Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comfort Food

Launching a (successful!) business is not easy.  Now, that’s the understatement of the century.  Some days we’re flying high.  Other days…  Well, let’s just say we’re lucky to get out of our pj’s. 

McKenzie just arrived at Lisa’s house for a two-week retreat to work on upcoming projects (like a presentation at College of the Canyons and a workshop at Whole Foods Valencia) and…let’s call it company culture First order of business—a mani / pedi at Jimmy’s in Fairhaven.  Laugh all you want, but when you have newly-painted fingers and toes, the world looks a little brighter.

Especially when fall has dawned in the Pacific Northwest.  The days are getting shorter, the skies grayer, and the rains have begun.  Next business meeting takes place in California.

So last night, after a blustery walk along the bay, we decided to cook up a little comfort food—a Middle Eastern spread of falafel with homemade pita and Israeli salad with a variety of spreads and toppings.

It was good.  So good, we purposefully ignored our hunger cues and stuffed our bellies with crispy-herby falafel all dressed-up with hummus, chatzilim (an eggplant spread), zhug (a Yemenite spicy herb pesto), and shredded cabbage. 

The meal seemed so fittingly comfort-food-like, we thought we’d share some of the recipes with you, starting with the chatzilim, which is super-easy and can be used as an appetizer dip with bread or pita or as a sandwich spread.  Here’s a picture.  And the recipe.

Chatzilim [pronounced hut-si-lim]    

1 large eggplant, split lengthwise
Extra virgin olive oil, about 4 tablespoons, divided
1 large clove garlic
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of ½ lemon
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the eggplant on all sides with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Place, cut side down, on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, or until the eggplant is very soft and the sides collapse. 

While the eggplant is roasting, make the garlic paste.  Place the garlic clove on your cutting board and put the salt on top.  Using the side of your chef’s knife, smash the garlic clove and salt together, continuously dragging the side of your knife across the garlic and salt until it becomes a smooth paste.

When the eggplant is done, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.  When cool, scoop the flesh out into a medium-sized bowl.  It should be very, very soft and sort-of runny.  Whisk together with a fork until it looks smooth. 

To the eggplant, add the garlic paste, lemon zest and juice and black pepper.  Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Taste, and adjust seasonings to your palate.  Put in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

That’s it. 

This is the basic recipe for chatzilim, but we often get creative with it, adding herbs or chili peppers or roasted tomatoes.  Sometimes, we gently poach the garlic in the olive oil, instead of smashing it to a paste with the salt.  Depends on our mood.

Our social calendar is booked-solid for the next two weeks, including pizza-and-games (Risk? Twister?) tonight with friends.  We’ll keep sharing stories and recipes with you. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spago Beverly Hills – A Decadent Ending

On the last day of our road trip, we said good-bye to San Luis Obispo and hello Los Angeles.  Before we left SLO, we stopped for brunch at Honeymoon Café, a casual beach spot recognizable by the huge barbeque on the outdoor patio.  Seeing humanely-raised pork on the menu, Lisa went straight for the pork tacos served with black beans.  Not having had a proper breakfast all week, McKenzie chose eggs and avocado.  Sitting in a sunny spot outside, neither one of us was disappointed.

We had planned to do some wine tasting that afternoon with McKenzie’s friend, Holly, but were quickly running out of time.  Note to selves:  Next road trip, we spend a minimum of two days in each town. 

We decided to visit Holly at her home instead.  We headed south on Route 101, making a quick detour in the sleepy little town of Los Alamos to check out a pizza place we heard about, Full of Life Flatbread.   It was closed (luckily for us, since we were still full from brunch), but we added it to our wish list.   

We continued through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country toward Solvang, a quaint picturesque Danish-style village complete with a Hans Christian Andersen Museum.  We arrived at Holly’s home, a sprawling Spanish colonial-style ranch house filled with her parents’ antiques from their furniture import business.   She greeted us with a smile and hugs at the door, before leading us to the kitchen where she was just putting the finishing touches on McKenzie’s favorite dessert—carrot cake, complete with cream cheese frosting.  We took slices of the (delicious!) cake outside to sit and talk on the patio, under an arbor draped with wisteria.  Perfect serenity.                

