Post-Holidays+Mid-January=A Return to Salad (Et Al)

Mesclun, herbs, arugula, spinach adorned with avocado, tofu, red pepper, purple onions, and sungold cherry tomatoes. Now that's one big winter salad!

One big winter dinner salad: mesclun, arugula, and spinach adorned with avocado, tofu, red pepper, purple onions, and sungold cherry tomatoes. Is 2013 the year for you to start eating salad for dinner? Give it a shot!

Okay, it’s time to not have the home page of my blog be Christmas cookies, for goodness’ sake. I’ve been MIA, I know. First I was in New York for the holidays with my family and then I was on vacation in Puerto Rico with my husband, about which I’ve yet to post (Caribbean bouillabaisse and mojitos, anyone?). For more timely updates from me, please become a fan of my professional page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or check out my boards on Pinterest. Upon my return home on January 6, I was inundated with work, including planning my theater company’s 15th season fundraising gala, which I host. If you’re in the Greater Boston area, come on out for a fabulous night of entertainment featuring our top performers (more info here): I’ll be the one onstage in a gown, and I may even sing a bar or two…

Now, as wonderful as being on vacation is, and as much as I enjoy sampling global cuisine, I really miss cooking while I’m gone. I am particular about what I put into my body, after all—I know, you’re shocked—and between the holidays and Puerto Rico it was harder to get in my “big salad for supper” meal, which as you know I eat at least twice weekly, including in the winter months. Sure, I’ve done a lot of other cooking in the past two weeks as well (Indian food featured prominently), but, boy, do I need my salads. It’s amazing how much better I feel eating a wide mix of veggies, legumes, and protein for a nutrient-packed dinner that leaves me feeling satiated and wonderfully healthy. (Here are some ideas on how to make a big salad your own, or check out my recipes page for some fabulous ideas.) Furthermore, if you’re on the bandwagon to lose weight this year, turning towards a plant-based diet rich in salads is a great way to begin cleaning up your diet.

(A little belated, I know.)

(A little belated, I know.)

So there you have it. Back to Boston. Back to winter. Back to salads. Back to theater. Back to writing. Back to intensive marathon training (just completed week six of eighteen). Back to tweeting and facebooking. Back to business plan development and moving forward.

(Think: weekly show on YouTube with The Nutrition Doctor is In the Kitchen. Of interest, I hope?)

Time for 2013 to begin.

Happy New Year!

A New World Awaits: Time to Fly

Yes, my blog is normally focused on food, nutrition, science, cooking – that kind of thing. But we all know that theater references surface now and then. This art form is on my mind once again today as this is the final day of our fiscal year. In other words, it’s the end of my theater company‘s 14th season and our milestone15th season is on the horizon. I am taking a moment to reflect by remembering the gorgeous prose from the opening number of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World. Our most recent production, this powerful show had a profound impact on me and I found much inspiration in the stories and songs – especially apropos as I continue with this new chapter of my life.

Whatever your age and wherever you are in your own life’s journey, perhaps you also will find encouragement and light in the words from the opening song and scene as dawn rises on The New World.

A New World Calls You: Time to Fly?

A new world calls across the ocean
A new world calls across the sky
A new world whispers in the shadows
“Time to fly, time to fly…”

It’s about one moment
The moment before it all becomes clear
And in that one moment
You start to believe there’s nothing to fear
It’s about one second
And just when you’re on the verge of success
The sky starts to change
And the wind starts to blow

And oh, you’re suddenly a stranger
There’s no explaining where you stand
And you didn’t know
That you sometimes have to go
‘Round an unexpected bend,
And the road will end
In a new world.

A new world calls for me to follow
A new world waits for my reply
A new world holds me to a promise
Standing by,
Standing by…

It’s About One Moment: What Will You Choose?

It’s about one moment
That moment you think you know where you stand
But in that one moment
The things that you’re sure of slip from your hand
And you’ve got one second
To try to be clear, to try to stand tall
But nothing’s the same
And the wind starts to blow

And oh, you’re suddenly a stranger
In some completely different land
And you thought you knew
But you didn’t have a  clue
That the surface sometimes cracks
To reveal the tracks
To a new world

You have a house in the hills                                                                                                 You have a job on the coast
You find a lover you’re sure you believe in
You get a pool in the back
You get the part of your life
You hold the ring in your hand

But then the earthquake hits
Then the bank closes in
Then you realize you didn’t know anything…

A New World Calls: Will You Answer?

