Tag Archives: cuisine

Endless Summer Produce

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It may be time for back to school for lots of families nationwide, but summer is still in full swing in farmer’s markets and the supermarket produce section.  Peaches, berries, summer squash and melons – all kinds of melons are ripe for the picking and deliciously nutritious.  I’ve shared a couple of recipes from The Slim Down South Cookbook below.

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Back to work after summer vacation often means busy weeknights. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the fresh tastes of summer produce. Why not celebrate the fabulously fresh with the wonderfully easy to prepare microwavable frozen entrees such as Lean Cuisine Sweet & Spicy Korean-Style Beef? It comes with brown rice and vegetables and I added a cup of snow peas to balance the plate. The Lean Cuisine website is beautiful with lots of nutrition information to explore. “Freshly made, simply frozen” is a great way to describe the variety of entrees inspired by global cuisines and close to home comfort foods.

Nestle’s Balance Your Plate campaign provides great information on nutrition, portion control and creative combos for satisfying meals.  I added a parfait of fresh berries and a cup of steamed summer squash and zucchini with onions to a plate starring Lean Cuisine Roasted Turkey and Vegetables.

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You can add your own creativity to the table too. Lean Cuisine’s Vermont Cheddar Mac n Cheese is beautiful when you add broccoli florets. Or even if it’s a weeknight why not enjoy Lobster Mac n Cheese?  I bought a lobster tail for $6.99, boiled it in water (with some lemon juice added) for about six minutes until the shell turns bright red and the meat is translucent. Plunge the lobster tail in ice water to cool. Remove the meat from the tail by slicing through the center of the shell longwise and pull out the meat. Chop it up and add to the mac n cheese! Fancy but soooo easy.

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SUMMER PRODUCE RECIPES from The Slim Down South Cookbook: As seen on NBC Atlanta & Company with host Christine Pulara! 

Here’s the link to the TV Segment: CLICK HERE

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Grilled Watermelon with Balsamic Glaze

Adding a bit of savory blue cheese and salty prosciutto (optional) to sweet watermelon makes for a wonderful combination. Brush the watermelon wedges with a bit of oil to keep them from sticking to the grill.

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 20 min.

Total 20 min.

3 (½-inch-thick) watermelon rounds, quartered

1 Tbsp. olive oil

⅛ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Fresh basil leaves

2 tsp. bottled balsamic glaze

  1. Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) heat. Brush both sides of each watermelon quarter with olive oil, and season with desired amount of salt and pepper. Cut prosciutto into thin strips.2. Grill watermelon quarters, without grill lid, 1 minute on each side or until grill marks appear.3. Transfer watermelon to a serving plate; top with blue cheese, prosciutto strips, and fresh basil. Drizzle watermelon with balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.Serving size 1 wedge CALORIES 44; FAT 3g (sat 1.2g, mono 1.2g, poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 7g; CARB 2g; FIBER 0.1g; CHOL 7mg; IRON 0.2mg; SODIUM 213mg; CALC 28mg

 

Tipsy Melon Salad

Cantaloupe is packed with vitamins A & C for eye and skin healthy, plus it’s is a good source of the B vitamin folate, which is critical for pregnant women. It’s high water content also makes it super hydrating for hot summer months.

Raspberry liqueur and vodka give this colorful spiked fruit salad its lighthearted moniker. Liven up a weeknight dinner party, or skip the booze if it’s a ‘school night’.

Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 16 min.

Total 1 hour, 16 min.

2 cups cubed honeydew

2 cups cubed cantaloupe

1.3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

⅔ cup sugar

½ cup vodka ( optional)

⅓ cup black raspberry liqueur (optional)

¹/₁₆ tsp. fine sea salt

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

1. Place melon cubes in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together lemon juice and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour lemon juice mixture over watermelon balls; stir gently to coat. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours.

3. Gently toss melon. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint. Serve immediately with a slotted spoon.

Serving size about 1 cup CALORIES 228; FAT 0.1g (sat 0g, mono 0g, poly 0g); PROTEIN 0.7g; CARB 41.5g; FIBER 0.7g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0.5mg; SODIUM 25mg; CALC 14m

Many thanks to Nestle and Lean Cuisine. It’s a pleasure working with you to help happy, healthy folks learn to Balance Your Plate!

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Marvelous Mexico City Cuisine

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The vibrant art, historic monuments and architectural treasures of Mexico City continue to lure visitors in search of inspiring cultural experiences.

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Sampling the country’s culinary treasures is a portal to the past as well.

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Mexico’s cuisine is influenced by centuries of food customs from the indigenous Mayan to Spanish conquerors.

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Today chefs leading the lively food scene in Mexico City add contemporary flair to taste traditions.

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Recently opened Fonda Mayora is set in a park filled residential neighborhood of Mexico City.

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Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo and his team of young chefs serve smoked oysters, roast pork stuffed with chorizo and pineapple ……

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…and grilled whole fish presented with black beans, tender blue corn tortillas and a fresh selection of green and red salsas.

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For the adventurous, there’s a sauce spiced with tiny ants. It’s the one on the left in the middle. The little dots are ants. Dig in!

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“Mexican food is a way to get right to the spirit of the country,” said Paco de Santiago with Eat Mexico culinary tours. It’s a taste discovery that defies the stereotypes. “There’s a myth that Mexican food means hard taco shells, sour cream and all spicy food,” said Eat Mexico tour guide Anais Martinez.


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One of the most sought after reservations in Mexico City is at intimate Pujol where internationally renowned chef Enrique Olvera celebrates Mexican ingredients using ancient and modern techniques.

Courses included octopus with ink tostado, smoked baby corn with coffee and chile mayonnaise, a lamb taco with avocado leaf adobo and avocado puree and a suckling pig taco with smoked tortilla, chickpea puree, coriander and red jalapeno. One of the showstopper dishes was a circle of richly bright ‘new’ mole sauce surrounded by a dark and intense ‘mother’ mole sauce made 990 days ago.

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“Mole sauces are made with over forty ingredients including tomatoes, onions, nuts and seeds and not always chocolate as many people think,” said Santiago.
Mexico City Markets

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One of the best ways to leap into local cuisine is to visit a city food market such as the Mercado San Juan where Mexican avocados and limes are piled high, moles come in an assortment of flavors, tortillas are hand made and just caught Pacific coast seafood glistens on mountains of crushed ice.

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Chefs from the St. Regis Mexico City hotel lead guests on market tours including a lesson in choosing the freshest fish and a sampling of Mexican cheeses.

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“This one is like a Spanish manchego,” said executive chef Sylvain Desbois, who leads the hotel’s elegant La Table Krug eleven course Krug Champagne tasting menu.

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The dessert courses (yes there’s more than one dessert) include a salute to Mexican chocolate as warm chocolate sauce is poured over and into a sponge cake shaped like a cacao pod.

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Need more chocolate?

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The Mucho Chocolate Museum of Mexico City is a chocolate lovers dream come true with rooms filled with delicious displays about chocolate history, chocolate agriculture and chocolate cuisine over the centuries.

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Don’t miss spending a few moments of bliss in the little room with walls covered in fragrant deep dark chocolate.

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I think I’ve found my new home in Mexico City! Truly a magical culinary destination.

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Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Elevates Taste and Health

Aspen Heights of Food & Wine

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They come for the food, the wine and the wisdom.

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“A young chef adds and adds and adds to the plate. As you get older, you start to take away,” said French born chef Jacques Pepin, author of over twenty cookbooks and celebrated host of over 300 television cooking shows. The audience of loyal foodie fans for Pepin’s cooking class with daughter Claudine filled a ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel, just one of many culinary seminars featured at the 34th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Assisting her father in demonstrating how to make vinaigrette salad dressings Claudine Pepin advised, “Use a really good olive oil. You know the one you’re saving because it’s too good to use everyday? Well, throw that away because it’s rancid by now and go buy a new one.”

