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Signs of the Times, Food Labels to Know

Unknown-1I know it has been a while since I have last posted, but I’ve got a good excuse. I’ve been in school. I have been in a year-long certificate course from the University of Washington in Food, Health and Wellness. I started last fall, taking Nutrition. I just finished Molecular Gastronomy and I am about to start Sports Nutrition, which will finish in June.

The inspiration for this post has come from my local super market. Formerly Top Foods, now known as Haggen, the Olympia store has been making some changes I have noticed and certainly appreciate. For one, the organic fruit and vegetable section has grown considerably in the last year. Organics now take up almost 50% of the produce section.  I also value their country of origin signs, sometimes specifically noting city and farm origin. This store has an impressive selection of fresh produce.  I often see new and exotic items, not often found in Safeway or other grocers. Bright and colorful displays are always being manned, stocked and freshened up by the produce team. The department is always clean and fresh looking, with the seasonal items being highlighted in big displays.

IMG_1967An additional change I have noticed lately is the visibility of the Non-GMO Project Verified label on the shelf price tags.  This tag tells customers that specific items are a non-GMO product, IE: they do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). There is much controversy around GMO’s, here are a few facts that have been scientifically proven by organizations other than Monsanto.

GMO’s can be toxic, allergenic and less nutritious.  They are not adequately regulated to ensure safety, nor do they increase crop yield potential.  They don’t reduce pesticide use but actually increase it.  And GMO’s cannot solve the problem of world hunger and may actually distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.


With more and more findings everyday that prove GMO’s are not only everywhere in our food, but bad for us and the world, I have chosen to purchase organic and Non-GMO products.  But how do I know if the products I choose are safe, you ask?  Start by educating yourself, be curious, and ask questions. Know what brands are “in bed” with Monsanto and therefore contain GMO’s.  Unfortunately, the FDA ultimately approved the use of GMO’s, and most major food companies elected put GMO’s into their products. This includes nearly all companies associated with the Grocers Manufactures Association, such as Betty Crocker, Nabisco, Coca Cola, Duncan Hines, Pepsi, General Mills, Hunts, Stoffers, and Kellogs just to name a few.

IMG_1969The Non-GMO Project label is becoming a recognizable sign of products you can trust.  But who are they? (Taken from their web site.) The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization committed to preserving and building the non-GMO food supply, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. We believe that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified organisms.


Unknown-2Two labels that are making safe food choices more identifiable are: the USDA Organic label and the Non-GMO Project label.  The USDA Organic symbol guarantees that the product is AT LEAST 95% organic.  Unless the product has this symbol, it’s organic content is questionable.  Yes, manufactures can lie and often do.  For the low down on specific terminology, visit: http://www.organic.org/articles/showarticle/article-201

The USDA Organic image is more for packaged goods, produce advertised as organic, is.  Fruits and vegetables don’t need this specific label to be organic. But packaged goods do need it.

As I mentioned above, the Non-GMO Project Verified label is also a symbol to look out for.  The verification seal indicates that the product bearing the seal has gone through a specific verification process. The verification is an assurance that a product has been produced according to consensus-based best practices for GMO avoidance, such as:

  • Ongoing testing of all at-risk ingredients—any ingredient being grown commercially in GMO form must be tested prior to use in a verified product.
  • Action Threshold of 0.9%. This is in alignment with laws in the European Union, where any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled.
  • Absence of all GMOs is the target for all Non-GMO Project Standard compliant products. Continuous improvement practices toward achieving this goal must be part of the Participant’s quality management systems.

IMG_1970We have come to a time and place, where we need to research our food.  It’s not as simple or as safe as it used to be.  GMO’s are bad for you! Anyone telling you different is simply uninformed, or they are working for (and being paid by) Monsanto or a similar company.  Listen up Washington – all those ads against labeling GMO’s were paid for by Monsanto, the Grocers Manufactures Association and their food groups.  All those farmers, doctors and people were being paid to tell you GMO’s are safe.  These companies care nothing for the well-being and health of our country.  GMO’s are labeled in every other country but ours. Why is that?  The bottom line is their bank account.  This cold and hard truth often gets me rather down and I question the morals and integrity of people in general.  I sincerely don’t understand why the choice was made to put questionable things (that have not been properly tested) into our food supply.

Be that as it may, we need to accept “what is” and do the research if we don’t want crap in our food.  These two labels are a start.  They make it easier for people like you and me to identify safe food. And just keep in mind that life is about balance and choice.  When armed with the facts, we can make intelligent and informed decisions.

