My goodness…the heat in Southern California just won’t let up! Today alone will be in the 90’s. Surely not a good day to cook.
When the heat is on, I crave a sushi-based menu: Chilled carbs, with a little salt and protein added. Above is a photo of food I packed myself: Vege sushi, fried chicken I bought at the grocery store, and salad from the produce section. I’ve also packed a mixture of soy and wasabi for the sushi, as well as dressing for the salad.
Everything you see here can be bought pre-made, including the sushi; many supermarkets offer this item at the deli section. By the way, there’s a widely held belief that sushi is always made with raw fish. Not true! The main ingredient in sushi is short-grain rice flavored with rice vinegar. Although some sushi dishes include raw and cooked fish, other types of sushi incorporate avocado, pickled vege’s, or other foods into the final product.
I would like to mention that the containers in the photo were purchased at bentology.com. This website offers a variety of bento-style lunch boxes which are quite useful for all kinds of brown bag dishes. In addition, the containers are dishwasher and microwave-safe. The Bentology items are pricier than the Walmart lunch containers I recommended in an earlier post (See my “Gadgets/Equipment” category on this site). However, you might enjoy looking at the selections.
When I think of “tea time,” what comes to mind are images of elaborately decorated tea pots, delicate tea sandwiches, and tiered services filled with crumpets and scones. Guess what? A tea time style lunch menu is just as accessible as your local market. And very easy to pack.
Tea sandwiches. We have a nice French baguette market near our condo. It’s always filled with delectable pastries of all shapes and sizes.
Today, I purchased a French baguette filled with ham, cheese, and Dijon mustard. Only 250 calories for half a sandwich.
Sides. Fresh fruit and baked goods are frequently served with sandwiches at a traditional tea. I already had strawberries and scones that I purchased from my local Albertson’s. (Albertson’s scones are a tasty Quickbread that can be heated up in the microwave for 20 seconds. Great by themselves or with a little butter and jam.)
Tea. The most important ingredient! Since the weather is still a bit warm, I chose to purchase some iced tea at Starbucks, which was close by the French baguette shop.
The final product was satisfying….and quite easy to pack for a brown bag lunch!
Well…of course some of them do! But that’s not really the point. Mireille Guiliano, a vivacious French women, offers in this charming 2005 classic a safe and sane way to enjoy your food while maintaining both weight and health.
A little about the author: At the time of publication, Ms. Guiliano was the CEO of Clicquot, Inc., an American branch of the French champagne maker. A large part of French Women describes her odyssey as a young woman to the United States in the 1960’s as an exchange student. There, she encountered the largess of American eating: Huge portions, unlimited amounts of carb-rich foods, etc. She ended up gaining about 25 lbs. before returning to France. Ms. Guiliano credits her family doctor with getting her back to a reasonable weight by applying time-honored French dietary principles to her daily menu. I will describe some of these later in this post.
But let me be clear: French Women is not a diet book. Instead, it provides an enjoyable education on how to savor and appreciate food instead of just downing it. Here are some eating tips from Guiliano’s book, and I will provide some examples regarding how I have incorporated them into my life. Yes, I’m a real believer in Ms. Guiliano’s lifestyle.
Portion control. Guiliano points out that the word “menu,” which is of French derivation, actually means “little.” She explains that the typical French menu offers small amounts of various items, rather than one large main dish plopped down in the middle of the plate. This approach to food preparation limits calories while providing satiety through variety.
In my July 26th article entitled “Meze: Mediterranean Appetizers for Lunch,” I provided a photograph of a “menu” style meal, using lunch containers one can easily purchase at the local Walmart.
All of the ingredients in this brown bag lunch are easy to obtain, prepare and pack. The portions are not big, but note the variety in color and texture. From upper left clockwise: Stuffed grape leaves, fresh grape tomatoes, pita chips, low-fat cheddar cheese (Trader Joe’s has the best), hummus.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and buy seasonally. Buying seasonally will ensure that your produce items will be at the peak of flavor. For example, summer is the best time for peaches, nectarines, and plums. Some of the tastiest apple varieties come out in autumn and winter. Late spring is a great time for cherries and strawberries.
Display your produce on the kitchen counter. If you purchase apples, don’t just throw them into the frig. I tend to forget all about them unless I can see them in front of me. And refrigeration kills flavor. Instead, consider displaying apples, melons, tomatoes, peaches, pears etc. on your kitchen counter in an attractive bowl. It’ll pretty up your kitchen, and you won’t forget to eat what you spent your hard-earned money on.