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Over five thousand food lovers and wine aficionados attend the festival to meet top named chefs and wine makers from around the world. Spirits have taken a more central role with the rise of interest in craft cocktails.

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Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem created food pairings including honey glazed salmon and pork ribs with ginger and peach to match sips of Glenmorangie single malt scotch and a citrus infused whiskey cocktail.

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“Summer time is barbecue time and the spiciness goes with the sweetness and smokiness of the scotch whiskey,” said Samuelsson.

 

Fresh New Heights of Cuisine

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Aspen’s chefs know to put on a show when their rocky mountain town fills up with world-class foodies. “They literally eat it up,” said Matt Zubrod, executive chef of The Little Nell Hotel. “It’s a cool crowd who ask really good questions about food such as ‘where did you get the meat for this tartar?’”

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Executive Chef Matt Zubrod, Element 47 restaurant, The Little Nell Hotel, Aspen

Zubrod’s menu at the Relais and Chateau hotel’s Element 47 restaurant features plates as pretty as the Aspen scenery garnished with edible flowers and fresh herbs such as pineapple sage and chocolate mint and grown steps away from the tables. And just as the mountain air requires adding a layer of clothing with changing temperatures, Zubrod layers flavors in dishes, “Its evolved where I like to do a layer of pureed, then cooked and then raw of the same ingredient such as peas, corn or artichoke.”

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Halibut cheeks are served on a layer of pureed ratatouille with fresh corn and fava beans.

 

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Nilou Motamed, Editor in Chief, Food & Wine Magazine enjoys the tasting tents and saying hello!

Health and wellness was in focus on a panel led by Food & Wine Magazine’s editor in chief Nilou Motamed who noted, “I think in the last ten years the conversation have moved from a message of moderation to where our food is coming from.”

 

 

 

Octogenarian Jacques Pepin replied,

“It can go to far if we wonder where every carrot is from. I’m not a doctor, I’m a chef, but my best advice is finish your food.”

Thank you Jacques, that’s the best view in Aspen.

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Galapagos Eco Gourmet

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Imagine if your grocery list was edited to remove foods considered a threat to the balance of nature in your own backyard.

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That’s the culinary challenge Norman Brandt faces everyday as executive chef of

the Pikaia Lodge in the Galapagos Islands.

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“When I got the position I made a list of ingredients I needed for the kitchen and I was told you can’t bring those in,” said Brandt.

No blue cheese, no cherries, no chia seeds and no imported citrus to name just a few of the foods tightly restricted by Ecuador’s biosecurity regulations for the Galapagos.

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The goal is to prevent the introduction of invasive species and pests that could threaten indigenous plants, many vitally important to the islands’ world famous wildlife.

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The Galapagos Islands have become a mecca for ecotourism attracting over 250,000 visitors a year who arrive with binoculars and cameras in tow ready to spot giant tortoises, sea turtles, penguins and unique birds including the blue-footed booby.

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Galapagos National Park rules control the number of people and time limit spent in wildlife areas and you must stay at least six feet away from the creatures.

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Birds don’t fly away when you walk by and curious cute baby sea lions hop towards you.

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“They thrive because there are no predators here,” said Andrew Balfour, general manager of the boutique eco-property Pikaia Lodge where rooms include a copy of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.

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Elegantly furnished rooms overlook an extinct volcano now covered in lush green foliage.
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Strikingly modern architecture of Pikaia Lodge

 

Guests drink in the DNA Bar…

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….and dine in the Evolution dining room.

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Andrew Balfour, Pikaia Lodge

“The magic of the Galapagos is that you see nature in an intimate way and see how the adaptation of the species is crucial from island to island,” says Balfour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chef Brandt, from mainland Ecuador, has enthusiastically learned to adapt to his new environment by getting to know local farmers, discovering wild cherry tomatoes and showcasing Galapagos seafood including tuna, grouper, octopus, and spiny lobsters.

 

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On the menu is a seafood Carpaccio with peppers from chef Brandt’s kitchen garden and the crunch of yucca chips with seafood terrine.  Some imported foods are allowed but restricted and undergo close inspection. Chef Brandt has to make his grocery list at least 9 days in advance,

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Avocado, passion fruit, and oranges are grown here planted by early settlers.

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Dairies produce milk but only fresh cheeses.

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“So I’m trying to make my own aged cheese,” said Brandt.

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He showed me a small wheel of yellow cheese. “I want to wait for two or three months more. It’s an experiment so we’re all learning about it.”

He makes his own red wine vinegar and ages the local grass fed beef so it’s more tender.

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Traditional tastes of Ecuador at the Pikaia Lodge including a quinoa risotto and Arriba chocolate mousse with passion fruit chili coulis add a gourmet touch to Galapagos adventures. What’s a pikaia? It’s the first organism discovered with a spine. See the design with little dots in the dessert above? That’s a pikaia.

 

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Getting to the Galapagos and Getting Around 

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From Atlanta I flew to Quito, Ecuador which is super high altitude at over 9,000 feet above sea level. Took my breath away, literally.

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But so did the fabulous hotel we spent the night in before flying to the Galapagos islands the next morning.

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The historic and gloriously luxurious Hotel Gangotena in Quito, right of the wide San Francisco Plaza, is a member of Virtuoso.  It’s beautiful.

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I had the best, the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever experienced. What a way to get ready to launch off to wilds of the Galapagos!  Hey, even the airport in Quito was super nice.

Check out the sleek and modern airport bathrooms!

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Souvenir shops in the airport got us primed and ready to experience Galapagos wildlife viewing …blue footed booby neck pillow anyone?

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But….why oh why didn’t I buy that Blue Footed Booby throw pillow?! I love it! OK, next time for sure!

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Galapagos Glam – no vortex left behind!

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Let’s River Cruise 2016

This is how we roll…..on the river!

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If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like on a river cruise then hop on board and take off with me along the Rhone River on the elegant Scenic Emerald. Best part?

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Well there are so many best parts…but if you’re like me  you’ll really relax and enjoy the cruise from morning to night because Scenic is all-inclusive.

IMG_5712That means no pesky bills to sign for shore excursions or adult beverages.

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Pop goes the Champagne from breakfast to bed time.

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All aboard who’s going aboard!!!!

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The first difference you notice is that the river ship glides along calm waterways instead of riding choppy seas often associated with ocean cruising.

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These long sleek ships built to transport passengers along wide European rivers, past picturesque villages and vineyards are gaining momentum as a sought after vacation experience.

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Virtuoso ranks river cruises in the top five 2016 travels trends.

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On a seven-day cruise on the Rhone River in France aboard the Scenic Emerald, I discovered many delightful advantages of traveling by river.

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The pace is leisurely with pastoral scenery in view from large windows or on open decks.

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There’s an impressive display of crew navigation as the ship traverses river locks with only inches to spare on either side of the ship!

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On the top deck you can chat with the Captain as he guides his Scenic “Space Ship” carefully through the locks.

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Please don’t try to distract him.

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Another bonus for travelers ready to explore, when docked in town you’re in walking or biking distance to most of the sights.

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Scenic provides electric bikes for passengers to do solo exploring and get some exercise.
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Your castle or mine?

In Arles…..or Arlys…

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…we walked in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps.

IMG_5088The wharf here inspired the artist’s iconic painting “Starry Night.”

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The bakeries in Arles inspired me; where fresh strawberry tarts are a culinary work of art.

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France on the Menu

On board the Scenic Emerald, meals feature the regional foods and wines of France with many of them produced in the Rhone River valley.

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Menus are hyper-local with cheese selections changing to include varieties from the area we were cruising through that day.

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Don’t know the difference between a goat’s milk Rigotte from Lyon and a cow’s milk Charolais from Burgundy? Join the cheese class with a dozen French cheeses to sample.