Nobody told you the best way to steer
When the wind starts to blow
And oh, you’re suddenly a stranger
And life is different than you planned
And you have to stay
‘Til you somehow find a way
To be sure of what will be,
Then you might be free…

A new world crashes down like thunder
A new world charging through the air
A new world just beyond the mountain

Waiting there…
Waiting there…

A new world shattering the silence
There’s a new world I’m afraid to see
A new world louder every moment
“Come to me! Come to me!”

Produced by The Longwood Players. Directed and Music Directed by Jason Luciana. Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; subheadings are my own. Poster designed by Todd Yard. Photo by Paul Bobkowski Photography

Coming Out in Rome

This is the third post in a series discussing my recent trip to Rome, with its unexpected happenings while attending a scientific conference on diet and physical activity at the (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It was all downhill after my first day admiring the gorgeous pignoli-giving umbrella pine trees. Minor edits aside, this post was largely written in real time on Thursday, May 17 while enjoying my last meal in Rome.

A simple yet satisfying supper in Rome: a trio of crostini with tapenade, four cheese, and asparagus paté & salad.

The conference was over, at last. Despite severe back pain, I had just given my final talk and chaired the post-conference workshop. My friends and colleagues were heading out to explore the city for our final day. A run along the river was in store with a fellow marathoner, followed by dinner at Piazza de Navona and a night walk to experience the Eternal City under starlit skies. A spectacular ending to a fabulous conference (I’m told – I missed most of it), especially sweet to those of us who had worked so hard on the scientific committee for the past year.

For me, ’twas not to be. With sorrow and envy, I bid them farewell and plodded once again to the medical center for another pain shot, anxious to lie down immediately. My evening plans were far more meager: God willing, I’d be able to make the short walk back to the hotel with a stop off midway for rest and dinner. The fine dining options I had researched were completely out of the picture; all I could hope for was for something decent en route.

Four hours later, I began the excruciatingly slow journey from FAO to my hotel. Happily, the walk took me by the Colosseum, which I never tire of viewing in all its magnificence. One can only muse in wonderment at the glories (and atrocities) Ancient Rome held. I pottered gingerly around its perimeter, hoping to head up one of the many hills of Rome and explore the yonder regions. I struggled with each step on level ground, however, and the seemingly interminable set of small, winding steps leading up a steep hillside gave me pause. I was reminded of the steps at Montmartre my father looked upon with similar trepidation; there are automated options to assist that particular ascent, however. In this case, I was on my own – and decided wisely not to attempt the long trek upwards. I knew I was thus limited to the restaurants on my direct path homeward.

I surveyed a few of the dining options in my immediate vicinity and rejected them all. Obvious tourist traps, the prices were outrageous and the menus included such things as chicken fingers and hamburgers. Pshaw. I continued on my way and, after turning a corner, happened upon a stage with four energetic performers, part of a major LGBT event / gay rights demonstration.

Not a great picture, I know, but the best my IPhone and I could do given the circumstances. You get the idea, though – and there’s the Colosseum in the background, too.

Wonderful! Lovely! I’m always up for some art and music to accompany my food. And supporting gay rights in so doing was just an added bonus. The restaurant to my immediate right thus seemed rather suitable, given its proximity to the stage, lively crowd, and good music. I entered without further adieu, anxious to sit the eff down.

In I go, yet I’m getting the vague feeling that I don’t quite fit in. This, despite the fact that my waiter was adorable and very polite and attentive. And not in a lewd sort of way, either. This was my first sign, you see (to perpetuate the stereotype that the manners of many Italian men towards female tourists are, er, questionable). As it turned out, I had entered a bar-slash-restaurant called “Coming Out,” in which I was one of very few females – and certainly the only straight one. The mood was all the merrier given the major event occurring outside on Gay Street.

Could I make this up? Yes. But I’m not. And here’s the menu to prove it.

I chuckled to myself. Why this struck me as amusing, I don’t really know. (I mean, other than the obvious irony of “Coming Out on Gay Street.”) Goodness knows I’ve spent my fair share of time in gay bars. I run a theater company, remember, and I pretty much assume people are gay unless told otherwise. I think that for the most part I smiled mainly out of happiness: I’ve stumbled randomly across many a music and dancing event around the world, completely by chance. ‘Tis a glorious part of travel – especially when the event is connected with such an important human rights issue.

