Category Archives: O’Neil on Eating

The Italian Island of Capers, Olives and Wine

The gateway to discovery. Atlanta to Milan. Milan to Pantelleria.  

The Pleasures of Pantelleria. 
I’d never even heard of Pantelleria until I received an email inviting me to join a group of food writers, food purveyors and nutrition researchers for a trip with Oldways Preservation Exchange and Trust in September.
Oldways was founded to study and preserve the healthy ways folks used to eat and gather their food – from the mountains to the sea. 

Pantelleria. Don’t you just like saying it?Now find it. It’s an island off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea not too far from Tunisia. This is about as south in southern Italy as you can get. There’s something irresistible about an invitation to someplace you’ve never heard of before. When I read that the island was famous for capers I replied to my hosts, “You had me at capers.”


Arriving alone at the slightly modernistic looking Pantelleria airport (most folks in our Old Ways group traveled from New York or Boston or LA through Rome) my 30-something taxi driver who spoke only “hello” and “thank you” English was quite busy chatting in Italian on his flip cell phone while we crossed the island past lots of rocks and cactus in bloom and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

I took a photo of him and he smiled shyly. No, I don’t have a crush on you – I just haven’t seen anyone on a flip phone in a while. OK, on my best behavior. For now.

A tiny island of rough black, umber and grey volcanic rock soon softens to the eye with cascades of glorious flowers.

Purple and white bougainvillea abound.

 Stone walls are everywhere – Pantescan people are really good with rock. Tumbling out of crevices are long green tendrils that I soon learn are the mighty little plants that give us capers.  A little lemon and olive oil with this edible landscape and I’m ready to toss with pasta.
But, don’t be tempted to pluck a wild caper and sample – I’ll explain why later.

Caper plants spring boldly from boulders on Pantelleria.
This might be my favorite photo.
Sunset over the Mediterranean from my patio at The Mursia Hotel on Pantelleria. 

Alora, we arrive at the Mursia Hotel. The white washed building with a Moorish look  (we’re only 36 miles from North Africa here) rises above the black lava rock majestically without need of embellishment. Entering the breezy lobby my eye is drawn beyond the reception desk to what I had been dreaming of all day. A swimming pool. Palm trees were a bonus. It’s about 85 degrees outside.

Let me explain. The huge pool in the foreground is empty – an old pool once filled by the sea.
The new pool at The Mursia surrounded by palms and lounge chairs is nearer the hotel bar. Nirvana- a salt water pool.

So far the only Italian word I really like is “Alora!” which I think means OK or implies “what’s next?” or “then…”….which is like my favorite Spanish word “Entonces!” I will never work as a translator at the UN. But, I do know how to rally a group. “Alora! Time for a drink folks.”

Winery Owner Cologero Mannino of Abraxas offers up a taste of the island’s specialty – slightly sweet, nicely balanced  passito de Pantelleria wine.
How about another glass of wine? This is Italy. That’s better.
Alessandro Luchetti bound for Florida International University in January demonstrates his handsome host skills.
Starting to relax into the Mediterranean lifestyle. 
Stay tuned for the next post……as the pleasures of Pantelleria continue. 

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Kale: The Queen of Greens in the Queen City

Kale Caesar! 

Just as perplexing as the rising star of one actor over another who’s just as or even more talented – who knows how a food once in the back row of the chorus ends up on center stage? 
Such is the story of kale. 
If you’ve crunched on kale chips, one of the internet’s recent recipe darlings, you know what I mean.
Kale, once a humble hero, is a cruciferous vegetable and cousin to cabbage, collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Described as a dark leafy green, kale comes in curly, ornamental, or dinosaur varieties.  It’s known as a winter green, but is actually available pretty much year round. Look for more kale creations as restaurant menus morph from summer to fall.  It can be braised as a side dish or tossed raw into salads.  Those super popular kale chips are created by chopping the relatively tough leaves into bite sized pieces, drizzling with olive oil and baking until crunchy.

Kale Caesar!

The writing’s on the wall at Butcher & Bee in Charleston
Thought to be originally from Asia, the ancient Romans ate kale and it was a staple of the peasant diet throughout the Middle Ages.  But, chances are the Romans didn’t dine on a salad called Kale Caesar.  A foodie play on the salutation “Hail Caesar!” this healthier version of the classic salad usually made with romaine lettuce is on the menu at Butcher & Bee in Charleston, SC.  
The logo for Butcher and Bee – Get it? 
Hip and healthy dining at Butcher & Bee, oh there are plenty of pork products too. 
A popular place for lunch and themed dinners such as “Geechee Supper” or “Israeli Dinner”, Butcher & Bee blends hip with homemade. 
cherry pick this chair for your lunch time perch
The chairs are unmatched on purpose, have an old school feel – well kind of rummage sale feel – and customers wear t-shirts that say “Make Cornbread, Not War.”  
The crunchy green Kale Caesar at Butcher & Bee sports large croutons made from home made bread and zingy grated Parmesan. 

Knockout Nutrition

It’s a side. It’s a salad. It’s super kale.  Noted for its antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory effects and cancer prevention power, this queen of greens reigns when it comes to nutritional content. With only 36 calories in one cup of kale, you get the benefit of 5 grams of fiber, 15% of the daily requirement of calcium, 40% of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1,020% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Kale is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important nutrients for eye-health.

Too much of a good thing.

Vitamin K, which is highly concentrated in kale, is important for normal blood clotting and promotes bone health. But too much vitamin K is a problem for anyone taking anticoagulants to treat blood clots, so they are advised to avoid or limit intake of kale because the high level of vitamin K may interfere with the drugs.

Another nutrition negative, kale is loaded with compounds called oxalates which can interfere with calcium absorption so if you’re a big kale consumer make sure to up the ante on calcium containing foods and beverages in your diet.

Kale Creations

Kale adds flavor and texture to soups such as minestrone.  Vegetarian restaurant, World Peace Café in Sandy Springs serves a kale based soup everyday. MetroFresh on Monroe mixes raw kale with jicama, sweet peppers and white balsamic dressing.  Chef Ian Winslade at Murphy’s in Virginia-Highland serves braised kale with grilled Georgia trout. Kale salad is the sidekick for flat iron steak at South City Kitchen.

Lunch at Butcher & Bee with Charleston cookbook author and foodie friend, Nathalie Dupree prolific terrific author of the brand spanking new 700+ recipes
Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking knows a thing or two about kale. 

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Why French Fries are OK after 50.

Looks like eating more fruits and vegetables is the not-so-surprising secret to weigh control for older women.

Look at this sassy crowd in Aspen. Nice flowers and big glasses of  wine.
And notice the yellow caution tape near the burger and fries.

 Ladies, it’s just not fair.

It’s a common complaint as waistlines widen with advancing birthdays especially for post-menopausal women, ‘I’m eating the same but the numbers on the scale just keep creeping higher.’

What’s not the same, unfortunately, is the body’s metabolic rate, which naturally slows down with age. Add to that a lifestyle that’s often less active and you’ve got the math to prove that calories-in versus calories-out can tip the scales in the wrong direction.

 Sure, you can step up the exercise regime and vow never to order dessert again. But, according to a new study of nearly 500 overweight women in their 50’s and 60’s it’s what they were adding to their meals that ultimately helped them lose weight and keep it off.

Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, and colleagues at The University of Pittsburgh studied the eating habits of women who lost weight over the short-term (six months) and the long-term (four years).

Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD University of Pittsburgh Department of Health and Physical Activity
She is adorable! Listen to her discuss this study in a podcast on website of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

The highly motivated dieters in the six-month group ate fewer desserts and fried foods, drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and ate more seafood.

Steamed shrimp with a squeeze of lemon: girl’s best friend.

Here’s Why You’ll Never Say No to Broccoli Again. 

After four years the women were still saying ‘no’ to pie and soda fairly often but the habit that emerged as the most powerful predictor for long-term weight loss was eating more fruits and vegetables followed by eating less meat and cheese.

We said eating LESS meat and cheese, Liz!
OH, well you look fabulous. I’m sure there’s an apple and carrots sticks in your Hermes bag. 

Good news for especially Southerners- they weren’t necessarily skipping fried foods.

 “People are so motivated when they start a weight loss program,” explains Barone Gibbs. “You can say, ‘I’m never going to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off. Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up French fries forever.” 

OK, we said still eating fried foods, not as the main event on the plate. This is enough fries to share with three women.
Meal Makeover: more fish, more fresh mango salsa and fewer fries. Don’t use the tartar sauce. Ask for more lemons.

