Thursday, February 26, 2009

Almighty Omega-3s

Living in a City that never sleeps means you have the opportunity to dine out every day and at all hours.

However, study after study (summarized here) shows that dining out can pack on the pounds and put you at risk of not getting your full daily requirements of essential nutrients.

So I try to balance out the nights out for events with a basic, nutrition-packed dinner at home.

For example, tomorrow night we're looking forward to a wedding engagement celebration for one of the loveliest, chicest couples I've ever known. I'm frankly happy they are tying the knot because I get to keep the husband-to-be around. I've never met any one more charming or modest or talented.

So last night, I prepared a meal high in omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory lipids found in fresh fish primarily but also some nuts.

I started with wild Coho salmon. Wild fish is often richer in omega-3s because the stock eat plankton and not the grain-derived products that farm-raised ones get. For a fabulous summary of why we need omega-3s so badly these days (or grass-fed meat), this article sums it up. Basically, we're eating too many grains (rich in omega-6 fatty acids) for the last 40 years.

I included a mango salsa as a topper:

It includes chopped red onion, jalapeno peppers (my household loves hot food; if every bite makes me sweat, I'm satisfied) and cilantro. Unlike some friends, we clearly don't carry the gene that finds cilantro nauseating.

Finally, I made a side of quinoa. It may look like a grain and cook like a grain, but quinoa is actually an ancient dish that's more seed-like in origin than grass-like. Plus it's packed naturally with protein and essential amino acids (meaning compounds that our bodies don't naturally produce and we can only get by ingesting food). Just be sure to wash the quinoa before you cook it. This removes a bitter, natural pesticide that coats each granule.

Yummy in my Le Creuset. Voila!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What To Give A Runner

Usually, I run alone. But joining a friend in pounding the pavement is definitely a bonding experience. A running partner is a camrade, a cheerleader and competition, embodied.

Last night I attended a terrific birthday dinner for one such running partner. What do you give a fine lady who has pretty much all she really needs? New things to read, I figured. So I gave her these books.

Strides by Benjamin Cheever (Obvi. How can I not be a fan of pere Cheever, having lived in Connecticut and married to one)

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (TBT, I think he's a great writer with a complicated mind; what he finds fascinating subject matter reminds me of what a precocious boy with little experience around girls would think about. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was beautifully written; though now I think he spends too much time running and not enough time mingling.)

I was seated next to a woman who is training for a triathlon this summer. While that doesn't fit into my plans for this year, it may be a goal for 2010.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can You Lose While You Schmooze?

Tonight, lovelies, I am attending a book party. And like holiday cocktails or a Christmas tree-trimming, author celebrations are a minefield for bad nutrition. 

Obvi, the cocktails and the trayed canapes are guilty. But even the ones I attend where there is a lack of food to soak up the alcohol is bad for my health. 

I hadn't been to many of this breed until I started dating my husband. 

Why does the my city's literati elite pride themselves on hosting parties with Champagne galore but few bites? My dear chocks it up to fashion. He grew accustomed to this manner overseas. The more well-to-do you are, the more likely you host a modest (even tightwad-like) party so not to give off airs, so it goes.

I learned this first hand one eve at the shiny, bright apartment of an acquaintance. It was organized to celebrate a guest-of-honor, here from Wales, and his new appointment. The soiree included waiters with white gloves and beaucoup de Bubbly. There were 80-plus chatterboxes who either wrote, edited, agented, or granted money on hand. But when I gestured to the one lone bowl of nuts in the room, my husband looked on the bright side (as is his nature): "At least it's not Twiglets. They are foul." Apparently, he's attended one too many parties when he lived abroad where only those Marmite novelties were served.

So for the brighter side for my plan tonight, I aim to eat before I go: If I nosh on protein before the event, I'll avoid unconscious nibbling.  So, should the fare be ever more substantial than umami-enhanced twigs, it won't matter to me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pork Butt: It's What's For Lunch

This afternoon, we were joined for a lunch for 10 at Momofuku Ssam Bar. It wasn't anyone's birthday or any celebratory occasion. Rather, we were all there for the bo ssam: a dish on the menu that includes a dozen raw oysters, kimchi and a whole pig butt. (By the way: this isn't the rear of pig but here).

Momofuku requests that you order this meal in advance and for parties of 8 or more. So we met with lovely Bobby and his wife Bipasha and various other journos. One was finishing up his book on Prohibition and its accompaniment, a new Ken Burns documentary; a second was here from D.C. visiting the home office (and left early to take a plane home); another was discussing his column from today, Madoff and President Carter's 1979 infamous "malaise" speech that, in fact, never included the word malaise. The point is, none of us write about food for a living which made the meal so fun and the conversations so interesting and thoughtful. You can actually enjoy the dishes without the pressure of keeping up with the critique of the expert in the room.

