Moab, UT (and a little Salt Lake City, too)

We recently visited some family and friends in Salt Lake City and were luck to have great weather to enjoy all of the natural beauty of Utah.

We visited Silver Lake, in the Wasatch Range south of Salt Lake City. There’s still snow in those mountains! We found a patch of snow near the trail and needless to say a snowball fight promptly ensued.

The next day we took a road trip down to Moab, UT, in the southern part of the state. As we traveled further south, the landscape changed dramatically–the alpine mountain ranges disappeared and the desert appeared. It was desolate and beautiful.

Moab is home to Arches National Park, an incredibly beautiful and otherworldly place to visit. I know our planet is ancient, but it’s easy to loose track of that living a city life. Arches National Park puts it into perspective–the spectacular rock formations were carved out by ancient rivers that have long since diminished and receded. It’s hard to imagine a time when there was enough water around to carve out this landscape.

We had one hot and overcast day in the park and one gloriously-blue skyed more temperate day. If you go, please be smarter than we were and bring a cooler full of cold water. It’s so dry there it’s nearly impossible to stay hydrated. We managed, just barely, with our small supply of water, but I would have felt better with more.

After a day of driving and hiking around the park, we had a fantastic dinner at Miguel’s Baja Grill.

Miguel’s is basically an open-air restaurant, but it was cool and comfortable even on a hot day. Almost the entire menu is available gluten-free, and the staff is knowledgable and friendly. Their margaritas are outstanding!

A quick google search located two yoga studios in Moab. Sadly, I did not have time to get a class in, but I love that such a small town can support two studios!

Gluten free diners have some good options in Moab, but you still need to ask questions! Lunch at Pasta Jay’s was a bit disappointing. They have a gluten-free pizza crust, but take no special precautions to make sure the finished pizza remains gluten free (they use the same toppings and sauce that they use on their regular pizza crusts). They do have gluten-free pasta available, however, and their food is tasty (if a tad pricey–this is a tourist town, after all).

Breakfast at Peace Tree Cafe was delightful. They have interesting egg options (including a green eggs and ham dish, served by our waiter, Sam) and are knowledgable about gluten free dining. They offer gluten-free bread, but they don’t have a separate toaster for it. But, they had no trouble preparing a gluten-free omelette (and really, how hard is that anyway?). Peace Tree Cafe makes delightful smoothies along with their other nice breakfast items. They’re open for lunch and dinner, also.

I’m looking forward to another trip to Moab, hopefully one involving bikes and some more hiking!

New Orleans round up

My husband and I just returned from a wonderful week in New Orleans. Visiting New Orleans means you’re going to eat well and have a great time.

We definitely ate well on this trip, though I suspect I consumed more butter in 5 days than I do in five months. New Orleans cuisine is far from dietetic or healthy, but just fine for vacation indulgence. Until recently, New Orleans was a difficult place to have any dietary restrictions. Vegetarians are relegated to ethnic restaurants and salads. There seemed to be little awareness of food allergies or restrictions in wait staff.

I’ve been puzzled by the ignorance about food sensitivities–New Orleans’ only real industry is tourism, and people with food sensitivities travel. When I was researching places to eat for this trip I was pleasantly surprised by a reasonably long list of gluten-free friendly restaurants. I think it’s safe to assume that any restaurant that is taking steps to protect it’s gluten-free customers will also do a good job with other sensitivities.

We enjoyed several meals at Drago’s, whose main claim to fame is charbroiled oysters.
charbroiled oysters
Oysters are every day food in New Orleans, and they’re eaten raw or cooked. Drago’s invented charbroiled oysters, and now they’re available all over the city. I’ve eaten them in a variety of restaurants and I have to say that Drago’s might be the best. They are extremely rich, and though we don’t usually eat such rich food, I think we had charbroiled oysters almost every day of our trip.

Drago’s has a gluten-free menu, and the waitstaff at their riverside location was knowledgable and helpful. If you are gluten-free and want to try the charbroiled oysters, make sure to order them without the bread.

We also had a delightful and low-key meal at Carmo’s. Carmo’s calls itself a “tropical cafe,” and their menu includes things like plantains and quinoa. Their menu indicates which items are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. This is definitely not classic New Orleans cuisine, but a refreshing, light break from all the butter and cream sauces. I enjoyed their nourishing Esmeralda salad, made of black beans and quinoa.

No trip to New Orleans would be complete without fried seafood at Casamento’s and West African cuisine at Bennachin, which I’ve blogged about before. Bennachin doesn’t seem to have a web page, but they are on facebook. It’s a great restaurant for vegetarians and people with food sensitivities, and it’s a nice break from heavy New Orleans cuisine for everyone else.

crawfishCrawfish season is in full swing right now, so we did our part to eat as many as possible. One of our best meals on this trip was boiled crawfish and shrimp (along with some potatoes boiled in the spicy crawfish boil). We picked them up at Big Fisherman seafood on Magazine St., and took them to the riverside park that the locals call “the Fly.” for a wonderful and messy picnic.

