shared purpose. And it was Thanksgiving. I had much for which to be thankful. I was thankful for my job, hard as it was to get away from. I was thankful for siblings, including my brother, Daryl (not mentioned in this story), and thankful that we truly enjoy each other’s company, and for the parents that made it so. I am thankful for the good fortune of my sister, Kim, and her fortitude and dogmatic pursuit of health and well-being. And, finally, I am thankful for the grace that my sister, Cheryl, will exhibit after I have dredged up her repressed memory. I won’t see any of them this Thanksgiving; and I will miss them.  Somehow, I’ll find a way to blame the dog for that, too.

Author, David