Don’t sweat over the menu and the logistics of a virtual dinner party! Remember the goal is to have some fun with your friends. My husband and I had a great time last night with 2 of our dearest foodie friends in Canada. That’s the beauty of a virtual dinner – sharing a meal in California and British Columbia at the same time! The border between US and Canada has been closed since March and it’s not likely to open anytime soon, so we were thrilled to find a way to cook and drink “together” again. Virtual dinner parties, like many behaviors (online shopping is a good example) that started out of necessity during the pandemic will likely continue.
The key is to keep it simple! We just used FaceTime so we didn’t get frustrated setting up new technology unfamiliar to us. My husband put a standing pork roast on the grill rotisserie so it didn’t need much attention while cooking – leaving more time to socialize. I wanted to share a seasonal dish that is interesting and vegetarian but also easy to cook at the same time. I found the perfect recipe – Grilled peach Salad with Halloumi – in my Healthydigs Refresh Meal Plan Program. Click the link to find many more delicious recipes like this. If you haven’t grilled peaches and Halloumi cheese before, this is a must! This dish satisfies all five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami – of the tongue. I prepared all the ingredients ahead of time and then just grilled the peaches and Halloumi cheese for 5 minutes before plating. This was our first virtual dinner party and there will be many more to come, pandemic or not!
What is Microbiome and why is it important to our health? I put these questions to my esteemed colleague, Lori Shore-Mouratoff, MD, at Cornerstone Integrative Medicine Clinic in Oakland, CA. This is what she shared with me:
Our body is host to trillions of bacteria, yeast and viruses that make up our microbiome. These organisms are responsible for helping us utilize and make vitamins, detoxify our bodies and maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining to prevent food sensitivities. Poor food choices, medications, stress, and lack of sleep can create an imbalance in the composition of these organisms causing gastrointestinal symptoms, joint pain, eczema, hormonal imbalance, obesity and brain fog.
Clearly, improving the health of your microbiome is vital to your well-being! Below are 5 lifestyle hacks Dr. Lori Shore-Mouratoff recommended :
1. Eat prebiotics that support favorable organisms
Inulin-type fructans modulate appetite, improve inflammatory bowel diseases, decrease colon cancer risk, increase absorption of minerals and vitamins and affect lipid metabolism by supporting the population and function of bifidobacteria and butyrate .
Foods containing inulin-type fructans for gut health:
Butyrate is an essential metabolite in the human colon, responsible for maintenance of the gut barrier, with immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties.
Foods that support butyrate forming bacteria in your colon:
Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.
Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!
High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.
In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.
Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.
Fold in chopped apples.
Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.
Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.
With no end in sight to this pandemic, many of us are looking for staycation ideas. Summer vacation doesn’t have to be far away from home nor does it have to be for long. However, it does have to refresh my mind with a sense of escape from my daily routine and recharge my body with some delicious healthy food. Why not consider a vacation day close to home? If that speaks to you, read on!
Last Sunday, my family and I went out to Bolinas beach, Marin County, for a little surf and sun. It was only a little more than an hour from home but it felt like miles away from the urban center of the San Francisco Bay. The beach was relatively uncrowded so families were able to play together but still keep sufficient distance from others. As I soaked up the sun on the beach, it felt as if the ocean breeze was gently sweeping away my anxiety from being sheltered at home. At the same time, the sound of the crashing waves carried my mind far away to the Hawaiian shores for a little mental escape. It only took a couple hours to forget how the Coronavirus has constricted our daily lives for the last 5 months.
On our way home, we surprisingly discovered a farm stand that had a pre-COVID personality of a farmers market. The quintessential experience of the farmers market – leisurely roaming through the farmer stands, chatting to the vendors, touching and smelling the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, and food sampling – were mostly intact here! From the street, it appeared to be just another roadside produce stand. The sign advertising fresh wild king salmon was the initial hook that pulled us off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Unknowingly, it turned out to be the farmers market outing that I was starving for. Abiding social distancing and face mask rules, we chatted with The Farm Stand owner, Jim, about the source of his local products – an array of organic produce from CSAs in Marin county and Salinas area, fresh seafood from the bay, and grass-fed meat from local farms. As we were talking, crates of fresh local strawberries arrived so Jim threw one to us from a distance for sampling. We were sold!!! The woman who delivered the strawberries stepped up to a table in front of us with a picnic basket to assemble a couple of strawberry shortcakes, made with freshly baked biscuits and crème fraîche. I thought they were for sale but no such luck. They were for Jim and his co-worker as an expression of gratitude for selling her strawberries at the farm stand. With all this wonderful distraction, we had to redirect ourselves back to the the question about their King salmon. Jim excitedly told us that it was line-caught, wild and sushi-grade. We were sold again as soon as he pulled out a piece of fresh King salmon with glistening red flesh – not a sight you see in the supermarket. He then up sold us once again with Hog Island oysters from Tomales Bay by shucking one for me to taste on the spot. By this point, I felt like an endless summer had just descended upon us with bountiful of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood.