Bon Appétit

PS – please note, on the two raw honey product photos, both symbols are on the packaging.  The USDA Organic sign is on the front, right hand side and the Non-GMO label is on the back, right hand side!

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New York, Part 2

IMG_1473Day four of our seven-day trip in NYC, we headed to the East Village to Chef-owner David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar.  Momofuku is his group of award winning restaurants.  Those in NY are: Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, Má Pêche, Momofuku Ko, Milk Bar, and Booker & Dax.  “Momofuku” could be translated from Japanese as “lucky peach”, though Chef David Chang has written that the name is “an indirect nod” to Momofuku Ando, the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor of instant ramen.*

Arriving a tad early via the subway, my husband Michael and I roamed First Ave.  We killed time by wandering through a drug store and grabbed a tea at Starbucks.  At about ten to noon (opening time) we found that we weren’t the only ones with the brilliant idea to arrive at Noodle Bar early.  A few folks were already forming a line.  We jumped in line with them and watched more people arrive as the ten minutes passed.

Once open, we were seated at the bar, given menus and quickly served our drinks.  The restaurant was instantly full and I realized that I’m in the midst of a New York City lunch rush.  We really didn’t need much time with the menu, two orders of pork buns and two Momofuku Ramens, please!  I watched as the Asian gentleman next to me devoured small plate after small plate of pork buns, ribs and what looked like an artfully prepared salad, and then his Raman.  Our pork buns came and by the time I was done admiring my plate, Michael was done with his first bun.  I had better hop to it!  Not being keen on inhaling my food, I did the best I could to keep up.  Food is meant to be savored and enjoyed especially if you’ve traveled almost 3,000 miles to eat it!

The buns were fantastic.  Two lovely square slabs of pork belly were being embraced by a soft while pillow of sweet doughy bun.  Add shiitake for earth, hoisin for spice, scallion for light onion, and thin cucumber for crunch, and you have a perfect bite.

Next was the artistically arranged, steaming bowl of Raman.   If you like warm, cozy, soul hugging wonderfulness in a bowl, this is for you!  The broth was light and subtle in flavor with a tad of smoke.  If you are a fan of any kind of meal in a bowl, you know it’s all about the broth baby!  I didn’t notice glistening globules of fat dancing on the surface, but you could taste their understated presence of richness and depth.  When is more pork belly a bad thing?  Pork shoulder anyone?  Accompanying the pork were two paper-thin sheets of seaweed, Asian radish or daikon, and a perfectly poached egg perched atop like a jewel.  And noodles, don’t forget the noodles!  Made in house, these noodles were the ideal balance of chewy, starchy, slurp worthy masters of all that is holy in a bowl.

That evening we were one of those lucky enough to see a preview of Betrayal on Broadway, staring Daniel Craig (6th James Bond, Cowboys & Aliens), Rachel Wiesz (The Deep Blue Sea, The Constant Gardner), Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, Prometheus).  Betrayal is a play about infidelity, essentially, but with far more humor than I expected.  All three actors were superb and surprisingly enough, Craig had the smallest role of the three.  None-the-less, I was prepared with my theatre glasses or mini-binoculars that I commonly use at the ballet.  Yes folks, being the Craig fan that I am, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity (nor did my husband deny the chance to spy on Ms. Wiesz).  We did however, waltz past the throngs waiting for them at the stage door after the show.  I saw them in a remarkable performance in a professional capacity, I didn’t need to gape at them as they left the theatre and leapt into their black Range Rover to go home for the evening.

IMG_3670The following day was pretty much spent at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (cue the 30 Rock theme music).  I got us both the 30 Rock Tour and the Top of the Rock Tour.  I thought the 30 Rock Tour was the studio tour, but I was wrong, it was a tour of the buildings and architecture of Rockefellar Center.  Soooo after the Top of the Rock Tour, 70 stories high with out of this world views of Manhattan, we booked a studio tour.  All was not lost; we did walk down a few SNL hallways and see the stage.

We saved the big guns for the end of our trip.  Michelin, a French company (same as the tires) produces Europe’s oldest and best-known restaurant and hotel reference guide, usually referred to as the Red Guide.  The restaurants are rated on a star system:

One star: “A very good restaurant in its category”

Two stars: “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”

Three stars: “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” *

Le Bernardin is a Michelin Guide three-star, French seafood restaurant located in Midtown ManhattanEric Ripert is the head chef.   A few awards and accolades include:

Le Bernardin is one of only seven restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986.

