Lunching for body and soul

It’s no secret that I believe that eating well leads to a happier and healthier life. I am all about la dolce vita. Lunch is no exception. So when a report from heralding the return of the brown-bagged lunch popped up in my inbox this week, I was pleased. The NDP Group, a leading market research firm, reported that brown-bagging reached an all-time high in 2007. The less-than-glorious news is that cost-cutting alone is driving this for most people. However, the good news - according to the NDP’s crack researchers - is that health and nutrition concerns ranked as the second reason for bringing lunch. That’s fabulous. The food people pack at home can be so much healthier than what is often available at most workplaces. As little as two dollars can buy you a wonderful healthful lunch, when you pack your own. It also results in tremendous savings, so there’s a lot to celebrate.

Not surprisingly, sometimes it takes people while to catch onto a good thing. It seems most brown-baggers were 35- to 54-year-old white-collar consumers and professionals. The NDP group also reported that only 32 percent of those surveyed pack fruit in their lunch. I was horrified that the most popular sandwich was peanut butter and jam; the mind boggles. It went on to report that 9 percent of those surveyed had a poultry sandwich and 9 percent had yogurt or vegetables. It added that leftovers were getting popular, too.

I still think the trend is exciting. Don’t get me wrong, I am not campaigning to get you to give up long, lavish, lunches in divine restaurants. Perish the thought! I have had a lifetime of delightful chatty lunches. I dined way my through university in Montréal’s bistros on cheesy onion soup and delectable crèpes.  I skipped an occasional to class to eat garlicky escargots and sip icy martinis in Place Ville Marie. I used to bask away warm summer afternoons in the Ritz Garden.

In Boston’s Back Bay, it was heavenly to dine in a café on Newbury Street. I fondly remember a little Italian place tucked off the Boston Common. Seated at a table in their leafy garden, the hours would slip away.

I can still remember every savory bite and soulful afternoon exchange. In Montréal there was - as you'd expect - lovely French food, both simple and refined. There was also exotic and tempting Lebanese. Rich eggplant in smoky baba ghanousch and fresh citrusy tabbouleh salad. We also had wonderful Greek food with tender lamb and a rich, thick, garlic yogurt sauce called tzatziki. Those Montreal Greek restaurants used to have the ripest, reddest tomatoes. They would cover them with salty feta, fresh oregano, Greek olives, and a spicy olive oil. Nothing anymore tastes like that salad. It all cost about $10 for two.  

We ate everything then. Fancy lunches and plain, it was all delicious. But that is not what lunch is made of in the work place everyday. If you have time for a great lunch, a real lunch with a friend or colleague, go my darlings. Life is short and it should be sweet. But too often in North America, work lunch is fast food. Too often it is badly cooked and quickly eaten. We still don’t place the same value on living well as other cultures do. 

Speaking to a dear friend who lived in Paris about lunchtime habits, she remarked on the importance and attachment the French have to their company cafeterias. In Europe, they’re usually a heavily-subsidized affair and an important fringe benefit. The food is often very good and healthy – not the dismal, to-be-avoided affairs they often are here. She remarked that at her former company, the food had been ‘quite good”.  As we chatted, she spoke of the emerging French trend for “fast-fresh”.   She described it as the “high-end counter-service of soup and salads,” all fresh, organic, and well-prepared. She also mentioned a place she really liked that serves a selection of French dumplings called quenelles with a choice of savory sauces. Here is a great article if you’ re planning a trip and would like to try it yourself: http://www.francemagazine.org?

The company cafeteria is almost sacred in Russia. The staff at Russian Vogue rebelled at the  thought of being denied their traditional company cafeteria, called a stolovaya. While known for fatty  meat and smelly cabbage soup in the bad old days of communism, it was still often the one big, hot meal people could count on. In our swanky new office, stuck behind the Russian parliament, the Russian girls - even our new editor-in chief, ate daily of solyanka soup, redolent of cabbage and lemon, or plump pelmeni dumplings. But, once summer came, these lovely Russian divas unpacked lunch bags of ripe tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, straight from their country dacha gardens. They topped the garden salads with string cheese from Armenia. To this day I crave that salty cheese eaten by the descendents of Alexander the Great!