During the four year study the number of times dieters ate out in restaurants declined, but Barone Gibbs chalks that up to the downturn in the economy not a sign that eating out less is linked to weight loss. Get it? The”I’m not eating out as much” trend wasn’t part of a diet plan, it was a fiscal plan.

Easy Add for Losing

The “How Women over 50 stay slim” weight control study published in the September 2012 issue of The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that adding just two servings of fruits and vegetables to a daily diet was linked to a three-pound weight loss four years later. This may not sound like much, but keep in mind that most folks gain weight every year. It turns out the small changes we can sustain over the long haul make the biggest difference in life long weight control.

So a perfect meal for me would be a big green salad, grilled fish with lemon and no yup, French fries.

Tips on Dining Out with the Forever Svelte Set

Stick with lean fish, seafood and animal proteins, simply prepared; always include mushrooms if possible– for their substantial meaty texture, enormous health benefits, and umami characteristics than enhance flavor of whatever they’re eaten with. 

And champagne of course…the bubbles fill you up!!!!

Gina Christman, Publisher of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyle Magazine

I like restaurants that offer half portions. I also like to order a broth based soup and share an entree. Or order salad and appetizer for my entree. Nothing revolutionary!
Chris Rosenbloom, registered dietitian and professor of nutrition emeritus, Georgia State University
Girlfriend, been cycling at Flywheel since March so weight is not an issue. Drag by butt there every other day so I can drink like a lush & eat anything I want. LOL Finally a plan that works for moi…
 Aida Flamm, fabulous fashion savvy world traveling furniture importer
Always have a green salad to start. Grilled food, no sauces, veggies instead of carbs, appetizer instead of entree andshared or two bite shot glass dessert. 

Kathleen Zelman, registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition for WebMD.

 You go girls! 

Does this tree make me look skinny?

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Recalculating Calories for Almonds

Down on the farm, well orchard to learn about California almonds.

When is a 100-calorie pack not a 100-calorie pack? When it’s filled with almonds.
The calorie count for California almonds turns out to be 20 percent lower than previously measured according to new studies conducted by nutrition scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, that 100-calorie pack of dry roasted almonds you might grab to snack on actually contains 80 calories. 
Nutrition researcher Sarah Gebauer gets out of the USDA lab to grab almonds in the orchard.
The almonds are not any different, but the way the USDA calculates calorie content is new and improved.  
California almonds ready to harvest in Lodi. You can snack right from the tree.
Historically, samples of food are burned in the lab to measure the amount of heat given off which is measured in calories. Now USDA researchers have enlisted the help of human volunteers at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center to determine the number of calories actually digested and absorbed from almonds as part of typical American meals. 

Mmmm toasted almond and heirloom tomato crostini 
“We are excited to have this approach to look at calories in a mixed diet,” says David Baer, PhD who led the research published this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “How we count calories is an important issue as we look forward.”

“Recalculating. Recalculating.”  That’s what you may hear from an auto’s GPS system when you drive off the suggested route.  USDA nutrition experts are recalculating too.  Their new course is a bit more complicated because measuring digestion and absorption in human volunteers means collecting samples of feces, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it,” says Baer. The analysis revealed that the fat in almonds is not absorbed as easily as fat in other foods due to the nut’s fiber content.  

Almonds in the Stewart & Jasper Orchard processing plant in Newman, CA.
 “Fat is stored inside the cell walls,” explains Chris Rosenbloom, registered dietitian and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University, “If the cell walls are not completely broken down through chewing and normal digestion then not all of the fats, therefore not all of the calories, will be available to the body. So, foods, like almonds, that are high in fiber and a ‘hard’ nut, actually have fewer calories based on the usual calculations.” (Similar studies with pistachios conducted by the same research team found five percent fewer calories than previously measured.) Can Georgia pecans be far behind? 

Food labels may need updating to lower calorie counts on hard nuts  such as almonds.
The Skinny on Almonds

Another diet discovery – even though subjects were fed meals designed to maintain their weight during the USDA study and were consuming about 70 almonds a day – many lost weight because the available amount of calories was actually 100 or 150 calories fewer per day because 20 percent of the nut was not being digested.  Rosenbloom says she’s always recommended almonds for health benefits, “So if you avoid almonds because of the calories, you should think again. Almonds can help you feel full longer so are good food to include for weight management.”

Jim Jasper is super creative with almond products. Coconut cream Pie and Key Lime Pie flavors! 
Also worth noting, scientists report that the more almonds are chewed up or chopped into slivers or pureed into almond butter, the easier they are to digest and therefore higher the ultimate calorie count.

“This new research opens the door for scientists to take a fresh look at how the body uses the energy stored in foods,” says Rosenbloom. “So, a calorie may not be calorie -at least as far as the food label goes.”

Baer reports that other commodity groups are clamoring to have their foods retested so it’s a busy time at the Beltsville lab, “My colleagues are going nuts.”

I’m nuts for these savory flavors of almonds. Perfect for Happy Hour. I’m happy almonds contain fewer calories.

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Happy 100th Julia Child

Julia Child and me in New York in the early 90’s
Apparently, we loved purple then. We had lunch that day at Union Square Cafe.
Julia told me she thought the waiter was good looking. 

“Bon appetit!” as the late culinary icon Julia Child would say at the end of each episode of her pioneering PBS cooking show series The French Chef.  This week her fans are saying “bon anniversaire!” to commemorate what would have been her 100th birthday on Wednesday, August 15th. Julia’s kitchen wisdoms continue to educate and inspire millions through her many cookbooks, biographies and documentaries about her and this month deliciously fun re-runs of The French Chef on PBS television.  A few minutes into an episode on onion soup I completely forgot I was watching Julia ladle soup and grate cheese in black and white! Her personality added the color. When she knocked over an open bottle of Cognac on the counter she quickly righted it and stated there would be plenty left for the recipe.

During my years as a CNN correspondent covering the food beat, I was lucky to interview and share memorable meals with Julia Child. She even came to my house one morning for coffee. She taught me a few things about food and nutrition, too.

While working on the manuscript for my book, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, I asked Julia who was then well into her 80’s and well known for her love of butter and cream what advice she might have for planning a healthy dinner party menu. She offered a stealth strategy, “If you serve a health-conscious meal to guests, don’t say so. Don’t mention it at all. Think taste first!”  Back to the onion soup episode – she ends the show with a table set for a meal with the soup as the entrée, a salad with green beans, a crunchy baguette and fresh fruit and small cookies for dessert. She suggests, “This would be a lovely light meal let’s say for after the movies.”

Gems from Julia

During an interview with me for a CNN profile in 1997 she shared that moderation was the key to eating a healthy diet but here’s her delicious twist on that, “Everything in moderation I say. Even excess! You can splurge every once in a while.” She continued with a stronger observation, “I think a lot of people have an immature attitude. They hear you shouldn’t eat a lot of butter or red meat and so they give up eating butter. They give up eating red meat. The key to healthful dieting is to eat small helpings and a great variety of everything. And above all have a good time!”  Julia Child was famous for telling it like it is. I remember her commenting during a food conference on the low fat diet trend in the early 90’s with this hilarious statement, “All these people eating fat free foods! They’re going to get dandruff!”

When I asked about the healthfulness of French cuisine she leapt to its defense, “When they speak of French cooking they say ‘Oh! All of those heavy sauces!’ I think people have a complete misconception of French cooking. I think they’re thinking of tourist cooking.”

Child’s cookbooks give loud applause to the appeal of produce. In her 1995 cookbook “They Way to Cook” over 100 pages are dedicated to cooking vegetables and salads with a chapter introduction in which she declares, “The truth has dawned that fresh vegetables are not only good for you, they can be the glory of any meal, when lovingly cooked.”

Starting August 15th, Julia’s birthday, the Julia Child Kitchen exhibit will be on display until September 3
Julia’s Cambridge Kitchen

During a recent trip to Washington, DC I was disappointed to find out that the exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History featuring Child’s kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Mass was closed for renovation. I wanted to get some photos of the section of the kitchen where a VHS tape of CNN On The Menu with Carolyn O’Neil was placed next to her television. (I’m in the Smithsonian!) Nanci Edwards, project manager for the Smithsonian Institution took me behind the scenes to see how the new exhibit was coming along. Out of the public eye on the other side of an unmarked door there it was. Julia’s kitchen with its shiny appliances, cookbooks, counter tops and copper pots hung on a blue pegboard wall wrapped up in protective sheets of clear plastic waiting for the surrounding exhibit to be completed, “It’s a better point of view for visitors now. They can walk around the outside of the kitchen in a complete circle,” says Edwards. Julia Child’s Kitchen will be on display for a limited time August 15- September 3 and will reopen in November, as the focal point of a new exhibit hall titled Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

Not the stove from Julia’s kitchen, but I took the photo anyway at the Smithsonian
But don’t look for the CNN videotape, “ I don’t think that will make it into the new exhibit.”  Edwards informed me, “But we’re not going to throw it away.” I guess I’m still with Julia Child in the Smithsonian somewhere.