After catching up with Holly, and still wishing for time to slow down, we continued toward L.A. where we had made plans to meet two friends for dinner.  What better place to end our exploration of the California coast than in Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant, Spago Beverly Hills

Anyone who saw the Wolfgang Puck episode from Season 7 of The Next Food Network Star, knows the chef is passionate about good food.  He coined the phrase, “Eat, Love, Live,” and was a pioneer in introducing the American palate to exotic flavors and luxurious foods.  In the ‘80’s, his smoked salmon pizza with caviar became a symbol of California cuisine (see Lisa’s scaled-down interpretation of this pizza, below). 

First of all, the restaurant feels like Beverly Hills, with impeccably dressed beautiful people sipping cocktails under twinkling lights, including a few celebrities.  It’s fun people watching.

Second of all, it’s not cheap.  But there are strategies to dining at an expensive restaurant without breaking the bank.  Go with people who like to share (this also has other benefits, as you’ll read below!) and choose mostly from the appetizer or small plate side of the menu. We usually find these items are more interesting anyway.  Finally, go light on the alcohol—those $14 glasses of wine add up quickly.  

Lastly, it’s totally worth it.  Spago may have opened in 1982, but it’s no antique relic still reliving the glory days.  The finely curated menu is current and the vibe swanky, albeit a bit loud.  We chose four small plates, two entrées and two desserts—with quite a few standouts.  A small plate with Adriatic figs, burrata and prosciutto and another featuring heirloom tomatoes both highlighted the beauty of simply-presented, perfect ingredients.

And the pan-roasted chicken with wild morel mushrooms won the prize for Best. Chicken. Ever.  Period.  It was crazy-good.  (Sorry, we were so excited to eat it, we didn’t take a picture.)

But here we are with our friend, Elie, very happy.

Well, there you have it – a week of our travels documented and dictated by the food along the way. Just to clarify (and in case you haven’t noticed): we love food & we love to eat.

While it may seem counterintuitive that two dietitians love food so much, we believe it makes perfect sense. You may be asking yourself, “Shouldn’t dietitians promote dieting?” Not us. Instead, we take a more realistic, achievable, and healthier approach. Eating well, feeling fabulous and looking great isn’t about what you can’t eat. It’s about what you can eat. We want you (and others) to focus on the benefits of eating healthy foods and all the wonderful things they can do for you and your body…

And now, for our Top 3 (non)Diet Tips…

#1. Listen and trust. Honor and listen to your biological hunger cues. As we mentioned before, it’s best to nourish your body every 3-5 hours. It’s also equally important to feel your fullness as you eat. After you finish a meal or snack, ask yourself, “Am I still hungry, do I feel satisfied, or am I stuffed?” These cues can tell you more than you think. Trust us.  Listen to these cues and learn from them.

#2. Share. A recent study conducted by Tufts University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed calorie counts provided on restaurant menus and websites can actually be underestimated by quite a bit. While calorie counts and nutrition information can be a helpful tool in providing a frame of reference, they are not always 100% accurate. One thing we know for sure is that portion sizes are growing – and we don’t need nutrition information to tell us that. As a general rule when eating out, share your meal with a friend or take home half your meal for leftovers. It’s all about moderation.

#3. Be real. According to a 2010 article from the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, consuming artificial sweeteners may actually be counterproductive in regards to weight loss. The study suggests eating artificial sweeteners further fuels food seeking behavior. Why? Because the brain is unable to receive the message the body has been given food and we remain unsatisfied until we receive adequate nourishment. We recommend when you’re craving something sweet after your meal, allow yourself to have a small portion of the real thing. You’ll end up being more satisfied and less likely to overeat on something later.

