Beans, Beans, Good For The Heart

Beans, beans, good for the heart. Don’t snicker – it turns out to be true. It’s a great health choice to add more beans to your daily food intake. The isoflavones in beans reduce the risk of heart disease and a diet rich in beans helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which has been shown to reduce the risk of many cancers. Eating beans may even ease the symptoms of menopause and improve bone health. And of course beans are rich in protein and high in fiber.

Should we go ahead and talk about the elephant in the room? Some people avoid beans because, lets face it, no one is thrilled with having gas (or being in a room with someone who does), and beans have a pretty strong reputation when it comes to this problem. Yeah, it isn’t much fun when it happens. The good news is that the more often you eat beans, the more used to them your body gets and (I promise!) the less of a problem this becomes. Chewing your meal thoroughly will help break everything down before it gets to your gut, so your stomach and intestines don’t need to do all the work. Products like Beano can help too. If it helps you feel better, or if you just want a fun fact, it turns out that Beethoven had some serious digestive problems (although somehow I don’t think this is because of an uptake in bean consumption). Listen to the fourth movement of his second symphony. Anything sound sort of familiar? If you listen carefully and use your imagination, you’ll hear burps, intestinal gurgles, and maybe even some gas. Like they say: write what you know. Beethoven knew about gas.

OK, now that you’ve learned some musical trivia, do know why it’s healthier to incorporate more beans into your diet? Ways to minimize gas issues? How are you going to fit extra beans into your daily eating?

One of the easiest and most delicious ways that my family adds beans to our daily life is to always have a plastic container of bean salad in the fridge. This is dead easy to make and very tasty. Simply drain and rinse a can of white beans (we like Great Northerns or cannellini) and put into a bowl. Mince about a tablespoon or two of shallot or onion and add it, then salt, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. This is a wonderful snack, side dish or as part of an antipasti platter.

Another simple bean salad is to drain and rinse a can of black beans. Add some corn (go ahead and use frozen corn – just rinse it under hot water first), season with lime juice, salt and pepper and olive oil. If you want to make it even more interesting you can add chopped tomato, cilantro, avocado, a hot pepper – whatever sounds good. This is a great side with Mexican food or things like hot dogs or burgers.

Another easily incorporated side dish is mashed beans as your carbohydrate. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and cook 1/2 chopped onion until soft. Add one chopped garlic clove, two cans of drained white beans, 2/3 cup of water or broth, and salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for about four minutes. Using a blender (I liked my immersion blender for this – made it easy) zap this and add a little more extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice to taste.

Looking for a healthy snack? A few years back I found this recipe for Crunchy Paprika Chickpeas in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food and even my chickpea hating husband is a fan. Preheat the oven to 450, drain and rinse two cans of chickpeas and pat dry. Put on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with three tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Spread out and roast until brown and crispy, tossing occasionally, about 35-40 minutes. Sprinkle with 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of paprika, then roast for 2-3 minutes more. Cool and then enjoy this salty, crunchy and healthy snack.

You don’t have to give up beans when you go out to eat. Plenty of places in our area have options. You could start at Mediterranean Deli for some hummis, falafel or various side salads. Tallulah’s and Kipos also have bean spreads. Tyler’s Taproom makes a good vegetarian bean chili. Margaret’s (like most of the other Tex/Mex or burrito places around) is a great place for a bean infusion. Carolina Brewery has a black bean soup. Village Burger in University Mall makes a lentil burger, and Milltown has tasty lentil and leek sliders. There are tons of options at local restaurants, and easy ways to get more beans into your diet at home. And so (how could I end this column any other way?) eat those beans at every meal!

You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.

Rocky Run Farm

There is a lot of talk these days about farm-to-fork eating. In our area many people take it seriously and generally do a good job of eating thoughtfully; using fresh, local ingredients. Isaiah Allen personifies this way of living. He is currently Chef de Cuisine at Il Palio (my last column told the romantic story of how he’d come to make the wonderful Tagliatelle al Tartufo there) and will soon be Executive Chef of the Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw. And, of course, he also owns Rocky Run Farm with his wife Whitney, and the line between all of those jobs blurs in wonderful and interesting ways.

