As most of you know, I recently had my world rocked after a series of dates with a certain nutritional maverick (read Gulfshore Life’s May 2017 “The Battle of the Breakfasts” here).
Dr. David Perlmutter is a huge proponent of organic food to prevent your body from being a repository of hormones and chemicals, and he preaches an eat-your-veggies, fat-is-your-friend, avoid-sugar-at-all-costs approach to maintaining optimal health. His message has spread well beyond Southwest Florida with four books on the The New York Times Bestsellers list.
I do feel lucky to be on the right side of culinary history as I’m attempting to derive pleasure from food yet be mindful of my health. Vegetables are having their moment. Not only are famous chefs exalting them, like cookbook czar Yotam Ottolenghi and Christopher Kostow (whose 21-course tasting menus have earned The Restaurant at Meadowood three Michelin stars), but kale is trendy enough to be the focus of logo tees sold at Whole Foods, and teens (along with their yoga-pant-loving moms) can’t get enough of the pitaya blended with granola at The Bowl on Pine Ridge Road.
None of that, though, negates the fact I love any and all kinds of food—and I can’t reconcile ordering a salmon salad at an Italian restaurant known for its calzones and red sauce.
So, I’m picking up where I left off after my Perlmutter experience.
I earned my angel wings for six weeks, but I needed now to balance the competing voices inside my head and figure out how to manage living to eat and eating to live. Here’s my real-time attempt.
It’s the weekend, and my 3-year-old daughter has slept in a bit. I quickly down a glass of water before Hurricane Caroline thunders into the kitchen.
Unless I make a concerted effort to make myself breakfast, I’m frequently in a position like the one I’m in now, a few hours later licking pink icing off Caroline’s hands at a kiddie party. It’s super-sweet in two ways: She likes feeding me, and I just can’t resist (the apple fell right next to the tree). I also pluck some strawberries from a fruit bowl.
Poached eggs with cheese grits, spicy tomato sauce and greens at Garden Cafe.
By 11:30 a.m., I’m so hungry that I beg my husband, Erick, to stop somewhere for brunch. If he had said no, I would have threatened to fling my body in the middle of the road in protest. I needed Zen after being around candy-wired kids—and, in my book, a weekend is not a weekend without brunch. We quickly thought of the Garden Café, one of our little finds in Bonita Springs over the past year.
Mmmm. My two poached eggs are swimming in the most buttery, cheesy breakfast grits I’ve ever tasted (hey, at least there’s no gluten), and the bowl has some relief from a pool of spicy tomato sauce and fresh baby spinach on top. I decide the side of hash browns isn’t worth the cheat. I swap those with a small salad, but I do take the proffered bacon and crumble one slice into the mishmash. I also cannot lie: I steal a few sweet potato fries from my daughter and dip them in the mother of all condiments, Heinz (I will never forget how The New Yorker once extolled its virtues). I also down iced coffee with a splash of milk.
We pretty much collapse into food comas by the time we get home, and when we wake up at 5:20 p.m., my daughter pronounces, “I want to go to wessstaurant … for meatballs and cheese.” I shoot my husband a look (see about that apple?).
Parmesan Pete’s is close to us and a go-to. Everything is good, and the portions are huge: Witness the Frisbee-sized cut of chicken Parm that Erick always orders. Today, I settle on tortelloni stuffed with veal—and I pat myself on the back that there are only five, with the lightest sauce of sautéed mushrooms and red peppers. I abstain from the breadbasket, too, and we don’t order appetizers or anything but water to drink (I have a pang of regret eyeing another table’s Chianti but remind myself I’ve got a big week of wine ahead). We do opt for a three-way split of a tiramisu—and I make a mental note to eat more leafy greens tomorrow.
It’s an early morning out, and my husband and I need coffee.
Sitting over a latte piped with milk in the shape of a heart is one of my cherished rituals (P.S., Fort Myers is blessed to have so many local spots with in-house roasting, like Bennett’s, Rebel and The Grind). But when I’m in a rush, I rely on my neighborhood Starbucks’ drive-thru. If I took a magic carpet ride to last October, my order would have looked something like salted caramel mocha, extra whip. But with pesky things like calories and sugar crowding my mind, I call out with the ebullience of a deflated basketball, “Cold brew with coconut milk.” I also pick up a blueberry-cashew Kind bar—with only 7 grams of sugar and 4 grams each of protein and fiber, I could do a lot worse.