Sautéed mixed mushrooms: the perfect accompaniment to crostini and red wine.

Further, the food was quite enjoyable indeed, starring a trio of bruschetta with tapenade, asparagus paté, and four cheese. A glass of red wine and plate of funghi completed my supper: don’t doubt how delicious simply prepared vegetables can be, like this plate of mixed mushrooms perfectly sautéed with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of parsley. Dessert was the thickest, richest hot chocolate I’ve had in recent memory, warming both body and soul. So, yes, the food certainly contributed to my feeling of contentment.

Then again, it could have just been the heavy pain killers.

Pain, schmain. It’s good to be alive, I thought, as I paid my bill and prepared to depart.

One critical question at hand now remains, however: can I rise out of this chair?

Do You Hear the People Eat?

(sung to the tune of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in Les Misérables)

It’s been quite some time since I made a theater reference, and this one immediately sprung to mind in light of the upcoming Food Revolution Day on Saturday, May 19.  It’s sort of like the 1832 revolution in France, only people shake wooden spoons instead of weapons and yell “Make Food, Not War!”

Or something.

Anyhow, courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the day is designed to “inspire change in people’s food habits and to promote the mission for better food and education for everyone.” Do we need a food revolution? Check out his video below and let me know what you think.

Postscript: About this post’s title (aka, getting my musical theater geek on)

I have theater on my mind, as my company’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World plays May 4-12. So please forgive the not-very-funny Les Mis quip; it’s among my favorite musicals and I couldn’t resist. And I’ve quoted that very same song before in a post on local food in London, where I (almost) saw Alfie Boe in the West End production. However, according to the sign posted in the lobby, he was “indisposed” at the time. Now, that’s another story altogether, but it begins with “the indisposition of Alfie Boe” – sung in my head to the tune of the overture to Sweeney Todd – and ends with me falling down the stairs. Other than that, it was a stellar production that blessedly did not include Nick Jonas. I’m still bitter we cannot get the rights to produce the show for our upcoming 15th season next year.

All that said, no one wants to hear people eat.



What a Foodie Does for Love of Art and Science

Do you know how many cold dinners I’ve served in my quest to get great photos for my blog? Or how much of a complete douche idiot I feel like for pulling out my camera in a restaurant? But good food porn photography takes time and patience, people, it doesn’t happen on its own. You do it, do what it takes.

Whether you enjoy taking food photos yourself, mock such people relentlessly (or, er, your wife) for their poor restaurant manners, or just have a wicked sense of humor, watch this video. Watch it NOW. Because when food porn photography meets retro rap, it’s nothing less than legen – wait for it – dary.

Thank you, American Hipster, for turning an otherwise mundane Thursday into day Awesome. It’s not often my passions for food, music, theatre, and comedy come together so brilliantly. Now, if I could just bring in the science and cooking pieces… hmmm… I do know a bunch of rappers…

Challenge accepted.

On Language

Apologies if my colorful language today has offended you. This particular post veers a bit from my otherwise-utterly-professional personae that is my usual voice on this blog. (Well, mostly professional. Kind of professional. Let’s not split hairs, shall we?) But I know enough of my readers will appreciate this video such that I truly couldn’t resist. If today’s post pushes your limits and sensibilities, stay with me, I humbly request. I’ll soon return to squash soup.

Minus the rap.

Minus the awesome.

See now why I needed to post this?

Holiday Purgatory: Is It 2012 Yet?

A Stunning Winter Sunset in New England

It’s official. Between my continued gift wrapping, just viewed holiday television specials, and still-decorated-for-the-holidays-home-despite-the-dead-tree I’m in holiday purgatory. I’m caught somewhere between sadness for how quickly the holidays go by, anxiety for all the 2011 tasks that remain undone, and anticipation for when 2012 will really begin for me. (I’m thinking January 10, in case you were wondering.)

