Ready, Set, Sweat!

The New Year offers some trendy options to spice up your health and wellness regimen, but you still have to put in the work

The New Yorker recently published an article about a pill that seemingly eliminates the need for a workout: Just swallow it and get the same results as if you had exercised. One problem: At the end of the article, it’s revealed that none of the inventors had tried the pill—an ominous commentary on a supposedly miracle drug.

So, as we enter 2018, it seems there still is nothing that will take the place of sweat equity. But the good news is there are plenty of new and trendy health and wellness offerings to take your mind off the monotony of the typical gym—or home—workout. There are online challenges, innovative classes, “social” sports, fitness apps and clean eating.

Take the Plank/Squat Challenge

Planks and squats are two simple, basic exercises that have become the focus of online “challenges.”

The plank is a push-up like exercise with the body’s weight borne on forearms, elbows and toes. Its popularity has increased over the last decade or so, perhaps because it’s a total body workout, perfect for a toned core, requiring no equipment and only enough floor space to accommodate your body.

The squat has been around forever and is considered the king of lower-body exercises. The standard squat is done with a barbell resting on the person’s shoulders, but it can be done without weights.

Plank and squat challenges usually last 30 days, with participants tasked with gradually increasing the time in the pose every day or two. A plank challenge might start with holding the pose for 30 seconds and end a month later at three minutes. Like the plank, the squat challenge uses no weights, instead focusing its poses on the glutes, thighs and core. One online 30-day challenge starts at 50 squats and ends with 250.

Research suggests it takes an average of two months to make something a habit, so start now and you’ll be doing this on a regular basis by March.

Variety is the Spice of Life

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the hottest exercises on the health and fitness scene—for good reason.

Classes, typically 30 minutes or less, toggle between high and low intensity for increased fat burning. Instead of relying on steady-state cardio exercises (where your heart rate stays at a certain threshold), HIIT’s on-again, off-again intensity can lead to rapid results.

Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center, recommends HIIT.

Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center near Fourth Street and Greenhill Avenue, added HIIT classes a year-and-a-half ago. “It’s become one of the fastest growing parts of our business,” he says. “It makes up 15 percent of our membership base.”

In addition to HIIT, small group training has become increasingly popular. The reason? “Clients want to show up, work out (efficiently) in a social setting, and get good results,” says McCarthy.

Trainers cap sessions at 10 participants, so they can actively monitor everyone’s technique.

Bodies in Motion

Another trend is “functional fitness”—classes dedicated to making everyday movements easier. Think walking up and down stairs, playing football with the kids, and picking up bags of groceries.

Says McCarthy: “It’s the antithesis of the CrossFit image, which sometimes teaches improper technique and could lead to injuries. Clients are now hyperfocused on (proper) movement, which can improve balance, strength, flexibility and coordination.”

Located off Kentmere Parkway and Rockford Road, FIT Delaware provides a full range of fitness opportunities, including personal and group training. Trainer Todd Brown says he has noticed a big shift in the industry from last year’s focus on “traditional exercises by body part” to functional training. Brown likes to change the angles of exercise every couple of days. By altering the angles, his clients work a different portion of the same muscle. He sees the most success by working different muscle groups multiple times a week.

“This summer,” Brown says, “I worked with a couple of college athletes to get them in shape for the fall season using this methodology. At the end of our time together, they all thought they were much stronger at the beginning of the season than in years past.”

Body-Weight Training

Body-weight training or working without weights has become another in-demand alternative to using cumbersome, sweat-stained exercise equipment.

Body-weight training allows you to work out at home, in the park or even at the gym without any equipment. Getting started is easy and can consist of a couple of different exercises like push-ups, planks, burpees, jump squats, lunges, box jumps and more.

Social Sports

As we age, being and staying active becomes an important aspect of our lives. We often build our activities around our most important relationships—family and friends. And that’s how social sports started.

Locally, the movement led to the creation of two organizations geared to adults of all ages: Delaware Sports League and Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance (PADA)—Delaware satellite league.

“People are starting to discover that health and wellness are vitally important within our daily lives,” says Bob Downing, co-founder and owner of Delaware Sports League, headquartered in Wilmington.

“There has been a renaissance of thinking, specifically with young professionals, who realize that how we spend our time with ourselves and others is extremely important to our well-being.”

The league creates a less intensive exercise environment for people that’s accessible to every person, not just athletes. Says Downing: “We’ve evolved quite a bit over the years. In 2018, we are refocusing our mission on pairing physical and mental wellness together.” 

For those looking for a new challenge (or sport), there’s also PADA. Founded in 1985, PADA provides “opportunities to learn, teach and play Ultimate (frisbee) while fostering community, character and competition within the greater Philadelphia region.”

In Delaware, PADA provides opportunities for nearly 300 players per year and—since a key feature is its inclusiveness—it always welcomes new players. The league attempts to ensure that teams are “fair and balanced to create a fun and competitive environment,” says Andrew Wisor, PADA Delaware council member of the Philadelphia-based association.

If you’re interested in joining, Wisor suggests the spring league. “It tends to be the most beginner-friendly league because it’s when we get the most new players joining. There’s always a lot of teaching going on, both on and off the fields, from captains and players alike.”

Fitness at Your Fingertips

Too busy for the gym?  Maybe fitness apps are for you. They allow you to view videos anywhere—phone, smart TV or computer—making working out easy, fast and convenient for those always on the go.

Fitness Blender, for instance, provides “workout videos for every fitness level—absolutely free.” It’s an ideal solution for the workout beginner or those who may be intimidated by the meatheads at their local gym.

There’s also Daily Burn, a free, 30-day trial app that reverts to an affordable monthly paid plan for those eager for a more tailored plan led by professional trainers.

Clean Eating

In addition to exercise, clean eating is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Clean eating follows a simple list of tenets: eat less refined foods (no donuts and bagels!), eat more whole foods (produce, grains, etc.), eat less meat and limit sugar and salt intake. BBC’s Good Food predicts that this year veganism and plant-based proteins will be the trendy options at your local restaurant or grocer.

Karen Igou, owner and operator of Delaware Local Food Exchange, has been a leader in the clean eating movement from her store in Trolley Square.

“People know the basics to clean eating,” she says. “It follows what our mothers and grandmothers taught us. However, [clean eating] is not easy. Most of the focus is on healthcare (the results) and less on eating quality food [to begin with],” says Igou.

Delaware Local Food Exchange provides a bountiful selection of local produce, snacks, sundries and meat. Igou sources the highest quality meat and vegetable-based proteins for her customers and in-house prepared foods. Most popular is the grass-fed chicken salad, which can sell out within hours after it goes on sale.