About three or four years ago Isaiah and Whitney decided they wanted to try growing their own food, even though they had no previous experience. They were trying to eat better and had been watching documentaries like Food, Inc. while learning about pollution and commodity farming. They became more and more captivated with the ideas they were hearing and wanted to do something to make a difference. They started by setting up a small garden in their front yard, growing tomatoes and basil. After cooking with their produce food, they realized that they had an itch for farming and wanted to do more of it. Through talking to people, they found out that Whitney’s uncle had some family land. Eventually they expanded onto area and made a garden, enlarging it with a small tractor. They successfully pushed the garden to a quarter acre and grew beets, carrots and a few other things.

Inspired by how well things were going, Isaiah and Whitney wanted to do more. They found a Sustainable Agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro and took the class. This gave him the tools to do all the things that he was thinking of doing, and he now had a certified one-year degree for sustainable farming.

After school each week he’d take what he had learned and, along with Whitney, would use it on their farm. He learned about biological pest management and enjoyed watching the soil full-cycle. A simple but very important thing he learned was how to keep the soil healthy. Conventional farming teaches that soil is a sponge – dump stuff into it and the soil is lifeless. The sustainable farming that Isaiah learned showed him that the soil needs to be healthy; and healthy soil feeds the plants. He does some really interesting things to keep his soil in good condition. He takes leftover salmon bones and heads from his restaurant and uses that for compost. He gets leftover whey from a local cheesemaker, composts it and tosses that over the soil. The whey helps get rid of bad bacteria and the worms digest it, consume it and then make it plant viable. One day he went to a BBQ place for a sandwich and asked what they did with their ashes. Now he picks those ashes up once a week and uses them in his soil. With one good rain it soaks in, raising the pH level of the soil. He’s using things that would otherwise be thrown away to make his soil healthier.

They now have land in Mebane and plan to expand their farm. The plan is for there to be one acre for the house, one acre for an orchard, two acres of cover crop, two acres of fruits and vegetables and two acres of pasture for mixed livestock (they’re thinking rabbits, chickens, sheep and a few pigs). They will rotate these the way the Amish do to keep the soil healthy. The animals will be fertilizing the soil, the cover crop will hold nutrients in place until the next round. This builds the topsoil and is called “nutrient cycling” and continually improves the soil, making it better and better with each year. They intend to have a long driveway to the house lined with chestnut trees. Once these trees start to give off nuts they will harvest as many as they can, and then they’ll release the pigs they hope to have and let them clean up the rest. Then, the pigs can be marketed as chestnut-finished pork, much like Iberico pork is sold as acorn-finished.

Right now they’re doing cooking demonstrations at farmers’ markets. They give out recipes that work with what they are selling, and will be at Southern Village’s market on Thursdays, and the Hillsborough’s smaller market at the Home Depot on Saturdays.

The Allens want to make this work as a business, hoping to build a reputation with their quality products. Whitney has a degree in business and bookkeeping and is now doing an ag-business course to help out on the business side of the farm. Her accounting knowledge helps a lot. This is a team effort and a dream for both of them. As their lifes’ work, they constantly think up new possibilities. They are living their lives the way they want to, and doing what they believe in and love. Il Palio buys some of their produce and working there gives him a way to promote the farm. The man cooking the food is the man growing the food. And the food waste from that same restaurant is put into their compost. It is a brilliant circle and truly farm-to-fork.

You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.

North Carolina Writers Serve Up Spring Reading Options

Ready or not, spring is here and it is time for a seasonal update on new books important to North Carolinians.

This month’s most important literary news is the release of “Life After Life,” popular author Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. McCorkle fills a southeastern North Carolina retirement facility with quirky residents, staff, and visitors whose encounters with each other make readers wonder whether to laugh or cry. She will be the guest on North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, March 31 and Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m.