Get the best that money can buy. In French Women, Guiliano emphasizes that bread, chocolate, wine and other delightful carbs are part of the French diet. However, she strongly recommends that if you’re going to consume such items, get the highest quality possible and consume small portions. How do I translate this bit of advice to my life? Well, as much as I like chocolate, I can’t tell you the last time I ate a Snicker’s Bar or Hershey’s Bar. Instead, I prefer the pricier dark chocolate brands like Godiva or Ghirardelli; they just taste better. I get the bags of 70+% dark cocoa chocolate packaged in separately wrapped 1 oz. portions. A couple of bites really satisfy me, because the flavor is so intense. So all I need is one square and I’m done.
Ditto for other foods. When I buy salmon, I get the expensive but tasty wild Pacific species. When I buy chicken, I prefer Empire kosher because the flavor and texture is superior to other brands. Yes, I’m spending more money on food….but I eat less of it because the quality and flavor is more satisfying. If you can afford to go this route, do so.
Try alternatives to salt and pepper. For example, take a good look at the fresh herb section of your produce store and experiment a little. I for one love fresh dill. It adds a delicate grassy flavor to microwave steamed fish. I also enjoy it in tomato and squash stew (see recipe for the latter item in my “Recipes” section, entitled “Squash and Tomato Saute.”) And when I roast a weekend chicken, I always stuff it full of fresh rosemary and lemon slices; it adds so much to the flavor.
Sit down when you eat. To Ms. Guiliano, standing while eating is a HUGE no-no. Make a point of honoring your mealtime by sitting down and savoring the food.
There’s so much more in French Women to talk about, but at this point I would suggest that you purchase the book and enjoy. And I promise that you will. Ms. Guiliano’s writing style is casual, chatty, and fun. French Women Don’t Get Fat can be purchased from amazon.com in hardcover and Kindle format.
It’s mid-August in California, and the temperature has been pretty high. So my appetite runs towards something cool and a little salty. How about some home-made onigiri?
According to Wikipedia, Onigiri (or omusabi) is a rice ball made from white rice which is formed into a triangular or cylindrical shape. It can be filled with pickled plum, salmon, tuna salad, or any other salty or sour ingredient. The dish is eaten at room temperature or cooled. It is ideal as a brown bag side dish.
Onigiri is usually made with top-grade sushi rice. (Please see my post titled, “Let’s Here It For Haiga,” dated March 13, 2019.) However, in this blog I will share a recipe using Annie Chun Sprouted Brown Rice, which can be microwaved. It makes the process much easier for those who don’t have much prep time. You can find Annie Chun rice in the Asian section of your grocery store. You might even find it in the rice/grain/bean section. I bought my last batch at Sprouts Market.
Please see the nutritional data for the sprouted rice below. The product is vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and contains more protein and fiber than most sushi rice.
I’m going to deviate somewhat from the classic ingredients for this dish in that I will add rice wine vinegar instead of salt. I just think it tastes better.
Place cooked rice in a bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Add vinegar and furikake.
Fill two 5.8 cent. x 3.5 cent. rice molds with the rice. Make sure you really pack the rice in. But don’t put so much in that you can’t seal the molds. You will probably have a little rice leftover.
Place sealed molds in refrigerator. *
Serve with soy sauce or soy sauce mixed with wasabi. (You can get tubes of wasabi from the Asian section of your local supermarket. I got mine at Sprouts.)
*It is recommended that you consume the rice balls no later than the day after you have made them. Otherwise, the rice will dry out. Also, do not remove the rice balls from the molds until you are ready to eat them. The molds will retain moisture and texture for better mouth feel.
This side dish is good with cold teriyaki chicken, cold teriyaki salmon, or cold breaded chicken fingers. Make sure to pack some of that soy/wasabi sauce!
“Onigiri” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 August 2019. Web. 24 August 2019.
Until now, this blog has focused on food, recipes, and gadgets that facilitate the preparation of healthy brown-bag menus. Today, I would like to address another topic: How to stay physically fit when you’re working full-time.
It’s not easy. When I was employed as a full-time HR trainer, I typically rose at 5am in order to get to the training site by 7am. I had an hour for lunch, and finished work at 5pm. Because so many of my training assignments were far from home, it sometimes took more than two hours to get back to my condo.
Nevertheless, I found ways to incorporate exercise into my daily schedule. Here are some things that worked for me:
Public transportation. Do you have access to public transportation? Consider using it. On days that I didn’t train, I used Metrolink and subway lines to get to my office in L.A. On the way, I walked through railroad stations and up boarding ramps. Finally, I exited the subway onto Wilshire Blvd and started moving my feet. By the time I got to the office, I had probably walked at least 1/2 mile.
Stair Master, the old-fashioned way. Do you have an upstairs office? Use the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. It’s a more intense aerobic exercise than walking, and good for you.
