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Discovering Traditional South African Dishes

15 Dec

I love to travel. My “bucket list” has all the places/cities/countries I want to see before I kick it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to check off much from our hit list this year, so when I was invited to attend “Celebrate the Distinctive Flavors of South Africa” at DeGustibus Cooking School I couldn’t be more excited for a taste of escape. If you’re like me, and are more familiar with South African wines than with the food, this event hosted by South Africa Tourism promised an opportunity to experience both!

DeGustibus is impressive. Photos plaster one wall with every influential chef you can imagine. I got goosebumps surrounded by all that greatness. Founded by Arlene Felman Sailhac, I feel a special connection to DeGustibus since her husband Alain, is Dean at my alma mater, French Culinary Institute. The only downside to this cooking school? Location, location, location. If you can get over it’s unfortunate location at Macy’s in Herald Square, it’s worth checking out a class or demo.

Chef Wamu prepared three traditional South African dishes. He’s cute as a button; a young, charming chef, who shared stories of growing up in Johannesburg.

Chef Wamu

I’ve been mostly vegetarian this year but tasted each dish for the experience. And am so glad I did!

We started with this delicious Chicken Bunny Stew, very similar to a thick chicken curry. A tasting portion was served over a chewy piece of bread. Wine Pairing: Raats Chenin Blanc 2009

Chef Wamu's Chicken Bunny Stew

Next came the Beef Bobotie… a layered shepherd pie style parfait, creamy and curried with a carmelized creme brulee-like surface with ground beef. Wine Pairing: Rudi Schultz Syrah 2007

Chef Wamu's Beef Bobotie at Macy's Degustibus Cooking School Event for South Africa Tourism

And my favorite, the Cinnamon Koeksister in Citrus Syrup with Coconut Shavings, Candied Seasonal Fruit and Creme Anglaise. A donut meets turkish dessert, it’s gooey, chewy and sweet but balanced with the vanilla creme anglaise. Wine Pairing: Amarula Cream Liqueur

Chef Wamu's Cinnamon Koeksisters with Creme Anglaise

What a fun, informative way to learn about South African culture and cuisine! Plus, it got me jazzed to visit some day. South Africa Tourism has tons of resources if you are looking to plan a trip. But until then, here are some South African restaurants in NYC that are worth trying.

Braai

Tolani

Madiba (Brooklyn) –

Xai Xai Wine Bar

Bunny Chow

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How to Feel Your Best When Traveling

23 Jul

I love traveling. It’s one of my favorite things to do next to cooking. This summer, I’m doing a ton of it, and it can take its toll if I don’t take good care of myself. Flying can be brutal. Seats are tight, waits are infinite, and unpredictable. With nothing but peanuts and pretzels, it’s no surprise we end up feeling disgusting. We’re bloated, tired, dehydrated, hungry, and just plain CRANKY! This is why whenever I travel, I try to be kind to myself so I don’t end up feeling like a wreck.

Here are some guidelines on “How to Feel Your Best When Traveling” with a before, during, and after plan.

Got a travel routine you want to share? Let’s hear it! Perhaps you’ve got an upcoming trip or vacation that you’re not sure how to prepare for? Just ask!!

BEFORE YOU LEAVE

  • Fill-up on a nutritious, satisfying meal at home. Try hearty foods like whole grain oatmeal (not instant) with fresh fruit, multi-grain sandwich with veggies and lean protein.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – Drink tons of water (and coconut water).
  • Pack snacks and meals for the journey. Make your own trail mix with nuts and dried fruit, pack an orange (they’re durable, can go through security), sandwich wraps travel well, or healthy snacks
  • Make time to exercise before you leave. Get your blood flowing and lift your spirits before you embark on your trip.
  • Research and plan out exercise & meals in advance – Find out if there’s a hotel gym or  See if there are studios in the area you may want to try. Maybe this is an opportunity to try something new! Make dinner reservations in advance so you know you’ll have options and won’t have to rely on the hotel.