Understanding the actions and attitudes of our parents and grandparents in dealing with the system of oppressive racial segregation that confronted them is one of our great challenges. Some of the best Southern writers deal with our past in ways that make for compelling storytelling. UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Pam Durban steps up to that challenge in her new novel, “The Tree of Forgetfulness.” (April 7, 11)

The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18)

Vicki Lane sets her popular novels on the farms and small towns in mountainous Madison County north of Asheville, where she and her husband have lived since moving there from Tampa, Florida, in 1975.  In “Under the Skin,” she turns her mountain surroundings into compelling fiction. (April 21, 25)

The third and final volume of the “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series establishes Georgann Eubanks as the master guide to our state’s literary history. She has already taken us to Murphy and now in “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook,” she takes us from Raleigh through the Coastal Plain all the way to Manteo.  (April 28, May 2)

Everyone knows our health care system is in trouble, but UNC Medical School Professor Nortin Hadler is more specific and troubling when he says that conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of clinical trials, hospital price fixing, and massive expenditures for procedures of dubious efficacy point to the need for an overhaul. Who is responsible? Every citizen, says Hadler, has a duty to understand the existing system and to visualize what the outcome of successful reform might look like. Hadler provides a primer and guide to action in “The Citizen Patient: Reforming Health Care for the Sake of the Patient, Not the System.”  (May 5, 9)

Do you remember “Big Fish,” the wonderful novel by Daniel Wallace and the movie it inspired? They made us suspend disbelief and go into a magical world of stories and characters. Wallace has done it again in his latest novel, “The Kings and Queens of Roam,” which is full of the magic he uses to draw us into his worlds of imagination. (May 12, 16)

How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestles with this challenging question in his new book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.” (May 19, 23)

In reviewing Duke Professor William Chafe’s  “Bill and Hillary,” Jonathan Yardley wrote, about the Clintons, “No personalities in recent history speak more compellingly to the importance of understanding that the personal and the political are inseparable.” Chafe’s detailed study of the relationship between the power couple of all power couples shows how their relationship shaped our history.  (May 26, 29)



D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, the program  airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
Next week’s (Thursday, March 28 at 5 p.m.) guest is Sheri Castle, author of “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.” (Note the Sunday airing will be preempted by UNC-TV’s Festival programming). The program will also air at Wednesday March 27 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring the late Reynolds Price author of “A Serious Way of Thinking.”



Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes” is a guide to finding the best seasonal foods in our region. She organizes her recipes into about 40 chapters, each featuring a different vegetables or fruit.
More about Sheri Castle:
Castle is a popular food writer and cooking teacher who celebrates delicious and healthy home cooked meals made possible by fresh, local, seasonal food. She has packaged that enthusiasm into “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.”
Castle’s book has about 40 chapters, each one devoted to one particular fruit or vegetable from apples to zucchini. She suggests that you go to the market without a shopping list, buy what is the most freshly available and tasty, bring it home, consult her book, and find all kinds of ways to prepare your purchase.
Castle entertains her readers with stories about her mountain family and even a song or two. Because I love tomatoes, here are lines she shares from a song by Guy Clark: “Only two things that money can’t buy/That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
But tomatoes are not the only stars in Castle’s catalogue of fresh foods. For instance, she gives great advice to overcome two different contradictory ideas about how long to cook snap beans. “At one time, most snap beans were sturdy pole beans with thick, tough pods that required extensive cooking to become edible. However, subjecting the newer stringless varieties to long cooking would dissolve them into a tasteless mess. … If a bean pod is delicate and tender enough to eat raw, it needs quick, gentle cooking. If a bean pod is thick and has strings…, it needs long slow cooking. When you know your bean, you know your cooking method.”

Good Green Business At Open Eye Cafe

Who needs paper when you can just write someone’s order on the counter?

Good green business by Open Eye Cafe; in Carrboro.

Important keys to success:

  1. Dry erase markers
  2. Metal, glass or other surface from which dry erase markers will easily erase.

Got any other examples of good green business?

Tell me in the Comments section below.

The Eerie Quietness Of A Once Thriving Island

Portsmouth where? Maine? Virginia?