Take a stretch break. Keeping fit as an office worker means taking periodic breaks in order to move and stretch, especially if you do a lot of repetitive tasks using office machinery. I learned the hard way that pounding out reports on the computer without an occasional break will send you to Workers Comp with tendinitis, carpal tunnel, or worse.
Program your iPhone to give a reminder every 20 or 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, spend 5 minutes doing stretching exercises like the ones on this mayoclinic.org link: mayoclinic.org 2006525.
Lunchtime activities. One reason that I advocate bringing your own pre-made lunch to work is that it saves time. Instead of wasting precious minutes ordering and picking up takeout, you can polish off your midday meal and use the rest of the lunch hour doing the following:
Go back to that stairwell that you used earlier, and spend 20 more minutes walking up and down the stairs.
Get together with some of your coworkers and go walking. Making an exercise date with others will be force you to be accountable to the group. No excuses for not putting on those walking shoes!
Do you have a gym at your offices? If so, use it! And If you don’t have time to change into exercise gear, just throw on some tennis shoes and do 20 minutes on the treadmill.
Is there a gym near your offices? I have been an L.A. Fitness Gym member for several years. They have locations all over Southern California. If there was one near my training site, I often spent some time on the treadmill during my lunch break.
Use exercise CD’s. One of my favorites is the Leslie Sansone Walking in Place series. You can get them on CD at amazon.com. You can also download them onto your IT device from the same site. What’s great about Sansone’s aerobic program is that you need very little space to execute the steps.
After work. Okay, you just got home from work. It was a long day, and all you want to do is eat, have a glass of wine, and watch some TV. Well….why not exercise and watch TV at the same time? That’s what I still do almost every night. Again, Leslie Sansone is great! I play my CD on a mini CD player while watching my favorite TV programs. I’ve exercised at night using this method for more than seven years.
I hope that I’ve given you some fitness ideas that you can use at work. And if you have additional suggestions, it would be great to see them in my “Comments” section.
There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who abhor sardines, and those who adore them. I belong to the latter camp. To me, tinned sardines are delicious on crackers, in a sandwich, or straight out of the can.
So I was delighted when I found a recipe for sardine salad on http://www.eatingwell.com. It’s easy to assemble and requires no cooking. You might want to prepare it for the weekend, then bring leftovers to work. Great with sourdough bread spread with a little butter.
I should add that sardines offer several nutritional benefits. They are full of protein and healthy omega-3 oils. In addition, canned sardines that have not been deboned contain a lot of calcium. (Don’t worry about the bones. They are extremely soft and unnoticeable when consumed.)
GREEK SALAD WITH SARDINES (4 servings)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 medium tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large English cucumber, cut into large chunks
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
* 2 4-ounce cans sardines with bones, packed in olive oil or water, drained
1.Whisk lemon juice, oil, garlic, oregano and pepper in a large bowl until well combined.
2.Add tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, feta, onion and olives; gently toss to combine.
3.Divide the salad among 4 plates and top with sardines.
*When I recommend fish dishes, I’m always mindful about whether a species has been overfished or contaminated. According to Monterey Bay Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org), sardine schools in the Mediterranean Sea have been severely depleted. Therefore, Seafood Watch does not recommend buying brands obtaining fish from that part of the world.
What I can recommend is looking at labels for sustainable sardine fisheries. Wild Planet is usually reliable in terms of sustainable produce.
Here I am in the middle of a California summer. It’s way too hot for a heated lunch. So today, my cold lunch alternative is meze.
“Meze” refers to a selection of appetizers commonly served in Middle Eastern countries. In predominantly Muslim regions, meze can be served as part of a multi-course meal. In Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans, meze is often served as a snack with alcoholic beverages.
Foods in a meze menu can include the following:
Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
Sheep, goat, or cow cheeses
Pita or other breads
Cold vegetables (for example, cucumber, tomatoes, bell pepper)
Grain salad (please see my post from last week for an excellent grain and legume salad)
Dips such as hummus, baba ghanoush (mashed eggplant), and tzatziki (yogurt dip)
These are just a few choices. You can find more listed on “Wikipedia” and other culinary resources. Or…just use your imagination. If it’s cold and edible, you can put anything into a meal like this!
I’ve fixed a Meze-style lunch several times for work. It’s easy to assemble, especially if you have access to a Trader Joe’s or Sprouts. Today, all of the ingredients you see in the above photo were purchased at Trader Joe’s. They are pre-made, pre-packaged, and can be dumped into your lunch bag with little preparation on your part.
If you access the Menu section, “Equipment and Gadgets,” my October 18, 2018 post features the lunch bag and plastic containers seen in the photo.
“Meze” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 July 2019,. Web. 26 July 2019.