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Mourning a Culinary Legend

It is remarkable to me how the world is reeling from the loss of Anthony Bourdain,who will be remembered as the every man’s culinary hero of the early 21st century.  The outpourings of grief from such diverse circles shows what an impact he had on contemporary society.  I have a very different perspective.

As a rising female chef on the mid  1990’s I read Bone in the Throat, Bourdain’s first novel about the culinary underbelly, which might I add is dead on.  Ironically my life was a bit of the flip side of Anthony Bourdain’s, I was a trained writer with a degree in English working as a chef on a Caribbean Island.  I grew up in Manhattan and at that point wanted to distance myself as much as possible from that world.  When I left the Caribbean I headed to Cape Cod where my husband and I have been raising our two daughters, now teenagers.  See that is supposed to be one of the perks of being a chef, you get to live and work in these supremely beautiful places people spend all year saving up for a week long trip to visit.

So my journey has brought me to where Bourdain’s journey began, but though our paths may be an inverse of each other his love of food and adventure has profoundly affected my work and many of my fellow Culinarians.  Food is a powerful thing, it manages to cross political and social boundaries like nothing else.  Food brings us together, food sustains us, food brings us pleasure.  It is a profound part of the human equation and Anthony Bourdain sought to teach the masses how important this aspect of the human condition was to society.  Food is unique to geographical and cultural regions, just like flora, fauna and even language.  Food can tell us so much about a society or region, in a way that nothing else can.  Food allows social connections that profoundly affect families and communities.  I think this is part of why Bourdain’s tragic death has affected so many people, he helped us see the power of food and its ability to cross social divides that nothing else can.

His death is a tremendous loss to not just the culinary world, but to all of contemporary society that seeks to find meaning and connection.  A shared meal is a powerful thing that should be savored and respected and Anthony Bourdain did his best to help the world try and understand this simple fact.

Embrace the Plant Based BBQ

This past holiday weekend had lots of outdoor BBQ grills fired up and grilling everything from hot dogs to hamburgers to sausages and steaks.  It is the beginning of the grilling season and our grills are usually crowded with loads of meats, but there is so much more to grill and these choices will not help your health and the health of the planet.  This summer BBQ season why not break with tradition and instead of meats let those delicious summer vegetables take center stage.

Vegetables soak up those same delicious marinades the way meats do so if you have a favorite one don’t throw it away.  Another bonus is the quick cooking time vegetables have on the grill so there is very little cook time, ideal for the hungry masses.  Even better, the novice griller need not worry about under-cooking  their foods and making someone sick because vegetables simply don’t do that!

Lots of vegetables work on the grill but here is a list of some of my favorites that work great, be sure to always clean your grill before putting the veggies on so they don’t stick.

1) Mushrooms (portobello, and shitake are my favorite)

2)Summer Squashes

3)Peppers (all varieties including hot)

4)Asparagus

5)Eggplant

6) Wedges of Radicchio or Bok Choy

7) Cauliflower Steaks

Even better here are some fantastic marinade recipes to help you take this vegetables to a whole new level.

GINGER SOY MARINADE

¼ cup Sesame oil

½ cup Canola Oil

¼ cup Rice wine vinegar

¼ cup Good quality soy sauce

¼ cup Honey

¼ cup Orange juice (optional)

2 tbs. freshly grated ginger

Juice of one lemon

3tbs. Toasted sesame seeds

1 tsp. Crushed red pepper

  1. Combine all of the ingredients and whisk together

LEMON HERB MARINADE

Juice and zest from 2 lemons

2 tbs cider vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup cilantro

2 garlic cloves

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine the ingredients in a food processor or blender and slowly add oil while running to help it emulsify

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CILANTRO MARINADE

½ cup Fresh Cilantro

¼ cup fresh lime juice

Few cloves of garlic

Hot sauce to taste

2/3 cup Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Place first 4 ingredients in blender, while blending slowly add olive oil so that marinade emulsified
  2. will keep tightly sealed in refrigerator for up to a week
  3. Make a smoked chili variation on this recipe by adding 1 or 2 chipoltes in adobo, perfect for corn and bean salads
  4. So make the shift this year and embrace those grilled veggies!!!!!