Like many North Carolinians, my friend had not heard of Portsmouth, North Carolina. He was resisting my push to visit Portsmouth in connection with a planned trip to Ocracoke Island to participate in a program for public school teachers organized by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, known as NCCAT.

Take out a state road map, I said, and look for an island just south of Ocracoke. You will see Portsmouth Island, and on it is marked the town of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth is just a small village with a few old buildings: Houses, a store, post office, church, a former lifesaving station, and a graveyard.

But no living people.

By the 1970s only three people remained on the island and they are long since gone.

The buildings, maintained by the National Park Service, stand as reminders of what Portsmouth once was: a thriving and important commercial center.

Portsmouth lies to the south of Ocracoke Island, separated by Ocracoke Inlet, which, according to the late Dirk Frankenberg’s recently reissued classic, “The Nature of North Carolina’s Southern Coast,” is “the only inlet on the Outer Banks that has been open continuously throughout recorded history. It was a major entry into North Carolina’s coastal sound and estuaries in colonial times—first for pirates and smugglers” including Blackbeard, who was killed at the inlet in 1718. After the Revolutionary War, “the inlet became important as a transshipment site for materials used for developing the land resources of North Carolina and southern Virginia.”

The village, established in the 1750s, Frankenberg wrote, “played a major role in the maritime commerce of North Carolina for the next century.”

Local pilots were necessary to guide ocean-going boats across the shallow inlet. Later, facilities grew up to accommodate the need to transfer goods between larger ocean-going ships and the smaller boats that delivered cargo to local ports near the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.

Over time a sand build-up made the Ocracoke Inlet more tortuous, and Frankenberg wrote that it was “quickly abandoned for the clearer channels of Hatteras and Oregon Inlets that were opened by the hurricane of 1846.”

My friend agreed to add Portsmouth to our trip. Our three-hour ferry ride from Swan Quarter got us to Ocracoke just in time to join NCCAT leader Alton Ballance and his group of teachers on a boat that gave us a long, cold ride across the inlet to Portsmouth with guide Rudy Austin.

Austin told us about each building and the people who worked and lived there. But other than his voice there was no sound. The eerie quietness surprised and then delighted us.

Ballance told us about once spending the night alone in the deserted village, feeling the spirits of the dead and departed villagers and trying to imagine what they were like and how they lived.

Later I remembered how Michael Parker’s book, “The Watery Part of the World,” set out a fictionalized version of the last three people who lived on the island. In Parker’s version, university researchers visited a couple of times each year and asked questions about history and life on the island. They recorded the answers and preserved the distinctive way the threesome spoke. Their answers were not always totally honest, and their brogues became more pronounced for the outsiders they called “the Tape Recorders.”

The history lessons and the spur to imagination that came from our visit to Portsmouth make such a trip easy to recommend, notwithstanding the difficulty in getting there.

But, says guide Rudy Austin, be careful about going in the summertime when mosquitoes and other bugs “will eat you alive.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, when regular programming is preempted, Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). Next week’s (March 6) guest is Gwendoline Fortune, author of “Growing Up Nigger Rich.” That same day at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Bob Garner will discuss his new book, “Bob Garner’s Book of Barbecue: North Carolina’s Favorite Food.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

When Beer Meets Food

I know what you are thinking; this is going to be an article about pairing food with beer. Well as much as there is to cover on that topic I am going in another direction. Many brewers out there have been searching for ingredients to use that set their beer apart from others. An obvious option is to use various things we eat as their inspiration. Beers are brewed with any number of ingredients, such as fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, and even meat. These flavors can help bolster an old style or create something new all together. There a numerous breweries that use these techniques, but you do not have to look any further than Fullsteam Brewery in Durham.

Fullsteam makes a variety of brews that use unique and local ingredients. Their mission is to create a true Southern Style of beer. They have numerous beers that buck the trend of the traditional styles, but when I think about beers brewed with food or intended to taste like food, three immediately come to mind. They are the Carver Sweet Potato, First Frost, and the Hogwash Hickory Smoked Porter.