Frankly, I blame my confused state in part on New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday, leading Monday to be a holiday as well. At that point, there were only four days left in the week and I used that time to catch up on sundry items remaining on my to do list from before Christmas. And take care of my sick husband by feeding him homemade soup (of course) while trying to get back into my regular gym schedule. (I was just out of town for a week, remember, doing such things as making eggnog for Christmas, conducting science experiments on with my nephew, and delivering soup to my sister.) I also had much planning to do for my theatre company’s annual fundraising gala, A Night at the Cabaret, coming up on January 21. For all of these reasons, this has been my slowest writing week in months. alas.

Sure, there were numerous work activities, meetings, appointments, and what not to readdress following university intersession. However, I’m chagrined to admit that I’m also talking about remaining holiday tasks here, the things other people generally accomplish before December 25. I have had a few packages to get into the mail for my siblings, for starters. This is, sadly, a minor improvement over previous years, when my brother in Alaska used to receive his gifts in February. I wish I were kidding. (This is why we send out new year’s cards rather than Christmas cards, by the way.)

There were also a few unwatched holiday programs on TiVo, including the Christmas Glee Extravaganza. Generally a Glee fan, the majority of the episodes this fall ran a bit too high on melodrama for my tastes along with – I can’t believe I’m saying this – too much musical theatre and definitely too much rockappella. The holiday show was highly enjoyable, though, celebrating the season with song and sentiment in a way that only musical theatre can – in my humble opinion. (Yes, I know it’s January 6 already but I just watched it last night and as I’ve already said: holiday purgatory.)

So what does all of this have to do with food, you ask, given the subject matter of this blog? Well, did I mention that our holiday dinner party is tomorrow? Actually, it’s also to celebrate the marriages of our close friends – er, in August, that was. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

Anyway, I couldn’t let the week end without at least one post, even if just to check in and let you know that 2012 is going to be a big year for me, and I look forward to taking it by storm. There are so many things I want to share to bring solid nutrition science, sustainable eating, and outrageously delicious dishes to you and your family. I will of course be addressing that dreaded annual topic of new year’s resolutions on getting in shape and losing weight soon, among many other subjects. (In the meantime, check out my top ten tips on preventing holiday weight gain in case you missed that; the tips are still relevant.)

Therefore, I deem next week as the first official week of 2012 in Newby world, when I’ll return to my regular writing schedule. This new chapter of my life began in September, after all, and it’s time for phase two to begin: setting up a Facebook fan page, getting on Twitter, revamping my blog design, and getting more videos up here are at the top of the list.

In the meantime, I must get back to my holiday menu planning, shopping, and preparations for tomorrow’s dinner party. Pomegranates will feature prominently on the menu, in both a pitcher of pomegranate martinis and a salad of spinach, pomegranates, toasted walnuts, and chèvre. There will also be a cheese course involving Wensleydale cheese with fig jam and local honey, sweet and spicy pecans, and raisin crostini. As for the main course, well, you’ll just have to wait and hear about it, but bouillabaisse is looking likely…

Do feel free to leave a comment letting me know I’m not the only one having trouble jumping into 2012 with ardor and vigor this week.


The Holiday Diva

A Diva is Born

No, I am not talking about myself. I’m neither nutrition grinch nor egomaniac. My version of a pomegranate martini, I created this luscious libation a few years back for one of my theatre company cocktail soirées. I named it “The Diva” given performers were the main attendants at the party.

(To all of you actors out there reading my blog, I say this with nothing but love and admiration for your incredible talents, of course. You’re awesome. But certainly you don’t need me to tell you that, right?)

Great name for a martini, eh? Just remember, you heard it here first … though I wouldn’t be surprised it were already in use somewhere. There are very few unique ideas in either science or art, alas. Anyhow, if you’ve been following my blog, you know that I delight in creating liquid concoctions almost as much as I enjoy making meals. This festively colored cocktail features the pomegranate, which is often used symbolically during Yuletide. The pomegranate also enjoys prominence among many other religions and regions of the world. Regardless, it’s a fabulous drink, anywhere and anytime, whether of deep spiritual meaning or simple homage to the diva(s) in your own life. And it’s okay if one of ’em is you.

How to Make a Diva

Start with an otherwise normal human being, throw them onstage in front of hordes of audience members, then clap loudly, stand up, hoot and holler. Repeat.

Oh, right, I was talking about how to make my cocktail.

In that case, add some ice and water to chill your martini glass, then toss a handful of cubes into your shaker. Add the following ingredients, more or less according to your taste and the size of the glass:

The pomegranate has a star in its center. How very fitting!