It was truly decadent to eat that kind of meal midday. Add to that, the fact that we're eating out again tonight. Top it with the one no-show who didn't make it to the table? Joe's girlfriend came late because she had opted for running around the Park. Priceless.

My Wish Today

I just read that gym memberships are supposed to see a 9 percent rise this year.  Right now, I don't care but wish it was like above in Central Park. S-P-R-I-NG. 

I'm tired of the treadmill and running indoors. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Austerity Chic

That's the word from today's Wall Street Journal after a dismal aftermath to the New York fashion shows this week and the outlook for London's fashion week next. Luxury goods are not "recession-proof" as the sudden 15 percent fall this year demonstrates.

Bye-bye, over-rated bridge collections sold at the uninspiring likes of Scoop and Intermix if this trend continues (and every financial forecaster seems to say just that). That's how I read between the lines of this article. Indeed, the writers finish up their piece with a discussion beyond clothing but how "austerity chic" will affect other luxury goods, like alcohol. 

Interestingly, that's good news, scientifically speaking:

A new study published in Clinical Nutrition found that those who drank beer and red wine had improved vascular function than those who consumed white wine, whisky and even water. While the powerhouse phytochemical, resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes has been getting a lot of press lately, the fact that beer matched the effect of red wine suggests that it is not resveratrol, but another compound in both beverages, that is the cause.

And I submit that no alcoholic beverage defines a "lapse of luxury" better than a six-pack of beer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Food Porn

Or, Why I Don't Eat Cheese or Butter

This site is too mean (and simplistic) for me.  

Nevertheless, it sure takes the fun out of greasy foods. 

And I'm going for a long run now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Java Jones

Morning coffee rituals say a lot about your household. I don't think this is a reach; In my first marriage, our home brews were never good enough. We went through dozens of high-end to low-end makers, brands of beans, a range of grindings, even types of water for brewing. But the 'jo never tasted right. 

Near the end, I would jump out of bed extra early just to run downstairs to the local cart man to get his freshly brewed cup. For some reason, the 75 cents of brown stuff boiled in the back of a truck always tasted better than the coffee we made here at home. In recollection, I can't be sure the cart guy had some special touch. But I do think there's something to be said about the general dissatisfaction: It wasn't just the coffee-making, but the union, that was never just right.

Fast forward to 2007: Was it a sign I was dating a better match when my now-hubby actually brought me down to a shoppe in the Meat Packing District to pick up a French press exactly like his? (Almost exactly; his was a slightly dinged up carafe that he bought in London). Today, we drink coffee that is consistently rich, full-bodied yet mellow, and never bitter. Make up the metaphors as you want.

And now there's another reason for a great cup of java. Specifically, four or more cups a day. A new study published today in the medical journal Circulation shows that high intake of coffee can lower a woman's risk for stroke. The researchers suggest that the reason may lie in the phytochemicals that exist in the beans; they may help improve the function of the walls of blood vessels by relaxing them. It may also be that caffeinated coffee helps lower the amount of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) in the blood.

Either way, having a reason to not jump out of bed and out of the house each morning upon awakening can help lower a woman's stroke risk too.

An Apple A Day

Good news for my favorite breakfast eats: Six studies out of Cornell this year confirm what an old wives' tale have been touting for decades: an apple a day can keep the doctor away. Specifically, researchers from Cornell's Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology have found that apples can stop breast cancer by impairing the growth of tumors. 

How? It's phytochemicals again. There are flavonoids in apple peels that are a potent antioxidant and inhibit an inflammation pathway called NFkB that cause breast cancer cells to grow.

But it's important to add that even the study author, Dr. Liu, says a lot of other fruits and vegetables also do the same job, but we eat a lot of this fruit in the U.S.. "Apples provide 33 percent" of the phytochemicals that we consume each year and that's a reason why Dr. Liu and his team centered their studies on this one (plus, it was supported in part by the U.S. Apple Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Showing Us the Goods

Oh, yeah.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York today rejected a bid by a group representing 7,000 restaurants in New York City to halt the city code that now requires restaurants to post nutritional information on their food. 

The group claimed that these "calorie-disclosure rules" is unlawful. 

But masking the natural taste of a burrito (made from processed ingredients to give it a longer shelf life) with higher fat, higher calorie ingredients is fair.

Luckily, even the US FDA has backed the City's law to post nutritional information on everything from Pain Quotidien's croissants to Burger King's Whopper. 