1 prepared pizza dough
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon shallot, minced
White pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste
Dash of hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup sour cream or crème frâiche
10 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons capers, well drained
Zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spread pizza dough on pizza stone or baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and spread red onions over pizza.  Place in oven and bake 6 – 8 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, shallot, pepper, salt and hot sauce.  Let shallot mixture sit for 2 – 3 minutes, to allow the flavor of the shallot to distribute.  Stir in sour cream and dill.

Spread sour cream mixture over cooked pizza dough.  Top with smoked salmon, dill, capers and lemon zest.  Serve immediately. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

SLO Sunshine

Let’s just say, we don’t travel light.  Schlepping in and out of every hotel takes some time—suitcases, shoe bags, magazines, computers, cases of water and kombucha, the aforementioned snack bag…. We would have made bad pioneers.  By the end of one night in the hotel, makeup and lotions and flat irons fill the bathroom counter and clothes are strewn from one end of the room to the other.  Especially when we’re getting ready for our first photo shoot for our website.

On our first morning in San Luis Obispo (SLO, to those in the know), after trying on every dress we had packed (and a few borrowed from McKenzie’s friend, Devon) we settled on our wardrobe changes and headed to breakfast at Sally Loo’s, the home of McKenzie’s favorite Acai Wonder Bowl.  Sally Loo’s is a SLO institution and a favorite study lounge for Cal Poly students, who dig into the Goober—a Belgium waffle covered in gooey peanut butter and bananas—to get through an afternoon energy slump.

Well nourished, we drove to Avila Valley Barn, the perfect setting for two Registered Dietitians who love to eat real food—beautiful in-season nectarines paired with artisan jams, fresh-baked pies and delicious homemade ice cream, all in a beautiful setting.  Nice.  We met Lara, McKenzie’s friend and owner of Sealed With a Kiss Events, who immediately put us at ease and had us laughing as we donned aprons, peered over top of cookbooks and licked ice cream cones.

From Avila Valley Barn, we drove to Avila Beach for a picnic.  After a quick wardrobe change, we set up a picnic in the sand with a fruit and cheese plate featuring Cowgirl Creamery cheese from Point Reyes, California.  After snapping a few photos, we decided to play in the surf for a few minutes.  We looked back at the beach to see our picnic blanket engulfed in seagulls.  Seriously?!  We were only gone for a minute. Running to the scene, we saw the cheese plate licked clean (or pecked clean, more like it)—not a speck of cheese or slice of bread to be found. 

Hoping the seagulls choked on the cheese, we packed up and headed to the next spot—Happy Hour at The Cliffs It was supposed to be our last photo shoot location, but was really just a good excuse to have a glass of wine and enjoy the sunset.  And goof off just a bit. 

Tired and giddy from the day, we effusively thanked Lara for traipsing all over San Luis Obispo to get shots for our website, and making it great fun in the process.  We headed back to the hotel to slip into comfy jeans and tee’s before going back into town and collapsing into chairs at Big Sky Cafe, a restaurant devoted to supporting local organic farmers.  And do they ever!  The portions are huge—definitely go with an appetite and plan to split entrees.  The New Mexican Pozole was richly flavored, spicy and thick with hominy, and the roasted eggplant lasagna delicious and satisfying.

Happy and feeling like two accomplished entrepreneurs on our way to success, we crawled into bed to get a good night’s sleep before hitting the road again tomorrow.  Destination:  Beverly Hills.  It’s a good life.

And Now…A Note on Keeping Hydrated

When you love the sun as much as we do, you can anticipate having long walks in the sunshine, spending full days on a sunny beach, and enjoying a glass of wine on an outdoor patio (see reference to the beach and The Cliffs, above). While you’ll be fulfilling your daily requirements for vitamin D, you may also be forgetting to replenish another key component for a healthy body – water.

We know, we know. It looks kind of boring and it tastes kind of boring, but please don’t underestimate the power of water. From a biological standpoint (we are science nerds, after all), water is important because it supports cell function, lubricates the joints in your body and prevents friction, maintains electrolyte balances, excretes bodily wastes, AND delivers essential nutrients within the body. Whew, GO WATER!