In 2009, Le Bernardin was voted 15th best restaurant in the world in the Restaurant magazine Top 50.*

Now, with all the pomp and circumstance out of the way, can we eat?  On our final full day in NYC, and as a birthday celebration for Michael, we ate lunch at Le Bernardin.  There was some confusion over dinner reservations, but we managed to secure (extremely hard to get) reservations for lunch.  Perhaps it was the better value, a three-course, prix fixe menu for $75 pp.  Jacket required for gentlemen (even for lunch), Michael and I dressed up in our smart duds and took a taxi to our noon lunch date.

We breezed through the large glass revolving door and into the foyer.  I gave my coat to the coat check attendant and we were seated.  The staff, who were dressed all in black were incredibly professional and courteous, and many of them were French (undeniable accent).  Since I didn’t really have a feeling for what I’d like to drink, Michael ordered us both a glass of lovely white wine from France’s Loire Valley (we had visited it during our adventures in France last year).  One of the staff introduced the lunch menu to us.  One could make a choice of two courses from three categories on the prix fixe lunch menu and dessert would be on a separate menu.  The selections would come from: Almost Raw, Barely Touched or Lightly Cooked.  Michael and I both chose our first course from Almost Raw and our second course from Barely Touched.  Descriptions below.

K         TUNA

Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellow fin Tuna; Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Ultra Rare Seared Tuna; Marinated Fennel, Basil and Capers

K         BLACK BASS

Crispy Black Bass; Roasted Shishitos and Kabocha Squash “Ceviche”, Peruvian Chicha

M        CODFISH

Baked Cod; Warm Razor Clam “Salad”, Turnip and Shiitake, Spiced Tomato Nage


Caramelized Phyllo, Thyme Gelée, Salted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream


Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Candied Peanuts, Popcorn Ice Cream

IMG_1499Besides the food and the experience of dining at Le Bernardin, which were sublime, I have a confession.  I have a small chef crush on Eric Ripert (come on, he’s French!).  During our lunch I happened to look up and see someone in a white chefs jacket walk past us.  I thought it was odd to see someone from the kitchen in the dining room simply because all of the dining staff were in all black.  As my eyes traveled up, I saw Chef Ripert walking past us.  Gleefully I smacked Michael on the arm several times and said “Eric Ripert just walked by!”  As our meal continued, I began scanning the dinning room for more sightings.  I was lucky enough to spy him one more time walking past our table.  I turned my head and smiled at him, he smiled back and gave a polite nod of his head.  On our final day in NYC, while having lunch at Le Bernardin, Chef Eric Ripert smiled at me.  Ah, NOW my trip to New York is complete!

* Wikipedia

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New York, Part 1

IMG_3612For ages I have wanted to go to New York.  In my dancing years, I longed to visit The Big Apple and call myself a true artist – one who had made the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Grail of arts and culture in the United States.

In more recent years, while watching cooking and food shows featuring NYC, without fail my husband and I would look at each other and say “We’ve got to go there one of these days.”  After hearing about a trip one of our friends took to NYC, and wanting a vacation destination around my husband’s birthday in October, we finally settled on going to New York.

As one might think, the options in NYC are simply dizzying.  From hotels and restaurants to entertainment and transportation, there are options for every budget, taste and style.  Even traveling to Manhattan, you have three airports to choose from.  We took the first timer’s experience and choose to fly directly into (and out of) JFK.  Leaving the slightly closer La Guardia airport for possible future trips.

We also chose to hire a town car for the trip into Manhattan.  Honestly, the convenience paid for itself and it was only slightly more than a cab.  I had requested a town car, but our driver said he and his limo were closer to the airport, so we arrived at our hotel in a stretched limo.

I feel our hotel choice needs some explanation.  I do not support this man, nor do I watch his TV show or agree with his politics, but the Trump Hotel Central Park met my two NYC hotel criteria: great views of Central Park and a relatively affordable rate.  You really can’t get a much better location.  Located at Columbus Circle in the left hand base of Central Park on the Upper West Side, three major subway lines run just under the hotel (no you can’t hear them).  After staying there, I have to say, the Trump brand operates a great hotel.  The service was outstanding, the amenities were excellent and our room on the 16th floor had fantastic views of Central Park and the NYC skyline.