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Farmers Market Month!

August is for Farmers  
Saturdays start early for farmers market fans who grab re-usable shopping bags, jostle for parking spaces and hit the stands.  As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm and in this case it’s the best tasting pickings of fresh produce, herbs, flowers, artisanal cheeses, organic eggs and just-baked breads.  It’s also the place your likely to learn about the foods you’re buying from the same folks who grew the vegetables or made the cheese. Overheard at the Peachtree Road Farmers Marketone recent Saturday; a woman attracted to a beautiful display of heirloom tomatoes but hesitant to buy asked the farmer, “How do I know which ones to pick?”  He replied, “Well, it depends when you want to eat them. If you want them for today choose the really ripe red ones. If you want them for a few days from now choose the firmer ones that will ripen on the kitchen counter.”  She smiled and began her personal harvest from the farmer’s selection.

More Farmers Markets

 August is National Farmers Market Month and just released statistics from the US Department of Agriculture shows a 9.6 increase in the number of farmers markets over the past year. While Georgia can’t beat California’s 827 or New York’s 647 markets, the percent growth in the Southeast region beats the national average with 13.1 percent more farmers market listed in the 2012 edition of the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, compared to 2011.  Marilyn Wright Yon, dietitian with the School Nutrition Program for Georgia’s Department of Education likes to visit farmers markets so much she seeks them out in other towns when on vacation, “You find amazing things and meet really interesting people.” She recommends bringing a small cooler especially if purchasing cheese, eggs or meats and says, “Buy something new to you to try.  Ask how to prepare it if needed.”

Chefs and Farmers

Another crop showing up at farmers markets is the chef! Chef demos are often part of the entertainment and education for shoppers. The Peachtree Road Farmers Market and Morningside Farmers Market, for instance, feature local chefs and cookbook authors each week.  Rebecca Lang, author of Quick-Fix Southern showed folks what to do with summer’s bumper crop of corn and tomatoes.

You’ll even see Atlanta area chefs leading private tours of the market.  I saw Linton Hopkins, executive chef of Restaurant Eugene followed by an eager bunch of foodies as he introduced them to farmers and spoke about unusual varieties or especially tasty ones.  Executive chef Thomas McKeown of the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead is a regular at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market too because he drops in to visit one of his favorite farmers, Cory Mosser of Burge Organic Farms of Mansfield, Georgia, “I use Burge’s produce in the hotel restaurant where we have a big commitment to supporting local farms.”  During his recent farmers market recipe demo McKeown prepared local goat cheese mousse with heirloom tomato jam. He’ll be on Mosser’s farm cooking lunch for volunteers pitching in work the fields on Sunday August 19th,  “It’s a crop mob. You’ve heard of a flash mob right?” explains McKeown, “Well this is an organized effort to help farmers with volunteer labor.”   A great way to celebrate National Farmers Market Month.  
To Market to Market: 
Tips from Nutrition Experts who Love Farmers Markets

Marilyn Wright Yon, MS, RD:  

Arrive early – right at the start of the market – if you want popular items like strawberries, blueberries, peaches, corn, peas or melons.  These typically go fast when in season. 

Bring change – small bills – for your purchases (some are taking credit cards now with their iPhones and the square thingy). 

Bring your own bags/baskets to carry home as sellers can run out of bags. 

Learn the seasons for your area so you are not disappointed if you do not find tomatoes and melons in May (at least in N Georgia) and decide to not return. 

Visit all the vendors even if you think you are finished with your purchases.  You may find something you would like to try the next week. 

Debbie King, MS RD LD :        
    Take a quick walk around to see what’s available before making purchases     
    If your local farmer will take orders the day before it saves lots of time and if you are running late you know what you ordered will be there.
      Buy your favorites but try one new veggie or fruit each weekLike garlic scapes,  they are not just for table décor.
     Ask other shoppers what they make with what they are buyingI was purchasing tomatoes this summer and another shopper said she was buying tomatoes to make tomato jam.  So when I got home I scoured the internet for good sounding tomato jam recipe and made itIt was a great idea as tomato jam is more like ketchup, so we have enjoyed yummy homemade ketchup on our veggie burgers this summer.
    Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD LD: Atlanta!
    -make sure to wear comfortable shoes, but make sure they’re cute. Lots of hunky farmers here. And guys shopping with their girl friends for Saturday dinner cooking dates. You want to look like you’re shopping for a dinner date, too.
    -make sure to wear something casual but fashionable. Avoid shopping bags that clash with your color combo. Lots of other cute girls with designer sunglasses and trendy designs on their re-useable shopping bags. You are not going for the “Rebecca of SunnyBrook Farm” look either. Avoid braids and gingham,  looks too theme-like. 
    -make sure to have lots of small bills. You don’t want to stress out the organic peach guy by handing him a twenty. Small bills especially important in the early hours of market when farmers and vendors haven’t collected a lot of small bills, yet. 
    -act like your bags are really heavy when you see a cute guy near the organic coffee vendor. It’s a long walk to the car. 

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Eat With and For Your Eyes

Cherry Tomato eye’s view of train going by Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, Atlanta

Food’s got to taste good and look good to win a cooking competition. Every contestant in a recipe contest or chef’s cook-off knows that. First we eat with our eyes, as the saying goes. The tomato cheesecake with an ice cream bun was so pretty and impressed the judges’ palates so much Donald Sargent of Morelli’s Gourmet Ice Cream was the big winner at Georgia Organic’s Fourth Annual Attack of The Killer Tomato Festival. 
Along with fellow Les Dames d’Escoffier member, Angie Mosier ( not pictured)  I got to emcee the
Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival
Put that on your resume! 
For the field of Atlanta area chefs and mixologists the food focus was on Georgia grown tomatoes of all colors, shapes and sizes yielding some crazy and creative bites and beverages for food lovers gathered at JCT Kitchen and around the west midtown complex. Tyler Williams of Abattoir whipped out the liquid nitrogen to create a frozen tomato Greek salad – a serving of tiny frozen balls that burst with flavor and ate like ‘dippin dots’ ice cream. 
Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene poured tomato gravy on pulled pork sliders and Drew Beline of NO. 246 presented elegant bites of roasted tomato and goat cheese tortellini in tomato brodo with small tomatoes and basil.

Eat For Your Eyes

Foods are more appealing when they look beautiful and nothing’s prettier than a summer tomato! But, looks like we should be eating for our eyes too. Nutrition researchers are gazing into our eyes to illuminate the link between nutrition and eye health.  Their important diet discoveries go beyond eating carrots to see better in the dark. Carrots still rank high on the eye-sight- saving menu but other heroes, perhaps even more important, are emerging from the farm. 
Scientists have set their sights on green leafy and deep orange or yellow vegetables such as spinach, kale, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, carrots, collard greens, yellow squash and turnip greens because they contain two natural carotenoid plant pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin. 
They are both potent antioxidants thought to protect the eyes against damaging light waves and free radicals that may cause cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).  A 2011 study in the British Journal of Nutrition reports that lutein can reduce risk of cataracts by up to forty percent and a 2007 study in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that lutein may cut risk of AMD by thirty five percent. 
Pizza with arugula! Looking good for taste buds and eye health. 
Lutein is also found in eggs, especially the yolk.  Take note of that and skip the egg white omelets. 
Chef Carvel Gould of Canoe chose to perch a tiny quail egg on top of a biscuit with slices of fresh and preserved tomato for  her Tomato Fest entry. Talk about easy on the eyes! 
Cage free egg at Ecco restaurant, Atlanta. 
Recipe note: since lutein is a fat-soluble nutrient absorption is increased when consumed with a little oil. So it’s good to know that olive oil drizzled on summer’s fresh salads is good for your taste buds and your eyes.

Focus on Foods

Other powerful antioxidant nutrients associated with maintaining overall eye health are zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.

The two leading causes of visual loss and blindness are cataracts and AMD, affecting more than 22 million Americans. Lutein is important for the development of an infant’s eye sight (attention moms-to-be) and maintaining children’s vision health (another reason to eat your vegetables kids!).  So make lutein a routine for good eye health throughout the lifespan! 