Says Igou, “I’ve noticed a lot of customers going vegan for both the environmental and the health benefits. To meet demand, we stock fun vegan choices like enchilada pie, tempeh chicken salad and lentil loaf.”

In addition to clean eating, Igou says that her “typical fitness routine—yoga, meditation, core strengthening exercises, and a gratitude journal”—keeps her healthy.

While you might opt to skip the gratitude journal, you have plenty of options to choose from as you plan your 2018 fitness regimen. Join a gym, hire a personal trainer, or take a brisk walk. Just remember to eat well and move around a lot.

Giving the Gift of Experience

Some creative ideas for every personality type on your holiday list

This holiday season, let’s be a little more creative in our gift-giving. Instead of buying essentially inconsequential things, let’s think about creating memories. Here’s a list of fun, local experiences that the various personality types in your life will be sure to remember.

For the Art Enthusiast

Painting with a Twist has taken Delaware by storm with its mantra: Sip. Paint. Relax. Four locations in New Castle County offer a fun night out with step-by-step painting instruction from local artist instructors. Classes include all materials—easel, paint, and mat—as well as complimentary adult beverages and soda.

In addition to its typical lineup, Painting with a Twist Wilmington owners Stephanie and Jay Pomante host two recurring special events—Paint Your Own Pet (PYOP) and Painting with a Purpose.

PYOP allows you to submit a quality picture of your dog or cat (or other pet) to have it pre-sketched on your canvas by one of the instructors before you arrive to the class.

Bi-monthly Painting with a Purpose classes raise funds—50 percent of the sales—for a specific nonprofit organization. The 2018 February and March recipients will be, respectively, the Pennsville Community Arts Center and the Alzheimer’s Association.

1812 Marsh Rd., #409, Wilmington, 746-2907, paintingwithatwist.com.

For the Nature Lover

Longwood Gardens is “anything but dreary” during the winter months, says Patricia Evans, communication manager. New next year, in tandem with its Winter Blues Festival (to be held in March), Longwood will have blue flowering plants throughout the main conservatory.

“It will be filled with plants like poppies, hydrangea, cornelius,” says Evans. “The Conservatory will be a picture-perfect setting for amateur and professional photographers.”

In addition, there will be blue-inspired workshops and lectures like “Fabric to Dye For,” where participants will be able to make their own indigo dye vat.

Evans recommends purchasing a membership to save on food and classes. The best part about membership levels two and above is that “you can be flexible in who you want to bring to visit the Gardens,” says Evans. So bring your mom, dad, friend or significant other with you as you explore the great outdoors, indoors.

1001 Longwood Rd., Kennett Square, Pa., 610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.org

For the Handy(wo)man

NextFab’s Woodshop. Photo courtesy of NextFab

NextFab is Wilmington’s newest makerspace, where artists, woodworking enthusiasts, computer whizzes and entrepreneurs can learn, grow and make things. Located in the West Center City neighborhood of Wilmington aptly named the “Creative District,” the third NextFab (there are two in Philadelphia) occupies 10,000 square feet in a former photography studio.

Says Laate Olukotun, director of marketing: “November and December are the busiest times in the space because people (members) are making gifts for their family and friends.”

Plus, to get you into the holiday spirit, NextFab will offer “…a handful of holiday workshops like ‘Make Your Own Electric Snowflake,’ where you will solder and work with circuit boards,” says Olukotun. This class is open to members and non-members ages 10 and up.

In addition, new this year, NextFab will offer four woodworking class (gift) packs, which will include a fully guided experience through a series of discounted classes and include a NextFab membership. Here are the options:

$50 – Make Your Own Cutting Board
Pilot Membership:
• Access to classes for one month
Included classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation

$150 – Learning the Lathe
Pilot Membership:
• Access to classes for one month
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Intro to Lathe
• Bowl Turning

$250 – Woodworking Foundations
Community Membership:
• Three days/month for two months
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation
• Table Saw
• Finishing Basics
• Hand Tool Basics

$500 – Complete Techniques
Community Membership:
• Three days/month for four months
Included Classes:
• Orientation
• Shop Safety
• Wood Preparation
• Table Saw
• Finishing Basics
• Hand Tool Basics
• Intro to Lathe
• Bowl Turning

503 N. Tatnall St., Wilmington, 477-7330, nextfab.com

For the Sports Fan

The 2018 Wilmington Blue Rocks offer entertaining minor league baseball. Instead of splurging for full or half-season packages, try one of the more affordable Mini Plans. There are three packages: 6, 9 or 12 games; day of the week, and the flex plan. All Mini Plan holders receive: A member gift (next year will be a Blue Rocks cap), an invitation to the member appreciation picnic on July 24, tickets to fireworks or giveaway games, and a flexible ticket exchange policy (and much more). In addition to those holder benefits, “each plan provides customers with a dedicated sales representative,” says Stefani Rash, director of ticket sales.

If the Mini Plan is not enough, give a full-season plan so your recipient not only receives a commemorative booklet, but also a plaque with his or her name on their season seat.

801 Shipyard Dr., Wilmington, 888-2015, milb.com.

For the Aspiring Writer

Have a budding writer in the family? Whether they’re bloggers, poets, fiction or nonfiction writers, the 2018 Bay to Ocean Writers Conference hosted by the Eastern Shore Writers Association has something for them. The Saturday, March 10, conference at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Md., will have hands-on learning workshops focused on the “craft of writing,” specific genres, publishing and marketing, and social media for writers. The keynote speaker will be critically acclaimed author Christopher Tilghman, author of five novels who teaches at the University of Virginia.

Register by the end of the year for the early-bird price of $95. Regular price is $120 for non-members; $95 for members; and $55 for students with valid ID. The registration cost includes continental breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and all sessions, including the keynote.

Chesapeake College: 100 College Circle, Wye Mills, Md., easternshorewriters@gmail.com, easternshorewriters.org.

For the Beer and Wine Aficionado

The Dogfish Head From Grain to Glass two-hour tour leads you through off-limit parts of the brewery for a more in-depth look at the brewing and distilling process. The tour costs $30 per person with a maximum tour capacity of 20, so register early. In addition to the beer and cocktail tastings, you’ll walk away with Dogfish Head pint and shot glasses.

During the off-months, tour times may vary, so call ahead to ensure tour start times. Tours are booked on a first-come, first-served basis and are for those 21 or older.
6 Cannery Village Center, Milford, 888-dogfish, dogfish.com.

Total Wine & More offers more than just libations and gifts. It also hosts various beer, wine and spirits classes for the serious enthusiast at its Claymont location on Naamans Road. Topics range from introductory wine classes to an advanced class focused on refining one’s palette (I hear Super Tuscan wines are quite fine). Total Wine & More also arranges private wine or beer classes for a minimum of 14 attendees up to the capacity for the room. Visit their website for a list of upcoming classes.
Northtowne Plaza, 691 Naamans Rd., Claymont, 792-1322, totalwine.com.