Speaking of the Trump brand, the name is a branding machine, from the slippers, to the room stationary, bath products and even the room furniture; there was no hesitation to slap the Trump name on damn near everything.  Oddly I didn’t mind, simply because we had more free waters than we could drink, a bottle of champagne in the room upon check in, daily NY Times every morning, chocolate treats and great turn-down service every evening.  The hotel also offers an attaché service for its guests.  Before arriving they sent me an email outlining the service and inquired what additional things I’d like in the room.  They’d even stock the minibar and refrigerator with anything you’d like, but keep in mind you’re paying for it.  The (complimentary) body pillow I asked for was in our room per my request.  The only gripe I had was the bathroom was a tad small for two people.  But our room did have a European style kitchenette complete with small refrigerator, a Keurig coffee machine & coffee packets, microwave, dishwasher, two gas burners as well as cutlery, glasses and plates.  Not that we’d be using it.  Our trip was mostly about the NYC dining scene.

One of the first things we did was to venture down to our Columbus Circle subway station and purchase a seven-day subway pass.  It’s truly the best way to quickly and efficiently get around the huge island of Manhattan.  The subway also travels out to the farther burrows such as The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn.  Several weeks before our journey, I downloaded the app Embark NYC, which became invaluable when navigating the labyrinth of subway lines, directions and stops.

IMG_3416For our first full day, I reserved passes to see the 911 Memorial in lower Manhattan.  While slightly confused as to where specifically to go, funneled and ushered through security with the rest of the throngs, once there, the pools where the North and South towers once stood are powerful, yet graceful reminders of that horrific day.  As I did while visiting the beaches of Normandy, France, I chose a piece of classical music to assist in my personal meditation.  Sharing ear buds with my husband, we reflected peacefully while listening to angels sing Spem In Alium.  In some way, I felt my time there was too short, insignificant even.  The quiet and solitary visit I had hoped for was somehow not the same in the midst of hundreds of tourists.  Teenagers beside us were busy acting goofy; people were smiling and posing for photos; making it about themselves and not embracing the solemnness of the location.  It was difficult to have the moment I had envisioned and pay proper homage to all those who lost their lives.  I not only wanted to grieve for them, but I had a strong pull to relive that day.  I quickly realized my song and prayers needed to be enough, if I wanted to enjoy the rest of my first day in NYC.

That evening we had reservations at Mario Batali’s Babbo in Greenwich Village.  Being huge fans of his restaurant Otto in Las Vegas (also in NYC) we knew we couldn’t go wrong.  It was an amazing meal!

Our menu:

Starter             Grilled Octopus with Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette

Starter             Armandino’s Salumi (from Seattle) – Finocchiona and Coppa

K’s Main        Homemade Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage and Rapini

M’s Main       Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles

M’s Sweet      Polenta Budino with Vanilla Gelato

K’s Sweet       Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo

Our dinner reservations were rather early, so after Babbo we returned to the hotel, donned a change of clothes and ventured out to see Times Square.  Believe me when I say, once is enough!  It’s really nothing more than a bunch of billboards, Broadway & TV advertisements, and neon lights.  The shops are nothing remotely interesting.  And please don’t bother with the food scene!  It’s all generic crap like TGI McFunsters, Olive Garden and fast food.  You can find an excellent inexpensive NYC food experience without visiting the same chain restaurants located in most any town. The worst part of Times Square is the tourists.  Times Square seems to attract the nitwits of the world. They are slow-walking, oblivious, stopping and pointing (right in front of you no less), photo-taking, meandering ass-hats!  Wow, I’m feeling like a New Yorker already!

Day Two: Saturday.  We began our day with an adventurous stroll through Central Park.  The one thing I wanted to see in Central Park was the famed Alice in Wonderland statue.  Upon approaching the statue, I realized my desire for a kid-free photo was not going to happen.  Alice and her Wonderland mates were crawling with teens and children.  Parents snapped photos like paparazzi and families surrounded the entire circumference, and no one seemed to be in any kind of a hurry.  I considered calling out a request for ten seconds of kid-free Alice so I could get my photo, but I thought I’d be met with the stink-eye or be stoned to death.  Completely and utterly annoyed, I slunk off muttering and grumbling under my breath.

My mood quickly changed with the wonders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Endless in its collection, we decided to dedicate our time to the Director’s Highlights audio tour.  I always have better intentions with museums than what actually transpires.  I enjoy museums, provided the material is of interest to me, however I can only do about four to five hours max. per day.  Michael and I have coined a term, “museum back” – the dull ache in your lower back that increases over time without Advil, swift walking or a stiff cocktail.  The Met was amazing and I heavily regret not seeing more of it, but I feel we saw the highlights.