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Adding to the laid-back luxury, wines and cocktails on Scenic cruises are all inclusive. Pop some bubbly for breakfast and end the evening with a cordial in your coffee. It’s all part of the gastronomic experience included in the fare.

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For passengers craving a deeper dive into what’s for dinner, executive chef Tamas Kiss leads a tour through the bustling Les Halles market in Avignon.

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He chats with butchers and bakers and offers sample tastes of local breads, cheeses, and produce of Provence.

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“It was great to see the foods of summer,” says Kiss.

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“But now it’s autumn and there are exciting new things like mushrooms and different olives in the market.”

IMG_5091Chef Kiss caps off the visit with a tasting of freshly shucked oysters.

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Hey look! Someone found a pearl!!!

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Meanwhile back on board the Scenic Emerald things are really cooking!

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It’s literally all hands on deck to provision the ship as boxes delivered to the ship in Avignon are loaded into storage areas near the galley by all of the crew. Even the bartenders, housekeepers and piano player help in the ‘bucket brigade’ to get the groceries on board!

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All of this exceptional teamwork leads to exceptional meals from beautiful buffets…

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…to elegant dinners.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are highly anticipated adventures for the palate.

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This Scenic culinary team is serious ……

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…..without taking themselves too seriously!

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Thank you Chef Tamas Kiss. You can take a little break now.

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The menus are inspiring and exciting and miraculously appear from this tiny galley!

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One evening we’re treated to dinner featuring dishes from the great chefs of France.

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Your every whim from sushi to sensational desserts are on the Scenic menu.

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Baked Alaska? Of course!

Late night craving for BLT with fries? Whoops, that was for me after a night of dancing to the late night disco music. (:

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From artichoke truffle soup to whole roasted lamb, menus are marked with indications to alert those with food allergies. Even more good nutrition on the “Vitality Corner” vegetarian menu with entrees such as bulgur risotto with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and spicy basil salad.
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As the river flows …..

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so do the fabulous foods and wines on Scenic.

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Maybe just one more small glass of rose….
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French Lessons: Enjoy Your Food!

French Lesson with a Southern Accent:

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With Liz McDermott and Beatrix Kondor. #girlsgoneworld #parisescape #joinus

How DO those French Women Stay So Trim? 

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First, introducing the best worst souvenir in Paris.

Yes, I bought the chef’s hat that says France!

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Now, let’s go to Paris!

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To Marche to Marche!

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Bustling with shoppers, even in the rain, the weekly street market stretching along the Avenue du President Wilson in Paris was an eye-popping spectacle of peppers and pastries, spices and seafood, flowers and fromage.

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While I’m not used to finding fresh rabbit and blue lobsters in my supermarket at home, seeing these foods and more in the open-air markets of Paris was a big part of the foodie fun during my recent trip to the City of Light.

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Visiting the Louvre and other must-see Parisian sites was on the list, but my travel objectives were motivated by mealtime.

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My first lunch was a leisurely paced three-hour tour of tastes in the elegant Le Gabriel restaurant at La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa quite near the famed Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

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The elegant dining room draped in the soft light of a September afternoon…we knew we were in for something very, very special.

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Let the games begin!!!

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Our first treat….surprising savory bites of foie gras in dark chocolate. Oh and some caviar.

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Beatrix Kondor apparently happy with the Champagne pairing.

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Then the delightful dishes just kept on coming…..

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The highlight of the culinary adventure was experiencing chef Jerome Banctel’s specialty dish of cocoa marinated pigeon (or squab) with the bird’s little feet intact served with organic buckwheat pasta.

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Liz McDermott says, “We love an adventure!”

A cheese course preceded no fewer than three desserts including cloud-like marshmallows  with a tart sorbet of aloe and lime…..

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….a wild strawberry creation under an envelope of strawberry glee…

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…then a plate lined with hazelnut chocolate you scooped up with tiny brioche and sticks of meringue.

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Wait! If this is how those French women stay so trim, I’m moving here!

More simply sensational scenes from the jewel box that is La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa.

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View into the Fitness Room

 

 

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How about a swim? #swoon
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Upstairs…
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…Downstairs.

 

City of Light Eaters

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Paris fashions help you focus on fitness goals. #pretty

 

As author of the best selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano recommends bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle.

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I was willing to put it to the test and while in France take some time to observe the eating habits of French women.

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A young woman who works at the Dior restaurant in St. Tropez told me that she was taught to eat slowly so that the meal is more satisfying. Dinner most nights might be a simple soup with bread, a piece of cheese and fresh fruit.

Portions are definitely smaller in France as compared to the U.S.

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And the fashion sense is grande!

 

But that’s a good thing because it allows for a variety of more tastes.

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The multi-course lunch Liz and I enjoyed with our new friend, Marie Dumarest-Petavi, at the one-star Michelin La Table restaurant in the Hotel Lancaster Paris left me feeling satisfied and energized, not stuffed and tired.

An ample two-ounce portion of beef was paired with mushrooms and sautéed red grapes.

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Our incredibly friendly waiter couldn’t wait to tell us he was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers!
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Beautifully tender beef with mushrooms and grapes is a modern art form in cuisine and design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the very special members of Leading Hotels of the World, The Lancaster Paris, was home to film legend Marlena Dietrich. You may stay in her suite of rooms if you want to feel like a movie star.

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Of course life in Paris comes with a hefty serving of walking and many days we racked up six kilometers on  Bea’s fitness app.

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Add to that the breath-defying 284 step climb up the Arc de Triomphe and running to catch Metro trains and Paris measures up as a great getaway for food and fitness.

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Fine Tuning Cruise Fare


Ahoy there from the Sunny Med!

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Hello from the Nieuw Amsterdam, one of the elegant ships of Holland America Line, as we sail on a 12-day dream cruise from Venice to Barcelona with many exciting and beautiful ports of call.

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View of the Nieuw Amsterdam from one of the ship’s tenders. Port of Kotor in Montenegro.

On the Menu Out to Sea

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Small plates are making big waves in cruise ship cuisine. From tiny dishes of mozzarella with fresh tomato or hummus with feta cheese, dolmades and olives, an artfully arranged selection of tastes from breakfast to late night snacking is set out for passengers dining casually in the Lido Market on Holland America Line ships.

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There’s no shortage of comfort food favorites such as roast beef and mashed potatoes and vacation treat foods including burgers and fries.

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But gone are the serve yourself steam table vats and buffet style trays that passengers used to fill to capacity.

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How about a Mediterranean meze plate?

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Now at each step of the way from the salad bar to the hot entrees, members of the culinary team smile and place what you want on a plate and hand it to you.

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The salad bar is a fresh cornocopia of creative ingredients

Prettily packaged sandwiches such as chicken salad with arugula on freshly baked multi grain bread take the place of a deli concept where you’d typically stand in line.
There are three distinct dining advantages here.

-Fewer people handling the food improve food safety. -Portion control allows passengers to enjoy a wider variety of tastes and decreases food waste. -And because the culinary staff create and garnish the plates they look much better for your vacation food photography.

Foodies at Sea

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My recent vacation on the Nieuw Amsterdam to celebrate a rather big birthday served up a bucket-list Mediterranean itinerary and a peek into current cruise fare philosophy.

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So much fun to dress up at night and enjoy dressed up dishes.

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I took notice that menus afloat from the elegant Manhattan Dining Room to made-to-order thin crust pizzas on the pool deck reflect dining trends ashore.

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There’s a sushi bar in Asian inspired Tamarind and shared platters of salumi and pastas at Italian themed Canaletto.

Popup dinners such as a special evening of dishes from famed New York restaurant Le Cirque add more glamour to gourmet meals in the Pinnacle Grill.

Lobster salad with grapefruit is a Le Cirque classic.
Lobster salad with grapefruit is a Le Cirque classic.