Moreover, the losing side has stated that they probably won't appeal this ruling. This will lay the groundwork for more cities to follow the law of New York (and San Francisco and Philadelphia).

Now if we can just get some of the city's fattiest non-chain venues (say, Fatty Crab? Shake Shack? Per Se?) to show us their menus' calories (even if it's just online)...

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Midsummer Night

A recollection:

Mid-summer one Saturday evening last year, we were invited to a dinner party in Purdy's, New York. The host was a journalist who I've been reading since I was about 19 years old.  To my happy surprise on arrival: he and his wife were also locavores.

Also dubbed the 100-Mile Diet, in which a person only eats foods grown within 100 miles of their home, a locavore cuisine  promises the freshest, seasonal produce at meals. 

Except the dinner prepared at this 100-year-old impeccably renovated farmhouse was more like a menu of the 10-Feet Diet.

His very cool, lovely wife was not just a great hostess but also an expert in landscape gardening. So flanking the horse farm in the back of the house (all 100+ year-old homes seem close to the road as keeping with the integrity of the era when these homes were first built) was a huge working garden where everything from tomatoes and spinach to swiss chard, cabbage and sunflowers grew.

Plus, we were arriving at harvest time. Indeed, it was the reason why this dinner party was chosen for this particular evening: to dine with friends on the foods ready to be plucked. 

I can't express how thrilled I was by this plan. No overdone gourmand attempts at fine dining that, underneath it all, is just good food drowning in butter or "exotic" cheeses.  This meal would live up to its expectations based on the finest, fresh ingredients, lightly enhanced but never swallowed up by a sauce or a spice.
Yet, one foods not prepared for this menu yet grew wildly in the garden? The delicate zucchini flower (see above). This point was plainly pointed out by one of the other guests who explained how yummy fried zucchini flowers can be. It is a simple dish if you can get a hold of these blossoms off of a zucchini plant. Here is how this one guest suggested to make them:

"Dredge the flowers flour after dipping them in lightly beaten egg yolks. After letting the excess yolk and flour drip off, dip the flowers in a heavy pat of heated vegetable oil for about two minutes.  Then place the fried flowers to dry somewhat on a platter lined with paper towel."

This sounded like a healthier side-dish better than any French fries. And here's why: 

Like the vegetable zucchini, the best known summer squash, its flowers are high in beta-carotene and the phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin, both linked to better eyesight. Furthermore, the flowers are high in folic acid, a B vitamin than we just don't get enough of in our diets. The white potato has very little, if any, of these compounds.

Perhaps it is because we were all fueled by such a fantastic dinner (the husband, I may add, cooked primarily; his wife grew the food, after all), but not a single guust was sleepy, groggy or pissy after dinner. In fact, we followed up with an impromptu guitar and singing session on the back porch. But even that was not the finale.

Rather, with a full moon's rays illuminating our path, the night concluded with a return trip  to the garden where, like kids in a candy store, we got to fill grocery bags with whatever produce we could pull or dig up from the garden. As the end of summer harvest, there was an abundance of riches out there to bring back to the City. 

So I rode back to Grand Central with my nails dirty with soil, a tummy satisfied with leafy greens, and two shopping bags of fresh radishes, kale, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers, roots dangling and dirt flying be damned. 

It was one of my favorite nights in the world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut Gallery

Peanut butter is a staple in my home. I know it is high in fat and calories (1 tablespoon has 8 grams and 90 calories, respectively) but it is also rich in protein. I always choose the organic, salt-free, sugar-free kinds (otherwise you're consuming a huge amount of high fructose corn syrup and salt), preferring to grind it at the store myself. In my home, I'm not exaggerating when I say we go through about two jars a week. 

But if you are noticing the number of news stories about the salmonella in some peanut butters sourced from some plant in Georgia and another in Texas, you'd think our addiction to the legume is akin to a game of Russian Roulette. 

Nationwide, peanut butter sales are down 25 percent. A Congressional committee is holding a hearing about this factory's practices. There are even smoking guns: emails after salmonella-laced peanut butter harmed consumers in a Minnesota nursing home. 

My husband and I are trying our best to keep the industry afloat. Yesterday, I was informed that at our nearest market (said to be owned by designer Calvin Klein's dad?), the peanut butter has been shunned to the highest shelf, a spot formerly held for odd jars of French chestnuts or somesuch. For my husband, his addiction is derived from living nearly seven years in London. According to him, Londoners live on bad food blithely (even proudly--what kind of taste is that?). And it's not only in the restaurants (don't even get him started about the service), but in the supermarkets where, like chocolate chips, hamburger meat, vanilla extract and black beans, what they deem peanut butter is vile and disgusting. 

