In the Eataly kitchen with Dr. Schar

So far in my life I have been fortunate to not have to worry about any special restrictions or nutritional needs in my diet (knock on wood), but I always try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and learn about new foods.  I was excited to receive an invitation to join Schar USA at the famed La Sculo di Eataly to receive my FIRST gluten-free dining experience.  I knew gluten-free labels have been stamped across products like crazy over the last year as marketers look to leverage the fad food term, taking advantage of the overwhelming consumer ignorance and misconceptions on what exactly gluten-free means.  Yes, there can be some healthful benefits to cutting wheat, rye and barley from our diet.  But in our selfish search for new ways to cut calories, we quickly forget why these labels even exist — that many people living with celiac disease rely on these products and need to maintain a  strict dietary regimen on a regular basis.  Schar is the real deal.  They have been around for thirty years and is the #1 market leader in Europe.  I made some friends at this event as I heard some stories that really opened up my eyes; like Carolyn from the blog GF Bird who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2003 and didn’t go out to eat for three years!  Our guest host and GF inspiration was Jenn Suhr, 2012 Olympic Champion and U.S. record holder in Women’s Pole Vault, who also lives with celiac disease.  My hero of the night was Connor, an eight-year old boy from Syracuse who attended the event with his mom, Christine.  Christine submitted a story to Schar about her newly diagnosed son on “what better gluten-free living” means to me, and it simply brought me to tears as she read it aloud.  In an excerpt of her submission: “It’s been a struggle and at first he was focusing on what he was “losing”.  To support Connor I have started eating gluten-free with him.  Together we try new products, visit local events and experiment with new recipes … Celiac doesn’t define him, but being gluten-free is now a big part of who he is and he’s embracing it.”

Schar USA is a great resource to receive tips and advice on how to handle everyday situations with children from school to vacation.  Christine is launching a blog and a social media group as her biggest challenge at the moment is the lack of outside support for gluten-free children in her area.  Through her new online initiatives with Connor, they are excited to share local kid-friendly restaurants, recipes, party ideas and products with others. I think Christine has a great story to tell and can be a wonderful inspiration and peer for other parents and families.

Now onto the food.  I must admit, the food was delicious and I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy my first gluten-free packaged food item.  Of course, you can expect anything coming out of an Eataly kitchen to be delicious as they customized a menu using Schar, but I found myself nibbling on the Schar baguettes even without the cheese and prosciutto!  I honestly could barely taste the difference between actual bread.  And since this was a celebration of Celiac Awareness Month, what would be a celebration without dessert?   Chef Alice Walter gave everyone a big treat at the end as she demonstrated how to make Tiramisu with Dr Schar Ladyfingers.

I was handed even more goodies like graham crackers and lemon wafers to take home.  Honestly, I liked everything so much I’d definitely purchase the product on my own.  Considering going gluten-free?  I support it!  Just make sure to educate yourself and are sensitive to the fact that that 300,000-plus people in this country with celiac disease are living gluten-free as a tantamount necessity, not as a the latest weight loss diet fad.

Here is a link to the Vine video I created with some photos below.

Enjoy!

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Vino series: the wines of Washington

Throughout my travels I’ve had the luxury of cycling through Stellenbosch in South Africa and sampling many local wines across South America.  People think I know a lot about wine…well, I don’t.  I’m a wino in the sense that I love the taste of wine and it’s always my alcohol of choice at a party or in the comfort of my home, but my knowledge is limited…okay, very limited.  As long as it tastes good to me, right?  It doesn’t help that I have a terrible palate.   Ask me to identify a food taste or aroma blindly and probably 9 out of 10 times I won’t get it until someone says, “did you get that boysenberry aroma and candied mango finish?” And then I’d anxiously shout, “Yes!  I was just going to say that!”   But, that’s the fun of trying new things.

Located within the famed Chelsea Market in New York, Chelsea Wine Vault offers many events and classes each month with various seminar themes ranging from food pairings, grape variety or honing in on a specific wine region.

Last night wine professor Steve Lieder took us through an educational, aromatic and palate-pleasing adventure exploring some of the best wines the state of Washington has to offer.  In fact, Washington wineries have increased 400% in the last decade!  Despite popular belief because of the state’s notoriety for rain, Washington is an ideal place to grow wine – specifically east of the Cascade mountains.  The state is located in the same latitude as some of the great French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and now includes thirteen federally recognized appellations.