DURING YOUR JOURNEY

  • Stick to the plan! Stay away from anything processed. Don’t get distracted by the airport newsstands and fast food stations. Many airports now have healthier options. Sweets, chips, and sodas are going to throw your blood sugar levels off, and add to the dehydration you’re already going to experience.
  • If you can, try not to sit too much in the airport. You’re going to be sitting for hours so try to move around and keep the circulation going in your legs.
  • Skip that in-flight coffee and soda. Stick to water and lots of it. Coffee and soda will just add to your dehydration. I even politely decline the free handouts on the flight so I’m not tempted.
  • Snooze on the flight. Pack an eye mask and ear plugs (or noise canceling headphones) so you can rest without disruption. Being overtired often makes me susceptible to poor food choices later.
  • And if you can’t snooze…Keep your mind occupied with books, magazines or movies

ONCE YOU ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION

  • Get Creative. Ask the hotel for a second mini refrigerator so you can stock up on water and healthy eats. (This can also prevent that mini-bar raid and save some money!)
  • Hit the local grocery store. Pick up some fresh fruit, green avocado, hummus, coconut water, small bag of veggies or baby carrots.
  • Be active. Try walking as much as you can throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to lunch or dinner. Explore your new area! Maybe hit a museum or go to a local park if you have time. Try stretching in your room or sign up for a yoga, spin or Pilates class. Many studios even offer a free first class!

Back in LA: Recharging after a long flight

10 Jul

I made it to LA! Ugh, finally. What a flight. Flying is just a miserable experience anymore. Husband and I have been loyal Delta flyers for years, but the lack of benefits lately are making me consider committing airline adultery.

Here was the level of comfort achieved on our flight out. I’m 5’6″, people. My knees shouldn’t be jammed against the seat in front of me.

Cramped Delta Airlines Seats

With these conditions, and nothing but peanuts and pretzels, it’s no surprise many of us end up feeling disgusting when we travel. We’re bloated, tired, dehydrated and hungry. This is why whenever I travel, I make a point to eat well to ensure I don’t end up feeling like a wreck.

I stocked up on food at Balducci’s in JFK. Although they’re expensive, they always have vegan/vegetarian healthful options. The mediterranean wrap was tasty, but packed with onions so beware. My breath could have choked a horse.

Crudite and Hummus snack. Mediterranean Veggie Wrap.

I brought a pack of Peeled pine-4-pineapple snacks from home. They’re such a convenient treat to stash in the carry-on. The packaging is flat so doesn’t take up much space in the “seat-pocket in front of me”.

I spent my first day in LA treating my body to healthy food and rejuvenating fitness to offset the damage. I took Simon for a long walk and stopped at Earthbar at Equinox Westwood for a veggie juice.

Total Greens Juice at Equinox Earthbar, Westwood. Parsley, Celery, Spinach, Kale, Cucumber. I added Lemon and Ginger for extra $0.50.

Then ended the day with a decompressing, stretching, YW Flow 2 class at YogaWorks. I needed something to help stretch me out after that brutal plane ride. And honestly, nothing could have worked better.

Oh, and of course, I was already plotting out dinner before I went to yoga, so I ordered online from Native Foods, and scheduled it for a 6pm pickup. Sure enough, I walked over after class and my Scorpion Burger was there waiting for me. Skipped the line and was in and out of there in less than five minutes. Brilliant!

Stay tuned for more LA adventures!

New Product Watch: Mini LARABAR Variety 12-Pack

24 May

I’ve mentioned LARABARs before, but had to share my latest find… MINI LARABARs! I found them on Soap.com when I was shopping for cleaning products. I haven’t seen them in NYC yet, but I’m sure they’re on their way if not already cropping up.

Each box has four Cherry Pie, four Apple Pie, and four Cashew Cookie bars. Cashew Cookie is 100 calories, the other two are only 90, making it a healthy, portion controlled snack. They’re gluten-free, and have zero fake additives like bars often do. They’re made simply from dried fruit and nuts, and only the natural sugars from the fruit. And boy are they tasty!!

Ask anyone who has traveled with me, I’m always concerned about not having something to eat. Particularly when I’m on the go, or traveling long distances, I hate not knowing whether I’ll have a healthy and tasty food option. Although fresh fruit is my preference, sometimes it’s not available, or difficult to stuff into a bag without getting mutilated. So I always have a few LARABARs stashed in my purse. The Minis are so convenient because they don’t take up much room. I was happy to have a few in my purse when I was in Maine last week and needed a quick munch on the plane.