The Carver Sweet Potato is one of the most unique beers that I have ever had. This beer gets its name because Fullsteam uses sweet potatoes in the brewing process. This gives the beer a hint of sweet potato flavor without over doing it. If you are looking for your mom’s sweet potato casserole, this brew isn’t it.

First Frost is a winter warmer that is brewed with local persimmons. This gives the beer a nice tartness when you first sip the beverage. It has a delicious full flavor, with hints of various spices. Although it is considered a winter warmer, it is unlike any that I have ever come across. With that being said, it is definitely a beer I will go back to in the future.

The Hogwash Hickory Smoked Porter is one of Fullsteam’s beers that recreate the flavors of everyone’s favorite breakfast dish: bacon. To get these flavors, the brewers use smoked, malted barley. This creates a slight smokiness to the beverage, which makes it incredibly reminiscent of bacon. Smoked beers are not for everyone, but this one is certainly worth a try if you have never dabbled in the style.

As you can see there are smorgasbords of ingredients that we eat that can be used as ingredients or inspiration for some really delicious brews. By pushing the envelope to create something new and delicious, brewers everywhere are using just about anything they can to craft something special. In this case, you have three delicious, North Carolina products that utilize ingredients that are unique to the culture and identity of our great state.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @dklem87

image by suanie via flickr

The Skinny on Obesity: Part III

Low carb and high fat diets, high carb low fat diets, exercise programs named with mental illness monikers, shoes designed to tone and firm the bottom, pillows designed to keep us cool while we sleep… What’s next for a nation of consumers who got into trouble consuming too much in the first place?

In the second of this four part obesity series, my friend and coworker Ellen Thornburg identified and discussed increases in portion sizes, decreases in physical activity, and faulty sleeping patterns as causes for obesity. And while obesity, like other chronic diseases, is complex in its nature, it is hard for any expert to argue that eating less, moving more, and sleeping better would not remedy the problem for most Americans.

As the first paragraph suggests, finding our way out of this massive problem can seem complicated, though it need not be this way. Now, I know the mind loves novelty, but all the fads in the world can’t replace a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutrient rich diet, physically active lifestyle, and adequate time to rest.

To discuss how exercise and diet can influence weight, we must discuss the concept of energy balance. This concept is governed by the Law of Conservation of Energy/Mass (given that Einstein is right), and thus weight loss, weight gain, and weight maintenance are governed by how many calories we consume and how many calories we burn. Simply put, you can lose weight on a cheesecake diet, as long as you burn more calories than you consume. To elaborate, think of your adipose tissue (fat cells) as a bank account. If we want a big bank account we spend less and save more. The opposite occurs when we go broke; we spend more money than we put in. This same intuition applies to our bodies. If we want to lose weight we must expend more calories than we take in.

On to some application. To find out how many calories you body needs daily go to this calculator and enter the required information. This tool will give you two numbers, the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is about how many calories your body would consume during the day if you were at rest, and a daily energy expenditure estimate, which will be the higher of the two numbers and takes into account the caloric cost of your physical activity plus your BMR. To lose weight, eat enough calories to match the BMR number, and let the energy for physical activity come from your adipose tissue.

For example, a sedentary 6 foot 175 lbs male would need roughly 1842 calories to meet the BMR, and 2579 to meet the energy needs for physical activity. Instead of eating 2579 calories per day, eat enough calories to match the BMR of 1842. Doing this will create a caloric deficit that will lead to losing weight at about 1.5 pounds per week. Numbers will vary for different body sizes and ages, but the most important thing to remember about losing weight is to burn more calories than we take in. This method is safe, effective, and ensures that your body is getting enough calories to function properly, unlike many low calorie diets. For the best result, pack in those BMR calories with whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. In doing this you will find that you can eat higher volumes of food, which can lead to satisfaction and fullness.

Adding formal exercise into the equation will lead to a greater caloric deficit at the end of the day. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity. This time must be thought of as extra physical activity done with the intention of improving your health, thus gardening, house cleaning, and running back and forth to the copier does not count. If all we need is 150 minutes per week of extra physical activity, dividing 150 by 7 days per week equals roughly 20 minutes of brisk walking per day. Additionally, these 20 minutes can be broken into five or 10-minute segments, so working in your daily exercise does not have to be the time drain you think.

