February 10th, 2010
Every year the MN Chapter of ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) pulls together a team of interior designers to decorate a home in the Twin Cities and then opens it to the public for a month to showcase our local design talent. Each room is designed by a different designer or a team of designers, but they must all fit together with a unified color scheme and theme.
This year Dan Buettner, the author of “The Blue Zones,” has agreed to open his home to ASID as one of the ASID Showcase Homes (a condo at the nearby Edgewater building will be the second home this year, which is a new bonus for the public – two for the price of one).
I am fortunate to be one of the interior designers working on Mr. Buettner’s home. I will be designing a bedroom for his 12 year old son. You’ll have to tour the house to see the room (can’t give it away ahead of time!), but for those who don’t live in the Twin Cities I’ll be sure to post some photos on my website once the tours end.
For those of you who don’t know me, my other passion (besides design) is food! I love cooking, reading food blogs, and eating great meals (either at restaurants or at home). I’ve even created 4 cookbooks over the past few years with the best recipes from my kitchen and from my family and friends’ kitchens. Since I’m always talking about some new restaurant, I was asked to write an article for the new issue of Design Directions, our local ASID magazine, all about eating out following the principles outlined in “The Blue Zones.”
So here is the rather long article. I covered both dining out and tips on where to find local ingredients to make healthy meals at home. Enjoy! I’d love to know what YOUR favorite foods are… are you an improv cook (like me) or do you prefer to follow a recipe?
Eating out is a large part of the American culture, and since the guidelines for healthy living promoted in the Blue Zones philosophy are strongly tied to eating habits and socialization, understanding how to eat out while following the guidelines is a valuable tool in practicing this philosophy.
DINING OUT THE BLUE ZONES WAY
The four areas featured in the Blue Zones are each recognized for having specific foods and food related philosophies that result in much healthier populations.
- Okinawa, Japan – Meat is considered a luxury item, and fish and soy (tofu) are primary protein sources. Their diet is rich in vegetables including sweet potatoes and sea vegetables (ex. seaweed). They practice “hara hara bu” which translates to “8/10 belly,” meaning they stop eating when they feel 80% full.
- Hojancha and Nicoya, Costa Rica – The diet is high in beans, rice, squash, and special corn tortillas.
- Sardina, Italy – Sardinian wine is high in antioxidants, the population gardens and eats their fresh vegetables
- Loma Linda, California – This town is home to a large Seventh Day Adventist population which follows a diet inspired by the Bible, specifically Genesis 1-29. Nuts are a common healthy snack food. They consume a primarily vegetarian diet with plenty of fresh fruit, legumes, whole grains and tomatoes.
So how can these eating habits be incorporated into one’s life? It is always easier to control what one eats and manage portions when eating at home. But this can be particularly challenging when eating out. The following is a guide to help those interested in navigating through the minefield that is a typical restaurant menu when one is trying to be conscious of food choices made. These recommendations are for local restaurants that feature menu items that fit with these Blue Zones philosophies while delivering great flavor.
One of the key lessons is that Japanese food is not just sushi! In fact, many of the rolls popular in American are full of mayonnaise, cream cheese, and tempura-battered deep fried foods, which are not very healthy choices. Nigri, which is a piece of fish (raw or cooked, depending on the fish) draped over a ball of seasoned rice, is a better choice. This allows for the opportunity to fully appreciate the unique flavor and texture of each fish without extra fluff in the way. Simply dip it fish side down into a dish of soy sauce and enjoy. You can even use your fingers if chopsticks are intimidating – it is not considered rude!
For those who do not enjoy fish, consider trying one of the noodle bowls popular throughout Japan. A large bowl of broth is typically served with either udon, soba or ramen noodles, a small portion of protein, such as chicken or pork, a piece of rolled omelet, fish cake, and a few greens. This is a hearty dish that shows that a meal does not need a lot of protein to be satisfied by a meal. In fact, in Japan they often don’t even finish the broth and noodles because the portions are so generous. If you want to try cooking some of these dishes at home, the best resource in town for Asian groceries is United Noodles, the largest Asian grocery store in the Midwest (www.unitednoodles.com). It’s a bit tricky to find, but very worth the effort.
Tanpopo Noodle Shop (www.tanpoporestaurant.com) in downtown St. Paul. Home style Japanese cooking at very reasonable prices. The Nabeyaki Udon noodle bowl is a great starting point for first timers as it offers some of everything, the Agedashi Tofu appetizer is excellent. While the tonkatsu in the entree Tonkatsu Teishoku is a panko-breaded pork cutlet, which is not the healthiest choice, is it portion controlled and represents a typical Japanese home meal as it is served with rice, salad, miso soup, and pickled vegetables. (This is my husband’s favorite dish from childhood and he always orders it!)