Specials on the Distant Lands menu connect to the local cuisine of each port of call. While docked in Dubrovnik, I sampled Croatian foods onboard including pastry stuffed with seasoned beef, meatballs with coriander sauce and a flaky cheese pie called Burek Sa Siron.

Croatian traditional dishes served with view of Croatia!
Croatian traditional dishes served with view of Croatia!

Chefs’ cooking demos and mixology classes add extra entertainment for food lovers on board.  After completing a series of four mixology classes you get a diploma!

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Nice work guys!
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Of course I joined the class!!

Galley Ho!

A behind the scenes tour of the ship’s gleaming galley leads guests everywhere from the dishwashing to dessert stations.

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I learned that 137, 000 pounds of fresh vegetables are consumed by two thousand guests in a typical week.

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Oh, and nearly 1700 pounds of butter.

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“At the start of the week passengers eat a lot because they’re excited about all of the choices,” says Martin Van Winden dining room manager of the Niew Amsterdam’s Pinnacle Grill “Then we do see a decline in food consumption as the cruise continues.”

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The elegant Pinnacle Grill on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

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Ship Shape

Special diet requests and food allergy concerns are taken seriously with gluten free choices and creative vegetarian fare such as barbecue tofu with creamy grits one day for lunch.
While there’s a fabulous fitness center and spa on board, my chosen exercise was taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

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When you walk up and down from deck 2 to deck 11 a few times a day it’s a work out. Especially when realizing you’re looking for a place that’s aft when you’re at the stern so have to walk another five minutes. Then you forget something in your stateroom……we racked up a lot of steps!

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There were 2300 passengers on board for the 12-Day Mediterranean Romance Cruise on the Holland America Line Nieuw Amsterdam.

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Actually the liveliness of this shared community at sea added so much enjoyment to the journey.  Traveling with my friend Liz McDermott, we never felt that any space was crowded or had to wait for a drink! We even got to meet Captain Edward G. Van Zaane for a special tour of the bridge.

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Did you know there are no paper navigation maps anymore? But still a tradition of handsome Captains at sea.

Now, how about a recipe from Allen and Antonio, our favorite bartenders and the “professors” of the mixology class series on board? Bon voyage!

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Chocolate Martini

Garnish chilled glass with chocolate sauce in swirled pattern

Shake 1 oz Vodka with 1 oz Creme de Cacoa White in a cocktail shaker with some ice.

Strain and pour into the glass.

Enjoy and you’re on your way to earning your very own bartender certificate.

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Stay tuned as we set sail for more foodie destinations on shore in my next blog post.

A cruise is a great way to explore and discover the traditional foods, exemplary eateries and exciting markets in ports along the way.

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Liz and I stumbled upon one of the best lunches of our lives at the tucked away and affordable Dior restaurant in St. Tropez. More to come……

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Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!

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Whether you’re doing the cooking at home, taking a dish to a gathering or making restaurant reservations for Thanksgiving dinner Atlanta area chefs offer some inventive ideas to add a deliciously healthy twist to menu traditions.
While Thanksgiving is not a day for dieting, it’s certainly smart to up the flavor appeal of holiday favorites with creative recipes that help keep the calories down. That way you have room for a bigger slice of pumpkin pie. Yes, you can indulge without the bulge.

Here’s the How to Indulge without the Bulge segment for #HealthyThanksgiving I did for WGN TV with Chicago food stylist Connie Pikulas.

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Enjoy Winter Salads

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Look at these beautiful Brussels sprouts!

The very first Thanksgiving’s mission was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Chefs turn to the season’s harvest for culinary inspiration. Salads are often overlooked in the parade of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
At newly opened Paces & Vine, chef Ian Winslade’s Tuscan kale salad with mandarin orange dressing, crystalized ginger and local radishes, is a great winter produce idea. The Thanksgiving to-go menu at Murphy’s, also under Winslade’s direction, features a winter salad of mixed greens, pears and walnuts as well as butternut squash soup with the flavors of apple and ginger cream.
Sweet New Ideas
What Thanksgiving spread would be complete without sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are rich in healthy fiber, potassium and beta-carotene. Chef Carvel Gould suggests roasting sweet potato wedges and tossing them together with parsnips and rutabaga wedges cooked in a non stick pan with some garlic and shallots for about four minutes until their tender but still have some texture.

Chefs at Seasons 52 restaurants, who specialize in creating just-as-tasty but lighter, lower calorie dishes are serving maple-glazed roasted butternut squash with their Thanksgiving menu this year.

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Modern Family Menus
From the head of the table to the kids’ table, there are bound to be a few folks at Thanksgiving gatherings this year who have unique diet needs including a nut allergy, a gluten intolerance or are vegetarian or vegan. No doubt whoever’s cooking the meal will feel a bit challenged. Sous chef Cooper Miller of JCT Kitchen says, “We are used to special diet requests so we create a bunch of sides that anyone can enjoy without nuts, bacon or breadcrumbs. Then we throw in a few dishes loaded with all of those ingredients for those who want to splurge.” An easy idea for home entertaining: create a condiment platter of ingredients so each guest can customize their plates depending on allergies or food preferences.

Everybody’s happy on Thanksgiving.

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How Not to Get Over Stuffed on Thanksgiving

• Fill your plate with your personal holiday favorites first. Don’t waste your calories on foods you can eat all year long.
• Turkey and all the trimmings may be the draw, but remember the main event should be sharing time with family and friends.
• Start a new tradition by taking a walk with family and friends after the big meal and serving dessert after the stroll. You’ll feel better and dessert will taste even better.
• Give thanks that even dietitians believe Thanksgiving is not a day to diet. You may not lose any pounds over the holidays, but if you maintain your weight you’re doing great.

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Rooting for Root Vegetables

 


handsimagesCarrots may enjoy a starring role on restaurant menus year round, but other less commonly consumed root vegetables take center stage in the fall. The slightly sharp flavors of parsnips, rutabaga, beets and turnips are a great compliment to hearty braised meats featured on cold weather menus.

“The parsnip has that dynamic light licorice flavor that lifts your palate with heavier dishes such as duck,” says executive chef Mike Deihl of Atlanta, currently the Southeast Regional Vice President of the American Culinary Federation.

Demonstrating his enthusiasm for the autumn harvest, Deihl prepared a salad of roasted parsnips, carrots and golden beets at the Taste of Atlanta food festival recently. “I call it my culinary fall trinity,” he says. “They’re roasted first to concentrate the flavors kind of like reducing a sauce.”

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Roots on the Menu

A quick survey of online menus posted by Atlanta restaurants proves chefs are rooting for root vegetables this time of year. At Woodfire Grill braised pork shank is served with roasted parsnips and an apple cider glaze. An apple, walnut and rutabaga compote complements roasted duck at Babette’s. Creamy parsnip soup is on the menu at Canoe and braised baby beets with burnt honey vinaigrette is offered at South City Kitchen. An arugula salad at The Optimist is topped with pickled turnips and carrots.

“What I like about root vegetables is their flexibility. You can eat them hot, cold, room temperature, pureed, braised, stewed and grilled because they’re so strong and hearty,” says Deihl. “I’ve even made a golden beet sorbet!”

Grounded in Good Nutrition

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While root vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors they’re all really good sources of dietary fiber, which promotes digestive health and is associated with lower rates of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Turnips and rutabaga are high in vitamin C.   And as with most members in the produce aisle, root vegetables contain the mineral potassium, which helps support healthy blood pressure. Rutabagas and turnips are in the same cruciferous family as broccoli and cauliflower known for cancer-fighting antioxidant nutrients that help boost the immune system. So, while you’re enjoying the seasonal taste treat of root vegetables this fall know that you’re also adding some pretty powerful nutrition to boost your health to help ward off the winter chills ahead.