IMG_1445Dinner that night was at Chef David Chang’s Ma Peche (Momofuku).  We indulged in reservations for Kappo (chef’s table) which gives a limited number of people intimate bar seating facing the kitchen.  Our own team of Ma Peche professionals hosted Michael, six others and me.  The prix fixe dinner consisting of ten or so courses for $95 pp is one of the best values in the city.  The experience was out of this world.  I had the best seat in the house, right next to the kitchen.  We were encouraged to ask questions about cooking methods, ingredients, textures, temperatures, techniques, anything you could think of pertaining to the food.  The food was outstanding.  One item that happened to stand out was the (made for two) duck fat Challah bread.  You have no idea how wrong it was or just how phenomenal.  I can’t say enough about this event.  The food, the staff, the personal attention, the service, and the atmosphere – the whole package was simply stunning and I highly recommend it!

Sunday we had matinee tickets for Spiderman Turn Off The Dark.  We both enjoyed the show.  However, the technical aspects including the sets, scenery, lighting, flying and projections rather outshined the performers.  The storyline and the lack of precision from the performers led me to believe perhaps a months worth of rehearsals is in order.  Even though it has been in production for two years.  None-the-less, it was entertaining.

That evening we ventured to the Meat Packing District to eat at Iron Chef Morimoto’s Morimoto.  We chose the Omakase or chef’s choice.  I have to say, that having experienced Omakase (for the first time) at Nobu earlier this year in Hawaii, I was less impressed with Morimoto.  I’m unsure why.  I was however, vastly impressed with the Japanese toilets at Morimoto of all things.  They looked more like toilet-shaped armchairs and had a remote control as well.  The bathroom was immaculately clean, so was my stall and the porcelain king 5000.  So, I sat and was met with a rather warm seat.  Seriously, if you’ve never experienced this, it’s a rather odd sensation – a warm bum.  I looked at the remote and noticed buttons like massage, clean – not only self cleaning, but it can clean you as well, front or back.  For fear of not knowing what I was getting into, I didn’t push any of the buttons.  It was my best restroom experience in Manhattan, I think.

I shall end my first post about NY on a rather silly note (the above Japanese commode).  Stay tuned for NYC Part 2 that will include the best pork buns and Ramen I’ve ever had, as well as a birthday lunch at 3 Michelin star Le Bernardin.

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Tourism in Your Back Yard

IMG_1798I have had the great fortune and privilege of being able to travel in recent years.  My husband and I travel several times a year domestically and once every two years or so, we travel internationally.

Being a tourist, especially in a foreign country, one has a certain responsibility to be as respectful as one can of the traditions and expectations of the specific country.  US foreign policy doesn’t give us the go ahead to be obnoxious or get away with “typical” American behavior.  It is my strong opinion, that when traveling abroad, one drop all notions that US conveniences or ways of life extend globally.  You cannot always expect such things as bellmen or elevators or the restaurant staff promptly bringing the bill shortly after dessert.  Even washcloths are absent from hotel bathrooms in Europe, so if you are not a soap-in-hand kind of latherer, bring your own.

Language is also something that can be a hindrance or a fun learning tool.  If you are traveling outside the US, and the country has their own language, don’t assume everyone will speak English.  Why would you think that?  French tourists traveling here don’t expect us to respond with mais bien sûr (but of course), after they order their morning café au lait.   Nor should we have the same expectation.  Learn the basics.  Hello, Thank You, Goodbye, Bathroom, How Much, I would like, etc.  Also learn the customs, such as in Italy and France shop owners like to be greeted upon you entering their store.  Not doing so is considered rude.

Last September in France, I did my very best to speak in French.  Sometimes it was to say Je parle peu français (I speak little French) if I found myself too deep in the conversation and not understanding.  Usually I got a smile and a thorough a game of charades, communication was typically achieved.  I had a little difficulty at a restaurant in Normandy when I began in French and then had to revert to English, but still the waitress spoke to me in French, even though she spoke to the table beside us in broken English.  I did have a small victory while we were in a local farmers market in Bourges (not touristy, therefore no English).  We were given the task of getting things for our lunch for a picnic later in the day.  I managed to get my husband and I a nice slice of duck pâté, herbed olives, a baguette, some ham and two small apple tarts.  I was rather pleased with myself!