There were twelve to fifteen “students” (aka winos) in this class.  We were situated along three long rectangle tables forming an open square so we were all facing the professor and his powerpoint presentation that was projected on a TV screen.  In front of us we were each poured six glasses of wine and a glass of water along with platters of brie, crackers and red grapes.  I gazed at the pen and informative papers also placed in front of me wondering if professor Steve was going to throw in a pop quiz at the end.  Should I beeline for the door?  Then I thought of one of the fun wine posters I pinned the other day and just made the mental note in my head: “when in doubt, drink more wine.”

The class was a little over an hour so this is how it works:  professor Steve provides a brief geographical overview on the various appellations in the state.  Then he takes us through each wine to taste and reflect on the mouthful of flavors while he provides a little background on the seller, region and variety.  Thankfully, he emphasized right away not to drink the whole glass because we were going to make two laps around to see how our palates have changed and after it gave the wines more time to open up.   It was quite interesting to sample the wines twice around because the flavor profile really did change for me.  I’ll let everyone make their own decision, but I will tell you that I picked up a bottle of the Trust Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon afterwards.  It’s actually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (83%), Merlot (12%) and Cabernet Franc (5%) but by law, anything over 75% of a varietal can have its name on the label.  I just tend to attract more to the oaky reds (this wine was treated to 16 months in French oak), and I love the peppery finish from the Cabernet Franc.  Well, now that you know my favorite, check out the wines below and try them out for yourself!

In case you need another reason to sign up, you get 10% off a bottle of wine after the class!  I’ll be back, professor Steve.

Wordless Wednesday

“To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.” 

– Anthony Bourdain

Perks of running the Brooklyn Half Marathon

Yesterday I completed my first half marathon.  I’m a pretty avid runner and exercise almost six days a week so many of my friends assumed it would be a breeze for me.  When I was in college (six years ago) I used to run close to ten miles on a pretty regular basis with zero cross training which wore out my knees and forced me to supplement my exercise routine with spin, pilates and weight training.  Since then, I haven’t run more than nine miles consecutively.  Aside from my fear of recurring injuries, I think a major reason I refrained from marathons stems from my utter lack of competitiveness.  I never liked playing sports.  I do not come from an athletic family.  I played field hockey in high school, but I am not a competitive person and cared less every time we lost (sorry, not sorry SHS.)  I enjoy exercising, but on my own terms and my own schedule.

Anyway, my friend finally convinced me to sign up for the Brooklyn Half Marathon.  I was excited because we would be able to train together, it would be nice motivation, and a great social activity (which reminded me why I signed up to play stupid sports like field hockey.)  I’ve met some wonderful people through JackRabbit group runs.  On Tuesdays they run about 4 miles, and then head to the bar for celebratory beers afterwards (my fave post-run activity) and then host longer runs other days throughout the week and weekend.

So, how was my first half?  I lost my former track star runner friend within the first 5 minutes which concerned me at first because I didn’t have my training buddy and key motivator by my side.  However, I ran the entire time which was my ultimate goal and I made sure to listen to my body.  My knees were really bothering me a couple weeks before the race so I stopped very briefly every 3-4 miles to get in a quick leg stretch which I think definitely helped.  I completed the race in 2 hours and 20 minutes which was perfect timing for me, and I couldn’t feel happier and more accomplished.  I’ve also signed up for the New York Road Runners which will encourage me to sign up for more runs and meet more running buddies.

Oh, and the BEST part about the Brooklyn Half?  The kick-ass Brooklyn Half pre-party presented by New Balance.  Hosted in the Old Tobacco Warehouse overlooking Brooklyn’s East River waterfront,  there was a DJ AND live music, plenty of sports gear and apparel to purchase for souvenirs and last-minute necessities, and tasty bites and beers which seemed all too appropriate for me to indulge in before I go burn 1,600 calories.  Well done, NYRR and New Balance.  I am signing up again and look forward to attending this party.

Tranquilo time in Bocas del Toro

The hardest part about traveling to other countries is adapting to their time schedule, or absolute lack thereof.  Despite the fact that you’re on vacation and the central purpose of the trip is to RELAX, we’re still New Yorkers and we are all about promptness and efficiency.  Usually if we complain like an obnoxious American we can ultimately get what we want … but not in Bocas del Toro.  Comprised of nine inhabited islands and about 300 tiny islets of glorious jungles and beach, Bocas is the archetype of tranquilo.  And, it’s awesome.