 

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Atlanta Chefs Ahead of 2014 Food Trends

 

Chef Joe Schafer of King + Duke hands me yummy collards in kimchi broth with sausage from Whippoorwill Farms
Chef Joe Schafer of King + Duke hands me yummy collards in kimchi broth with sausage

Menu predictions for what we’ll be sampling at restaurants in 2014 are already showing up on the plate in Atlanta.  Guests at the Atlanta Les Dames d’Escoffier International 13th annual Afternoon in the Country were treated to a tasting of dishes from more than sixty Atlanta area chefs at an outdoor party set at the rural Serenbe community located about thirty miles south of downtown.

More than 60 chefs and 30 farmers joined forces to create great food at the annual Afternoon in the Country Event, south of Atlanta.
More than 60 chefs and 30 farmers joined forces to create great food at the annual Afternoon in the Country Event, south of Atlanta.
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Guests enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon of tasting and talking to friends.

Rich, familiar and hard to resist earthy flavors such as The Feed Store’s braised root vegetables with braised chicken thighs were the order of the day.  Bacchanalia chef Anne Quatrano served up snails and Aria’s Gerry Klaskala dished out slow cooked black eye pea ragout with collard greens and country ham.

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These are the peas and greens.

The future of food is looking a lot like a polished version of dining’s delicious past according to the Sterling-Rice Group’s 2014 restaurant report which lists “Refined Classics” as one of the top trend picks.  Local Three Kitchen treated the gathered foodies to elegant bites of “meatloaf and potatoes”.

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Also on the list, “New Farm to Table” with lesser-known cuts of pork and beef and a wider variety of proteins from goat to rabbit jumping onto menus.  Veni Vidi Vici’s chef Jamie Adams served oxtail gnocchi.

Chicken makes way for duck. The team from Leon’s Full Service presented duck ham on a savory pancake frisee and pears from Whippoorwill Hollow Farms.

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Duck confit starred in caterer Bold American Events’ tasty offering with a sweet potato gnocchi and Brussels sprouts leaves.  More duck from Livingston restaurant in a petite bite of sweet tea infused duck breast with ginger applesauce and candied lemon pecans.  Which brings us to another predicted trend for the New Year -lots of lemon.  Preserved lemons added bright notes to Chicken and The Egg chef Marc Taft’s braised short rib with smoked Gouda grits.

And tart lemon with spicy ginger beer balanced the sweet notes of Belle Meade Bourbon in the Tennessee Stud cocktail served on the rocks for guests to sip.

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Kazia Jankowski, associate culinary director of the Sterling-Rice Group says, “Lemon is pure. Lemon is versatile. Lemon is nostalgic. For those reasons, it and not other citrus will be the flavor of next year. Lemon’s bright flavor is fresh and unadulterated.”

Year of the Yolk

Quail eggs sunny side up!
Quail eggs sunny side up!

Another yellow food beaming brighter on the culinary scene is the egg yolk. Good-bye egg white omelet, hello the whole thing.

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Chef Steven Satterfield of Miller-Union who presented a sunny side up quail egg on butternut squash hash says, “The yolk is where it’s at! The texture is unctuous and a runny yolk is one of my favorite things on earth.” Nutrition note: egg yolks contain important nutrients including choline, which supports brain health.

Registered dietitian, Janet Helm who tracks healthy food trends on her blog Nutrition Unplugged says, “I think it gets people excited about food. Quinoa, kale, Greek yogurt and chickpeas became trendy, so perhaps that motivated more people to buy these foods and use them more often.  That’s a good thing.”

Seven Lamps' Kabocha squash wrapped in surryano ham is a Southern twist on classic melon with prosciutto
Seven Lamps’ Kabocha squash wrapped in surryano ham is a Southern twist on classic melon with prosciutto
Thank you Ladies! The Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier. I'm in the back somewhere on the left.
Thank you Ladies! The Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. I’m in the back somewhere on the left.

Congratulations to the LDEI Afternoon in the Country organizing teams!! We earned big $$$ for culinary scholarships and grants for culinarians in the Atlanta area to improve their skills so that we all can eat even better as the trends march on!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaskan Seafood Ship to Shore

 

If you love the taste of grilled salmon, poached salmon, plank roasted salmon, smoked salmon, salmon mousse and want to try some salmon jerky then you should consider a trip to Alaska. You can fish for salmon, visit salmon hatcheries, see salmon leaping up stream to spawn, watch seals and bears devour salmon, and buy souvenirs shaped like salmon. 
     ALASKA: This state is salmon central.                                                     
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Food & Fitness Escape to Mexico

Under the Tecate Sun
Although my first choice for a vacation usually would not include all the flaxseed you can eat and dinner without a wine list, my week at a health spa in Mexico was an escape to a place dedicated to the joys of fitness and relaxation. 

My pretty little casita. I was told Robert Redford stayed here! 

Before

After…just kidding. This is me in the middle of a morning hike up the mountain.

Founded in 1940, Rancho la Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa is south of San Diego in the border town Tecate.


Set on 32 acres of lush gardens with hummingbirds flitting among the flowers, 
Literally on the wagon….there is no alcohol served with meals at the Ranch…but stay tuned…
the resort attracts visitors interested in improving their well-being through sunrise hikes on mountain trails 
Ssssstrrrreeeeccchhhh…after the uphill, then downhill hike then race everyone to breakfast.
and days filled with yoga teachings, Pilates lessons, fitness classes, spa treatments and — welcome in the desert heat — swimming pools and water exercise workouts. 

The quiet villa pool where I spend solitary afternoons listening to birds.
From body sculpting with weights to actual sculpting with clay, there are classes to stretch body and mind.

Sculptor in residence, Jose Ignacio Castaneda, helps turn clay into creations. 

I was just walking by one afternoon and Jose invited me to join the class. Next thing I knew
…..I was a sculptor too.

The beauty and bold flavors of Rancho La Puerta Spa Cuisine

Salads are a thing of beauty

Bold flavors of Mexico highlight the menu
All of the physical activity certainly helps work up an appetite, so it’s rare to see anyone late for a meal in the dining hall.

Just in case you’re so hungry you lose your way…..
The four-course dinner the first night started with leek potato spinach soup with caramelized carrots and an heirloom tomato salad with smoked cheese, baby greens and basil dressing. 

Fresh shrimp from the Baja California on the menu at Rancho La Puerta
It’s a principally vegetarian menu here, with many dinner meals featuring fish dishes such as citrus garlic tilapia with red mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a roasted red bell pepper sauce. There’s no sugar in sight. Beverages and desserts including a dark chocolate tiramisu with mango sauce are sweetened with agave nectar.

The beautifully presented plates are prepared with produce plucked daily from the ranch’s organic farm where there’s a cooking school called La Cocina que Canta (the kitchen that sings). 

Virginia Willis, far right, as guest chef at the cooking school. My recipe pal is Lorren Negrin of  Seattle.
Atlanta cookbook author Virginia Willis was the guest chef during my vacation week. Her hands-on cooking classes featured a spa-style Southern menu. “Saying that Southern food is only fried chicken is like saying Chinese food is only egg rolls,” says Willis, author of “Bon Appetit, Y’All!”
Lorren (a registered dietitian like me) and I were asked to create a dish from seasonal vegetables picked just moments before.
The pink things are lightly sautéed radishes! 
Cook healthy, eat healthy
Laura White and Becky Jackson, guests from Atlanta, learned Willis’ recipe for bread-and-butter pickles using the organic garden’s cucumbers. Jackson said, “I’m making these at home. Most people think making pickles is hard, but in 20 minutes, we’re done!”
Don’t worry, you get dessert too. Virginia Willis’ recipe for strawberry shortcake was light and luscious!
Her secret- no sugar in the whipped cream and canola oil with butter in the pastry. 
Also on the menu: asparagus salad, cornbread-crusted halibut, and stone-ground grits with fresh greens.
“I didn’t know about stone-ground grits before,” said Lorren Negrin, a registered dietitian from Seattle. “Now I can tell my patients who are originally from the South they should try these, because they’re healthier than refined grits and they taste better.”
Guests get to keep a beautiful embroidered apron.
Deborah Szekely, 91, who founded Rancho la Puerta and still presents inspirational lectures to guests, says, “Your body makes new cells all the time, so every day you wake up a little younger. Take care of your body so it can take care of you.”