Happily, many of the foods rich in nutrients good for our eyes are delicious additions to any meal and are beautiful to look at too. How about those tomatoes?

Make Lutein a Routine! 
Lutein/Zeaxanthin: kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, avocado, zucchini, peas, corn, Brussels sprouts, tangerines, dark leafy salad greens. Also, eggs.

Beta-carotene: carrots, mangos, sweet potato, greens, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, kale, apricots. 

Vitamin C: papaya, citrus fruit, strawberries, tomato, mango, green peppers, berries.

Vitamin E: almonds, wheat germ, whole grain breads, avocado, greens.

Zinc: oysters, lobster, beef, poultry, pork, lentils, whole grain bread.

Source: USDA nutrient data base.


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Patriotic Plates: Red, White and Blue Nutrition

Show your colors for healthful eating

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
As the nation’s colors fly high over Independence Day-inspired menus, let’s take a look at how red, white and blue can help create a healthy plate.
The natural pigments in foods are colorful clues to the nutrients within. Called “phytochemicals,” these compounds found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and other plants provide a parade of protective effects such as curbing cancer, supporting immune function and improving heart, skin, brain and eye health. To tap into the benefits of this wonderful world of color, eat a variety of foods in every shade of the rainbow.
In Michelle Obama’s new book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” the first lady writes that encouraging Americans to eat more fresh produce is one of the main reasons she planted her vegetable garden. So, from the South Lawn of the White House to acres of growing foods for markets and restaurants across the Southeastern U.S., let’s taste the benefits of eating more reds, whites and blues.
Ravishing reds
Red fruits and vegetables contain the natural plant pigments lycopene and anthocyanin. Lycopene, which can be found in tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon and pink grapefruit, is associated with reduced risk of several types of cancer, especially prostate cancer. Adding a little fat, such as olive oil, to a fresh tomato salad helps the absorption of lycopene and betacarotene. Anthocyanins in red fruits and vegetables are heart-healthy and act as antioxidants.
  • Beets
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Pink grapefruit
  • Pomegranates
  • Radishes
  • Raspberries
  • Red apples
  • Red cabbage
  • Red grapes
  • Red peppers
  • Red potatoes
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
Wonderful whites
Forget the simplistic advice to “avoid all white foods.” White vegetables such as onions and garlic contain the chemical allicin, which helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure and may help reduce risk of stomach cancer. Bananas and potatoes are good sources of potassium. Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and the phytonutrient quercetin.
  • Bananas
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Jicama
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Turnips
Other great whites
The white color of milk comes from the protein casein. White fish is good for you, too. While salmon and tuna get the big billing when it comes to nutrition because they contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats, white fish such as flounder, grouper, halibut and snapper are lower in total fat and are a great source of lean protein.
The red snapper with an aromatic herb and citrus broth served at the Optimist in west Midtown is a delicious and nutritious preparation. Enjoy it with a glass of white wine for added benefits. Red wine may have gotten the initial attention, but white wines contain heart-healthy effects, too, because it’s the alcohol content that seems to provide the protective punch.
Refined white flour may lack the dietary fiber found in whole-wheat flour, but if it’s enriched, you’re consuming more of other nutrients such as folic acid, which is important for heart health and prevention of birth defects. That’s why nutritionists say “make half your grains whole.” So if you like white bread with barbecued pork, that’s fine as long as you enjoy turkey on whole-wheat bread another time. Enriched white rice contains more folic acid than brown rice.
Brilliant blues
Blue-colored anthocyanin pigments in blueberries, blackberries, grapes, eggplant and raisins act as powerful antioxidants and may help reduce risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Other studies have shown that eating more blue foods or beverages made with them is linked with improved memory function and healthy aging.
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Eggplant
  • Grapes
  • Plums
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at
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Old Notes from Italy

After so many 100 plus days, the rain, the thunder and the lightning began just as I was getting ready to load a cooler with drinks and head over to the country club to watch the traditional “secret” July 3rd Fireworks. I went upstairs to reconsider what I was going to wear – now that the grass will be damp and even muddy – and I stopped to look out of the window in the upper hallway. On the table are piles of my old journals. I picked up the first one and began to read…….

Cortona May 12, 1999
The roads are winding us down the hill as we leave Cortona heading for Sienna. I have been to the house written about in the book, Under the Tuscan Sun. Bramesole is the name which means yearning for the sun. I yearn for my house and the time to make it more beautiful and more like the houses I’ve seen today in Cortona.

Volpaia May 15, 1999
The view from my room is of a hillside dotted with silvery green olive trees reaching up to meet another slope of the long lines planted as vineyard. At the top of the hills sits a medieval village- Volpaia- with its 11th century stone tower and connected squares and roofs of houses and shops surrounding. It seems there is one of these clock tower stone villages every few miles in the distance and this morning, Sunday, the bells rang from all directions echoing the sound of Italy. We have seen fields dotted with poppies, roses huge and heavy climbing on so many walls. The colors of nature are abundant and are refreshingly free to ramble. Small flowering plants emerge from holes in the stone walls of houses or just from walls along the street. It makes me realize that we are too neat and tidy in our idea of gardens at home. Why kill the small violets and daisies in our lawns so the grass is perfect when the mix of nature is so pleasing and relaxed?
I hear the bells again. No particular time to mark – it’s 10:45 am and some church somewhere is chiming now. The tall cedars are so stately and graceful at the same time. Planted in rows to punctuate the landscape.

May 19, 1999

We are finished with our shooting and today is a relaxed dream day of rest. We are staying at another lovely small hotel, Le Piazza near Castellina in Chianti. My room has a view of another Tuscan valley rolling green, many tones of green. The grounds are so pretty with huge burst of yellow broom and rows of pink roses. The air is perfumed with the honeysuckle that climbs on stone walls.
The hotel is constructed from another old stone farmhouse. Terra cotta tiles and grey stone are the dominant colors of all the buildings here. The walls are white and the furniture dark wood. Here the owner has decorated with Ralph Lauren floral fabrics and chests and tables from Indonesia. It’s comfortable in a historically layered European way.
Crissy left at 10:30am today in a Mercedes driven by a hired driver to take her to the airport in Florence.
Ric and Chris, the photographer and sound man, left in the white nine seat van we’ve been driving around in all week. They are off to meet another CNN reporter who will do a story in Umbria then on to Venice.
I am exhausted but happy I came. I’m happy to have experienced this kind of beauty. I hope I can remember the details
We’ll see how much can be reproduced at home.

May 20, 1999 Thursday. Firenze!

I haven’t been here since I wandered the streets with Suzy and Leslie in 1976. Now I’m here with Jennifer and Jon. We’ve done a toast to our friendship. I want to remember the dishes – braised endive with smoked cheese and tomato on top.

I wish there was more……but that’s the end.

Note: I was traveling with CNN as senior correspondent, anchor of CNN Travel Now and we joined Lydia Bastianich who was with a group of American food lovers on a culinary tour of Tuscany.
Shall I post the CNN Travel Now show on my You Tube channel?

I regret not writing more in my journals while on trips with CNN – they kept us kind of busy.

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Hot Dogs are Haute for Summer

What’s a summer trip to NYC without a New York street dog?
The simple summer pleasure of enjoying a hot dog at the ballpark, patio of a casual eatery or from a friendly street vendor has evolved into a gourmet event. As part of a nationwide taste trend, restaurants specializing in hot dogs and sausages such as HD1 in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood are putting the “haute” in hot dog. You can still enjoy a “Plain Jane” at HD1 with a choice of two toppings such as mustard, ketchup, sweet relish or onion but chef Richard Blais’ imagination goes way beyond the basic beef hot dog. His menu includes Haute Dogs such as the “Little Italy” featuring fennel sausage garnished with San Marzano tomato ketchup or a Bavarian Bratwurst with beer braised onions.

Dietitian Lanier Dabruzzi likes the high-end dog trend, “I think the “haute” dog rage is actually great. People aren’t stuck w/ those mystery meat dogs topped with sugary ketchup and relish anymore. A lot of the dogs are now being made with leaner meats and act as a great medium for people to load on the veggies.”  

Top Dog Toppings

Of course, there are a lot of options to load on other tasty toppings that can really pile on the calories. What’ll ya have? At the Varsity hot dogs are the culinary canvas to take on slaw, cheese, chili or you can get them all by ordering the chili cheese slaw dog.  Mustards, sauerkraut, pickle relish, and chopped onion are the traditional toppings with the least amount of calories. Calorie free, celery salt is an option to sprinkle on at Mike’s Hot Dogs in Sandy Springs. Count about 315 calories for a regular sized dog on a roll with ketchup.