Preparing and bringing a work-day lunch should be a pleasure and a joy. I pack lunch for my husband almost every night as I make dinner. It takes minutes. A friend shared that she makes pot of brown rice weekly. Every day, she adds different proteins and fresh vegetables along with herbs to concoct her luncheon salad. She is fit and trim, and at 40, has a figure 20-year-olds would envy. That is one woman’s way with lunch.

I  often make soup for myself. Studies have shown that eating soup leads to weight loss. A recent study at Penn Stateshowed that people who ate soup consumed a fifth fewer calories at meals. Soup is also a great way to get lots of healthful vegetables and spices into your diet. Besides, I adore soup. I love it cold in the summer and hot in the winter. Of late, I eat the gazpacho and the spicy yellow squash soup recipes we have featured here on DolceDolce. Contributing editor Anne Gravel has been making carrot ginger soup. All our recipes are in our archives. They are good, hot or cold.

I make my husband sandwiches every day. I use canned dark tuna with chipotle chilies or Italian vegetables. I add avocados and cooked asparagus. Whatever fresh herbs I am using find a way into sandwiches too. I use many different types of bread and rolls. There is often lovely fresh, wild salmon left over from dinner, or some roast chicken. He likes ham and salami, too. I try to restrict cold cuts and cheese to reasonable amounts. To liven things up there is much to choose  from: Dijon and German mustard, horseradish sauce, chili sauces - just to list a few. We also stock up on olives, mini-gherkins, roasted and hot peppers. I also pack cherry tomatoes and cut fresh vegetables for lunch daily.

I hardly ever want sandwiches for lunch. Aside from soups, I like Chinese dumplings or wontons. They come in frozen bags from the Chinese market and take only a few minutes to cook in soup stock.  The stock comes from a box. It's organic. Sliced green onions, grated ginger, and a splash of black vinegar perfume the air with the scent of my beloved Chinatown. In the summer, I like my Russian lunch. It’s so simple: a few vegetables and some salty string cheese. It’s not Proust’s madeleine but as I eat it, I can hear echoes of the cheerful chatter of that faraway office kitchen, tucked behind the Russian Duma. No hurried food court lunch could give me so much pleasure, or nourishment for body or soul.

That is what I make for lunch. It may sound awful to you, or you may fancy some it. But if it sounds like a big fuss, it’s not. It takes a bit of planning. I usually always look for low-carb items, and angle to lose a little weight. My husband always wants some type of sandwich - if he is taking lunch out. We both crave the different and exotic. My friend has her rice thing - this year. We all change and evolve.

Consider packing yourself a healthful and fabulous lunch when you aren’t going out somewhere lovely. You will eat better, and save some money. You may also lose some weight, or solve or prevent some health issues. Make lunch work for you. Get the good out of it. It doesn’t have to be a chore. Learn to make lunch when you make dinner or breakfast. Do it on your own schedule.  

Shop for things that are healthful, but easy to prepare. Canned tuna and salmon are good, if you like them. Low-cal gourmet soups are another idea. Think about prepping your ingredients one night a week so you can toss things together super quickly when you are knackered. Consider making a big batch of soup  or something like a roast you can use easily during the week.  If  you cook for a group, enlist helpers - if you can interest a work friend in sharing lunch duty. You bring lunch Monday; she brings it Wednesdays. You each get  a day off and a chance to be surprised. Find out what works for you.

Darlings, this is about getting the good out of life, not scrimping. It’s silly to eat badly and overpay for mediocre food. Budget and health experts are always suggesting packing a lunch. The trouble is they often don’t make it sound like much fun. Do it when and how it works for you. Do it to feed your body and your soul. Do it for the most important reason of all: because life is short, it should be sweet.    

 
Fresh fruit and vegetables make a brown bag lunch that's a feast for the senses.

www.karinpacione.com

How to shop like a pro

And save a lot!