We tried to do enough walking to balance out all the rich foods, but I also made sure to get a yoga class in at Reyn Studios in the CBD/Warehouse district. It’s reasonably close to many of the major hotels, so it’s easy to get your yoga fix if you’re vacationing there. The space is beautiful, and the owner, Reyn, taught a great class.

I found several other restaurants that either had gluten-free menus or knowledgeable staff, but didn’t make it on this trip. Here’s a list of them–perhaps you can check them out yourself and let me know what you think:

The Palace Cafe, a fine dining restaurant with a separate gluten-free menu.
The Wandering Buddha–has a vegan and gluten free menu
Satsuma Cafe–a small cafe with experience serving GF customers.
Truburgers, which offers a GF bun for it’s burgers.
La Petite Grocery, like many nice restaurants, is said to have a knowledgeable staff to assist diners with food sensitivities.

Crawfish photo CC licensed by adie reed.

Oysters photo CC licensed by  K Tao.

Dutch stamppot

We just returned from a delightful holiday in Holland. The picture below was taken on a cold morning in Amsterdam. The weather was cold and mostly dry, though we did get a bit of snow.

While in Amsterdam, we rented a small apartment so that we could experience the city more as a resident and (a little) less like a tourist. We shopped at the local Albert Heijn market and cooked many of our own meals. I know many people like to get away and leave the kitchen and the dirty dishes behind, but we find it oppressive and expensive to eat out 3 meals a day, every day of our vacation. The apartment helped us avoid this–breakfast at “home” before we set out for the day’s adventures, lunch at a restaurant, and dinner back at “home,” when we just couldn’t walk around any more.

I love visiting grocery stores when I travel to other countries. I love seeing what different types of foods are available and how they’re packaged. Judging by our local Albert Heijn, the Dutch eat a lot of potatoes! They sold bags of partially-cooked, peeled potatoes in a wide variety of different shapes and sizes. The also sold large bags of chopped kale, or “boerenkool.” I was extremely excited to see that kale!

The bags of boerenkool were sold to use for the Dutch comfort food, Stamppot. It’s basically like Irish Colcannon–mashed potatoes with kale (or cabbage) and various seasonings. The Dutch serve it with boiled (!) sausage on the side. It is simple and hearty, a perfect antidote to the cold, damp weather they have in Holland. Oh yeah, and here in Boston, too. Cold, damp–does that sound familiar to anyone?

There are a variety of recipes out there, and it seems like you can really make it any way you like. I think it would be fantastic with some roasted garlic mashed in. It’s a great way to get more kale into your diet.

Here’s one of the recipes that I found on the internet. The original recipe includes sausage, but I’ve removed that. When we made it, we served it with an English lentil roast (a recipe that I will post later).

Stamppot

3 lbs potatoes
2 onions
1 bay leaf
1 lb kale
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter

1. Peel and dice potatoes and onions.
2. Clean, trim and slice kale.
3. Add the potatoes, onion, kale, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt and just enough water to cover all in a 3 qrt pan.
4. Cover and boil gently for about 25 minutes.
5. Remove the bay leaf, drain the vegetables, and mash them.
6. Add milk and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Camping, Biking and tasty poached eggs on polenta

Every August my husband and I celebrate our anniversary with a long camping trip. This year we camped in Vermont at Grand Isle State Park on the Lake Champlain Islands. It was divine!

We brought our bikes and spent our days cycling and swimming in the lake.

There are some excellent maps with suggested bike routes here and here. The island routes were primarily on empty country roads with little traffic and quaint farms and lake views throughout.

Our routes also took us past apple orchards and farms selling eggs and other assorted produce. Most things were sold on the honor system–a sign announced what was available, and a jar or box was available for you to leave your money in.

After an active day of biking and cooling off in the lake, we like to prepare simple, tasty meals to replenish and set us up for another day of biking. But what can you cook when you are camping? Our camp stove is sort of like a little jet engine, and the only thing it really does is boil things at a high temperature. In our early days of camping we did a lot of mix-type things. You know, boil some stuff and dump in some seasoning. Those mixes didn’t make us feel very good, though because they were basically boxes full of chemicals.

We realized that we could make healthier, tastier food with just a little more work than dumping a box of stuff in water. Since we’re only car camping (not backpacking–we’re too old for that!), we can bring heavy canned foods, some fresh produce and most importantly a cutting board. Now when we camp we eat variations on this recipe–a can of tomatoes with some sort of seasoning and some protein. This version has eggs, but it works well with a can of black beans, too. We buy a roll of prepared polenta, use 1/2 of it for one meal, and keep it fresh in our cooler to use the next day.