What about turkey dogs? They are generally lower in fat and calories than beef or pork based dogs and most places offer a meatless alternative veggie frank, too. Choose a whole grain bun and you’re on your way to creating a tasty and nutritious summer treat.

Hot Dog Diet Facts

A five inch long, 1.6 ounce beef hot dog: 150 calories, 13 grams fat, 5 grams protein

A five inch long, 1.6  ounce turkey dog: 102 calories, 8 grams fat, 6 grams protein

A five inch long, 1.6 ounce veggie dog: 80 calories, 2 grams fat, 11 grams protein, 3 grams fiber

A one ounce hot dog bun: 84 calories

Toppings: one tablespoon

 Ketchup 16 calories

Sweet relish: 21 calories

Mustard: 12 calories

 Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD is co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!

She loves hot dogs with kraut and spicy mustard and a Stella Artois. 

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Are you ready for your culinary close up?

Culinary Close Ups

Pretty in Pink: peel ‘n eat shrimp Florida and Georgia coast menus
It’s not enough to simply relax and dine on the dishes chefs create for restaurant menus, some folks want to jump in and help cook the meal.  The promise of an “Epitourian” experience in the professional kitchens of the Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is what attracted Maureen and Billy Ray Price of Moultrie, Georgia. “I found it online. We wanted to go to the beach to celebrate our wedding anniversary but we wanted something different,” says Maureen Price. “My husband is a really good cook and I thought ‘he’ll learn to make even more great things for me’ and it will be fun.”

So while other guests at the golf centric resort, host hotel of THE PLAYERS Championship, headed out to play one of the areas eight championship golf courses or grabbed a book and a beach chair at the Cabana Beach Club, the Prices jumped on a golf cart with Executive chef David Scalise to visit the on-property bee hives.

Off they go to find the bee hives with Chef Scalise and Heidi Barfels of Miami
Scalise tends two bee hives tucked away in an area guests wouldn’t normally see behind tall trees and overgrown with black berry bushes and other natural plants of north Florida, “At first everyone panicked when they heard I wanted to set up bee hives on the hotel property. But these honey bees are not aggressive and finally even the lawyers understood it was going to be OK, “ says Scalise who set up the hives about a year ago. 
Sweet life: Executive Chef David Scalise tends the hives at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort
“Our first harvest yielded fifteen gallons. The honey is a little nutty tasting with nuances of the wild blackberries. We use pieces of the honey combs on our cheese platters.”  The hotel’s homegrown Sawgrass honey not only sweetens the culinary program, it’s sold in the gift shop and used in the spa for treatments. “We’re even working on using the bees wax to make lip balm, “ says Scalise.  
Proud beekeeper shows off part of the honey harvest.
He says another bonus from beekeeping is developing stronger relationships with local farmers, “We lend our bees to pollinate their crops including a strawberry farmer nearby. So then we get strawberry honey.”

Cook and Learn

Next stop for the Prices on their culinary adventure is the farmer’s market in nearby Neptune Beach to shop for foods they’ll cook with that afternoon.  On the menu for today is a lesson in making fresh pasta.  “I’ve always loved to cook. Even in college at the University of Florida I made spaghetti sauce every Sunday for the other students in my dorm,” says Billy Ray Price who’s a physician in Moultrie.   

Romantic lighting in the Augustine Grille captures the beauty of handmade gnocchi pasta with local vegetables.
A few notches up from spaghetti, Scalise led the Prices through the steps needed to make fresh gnocchi including the delicate broth based sauce that would be served to them for dinner that night as well as other guests in the Augustine Grille. So their “epitourian” experience went beyond creating their own courses, the Prices truly were part of the Sawgrass Marriott’s culinary staff for the day.

Maureen and Billy Ray Price celebrate their Epitourian experience in the Augustine Grille
Watch and Learn

If you’d rather stay out of the line of fire in a busy restaurant kitchen, but still want to be close enough to see exactly how the chef sears a piece of fish then you can take a seat at the Chef’s Table at The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia.  
Elegant settings and sumptuous bites of the finest food and wine at The Cloister, Sea Island
Seating four guests comfortably in a small yet elegant glassed-in dining room the table overlooks the expansive kitchen of the Georgian Room where chef de cuisine Daniel Zeal and his brigade of chefs turn vegetables into jewel like shapes, expertly grill meats, poach lobster in vanilla and citrus, delicately prepare fine fish such as cobia, garnish plates with edible flowers and create multi-ingredient desserts.  Can’t keep up with the action? Just change the channel.  Above the picture window in the chef’s table dining room is a wide screen television. “We give the guests their own remote control to switch camera views around the kitchen so they can follow their meal every step of the way and I pop in to answer any questions they might have about techniques or ingredients,” says Zeal.

Under the direction of  Resort Executive Chef Jonathan Jerusalmy, Sea Island chefs
create a wide range of culinary experiences for guests.
Off the Farm

Snapper ceviche with micro greens at Edwards Fine Food & Wine, Rosemary Beach,  Florida
It’s nothing new to see the names of farms and farmers on menus today as more chefs create business bonds to bring the best in locally grown foods to their guests. But, take a look around the dining room and you may even see a farmer. 
Eating dinner one night at Edward’s Fine Food & Wine in Rosemary Beach, Florida I asked chef Edward Reese about the deliciously fresh micro greens in salads and garnishing plates. He smiled and replied pointing to the man sitting at the next table, “Why don’t you ask Claus Kazenmaier, they came from his farm this morning!”

So it seems that another component of judging culinary quality is today is how close we can get to knowing where our food comes from and exactly how it’s prepared even when someone else is doing the cooking.

Now let’s head to the beach……….
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Chefs and their Menus

What’s on the menu? That’s a critical question chefs must decide before they open a restaurant.  “I was afraid. It was like writer’s block. I needed a point of view,” says Joe Truex, executive chef of newly opened Watershed on Peachtree.  Truex, no newbie to menu development has cooked in professional kitchens from his home state of Louisiana to flashy Las Vegas to the renowned Le Cirque Restaurant in New York. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1989 he set off to Switzerland to immerse himself in European cuisine and then after another stint in demanding Manhattan kitchens including the glamorous Peninsula Hotel decided to head south.  The menu of his former Atlanta restaurant Repast even caught the eye of Martha Stewart who invited him to appear on her television show.

It was a combination of these culinary experiences that led Truex to define what he wanted to cook at Watershed on Peachtree, “I decided that the menu for Watershed on Peachtree should be personal. I wanted to make it an autobiography of my life.”

So, on the menu you’ll find Joe’s Jambalaya, an homage to his upbringing in Mansura, Louisiana. “But it’s prepared in a classical style with everything cooked separately. I grill the sausage. I sear the scallops,” says Truex.  The Grilled Steak and Panzanella  Salad he learned to make at Le Cirque, ”It was owner’s Sirio Maccioni’s favorite.”

The focus of the menu is farm –to- table with locally grown produce and southern staples from pork to pecans. One item Truex had to include in his new menu story is Watershed’s famous fried chicken night (Wednesday), made popular at the eatery’s former Decatur location.

OK, I didn’t’ have a photo of fish at The Optimist but here’s me with a trout in Aspen!

Go Fish

Everyday has a catch- of- the- day when you open a seafood place. Chef Ford Fry has launched The Optimist and Oyster Bar in west Midtown with executive chef Adam Evans at the helm. Last month after lunch at Fry’s JCT Kitchen, I saw Evans sitting outside with chef de cuisine Brian Horn, working on laptops and legal pads designing the menu for The Optimist.

Here’s one of the delicious dishes I shared  for lunch at JCT Kitchen that day. 

That’s when it hit me that writing a menu is complicated business. Not only do you have to think of culinary mission of the menu and food costs; you have to consider who’s coming to the restaurant, do they want big plates or small plates, do they care about local farms and sustainable seafood, do they want to start with a salad, will they share dessert, do they crave hand crafted cocktails?

Mixologist, Laura Creasy is the mind behind the bevy of beverages on the menu at JCT Kitchen and The Optimist. 

The answer is usually yes to all of these questions today. And while it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time, seafood lovers dining at The Optimist will find a sea of offerings from delicate grouper with smoked Vidalia onions in a horseradish broth to down home fish house fried hushpuppies dusted in cane sugar. 