Armed with all these fresh ingredients, it was easy and fun to create a farm-to-table meal in our own home! The highlight was the make-you-own sushi and bowl with salmon sashimi. An interactive meal with conversation about the beach action, the farm stand activities, the fresh local organic food and the art of making sushi rounded out this enjoyable vacation day for us!
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of quarantining alone, having some healthy and delicious food on hand can bump up the reading on your happiness meter. With the recent explosion of grocery delivery services, you shouldn’t have to rely on canned and dried goods. Choosing a good delivery service and having a comprehensive shopping list are key to well-balanced and creative meals.
Today is the last day of my 14-day quarantine imposed on travelers entering Canada. The experience of managing my food during this time brings a great appreciation for the value of a reliable food delivery service that provides high quality food. Up until the start of my quarantine, I have not ordered groceries online because I wasn’t confident that they can deliver freshness, quality, and suitable substitutions if my items were out of stock.
A Canadian friend had referred me to SPUD, a local delivery company in Vancouver. Their service has impressed me in more ways than one. They offer a wild selection of food including plant-based and gluten-free, high quality products such as local, organic and sustainable, and a reliable delivery schedule. This post is not about promoting food delivery services but SPUD may have converted me into a believer of online grocery shopping. I can shop anytime of the day and night – something to do when stuck at home, read food labels for ingredients and nutrition information – can enlarge font size on the screen for readability, see my total cost before the checkout, and discover new products. I may never go back to in-person shopping in the grocery store!
If you are an online shopper for apparel, you know it is really easy to spend too much money and still result in mismatched outfits. Online grocery shopping is the same. You can click away with adding food to your shopping cart and still end up missing ingredients to assemble some well-balanced meals. You can avoid wasting money and food with a planned menu and a well curated shopping list.
I am sharing my 7-day menu and grocery list for the first week of my quarantine. This can serves as a template for weekly menu planning. Plan well, eat well, and stay well!
Traveling has always given me a sense of freedom and adventure in my life! When my recent travel bug was squashed by COVID-19, traveling was reduced to trips between my home and the grocery store. Every now and then, I would get a taste of freedom when I don’t have to stand in line outside Trader Joe’s. My new adventure is hunting and that’s hunting down flour and toilet paper. No wonder all I dream about are the most recent trips to Paris, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Sayulita.
Now that travel bans are starting to lift around the world, I can hear a distance voice calling out to me in multiple languages to get back in the air again. I love a good adventure but honestly, I am a little scared to travel internationally with so much uncertainty. But then again, fear is part of the fun in any good adventure! So I thought I would spread my wings just a little with a trip to Vancouver – my favorite city in Canada. It’s an international flight but only 2 hours from San Francisco. This would give me a window view of the “new normal” in air travel.
I arrived at SFO 2 hours before my scheduled flight as suggested by the airline. There was no line at security check – a very unusual sight! With so few passengers, my flight could have been the only one departing from the international terminal at that time. There was absolutely no need to check in this early, but there I was with 2 hours to kill and nothing to do. The terminal was like a ghost town. All the shops and food establishments were closed. Seats were marked to encourage a 6-foot distance between them.
I was prepared for touchless document check at security and at the airline counter but that was not their protocol. Since the agents had gloves on, they were conducting business as usual with no fear of possibly touching a virus-contaminated passport and spreading the contagion. To protect my passport, I didn’t let it leave my hand – see but don’t touch!
Face mask was required for all! Be prepared to have your face mask on from the time you walk into the departure airport to the time you leave the arrival airport. I wore my mask for over 5 hours for a 2-hour flight.
Prior to boarding, the airline agent conducted a temperature check on everyone. If your temperature was over 100.4F, you were not permitted to board. Anxiety can elevate body temperature and who doesn’t feel anxious these days. My anxiety was elevated by the fear of a false positive and being banned from my flight. Then I remembered to practiced my yoga breaths to keep calm and carry on. Carryon applied to my approach with baggage as well. Why increase my risk of exposure through a checked bag handled by multiple people!
Upon boarding the plane, the flight attendant handed me a small care package including water, face mask, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and antiseptic towelettes. You can think of it as an air travel survival kit. The plane was a little more than half full. All middle seats were vacant by design. Even with a less than full plane, it was impossible to keep 6 feet away from other passengers inside an airplane cabin. I chose a window seat to keep a distance from aisle traffic. I was able to avoid using the bathroom onboard since it was a short flight. During deplaning, I sat back to let all the type A passengers go before me to avoid any tailgating.
After the plane landed, the agent announced that Canada mandates a 14-day isolation period for all arriving travelers. So glad I did my research prior to booking the trip. There was a requirement to file your 14-day isolation plan so the government can monitor you. This country is very serious about protecting its citizens!
After this flying experience, would I spread my wings and fly away to the other side of the globe? The “new normal” for air travel is stifling. Until I feel that sense of freedom in flying, I think I will trade my wings in for some wheels. I am currently in day 6 of my self-isolation and may have a different perspective once I am able leave my place of isolation on day 15. If you must travel, you can absolutely do it safely with proper precautions and I hope my travel tips will help you. Travel safe!