Camp Cuisine Poached Eggs Diablo on Polenta

Serves 2

1/2 roll of prepared polenta
1 onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
Olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp. cumin powder
Salt to taste
1 can Muir Glen Adobo tomatoes or Ro-Tel tomatoes (something spicy)
4 eggs

Saute onion, garlic and dash of salt in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and continue sauteing until everything is soft and the onions are starting to brown. Add cumin powder and saute for just a few seconds, then add entire can of tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn fire down to simmer for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Make 4 indentations in tomato mixture and crack eggs into the pot. Bring back to a boil and poach eggs for about 3-4 minutes (or longer if you don’t like runny yolks).
Cut polenta into at least 4 slices and divide them between 2 bowls. Top each with 2 eggs and 1/2 of the sauce.
Enjoy!

This tasted amazing on our trip, sitting in front of the fire ring under the stars, listening to the crickets and cicadas. If your surroundings are less divine, you might need to up the flavors–maybe some oregano? Maybe some tabasco?

Yoga in New Orleans

During my week in New Orleans, I went to classes at 2 different yoga studios in New Orleans. Swan River Yoga Shala on Magazine St. in the Garden District, and Wild Lotus Yoga on Perrier St. Uptown. Both studios had really great atmosphere. I was in the third-floor Castle studio at Swan River, which had great views of the surrounding rooftops. Wild Lotus and stenciled gold lotus flowers here and there on their floors, which were delightful to use as drishtis (points to focus on to help with balance). Both classes were ashtang/vinyasa style yoga, though Swan River offers classes in other styles.

In Michelle Baker’s class at Swan River, we spent the first 30 minutes of the 75 minute class chanting and listening to Michelle give a dharma talk. The chanting was nice, but I personally could have done with less talking and more yoga. Cecelia at Wild Lotus did no chanting and led us through a solid 90 minute class of ashtanga.

Taking yoga classes in other cities is really a great thing to do on vacation. I like to travel my Yogatoes non-slip yoga towel/mat with me as it packs up pretty small, and then I just use one of the studio’s mats underneath. It’s fun to check in with other yoga communities–I always learn something new!

Boiled Crawfish, Grilled Oysters, Fried Plantains, oh my!

I just spend the week in New Orleans, and though our beloved Casamento’s Restaurant was closed for the summer, we ate very well and gluten-free all week. Crawfish were in season, so we (happily) ate boiled crawfish probably every other day, and lots of oysters. The oysters were not as good as they were on our Christmas trip, though. But, that didn’t seem to affect the grilled oysters we ate at Quarterview Restaurant in Metairie and Deanie’s in the French quarter. They were proof that using ample butter, garlic and cheese makes anything taste delicious!

Aside from boiled crawfish (and shrimp), our best meals were at Bennachin, a tiny West African restaurant at 1212 Royal St. in the French Quarter. They don’t have a website, and I’ve been unable to find their menu online to post here. We happily dined on Jama Jama ni Makondo, a plate of tasty sauteed spinach, coconut rice and sweet fried plantains. We also had the Kone ni Makondo, a tomato-based black eyed pea stew, also served with coconut rice and plantains. For desert, we had more fried plantains topped with a rich yogurt-based sauce (I think it was vanilla yogurt with some sour cream mixed in) that really knocked us out! It was delicious! If you are avoiding gluten, just make sure you tell them not to put bread on your plate (actually a good thing to do anywhere you dine in New Orleans).

New Orleans is for food lovers!


Our annual holiday trip to New Orleans to visit my family is always a big food-fest. Like anyone visiting New Orleans, we do our best to eat as much of the wonderful local cuisine as we can. I should point out that though this is a health blog, I would not call New Orleans cuisine “healthy” It’s full of butter and cream and lots of fried things. So, occasional indulgence is o.k., but we always have to “detox” with lots of fresh veg and brown rice when we come back to Boston!

We had a fantastic meal of raw oysters and perfectly fried seafood at Casamento’s on Magazine St. in the Garden District. This is definitely an old-school, family-run restaurant. They aren’t open every day, and don’t serve both lunch and dinner every day. If you go, you should plan to wait at least 30-45 minutes for a table as the place is tiny and no one (employees or customers) is in a hurry. We found the wait worth it–the oysters were amazing and came with a set up to make your own cocktail sauce with Ketchup, horseradish, tabasco and a lemon wedge. My husband and I shared a fried seafood platter that had fried shrimp, oysters, catfish, and crab claws. It was probably some of the best fried food I’ve ever eaten–it was completely grease-less, and almost seemed light!
For those of you avoiding gluten in your diet, please check Casamento’s out! Their fried seafood is gluten-free, though you should be sure to ask them to leave the bread off of the plate.

We also ate at Deanie’s seafood in the French Quarter and had grilled oysters and blackened redfish (both also gluten-free).

Sadly, crawfish were not in season when we visited, but we made sure to eat as many boiled shrimp as we could on this trip. In New Orleans, we boil our seafood whole (that’s with the head and tail intact), and we like it spicy. If you’re lucky, you can also get some potatoes, onions or maybe corn on the cob that’s been boiled in the “crab boil,” as we call any spicy boiling mixture. Boiled seafood is another good option for people with food sensitivities as it does not contain gluten, soy or egg (or corn, unless the restaurant boils corn cobs–just ask).