For the Rock Fan

Firefly 2018 pre-sale passes are now sold out, so why not head to Wilmington’s darling theater, The Queen. Now managed by Live Nation, The Queen has “turned it up to 11” with its rock-heavy lineup thanks in part to Talent Buyer Christianna LaBuz, who has brought more regionally and nationally known acts to the historic venue. Here’s a short list of notable upcoming performances:

February: The Wailers (2/8); Less than Jake (2/16);
Blues Traveler (2/22)

March: Anders Osborne (3/15); Drive-By Truckers (3/28)

Still interested in attending Firefly? It will be held at Dover International Speedway on June 14-17, 2018.
Or if your recipient loves all types of music genres, consider a digital music subscription to one of the popular streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music for an on-demand, ad-free experience.
Firefly: 1131 N. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 855-281-4898 (ticket support), fireflyfestival.com.

The Queen: 500 N. Market St., Wilmington, 730-3331, thequeenwilmington.com.

For the Athlete

Open from late November through February, the Riverfront Rink is the perfect place to bring the family or your significant other for a leisurely skate. The ice rink holds up to 350 guests and admission is only $8 for adults and $5 for children. Skates can be rented for $3 per person. Open skate is available Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m. and skate sessions (1.5 hours minimum) are in effect Friday through Sunday at times posted on the website. The Riverfront Rink will be open through March 4, 2018. If you’re feeling extra generous this holiday season, the rink can be rented for private parties for 150 guests starting at $2,500.

308 Justison St., Wilmington, 650-2336, riverfrontrink.com.

For the Home Cook
(who takes pictures of all their food for Instagram)

Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC) offers a wide range of personal enrichment courses for those who want to expand their knowledge or technical abilities. All courses are hands-on and led by a strong network of adjunct instructors.

“This spring, there will be a range of culinary classes including vegan cooking, dumplings and tapas, samosas and flatbreads, and sushi,” says Lisa C. Hastings-Sheppard, senior special programs director in the Office of Workforce Development and Community Education.

In addition to its culinary classes, says Hastings-Sheppard, “we offer three photography courses—introductory, intermediate and advance—which allow budding photographers to learn about technique, composition and most of all, how to capture a great shot.”

And to complement all the photos you’ll be taking, DTCC will provide a Photoshop class, where individuals can learn how to enhance and edit their work. The DTCC Continuing Education spring course catalog will be out soon, so make sure to check your mailbox.

George Campus, 300 N. Orange St., Wilmington, 830-5200; Stanton Campus, 400 Stanton-Christiana Rd., Newark; 454-3956, dtcc.edu.

Foods that Fight Colds

Bone broth, elderberries and fire tonics are some of the weapons you can use to fend off those winter maladies

Winter is coming and with it, cold and flu season.

The 2018 Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that Delaware will see a “mild, wet” winter that will be colder than last year (but not colder than usual). And as the temperature drops, our biological response is to crave comfort foods and drinks—those laden with carbohydrates, sugar and fat. Coupled with a decrease in activity, that does not bode well for our health.

These foods, according to Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market in Hockessin, create “an acidic environment,” which decreases our ability to fight off colds and viruses and causes unnecessary inflammation.

“Most of us have real, chronic cases of inflammation from high levels of cortisol and stress,” says Long. While inflammation is a normal, healthy response to injury or infection, chronic cases can make you more susceptible to getting and staying sick through the colder months.

Before you reach for over-the-counter remedies for winter maladies, consider a trip to the grocery store. You can bolster your immune system and perhaps avoid colds and other winter illnesses with items from the produce aisle. And even if you end up catching a cold, certain foods can help decrease the length of your sickness.

For guidance on the best foods and drinks that ward off colds, we got input from four local experts:

• Liz Freeman Abel, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and owner of free + abel, a “food + lifestyle” company based in Delaware.
• Sasha Aber, owner of Home Grown Café, Newark.
• Tricia Jefferson, licensed dietitian/nutritionist and director of healthy living and strategic partnerships, YMCA of Delaware.
• Henry Long, wellness manager at Harvest Market, Hockessin.

Color Counts

In selecting cold-fighters for your diet, go for color, says Jefferson. “We should eat a variety of colorful foods on a regular basis. They’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E and zinc, among others—which protect cells from oxidation or damage.”

Adds Abel: “Pick foods that are red, orange or yellow, like beets, carrots and peppers.” These bright-colored vegetables are high in beta carotene (vitamin A) and immune boosters.

In addition, Abel says that “eating locally and with the seasons keeps your body in sync with the rhythms of nature. Our eating (in the fall and winter) tends to mirror how we’re feeling, so stick with ground-based foods that are native to this area, like leafy and root vegetables.”

Here’s a handy guide to fruits and vegetables arranged by the color spectrum:

Red  apples, red peppers
Orange – oranges, sweet potatoes
Yellow – pineapple, sweet corn
Green – kiwi, spinach
Blue/Purple – blueberries, eggplant
Brown – ginger, parsnips

Not only are these fruits and vegetables appealing to the eye, they keep our immune system healthy and productive. For example, zinc is a water-soluble vitamin that we need on a regular basis; it can be found in “pumpkin seeds, spinach, animal proteins, oysters and mussels,” says Abel.

This fall Home Grown Café, known for its made-from-scratch food, will serve two dishes that will supply important micronutrients. The first is a traditional Belgian mussel dish made with Belgian beer (which will rotate depending on what’s on tap), garlic, shallots, fresh thyme, smoked ham, whole grain mustard, black pepper and fresh lemon. The second is a perennial favorite, a vegetarian southwestern chili made with pinto and black beans, peppers, onions, tomato, Chipotle peppers, spices, tortilla croutons and jalapeño.

For those looking for an all-natural preventative, try making your own elderberry syrup. All you need are dried or fresh elderberries, water and sweetener. Clinical studies suggest that it boosts our immune status, which helps combat viruses that cause the common cold and flu. Elderberry is also known to “reduce mucus by decreasing swollen membranes,” says Jefferson.

If you can’t find dried or fresh elderberries, Harvest Market carries a bluish-black elixir made from elderberries by Areté, a wellness company based in Chester County, Pa. Have a bottle ready before the chills and aches begin, so you don’t have to consume the terrible-tasting cough syrup we’re all accustomed to.

And, if you’re feeling super adventurous, consider preparing a fire tonic. As its name suggests, this tonic is a fermented concoction taken to warm the body and act as a homemade preventative to stave off infection and colds. The standard fire tonic includes a base made of apple cider vinegar and a mix of ingredients, usually horseradish, garlic, onion and ginger. These ingredients are placed in a jar and allowed to steep for a couple of weeks. After this fermentation period the concoction is strained and stored in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Take one tablespoon daily to boost your immune system (pro tip: add a drop of sweetener to cut the spiciness). If you feel it’s not working, increase your intake up to one tablespoon three times a day.