I have never really considered myself a tourist, even when traveling.  I try to blend in clothing wise, I never hold a map up and look about aimlessly, nor do I display my camera around my neck.  I am the master of the 3 sec. shot.  Provided no one is in the frame, with stealth-like precision I get my shot within 3 seconds and get out of the way.  Oblivious photo-taking tourists drive me insane.  Get your shot and get the hell out of the way, other people want the same photo you do.  I didn’t even bother with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  I’m not personally drawn to it anyway, but I did take a photo of everyone else taking photos.  The photo provides a fun memory of the experience.

Enjoying our first summer with our new condo in downtown Seattle, I now have a new understanding regarding tourists.  We live just two blocks from the famed Pike Place Market.  We’ve had a beautiful summer and the cruise ships have been in port.  I love the fresh flowers at the market and just can’t seem to remember what a madhouse it is each and every time I venture to the market to get a colorful bouquet.  I forget, I’m now living in a tourist destination.  I kind of have sympathy for the Venetians and Parisians now.


A few travel tips:

I don’t care what you wear (in Seattle).  Unlike the rule, no white tennis shoes in Paris.

Don’t stop in the middle of a crowded walkway or any walkway.  If you need to stop, step aside.

Don’t take more then 10 sec. to take a photo.

Don’t text and walk.  Look where you are going!

Don’t crowd or push your way to the front.  I have noticed this about a certain group of people.  In your country it’s fine, but don’t do it here!  It’s very rude.

Please wear deodorant!

Assume the way of life & customs of the country you are in.

Don’t assume you are in your homeland.

Learn language pleasantries of the country your are visiting.


We visit different countries and areas to experience what they have to offer.  Ultimately we spend our money to eat, shop and be entertained by a hosting city.  It is a give and take relationship on both sides.  Just because another country is different, doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong.  It’s part of traveling, you just have to go with it.  If I learned anything while traveling, it’s to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Because fighting it truly can ruin the experience.  And isn’t that what it’s all about, the experience?

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IMG_0990My husband and I have spent a great deal of time in Seattle.  This summer is proving to be quite spectacular, as there is no finer place than The Emerald City on a gorgeous warm summer day.  With the Puget Sound, Mt. Rainer, the Olympic Mountains, Pike Place Market, a ton of amazing restaurants as well as all things unique and touristy to Seattle – there is no better place.

My interest and knowledge in everything food has greatly increased with courses in Nutrition and Gastronomy, reading food related books and prepping for my certificate course at UW.  I am always eager to explore new ingredients, and venture into different shops and stores.  My husband’s niece was visiting from DC and told us over dinner of her love for Uwajimaya and of her recent visit to the landmark Asian food mecca.  I thought to myself, I can’t believe I’ve never been.  That problem was remedied within a week.

Last weekend Michael and I ventured (on foot via the Light Rail) to Seattle’s International District and down the rabbit hole into the wonderful land that is Uwajimaya.

I had no idea that this experience was going to include sensory overload.  Rather like a food lovers paradise, with rare and legendary ingredients, as well as a indoor street food court all rolled into one.  I aimlessly roamed up and down the isles and poked around each corner.  Wide-eyed and filled with wonder, I wanted to get one of everything.  I’d say I knew only about 5% of what I was looking at.  I love picking an item off the shelf with no idea what it is or how to use it and throwing it in my cart.  I especially love doing that with fruits and veggies I’ve never seen or have only heard about.  I did so with a Mexican Cactus Pear which is better known as a Prickly Pear (an affectionate nickname of mine from my husband).  I also got an Australian Horned Melon.  I was amazed to see the legendary southeast Asian stinky fruit Durian.  No, I did not get one.

They had fresh quail eggs and all sorts of sashimi grade fish including octopus, tuna, eel, and even fresh uni (sea urchin).  They had several kinds of fresh oysters and fish, some of which are swimming in tanks.  An entire isle was dedicated to noodles, instant Ramen and huge pallets of 25 pound bags of rice.  They also had a meat counter, a small plant and flower area, and a large produce section and bakery with all sorts of sweets, cakes, and pastries.

IMG_0995I can’t fully describe the experience.  For some, it wouldn’t be that different from your regular grocery outing, only with a strong Asian influence.  I, however was like a child on Christmas morning.  I could have easily spent the better part of the day there.  But as I said, we traveled via Light Rail, so even though the commute was a rather easy one, we were limited to what we could carry.  So needless to say, I didn’t get much.  But we did go back the following day, on our way back home to Olympia.  I picked up some fresh seafood for dinner that night.

I can’t believe it took me as long as it did to actually go there.  But that’s one of the nice things about exploring a new and yet familiar city.  Finding hidden gems, local haunts and hole in the wall treasures that make Seattle new time and again.