  • 1.5 – 2 oz bourbon (whiskey or vodka can also be used)
  • 1.5 – 2 oz pomegranate liqueur or pomegranate juice
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 0.5 oz triple sec (or Grand Marnier, if you want to kick it up a notch)
  • Juice from 1/4-1/2 lemon
  • Pomegranate seeds or lemon twist (for garnish)

Add all the ingredients to your martini canister, shake, and pour a bit into your chilled glass. How does it taste? Hopefully all is sublime, but if not just futz with some of the ingredients to get the right blend for your palate. On occasion I’ve added a soupçon of agave nectar, which provides a touch of body to the drink. Pomegranate juice may easily be substituted for the liqueur, if you prefer, which also lowers the alcohol content.

This is among my favorite martinis, and if you are not a bourbon drinker vodka also works, as noted above. In fact, my original recipe used vodka, which has milder flavors and finishes cleaner on the palate. In contrast, bourbon adds complexity and richness. Bourbon is my regular base though I am somewhat more inclined to the vodka version when temperatures are warmer. The choice is yours!

Don’t forget to garnish the drink. A lemon twist is lovely, but the pomegranate seeds are fun. Even though they sink to the bottom.

Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season!

Those Nefarious Nutrition Scientists are at it Again!

If only I had I a picture of me in a lab coat poring over test tubes and looking evil, like Dr. Horrible*, or a photo of my lavish office! Well, I don’t have a recent picture of me in a lab coat, and to get a better feel for my office you can watch The Daily Show video below.

Where am I going with all this, you ask?  I’ll elaborate on Monday, as my class prepares for a discussion of In Defense of Food written by popular food writer Michael Pollan. To get the conversation started, please check out my mission and watch the following entertaining video clips from recent showings of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

I find these clips rather thought provoking, especially when juxtaposed as I’ve done here. (Jon Stewart’s satire is, as always, spot on.) They’re also a great place to launch a discussion exploring the treatment of nutrition science in the media and popular press. It’s not a topic that will take over my blog, don’t worry – I love talking about food, cooking, science, and health way too much to get constantly distracted by bloviators in the media and debunk every diet myth out there. There’s not enough time in the world for all of that! (Until I get paid to do so, at least.) That said, this is an important issue: the voice of science is often drowned out by fiction, fear, anecdote, and misinformation, so occasionally I’ll weigh in on some issue or another to help you bring sound science to your plate.

I look forward to pursuing this discussion with you and my students next week and beyond. In the meantime, I have to get back to the lab to figure out how to make the world fatter, more diseased, more miserable, and then die. Mwahahaha!

Dr. Horrible? No? Part 1 is below.

Eggplant, Part 1: Baingan Bharta

Nothing not to love about eggplant, in my opinion, especially given its glossy purple skin and spongy flesh that can take on a variety of flavors and textures.

Baingan Bharta: Roasted Eggplant, Indian Style

A member of the nightshade family, it’s quite a versatile vegetable and very low in calories. There are lots of things I like to make with it: eggplant terrine with tomato, basil, and goat cheese; grilled eggplant drizzled with balsamic vinegar; eggplant and red pepper purée with whole wheat pita chips; eggplant and lentil salad with toasted walnuts; and grilled vegetable parmagiana with eggplant, zucchini, portabello mushrooms, and buffalo mozzarella all come to mind. I occasionally also add some to tomato sauce when I’m in the mood for a heartier variant.  I love all of these dishes, and have made them many times, but the days of farm-market-fresh eggplant were quickly waning: I wanted to try something new.

Enter baingan bharta, one of my favorite North Indian dishes. I adore Indian food and have made lots of it in my time, but I had never made baingan bharta. No better time than the present, right?