Warming Foods

As far as foods go, everyone agreed that hot liquids are the best remedy for cold-related illnesses. Not only do they raise our core body temperature, they also stave off dehydration.

“When we consume hot liquids, we breathe in the warm air, which helps moisturize nasal passages and soothe dry, scratchy throats,” says Abel.

And there is some merit in chicken (noodle) soup as the go-to remedy for when we get sick. Plan ahead and make a chicken bone broth before the fever and aches begin.

For those new to making broth, Long recommends using a prepared chicken in order to have it on hand once you’re sick.

Set aside one-third of the chicken meat for the broth (if consuming right away) and use the remaining two-thirds for other meals. Place bones and carcass in a large stock pot and pour water over the bones to cover. Add diced onions, carrots and celery in addition to salt, pepper and spices—parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary, to name a few. Let the broth come to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. For the first couple of hours skim the surface of the broth. Then allow the broth to simmer overnight. Then strain, store in the ubiquitous Chinese soup plastic takeout containers and freeze for an entire season’s worth of bone broth.

Why is bone broth recommended? Says Long: “Homemade bone broth has many healthful properties. The salt soothes the throat; the herbs contain important phytonutrients, and the broth is rich in protein.”

In addition to chicken soup, tea and tisanes (herbal teas) were the favorites among our experts. They are readily available and an easy way to get warmth into the body. Though they all have different properties, they help us to stay hydrated during the cold-weather months.

Says Aber: “I drink tea year-round. It could be because Home Grown Café carries eight different teas and five herbal teas. We also carry Baba’s Brew Kombucha (a fermented tea that’s high in probiotics) on tap.”

The following are recommended teas and tisanes from our experts:

Echinacea is an anti-inflammatory herb that strengthens the immune system and may reduce the

length of sickness.

Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that also calms nausea. Add slices to boiling water with some honey for a simple tea made in under two minutes.

Green tea contains high levels of antioxidants. It’s readily available in loose leaf and pre-packaged varieties.

Licorice: Says Long: “Licorice tea is great for upper respiratory conditions because it acts as an expectorant that opens up the bronchial tubes.” Licorice is known to elevate blood pressure, so check with your primary care physician before consuming.

Turmeric is a fat-soluble herb in the ginger family. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is an anti-inflammatory that can be mixed with honey and milk for a soothing “tea.”

Other Alternatives

Taking care of the whole body while sick is just as important as eating healthy to stave off illness. Here are our experts’ personal recommendations for what they do when sick:

Jefferson: “When I start feeling off, I head to the sauna. It’s a way to relax and clear things out of our system by raising our core body temperature and killing bacteria.” Saunas are available at the Brandywine, Central, Dover and Western Family YMCA locations and are inclusive of the monthly membership.

Abel recommends counteracting stagnant indoor air by adding essential oils like cinnamon, orange and clove, or eucalyptus to “change the air quality and ease symptoms of a cold or flu.” Go one step further and add a couple of drops to a steam bath to open up nasal passages.

Long, who just recovered from a brief cold, recommended rest. “It means taking a break and for one day out of my life, a day to watch cartoons and nap with my son (who was also home sick).”

Aber advocates for “eating less processed foods in order to reap the full nutritional benefits.” This idea is reflected in the menu at Home Grown Café, which uses whole, nutrient-dense foods versus unrecognizable ingredients like potassium sorbate, a food preservative.

We all know intrinsically when our body feels out-of-whack before we come down with the cold or flu. Instead of fearing the worst, try adding these cold and flu fighting foods and drinks to your shopping list.

Fueling the Engine

Here’s your handy guide to both off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods and drinks

Looking to boost your energy throughout the day? Whether you’re trying to overcome the 3 p.m. slump or to increase your athletic performance, it’s important to select the appropriate foods to sustain your energy.

For guidance on the best off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods, I interviewed these six local health experts—nutritionists, trainers and athletes:

• Matt DiStefano, marketing manager at CoreTen Fitness, Wilmington

• Janet Glennon, owner of Toned by Janet, Wilmington

• Kate Mackie, RN, ACSM & ACE-certified trainer at Fusion Fitness Center, Newark

• Scott McCarthy, owner and personal trainer at Balance Strength & Fitness Center, Wilmington

• Nikki Mowbray, membership director and certified health coach at the Central Branch YMCA, Wilmington

• Laura Van Gilder, professional cyclist for Mellow Mushroom Racing Team

What I learned is that, one, I need to eat healthier, and two, all advice should be weighed against your specific nutritional needs, which depend on several factors: age, activity level, body type and hormones.

Also, when it comes to energy food, it’s important to consider your overall health and fitness goals—whether you’re looking to lose, maintain or gain weight and/or muscle. For this article, we’ll focus on macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein and fat—the basic components of any diet and the source of most of our energy.

According to Mowbray, healthy adults who want to maintain weight generally need a macronutrient ratio of “50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent protein and 25 percent fat.”

For athletes and weightlifters, who generally want to gain muscle, McCarthy recommends a combination of 40 percent carbohydrates, 35 percent protein, 25 percent fat.

And for those hoping to lose weight, the macronutrient distribution shifts to 45 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 25 percent fat, says Mowbray.

Note: these ranges are estimates and should be based on your body type and nutritional needs.

So, how do these percentages factor into energy food and exercise? As shown in the chart below, our health experts recommend the following macronutrient breakdown to fuel your pre- , during, and post-workout. Keep these in mind when selecting off-the-shelf and at-home energy foods. 

PRE-WORKOUT DURING WORKOUT POST-WORKOUT
Heavy carbs and some protein 90 minutes to two hours before working out. “During high intensity workouts (it’s best to) sip an electrolyte-rich drink with sugar,” says McCarthy. Around a 2:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates.

Off-the-Shelf Bars

Energy bars are convenient and tasty, but with scores of options, how do you choose?

“When looking for an energy bar, be a customer of the (nutritional) labels,” says Glennon. She recommends looking for energy bars that are low in sugar, made with whole ingredients, namely whole nuts, berries and grains, and if needed, high in protein. Go one step further, recommends Mowbray, and “look for bars that are low in trans fats and no added sugars.”

Some bars are marketed as protein or energy bars, but they may contain upwards of 20 grams of sugar, making them no more than “a glorified candy bar,” Mowbray says.

Finally, choose a bar based on when you’ll need fuel. Energy bars are excellent for pre-workout snacks, especially when combined with a balanced diet. They also are a great supplement both during and after endurance-based activities lasting more than a couple of hours.