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Book Report: Eating on the Wild Side

IMG_0896On a recent road trip to Ashland, OR my husband Michael and I were having dinner with friends.  We are a healthy (mind & body) bunch of folks, so many of our conversations were about food and diet.  Our friend Kyle mentioned that he was reading a book about the nutritional content of today’s fruits and veggies, versus the fruits & veggies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  He gave two examples that really piqued my interest.  One: if you wait ten minutes after you have chopped or pressed garlic (before cooking it) its nutritional and cancer fighting properties increase.  Two: canned artichokes are one of the most nutritious things you can buy at the supermarket.

Within hours of returning home from our trip, I was on Amazon ordering the book Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  With over ten years of research and over 6,000 studies, her material for the book came direct from the original sources.  It contained some rather unsettling information that may soon be hitting the main stream.  I was shocked to learn that the nutritional and antioxidant content, as well as the cancer fighting properties of today’s fruits and veggies is far less than the content of the wild, heirloom fruits and veggies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Today’s crops and varieties have been bread and genetically altered to be everything from better looking to more resilient, including less nutritious.

Our produce has been altered with the following considerations:


Decreased bitter, earthy, acidic or any unpleasant to the masses taste

Increased sweetness (with added sugar)

Shape & size

Faster germination & growth cycle

Stronger crop yield

Texture and feel

Skins, seeds & pits

Shelf life

Resiliency to pests, weather, machine handling (and other such conditions)

In a nutshell, the native and uncultivated fruits and veggies of our forefathers were far more nutritious than our produce is for us today.  Knowingly or not, we have sacrificed nutrients, natural anti-inflammatory properties, cancer fighting agents and strong antioxidants for better looking and “better tasting” food.  Had we (the consumer) known, I’m not sure we would have chosen the larger, sweeter and ruby red apple, over a smaller, possibly more bitter and less brilliant version.  I know I wouldn’t have!  However, I don’t think anyone knew exactly what they were doing when they were cross-breeding, genetically altering, radiation blasting, herbicide and pesticide spraying, and making a plethora of other changes to fruits and vegetables.  The fact is, the studies are now in and we are finally realizing what damage we have indeed done to many positive qualities of our fruits and veggies.

IMG_0873Have you ever heard of a purple carrot?  Wild carrots came from Afghanistan and were in fact purple.  You’ll have to read the book to find out how purple carrots became orange, but the purple version is far better for you than its orange cousin.  Purple carrots are actually making a comeback and you can find them in organic rainbow bunches in farmers markets.  Also, carrots are even better for you cooked, than raw.  I know right, who knew?

I’m sure by now we all know garlic is good for us, but how good?  Well, as it turns out, very good, medicine good.  Garlic along with onions, chives, shallots, leeks and scallions are all part of the allium family.  From the beginning of time alliums have been gathered for food as well as medicine.  To name just a few, they were used to treat infected wounds, increase energy, repel scorpions, soothe bee stings, lower fevers, and treat colds and sore throats.  Onions were made into poultices during the Civil War to help treat infected wounds.  In WWII, garlic was nicknamed “Russian penicillin” due to it’s antibiotic qualities.  As it turns out, it’s not too far off.  Allicin, the active ingredient in garlic is equivalent to penicillin.  Three cloves of garlic contain the same antibacterial activity as a standard dose of penicillin.  Many alliums have remained close to their wild ancestors and have kept a great many of their “good for you” components.  When cooking with garlic, remember the rule Press then Rest (mentioned above).

A few other particularly interesting tidbits from the book:

  • Color is key (there are a few exceptions to the rule) Generally speaking the more colorful the better.  For example, anything purple is very good for you.  Purple carrots, purple cauliflower, purple potatoes, purple artichokes, and beets.  Also dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula are very good.
  • Tomatoes are actually better for you when cooked
  • When dried beans are canned, they become more nutritious
  • Eat the skins – tomatoes, potatoes
  • Use the greens – beet greens are actually better for you than the beet (but beets are good for you too)
  • Buy organic – some produce is more absorbent of herbicides and pesticides
  • Some fruits are forced ripened with chemicals after they are harvested, so choose the freshest you can

The book also explains how we cook our veggies can affect its positive qualities.  For example, boiling can decrease the nutritional value of many vegetables.  Never boil corn, asparagus, spinach or artichokes unless you plan on drinking the cooking liquid – which is where most of the nutrients end up.  Steaming is a better plan of attack, or I’m also huge fan of roasting.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book.  Especially anyone in the business of helping people become more healthful . . . or working with food!  I’m now seeking out the specific varieties mentioned in the book, not only to experience and eat purple carrots and cauliflower, but to focus my family’s diet on being as healthy as we can.  In an age of “It’s not if you get cancer, it’s when” I want to be armed with the knowledge that some choices are better for you than others.  I will, however continue to live life and enjoy my favorites such as pasta carbonara, sweets, pizza and a good mojito.  It’s all about moderation and balance.

