How to Make A Virtual Dinner Party Easy with a Delicious Menu!

Don’t sweat over the menu and the logistics of a virtual dinner party! Remember the goal is to have some fun with your friends. My husband and I had a great time last night with 2 of our dearest foodie friends in Canada. That’s the beauty of a virtual dinner – sharing a meal in California and British Columbia at the same time! The border between US and Canada has been closed since March and it’s not likely to open anytime soon, so we were thrilled to find a way to cook and drink “together” again. Virtual dinner parties, like many behaviors (online shopping is a good example) that started out of necessity during the pandemic will likely continue.

The key is to keep it simple! We just used FaceTime so we didn’t get frustrated setting up new technology unfamiliar to us. My husband put a standing pork roast on the grill rotisserie so it didn’t need much attention while cooking – leaving more time to socialize. I wanted to share a seasonal dish that is interesting and vegetarian but also easy to cook at the same time. I found the perfect recipe – Grilled peach Salad with Halloumi – in my Healthydigs Refresh Meal Plan Program. Click the link to find many more delicious recipes like this. If you haven’t grilled peaches and Halloumi cheese before, this is a must! This dish satisfies all five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami – of the tongue. I prepared all the ingredients ahead of time and then just grilled the peaches and Halloumi cheese for 5 minutes before plating. This was our first virtual dinner party and there will be many more to come, pandemic or not!


Egg-free Apple Muffins – Make them Nutritious and Impactful!

Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.

Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!

High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup applesauce

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Direction

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.

In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.

Fold in chopped apples.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.

Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan; serve warm.


Recharge with a Vacation Day!

With no end in sight to this pandemic, many of us are looking for staycation ideas. Summer vacation doesn’t have to be far away from home nor does it have to be for long. However,  it does have to refresh my mind with a sense of escape from my daily routine and recharge my body with some delicious healthy food. Why not consider a vacation day close to home? If that speaks to you, read on! 

Last Sunday, my family and I went out to Bolinas beach, Marin County, for a little surf and sun. It was only a little more than an hour from home but it felt like miles away from the urban center of the San Francisco Bay. The beach was relatively uncrowded so families were able to play together but still keep sufficient distance from others.  As I soaked up the sun on the beach, it felt as if the ocean breeze was gently sweeping away my anxiety from being sheltered at home. At the same time, the sound of the crashing waves carried my mind far away to the Hawaiian shores for a little mental escape. It only took a couple hours to forget how the Coronavirus has constricted our daily lives for the last 5 months. 

On our way home,  we surprisingly discovered a farm stand that had a pre-COVID personality of a farmers market. The quintessential experience of the farmers market – leisurely roaming through the farmer stands, chatting to the vendors, touching and smelling the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, and food sampling – were mostly intact here! From the street, it appeared to be just another roadside produce stand. The sign advertising fresh wild king salmon was the initial hook that pulled us off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Unknowingly, it turned out to be the farmers market outing that I was starving for.  Abiding social distancing and face mask rules, we chatted with The Farm Stand owner, Jim, about the source of his local products – an array of organic produce from CSAs in Marin county and Salinas area, fresh seafood from the bay, and grass-fed meat from local farms. As we were talking, crates of fresh local strawberries arrived so Jim threw one to us from a distance for sampling. We were sold!!! The woman who delivered the strawberries stepped up to a table in front of us with a picnic basket to assemble a couple of strawberry shortcakes, made with freshly baked biscuits and crème fraîche. I thought they were for sale but no such luck. They were for Jim and his co-worker as an expression of gratitude for selling her strawberries at the farm stand. With all this wonderful distraction, we had to redirect ourselves back to the the question about their King salmon. Jim excitedly told us that it was line-caught, wild and sushi-grade. We were sold again as soon as he pulled out a  piece of fresh King salmon with glistening red flesh – not a sight you see in the supermarket. He then up sold us once again with Hog Island oysters from Tomales Bay by shucking one for me to taste on the spot. By this point, I felt like an endless summer had just descended upon us with bountiful of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. 

Armed with all these fresh ingredients, it was easy and fun to create a farm-to-table meal in our own home! The highlight was the make-you-own sushi and bowl with salmon sashimi. An interactive meal with conversation about the beach action, the farm stand activities, the fresh local organic food and the art of making sushi rounded out this enjoyable vacation day for us!