I’m still in calorie conservation mode for lunch, so I inhale two slices of prosciutto di Parma and tear another two atop a bed of greens, to which I’ve also added avocado, tomatoes and pepitas, plus a 25-year barrel-aged balsamic, extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt—always a sprinkle of salt. Real-deal prosciutto is one of my ultimate pleasures. Learning Perlmutter’s “fat is your friend” mantra made me feel validated.
The filet at El Gaucho Inca Bistro.
With Caroline soundly sleeping, I pop five dark chocolate-covered almonds as a mid-afternoon snack. I don’t have former President Barack Obama’s discipline (the internet blew up when a reporter said he ate exactly seven raw almonds as a daily snack). I either need a lot more than seven or need them doctored with cacao.
Whenever I go to almost any restaurant, even to this day, a girlish excitement takes over—but to a new restaurant, well, it’s nothing short of that young-love stomach flip. I have reservations with a friend for the new El Gaucho Inca Bistro on Immokalee Road. (Editor's Note: Unfortunately, El Gaucho Inca Bistro is closed.) Compared to its Lee County predecessor, aesthetically, the edges have been smoothed for a more refined and intimate experience (sooo Naples), and the food doesn’t disappoint (but I am disappointed it’s not more crowded—come on people!). My filet is so tender it dissolves in my mouth, and its beautiful shade of rouge rivals the rose on our table. We love our empanadas and chimichurri as well as a Peruvian pepper sauce over house-made gnocchi—so much so that I keep the party going by ordering alfajores (the Argentinean answer to Oreos, starring a schmear of dulce de leche sandwiched between crumbly butter cookies).
After I drop off my daughter at preschool, I can’t resist the magnetic force across the street, Food & Thought. The cashier likely knows what I want before I speak—Farmer Rene’s, my new post-healthy-eating-revolution standby. It’s a plate of organic goodness with scrambled eggs, sautéed kale and bacon, black beans and half an avocado.
Armed with a 32-ounce water bottle, I know I need to hydrate because I’ve got a wine tasting for work at The Continental in a few hours. I have to constantly remind myself to do so, especially on days like today. (If I had my druthers, I’d be wired to cappuccinos, Coca-Cola and smoothies when not imbibing wine and cocktails.) I know I don’t need to take more than a sip or two per glass at such events—but there’s a quiet voice whispering, “How could you possibly waste this?” Today, “this” is Lingua Franca, the highly anticipated first release from master sommelier Larry Stone’s Willamette Valley vineyard.
Since I have time to kill before it starts, I stop by Bad Ass Coffee and get a small 100 percent Kona brew (the Piedmontese white truffles of Arabica beans), and plow through work on my laptop. When I find my group at the restaurant, it’s all the top sommeliers in town—Mladen Stoev from Bay Colony, Clément Cariot from Bleu Provence, Victor Valdivia from Grey Oaks. They’re there to see how much of which bottles they want. I’m there because Bruce Nichols, the Jedi Knight of the local wine community, adopted me in the Jane Austen sense: He knows I want to soak up as much advanced wine knowledge as possible and is helping me achieve that goal.
Sonoma goat cheese ravioli at Ocean Prime.
Six glasses later, two crisp, not overly sweet Chardonnays and a nesting doll flight of increasingly bold, luxuriant Pinots, and everyone is ready to disband. Even though I had more bites of a stinky blue cheese with scoops of quince than I should admit—plus two chicken liver pate crostini and three toasts piled with steak tartare, pickled red onions and diced radishes—I’m hungry. I don’t want to look like a little piggy in front of this esteemed group by getting a table for myself, and I remember my friends are at Ocean Prime, so I zip over there. About three years ago, a group of us decided to start an anti-networking networking lunch to meet once a month. I catch them as the food arrives, so I rush in an order of the Sonoma goat cheese ravioli. My eyes close as I savor most bites—tart, with a touch of acidity, capped with generous half-moons of porcinis.
When we say our goodbyes, I have another hour to squeeze in some work before picking up my munchkin, so I walk to The Brick. I’m tempted by an iced frappé—the Nescafé crystals are using their magic to tug at my heartstrings (growing up, my big fat Greek family spent a lot of time in Astoria coffee shops and the streets around the Acropolis cooling down with them). But I settle for iced unsweet green tea. Regrets flood in as soon as I see the boring umber in a plastic cup, but at least I’m getting antioxidants. And it’s refreshing.