Bon Appétit!




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Squash Blossoms

IMG_0878Zucchini flower, squash blossom, or courgette flower are the flowers of the zucchini plant.  I first had them at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas some years ago.  The second time I had them was in Rome.  The most common and favorite Italian way of preparing them is to stuff them with ricotta or mozzarella, add some light seasonings and then deep dry them to a crisp golden tasty perfection.  Their flavor is a very mild earthy floral combined with whatever they are stuffed with and a pleasingly soft, yet crunchy texture.

Several months ago, I made up my mind to get some blossoms when they were in season and try my hand at the floral treat.  Little did I know how challenging it would be.  I started by asking three different veg & fruit vendors at Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market.  I thought for sure someone would carry them.  I got three no’s.  I then called Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market and again the answer was “no”.  I looked online and found a restaurant wholesaler (oddly enough also in Seattle) that sold them, but at a very high cost for a large bulk order.  Simply seeking information about the now elusive blossom, I called the restaurant wholesaler and got the following scoop.  Sold by farmers who grow zucchini (obviously) the blossoms can only be harvested at night when the blossoms are closed.  They are also very delicate and highly perishable; only good for about 24 hours.  Lastly, most farmers don’t pick them because a picked blossom is a lost zucchini and less profitable than a less finicky squash.  I hung the phone up thinking all was lost and I’d never get to work with them.  Clearly not the end of the world, but I enjoy working with new ingredients and I was looking forward to the adventure.

Last weekend my husband and I were walking to Pike Place market on a phenomenally beautiful and very warm Seattle day to fetch some flowers as we were entertaining that evening.  As we approached, I saw some additional vendor booths set up outside the market and remarked that if I were to ever find my squash blossoms, I’d probably find them from one of those suppliers.  Within the first three stalls, I spotted them.  My eyes honed in on a cardboard box of blossoms and a sign that said one pound for $20.  Nearly jumping up and down, I gave a little shriek and smiled with extreme joy.  The saleslady immediately noticed what caused my childlike reaction.  Almost panting I exclaimed to whoever was listening, “Do you know how hard these are to find!?”  She smiled and nodded.  Without even thinking or considering just how many a pound would be, I said I’d take a pound.  I pretty much cleaned out her entire supply.  Overjoyed to have even found them, I would have easily paid more, but I happily handed her a twenty.  I skipped off as if I had just won the lottery

I carefully wrapped them in a moist paper towel, blew air into their plastic bag, tied a knot at the top and gingerly placed them in the fridge.  The clock had started ticking.  I knew I had about 24 hours to make them.

I looked up several recipes online and ended up settling on a Bon Appétit recipe for stuffed zucchini blossoms (see below).  Untying the bag containing the blossoms, I realized just how many a pound is  . . . a lot.  I got the oil on the stove prepped with a thermometer, and the ricotta, mint and lemon zest mixture in a piping bag (easier to fill the blossoms).  Filling the blossoms was a harder job than I thought, even with a piping bag.  The recipe said to remove the stamens, but in doing so, you darn near destroy the flower.  So I didn’t remove them in about half of the total prepared before I found a way to remove them that actually made filling them easier.

IMG_0882The batter was a flour and pilsner or lager style beer combination.  Once the oil was 350 degrees, I was able to put 4 blossoms at a time into my Le Creuset dutch oven for 3 minutes each batch.  It didn’t take as long as I thought it would.  I removed each blossom carefully with a large wire scoop and put them on paper towels to drain and dry.  I also added a finishing sprinkle of sea salt and they were ready to eat.

Well . .  how were they?  September of last year I wrote a blog post titled Overlooked Ingredients: Surroundings and Circumstance.  Things I make at home never taste as good (to me) when I have an extraordinary first experience with the item I have recreated.  IE: Mesa Grill and Rome are pretty hard to beat, so for me, they didn’t taste as amazing as they did the first two times I had them.  But my husband and girlfriend (who had never had them before) though they were pretty great, so I guess there’s your answer.

Bon Appétit!





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