Traveling During the Pandemic

Traveling has always given me a sense of freedom and adventure in my life! When my recent travel bug was squashed by COVID-19, traveling was reduced to trips between my home and the grocery store. Every now and then, I would get a taste of freedom when I don’t have to stand in line outside Trader Joe’s. My new adventure is hunting and that’s hunting down flour and toilet paper. No wonder all I dream about are the most recent trips to Paris, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Sayulita.

Now that travel bans are starting to lift around the world,  I can hear a distance voice calling out to me in multiple languages to get back in the air again. I love a good adventure but honestly, I am a little scared to travel internationally with so much uncertainty. But then again, fear is part of the fun in any good adventure! So I thought I would spread my wings just a little with a trip to Vancouver – my favorite city in Canada. It’s an international flight but only 2 hours from San Francisco. This would give me a window view of the “new normal” in air travel. 

My Experience

I arrived at SFO 2 hours before my scheduled flight as suggested by the airline. There was no line at security check – a very unusual sight! With so few passengers,  my flight could have been the only one departing from the international terminal at that time. There was absolutely no need to check in this early, but there I was with 2 hours to kill and nothing to do. The terminal was like a ghost town. All the shops and food establishments were closed. Seats were marked to encourage a 6-foot distance between them. 

I was prepared for touchless document check at security and at the airline counter but that was not their protocol. Since the agents had gloves on, they were conducting business as usual with no fear of possibly touching a virus-contaminated passport and spreading the contagion. To protect my passport, I didn’t let it leave my hand – see but don’t touch!

Face mask was required for all! Be prepared to have your face mask on from the time you walk into the departure airport to the time you leave the arrival airport. I wore my mask for over 5 hours for a 2-hour flight. 

Prior to boarding, the airline agent conducted a temperature check on everyone. If your temperature was over 100.4F, you were not permitted to board. Anxiety can elevate body temperature and who doesn’t feel anxious these days. My anxiety was elevated by the fear of a false positive and being banned from my flight. Then I remembered to practiced my yoga breaths  to keep calm and carry on. Carryon applied to my approach with baggage as well. Why increase my risk of exposure through a checked bag handled by multiple people! 

Upon boarding the plane, the flight attendant handed me a small care package including water, face mask, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer and antiseptic towelettes. You can think of it as an air travel survival kit.  The plane was a little more than half full. All middle seats were vacant by design. Even with a less than full plane,  it was impossible to keep 6 feet away from other passengers inside an airplane cabin. I chose a window seat to keep a distance from aisle traffic. I was able to avoid using the bathroom onboard since it was a short flight. During deplaning, I sat back to let all the type A passengers go before me to avoid any tailgating.

After the plane landed, the agent announced that Canada mandates a 14-day isolation period for all arriving travelers. So glad I did my research prior to booking the trip. There was a requirement to file your 14-day isolation plan so the government can monitor you. This country is very serious about protecting its citizens! 

After this flying experience, would I spread my wings and fly away to the other side of the globe? The “new normal” for air travel is stifling. Until I feel that sense of freedom in flying, I think I will trade my wings in for some wheels. I am currently in day 6 of my self-isolation and may have a different perspective once I am able leave my place of isolation on day 15. If you must travel, you can absolutely do it safely with proper precautions and I hope my travel tips will help you. Travel safe!

Travel Tips for the Covid Era

  1. Research safety of your destination and the country’s port of entry restrictions and requirements. Do online submission of required information prior to departure if possible.
  2. Don’t use paper boarding passes. Download your boarding pass on your phone so you can scan it yourself at security and at the gate.
  3. Go touchless at all times, unless you can wash your hands or sanitize properly.
  4. Pack food for your trip if you don’t want to go hungry.
  5. Wear a comfortable and breathable mask with materials that won’t irritate your skin. Bring extra masks for long flights to refresh.
  6. Bring sanitizing wipes and gels to clean surfaces, such as armrest and tray table at your seat before use. Airlines are not sanitizing between flights during the day. 
  7. Choose an aisle seat and avoid walking in the aisle.
  8. Don’t rush to deplane and keep your distance from the passenger in front and behind of you.