“I always have a bar or two in my gym bag or in the car to bridge the gap between meals,” says DiStefano.

Sports Drinks and Gels

Need an alternative to Gatorade? Professional cyclist Van Gilder recommends hydration tablets—Nuun and Skratch Lab.

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Nuun; they’re just like Alka-Seltzer—dissolvable effervescent tablets. Pop them into the specified amount of water and enjoy fun flavors like Strawberry Lemonade and Tri-Berry.

Adds Van Gilder: “(Nuun’s) tropical flavors encourage me to drink when I otherwise wouldn’t.”

Nuun tablets are packed with electrolytes and are low in calories and sugar. Skratch Lab’s Hydration Mix is similar, but available only in powder form. With flavors like Matcha + Lemons with caffeine and Raspberry, both Skratch and Nuun offer a cheaper alternative to the well-known hydration brands.

For those who need sustained energy during intense workouts or competition lasting more than two hours, Van Gilder also recommends Gu Energy gels, which are easily digestible and a perfect way to get carbohydrates during strenuous exercise without causing gastrointestinal issues that accompany eating solid foods.

For post-workout recovery, many of the health experts recommended protein shakes. “Just keep in mind,” says Mackie, “that protein powders are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” so stick to reliable brands like Optimum Nutrition and PlantFusion. Both brands ranked high with the experts due to their high-quality protein and flavor varieties.

Here’s a roundup of off-the-shelf energy bars and drinks recommended by our experts:

NAMES CLAIMS BEST FOR NOTES
Kind Bars All bars are made from “nutritionally dense ingredients like whole nuts, fruits and whole grains”; no artificial flavors, preservatives or sweeteners. Everyone Recommended by a majority of the panel, Kind Bars are lightly drizzled with chocolate and are perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
Quest Bars High protein (20-21 grams per serving); no added sugar, soy or gluten. Athletes Mainstream choice for protein bar. Perfect for athletes needing a high protein bar to fuel their workouts.
RX Bars No added sugar; no artificial colors or flavors; no preservatives or fillers, and no dairy, soy, gluten or B.S. (yes, they claim that). Everyone Those who want real ingredients and no B.S.
LUNA Bars Non-GMO, no gluten, partially-hydrogenated oils, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors; also high in calcium, folic acid and iron. Made specifically for women, but men can indulge too. LUNA bars are one of the first bars created specifically for women. Owned by Clif Bar &
Company, makers of Clif Bars.
Kashi Go Lean Bars All bars have “multi-source plant protein,” are non-GMO and have no gluten. Some bars are vegan. Everyone For those who seek exotic flavors.
Epic Bars No dairy, gluten, grains, soy; low in sugar and high in protein. Everyone The only “paleo-friendly” energy bar on the list that is meat-based. Epic bars are perfect for those who want little to no sugar.
Nuun Hydration Tablets Low in calories and sugar; packed with electrolytes. Athletes Portable and easy-to-use. Multiple product lines: Active, Energy, Vitamins and Performance.
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix Non-GMO; no dairy or gluten; and vegan and kosher. Athletes No artificial sweeteners and portable (if you buy the individual sachets). Not all flavors dissolve due to the
“real” fruit.
Optimum Nutrition – whey powder High quality (100 percent whey). Athletes 24 grams of protein per serving. Also offers casein, soy, egg and blended proteins.
GU Energy Labs’ Gel All energy gels are vegan, gluten free and kosher. Athletes Ultra-portable sachets that are 100 calories per packet and high in carbohydrates for sustained energy.
PlantFusion – vegan protein powder No dairy, eggs, fish, gluten, nuts, shellfish, soy, or tree nuts; and no artificial flavors or preservatives. Athletes 21 grams of protein and 120 calories per 12-oz. shake.

At-Home Energy Foods

All-day energy doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all solution or “miracle” food. Our health experts stress the importance of continually fueling the body throughout the day and not getting to the point of being “hangry” (hungry + angry). Mowbray’s solution to fuel the 3 p.m. slump is to eat a “mini meal,” or 150-250-calorie snack that balances the right number of macronutrients—mostly carbohydrates and protein, with minimal fat.

Says Glennon: “Stay away from refined foods, which are low in fiber and can cause a glycemic spike, in addition to fatty and fried foods, which require a lot of digestion.”

Adds DiStefano: “What it boils down to is the preparation time. You’re bound to make less healthy choices when you have no options.” He recommends having a jar of peanut butter readily available
for when the “hangry” monster appears. His go-to snack is a PB&J smoothie with almond milk, strawberry purée, banana, peanut butter, spinach, flax seeds and protein powder (optional).

Or, if you’re in downtown Wilmington, head to CoreTen Fitness’ Smoothie Bar, which is open to the public. Stay energized throughout the day by filling up on these at-
home energy-packed foods:

AT-HOME ENERGY FOODS EXPERT’S TAKE
Dried berries & nuts “Trader Joe’s has a massive selection of dried fruits and nuts, so you can mix and match,” says Mowbray.
Fruit/vegetable with protein Carrots or peppers and hummus; apple or banana
and nut butter.
Eggs One of the most inexpensive, protein-dense foods available.
Smoothies Pre-measure frozen fruits into plastic bags for when the craving strikes.
Greek Yogurt “Try Chobani 100 or Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Greek yogurt. Both varieties are low in sugar,” says Mackie. “Mix with berries and nuts for a low-calorie yogurt parfait.”
Nut Butters A resounding favorite among all interviewed. “Stick with nut butters that have little to no added sugar,” says Mackie.
Water Stay hydrated with this free (sort of), zero-calorie drink.
Chocolate Milk A good, inexpensive, high-endurance, post-workout recovery
Whole grains Combine whole grains with protein to “hold you over” between meals. “Quinoa is high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats,” says Glennon.
Beans and lentils “Beans and lentils are low in fat and high in many micronutrients and fiber,” says Glennon.
Oatmeal with fruit “Choose non-instant oatmeal topped with fruit,” says McCarthy.

These are just a sampling of the energy food and drink options on the market. With so many out there, we encourage you to read the nutritional label carefully and use these energy food charts as a guide to fuel your engine throughout your day and your workout. Reference the charts to get started.

The Meal Kits Experience

Is it for you? To help you decide, here’s an evaluation of some of the leaders in quick, easy, delivered-to-your-doorstep meals

Love for food doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with a love for cooking. That’s one reason why the meal kit has become a massive segment of the on-demand economy, created to introduce home cooks of all skill levels to a convenient (and sometimes quick) way to prepare dinner.

The first meal kit delivery services started in Europe in the early 2000s, and quickly spread to the U.S. as startups like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and Plated began seeking investors. The meal kit has changed the American dinner plate, particularly when it comes to the time spent planning the meal and shopping for ingredients. Why endure the hassle of grocery shopping when you can have a meal with pre-measured ingredients delivered to your doorstep?