Check ’em out at LARABAR.COM!

Mini LARABAR Variety 12-Pack

P.S. They’ve also come out with a new bar flavor, Blueberry Muffin which if you close your eyes, does resemble its’ name. Ingredients: Dates, Cashews, Blueberries, Blueberry Juice Concentrate, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Vanilla Extract.

Blueberry Muffin LARABAR

Vegan in Vacationland

18 May

Greetings from Vacationland!

I’m in Maine visiting my parents for a couple days. I don’t make the trip often, so when I do, we usually cook at home, or dine at one of the coastal towns with more food options. In the summer, the tourist towns are the go-to destinations for fresh “lobsta”, clams, and homemade ice cream. Unfortunately, it’s a little early in the season for that and it has been raining nonstop here.

I researched local vegetarian/vegan spots to check out in Portland. Green Elephant, a vegetarian/vegan friendly restaurant I’d found on HappyCow looked promising. As we pulled up on Sunday, they were closed. Slight oversight. Damn you Blue Laws. P.S. Maine was the last New England state to discontinue the law that prevented department stores from opening on Sundays.

With the help of VegOut, a vegetarian restaurant iPhone app I downloaded a few months ago, I found Pom’s Thai Taste which conveniently was next door. I was skeptical of the neon signage (usually a reliable indicator of bad eats), but I was pleasantly surprised. (Perhaps it’s not so reliable after all. Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas has a neon sign and that place ROCKS). The restaurant was casual and quiet, with a handful of other diners. We had a very sweet young server who was attentive and waited patiently as my parents ordered. Aside: My parents are great at a lot of things. Ordering at restaurants isn’t one of them. They appear to be memorizing the menu, as the server hovers waiting to take their order. It doesn’t matter how long they review the menu in advance, it’s always the same. I try to act like it’s not happening right next to me. Gotta love ’em. 

Anywho…The vegetarian gyoza was my favorite. The tofu filling was heartier than the typical all veggie and the exterior was nicely seared without any greasy residue. My dad enjoyed the teriyaki chicken which had two large, but thinly pounded breasts. Somehow I managed to take photos of everything except that dish. Although my Spicy Bamboo and my mom’s Tofu Noodle were too heavily sauced, overall, the food was tasty and worth trying if you’re in the area.

It was refreshing to see some color emerging in Maine’s food world. Growing up, whenever we went out to eat, we were limited to pizza, hamburgers, sandwiches, and Americanized Chinese food. Basically, crap, crap, or a side of crap. Although quality Japanese/Sushi restaurants are still scarce, Thai is more prominent, almost like the new Chinese food. Even Pom’s Thai has three locations. Maine is on the radar with its’ own award-winning chefs/restaurants. I had a delicious meal at fivefifty-five a while ago. Sadly, it was before the blog started, so I’ll have to go back to take pics and do a full report.

I give Maine props. It has managed to maintain its’ charm by staving off the mass development of chains like Starbucks and the Gap. Or maybe the chains have no desire to come to Maine. Either way, it’s nice to not see one on every corner. I think the only Starbucks I saw was at the airport? Although I miss the convenience of home, it’s good to be back, to be grounded, and to be reminded of life outside of the City.

Next time I’ll have to check out some of the award winners, and hit a few lobsta shacks on the coast.

A-yuh!

Vegetable Gyoza with Dipping Sauces

Tofu Noodle-Steamed rice noodles with assorted vegetables and fried tofu, topped with peanut sauce.

Spicy Bamboo dish - Stir-fried bamboo shoots, mushrooms, red and green peppers, onions, and basil leaves in chili-garlic sauce.

Viva Las Vegan

16 Feb

I survived Vegas, again. One week in Vegas is 10 years on the body. Between the dry air and hard water, my skin is pleather, hair is hay, and my liver is shot. I’m pretty sure I’m 10 lbs heavier, and I’ve managed to break out like an angst ridden teen. And to top it off, I got incredibly sick the day after I got home. I think my body went into shock and rebelled against the week of abuse.