Alex’s tree, a focal point at Rancho La Puerta seen with a full moon still hanging above the mountain at 6am. 
I gave my guy a beret. I couldn’t figure out how to make the hair.

 Lessons learned at the Ranch



> Try to limit meat. Plant foods are the stars of the meal here with small but satisfying servings of fish or shrimp. The typical American plate is dominated by large servings of meat.

> Try something new. Gina Christman, of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine tried acidopholus milk (good for digestion) at Ranch La Puerta, “I’ve taken this habit home. It tastes like buttermilk.”
  I tried flaxseeds sprinkled on cereal (good source of healthy omega 3 fats) because I heard it’s good for shiny hair and healthy skin! 

Gina Christman and I successfully reach Alex’s Tree on a morning hike. Yes, it’s already really hot!

> Try less sugar (and alcohol). A vacation away from favorite indulgences is an adventure, too. I drank water and hibiscus tea instead of wine this week. —- think of the calorie savings!

OK, we did find a wine lounge with Baja wines!

The wine lounge in a cute little casita is a new addition at The Ranch.

Guests can taste Baja whites, reds and roses in the afternoon before dinner, or after dinner.
My definition of health and happiness! 

> Try mindfulness. Appreciate the colors, textures and tastes of each component in a meal. It slows you down a bit and gives your body and mind time to appreciate a meal.

Tasting the variety of produce at the Ranch’s organic farm will help you appreciate dinner even more!

> Try keeping track. Guests wear pedometers at the Ranch to measure how many steps taken each day. Aim for 10,000 steps a day as a fitness goal. Wow, that morning hike got me half way there even before breakfast!

Don’t worry there’s plenty to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and look how much I piled on my tray for lunch. 

Yes, that’s a cookie with a chocolate kiss in the middle. Friday treat of the week.

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A Tale of Two Avocados

My copy of My Key West Kitchen…mermaid optional.

Florida citrus and seafood star in chef Norman Van Aken’s new cookbook, “My Key West Kitchen.”  From key lime pie to conch salad, Van Aken and co-author Justin Van Aken tell the story of South Florida cuisine through recipes and remembrances. 
Justin and Norman Van Aken talking about great Key West food. 
In town for the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival the father-son duo, shared their kitchen secrets during a seminar dubbed “Conch Culture.”  They describe Key West cuisine as a geographically unique blend of Caribbean, Cuban and Southern cooking with a dash of American hippie escapism. 
Pulling fish from the sea and plucking fruit from tropical trees cultivated in south Florida is only the start of the Van Akens’ grocery list. But it got me thinking about the Florida avocado.

Why Florida Avocados Deserve Attention, Too. 
The great majority of the time, when a recipe calls for avocado, it refers to the dark green pebbly skinned Hass avocado grown predominantly in California and Mexico. 
The flesh of the Hassavocado is rich and creamy tasting because of the high content of heart healthy monounsaturated fats.  Often misspelled Haas, the varietal was named after Rudolph Hass and it rhymes with “pass.”

 

Hass avocado on the left and Florida avocado on right with My Key West Kitchen  conch salad 
Avocados grown in Florida are literally a different breed. Twice as large as the palm sized Hass variety, the smooth green skinned Florida avocado is lower in total fat and calories.  An ounce of Florida avocado has about 33 calories, whereas the richer California variety packs about 50-calories per ounce.

Brooks Tropicals, a major grower in the Sunshine State, smartly brands its Florida avocados the “SlimCado” to call attention to the fact they have half the fat and third fewer calories than their California competitors.

Starring the Slimcado!
The season for Florida avocados kicks off in June (I just bought one at Publix in Atlanta) and Justin Van Aken says, “I find that when they’re good, they’re great — creamy and rich, yet as light and refreshing as any good tropical fruit should be.”
Some folks they don’t like the Florida avocado because it’s ‘too watery’ and ‘not as buttery’ as the Hass, but others prefer the slightly sweet taste and lighter texture.  

Nutritionally both varieties are rich in potassium, vitamin E and folate but California avocados are higher in heart healthy fats and Florida avocados are higher in vitamin C content. Van Aken suggests, “A little salt, and something acidic — especially lime or pineapple — to dress it, and you’re good to go. We make a salsa with them diced, along with mango, black beans, and queso fresco that is out-of-this-world!”

Conch Salad extreme close up from photo in My Key West Kitchen, avocado in there.
So, just as there are many different types of oranges -from California navel to Florida’s Valencia – variety is a good thing.

In My Key West Kitchen, recipes such as Crabmeat Stuffed in Avocado call for Florida avocados first with a ripe Hass avocado as ‘optional.’ 

What do you think of Florida vs. Hass avocado?  What’s your favorite way to eat avocado? 
(I like them all by themselves with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt.) 

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Oscars of the Food World

A Winning Weekend in New York with Top Foodies
Monday night at Thomas Keller’s Per Se James Beard Awards After Party with the legendary Jacques Pepin 

What a thrill to wine and dine and chat with the top chefs, cookbook authors, TV food show stars and writers who tell us who’s cooking what, where, why and how to cook it up yourself – or try!

Thank you Marion Laney for this fab photo of Gotham Hall glam! 

The annual James Beard Foundation Awards, held in NYC are a must for moi! Traveling with Atlanta gal pals, Gina Christman and Anne Marsden and my daughter Katie as an early graduation present – we took the town by storm with shopping sprees and the goal of dining in just about every ‘hood in NYC.

It’s easy to make new friends in NYC. Balthazar drinking rose Champagne Saturday while Anne and Katie shopped.

I am on the James Beard Foundation Awards National Broadcast Media committee so there’s a lot of work leading up to the big announcements, but the weekend is a magical ride of Manhattan fun.

Friday kick-off lunch at Harry Cipriani. Vanilla cake.  We sat next to Robert Wagner. 

The big night is Friday for the Journalism Awards and the tables were set with pretty pink peonies as the wine flowed.  There’s Martha Stewart with her entourage over there. Of course, I said hello to her!
Chef Marcus Samuelson at the table next to us and he won for his autobio book, Yes Chef!

Chef Marcus Samuelson of Red Rooster tweets out his news: Winner!

Martha Teichner of CBS Sunday Morning near us too. She won in the Best TV Food Program, in studio or fixed location. Congrats to her and the CBS Sunday Morning Team.

Martha Teichner accepts the JBF Award for CBS Sunday Morning’s annual food themed show.

The South won big in Yankee territory. Nathalie Dupree and co-author Cynthia Graubert won a big prize, Best American Cookbook for their six pound cookbook, “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” Nathalie accepted the award saying, “The South is the new Italy!”

A photo from the big screen of Nathalie and Cynthia accepting the James Beard Award !

More love! Martha Teichner and Nathalie Dupree congratulate each other on their James Beard Awards.
Both live in Charleston, SC.
We had dinner at Del Posto restaurant on Sunday night. 
Del Posto is my favorite restaurant in New York. The service is elegant but relaxed.
We sat down at 7:30pm and finished dinner at 11pm. I felt as if I’d been there 11 minutes.
A beautiful experience that began with flutes of 2006 Pierre Gimonnet Brut Cuvee Fleuron Champagne and the prettiest salad I’ve ever tasted or seen. Congrats to Del Posto for winning Best Service and Best Pastry JBF Awards and nomination for Best Chef NYC. As my daughter texted a friend, “I’ve just had dinner in first class on the Titanic.”
Shhhhhh….this lunch is a secret. 