Unfortunately, the body’s thirst mechanism is not always the most reliable. Most often, by the time the brain signals, “I’m thirsty!” you may already be slightly dehydrated. While many high performance athletes require a beverage containing carbohydrates and sodium to enhance athletic endurance and optimize fluid retention, most people can just stick with good ol’ H20. It’s cheap. It’s refreshing. And it satisfies your body’s needs.

To avoid dehydration, try our Five (pre)Thirst Quenching Strategies to help you meet your water needs:

#1. Invest in a water bottle you really like – it will be worth it, we promise. Carry it around with you throughout the day so it’s easy and convenient to take small sips. No need to guzzle an entire bottle at one time!

#2. Try adding fresh slices of oranges, lemons, limes or cucumbers to your water. Not only does it look pretty, having that additional flavor makes drinking your water way more fun.

#3. For something different—and fancy!  Pour a glass of sparkling water and combine it with a splash of real fruit juice (orange, cranberry and pomegranate are our favorites).

#4. If you need a water break (pun intended!), try brewing your own iced tea. If you really want to be impressive, freeze lemonade in your ice-cube trays and add a few cubes to your glass. When they melt, rather than diluting the tea, they’ll enhance the flavor and provide a touch of satisfying sweetness.

#5. Eat your fruits & veggies. You don’t necessarily have to drink all of your fluid needs. Foods you eat contribute to total water consumption too. Some foods, however – such as fruits and veggies – have a higher water content than most foods so it’s a good idea to listen to your doctor and mom, and eat them - as if you need another excuse.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Highway 1 and the Snack Bag

We woke up in Carmel to a heavy gray blanket of mist hanging over the shore, reminding us both of the gothic romance novels from childhood. Not to be deterred, we donned our ubiquitous yoga pants and runners (that’s Canadian for tennies) and trotted over to a local coffee shop we had spied the night before. After ordering our morning Americanos (with steamed soy milk for McKenzie and a little half & half for Lisa, in case you’re wondering…), we headed to the beach. We quickly shed our shoes and socks and walked barefoot in the wet sand, reveling in the quiet serenity of the early morning.

Planning to have breakfast before hitting the road, we struck out three times in a row.  Each of the restaurants in town specializing in local, sustainable foods stopped serving breakfast at 11:00.  We were still coveting the gorgeous skillet of eggs and veggies we spied at La Bicyclette before settling on breakfast from the snack bag—dried fruit, nuts and a nectarine—to tide us over until lunch.

Back on the road, we once again headed south on Route 1, planning to wind our way through Big Sur country before landing in San Luis Obispo.  The fog soon cleared to uncover breathtaking views of rugged coastline under clear blue skies.  The road, carved high into the cliffs, gave unobstructed views of the waves crashing onto the rocks and beach below.  Why don’t we live on the Central Coast again?

We stopped at Ventana Inn and Spa, just to check out the grounds and see the view.  We would have liked to stay awhile.  Like, forever.


Just in time for lunch we arrived in Big Sur and the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant We were a little disappointed they didn’t serve their renown pizza for lunch (a good excuse to return for dinner!), but we quickly settled on the runner-up—open-faced caprese sandwiches with heirloom tomatoes on homemade bread, and beautiful and simply dressed greens.  After ordering from the counter, we carried our lunch to the rough-hewn picnic tables on the outdoor patio.  The sun beat so hot we could hardly hold our silverware, but we managed to eat every bite.  Delicious.  We bought two scones to replenish the snack bag (one’s that rivaled our favorite Mount Bakery marionberry scones!) and kept driving.

Before arriving in San Luis Obispo, we made a brief stop at the beach in San Simeon to see (and laugh at!) the elephant seals Their bodies are so huge and heavy they can only catapult themselves a few feet before collapsing in exhaustion, their blubber waving down their bodies.  They wait a few moments and then try again.  It’s very amusing.

