Potatoes don’t keep you slim. I’m doomed!

Image: The Washington Post

It turns out, potatoes are bad if you want to keep a Slim Jim figure. Deep inside the busy neurons in my brain, I’ve always known—good things typically harm you in some way….like a pair of succulent Christian Louboutin: bad for feet (have you seen those heels?) and worse for your wallet—but hell, they are delicious!

Rob Stein writes in the Washington Post that a study done at Harvard followed participants in intervals of four years and observed their diet and weight change over time.

Within each period, the subjects gained an average of 3.35 pounds. Every additional daily serving of potatoes pushed up the scale by more than a pound every four years. As expected, the type of potato, however, was important. Every order of french fries put on 3.35 pounds; a snack of potato chips added 1.69. But even each helping of boiled, baked or mashed potatoes contributed a little more than a half-pound.

Yikes. I consume a disproportionate amount of potatoes (as I am writing this, I am shamefully eating a mediocre cheesy potato soup)… chips, fries, broiled, baked, smashed, roasted, oven roasted, on the grill…you name it, I’ve tried it. But it doesn’t end here:

Many people might also be surprised that every extra serving of refined grains, such as white bread, added 0.39 pounds — almost as much as indulging in some sweets or desserts.

Ah! What am I going to do? My entire regimen is based on bread-y things. Have you ever gone to an Italian restaurant where they do not serve bread? Thought so. I love bread, I really do. I can eat a whole baguette in one sitting, by myself.

At last, the good news. Yogurt, it turns out, has actually helped people lose weight or keep it off. Sucks for me because I am slightly lactose intolerant, but never despair! Next on the “good” list is nuts. Those I actually adore, so from now on, I am going to snack on trail mixes, something I used to do and have, some for obscure reason, stopped doing cold turkey.

So, since I am known to occasionally dive into processed food heaven, I hereby challenge myself to diversify my intake of fruits and veggies and minimize that of potatoes. And bread, although the latter is a much bigger deal.

Food Reads: I’ve got some reading to do

I have been in a food coma for some time—the food book kind of coma. I obsessively check the latest arrivals at the local used book stores (Daedalus and Read it Again Sam) for a possible addition to my wordy arsenal. I’ve got eight books waiting for me and one that I am currently thoroughly enjoying: Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, My Year of Cooking Dangerously: An honest and raunchy account of life between Julia Child-derived meals. Right up my alley. Love it.

So, I’ve got some reading to do and in no particular order:

-Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by New York Times food writer Kim Severson

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (who, by the way, will be in Charlottesville in October with none other than Eric Ripert)

Ruth Reichl‘s Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Best Food Writing 2009

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipe from Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette, one of the best blogs around!)

Phew! That is is for now.Or maybe not. Any books I should add to this list?

Peter Chang’s China Grill, the second time around

I can’t seem to be able to stay away from this place. It’s that good! This time, I went with three great girls and the night was nothing less than magical. As soon as we walked in, the scent of sizzling veggies emanated from the kitchen. It’s a good thing we had a reservation because the place gets crowded in a heartbeat. We take our seats and inspect the menu, four pages of what seemed succulent entrees. The decision would have been impossible to make, but our waiter’s unit of measure helped out, immensely: As soon as we picked something, he would rate it by an enthusiastic raise-the-roof gesture. If the entree´ was slightly less than exceptional, he would raise his hand only half way.

To start, we picked the famous bubble pancakes and fried eggplant.

These bubble pancakes were fluffy and crispy at the same time. Their companion sauce, we speculated, had a hint curry in it. Although they look so perfect when untouched, it didn’t take much to pop them. This appetizer lasted about 4 minutes.

My problem with this next appetizer was the spice level. Since I am a wimp and can’t handle spice very much (at all actually), the fried eggplants were a bit too much for me, but by the speed with which my Emily, Bradley and Wesley ate them, I’d say they were worthy of a fully extended raise-the-roof rating.

Next, we went with the highlight of the night  (in my humble opinion): braised short ribs!

The ribs were so tender and juicy (here you see them covered in Panko and decorated with minced green onion). Interesting story, this was the dish our waiter rated the highest. He was absolutely right. Amazing.

I picked an amazing chicken dish: Chicken with eggplant in a hot pot.