The “Southern Mafia Lunch” is an annual sort of secret invite only gathering on Monday before the Gala JB Awards at Avery Fisher Hall.  Top chef nominees from the South and Southeast categories gather along with Southern food writers, food producers and enthusiastic “southern-aires” at Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s beautiful little Butter Restaurant.

Butter colored buttercup flowers on the tables at the Southern Mafia Luncheon.
Lots of fun – Andrew Zimmern sneaks into the photo with Gina Christman,
Publisher of Atlanta Homes & Lifstyle Magazine and Mary Reynolds, of The Reynolds Group, Atlanta

Here’s a link to ALLLL of the winners thanks to Andrew Zimmern’s website!  He won as JBF Best Media Personality 2013.  And I give him the “Nicest Best TV Personality Award!”
James Beard Foundation Awards winners

How about some punch? Top foodies tell us the cool places to go in NYC.
We’re at Pouring Ribbons cocktail bar wayyyyyy down town on Sunday night.

It’s all about the fun and frolic. As a busy food journalist, and three time James Beard Foundation Award winner including JBF Who’s Who in Food Beverage – it’s an absolute thrill to hang out with all of these great foodie folks. There are too many parties to go and too many people to hug – but we can only try!

JBF Award winner and uber famous chef, Todd English and I
 at Chef’s Night Out Party at Todd English Food Halls, Plaza Hotel

Yes, it’s important to burn some calories after burning the midnight oil eating and drinking so Gina, Anne and I hit the streets on Sunday morning and walked 5 miles through and around beautiful Central Park. A brisk start but sunny day and lots of needed oxygen. 

Nightlife followed by wildlife in Central Park. Birdwatchers abound and the flowers in full May bloom.
My favorite place to stay is The Kimberly Hotel. I booked a two bedroom, two bath suite for our Atlanta gals getaway for $322 and that includes free internet, a roof top bar/breakfast and free coffee/tea and pastries all afternoon on the rooftop terrace. Hello! Why would you stay anywhere else? 50th between Lex and 3rd. 

Goodbye Manhattan, thank you for a wonderful James Beard Foundation weekend!
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Nanjing Discovery: Books, Cooks & Looks

No bodyguards needed in Nanjing, but who doesn’t love a few escorts?

 

Just as most tourists to Italy choose Rome or Florence as their first time destination, most pick Beijing or Shanghai for their inaugural visit to China.
But, my first trip to The People’s Republic of China led me to discover Nanjing.  Never heard of it?
Well, either had I until I began my research which started with randomly flipping through On Demand and finding a recent movie called “Flowers and War” starring Christian Bale about the horrible 1937 Nanking massacre of 300,000 Chinese by the Japanese during World War Two.
Nanking, now Nanjing, suffered atrocities ranking among the worst in human history. And now I was going there, coincidentally the very week the city would commemorate the 75thanniversary of the massacre. But, there’s more to Nanjing than dark history.  Continue reading Nanjing Discovery: Books, Cooks & Looks
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Nanjing Discovery: Books, Cooks & Looks

No bodyguards needed in Nanjing, but who doesn’t love a few escorts? 

Just as most tourists to Italy choose Rome or Florence as their first time destination, most pick Beijing or Shanghai for their inaugural visit to China.
But, my first trip to The People’s Republic of China led me to discover Nanjing.  Never heard of it?

Well, either had I until I began my research which started with randomly flipping through On Demand and finding a recent movie called “Flowers and War” starring Christian Bale about the horrible 1937 Nanking massacre of 300,000 Chinese by the Japanese during World War Two.

Nanking, now Nanjing, suffered atrocities ranking among the worst in human history. And now I was going there, coincidentally the very week the city would commemorate the 75thanniversary of the massacre. But, there’s more to Nanjing than dark history. 
Art class at East Beijing Road Elementary School, Nanjing

It’s a bright and beautiful place, boldly stepping into the future of China and the world, as I would soon learn.  Hey, there’s an H& M here and a Ritz-Carlton hotel under construction. Also, they’re super excited about being chosen as the site of the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.

Nanjing Now

Known historically as the ‘southern capital’ of China, Nanjing (the capital of Jiangsu province) is a bustling city of eight million people and over 50 universities and colleges.

View from the backseat of cab. Nanjing at night.
Riding alone I made sure to have my intended destination
written on a card in Chinese.  I can fake Italian and French
but can’t fake Chinese. 

Surrounded by the longest city wall in the world, built during the Ming Dynasty in the 1300’s, Nanjing’s beauty is a contrast of silver skyscrapers, pretty pagodas, architecturally impressive tombs, tree lined streets, lakes, rivers and mountains.  

Nanjing is ready to welcome you! 

An evening cruise in a painted boat past temples, palaces, pagodas and dragons on walls all lit up with brightly colored neon lights on Qinhuai River took me back in time to old China as we sipped hot tea in the cold December night. 

So why was I there?

Look up, there’s a bar on the 78th floor. 

The 89-story Zifeng Tower, the tallest in the city, was the setting for the Sino-American Media Exchange I was invited to attend by Emory University in conjunction with Chinese hosts from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Conference tables and talks around them are high art in China. 

We stayed at The Intercontinental Hotel, located in the tower and my room was literally in the clouds on the 52ndfloor with Nanjing’s city streets far below.

Yup, that’s my view of Nanjing. Former President Jimmy Carter was apparently there this day.

From Kindergarten to College in One Day
Our days were focused on meeting students and teachers at schools from kindergarten to college. 

 Sissel McCarthy of Emory University with me and festive students at Jingling High School
Cutest kids at Nanjing Gulou Kindergarten founded in 1923  


What Do You Think That Is? 
I swore I wouldn’t eat anything that looked  like an eyeball


The evenings brought Chinese and U.S. journalists and academics together for extravagant dinners. The most memorable moments of Chinese hospitality and cultural exchange involved the sharing of food and drink. “We’re a city of books and cooks,” explains Nanjing native Liu Kang who is the Director of Chinese Studies Center at Duke University and Dean of the Institute of Arts and Humanities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Prof Liu Kang and I at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum
We climbed the 392 steps to the top and back down again.
A good thing to do to prepare for yet another glorious banquet!

We sat at huge round tables with a Lazy Susan set up in the middle to facilitate presenting and sharing dozens of dishes in a mind-boggling series of flavors, textures and colors. 


“The banquets were relentless, gorgeous, terrifying,” said Daniel Wagner, a financial reporter from Washington, D.C. “Everyone warned me not to stuff myself on the early courses. Nobody mentioned that all 20 dishes that come before the whole fried fish count as ‘early courses.'”

Daniel Wagner and Gary Xu favorites to win the Lazy Susan Chinese Banquet Contest

Added Wagner: “The food really helped me understand how similar to the Chinese we are, and how different. Similar because we all love gorging on delicious food; different because there is simply no excuse for sea cucumber.’”

Salted Duck shows up on every Nanjing table 

Nanjing’s Own Cuisine

Expertly carved vegetables

Nanjing’s unique Haui Yang cuisine may not be as well known as Szechuan-Hunan’s hot and spicy dishes or the shark’s fin soup of fancy Cantonese cooking and that’s what makes it an exciting taste discovery.

Fresh water fish in light soy

“The dishes are lighter with less oil and more vegetables (including sea vegetables), fresh water fish and shrimp, “ says Cecelia Yang of the Intercontinental Hotel, which boasts the highest restaurant in Nanjing on the 78th floor of the Zifeng Tower.

Food and Beverage Director Giuseppe Losciale oversees
the highest restaurant in Nanjing

Get Ready to Duck

Menus feature Huai Yang specialties such as precise angle cut vegetables, salted duck, duck blood soup and a Nanjing version of Peking duck.