I was in Vegas with pal Blake Brody who was exhibiting her fall 2011 collection of in-studio footwear at the World Shoe and Accessories Show. She has the most amazing footwear designed specifically to be worn during any in-studio workout like yoga, Pilates, barre class, etc. I wear them religiously during The Bar Method and Power Pilates. Some of the collection have bows, and even Swarovski crystals, but these girls aren’t just a pretty face, they’re smart too! They are cleverly designed to maintain key functionalities like being able to point and flex, provide arch support, and have grip pads on the bottom to prevent slippage. And, being the germaphobe that I am, wearing them means I don’t have to walk barefoot in the studio [gross]. But the kicker is… they’re completely vegan!!! YAY! Check out her site.

How cute is her booth? That’s not Blake though, that’s her cute sis. 🙂

Blake Brody in-studio footwear exhibitor booth

We worked hard by day, and played hard by night. I’m pleased to report there’s no shortage of vegan eats in Vegas. Well, there might be after the damage I did. Take it from this Las Vegan, anyone who says you can’t be vegan in Vegas isn’t really trying. Here are a few highlights from our eating extravaganza.

The Sands Expo Convention Center where the WSA show was held, had limited eats unless you wanted a donut, ham, egg salad or turkey sandwich so I trekked to The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian every day to get a decent vegan friendly lunch and snack. It literally takes about 20-30 minutes to walk there, order, and walk back, but it’s worth it.

Our daily lunch was the Grilled Vegetable Wrap at Bella Panini in The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. I requested it without pesto, without cheese, and added avocado and it was delish! And I snagged packets of hot sauce from the Mexican restaurant across the way.

Grilled vegetable wrap with no cheese or pesto, added avocado

Daily snack was hummus and pita from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian

Hummus from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

This place exceeded all my expectations. IMO, it’s the most beautiful property there. I didn’t see the rooms, but I expect they’re just as fabulous as the rest of the hotel. The lobby is incredibly dramatic with impressive digital art on all the walls and columns of the entryway.

Cosmopolitan lobby area

When we were there, the digital artwork featured a rabbit in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Can you see the bunny?

And the bars are so chic!

Vesper bar

Fresh herbs for cocktails at Vesper bar. Love that!

Drinks at Vesper bar

We fell in love with the Rose Gimlet at The Chandelier lounge at the Cosmo. Here’s the one we ordered on our first day. Nice pour, right?

1st Rose Gimlet

We went back a couple days later. And here’s the 2nd Rose Gimlet. Uh…. Excuse me? What’s wrong with this picture? Where’s the rest of it? It’s like a 1/4 pour. Boooo. And yes, I’m the loser who showed the bartender the picture of the first drink and how robust it was in comparison to the second. He poured us a new drink. 🙂

2nd Rose Gimlet

China Poblano, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Nice, but Naughty - sautéed lotus root/ fresh pea shoots/sesame

Palmitos - hearts of palm/ citrus/tamarind dressing

The Unruly Monk - hand-cut noodles/ bok choy/wild wood ear mushrooms/ (no poached egg)/spicy sauce

Spicy sauce accompaniment to The Unruly Monk

Open kitchen making fresh tortillas

Jaleo, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

I’ll preface by saying I forgot one major picture (shocker) of the Pan con Tomate (toasted slices of rustic bread brushed with fresh tomato). This was a huge oversight because it’s so amazing we literally ate three orders of it. Here are the other goodies I managed to capture. The Papas Arrugas were my favorite. Beware, it’s salty.

Papas Arrugas - Canary Island-style wrinkled baby potatoes served with mojo verde and mojo rojo

Ensalada de Coles de Bruselas con Albaricoques, Manzanas y Jamón - Warm brussels sprouts salad with apricots, apple (without Serrano ham)

Espinacas a la catalana Sautéed spinach, pine nuts, raisins and apples

Espárragos Blancos con Limón y Tomillo - White asparagus with lemon, thyme (no cheese)

Setas al Ajillo con La Serena- Sautéed wild mushrooms with La Serena potato purée

The Sangria was WAY too sweet. Of course, that didn’t prevent us from finishing it, but not a repeat order.