We’d been on the road for about six hours by the time we got to SLO, as the locals call San Luis Obispo.  This is McKenzie’s old stomping grounds, as she got her degree in Nutrition from Cal Poly We first hit one of her favorite spots, the downtown farmer’s market, where you can buy five avocados for $1 (or something ridiculous like that)!  Next, we stopped in at Natural Café, where McKenzie used to be a manager, so she could run back to the kitchen and hug the cooks.

Our last stop of the night was the international-themed restaurant Novo to meet McKenzie’s friends Devon and Branden for dinner.  The outdoor creek-side patio twinkled with white lights, the perfect setting for a glass of wine and an evening with good friends.  Great day.  Next—day two in SLO and our NourishRDs photo shoot!          

And Now…More About the Snack Bag

It’s on an ongoing inside joke between the two of us that we never leave home without our Mixed Bag Designs snack bag. And our snack bag isn’t just any ol’ snack bag—it’s a suitcase. A normal snack bag could be the size of a lunch tote, but ours looks more like this Perhaps our snack bag is so big because we constantly accumulate leftovers, or perhaps it’s because we’re firm believers in the benefits of nourishing our bodies throughout the day.

Our clients, friends, and families often tell us they go all day without eating, allow themselves to get over-hungry and then tend to eat their day’s worth of food (or more) at night. Sound familiar? While studies show that eating food at night doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain, it is still important to eat throughout the day. Eating regularly helps keep your metabolism going at a happy, speedy pace and keeps you focused and energetic from dawn till dusk.
When it comes to snacking, we have a few strategies guaranteed to help you feel your best all day long:

#1. Think of your snacks as mini meals. Snacking doesn’t necessarily involve opening a bag of potato chips or a eating a chocolate bar. Think of snacking as a good opportunity to sneak in more nutrients. Take advantage of your snacking time!

#2. Follow our simple equation:

Fiber + Protein and/or Healthy Fat = Satisfying & Nourishing Snack

A.    Good sources of fiber include fresh or dried fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains including whole grain crackers, granola or granola bars, whole wheat bread, pita, or tortillas.
B.      Good sources of protein include nuts & nut butters, beans, cheese, lean meats, eggs, or yogurt.
C.     Good sources of healthy fat are nuts & nut butters, avocados, olive or canola oil, and flax seeds.

Try these fiber and protein combos (made into fun equations) for satisfying & nourishing snacking:

A. plain Greek yogurt (stir in some vanilla for added flavor) + scoop of berries + sprinkle of granola
B. 2 tbsp hummus + veggies (carrots or celery sticks, sliced bell pepper, cherry tomatoes…)
C. 1 small banana + 1-2 tbsp nut butter (almond and hazelnut butter are our favorites!)
D. 2 tbsp dried fruit (please try dried cherries – they are so delicious) + 2 tbsp nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, peanuts…)
E.  1 medium apple + slice of cheddar cheese
F.  1 whole wheat pita + avocado mashed with Greek yogurt
G. 1 slice whole wheat bread + dipped in 1-2 tbsp olive oil & balsamic vinegar
H. sliced tomatoes + 1 -2oz sliced mozzarella cheese (topped with fresh basil & a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic for added flavor)

#3. Listen to your body for hunger cues. Are you reaching into the snack bag because you’re really hungry or because you’re sad, bored, frustrated, etc?  If you’re unsure, wait 20 minutes. After the time has passed and you still feel like you need a snack, chances are you’re really hungry.

#4. Enjoy and savor your snack. If you focus on the moment, you’ll be more likely to make healthier choices, more satisfied after you finish eating, and less likely to reach for something when you’re not really hungry.

#5. Nourish your body every 3 -5 hours. If you aren’t used to eating very much throughout the day, this may seem like a lot, but soon you’ll learn to appreciate snacks as much as we do! They will help keep your mind sharp, your body energized, and help prevent you from over-eating at meal times.