Thursday, April 23, 2009

bon appetit

Last weekend was the first few days since getting back from Istanbul, Turkey that I was able to eat real food... and enjoy it, what a blessing. One of my best friends had read about an Alsatian-French restaurant in the Strasbourg version of the "Penny Saver" and when she showed me the 50% off student coupons that came with the article I quickly perked up with excitement for a classically delicious French meal.
The restaurant was the epitome of fine dining decorated with contemporary art from a local Strasbourgeois and named after the French king, Louis XIII. I love being treated like royalty ;). He was born here at the Château de Fontainebleu, (I was there 2 years ago!) and in conjunction with his wife, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Richelieu, inspired the beloved tale of The Three Muskateers. But enough about history and film :) because food is, after all, my topic of choice. After deciding to order the Menu which included an Entrée, Plat, et Dessert we were served a small soup and toast to clean the palate and get our taste buds ready for the delicacies ahead.
"I think the one thing that strikes every American who travels abroad, to France, to Italy, to Spain, to Greece, is how each meal is a kind of celebratory event to be savored and enjoyed." So true. I found this fabulous article from WebMD titled, Diet Secrets from Around the World. But I'd have to say that living abroad has done anything but reinforce a "diet" approach to food and eating. I had the seafood soup as my appetizer while my friends split the smoked salmon plate. We ate slowly, savoring each bite, and ended up spending almost three hours at the restaurant. The importance of taking the time to taste the food and reflect on the day's events with friends & family has been forgotten in our on-the-go American society. It's a shame that people miss out on their full cues and bonding time. Then came our main course, a plate of river fish and fresh tagliatelles in my case served alongside spring asparagus, celery root, and broccoli. It may look like a heavy meal but portions were small and I certainly didn't feel uncomfortable after eating. I hadn't eaten since lunch time, about 7 hours before. Spending time in South America and Europe has made snacking a thing of the past and on the rare occasion that I do feel the need for a little afternoon fuel a yogurt and/or piece of fresh fruit has become my encas of choice. Whole foods please! I was in the mood for brie so I made sure to use my dessert order for the cheese platter which my friends and I shared. Before studying abroad I would have never considered indulging in cheese and dessert in one meal but it hasn't caused me any trouble lately. Why? Because I move. I've gotten back into running again (yay!) and bike or walk anywhere and everywhere I go.
"For [the French], walking is the most simple, the most inexpensive exercise there is. Besides what it does to your waistline, it is also exercise for the mind because it gives you time to relax, to think, to dream, and to look at the sky or the buildings or at nature. So it has many other effects that go with the French lifestyle of body and mind."
That quote is from one of my favorite inspiring women, Mireille Guiliano, when she spoke to and I'd have to agree completely. Furthermore, another inspiration, my Chilean host-mom, has taught me about the joy of exercising. In the past I had tried to stay active because I was supposed to but before Chile I had no idea it could be so personally-rewarding as some of my Body Balance classes were or realizing that I was capable of being a "runner." All three of us split two dessert plates, the first a Tarte aux Fraises, and the second, a Génoise au Chocolat. They were the perfect size to contently fill our tummies and tasted spectacular! It was one of the best meals I have ever had, even especially special after having been sick. I know I won't be able to eat so decadently once I get back to the United States and I don't think it would be healthy or balanced to do so on a regular basis... however, I am most definitely bring back my reformed lifestyle of the joie de vivre. Paired with an evolving knowledge of nutrition and fitness I'm not so worried about self-confidence anymore when it comes to sitting down to eat or going out to exercise. Experiencing different ways of life has and forever will impact my own life but everyone, well-traveled or not, can make changes to better their health and happiness. Here's some final tips from's Diet Secrets from Around the World:
From Asia: While Americans generally see meat as an entrée, the Asian habit is to use it as agarnish, much the way we eat pickles with a ham sandwich. Most Asian meals consist primarily of vegetables that are merely "spiced" with the flavor of meat. For additional protein sources, this culture eats fish and beans, particularly soy.
Tip: Load your plate with carbohydrates, including grains such as rice. Carbohydrates have been on the American dieter's hit list. Yet in Asia where they're thinner, carbohydrates, particularly rice, are a dietary mainstay. So what's the trick? Master the Asian art of substitution, using rice and vegetables to replace high-fat meat dishes, not as side dishes to eat along with them.
From South America: If you're convinced a meal is not a meal unless you've had a hunk of beef between your teeth, take a tip from Argentineans and buy only super-lean cuts. While these folks reportedly eat up to 30 pounds more beef a year than Americans, their rate of heart disease is decidedly lower. One big difference: Argentinean cows are grass-fed, so the meat is naturally lower in fat -- just 2.5 grams per 4 ounces -- compared with America's grain-fed cattle, which produce steaks with a whopping 10.8 grams of saturated fat in 4 ounces.
From the Mediterranean: The message here: Eat from the source! If Americans took away any lesson from the famed, heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, it was to replace saturated fats with healthier fats, like those found in olive oil. The message we didn't seem to get: In most European cultures, folks not only cook with olive oil, they actually eat the olives. This "whole foods" approach to diet not only allows them to reap the benefits of the oils, it fills their bellies with a heart-healthy food.
Cultures including the French and the Greek also augment the benefits of red wine by eating the grapes -- a typical "dessert" in many European countries.
Tip: If you do drink wine, or any alcoholic beverage, do like the French and drink it only with meals. On an empty stomach, alcohol goes right to the brain, dissolving those inhibitions that might otherwise keep you from diving into a bowl of potato chips or eating way too much of your entrée. Drinking on empty can also drop blood sugar, bringing on ravenous hunger and causing you to overeat.
From Africa: Add more nuts to your diet -- even consider them as part of your main meal. In at least one African nation, Gambia, peanuts frequently make up the basis of a meal; a favorite dish being tomato and peanut stew. While we consider stews fattening, they are enjoyed daily in this culture. The trick is to load the pot with vegetables, spices, and, of course, nuts, which can replace meat or poultry as a source of protein. And does it work? Well, not only do the Gambians have virtually no weight problems, they also have the lowest international incidence of all types of cancer.

Japan, Thailand, Greece, Egypt, South Africa... looks like I have quite a few more places to go :) what do you think of my highly-biased point of view? Have any other global tips of well-being? Happy Thursday!

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