The eggplants, thinly sliced, melted in my mouth. The chicken was perfectly cooked, and the sweet onions completed the dish. As if these delicacies weren’t enough, we ordered sesame shrimps (a bit too sweet) and duck (excellent).

Here is our glorious feast. I knew I loved this restaurant before, but this visit cemented my appreciation for good food.

Thank you Emily, Bradley and Wesley for making that night a perfect dinner.

Food Reads: Bon Appetit’s The ITALY Issue

I couldn’t have missed this. Don’t mock me, but I tend to gravitate towards all things Italian (and, often, I find that I am either offended by the blatant misconception of Italian culture or amused by the silly stereotypes…Jersey Shore ring a bell?). When I came across the latest Bon Appetit’s issue, well, I jumped up and down for joy. I wasn’t really taken by the cover image—it kind of looks like something I would cook and photograph—but by the headline: The Italy Issue, written in bold, red letters. (Thank the deities it wasn’t imitating the colors of Italy’s flag).

Yet, the entire cover look seems a bit uninspired. And boring to be honest. But newly minted editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport (formerly style editor at GQ) has his reasons. “I love just a clean, graphic cover, and there’s something simple and beautiful about pasta pomodoro and made the right way and it’s glossy and luxurious and there’s a luxurious simplicity to it,” he said in an interview with Eater.com.

Kudos for giving Emilia’s food culture nice relevance—it is, after all, the land of Parmigiano Reggiano and of the prosciutto di Modena—but it would have been equally, if not more successful, to break away from the rustic ideals and move towards the new wave of Italian chef-artists. Chef Massimo Bottura is the new Michelangelo. His restaurant, Osteria Francescana, recently ranked as the fourth best restaurant in the world. It’s haute cuisine. Italian food can still be comfort food, but it’s so much more—it’s conceptual, inspired, cosmopolitan, it’s relevant, new and different.

{Photos: Bon Appetit}

Here, for example, is Massimo Bottura explaining how he uses foreign ingredients and honors them in their purest forms.

And here, Bottura shows his genius. Oh, it’s only in Italian, but if you forward the video a bit, you can see how he creates a modern twist on a traditional dish from Emilia – snails bourguignon. He went hiking in the hills of Modena one winter and was inspired to recreate the environment he observed into his dish—the soft looking whipped cream you see as he completes the dish is a garlic foam that represents snow. The title of the video says it all, I think. La rivoluzione siamo noi – We are the revolution.

Salute! Donald Trump buys Kluge winery in Charlottesville

{Photo: NY Times}

The Donald never sleeps. In the midst of his yet unofficially announced presidency run—he is a close second after Mitt Romney in the most recent polls—, his political appearances (Tea Party rally in Florida next week), his celebrity firing on The Celebrity Apprentice, he has the time to buy a winery (from my colleague at C-VILLE Weekly).

For $6.2 million, Trump got almost all of what he wanted: 700 pristine acres in Albemarle County, the winery, and, most importantly, the labels and trademarks of Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard, once owned by Patricia Kluge and husband William Moses and most recently bought back by the financing bank in a foreclosure sale. Things are tough out there…except for Mr. Trump.

And there is more: Trump reportedly wants Kluge’s former residence, the palatial Albemarle House, once on the market for $100 million and now also in the hands of the bank. With 45 rooms, a theater and a perfectly sculpted landscape, it may just be Trump’s perfect country home away from his …. other homes.

A James Beard Award semifinalist in our midst

Photo: The James Beard Foundation

Exciting news! Melissa Close-Hart, executive chef at Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards is a semifinalist for the 2011 James Beard Awards, Best Chef-Mid Atlantic category.

She has been with the Italian enterprise since 2000. Barboursville Vineyards is owned by the Zonin family, whose Italian estates cover the Piedmont region, Veneto, Friuly and Tuscany.

(Here is a profile of Melissa from C-VILLE Weekly).

Other notables:

*José Andrés, for minibar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.  – Outstanding Chef. He is a favorite of mine (although I have never tried his dishes). Must be his accent (I have one, too), the love for his country, and his Made in Spain TV series that was broadcast on public television.

*Kevin Gillespie, Woodfire Grill, Atlanta – Rising Star Chef. Two words: Top Chef. Who could resist that beard? And the pig tattooed on his arm? And you’ve got to love someone who would splurge on olive oil, as he told iVillage FOOD.