One of my daughter’s favorite things to do is to “go to the gwooocery store,” so we pick up a big fresh deboned salmon at Whole Foods. I indulge her with an extra hour of pool time after her swim lesson because the dinner prep is the definition of easy—that salmon baked with a shower of freshly squeezed lemon juice and generous grinds of salt and pepper. We have it with salad, and I make another insanely easy dish: I pan-roast baby carrots in EVOO until they’re wrinkled and blistered and, last-minute, dump on a miniature mountain of finely chopped thyme and sea salt.
As I sit spooning vegetable soup at 8:21 a.m., I’m comforted I’m not alone. In between eyeing droplets of olive oil bobbing between bits of carrots, tomatoes and celery, I read on Grub Street that chef Barbara Lynch—the 2014 James Beard outstanding restaurateur who owns seven food businesses—is also a fan of soup for breakfast. I’ve become accustomed to it in recent weeks since my Perlmutter experience, trying to incorporate more fiber while whittling away starch.
Caroline is home because of spring break. I am that terrible millennial parent who lets her kid play too much on her iPad—but what else am I to do when I need to finish an article and put in an hour or two of answering emails? We graze on raspberries throughout the morning, and then take a field trip to the Stage Deli in Mercato for lunch (Editor's Note: Sadly, Stage Deli closed over the summer). I like going there because it feels a bit like home (my formative years were in northeastern New Jersey, the motherland of diners and delicatessens), and I’ve been kind of obsessed with their shawarma plate recently. Besides the slices of grilled chicken, it is loaded with sautéed onions, hummus, an herby mint-flecked tomato-cucumber salad and scoop of rice pilaf. The kids’ burger hits the spot for Caroline. If you are what you eat, she’d be half meatballs and hamburger.
A gluten-free Florentine cookie and half a small cappuccino at Second Cup.
I drop her off at home, so I can attend a Friends of the Foundation seminar on Spanish wines. I budgeted a bit more time than I needed to so I could squeeze in an ounce of work, so I go to Second Cup to join the coterie of freelancers and professionals who use it as an office away from home. I can tell you what I wanted: one of Mikkelsen’s blueberry scones and a large, ultra-frothy cappuccino. But my moderating voice wins, and I allow two little cheats: half a small cappuccino with one of the gluten-free Florentines (a lace cookie dipped in dark chocolate).
When the seminar is about to start, I wrap up and head over. The group hosting it is the young professional offshoot of the Naples Winter Wine Festival. It went through a couple of years figuring out what it wanted to be, and this was the first of a great lineup of educational wine tastings it has planned. It touts several Sumolls, Txakolina, and some other Basque and Catalonian varietals—all led by a Spanish-born sommelier. A bonus is a big spread of Iberian charcuterie, Manchego, Marcona almonds and more. Instant dinner.
Erick wakes up early today and makes us avocado toast while I get C ready to face the day. I eat my over-easy egg, all the creamy avocado chunks he’s blended guacamole-style and leave half of the multigrain bread by choice. I also make an espresso in our splurge of the year, a ridiculously high-tech Jura home brewing system.
Soy-, almond- and orange-accented Brussels sprouts with shrimp at USS Nemo.
Lunch is also at home—turkey burgers (mine, bunless) and a mixed green salad with zucchini, tomatoes and my tangy lemon-lime vinaigrette. My parents are there and have the Harp lagers in our fridge, but I congratulate myself for sticking with water.
I steal a few Haribo gummy bears from my daughter’s Easter basket (I’m powerless because they’re lame ducks), and, voilà, it is almost dinner. I have been saving myself for our night at USS Nemo, one of my all-time favorite restaurants, in and out of Southwest Florida. We have a hiccup with our reservation—a tire is unexpectedly low and needs some air—and apparently if you’re beyond 10 minutes late, you lose your table. But it is worth the wait. From the hummus, seaweed salad, and kimchee devoured with warm bread; to the soy-showered Brussels sprouts perked up by red peppers and almond slices and “Crispy Calamari”; to the two dishes my husband and I share (the divine miso sea bass and tuna with goat cheese); and even to a slice of Key lime pie, everything is hitting the highest notes we knew to expect. The bottle of champagne we order isn’t meant to be celebratory—but it winds up assuming that role. I am at peace with letting the calorie avalanche slide; tomorrow’s a new day to make up for it.