Origami (www.origamirestaurant.com) in downtown Minneapolis and Ridgedale Mall. While the wait can be long, the quality of food is high at this popular restaurant. An appetizer of edamame starts a meal off with a solid punch of delicious soy with a hit of salt as when the beans are sucked out of the pod held between one’s teeth (don’t eat the pod!) The sushi is excellent – for those who are not sure what type of fish they will like, the sushi dinner is a good selection because the chef will select a mix of nigri and rolls. They also offer a number of cooked fish and chicken dishes sure to please everyone. Try the salmon in a teriyaki sauce as it offers those all important healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a Costa Rican restaurant in the Twin Cities. However, many of the typical foods eaten in Costa Rica are incorporated into some Mexican dishes as well. So by selecting wisely from the menu at a Mexican restaurant, the principles of the Costa Rican culture studied in “The Blue Zones” can still be followed. Remember to look for beans (whole is better than refried), squash, vegetables, and fish. In Costa Rica a typical meal is rice and beans with fresh or canned tuna and Lizano sauce (a cumin based sauce the consistency of hot sauce, but not that spicy). This dish is easy to recreate at home as recipes for “Gallo Pinto” are readily available online at sites like www.allrecipes.com. Lizano sauce can be purchased through Amazon or at a local Latin American market, like Cosecha Imports at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. It’s addictive stuff, and makes a can of black beans into a flavorful side dish with no effort at all.
Salsa A La Salsa (www.salsaalasalsa.com) in Minneapolis. While the menu here has plenty of typical Mexican and Mexican-American dishes, they also offer dishes not covered in sauces and cheese. The bright, fresh flavors really wow in dishes like orange jicama salad and the grilled marinated salmon. Order the salmon with black beans and grilled vegetables to capture the balance of the Costa Rican diet. If you need a burrito though, don’t miss the popular burrito with steak as it has a great balance of flavors (my husband has never ordered anything else here).
La Sirena Gorda (www.lasirena-gorda.com) in Minneapolis. While visting the Midtown Global Market to pick up a bottle of Lizano sauce, stop by La Sirena Gorda for lunch. Bring a friend along on this exploring trip (remember socialization is one of the principles of the Blue Zone philosophy) and consider splitting an order of ceviche with them. Then order the ensalada de Cancun – your choice of shrimp, ahi tuna, or a crab cake on a generously portioned bed of baby greens, oranges, avocado, jicama, and tortilla strips with an orange vinagrette that’s got a bit of a spicy kick to it.
The Seventh Day Adventists eat a primarily vegetarian diet, rich is fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Also of note is their attitude regarding meal size. The nutritionist Adelle Davis recommended “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper,” and the Adventists have eating habits that parallel this philosophy. This is a reminder that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, jump starting your metabolism, and a great excuse to go out for a big breakfast – as long as you order wisely.
Birchwood Café (www.birchwoodcafe.com) in Minneapolis. This neighborhood restaurant is known for their emphasis on using foods that are organic, harvested ethically and fairly traded. There are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians. Be aware that the restaurant is very popular at brunch time. There are new specials each month for Sunday brunch, and January’s Winter Vegetable Tofu Hash with parsnips, turnips, carrots, red onions, sweet potatoes and spinach, mapled acorn squash and multigrain toast, and a salad of mixed greens would offer a great balance of vegetables, whole grains, and that all important sweet potato (it’s a super food)!
Try the tofu scramble with veggies for breakfast, and the black bean quinoa sandwich for lunch. Quinoa is a grain-like product that is valued because it has a high protein content, is a good source of dietary fiber, and contains a balanced set of essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. This is a great ingredient to incorporate into one’s diet. It is now available at most grocery stores. Try using it in place of couscous to start or added to a vegetable stir fry.
Unlike the pasta based diets of other regions of Italy, the Sardinians eat a lean, plant-based diet with meat reserved for special occasions. Therefore, it can be a bit of a challenge to find an Italian restaurant that features this type of dishes on their menu. Remember that in Sardinia meal time is about family and friends coming together to enjoy the fresh fish catch of the day and fresh produce from the garden. Look for dishes that have the same philosophy and focus, and you will be on the right track.
Biella Restaurant (www.biella-restaurant.com) in Excelsior. Start with a Caprese salad – tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar provide lycopene and the healthy fat of olive oil in a tasty fresh salad. For dinner I would suggest the pan seared trout with quinoa salad, candied walnuts, craisins, tomato, lemon vinaigrette, and cilantro, w/ basil pesto or the sesame seared tuna served with soba noodles, mushrooms, cabbage, wasabi paste, and a soy reduction. Be sure to enjoy a glass of dark red wine with dinner to receive the benefits of the artery-scrubbing flavonoids.
After considering menu choices at restaurants in all four categories, it is clear that there are key principles that work at any restaurant in any cuisine. Key ingredients at a Japanese restaurant may turn up on the menu at an Italian restaurant. The sweet potatoes that the Japanese and Costa Ricans prize are popular at vegetarian restaurants as well. Remember that eating well while following the lessons from the Blue Zones can be a very enjoyable experience by taking the time to learn the rules, selecting wisely, and slowing down to appreciate the experience with family and friends. Bon appétit!
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 at 12:05 pm and is filed under Design & Home Living Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.