And why do I eat my fattening peanut butter guilt-free? Like honey and coconut water, it is an athlete's food.

1. It's protein-dense. And protein is the macronutrient that runners and other hard-core gym nuts (Ouch. No pun intended here) to help build and repair the muscles they use and depend on in every workout.

2. It's low in carbs so therefore keeps blood sugar balanced. A recent Purdue University showed that those who ate peanuts every day didn't take in more calories overall per day than those who didn't eat the legumes. Why? I think because protein is the slowest digesting macronutrient so you're full for a long time.

3. It even contains a bit of fiber. Fiber is a necessity for heart health and low cholesterol readings. We're supposed to consumer 25 grams a day. And that's a lot to rack up even if you're vigilant with your veggie intake like me. (So, how does fiber exactly keep your cholesterol down? After all, fiber moves through our digestive tract fast because we lack the enzymes to metabolize it. And if fiber never leaves your digestive tract and cholesterol exists in our blood, where do the two meet? Answer: Through our bile!  The liver makes bile, which is used to break down and digest fat in the small intestines. For some reason, bile likes to cling to fiber in the small intestines so as we "pass" fiber we also eliminate old bile. In fact, this may be one of the only ways we rid our bodies of old bile. And bile is made from triglycerides so when fiber rids our bodies of our existing amount, our liver needs to make more by using up more triglycerides--and thereby helping to lower our overall cholesterol numbers in the process.)

But last week at a dinner party (held at a fondue joint;  I don't eat dairy so don't even ask me about the food),  I learned that there is a downside to my passion for peanut butter. And it has nothing to do with a case of salmonella.  

Peanut butter has a fairly high amount of the god-awful omega-6 fatty acids. At nearly 5 g per 2 tablespoons, it's enough to make me nervous. We consume way too many omega-6s in our society--from breads, cereals, pastas, rice, any grain really--and it's the reason why we're so short on omega-3s (a society without our through-the-roof omega-6 intake wouldn't need the desperate quantity that we Westerners need today for good health). In short, our priority for omega-3s has to do with industrialization; our great-great-grandparents didn't need to eat salmon three times a week for health.

So maybe this will be the info that makes me curb my habit. My husband already tossed a bunch of Clif bars I got him to keep in his desk at work for snacks due to the fact they were on the FDA's "do not eat". I thought this was cute because I would've eaten them anyway. 

FDA Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak 2009. Flash Player 9 is required.

But when it comes to omega-6s, he may have a point... If only the FDA restricted the quantity of omega-6s we our food supply...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Belly Up

The state of the US economy may seem like a topic that wouldn't fit a health and fitness blog. But I found two reasons this weekend to bring it up. 

1. It's personal: I'm proud for two friends, Sara Clemence and  Laura Rich who have started a semi-snarky, full-on smart blog on the NYC unemployment situation called They're both beautiful, funny, extremely intelligent journalists (Plus one's a playwright. Laura's also in my cool play-reading group and she's writing a play) who were working at Conde Nast until the end of the year. Making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, they created a site that's getting the juice it deserves in today's New York Times business section. Not sure if they'll get a book deal out of the item but somewhere opportunity will come out of it. Besides, it looks so professional.

2. It's odd: Saturday's NYT Business section had a story straight out of a women's magazine called "Nutritional Insights on Saving Money." The intersection between well-being and money may be obvious (For example, money can't buy happiness. That's one truism). But I also think it is a waste of space for more valuable 1,200 words.  The focus: apply the advice in successful diet books to saving money. The writer's examples are slippery because he's obviously reaching to make a point that was probably better conceived as a package than it was in downright takeaway/service. A few I get:

Watch your portion size: This means don't indulge in items beyond your budget.
Keep a food diary: The corollary is writing down all you spend.
Don't beat yourself if you fail: This means that you'll sometimes have to put something on a card or see a dip (pre-2008) in your stock portfolio but don't give up. You will prevail if you keep a consistent eye on your finances.

While these are broad, useful ideas in weight control, as we all know, they don't always work and need to be individualized. After all, there are thousands of diet books out there and the weight-loss industry is a mega business. If these points were as easy to use as the author states, we'd all have a great BMI--and a stable, credit-free economy. Instead we lack both.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I Heart Running

I'm very excited for next weekend. It's a 3-dayer that falls over Valentine's Day so my husband (he has an awfully sweet, romantic nature--it's very touching really if you ever met him) has surprised me with a mini-rendezvous. I'm not flying these days so I wanted to go somewhere within driving distance. So we've settled on the North Fork. While it will be a bit warmer than going North (and not to mention, cozy, quiet and serene--ideal Valentine's Day vibes), I still have to pack running gear for wind and low temps. So here's my game plan:

1. No overdressing - Light on my luggage and guaranteed to make a 7-er pleasing, I vow to dress so I'm still chilly on the first mile. This way, I'll be just warm enough when  I begin to sweat (which is usually around mile 2.5).