 

The Past, Present and Future of Grocery Stores

I love teaching my culinary classes to seniors because it affords me the opportunity to talk about how our food systems  worked 50-60 years ago, and how much has changed in what is relatively a short period of time.  Most of my students remember  when milk was delivered in glass bottles to your front door every morning.  Yesterday a gentleman asked me if people still canned, as he fondly remembered his childhood  basement stocked with jars of fruits and vegetables lovingly canned by his mother to feed the family through the winter.  We often wax nostalgic about trips to the local butcher for a fresh cut of meat wrapped in nothing but butcher paper and twine, or the green grocer which offered a selection of colorful fruits and vegetables, but only what was in season and nary a plastic bag or wrapper in sight.  How we feed ourselves and our families has dramatically changed in the last  century, and in this humble food advocates opinion, not for the better.

History tells us the rise of the grocery store started just about 100 years ago with the Astoria Market in Manhattan.  It was an attempt to bring products together in a single marketplace to provide customers with greater convenience, the birth of the convenience food era which we are still in the throes of.  The Great Depression enhanced the growth of these stores as merchants went out of business and everyone was looking for the best deals. The emergence of home refrigeration which allowed customers to shop in bulk for perishables that they were never able to do before, also had a profound effect on the growth of these stores.  The rise of the automobile further changed how we shopped because we could purchase greater amounts on fewer trips.  In fact changes in  transportation was one of the biggest game changers in the food system, because what was always regional or local food systems got stretched and was now crossing state and  even international borders.

These brought big changes to how we as Americans view food.  First off,  most of us have very little understanding of seasonality, and why would we when you can go into an American grocery store and by fresh strawberries anytime of the year, or corn or any other fruit or vegetable for that matter.  But the impacts of the rise of these mega stores is far greater than any of us can begin to imagine.  The greatest threat these stores pose to humankind is that they have completely disconnected humans from the food they eat.  Let us remember our most basic human elements, providing food and shelter for our families so they can survive.  That is it, all humans are designed to do, and by breaking the connection humans have with feeding themselves, you disrupt the balance.  There is a unique satisfaction gleaned when we provide a healthy meal for our family, especially if you have had to grow or raise some of the food on your plate, but most Americans have absolutely no understanding of this anymore.  Dinner may be heating up a frozen entree or a drive thru at a fast food restaurant on your way from one over-scheduled activity to the next.  This is how the majority of us feed ourselves and then wonder why we are a nation in a health crisis whose roots are found in poor dietary choices.

The rise of Amazon and on line grocery shopping is poised to change the system even further, in ways I am not sure we can yet understand.  However I don’t want to see these changes, I want to return to a time where we shop for goods from our community and locally owned stores.  Already the trend of the farmer’s market is beginning to wane as Americans attention span, shortens and the next new trend comes into favor.  How we feed ourselves shouldn’t be a trend.  Your dollars speak louder than anything else so use them wisely and shop local whenever you can!

Climate Change and How we Eat

The double whammy of Nor’easters this week should convince almost anyone of the perils of climate change.  My favorite beach clam shack will be demolished after 60 plus years because this latest storm eroded away 40 feet of the protective due, virtually cantilevering the building over the beach.  Now I am not hear to argue about climate change, but I can tell you that how you eat has a profound effect on the environment and thus the climate.

Here is a simple statistic almost anyone can understand.

How much water to we need to grow:

1lb of Most Vegetables: 20-40 gallons

1lb Grains: 200-400 gallons

1lb Meat: 1300-1500 gallons.

But it doesn’t end there.  Animal production in the Agricultural industry has surpassed transportation as the greatest source of Greenhouse gases, primarily methane.  This is caused by a double whammy of more cows being raised for a meat hungry culture and forests being clear cut to create pasture land.  As a result we have less trees that are nature’s way of capturing excess greenhouse gases.  So what does all this mean.