You can expect to burn anywhere from 100 to 200 calories per day by doing the extra time. Though the numbers seem small compared to eating less, they add up over time and contribute to your calorie deficit. What’s more, exercise leads to a longer healthier life, lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and feeling of well-being. In short, it’s free medicine.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, exercise, diet, and sleep are interrelated. Thus, not catching you Zz’s can feed into the downward spiral of obesity. For instance, a tired person is less likely to eat well and exercise, although these are the key ingredients to a better night’s sleep. In turn, being overweight or obese can increase the risk of sleep apnea, or the temporary cessation of breathing while sleeping, which, in and of itself makes weight loss more difficult. Visit this site to read more about how exercise, sleep, and diet are interrelated, and to learn more tips that will help you get a better night’s sleep.

In short, remember that weight loss is not rocket science, yet popular media complicates the issue to make money. Eating less, moving more, and getting adequate rest works for weight loss and will prevent and cure obesity. Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of this series by Ellen Thornburg.

Mike Clark is an Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer at Duke Center For Living’s Health and Fitness Center. He received his BA in Exercise and Sports Science from UNC.

image by Filimonas via flickr

Fish Tacos!

I tried my first fish taco when I visited my brother Justin in Santa Barbara, CA in 1999. It was a typically beautiful southern California day, and he brought home some fresh fish, got out his cast iron skillet and opened up a few beers. Within about 10 minutes I realized that I’d been missing out on something special (not the beer, I’d had plenty of that). When my boyfriend (now husband) spent a few months in San Diego in 2001 my love for the fish taco was cemented.

For the longest time it wasn’t easy to find fish tacos on the East Coast, but these days they show up on menus everywhere. Locally you can get fish tacos at a number of places. I’m a big fan of Tyler’s version, fried whitefish with sliced cabbage and a house-made slightly spicy white sauce, served with lime on the side (you can change up the fish for salmon). I also love City Beverage’s tuna tacos. They take rare tuna and lightly grill it in a cilantro and scallion crust, then serve it with greens, tomatoes, red onions, spicy black bean salsa, avocado and crème fraiche. And for a sweeter version NanaTaco’s come with a mango-jalapeno salsa.

On a recent trip to San Diego we stopped at Escape for a fish taco fix. This place is far from fancy, but the food was wonderful. They give you a choice of grilled or tempura battered fish. When I had a hard time deciding, the waitress offered to make mine half-grilled and half-battered. They roll the fish (in this case halibut) in a grilled flour tortilla with a smoked chipotle chili avocado puree.

There seems to be a few different stories on the origin of the fish taco, but most agree that it made its way from Mexico to California about 50 years ago. Surfers like my brother would drive down to the Baja peninsula for the big waves. Justin first discovered fish tacos when he visited a little out of the way dusty surf camp there many years ago. There was a little old lady who had a tiny shack at the entrance to the camping area. She would fry up the strips of fish and hand you the taco on a paper napkin. The fish was fresh, the batter not too heavy. While his preference is for pan searing the fish, he based his tacos on the ones he got that day in Baja.

They’re generally pretty easy to make at home. If you have access to fresh fish, I recommend grilling or pan searing (with salt and pepper and a spritz of lime juice). If you’re feeling a little lazy, and like the idea of the crunch, by all means feel free to cheat a little and use (gasp!) fish sticks. Seriously – why not? If they can serve it to you fried in Southern California (or the very serviceable versions done that way here) then you can cheat a bit to mimic it. Here’s his recipe:

Justin’s Cheap and Cheerful Fish Tacos

Fish sticks prepared per package directions (with two or thre per taco depending on size).
Corn taco shells – one per, toasted in oven.
Shredded cabbage. Sour cream. Salsa or taco sauce.
Optional: shredded cheese, chopped green onions, chopped Serrano pepper. A squeeze a lime just prior to serving.