Duck Blood Soup and Dynasty Wine 

Wondering about duck blood soup? Don’t ask me; I gave the wheel another turn.

Brave Barbara Ortutay readies her banquet worthy napkin for another spin of the Lazy Susan

“Each banquet was an adventure, I came ready to try anything at least once. Jellyfish, octopus tentacles, purple corn, duck blood soup. The duck blood had the consistency of silken tofu with a hint of foie gras, much lighter than the pork blood-sausage I’m used to from Hungary,” said Barbara Ortutay, a technology writer who lives in New York.

Nanjing Impressions is one of Sissel McCarthy’s favorite Nanjing restaurants because,
“You can watch them prepare the dishes at stations and learn a bit more about what you’re eating.”


Sissel McCarthy, professor of Journalism at Emory University says, “This is my third trip to China and while I’m not a hugely adventurous eater each time it gets easier because you recognize certain dishes. It’s challenging at the multi-course dinners so I let a few go by. I like the Nanjing cuisine because there are so many vegetables. But you’d better like salted duck.”  

Gan Bei!!
And you’d better like to toast. Every meal was punctuated by a series of toasts followed by “Gan Bei!” the Chinese phrase for ‘bottoms up’ as we were served (thankfully) thimble sized glasses of powerful white liquor to down in honor of our new friendships.

For some reason I don’t have any toasting shots, but I here’s what we call a “Banquet Aftermath” photo.

Tips on toasting in China: look your toastee in the eye, touch glasses together the whole time you are speaking, say something nice about them and how grateful you are to know them and thankful for their generosity and hospitality and then yell, “Gan Bei!” which literally translates “dry glass” and shoot the booze. By the way, the white lightning they call baijiu (which translates ‘white liquor’ or ‘white wine’) tastes and smells to me a bit like sweaty socks. It’s an acquired taste, but don’t worry, with all of the toasting madness you’ll acquire the taste quite quickly. 

An elaborate display for delicious dish we named “Squirrel Fish” 

Another side effect of the toast-a-thons according to Ortutay is the culinary courage it summons, “But I should have drawn the line at sea cucumber. I mean just look at it! Why I didn’t draw the line after the first time I tried it is still unclear. Probably the relentless rounds of baijiu, deceptive because it was served in doll-sized glasses.”

More Banquet Glory. This elegant meal was served at The Intercontinental Hotel

And the Chinese love red wine. They prefer French but China produces wine too. We had bottles from wineries called Dynasty and Great Wall. But, I wanted white wine, OK?  I made a mistake consistently requesting white wine at dinners and guess what kept showing up? Yup, more of that baijiu!  You get what you ask for, high maintenance American girl.

Of Jet Lag, Swimming and Corn for Breakfast
The Farmer’s Delight; part of the breakfast buffet at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nanjing


There’s a 13 hour time difference between Nanjing and Atlanta and I got kind of messed up the very first day because even though we left on a Monday, apparently we totally skipped Tuesday and I woke up to discover it was already Wednesday. I didn’t realize the effect of crossing the International Dateline. Oh well, everyone promised we’d get the day back when we returned home. Whatever. All I know is that I woke up most mornings at 4am Nanjing time ready to roll. Swimming helped and the hotel had a beautiful indoor pool where I swam laps at 5am in the quiet darkness. The pool and spa didn’t officially open until 6am but I just walked around the velvet rope thing. There were plenty of towels and I had my pick of lounge chairs.

Other American journalists used their early morning time to jog around the nearby Xuanwu Lake Park and told me about the well-marked trails and beautiful scenery.

By the time breakfast rolled around I was starving. Happily, the Intercontinental Hotel has a huge breakfast buffet with everything you can imagine. Everything! Want sushi? Korean kimchi? Indian food? French pastries? German dark bread? Omelet bar? Chinese dumplings? Noodle soups? Yogurt? Fruit? Cereal? It was like a cruise ship had collided with the United Nations.

Wonder what’s inside? You’ll just have to try these dumplings to find out. 

What really caught my eye was the collection of bamboo steamers on a table marked “Farmers Delight.”  Lifting the basket lids one by one revealed each contained a different steamed vegetable. Orange squash, purple yams, yellow corn.  Who needs corn flakes when you can eat corn on the cob for breakfast. A lot of folks did.  I had an omelet with vegetables and a side of bacon with a slice of that German bread.

Next Big Generation

It’s a rare sight in Chinese cities to glimpse reminders of poorer times. 

The history of China is peppered with famine and hardship. 
But today there are actually a lot of fat kids. Rates of obesity and diabetes are unfortunately increasing in China with the influx of western style fast food and less physical activity in a computer screen world. 

McDonald’s delivery guy in Nanjing


It doesn’t help that the Chinese rule “one couple, one child” has also spawned a lot of pampering of those kids and with two sets of grandparents there’s a lot of ‘have another treat’ going on.

So it was good to see elementary school kids demonstrating kung fu and high school students playing basketball during class breaks. School food was really healthy too.

Delicious lunch at Nanjing Lishui School. Tomatoes grown at the school! 
Lots of veggies at Jinling
She loves Taylor Swift

There was a varied selection of fresh vegetables simply prepared, rice of course and usually a soup with noodles. My favorite meal was lunch shared with six teenaged girls at Jinling High School. They smiled when I used chopsticks to eat slightly spicy chicken with peanuts as we chatted about their classes in applied mathematics, food likes (pizza and fried chicken!), exercise (ping pong and jogging) and going to college (most want to go to the U.S).  But things really got cooking when I asked them about music. One girl said, “I love Taylor Swift.”

And then when I followed up, “What about Justin Bieber?” they all immediately shrieked and giggled with the simultaneous outcry “We lo-o-o-o-v-v-v-e Justin Bieber!!!” Teachers, journalists and other dignitaries turned to see what was so exciting at our table and that’s when I knew that cultural connections are the strongest with shared interests – whether it’s music or math –at mealtime.  

Super smart kids at Jinling High School
I told them to stop studying so much so the American kids can catch up!
Things from Nanjing 

You’ve got a friend!
Yue helped me convert RMB prices into US dollars.
Bonus! It’s a sale day with 50% off!
I could figure that out. 

There’s really good shopping in Nanjing. The usual high-end stuff popular in big Asian cities such as Chanel and Gucci presides over the fancy shopping streets.  Or you can get into the bargaining swing of things at more touristy markets near the Confucius Temple to shop for silk scarves, Nanjing’s famous Yun brocades, and other Chinese trinkets. I love the hand made wooden carving of the see-no, hear-no, speak-no evil monkeys I bought from an elderly artisan at the Nanjing Folklore Museum. Since Nanjing was the center of the Ming Dynasty, there are lots of Ming vase themed things- I bought some key chains which are really nice looking. Was not in the market for an actual Ming vase.
But the most fun I had was shopping with my new Chinese journalist friend, Zhang Yue a reporter with China Daily in Beijing.

Zhang Yue, reporter with China Daily, looks even more petite
next a giant shoe outside the department store.

We went to a busy Chinese department store that was kind of like Bloomingdale’s with two whole floors of shoes and boots. We both bought coats in a hip section of the store. She got a cute beige wool coat with a flirty flouncy hemline and I got what I had my eye on all week!

Chinese girls were wearing these quilted down coats with fur collars and I found the one I wanted.
It’s knee length in ivory with a brown fur collar.

Ok I’ll tell you! Cost about $130

It will keep me warm this winter and remind me of Nanjing, the city of books and cooks and fashionable looks.

The coat I actually wore while I was in Nanjing everyday. It was cold in December.


Speaking of books……. 

 Pearl S. Buck, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author of The Good Earth (and many other books including an Oriental Cookbook) lived in Nanjing between 1920 and 1933 and taught English Literature at Nanjing University. Her house on the campus is a museum you can visit now. I signed the guest book, “Hoping your spirit of dedication to writing will follow me home.” 


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