It is simple we need to eat more vegetables and fruits, which put much less strain on the environment, and are certainly better for our health than meat.  I would encourage anyone reading this to try and shift towards a vegan diet as much as possible, but as a realist I know a complete vegan diet for most is not going to happen. Aim for a vegan meal per day or be a vegan just a few days a week.  Visit the Optimal Kitchen.com for vegan recipes that will help you embrace a plant based life style.  Your body and the planet will thank you for it!

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

Even those of us who work in the alternative health field can  fall victim to  to our own health issues.  For busy moms like myself, I think it is all too common for us to ignore warning signs our bodies might be giving us and just keep plugging along .  I mean who has time to take care of themselves when you are taking care of everyone else.  Well this January my annual physical was a wake up call that indeed, I need to start taking care of myself and putting my own personal needs a bit higher on my list.

In the late 1990’s I had Graves Disease and after a terrible reaction to medications I decided to have my Thyroid removed, via a nuclear cocktail.  As a result I have to take a rather high dose of synthetic thyroid hormone everyday, or at least I am supposed to.  I make sure my 13 year old takes her daily medication religiously, I give the dog her meds everyday, never missing a dose and my husband never has to worry about running out of his vitamins or prescriptions because I make sure he always has them, but what about my Thyroid  Meds?

Well after having my  GP read my metabolic lab reports I was shocked.  My thyroid was so out of whack, the numbers indicate I should not even be functioning, yet somehow I still was.  Some of you might not realize that a slow thyroid or lack of medication results in dramatically increased cholesterol levels and other poor metabolic outcomes but these functions are inter-related.  So my cholesterol was high for the first time in my life, but more importantly I realized that the lethargy I had been feeling, both mental and physical had a medical reason.  Once I knew how out of whack my endocrine system was functioning,  I began to realize how crappy I actually had been feeling.  It is amazing how easy it can be to  ignore symptoms when we are busy. After my appointment I went home to realize that I probably had only been taking my pills 20% of the time.

Let my experience be a wake up call to you.  No matter how busy you are taking care of others, remember if you don’t take care of yourself it all falls apart.

Hearth & Home

There is something about the holiday season that makes me wax a bit nostalgic.  Perhaps because we remember the holidays from our childhoods, but there is something in the air that brings me back to a simpler time.  And whoa, the older I get, the more I realize how simple the times were and I am talking the 1980’s!

My love of food started way back  when I had the privilege to be born and live on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home to some of the world’s best foods.  Our family traditions were pretty much the same for the 20 some years we lived there.  For our Christmas Eve party my mom would travel 20 blocks north for all her meats from the Madison Avenue butcher, her favorite having lived in the neighborhood in the early 70’s.  She got all the fish she need just next door at the fishmonger.  Canapes and spreads came from William Poll over on Lexington Avenue in the mid 70’s, much closer to home on 72nd.  Produce  and of course the Christmas morning Panettone hailed from Grace’s Marketplace, the uptown location of Balducci’s which opened in the mid 80’s saving us from trekking down to Greenwich village to shop at the original. Last but not least, the smoked salmon and Stollen came from the  Danish specialty store Fraser Morris on 74th and Madison.

What I am getting at is, the Holidays, of which food is such and important piece, used to mean traveling all over the city to find the best  and freshest of whatever you were seeking out, made by a skilled food artisan who delighted in offering you the very best product for your holiday feast.  I loved going with my mom to these unique small shops and exchanging holiday cheer with shopkeepers and seeing all the amazing foods and smelling the incredible pungent smells of the season, even at the fishmongers!