With rising gas prices, traffic, and busy schedules, online shopping has never made more sense. For many items, shopping online can be a great option to save both time and money. To find out how to use the right tools to make comparison-shopping online a snap, we spoke to online experts Luke and Maisie Knowles. They have started a new company that can make shopping online an even better deal.

www.FreeShipping.org has a ton of coupons that will help you get free shipping from many popular websites. Best of all - unlike many other sites - they never charge you a penny. In this week’s exclusive DolceDolce interview, Luke and Maisie Knowles offer their expert advice on how to avoid disappointment and problems when shopping online.

DD: There are often hidden charges free shipping offers such as high minimums. How can they be spotted and avoided?
L&M: On  www.FreeShipping.org, we clearly state all requirements like minimum purchase amount needed in order to get free shipping. Some free shipping offers require you to have a company credit card in order to receive free shipping. An example of this would be Gap, where you can get free shipping if you have a Gap Silver Card.
DD:  How can one tell a reputable online company? Is there anywhere to look for customer complaints before you order from somewhere new?
L&M: Check with the Better Business Bureau to see what others have said about a particular retailer. You can also visit a customer review website, such as Epinions.com to see what other customers have to say about a retailer. Also, make sure the website lists a physical address and phone number before you make a purchase with them.

DD: Can you always return items bought online?

L&M: Most retailers will allow you to return items purchased online within a certain time period so long as the items are still in good condition. Some online retailers will also allow you to return an item to their brick and mortar store. Check the retailers’ website to find out specifics about their return policy. Look for a link that says 'Customer Service' or 'Help' near the bottom of the website.

DD: Are there companies that offer free returns?

L&M: Many retailers are now offering free return shipping on items purchased through their website. This is very common for websites that sell shoes, such as Zappos.com and Shoebuy.com. Many websites that sell jewelry also offer free return shipping. Old Navy offers free return shipping only on plus-sized clothing. This is because they don't sell their plus-sized clothing in stores.

DD: How can you tell if something will fit or be the right colour? 
L&M: The best way to know what size and color to get is to try it on in the store before you purchase online. This is usually not ideal, which is why most retailers have sizing charts to help you know what size to get. It's a good idea to have a measuring tape handy. It can often be difficult to find the right fit when it comes to swimsuits and intimates. To avoid paying for return shipping, you may want to try the items on at the store before purchasing them online. Or you can purchase multiple sizes online and return the sizes that don't fit to the store or through the mail.
Websites also have color swatches and large photos to help you pick the color. Keep in mind that the color you see on screen will not match the color on the item exactly.
DD: What are most popular items to order online?

L&M: The most popular items that people buy online are clothing, usually from department stores such as JC Penney, Sears, and Kohl’s. Electronics and office supplies are also very popular items that people purchase online.

DD: How can you know you are getting a good price online?

L&M: You can use a website like NexTag.com to compare prices from different retailers. Then head over to FreeShipping.org to find a free shipping coupon for that website.

Luke and Maise Knowles
DD: Are there items that you should never buy online?

L&M: Avoid purchasing luxury items from websites that you do not trust, because you may end up buying counterfeit or fake goods. For the same reason, be wary of purchasing medicine online. If you do purchase prescription medicine online, make sure you buy from a reliable merchant, such as Drugstore.com.

DD: Do you have any quick tips for the novice online shopper?
L&M: Shop only at retailers you trust. Use a website such as www.freeshipping.org to find coupon codes for online retailers you shop with. It could save you a lot of money. Save the receipt that gets emailed to you and the invoice/packing slip that comes with your item, in case you need to return an item. Use a credit card or PayPal to purchase online. These will help protect you in case something happens with your order.
DD: What is the best way to resolve a dispute with an online merchant?
L&M: Call customer service for the company you have a dispute with. If the person you are taking with will not budge, ask to speak with their supervisor. And if that doesn't work, get your credit card company involved. If your dispute is valid, your credit card company will usually reimburse you for the amount you are out or try to resolve the issue with the retailer.
L&M: Call customer service for the company you have a dispute with. If the person you are taking with will not budge, ask to speak with their supervisor. And if that doesn't work, get your credit card company involved. If your dispute is valid, your credit card company will usually reimburse you for the amount you are out or try to resolve the issue with the retailer.
L&M: Make a list of everything you need before you start shopping and try not to stray too far from it. Many retailers have huge clearance sales during back-to-school shopping. I recommend buying stuff that is on sale, or that you have a coupon code for.
 