Dream Menu

As a dietitian who loves to dine out here’s what I like to see on the menu.

-Sensible portion sizes. It’s nice when the servers can tell you if the fish entrée is big enough to share or if you should just get your own.

-Healthy appetizers. Too many starters are deep fat fried or loaded with cheese. Great choices are seafood ceviche, steamed shellfish, simple salads of great greens or heirloom tomatoes with fresh herbs and without cheese.

– Clean tastes. Chefs love to make rich sauces, but too much can over power the flavors of fish or any food. Don’t gild the lily.

– Flavors without fat. The Optimist’s wood roasted Amish chicken with a fresh salsa verde is a good example. So is Watershed’s salmon with tomato and herbs.

The Old Salty Dog at The Optimist with fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice and an impressive slab of grapefruit peel.
-Slim and stylish. Used to be that pungent foods such as Brussels sprouts and grapefruit were menu outcasts. But happily and healthily they’re now in vogue.

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Salt and Flavor Savvy

Pepper may be used to add the heat, but when it comes to diet debates the seasoning closest to the fire is salt.

Talk about spicing things up!

Government health officials have declared the sodium in table salt as a nutrition no-no with advice to limit intake in home cooking, restaurant menus, processed foods and school lunches. Sodium levels in foods have been on the nutrition watch list for years because research studies show that too much sodium in the diet is associated with high blood pressure, which can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Meanwhile, there’s a heaping helping of scientists who say the salt warnings are way overblown and that there’s not enough research to prove that even if it does raise blood pressure a bit that salt consumption causes heart disease deaths.

So who should care about consuming way too much salt? Just about everyone, according to health watchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who report that 70% of U.S. adults should limit sodium intake.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy adults consume no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) per day. A lower limit of 1,500 mg per day is recommended for adults with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, the over 50s, and all African-American adults.

FYI: most of us consume around 4000 milligrams of sodium a day (about two teaspoons).

Fish tacos and a Margarita with salt on the rim! Just don’t lick the whole rim.

Cut Salt, Not Flavor

A big challenge for restaurants is that creating foods lower in fat and calories often means adding flavor with other ingredients such as sauces and salty spice blends which are often high in sodium. Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods list sodium content to help you keep track. Some chain restaurants provide sodium information on their websites. But, in general when dining out you’re often on your own.

  • The main source of sodium in the diet is salt or sodium chloride, with 2, 325 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. Most salt comes from processed foods such as salad dressings, soups, cheeses, baked goods and snack foods. So cut back on portions or choose lower sodium versions; there are many better tasting ones on the market today.
Hot chiles, citrus, herbs, hot sauces add big flavor so you can use just a little salt.
  • Taste buds adjust. Scientists who study taste have found that when you cut back on salt you get used to it in about three weeks. You may even discover the real flavor of foods!
    A squeeze of tart lemon brightens flavors so you don’t need as much  salt.  
  • Note that pickles, cheese, smoked meats, gravies, sauces, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, soy sauce and broths are usually high in sodium so use sparingly. A tablespoon of soy sauce, for instance, contains 1,000 mg sodium. Hot sauces are often sodium free; read the labels.
  • Ask the server for help. Request that foods be prepared without added salt, or ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. For low-sodium dressings, try lemon, lime or a splash of vinegar. Get to know the delicious difference between the taste of red wine, sherry, rice wine, balsamic and cider vinegars.
  • Look for menu items you can season at the table, such as a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes. Surface salt, such as a light shake on scrambled eggs or fresh sliced tomatoes, can give you the salt flavor hit you crave with just a small sprinkling. Even if those who don’t worry about salt and their health must agree that too much salt in a dish unpleasantly overpowers the other flavors.
  • Upgrade your saltshaker. Sea salt (which by weight contains the same amount of sodium as regular salt) is often brighter and livelier in flavor so you can use less salt to season foods. Amy Myrdal, registered dietitian with the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Napa Valley notes that all salts are not alike, “Kosher Salt which is very soft and fluffy has granules that melt quickly on the tongue and 1 teaspoon contains only 1120 milligrams of sodium compared to regular table salt with 2,360 milligrams.”
  • Eat more spinach, cantaloupe, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. They’re naturally low in sodium and are excellent sources of the mineral potassium, which acts as the healthy counter-balance to sodium in body fluid regulation. Salsas made with fresh fruit and vegetables are a great way to add healthy flavors to foods.

Carolyn O’Neil, is a registered dietitian and co-author of  “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!”  Email her at

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Healthy Foods You Already Love!

Do you flip-flop over what you think you like and what you think you should eat?
Win-Wins for Taste and Health

There’s no need to choke down chia seeds, develop a taste for tofu or eat any other foods wearing a trendy health halo if you don’t really like the taste of them. Choosing foods to improve the quality of your diet should start with recognizing what you’re already doing right. Do you add blueberries to yogurt or snack on a few pecans? You’re upping your intake of disease fighting antioxidants. Do you like to carry bottled water in your car? You’re more likely to stay hydrated and not confuse thirst for hunger. Do you go for the mustard and go light on the mayo when ordering sandwiches? You’re choosing big taste without big calories.

 Anytime you add more vegetables to a meal, use less cheese, choose leaner meats, grab the whole grain version of breads and go easy on the butter and oil-you’re right in step with the list of things to do to eat a healthier diet.

So rather than convincing you to try – chick pea cakes with flax seed granola (which I just made up but might actually taste good!)- or some other super nutritious sounding food let’s celebrate some of the dishes you may already be enjoying but, might not have known how healthy they really are.

Win-win for Taste and Health

Why not add some chopped fruit to your Guac?
  • Gaucamole– Since the main ingredient is avocado guacamole is a good source of heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats. The impressive list of nutrients in avocados includes fiber, potassium, Vitamin E and folic acid. Of course, where there’s fat; there are calories. One ounce of avocado, which is 2 tablespoons of mashed or two to three thin slices contains about 50 calories. But compared to two tablespoons of butter at 200 calories you can see why using avocado as a spread is a healthy idea. The mix of chopped tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno added to avocado to make guacamole actually lowers the calories and increases the fiber and vitamin content even more per bite. Just make sure not to eat too many fried tortilla chips (6 large- 130 calories). Enjoy with torn pieces of one corn tortilla instead (70 calories).  Or better yet with carrots, celery or jicama – a super crunchy and slightly sweet root vegetable popular in Latin cuisines. 
BBQ Chicken Flatbread!

  • BBQ Chicken – Here’s the bottom line if you’re aiming to reduce your bottom line or waistline – batter and deep fry a five ounce chicken breast and you’re chomping on 500 calories. But, if same size chicken breast is dressed up in barbecue sauce instead you choice is 350 calories – a 150 calorie saving. Want some more sauce to moisten the meat at the table? Most barbecue sauces contain only 15 calories per tablespoon. (The sweeter, thicker ones will be higher in calories.)

Seafood dishes are win-wins for taste and health
even with pasta if you choose a tomato based sauce.

  • Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp- The USDA’s My Plate dietary recommendations suggest we eat fish and shellfish at least twice a week to mix up our protein choices and consume seafood’s heart healthy Omega-3 fats. Shrimp are exceptionally low in fat and calories, especially if you keep them that way by enjoying boiled shrimp (¼ pound of boiled shrimp-112 calories, 1 gram fat) instead of fried (274 calories, 15 grams fat). Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp are often boiled with a spicy seasoning so all you need is a squeeze of lemon and you’re ready to dig in. And since all that peeling takes some time, it slows you down a bit so you’re more likely to keep portions in control. (Yes, shrimp contain some cholesterol, but because they are so low in total fat they’re considered a healthy choice.)

Hangar steak ( I’d skip the ball of herb butter) is a lean and flavorful choice .

  • Sirloin Steak- If you’re going out for a steak dinner ordering a sirloin steak can help you save on both your food dollar budget and your fat and calorie budget. Not as pricey as filet mignon or porterhouse, the sirloin cut is one of the leanest. A six-ounce top sirloin steak, strip steak, flank steak or London broil has about 300 calories and about ten grams of fat. Splurge on the same size serving of prime rib or rib eye and you’re looking at an additional 100 calories 10 grams of fat per serving. Want some sauce with that? 2 tablespoons of steak sauce-30 calories vs. 2 tablespoons Béarnaise sauce-120 calories. Better yet enjoy steak with sautéed onions and mushrooms and you’re adding more vegetables to your steak dinner.