*April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig, NYC – Best Chef, New York City. Gotta love a girl who would sacrifice her body for food (and impressed Mario Batali).

*Marco Canora, Hearth, NYC – Best Chef, New York City. Thanks to The Next Iron Chef, Canora’s genius was highlighted in between a meltdown and a perfect pasta dish.

*Girl & the Goat in Chicago – Stephanie Izard‘s restaurant, the only female to have won Top Chef – for Best New Restaurant. Coolest logo/concept ever!

Yes, I am obsessed with Top Chef. And yes, I’ll keep watching even without Fabio. Sad, but I’ll keep watching in the hopes that either Carla or Richard will score big.

Food reads

I am currently in a full-fledged food writing kick. I’ve always loved to eat and cook, but reading and writing about food is a totally different experience. I stop and think about foods’ flavors, textures, colors and smells in a way I did not know possible.

While browsing a used bookstore on Charlottesville’s historic Downtown Mall, I encountered a book I had been wanting to read for a while (per a friend’s recommendation): Kathleen Flinn‘s The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry. Flinn recounts her trials and tribulations while pursuing a degree, and her ultimate dream, from the world-renowned Le Cordon Blue cooking school in Paris.

Haven’t started it yet, but by what I found on the first page I can tell we’ll be great friends:

“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Harriet Van Horne, ‘Vogue’ 10/1956

And speaking of a dream profession, after reading Ruth Reichl‘s life as the New York Times’ food critic, I, too, want to live for food. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl unabashedly moves from telling of her anxious and doubtful arrival to New York, to the glamorous life as the most revered critic in the city. Sure, quantifying the goodness of a chef’s hash browns, or potato-wrapped black bass in Barolo sauce or a chocolate souffle’ cake with whipped cream.

I, for one thing, would run out of friends to bring to fancy restaurants after a week, but not Reichl. She has an arsenal of amusing companions—in addition to her husband and son—and disguises (it includes one where she literally become her mother…wig, jewelry and all). At first, I couldn’t believe I was reading an autobiography. In fact, it’s hard to believe Hollywood hasn’t jumped on it: The richness of her family life, the frustration with being recognized by restaurateurs and chefs alike and the discovery of new flavors—Umami.

“Being a restaurant critic has its drawbacks: there are a lot of restaurant I haven’t yet eaten in,” reads the first sentence in one of her columns. “But it also has its advantages: there are a lot of restaurants where I am still not recognized.” Yes, I’d like to have that problem.


Child Nutrition Bill

In real life, I am a journalist. I work for an alternative weekly newspaper and cover a gamut of stories ranging from local politics, education, courts and crimes. My eyes and ears, however, are perpetually directed at what is happening around the world. I follow Washington politics closely, and since I love food and, almost at equal level, people, legislature that will make fresh, local fruits and vegetable available to children (with a 264 to 157 vote, the House of Representatives passed the Child Nutrition Bill) makes me want to jump for joy and shake my head in disappointment at the same time.

There shouldn’t be the need for laws regulating what goes into people’s months in the first place, especially kids. But in a world reigned by bacon and cheese sandwiches made with two fried chicken patties (hilarious take on  the KFC’s Double Down by Joel Stein) and pizza bowls—really? No, I mean…really?—I guess monitoring kids’ school lunches is a good thing.

I, too, had an encounter with the disgusting reality of high school lunches. Before finishing high school in Italy, I moved to Los Angeles. I was 18. In August of that year, I enrolled at Los Angeles High School on Olympic Blvd. I was a senior. Small pizzas from Pizza Hut, fried chicken, tacos, burgers and fries were all lined up, waiting for me to stuff my face with them. And I did, for a while. I thought it was heaven until I began feeling sick, tired and unable to play my usual level of basketball. (And, most importantly at that age, my face was decorated with pimples). It was then that I began bringing panini for lunch…small and made with fresh veggies and good quality prosciutto.

Something is changing, however. Even before the Child Nutrition Bill, a public school system in Charlottesville, Virginia decided to step out in the abyss and try veggies for a change. Here is the tale, written by, well… yours truly. Enjoy and happy healthy lunches!