The meal kit experience begins by selecting an average of three meals for the week. Every kit includes presorted and pre-measured ingredients and a detailed recipe card. The kits arrive on a specified day, in a large cardboard box, wrapped in an insulated liner with multiple ice packs to keep the contents cool. All kits assume you’ll have the traditional cooking accompaniments on hand—salt, pepper, olive oil, butter and sometimes sugar. It’s rare, but depending on where you live, the meal kit could arrive as late as 8 p.m. on your weekly delivery day, so if you were planning to serve one of the meals that night, prepare for a backup option (pizza, anyone?) just in case.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from your meal kit experience:

• Prep all ingredients before you start cooking. You don’t want to be fumbling for the jar of miso when you need to be toasting sesame seeds.

• Choose your menu wisely. Many meal kit companies allow you to customize your weekly meals a few days prior to shipping. Keep in mind that only certain combinations will be available, depending on your location.

• Most of all, have fun. The meal kit experience is made to serve your needs by saving you time, minimizing food waste, and, most important, delivering a delicious meal to you and your family.

Here’s a roundup of four of the most popular meal kits on the market, in alphabetical order, along with my evaluations.

Blue Apron

Cost:
• Two-Person: $59.94 ($9.99 per serving) for three meals for two people
• Family Plan 1: $71.92 ($8.99 per serving) for two meals for four people
• Family Plan 2: $143.84 ($8.99 per serving) for four meals for four people
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Navarin-Style Lamb Meatball Stew with Pea Tips and Carrots
2. Pan-Seared Chicken Verjus with Mashed Potatoes, Mushrooms & Kale
3. Chile-Blackened Cod with Epazote, Avocado and Red Rice Salad

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Vegetarian options for both the two-person and family plans
+ Lowest cost per serving (Tied with HelloFresh)
+ Tasty recipes with a couple of exotic ingredients
– Confusing recipe instructions
– Pre-measured ingredients like the spices and liquids were not for the exact amount for the recipe
– Sloppy packaging; paper bags became soggy in transit

Overall Rating:
Blue Apron was one of the first meal kits to reach the market, and its initial success in attracting investors and subscribers allowed the company to have the lowest cost per serving and protein variety; the six weekly recipes include a beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian option. Overall, Blue Apron’s food was among the best and most innovative from the services I tried. The recipes are fun, relatively easy to follow, and included ingredients that an average chef may not have used before, like the verjus or verjuice, an acidic juice made from unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit. The Navarin-stew was the first recipe I prepared and it was one of the best of any meal kit I have tried. The other two dishes were solid additions, but were slightly flawed by some of the omitted recipe steps. One of the major flaws was the need for measuring spoons. The so-called “pre-measured” ingredients like spices and liquids had more than the recipe called for, which meant more dirty utensils to clean. For more information, visit blueapron.com.

HelloFresh

Cost:
• Classic Plan: $59.94/$79.92/$99.90 ($9.99 per meal) for three/four/five meals for two people
• Classic Plan: $119.88 ($9.99 per meal) for three meals for four people
• Veggie Plan: $59.94/$119.88 ($9.99 per meal) for three meals for two/four people
• Family Plan: $69.92/$104.88 ($8.74 per meal) for two/three meals for four people
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Shrimp Saganaki with Olive Tomato Sauce over Israeli Couscous
2. Chicken Lo Mein with Carrots and Green Beans
3. Pistachio-Crusted Chicken with Quinoa and Chopped Cucumber Jalapeno Salad
4. Sesame Beef Tacos with Quick-Pickled Veggies and Spicy Crema

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Fast prep and cooking times
+ Organized packaging
+ Healthy sized portions
+ Lowest cost per serving (Tied with Blue Apron)
+ Clear calorie information
– Recipes that are not challenging
– Quantity over quality

Overall Rating:
HelloFresh allows home cooks to select from eight meals (premium options have a small surcharge). Meal portions were ample and provided two people enough food for one-and-a-half servings. Every meal was easily prepared and cooked within 35 minutes. Packaging was very organized and most of the plastic bags and bottles can be reused. However, I was frustrated with a couple of the meals, including the Chicken Lo Mein, which basically consisted of cutting vegetables in novel shapes and stir frying them in the pre-measured sauces (no technical prep needed). There was a clear quantity over quality in both the food and ingredients. For more information, visit hellofresh.com.

Plated

Cost:
• Two servings per night: $47.80/$71.70/$95.60 ($11.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Three servings per night: $59.70/$89.55/$119.40 ($9.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Four servings per night: $79.60/$119.40/$159.20 ($9.95 per meal) for two/three/four meals
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Cheesy Beef Enchiladas with Avocado, Spinach and Black Beans
2. Chicken Tikka Masala with Garlicky Spinach and Naan
3. Pork and Chive Burgers with Sriracha Aioli and Kimchi Slaw
Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Pork and Chive Burger recipe was the only pro
– Recipes lacked flavor
– Basic recipes
– Expensive cost per serving
– Questionable ingredient freshness

Overall Rating:
The Plated meals were a huge disappointment. Straight away, I could tell that they were not going to provide enough food and were not as enjoyable to cook compared to HelloFresh and Blue Apron. Even the dish names didn’t excite, which should have been a red flag. The only redeeming dish in the kit was the Pork and Chive Burgers; with so few ingredients, the burgers came out juicy, flavorful and tender. Thankfully, I didn’t pay full price for my first kit since most meal delivery services provide massive incentives for first-time subscribers. For more information, visit plated.com.

Purple Carrot

Cost:
• One-two persons: $67.98 ($11.33 per plate) for three meals per week
• Three-four persons: $74 ($9.25 per plate) for two meals per week
• One-two persons: (high performance meals): $78 ($13 per plate) for three meals per week
• Free shipping

Recipes I tried:
1. Sweet Pea Flatbread with Truffled Fingerling Potatoes & Kite Hill Ricotta
2. Vegetable Chow Mein with Baby Leeks & Miso Mustard Sauce
3. Blackened Tempeh Chopped Salad with Creamy Ranch & Crispy Tortillas

Pros (+) & Cons (-):
+ Creative vegan dishes
+ Large portions
+ Clear calorie information
+ Quick prep
– Courier delivery
– Cancelling a delivery must be done more than a week in advance
– High cost per serving

Overall Rating:
Purple Carrot’s meal kits are centered around plant-based proteins and ingredients. The portion size for the two-person meal kit fed at least three, and the overall taste was decent. Cost per serving was a bit high, especially since there are no animal-based proteins. Recipes were easy to follow, and written well enough, but keep an eye on things. While making the flatbread recipe, I found that the naan bread started burning only after a couple of minutes in the oven. Meals are sent by local courier on Tuesday and Wednesdays, depending on where you live. This was difficult to track compared to other major delivery services, which provide frequent updates. In addition, if you need to skip a week of deliveries, all the adjustments must be made on the Tuesday prior to the date your order is shipped, which can be difficult for some people. For more information, visit purplecarrot.com.