Sangría de Vino Tinto

Lotus of Siam, off the Strip

Lotus of Siam entrance. Looks shady, but don't judge. The food and service was fantastic.

Spring Rolls (in rice paper)

Kana Moo Krob - Stir-fried Chinese broccoli (no crispy side pork slice) substituted with garlic sauce instead of oyster.

Green Curry- with coconut cream, bamboo shoot, Thai basil, fresh chili and tofu

The server asked us how hot we wanted the Green Curry on a scale from 1-10. We both like spicy food so we agreed to “6”. It came out closer to 25.

Baby Corn- sautéed with straw mushrooms, carrot, onion, broccoli

SageAria Resort & Casino

The chef at Sage offered to create a special two-course vegan menu for me. Both courses were delicious and I was so excited to have such a warm reception for once. The Desert Shrub cocktail with Seite Leguas Tequila Reposado, prosecco, pink grapefruit and purple sage is TO DIE FOR.

Beet Salad

Roasted Vegetables - cauliflower, artichokes, salsify and much more

Brunch at Society Cafe, Encore

Shout out to Steve Wynn for going vegan last year and adding alternative vegan menus at his Wynn and Encore restaurants. Wish more places would do that!

Society Cafe vegan menu

Grapefruit Mimosa

Grilled Vegetable Flatbread with Vegan Cheese

Overall, we had a blast! I love Vegas but it’s good to be back home where I can eat well and workout regularly. Got any favorite Vegas hotspots? Any great vegan-friendly places or not-to-miss dishes? Let’s hear ’em!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering if I left up or down. I think I broke even at craps. I won $200, but I’m pretty sure I lost about the same. I found these little reminders in my purse when I got home. Viva Las Vegan!!

chips from the Cosmopolitan

Traveling Vegan

15 Jan

Day 13  –  P&P in LA

Traveling is stressful no matter what the circumstances. Packing, traffic, topped off with too close for comfort pat downs, just makes flying a PITA. Add new dietary restrictions and an 8lb yorkie, and it’s a whole new ballgame. I’m off to LA for a week and although I know the west coast is the motherland for vegetarians/vegans, it’s still nerve-wracking being out of my element. That said, the trip is off to a good start.

Gate 22 on Delta at JFK had a new “lounge” equipped with iPads at each section. Well, it was new to me anyway. Ironically, it’s called Croque Madame (ham and cheese sandwich with fried egg). It’s a cross between a diner and a futuristic library. The lights remind me of a college library, or perhaps it was the girl sitting behind me (the one with the sweatshirt) who was a dead ringer for a college student, fully equipped with an enormous teddy bear in her duffel bag. Damn. I wish I took a photo.

The cool part is you can order drinks and food on the iPads at each station. I ordered a champagne, the hubbie got the standard Jack and Coke.   After placing our order, a message indicates our drinks will come in about 10 minutes, then we get a “thank you for your order!” message.

I tried the Epicurious app while I waited for my drink, but it didn’t work. Fabulous. There goes that entertainment.

There was really nothing on the food menu that I could (or wanted to) eat so I headed over to Balducci’s. I was impressed to find the vegan dumplings that I’ve purchased at Whole Foods before. How convenient!!! If you ever eat these in public, beware. They are delicious, but they STINK. I brought them on the plane and quickly realized I was THAT person so I scarfed a couple in. I barely opened the container, negotiating them out on an angle to help save my fellow travelers from the stench. It’s really the garlic and scallions that do it but if you can deal, they’re tasty little morsels. Consider yourself warned.

When I got back to our library cube, I was informed they were out of champagne (big frowny face). Instead I got a Sauvignon Blanc which was totally fine. This was the guy who brought it to me. I like him.

With a glasss of wine in me, I could deal with the completely booked flight. It reminds me why traveling on long weekends isn’t ideal. Sadly, no upgrade for us. I think it’s because Leighton Meester took my seat in 1st.

That’s all for now, stay tuned for my vegan adventures in LA. Bring on the sunshine!

 

 

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