Today since I live out in rural Cape Cod, much of which is shut down for the season, things are a bit different.  I will still head to my local fishmonger, so grateful to still have one, I think scallops might be on the menu this year and the local butcher for the filet, which I won’t eat but will be a favorite of my daughter’s on the Christmas Dinner menu.  Lucky for me my mom was in Manhattan this week and will be bringing up the Stollen and Panettone and my connections with local farmers will ensure I get the best local produce available, lucky I love those winter greens and squashes. And as far as Christmas treats, the girls and I have been baking cookies every year for as long as I can remember and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, except this year we will be adding my new Sea Salt and Caramel Pecan Bars to our baking menu!

Food is one of the best ways to steep yourself in tradition and help you and your family connect in unique ways.  Honor your family roots with traditional dishes and try going out on a limb and incorporating something new.  Food is what brings us together, lets give it the respect it deserves.

 

Staying Healthy Through the Holidays: EAT THOSE VEGGIES

So you have survived Halloween and the sugar fueled candy fest  and we have made it through the eating frenzy of Thanksgiving.  Now we just have to contend with the month of December and the constant onslaught of cookies, cakes, drinks and a whole host of decadent treats to derail our healthy lifestyle.  The good thing is there is still 5 weeks before the Christmas and New Years holiday so we can use this time to prepare.

I don’t know about you ,but I am still paying the price for Thanksgiving, even though I never seem to eat that much at the Holiday meal, I spent the days after having a bite of stuffing  here a smidge of pie there. It isn’t the weight I worry about as much as the fact that I don’t feel great when I eat like that and it lasts for days after.  For my teenage daughter I was pretty stunned how badly she broke out after the dairy laden meal, dairy is her nemesis when it comes to teenage hormonal break-outs and I shouldn’t be surprised.

So as a practitioner that focuses on prevention it is time to start now.  We have several weeks to strengthen our immune systems, lose a bit of bloat and excess weight and get ourselves feeling fit and energized, and ready to tackle the craziness of the holiday season.  I could give you a list of daily shifts in your diet or exercise regimen to tackle these challenges but I am giving you one simple tip that if followed will help ensure you stay healthy through the holidays.  EAT YOUR VEGETABLES! Yes that is it and I can’t say it enough.  If you consume your 9 fist size servings of fresh vegetables, 3 can be a fruit, I promise you will be filling yourself with the fuel you body needs to thrive and prevent yourself from overeating unhealthy foods.  All the vitamins, minerals and fiber are guaranteed to keep that immune system strong and energy levels high. So go ahead and eat that rainbow and remember the brown that is chocolate isn’t part of it!

 

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Here is a staggering statistic that I love to remind people of at Thanksgiving time, at the average Thanksgiving meal each person consumes 2 sticks of butter!  That is 1/2 pound per person of pure dairy fat!   That butter hides in pie crust, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing just to name a few.   Now this does not mean you should not indulge and enjoy the holiday but here are a few simple suggestions to make one of our favorite holiday meals just a bit better for our  health and waistlines.

  1. Use chicken or vegetable broth to add moisture to stuffing and potatoes to drastically reduce the amount of butter needed
  2. use lots of fresh herbs such as Rosemary, Sage, Parsley and Thyme to add flavor, and always remember that fresh herbs are also dark green leafy vegetables which adds loads of vitamins and minerals to your favorite dishes
  3. use gravy sparingly, a good gravy should have a rich enough flavor that you don’t need you meal to be smothered
  4. skip the crust, unless it is truly your favorite part, eat the filling of the pie and leave the butter and refined flour crust on the plate to avoid lots of extra calories
  5. Don’t starve yourself all day before you eat, be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before eating to help control your appetite, think Hummus and veggies as a snack during football

This is a start and won’t make huge changes to your mealtime.  Remember it is all about balance so aim to eat loads of fresh veggies early that week and that weekend to help your body recover from the onslaught that is the Thanksgiving meal,

Sugar: The. Bad and the Ugly

So I am sure no one wants to talk sugar the day before Halloween, but since tomorrow is quite possibly the day Americans consume the most sugar of any day I though it rather timely.   Sugar comes in all sorts of forms and types, white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and loads of scientific names all of which end in OSE.  This is important to remember , anytime you see a word such as maltose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, fructose it means sugar, sometimes a single bond, sometimes a double it doesn’t really matter because WE ALL EAT TOO MUCH SUGAR.