Sushi is a win-win for taste and health, just avoid the “sushi” with cream cheese
 or other “don’t think they eat this in Japan” stuff.
  • Spring Rolls– No, not the deep fried egg roll kind- sorry. But, you can dig in and enjoy the Tai basil rolls popular on many restaurant menus, today. Wrapped in chilled rice paper and filled with fresh veggies and maybe bits of shrimp or chicken they’re a low calorie, high fiber finger food full of crunch and flavors. Low calorie dipping sauces range from sweet and spicy to pungent fish sauces.

  • Gelato– La dolce vita! Italian gelatos are commonly made with milk not cream so are lower in fat and calories than ice creams. But the real plus for a portion control conscious sweet tooth is that gelato is usually served in a dainty half-cup serving. Enjoy sliced strawberries, blueberries or summer’s sweet mango as a topping and you’re adding a fruit serving to your dairy dessert.

Banana gelato sounds great! And apparently  you can use the banana peels to make a pair of shoes!
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Southern Foods Y’all

When Richard Blais arrived to join other top named chefs presenting cooking classes at the Loews Hotel assembled for the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival he showed up with a bunch of leftovers. “I had a chicken carcass in a pan, some celery tops, cilantro stems and the tails trimmed off of radishes,” said Blais, a winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”

Chef Richard Blais gets creative with everythying in the kitchen

Blais, who is busy writing menus and getting the kitchen set up to open his latest Atlanta restaurant, The Spence, wasn’t taking short cuts or trying to underwhelm his foodie fans. He was there to prove a point. “It’s ethical and economical and even virtuous to use every part of a product,” Blais told his audience. “The garbage can is not an option.”

Hey Richard, are those carrot tops? You win the Top Sustainable Chef contest too!

Southern Flavors Today

The three day festival focused on food and wine, featuring southern chefs, wine experts, craft beer brewers, bourbon makers and food producers filled the midtown hotel, nearby tasting tents and local restaurants with culinary stars and enthusiastic followers. In its second year, The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, organized and founded by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, champions the past, present and future of Southern plates and palates.

How about a dash of Duke’s mayo with your Dish?

There was plenty of fried chicken, barbecue and biscuits, of course, but the variety of foods presented showed that “eating Southern” today means a reverence for the region’s farm fresh produce from Georgia pecans to Vidalia onions. And palates are changing.

A bit out of focus but so dang cute, Bryan Caswell gets ready for Cast Iron Cookoff.

During the “Cast Iron Cook-off” pitting chef Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef restaurant against chef Kelly English from Iris in Memphis, two of the judges – who just happened to be the moms of Love and Feichter chosen to reign over the Mother’s Day event- shared with the crowd that they were cooking with less bacon fat and more olive oil and enjoying more fresh herbs, salads and vegetables.

Can’t have an Atlanta Food & Wine Festival without some Georgia Peaches!!  

Nose to Tail, Seed to Stalk

There’s an old adage that good cooks know how to use ‘everything but the squeal’ when preparing a whole hog. Blais takes that philosophy even further by applying the concept to all meats, fish and vegetables. His cooking class called “Waste not. Taste a lot.” took folks back to the days when very little went to waste. “Wasting food makes me sad. There’s great flavor in the stems and trimmings of vegetables. You can slice the cilantro stems and use like chives. Corn cobs are the bones we add to stock to make corn soups taste even better. As chefs we should ask our selves ‘what do we do with the extras?’ such as the salsa verde I made with carrot tops during my demo.”

The menu at The Spence will feature both broccoli florets, for instance, and the stems which a lot of cooks just discard. Blais who is executive chef and partner says, “I think the broccoli stems are beautiful. We will make little pedestals out of them as rounds we can sit sautéed scallops or sweetbreads on top.” Nutrition note: broccoli stems are higher in fiber than the florets. And stems, seeds and stalks of most plants are high in antioxidant content.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival featured star chefs and eager foodies. Norman Van Aken packs the room.

Tail to Fin

Using the whole fish is good for the palate and the planet, too.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and son Justin add a dash of Caribbean flare and flame to recipes.

Father and son chef duo Norman and Justin Van Aken from Miami and Key West grilled a whole red snapper, “This is nose to tail cooking too. We should be thankful for the use of every part of the fish and without being too preachy it’s respectful if you’re taking this creature from the sea,” said the elder Van Aken who notes that cooking fish on the bone is much more flavorful than preparing just the filets.

Sharing some tips from their upcoming cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, Norman Van Aken suggests using the bones, head, fish and tails of a grilled fish to make a delicious fish stock, “It’s like brewing a cup of tea. Why not throw in some lemon balm too?”

So cooking Southern today looks a lot like cooking Southern generations ago prioritizing farm fresh flavors and smart kitchen sense; it just took us a few years to get back to the past.

Watch Norman Van Aken and me in vintage CNN On The Menu video
He’s a rogue model pioneering New World Cuisine

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Brunch Bunch Beware

Marvelous morning meal at Rancho La Puerta Spa

Wake up and smell the coffee, the bacon and the eggs.
There seems to be a lot of action in the breakfast category as more restaurants focus on the first meal of the day. Eateries from fast food lane to corner coffee shops are in hot pursuit of early birds with an appetite to spend money on breakfast away from home. Even the new AMC television series The Pitch features an episode with rival advertising agencies fighting to win the Subway breakfast campaign account.

According to the NPD Group, about 14 percent of Americans eat breakfast away from home. But restaurants want to entice even more folks to order their breakfast out and have their eyes on the 31 million people who skip breakfast. The biggest ‘skippers’ are males aged 18 to 34 – nearly a third of these guys ignore the morning meal. Women over age 55 are the least likely to skip breakfast.

Morning Fuel – to eat and drink.

No doubt you’ve heard that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Eating in the a.m. recharges your batteries, giving fuel to your brain and your muscles, making it less likely you’ll succumb to a mid-morning munchies or a huge lunch because you’re ravenous by noon. Dietitian Dr. Joanne Lichten says the best breakfasts contain both fiber and protein, “I’d go for the oatmeal and some scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. But you could opt for Greek yogurt, sprinkling of nuts, and fresh fruit.” Simply drinking a cup of fat free milk or adding to cereal or a coffee latte provides eight grams of protein.

Container of Fage  Greek Yogurt contains 12 grams protein

Big Breakfast, Big Calories

Some even say we should prioritize the morning meal by eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. But Lichten says “How many of us eat dinner like a pauper?” In her new book “Dr. Jo’s Eat Out Healthy” she reveals the fat trap with big breakfasts, “ Even when breakfast out is just once a week, the traditional large bacon, eggs and biscuit meal can put on excessive pounds, due to high caloric content of these foods.”
When ‘Let’s go out for breakfast or brunch’ turns into an overstuffed omelet, hash browns, bacon, sausage and biscuits slathered in butter you’ve moved into the budget-busting calorie category. A three-egg ham and cheese omelet can rack up 500 calories. Hashbrowns add 250 calories. Two sausage links another 100 calories. Big biscuit with butter and jelly add up to 450 calories. And before adding cream to your coffee, say ‘Good Morning’ to 1300 calories.
Sharon Palmer, dietitian and author of The Plant Powered Diet says, “Restaurant breakfasts can be the most decadent meal of the day providing at least half a day’s calories and more than a day’s worth of sodium.” But, she’s happy to see healthy trends, “More restaurants are offering “lite” or “fit” menu offerings with reasonable portions in the 500 calorie range. The best news is that these lighter meals are hot sellers—showing that people are tired of eating these traditional “American” gut-busting breakfasts. I tried a Denny’s Fit Fare Breakfast recently when traveling and it was just the right amount of food—and there was fresh fruit and veggies on my plate!”

Health Halos not Heroes 

Seemingly uber- healthy granola cereals, fruit smoothies, and whole wheat pancakes, big muffins or bagels can throw a weighty wrench into your day’s diet plans too if you don’t pay attention to portion sizes.

Sure they’re packed with whole grains and a daily dose of bran but enjoy half to avoid eating your whole calorie budget

Jackie Newgent, chef, dietitian and author of the upcoming 1,000 Low Calorie Recipes advises two actions – choose your breakfast location and beverage wisely. “For a healthy weight, breakfast—like all meals—is best eaten while sitting down at a dining table, and not while in a car, at a desk, or on your iPad. Plus, some popular morning drinks, including select blended coffee or juice beverages, can provide a meals-worth of calories. The best bet when eating breakfast out is to keep your beverage calorie free, like an unsweetened green or black tea.