As this was my first time making it, I simply googled “baingan bharta” to peruse what was out there and eventually employed a variant of this recipe.  I began by roasting two big eggplants and two large tomatoes; I also added some mustard seeds during preparation. The big difference is that I could not bear (she says, dramatically) to throw out the nutrient-rich skins of both eggplants. I do think that a good portion of the eggplant needs to be mashed to retain the authenticity and flavors of the dish, so one skin had to go. However, I decided to chop the second eggplant into large bite-sized chunks and add them unmashed, peel and all. This provided alluring color, as you could then see some purple peeking through the dish (above, left).  Retaining chunks and peels also added lovely texture and increased the nutrient content.  Finally, because the eggplant hunks required more mastication (chewing) than mashed eggplant, my version of the dish takes more time to eat. Combining the increased chewing time and extra fiber helps you to feel fuller on fewer calories, which are both great strategies to manage weight. (I recently added a new page to my blog “On Weight” so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Raita: Indian Yogurt Sauce

I was delighted with the way this dish turned out, and it worked beautifully served with brown jasmine rice and raita.

To Peel, or Not to Peel: That is the Question

(Groan. Work with me here, I’m desperately trying to find something amusing to say about eggplant, but it’s been a long couple of weeks and I’ve got nothing. Clearly.)

The skins of vegetables are loaded in nutrients and fiber. Remember that it’s the deep colors of vegetables that often indicate valuable phytonutrients (i.e., bioactive, health promoting chemicals found in vegetables). This is one reason why consuming a variety of brightly colored vegetables and fruits is so important to health.  In addition to other beneficial nutrients, eggplant skin contains an anthocyanin known as nasunin, which is a powerful antioxidant with a deep purple hue. Some skins are incredibly fibrous and can’t easily be consumed or digested by humans, but I think a lot of people peel vegetables out of habit, or from what they experienced as a kid. I encourage you to rethink this strategy. I never peel carrots, for example. And potatoes? I eat them infrequently, but if I use chopped potatoes like thin-skinned yukon gold in a soup or, say, aloo gobe, l don’t peel them. Eggplant and other vegetables have fiber inside as well as out, but you’ll get more if you keep the skins on. As well, there are many different types of fibers (soluble and insoluble, for starters), and consuming both the skin and flesh ensures you are getting the most nutrition out of your vegetables.  We all need more fiber, which is associated with less cardiovascular disease and some cancers, and antioxidants are important in fighting off our daily oxidative insults that are associated with aging and some cancers.

One caveat is because the skins are what came into contact with the earth and/or whatever chemicals were used to grow them, it’s important to wash your vegetables really well before using them. (Water works just fine.)  It is always better to choose organic produce if you are able in order to reduce your pesticide exposure, but if you can’t find it, can’t afford it, or whatever, the health benefits of eating any vegetables and fruits far outweighs whatever risks you incur from consuming non-organically grown produce. More on this topic is coming very soon!

Shakespeare AND eggplant, all in one post? (“To thine own self be true” is one of my favorite lines from Hamlet, by the way.) Herein lies the beauty of writing: you never quite know where exactly things will go. Nevertheless, I hope you’ve found a little inspiration somewhere in here today at week’s end, whether via eggplant, Indian food, or the Bard.

And don’t forget to check back soon for eggplant, part 2, where I’ll tell you what I did with some of my leftover baingan bharta…

(So Shakespeare walks into a farmers’ market…)

Going Global, Eating Local (London Style)

As you know, my diet is built on a foundation of local food (to the extent possible). Not surprisingly, I talk a lot about farmers’ markets and fresh produce, where it all begins. Coming soon, you’ll hear more about why this is so important in a short video filmed at the lively Copley Square farmers’ market here in Boston. Look out for it!

In the meantime, healthy, sustainable eating habits travel with me wherever I go – coupled with a goodly dose of sheer indulgence – so in this post I’m summarizing a few of the outstanding dishes I had when I was recently in London. Meals featured seasonal produce including wild mushrooms and root vegetables; local seafood such as oysters, mackerel, and coley; fabulous British cheeses like stilton; and pints of smooth, local ales.

And all I can say is: Wow.

Fine Seasonal Gastropub Fare

After wandering through Borough Market, we popped into “arguably the cosiest pub in Southwark” for a snack. A combination of classic- and gastropub fare, the food was a delight to the eyes and palate. We started with the mushrooms and stilton cream on rye toast (below) – rich, velvety, and extremely satisfying.

Mushrooms and Stilton on Rye Toast (And a Pint of Ale)

After relaxing a bit we headed back out to do some more browsing, but we liked the food and atmosphere so much we went back to complete our meal. We thoroughly enjoyed the fig, goat cheese, pecan, and roasted squash Wensleydale tart, followed by a chocolate and beetroot brownie with creamy vanilla pod ice cream (both of which we split). I was intrigued by the beet addition: though I didn’t really taste anything beet-y about it, ’twas a great brownie nonetheless, with moist crumb and deep chocolate flavor.