Travel Tips for the Covid Era
Research safety of your destination and the country’s port of entry restrictions and requirements. Do online submission of required information prior to departure if possible.
Don’t use paper boarding passes. Download your boarding pass on your phone so you can scan it yourself at security and at the gate.
Go touchless at all times, unless you can wash your hands or sanitize properly.
Pack food for your trip if you don’t want to go hungry.
Wear a comfortable and breathable mask with materials that won’t irritate your skin. Bring extra masks for long flights to refresh.
Bring sanitizing wipes and gels to clean surfaces, such as armrest and tray table at your seat before use. Airlines are not sanitizing between flights during the day.
Choose an aisle seat and avoid walking in the aisle.
Don’t rush to deplane and keep your distance from the passenger in front and behind of you.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, I am cooking a plant-based meal for dinner. With shelter-in-place, we have more meals together as a family so our food is central to our conversation at mealtime. This presents a great opportunity to talk to our kids about how our food choices impact the environment.
Working with the ingredients I have in my pantry during this COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to be creative! I know most people are stocked up with dried goods such as pasta, rice and canned beans because these items are as depleted in the grocery stores as toilet paper. Just because we are using these staples day after day, it doesn’t mean our diet has to be boring. Whether you are new to eating meatless or just looking for a fresh vegan recipe, I hope you will enjoy this tasty and nutritious bean dish made with one of my favorite spices from a well-loved spice shop in Oakland, California.
Braised White Beans and Greens with Harissa
1 white or yellow onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon flake salt ¼ cup olive oil 3 tablespoons Harissa Paste or 1 tablespoon Harissa Powder ½ cup dry white wine 3 cups cooked white beans (such as cannellini), or 2 cans of white beans 2 cups vegetable stock 4 cups chopped greens, such as mustard greens, baby kale or spinach Juice of half a lemon
Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion. Sauté until golden brown, about 7 or 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid burning. Add Harissa, salt and garlic; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add beans, stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, covered, until the beans are becoming soft and creamy, about 20-30 minutes. If you like more of a stew consistency, smash some of the beans with the back of your spoon. Add greens and simmer until tender, about 5-10 minutes depending on the heartiness of the greens you use.
Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.
I get excited about delicious vegan baked goods for many of the same reasons you do – healthy, environmentally friendly, and ethical. But the biggest personal reason is that my kids are seriously allergic to eggs. Yes, both my kids have the same allergies. The biggest challenge with an egg-free diet is avoiding hidden egg sources. Whether it’s buying a muffin or a bagel at a bakery, I always have to ask if it contains egg. Sometimes the bakery person will answer back “no, there’s no dairy”. Okay, there’s no milk products, but is there egg? It is very disappointing after much questioning about the ingredients and then have to walk away empty-handed. But with the tsunami of vegan bakeries appearing in recent years, it has changed this shopping scenario and boosted my grownup children’s happy meter.
Thinking back about 20 years ago with my first born, finding anything vegan was almost impossible except in a “natural food” store, if you were lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. Over the years, I had to be quite creative in baking without eggs and finding various egg replacements. The recipe I am sharing with you is vegan, high in fiber and rich in monounsaturated fat. As you know, when you buy vegan baked goods, it doesn’t always mean they are healthy so I still like to do much of my own baking. Hope you enjoy these super moist and nutritious muffins!
Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 cup plant-based milk
1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (egg replacement)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup natural bran
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
In bowl, stir lemon juice into plant-based milk; let stand for 1 minute to sour. Stir together 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to make the egg replacement and add to bowl. Stir in oil and molasses.
In a larger bowl, combine bran, whole wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture and blueberries; mix just until combined.
Spoon into nonstick or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm to touch.
Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but the highlight was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.
Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.
The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties.
Taking a private mud bath is a luxury everyone can afford in Vietnam! Today, I went to i-resort in Nha Trang, located in the south central coast of Vietnam for my first soak in the mud. Most mud baths are commonly shared with others so you got to wonder about the sanitation of this communal practice. I was thrilled when I discovered that i-resort offers individual bath tubs that are built into the hillside, and each tub is filled with wet mud from a hose right before your soak. Now I can relax knowing the mud is clean!
For 350,000 dongs (approx. $15 US), you get 20 minutes in your own private warm mud bath and unlimited use the hot mineral pools. The amenities of the hot springs resort are similar to those in Europe. The use of a locker and a towel are included in your fee.
There’s a spa onsite if you wish to book a massage. Of course, I couldn’t resist a 50-minute full body massage for 300,00 dongs (approx. $13). The spa was beautiful with tropical decor and the quality of the massage far exceeded my expectation. Prior to my massage, I was even offered a lemongrass orange scented steam that was built into the shower inside the treatment room. When in Asia, you just can’t judge the quality by the price alone.
Like most firsts, my mud bath in Vietnam will always be special and memorable. This positive experience will lead me to seek out more bath muds during my travels to enrich my spa experience collection.