Juice it up – but not too far up

And if there’s no fruit in the breakfast, then it’s okay to sip a glass of 100% juice in a six ounce juice glass – not 16 ounces.”  Juice can have the same calories per ounce as a soft drink.
Cynthia Ann Chandler, a dietitian and culinary nutritionist ( that means she really likes the food part of food and nutrition!) in Louisville, Kentucky has a great idea for a hydrating with breakfast juice,”Just go for an orange juice, small size.  If you are using it to quench your thirst, add equal parts club soda to the juice and you have a refreshing breakfast drink.  Don’t be afraid to ask for club soda.  Most restaurants with fountain drinks can offer you a club soda option.”

More breakfast ideas and tips in my book The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!

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Marvelous Marche Region of Italy

Glorious view of the Adriatic from Hotel Emilia near Ancona 

While throngs of visitors flock to Tuscany and Venice, the region known as Le Marche or simply Marche on the east coast of Italy is just waking up to tourists. If you refer to the country’s geographic comparison to the shape of a boot, Marche (pronounced ‘mahr-keh’) is positioned just above the heel so would be the calf of the boot. From the lavender lined cliff views of the Adriatic to the hilly Renaissance towns filled with priceless art and gilded historic theaters there’s much to discover and very little competition to see the sights.

Bronze water horse fountain and no crowds in the square, Ascoli Piceno 

“It’s way out of the way. There are no tourists down there,” says Atlanta native Doug Strickland of Integrity Wines who’s traveled to Marche to source sustainable wines. “It’s a beautiful region with great chefs. There are cool chapels and well restored ancient buildings.” During my visit to the Marche I was delighted with the freedom to explore places on my own. Unlike Florence and Rome where you have to wait in long lines to gaze upon the statue of David or crush into the Coliseum, it was so quiet I could have reached out and touched the works of Raphael at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where the great artist was born. A rustic farm house lunch of fava beans, pastas and rabbit at the Locanda Ca’ Andreana near Urbino was enjoyed in the company of the family dog sleeping by the door.

Fresh cherries and friendly dog at Locande ca’ Andreanna 

We’re Glad You’re Here !

What I found the most compelling was the welcoming attitude of the people who were honestly happy to see tourists and share their enthusiasm for this lesser known region of Italy.

Adorable bartender and a bowl of joy

My focus was culinary, of course!  I visited organic cheese producers, biodynamic wineries, savored seafood lunches by the beach and experienced elegant candle lit dinners with a little opera thrown in for entertainment.

Fusilli with fresh clams at Mattia in seaside San Benedetto del Tronto

Lunch begins with this colorful plate at Locande ca’ Andreana 

The Marche is a dream destination for food and wine lovers searching for festive and authentic settings. Hey, they invented lasagna here. Oh, and the accordion.
Italian Lessons
With the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in mind I interviewed several svelte Italian women who live in the Marche and while pasta may be on the menu they were all adamant about how and when they eat to help them stay slim.
Daniela Pirani- dining in sequined top, skinny pants and heels -“I love sweets and cakes. But I really try to limit. I never eat pasta for the evening meal. Only once a week for cakes and sweets.”

Marta Paraventi- touring in pink t-shirt, black jeans and loafers – “I eat pasta or risotto for lunch maybe once a week, but only 100 grams of pasta.” (about ¾ cup)

Heather Griffin – translator originally from Pinehurst, North Carolina lost weight when she moved to Marche – “I walk a lot more now can’t park in front of your house. There’s a different way of eating here. Italian women don’t like to eat pasta in the evening. They have a salad in evening maybe with boiled eggs, tuna canned in water, olives, fennel and mozzarella. They don’t eat bread at night. And pasta portions are rich but small. I’m hooked on smoked bacon, tomato sauce and cream.”

The Happiest Hour
An Italian culinary custom which seems contrary to calorie control is the relaxed pre-dinner tradition of Aperitivo with a drink and little snacks such as olives, potato chips, nuts or bites of bruschetta. But that’s usually accompanied by the practice of la passeggiata – an early evening stroll- which aids digestion and adds physical activity. Griffin says, “It’s my favorite time of day.”

Marche has rolled out a new tourism campaign but are residents ready for more tourists to share the beauty of their land and lifestyle? The region’s President Gian Mario Spacca responds, “Yes, slowly but surely.”

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Dr.Oz on Dining Out

Dr. Oz in his scrubs after taping episode of The Dr. Oz Show

Chances are if you dine out with Dr. Mehmet Oz he won’t be staying for dessert.

“One of my pet peeves with restaurants is when they push dessert. It’s metabolic suicide,” Oz told me recently after the taping of The Dr.Oz Show at NBC at Rockefeller Center in New York. As one of the studio audience participants I got to watch Dr. Oz in action and gain a better understanding of his media mission to help viewers improve their lives, “We try to get people into wellness. But, it’s not really a health show, it’s about life.” Topics on the show this day included the body pains you shouldn’t ignore, tips on buying food and health products in bulk and discerning which outrageous alternative health treatments are actually legitimate. Hint: leeches can play an important role in modern medicine.

Assertive with Oz

Now back to the issue of declining that dessert. Oz, who is a cardiac surgeon as well as Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, is concerned about the significant health consequences of obesity in America but says, “It’s really a 100 calorie problem.” He explains that by cutting 100 calories when you can (skipping dessert) or by burning 100 calories through exercise most folks can prevent weight gain. “You need assertiveness training to dine out. You have to ask the waiter not to bring the bread and butter. Look on line at the menus ahead of time. Even fast food restaurants have healthier options today.”

And if you can’t find a healthier version of your favorite restaurant food, The Dr. Oz Show can show you how to make your own at home. Do you like fried rice? In a segment called “Fake Out – Take Out” a Dr.Oz fan identified as Lisa prepared a lightened up version of Shrimp Fried Rice that featured edamame beans, quinoa and ponzu sauce- which is lower in sodium than soy sauce. Audience members tasted and approved. “Number one, you have to give them foods that they like,” explained Oz “Foods that taste good and happen to be good for you. The ponzu sauce was a smart idea.” Calorie savings shared on the show revealed that a typical order of Take Out fried rice contains 1000 calories, while the “Fake Out” lighter recipe contained only 360 calories.

The Oz File

Dr. Oz gained fame as a medical expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show for over five seasons and has authored best selling books with Dr. Michael Roizen including YOU: On a Diet and YOU: Losing Weight. The Dr. Oz Show has earned Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Informative Talk Show host two years in a row for 2010 and 2011.

After observing the morning taping, I met Dr. Oz in his office where he had changed out of the tailored suit he’d been wearing for the show and into comfy blue scrubs and a black t-shirt. His was relaxed and welcoming even though he was preparing to tape another episode in the afternoon. I felt as if I was being greeted by a family physician who’d known me for years and told him that’s how he appears to greet the guests who are ‘patients’ on his show. “I think that’s something that’s lost in American medicine,” he said, “Someone who knows your parents. It’s about identifying a quilt of symptoms.”

Another highlight of my visit to The Dr. Oz Show happened in the hallway outside the studio. I heard someone call my name, “Carolyn? Is that you?! It’s me Kari Pricher from CNN Features!” Kari and I worked together at CNN when I was hosting Travel Now. Now Kari is an Editorial Producer for The Dr. Oz Show. Small world and a wonderful coincidence to run into her again. Way to go Kari!!!  

Oz’s Lunch

Even though topics presented run the gamut from flossing to fibromyalgia, Oz believes “Good nutrition is the foundation of the show. When I walk into a grocery store I see all of the healthy foods and it’s like a pharmacy.” I looked next the scripts arranged on his desk and noticed a plate of food. Guess what he was having for lunch? A serving of the winning recipe for healthy alternative take out – the shrimp fried rice. How about that?

Oz is a doctor who takes his own medicine.

“Fake Out” Shrimp Fried Rice Recipe

2 tbsp canola oil

3/4 lb frozen shrimp, defrosted

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 chopped red pepper

1 cup asparagus cut into bite size pieces

1/2 cup shelled edamame (frozen can be used)

3 tbsp Ponzu sauce

1 egg and 2 egg whites whisked together

2 cups quinoa cooked in water

Additional Ponzu sauce to taste

Sriracha sauce to taste


Cook quinoa in water. Bring 2 cups of water and 1 cup dry quinoa to a boil. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until tender.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the shrimp and garlic. Add pepper, asparagus and edamame. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables start to wilt. Add Ponzu sauce and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Move all ingredients to one side of the pan.

Scramble the eggs and egg whites. Cook in the pan. Add the cooked quinoa and mix all ingredients together. Add Sriracha and Ponzu sauce to taste. Enjoy!

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