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Classically clean

Sea Breeze is back with new formulations of astringents, plus handy new Sea Breeze Actives pads. I  remember Sea Breeze from childhood. My cousins all had bottles of it as they battled acne. Sea Breeze has been updated with more choices for different skin types. There three different formulas: Active Fresh Clean for Sensitive Skin contains no salicylic. Deep-Clean Astringent with salicylic acid. Active Clear-Pore Astringent with 2 percent salicylic. Salicylic acid is an ingredient in many popular and pricey acne remedies. It is also recommended by dermatologists to combat breakouts. All formulas have moisturizing botanicals, including clove, eucalyptus, and camphor for a zingy feeling.

Use Sea Breeze astringents cautiously if you are undergoing chemical peels or using Retin A. If your skin is already very dry or irritated from any  treatment or product, don’t use any new product without checking with your doctor.

Sea Breeze is fabulous for mopping excess oil from your face, especially in the dirty,  city. Use it where you break out. Then, if you like, re-apply make-up with clean hands. It will cool you off and feels great. Don’t forget to use it to wipe off the your phone’s mouthpiece too, especially  if you break out on your chin or near your mouth! If your skin can handle two percent salicylic, Sea Breeze Actives, the strongest formulation of exfoliating pads are convenient for the office or car, too. Don’t overuse any astringent or drying agent. However, keeping excess oil mopped up and skin clean can really help control mild, seasonal acne flares.

Sea Breeze is also great on bug bites. It will stop the itch before you break the skin.

It’s inexpensive, so stock-up and keep classically cool and clean all summer. You can buy Sea Breeze at most drug stores.  www.seabreezeclean.com

Protect your investment

Doesn’t it just kill you darlings, to put your gorgeous and very expensive bags on the dirty floor? Sometimes the only other option is crowding a restaurant tabletop, which is far from ideal or ladylike. We have featured these handy little gadgets to hang up bags before, but this one is extra nice. It’s called the Queens Hook. I like it because it’s big enough to hold the sizable bags most of us carry every day. And unlike some hooks I have tried they don’t tip.  They really are elegant -- fit for a queen. They cost $30 each. You can buy extra jewels from the top and switch them to match your bags.  They come in their own little silk pouch. This will definitely make my gift-giving list this year.  www.queenshook.com NB: The website says US shipping only, but we heard International is planned, so called and ask if you want to order now.

Life’s a beach

And if you spend time basking on one without sun protection, you get fried. And that includes your hair. If you colour your hair - and most of us grown-up girls do – the damage is quicker and costlier. Now for the good news; L’Oréal Paris VIVE Pro Color, VIVE Shampoo, and Conditioner  with UV filters, moisturizers, and antioxidant Vitamin E helps protect color from fading and hair from summer damage. Formulated to revive and enhance color, this line should be part of every beach bunny’s hair-care bag. You can find them at  L’Oréal Paris Store, Beverly Center in Los Angeles or  www.lorealparis.com.

And don’t forget your body baby

We love AHAVA Sun Protection Anti-Aging Spray, a unique formula with  minerals from the Dead Sea. We love the ease of a spray that offers UBA/UVB protection, in SPF 15, 30, and 50 formulations. Any guesses as what we want you to wear at the beach? www.ahava.com

Palmers Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E, SPF 15 Lotion is perfect for traveling to and from the office, and wearing everyday. One product, one step, the same delicious, creaminess and scent we love! It also offers UVA/UVB protection. www.etbrowne.com and most large drugstores.