These are just a sampling of the meal kits on the market. If you try one of the many out there, remember that there are dozens of discounts and coupons available online. Browse around for the best deal. I’d recommend trying at least two weeks’ worth of meal kits in order to give yourself a more holistic view of the service, especially since the first kit can be very generic to appeal to a wider audience. Most of all, please recycle or “upcycle” your plastic bags, containers, and ice packs. For more details, see Blue Apron’s blog at blueapron.com.

Summer Food & Drink Trends

Here’s the latest on nitro coffee, artisanal ice cream, and those crazy flexitarians

Every summer seems to bring new and more creative trends in the world of food and drink, and at Out & About, it’s our duty to keep you attuned to these trends. The summer of 2017 promises to bring all manner of innovation and tasty creations to our plates and palates. Here are a few of them:

Trend: “Flexitarians”

It would be impossible for me to give up pork; other meats, maybe, but not pork. So I could conceivably become “flexitarian” – a person who “has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. These “flexible vegetarians” make a conscientious effort to go vegetarian a couple of days a week by centering most meals around plant-based rather than animal protein. While it’s a practice that is sneered at by vegetarians and vegans because followers don’t completely eliminate meat from their diets, reducing the amount of meat in your diet, according to some studies, can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Brian Ashby, chef and owner of 8th and Union, has a menu that caters to flexitarians. More than a dozen dishes are labeled as “VG” or “VN,” meaning they can be made vegetarian or vegan. One dish, the buffalo cauliflower, jumped out from the menu as a past trend (cauliflower rice, anyone?) and a relaxed way to ease into the flexitarian lifestyle. I’ve made buffalo cauliflower before and it’s amazing how similar the texture is to the real thing. Anyway, it’s all about eating the buffalo sauce, right?

After my visit with Ashby, I asked him for his summer trend predictions. He’s guessing there will be an increase in Middle Eastern-inspired dishes using spices like sumac, za’atar and turmeric. Coincidentally, he plans to add a chicken tagine dish to his summer menu, using local produce from SIW Vegetables, in Chadds Ford.

Trend: Nitro Beer to Nitro Coffee

Delawareans love their craft beer. With 19 craft breweries, the First State ranks sixth in the number of gallons (11.1) produced per adult, according to Brewers Association’s 2016 Craft Beer Sales Statistics. We’re also in the top 20 percent in economic impact per capita.

This love of beer has led us to become early adopters of new brewing technologies. One example is nitrogen-injected beer, which was invented by Guinness and has been popular in many canned and draft options over the past decade. Instead of carbon dioxide, beer makers have added nitrogen to their brews, resulting in a thick head and creamy “mouthfeel.” The nitro craze has led many local craft breweries (Bellefonte Brewing Co., for example) to add the element to brews. Now, the process is making its way to a coffee shop near you.

It’s hard to say who put nitro coffee on the map first, but be thankful for this ingenious discovery. Nitro coffee has a very distinctive look and mouthfeel compared to traditional cold brewed coffee. Because nitrogen creates smaller bubbles, it gives the coffee a light, foamy head, and a much smoother and creamier taste. It’s a fun way to celebrate the warm weather, so grab yourself a nitro cold brew from Brew HaHa! in Greenville, or order my favorite, a can of La Colombe’s Draft Latte, online. Starbucks will roll out its version of the nitro cold brew by the end of summer in select markets.

Trend: Slow Rise From Raw to Fermented

There are two types of fermentation. One occurs in alcohol, when sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol, i.e., beer, wine and spirits; the other occurs in food, when bacteria, yeasts, or other organisms ferment, resulting in the preservation of foods like kombucha, yogurt, or kimchi. Research is still emerging about the importance of eating specific foods for gut health, but it’s safe to say that consuming fermented or probiotic foods has benefits. Local places like Goat Kitchen & Bar have started introducing dishes such as house-made pickles served three different ways—plain and dill, turmeric and juniper, and Korean red pepper flakes and ginger. Another local favorite, Opa Opa in Trolley Square, serves a thick and creamy Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts.

Trend: Non-beer/Wine Alcoholic Drinks

Have you noticed the rise in alternative alcoholic drinks (anything other than beer, wine, or liquor)? Both Delaware Total Wine & More stores (Naamans Road and McKennans Church Road) carry multiple varieties of hard soda, seltzer and tea. Brands like Henry’s Hard Soda, Truly Spiked & Sparkling and Twisted Tea are making fun, alternative alcoholic drinks—Hard Grape Soda, Spiked Lime Seltzer and Hard Iced Tea—in time for the warmer weather.

Also, local meadery and cidery Liquid Alchemy, established in Delaware in 2012, this summer will feature a special flavored cider in addition to its mead. Says Liquid Alchemy co-owner Terri Sorantino: “We had two (flavor) ideas for summer products—pineapple or raspberry and Meyer lemon. In talking with our cider maker, Ryan Rice, he went right for the pineapple. He felt it would marry with our light cider perfectly, and he was right.”

Liquid Alchemy’s ciders are made from a secret blend of 10 different apples, using only fresh ingredients. The cider will be available by glass, tasting flight or take-home growler in the tasting room. Bottles will soon be available for consumers, but for now, you can buy cider on tap at Skipjack Dining in Newark and mead (and hopefully the cider, once bottled) from Delaware Growler on Main Street, Newark.

Trend: Artisanal Ice Cream

In the summer, we all scream for ice cream. And now the humble scoop of ice cream has been elevated to premium or artisanal status thanks to Jeni Britton Bauer. If you haven’t heard about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, please stop reading and take a minute to Google it. Jeni’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to drop out of art school at Ohio State University to open an ice cream shop. After a couple of years, she burned out, reassessed and refocused her business plan, then launched her hugely popular artisan ice cream brand that produces vibrant, punchy flavors—Cocoa Curry Coco, Brambleberry Crisp and Sweet Cream Biscuits & Peach Jam. It’s a business model focused on partnering with growers, makers, producers and suppliers at all levels of production. You can buy pints of Jeni’s Splendid online or at Whole Foods, in Glen Mills, Pa. If you’re dying for a scoop right away, head to the newly opened UDairy Creamery Market on Market Street, Wilmington, where your purchase directly supports the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

The creamery serves single, double and triple scoops of your favorite flavors in addition to burgers, melts and salads. And you can make your own ice cream sandwiches.