2. Make it 3 - It's the magic number in 30 or below temps. Apparently perspiration dries up faster when it can transport through lighter fabrics rather than getting bogged down in one thick layer. Plus, you can always take off an outer piece of clothing if #1 ends up happening.

3. Wick it good - I'm a sucker for wickaway/fast-drying fabrics. Sure these products are synthetic and not natural (except for Smart Wool), but they definitely keep me chafe- and blister-free and don't stay wet to freeze me.

4. Tight is right - Yes, it's true. My legs and booty for some reason are getting a little leaner apparently. While I'd love this in spring, this means that extra cold air circulates between the fabric and skin when the pants are too loose. It seems those tight running pants have a role afterall.

5. Head on - In extreme(ish) weather, keeping my neck and head warm is more important than my thighs or chest. I find as long as my fingers and neck are shielded from the winds, I'm happy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Help then Health

Is my predilection to physical activity nature or nuture? After all, I grew up in the confines of a Manhattan apartment where a trip to greener pastures was just that: a bonafide excursion where my mother would pack my brother and me up (my sibling sat in a stroller but I preferred to walk) armed with a travel bag of snacks and toys, to Central Park two blocks away. We didn't have a lawn to roam about on our own until much later, when we'd summer in Westport, Conn about five years or so later, so every opportunity in those early years to play or run was a prearranged, planned event. 

With this background, it would seem that my thirst for constant movement would boil down to nature. Yet, a brand-new study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition seems to show a different possibility. After studying over 1,300 children, aged 10 to 11 from 23 different urban schools, researchers found overall that "the greater a child's independent mobility, the more active he or she was physically."

And the thing was, even though we didn't spend that much time unfortunately in a pastoral environment, so to speak, I was always outside, walking. In gritty '70s NYC,  I barely spent anytime in the car. I was traipsing to school, walking our dog, trekking to the grocery store, museums, movie theater or to meet friends. I was constantly on the move actually, especially in summer when it was so hot in the apartments and the music from boomboxes on the streets were so loud that my mother would often walk us up and down the blocks for hours until we were too tired to stay up anymore. 

The only organizational fitness I was exposed to in the city was conveniently urban. Jumping rope, hopscotch or kickball were the norm. But I also preferred yoga. In my untraditional, experimental private elementary school called Walden, our kindergarten and first grade teachers would often have us meditate and do yoga for fitness. Sometimes, when I'd come home, I'd get into the Lotus position, explaining to my mother that I was doing "yoga for help." And though I am sure now that I had this wrong, the teacher was saying "health," not "help," I think a part of me still loves the helping, not healthful, benefits of fitness the most.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The French and Their Food

I met a tall, svelte Parisian literary agent on Friday night. She represents the books of various living French philosophers and political writers so you'd imagine we'd have talked more about Foucault than food. But the French as the cliche go, do love gastronomy so the woman and I quickly bonded over food choices that people make in America. 

Her point: Americans always ask her how she stays so slim and she points to the American diet as the reason for our collective weight gain. You see, her husband who stood just a few feet away is from the Midwest, I learned, and so she's pretty familiar with what I'm assuming is heavy on the cheese, processed breads and sausages.

But wait, isn't brie, let's say, a baguette and charcuterie pretty much the foods? Why would the sausage in Madison, WI be any different than in Nice? One reason, she theorized, was that Americans love to snack. In fact, she was once a participant in a Marie Claire article where she swapped diets with an American girl and then they weighed in. (I'm presuming this article came out around the same time French Women Don't Get Fat became a hit diet book). The result? The French literary agent gained 5 lbs. while the American girl lost 5 on a French menu. "I would hold my stomach with disgust every time my husband reminded me that I had snack AGAIN. I wasn't hungry at all."

I am not convinced this is the only reason. After all, I remember a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnick once that walked through his wife's pregnancy in Paris only because she was told to avoid lettuce -- a food American pregnant women would never find on their "avoid" list. Perhaps it is the high-fructose corn syrup in our bread starters (yes. this is true in the majority) that makes our baguettes less wholesome than theirs? And perhaps it is the quality of the livestock's diets that make our cheese and sausage that make it less filling and hormonal havoc-wreaking than the French counterpart?

Or perhaps, it's something else. After all, this literary agent kept popping out of the bar to have a cigarette. And that's one diet aid that perhaps Americans are thankfully getting out of our systems.