Make your own fabulous takeout food in minutes

Thai beef salad (with chicken and vegan variations)

I hesitated to include this recipe because the list of ingredients can look a bit daunting. Also, many people no longer want to eat beef. But you can make this popular this takeout dish with quickly sautéed firm tofu or left over chicken. And the type of beef used is very low in fat, so - as beef goes - it is relatively healthy. Besides, it is outrageously delicious. Anne Gravel, our contributing editor, added her vote for the recipe. Anne has been having her own struggles trying to balance her starting-out-in life budget, finding time to cook, and still eating well.  Sound familiar?

This tasty Thai recipe is perfect. It can be doubled, if you are feeding a couple or a family. It is fancy enough for company and a snap to make. You can leave out fried onions if you can’t find them or really watching calories, and ditto for the peanut topping. Replace both with a crunchy grated carrot; you will never know the difference. There are substitutes for some of the more exotic ingredients. The recipe will be delicious with all variations. The key ingredients don’t change.

For 2-3 people:

1 lb. thinly sliced lean beef minute steak or fondue beef. Salt lightly, cook quickly, and set aside to chill.

Vinaigrette

Mix in a bowl large enough to hold the salad:

2 tbsp. Thai fish sauce. I prefer 3 Crab Brand, but any will do. It is now available in most local food shops these days. This is a key ingredient, but if you really can't locate it and want to try this recipe, try a large spoon of anchovy paste. Dissolve it in a bit more lime juice. If a fish allergy is the problem, try adding salt to taste to the finished sauce. But do try to find it otherwise. It is a key flavour. If you can’t, you’ll still have a tasty salad.

2 tbsp. Kecap Manis (this is sweet Indonesian soy sauce) or regular soy sauce plus 1 tbsp. brown sugar or 1 pkg. Splenda

Grated rind from one clean lime

Juice of 1½ to 2 limes

1½ inches of fresh ginger

2 cloves of crushed garlic

1 pkg. of Splenda/1 tbsp. sugar/honey

2 tsp. Kadoya Sesame Oil with Cayenne or any brand sesame oil plus 1 tsp. cayenne, or to taste

Add the slightly-chilled meat

For a vegan version, use extra firm tofu. Slice in thin sticks. Dry and give them a quick sauté in a non-stick pan with a little oil and a clove of garlic. Cool, cube, and add to the sauce.

Cook the noodles.

Use Oriental egg noodles that come in small “nests,” one per person. Or you can use Japanese soba or buckwheat noodles, cellophane noodles, or even spaghetti, if that is what you can find. Do not overcook your noodles. Noodles take only minutes in salted boiling water.

Rinse your noodles in cool water to stop the cooking, and drain. Toss with beef and sauce.

Add and Toss:

One thinly sliced red pepper

One carrot, peeled and then, thinly sliced, or grated.

4-6 green/spring onions, sliced on angle

Roll and slice fresh washed and dried basil and cilantro in a technique called chiffonade. About ¼ cup each or to taste. (These herbs are key.)

Optional: 1/8 cup French fried onions from Asian shops or in a can from the grocery. Durkee is a popular western brand.

Toss the salad and chill. Serve garnished with sliced cherry tomatoes. Top with a few peanuts or some grated carrot. This looks and smells divine. It is a perfect double-up recipe for lunch the next day. I promise, you will want to eat it twice. Try it and you will be addicted.

Darlings, I urge you spend some time each day nourishing yourselves and your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive, or enervating; quite the opposite. Plan and do things that inspire and uplift you. Have your favourite books and music always close by to enjoy. Keep your bedroom pristine, and your linens fresh. Find simple and lovely products that make daily bathing a joy. Give yourself the gift of doing nothing. Sink blissfully into your own dreams! Learn to look at meals as an opportunity to delight, heal, and replenish your body and soul. Always find time to enjoy your friendships!

Have a sweet week, and know I think of you all often and fondly. Until next week, please sign-up if you haven’t already - DolceDolce is free. And please forward us to all your friends.

 
Gracey Hitchcock
Editor
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