Put everything into the taco how you want it (these are fun at a family party – give each person the tortilla and the fish and let them fix it the way they like).

Unlike my brother, I usually use a flour tortilla and wrap it around them. And I’m thinking that next time I might try something like a chipotle mayo/sour cream mix (tiny bit of chipotle in adobo, zapped in a mini mixer with a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream, salt and pepper).

Play around with it. Do you want the crunch of a corn tortilla or is the fried fish enough? Do you want avocados for some extra creaminess? Skip the cheese if you’re a purist. Have fun with them, and enjoy!

You can follow Kari on Twitter @NoshSpiceNC.

Kidzu Super Bowl Party

The Annual R&R Grill Super Bowl Party to benefit Kidzu Children’s Museum – Sunday, February 3rd. Unlimited buffet from 6-8PM featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ, pizza, Chicken Tenders, Soda, Tea and More. A portion of ticket sales benefit Kidzu – Adults $15 – Kids $7. 137 East Franklin Street (the Old Bank of America Plaza). Lots of TV’s to watch the game – please come out to support Kidzu Children’s Museum! For more information, contact them at 919-933-1455 or at their website

The Skinny on Obesity: Part II

How did we get here?

Reports on the ever-increasing obesity epidemic in our country are running rampant, so we should all know that the issue is a reality and is crippling us. In the first part of this series, my colleague Mike Clark defined what obesity is and how it can be measured. After acknowledging what obesity is, the next step is to clarify how we got here.

Why are Americans packing on the pounds? What decisions are we continuing to make that increase the likelihood of so many health risks and diseases? There are three categories to explore this week, including a lack of general movement and physical activity, poor diet choices and inadequate sleep.

Lack of movement

Our society has become sedentary. There is no question or denial of this statement. The latest report from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week, both resistance training and flexibility to include exercises for all major muscle groups two to three times per week and neuromotor exercises to maintain or improve balance, agility and the likes at least twice per week. Not only has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that only 20% of American adults are actually meeting these recommendations, ACSM has indicated that the failure to meet these recommendations is not the entire problem. Most Americans live such a sedentary lifestyle, defined as sitting at desks, in the car or in front of a television frequently and for long periods of time, even the 20% who are making a point to fit physical activity into their weekly routine may still be at risk for heart disease, diabetes and other complications.

Poor diet choices

There is also no question or denial that we eat far more than we used to. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) issued some staggering comparisons of how our portion sizes have changed over the years. In the 1970’s, two slices of pizza totaled 500 calories whereas now two slices would pack 350 extra calories for a whopping total of 850 calories. A standard cup of coffee was 8 ounces and your additive choices were milk and sugar. The norm for a purchased cup of coffee now is at least 16 ounces with milk, sugar and whipped topping for a total of 330 calories. Bagels have gone from a 3-inch diameter with 140 calories to 5- or 6-inch diameter with 350 calories. And another unfortunate truth to our portion woes is that dinner plates have gone from a 10-inch standard diameter to 12 inches. Americans are simply sitting too long and eating far too much.

Inadequate sleep

Sleep is a critical component to overall health and wellbeing. Your brain is able to process information and store memories, cells can recover and regenerate, to name a few theories. Based on sleep research, adults require seven to nine hours of sleep every night, yet the CDC says one in three adults are sleeping less than five hours. The School of Public Health at Harvard University claims that so few hours of sleep results in a 15% increased risk of being obese. This link between lack of sleep and obesity may be due to altered hormones that regulate hunger, more hours awake to eat extra calories, decreased ability to make good decisions regarding food choice, and lack of energy for adequate exercise.

In summary, this sounds like an article from Negative Nancy herself. The sky may be falling over the USA to some degree, but there are answers and there is hope! Stay tuned for Mike Clark’s next article in this series that addresses why we need to correct our patterns and exactly how to do so.

Ellen Thornburg is an Exercise Physiologist and Personal Trainer at Duke Center For Living’s Health and Fitness Center. She received her BA in Exercise and Sports Science and Psychology from UNC.

image by Filimonas via flickr