If you have ever participated in an Optimal Kitchen cooking class you know that I blame much of our over consumption of sugar on the fat phobic trends of the 1980’s and 90’s.  There is simply too much sugar sugar lurking in processed and packaged foods and don’t get me started on the beverages.  Many will argue that they only eat natural sugar, sugar cane is natural and large amounts of honey and maple syrup are  damaging to our system as well though not as badly and at least these 2 bring some additional health benefits.  We know that sugar causes diabetes and metabolic syndrome by overtaxing  the pancreas, but it is also damaging to many other bodily systems.  Sugar feeds malignant cells causing those cells to proliferate.  Sugar weakens our immune systems making us vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections and sugar consumption leads to weight gain which has its own set of health problems.

I could go into details about what exactly those sugar molecules do tour system and talk about double versus single bonded sugar molecules and how they affect us but  I don’t view that information helpful to the lay person just trying to feed them selves better.  What is important to know about sugars is that the simpler or more refined form we consume the sugar in the more quickly it hits our systems requiring an immediate output of insulin to cope with the surge.  This is why the sugar in whole fruits, though  abundant, hits us differently with all the natural fiber and water to help slow down the process.

SO HERE ARE THE HALLOWEEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING SUGAR OVERLOAD:

1)EAT A PROTEIN RICH MEAL OR SNACK BEFORE HEADING OUT TRICK OR TREATING

2)AIM TO EAT LOADS OF FIBER RICH FOODS ALL DAY TOMORROW , FRUITS, VEGETABLES, WHOLE GRAINS, NUTS AND SEEDS

3) MAKE A PLAN FOR WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH ALL THAT CANDY, the amount your kids come home with might be enough candy for the whole year  so decide ahead of time how you will handle this

4) BE SURE TO FIND A WALKING ROUTE FOR YOUR TRICK OR TREATING SINCE THE BEST WAY TO REDUCE EXCESS BLOOD SUGAR IN THE SYSTEM IS THROUGH WALKING

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!

Understanding Hypertension

Recently I have been approached by a wide variety of friends  that have been grappling with unhealthy blood pressure levels for a myriad of reasons.  Whether it is my friend who recently gave birth a month early due to preeclampsia or another who simply has a genetic predisposition to hypertension, the treatment is virtually the same , but first I want to explain a bit about high blood pressure.

As complicated as this chronic disease may seem it is really very simply, sodium and potassium work together to create the proper tensile strength in our arteries for ideal blood flow. Skew towards more sodium in your diet and they tighten and tense up resulting in too high blood pressure, much less likely but with profound health problems as well too much potassium in the diet and pressure gets to low. So here we see another  need to find proper balance in our lives, this time in the amount of sodium and potassium in our diet. But how do we achieve this?

It is actually fairly simple.  We often don’t recognize the sodium levels in packaged and processed foods because it is sweet foods such as cereals and packaged baked goods that have absurdly high sodium levels, foods that don’t taste remotely salty.  In fact most cereals have sodium levels greater than pretzels and chips where we taste the salt!  But The Optimal Kitchen is always more about what we should eat and not simply what to avoid so let’s focus on increasing those potassium levels, how do we do this?

It is actually quite simply FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, lots of them!!!! If you follow the Optimal Kitchen at all you have heard this many times and pretty much is the go to solution for holistically controlling any cardiovascular or metabolic issue.  All fruits and vegetables are naturally high in potassium, not just bananas which are pretty high in sugar.  Another reason to get those 9, YES 9, daily servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.  Keep your fruit whole and raw and be sure to eat the rainbow since every color of vegetable has a different purpose in promoting Optimal health.  So before you decide to go on any hypertensive medication, try shifting to an all vegetable, whole food diet for a week and see the amazing results

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