One of the funniest memories I have from that trip was our breakfast experience at our hotel.  There were only two options on the menu because it came free with our hotel stay, so we ordered the American breakfast.  Anticipate a wait time for at least one and half to two hours.  You think they are butchering the pig in the back or sending a boat out to catch some fresh fish.  Once your food finally arrives it looks something like the below, with the plastic-wrapped cheese and all.  We coined it the “white trash breakfast.”  Then we came to realize this happens EVERYWHERE no matter where you are eating or what you are doing.  When going out to eat in Panama, you always need to bring two things: a snack and patience.

white trash breakfast

I think the minimal development has helped to maintain the charm and chilled out vibe of the Caribbean.  I traveled there in 2009 and I’m dying to go back.  I need the tranquilo time…

Where to stay:  Hotel Bocas Del Toro.  Probably one of the nicest boutique hotels on the island (even with the “white trash breakfast”:)

Where to eat:  Lili’s Cafe.  The best fish sandwiches on the island, great table seating situated on the water and the vivacious owner is always walking around and socializing with guests.  Her “Killing me Man” hot sauce will clear your sinuses right up and kick any hangover.

Where to drink:  Mondo Taitú Bar.  Whether or not you start there for happy hour, all nights end at this chill, low-key bar.  Guaranteed a good time and crazy shenanigans, especially on theme nights.  Aqua Lounge is a fun place for dancing, but you have to take a ferry to get there which is kind of annoying.  There’s a hole carved out in the middle of the dock so you can jump off a high board into the water.  Despite the many warnings of jelly fish, Rita partook in the activity and naturally, was stung more than a few times.

Make sure you go:  Red Frog Beach.  Known as one of Panama’s most beautiful beaches, Red Frog has breathtaking views of the Caribbean and one of the major surfing destinations.

Mother’s Day in the kitchen with Mom

I went home to Stamford, CT this weekend to spend some quality time with my mom and brother.  As I mentioned, my mom is a ninja in the kitchen so now that I started my new blog I was really enthusiastic to cook for her on this special weekend.

Before we even figured out a recipe for Saturday dinner, the first stop was Paganos’ Seafood in Norwalk so we could check out the goods and choose our cut of fish.  We were debating between the red snapper and halibut, but ended up going with the fresh halibut from Nova Scotia.

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After perusing through a couple different preparations, we decided we’d try the Roasted Halibut with Walnut Crust.  The only ingredient we didn’t have was chive so I substituted with scallion.  It seemed like a perfect recipe because it would have a little bit of crunch from the panko and toasted walnuts and two of my favorite herbs, which were picked from the new herb garden my mom gave me along with her own little harvest in the backyard.  A a little side story – my mom loves to bring fresh flowers and plants to my apartment.  I enjoy having them there to brighten up the rooms, except plants and I never get along.  I didn’t think watering would be too complicated and I certainly don’t care to read a damn thing about gardening, so it’s always a touch-and-go process for me.  However, I’m determined to make this herb garden work.  It didn’t really help when I went outside to grab the basil and pulled from the stem instead of the leaf.  Mom correction #1.  Gardening for Dummies begins now.

From left to right (thyme, basil, rosemary, mint)

Herb garden de Krystina

It was a big hunk of fish for the three of us so I was little nervous I would undercook it but it cooked through perfectly.  I will definitely make this recipe again!

My brother and I prepared brunch for Mom today.  I was in charge of the watercress-fontina souffléd omelet that she picked out and wanted me to make and Adam concocted a kick-ass Bloody Mary.  Note: before you start any dish, make sure you know all of the cooking terms.  Of course, I didn’t know what soft peaks meant; I assumed it just meant to beat the eggs with a fork until Kath had to intervene (after she was done laughing hysterically in my face) and show me that I needed to use the beater.  Other than that, it was a smashing success!

Check out the recipe prep from start to finish in this fun little Vine video.

Hope everyone enjoyed their Mother’s Day as much as I did.  I am so lucky to have such a wonderful and beautiful maman et famille.

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Wordless Wednesday

Panama Canal

“There comes a point in your life when you realize who really matters, who never did, and who always will.”