Late Lunch with Local Honey

We pulled a rookie move and thought it would be possible to get a quick bite before heading to the theatre for an early 7.30 curtain for Les Misérables. This was sheer folly, and we should have known better. Europeans don’t rush meals, especially in finer restaurants, and though I was clear about needing to leave promptly at 6.45pm our food came at 6.38.

So much for a relaxing pre-theatre meal.

Which is really too bad, because the food was sensational. “An ardent follower of the ‘field to fork’ movement,” Caxton Grill is a lovely spot. It is beautifully appointed and looked upon our hotel’s gardens, still lush given the warm fall weather. (It was so nice to see deep blue hydrangea and other colorful blooms one last time before next year!) The restaurant prides itself on local cuisine. And they do mean local. Check it out: “Our honey is made by the bees on the roof of St. Ermin’s Hotel, pollinated from flowers in St. James’s Park and Regents Park.”

It was such a pity we needed to scarf down our food! I loathe rushing any meal, especially in restaurants. We tried the “smalls” of smoked haddock chowder, pan fried mackerel with horseradish and roasted beets, and honey-roasted root vegetables. The mackerel in particular was outstanding. We were also thrilled that our meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of phyllo stuffed with goat cheese and tomato confit. Of course, flaky, buttery phyllo could be filled wtih styrofoam and it would still be delicious but goat cheese is even better. And I love being served an amuse bouche in restaurants – it’s always a wonderful surprise, kind of like when someone gives you a present unexpectedly. (The kind you actually want.)

By the way: in case you are not familiar, an “amuse bouche” is a complimentary small dish of the chef’s whim designed to whet your appetite. The literal translation is “amuse [your] mouth.” Which, while accurate, sounds much more lovely in French.

A Modern British Late Night Supper

What a joy when a hotel’s concierge provides a stellar recommendation! We never would have found Hix otherwise, an unbelievable restaurant nestled into the West End a few blocks away from the theatre.

The menu was so local it needed translation by our knowledgeable waiter. Intrigued? This super hip restaurant and its four course meal – I held back – require their own post. Check back soon for more details.

Obligatory Fish and Chips, Locavore Style

Eating fish and chips at least once while in England is a must. And I do mean at least once. On our our first road trip together exploring England, Irelend, and Scotland together in 2004, my husband and I ate fish and chips more times than I could possibly remember. (An aside: V never ate fish before I started cooking it for him; now he loves it. Remember what I’ve been saying about exposure? He even eats oysters on the half shell. And guess what? He’s the one who introduced them to me!)

Though we can certainly find some delicious fish and chips here in New England and elsewhere in the US, it just isn’t the same. One of the biggest differences is that in the UK the fish is generally a full, skin-on fillet. My guess is that they also use better different ale in the beer batter. In tandem, it creates an incomparable fish and chips. Quality can certainly vary across the UK but in general it’s incredibly tasty. (And I have a fairly large sample size.) You may know that many Brits enjoy malt vinegar with their fish and chips, as do Canadians, but tartar sauce is also available.

As I was saying: Quite possibly the best fish and chips I’ve had in England. Ever. And I am so thrilled that now I know exactly where to go for my fix whenever I’m there. This was not the actual Fish!kitchen restaurant, by the way. It was one of the outdoor vendors in Borough Market (near the actual restaurant).

A Look of Bliss Upon Discovering Perfect Fish and Chips.

I’m willing to guess that part of the reason this particular fish and chips was so spectacular, other than its perfectly crisp exterior and incredibly tender interior – i.e, baby, they can cook – was because the fish was delivered early that morning. Now, I had been looking forward to one of my favorite British dishes since arriving in England, but I never expected to stumble across a street food vendor serving up locally prepared fish and chips. I reiterate: Wow. I’ve been thinking about that fish in wonderment all week long.

The voices and choices of the local food movement are growing stronger each year, and the world is better because of it.

Will you join in our crusade?

PS: Lest you think the above statement is a bit over the top, do I need to mention this is from the finale of Les Mis? Then again, perhaps I really am an utter zealot for eating local. Select whichever you think makes me cooler.