Unexpected Grillables

A three-course grilling journey that includes oysters and angel food cake

This summer, think outside the grill marks. Oysters, angel food cake, even salads can become “grillables” (my unofficial term for that which can be grilled).

Here’s a menu that takes less time to prepare and grill than it takes to let your coals turn white.

Starters

Begin with a grilled Caesar salad. Grilling romaine makes the leaves more tender, less bitter, and a touch smoky. To prepare, halve lettuce heads, brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place them cut side down over a direct medium-heat fire. For extra points, grill some hunks of leftover baguette or French bread to make croutons and toss together with the lettuce and dressing. Visit your local farmers market for fresh lettuce; most New Castle County farmers markets open the first week of May and are open through October/November. For more details, visit dda.delaware.gov.

Wow your dining companions with a dozen grilled oysters. Throw them directly on the grill—whole or shucked. In both preparations, the heat will poach the delicate oysters in their own juice. They’re ready to eat when the shells pop open (if whole) or after a couple of minutes (if shucked). The key is to make sure not to overcook them. A tender, slightly undercooked oyster is better than an overcooked one. And if you or your guests are oyster purists, save a half-dozen to eat raw.

For this starter, I sought advice from restaurant manager and oyster buyer George L. Esterling IV of George & Sons Seafood Market in Hockessin.

• How do you buy a grilling oyster? “Look for a deep cup,” says Esterling. The deeper the cup, the more poaching liquid remains when cooking.
• When are oysters ready to eat? “Wait for the shell to go dry. The rim will still look wet, but the oyster is just about ready to serve.”

• What would you serve with the oyster? “I wouldn’t top it with anything. However, I love beurre blanc (a French butter sauce).” Traditional oyster accoutrements include lemon, hot sauce, horseradish and mignonette (a vinegar condiment laced with minced shallots and fresh cracked black pepper).

George or Dave (the night oyster shucker) will be able to recommend oysters based on your preferences in salinity, flavor, and price range. For more information visit George & Sons Seafood Market, 1216 Old Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, or georgeandsonsseafood.com.

Mains

Put the “grilled” back into grilled cheese. Think about it: Why do we call it “grilled” cheese, when technically it’s pan-fried? Either way, Janssen’s Market is the go-to place for bread and cheese. Stick to a loaf that slices thick and will hold up to high heat. Then, head over to the cheese counter and ask for a cheese recommendation. On the day I went, Cheesemonger Liz DiTeodoro recommended fontina, an Italian semi-firm, cow’s milk cheese. “Fontina has an earthy flavor,” she says. “It’s an excellent melting cheese and is perfect for grilled cheese.” Fontina can be paired with a strong jam or a freshly cut green apple for texture. Grill with a weight on top—a brick, a cast iron pan, or whatever you have on hand.

If you want to go all out, Kitchen and Company carries an item specifically made for grilling grilled cheese (and other fun recipes). It’s called the “Toas-Tite,” a retro gadget designed for campfire cooking.

This 1940s kitchen tool looks like a flying saucer on a stick; its purpose is to create sealed sandwiches (or pies), much like the popular Hot Pockets. To use, butter two slices of white bread and place one slice on the Toas-Tite. Layer with two slices of American cheese and top with the remaining slice of bread. Close the grill and pull away the excess bread. Toast for a minute on each side or until golden brown. Pick up a Toas-Tite at Kitchen and Company, Center Pointe Plaza, 1307 New Churchman’s Rd., Christiana. For more information, visit kitchenandcompany.com.

Dessert

Make dessert fast, simple, and easy to clean up. As long as the grill is still hot, try these easy-to-prep desserts, the perfect complement to a long grill session.

Grilled bananas are easily prepared before dinner. Slice a banana in half and place into a foil packet. Add your favorite campfire toppings—marshmallows, chocolate chips, walnuts, etc.—and seal the packet well. Leave to roast for 5 to 6 minutes (or until melty). Top with ice cream for a grilled banana split.

Not a fan of bananas? Try your hand at grilled angel food or pound cake (save time, buy store-bought). Place individual slices of angel food cake on the grill until toasty, but not burnt. Enjoy with fresh strawberries, grilled pineapple, and/or ice cream for a satisfying end to a grilled meal.

Drinks

Add some flair to your summertime drinks by grilling the garnishes. Citrus fruit—limes, lemons, oranges, and grapefruits—are best grilled with a touch of sugar or simple syrup glaze for a perfectly caramelized exterior. Think grilled pineapple mojito, grilled citrus sangria, grilled margaritas, and so much more. And for non-alcoholic drinkers, opt for grilled lemonade.

Grilling season is upon us, so why not try something different? Round up your friends and family and try some fresh new recipes. Need a place to grill? Check out your nearest Delaware State Park picnic location at destateparks.com for more details.

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Spicy and Bitter

Journey through the five flavors in all their combinations at Wilmington’s Thai restaurants

There’s comfort in a big bowl of rice. As one of the most widely consumed staples, rice provides sustenance for a large portion of the world’s population, especially in Asia, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s production.

Khao, or “rice” in Thai, is also the main ingredient in many Thai dishes and preparations, whether it’s pad Thai, curry or fried rice. I recently returned from a visit to Bangkok, where I grew fond of this simple ingredient in all its forms, like rice noodles and rice paper wrappers. That fondness brought me to three local restaurants that dish up some Thai favorites — Southeast Kitchen in Trolley Square, Soybean Asian Grille off Limestone Road in Pike Creek, and Ubon Thai Cuisine on the Wilmington Riverfront.

I was aware that Thai cuisine is one of the most difficult cuisines to replicate here. We simply lack ingredients like lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf, and tools such as a vegetable/papaya handheld grater.

Many of the dishes I tried in Bangkok were not as recognizable or readily available in the U.S. That can’t be said for the ubiquitous pad Thai, of course. Don’t get me wrong, pad Thai is fantastic. The stir-fried rice noodle dish is comforting, filling and flavorful, but far less technical and creative than what I savored in Thailand.

The three local restaurants I visited not only highlight Thailand’s emphasis on the complexity of flavors, but also focus on one of this year’s hottest food trends: marrying disparate flavors—sweet, sour, salty, spicy and bitter—into a harmonious bowl of good food.

Fresh, Not Frozen

Southeast Kitchen occupies a space on the corner of Delaware Avenue and North Lincoln Street, just north of Trolley Square. It’s hard to spot, save for the distinct black-and-white-striped awning.

The restaurant is a semi-open kitchen concept—you can hear and smell your meal being prepared before it reaches the table. Chef and co-owner Hung Le is busy behind the counter preparing his handmade dumplings, made every other day to keep them fresh, never frozen. They’re filled with tender ground white chicken meat, onions, ginger and scallions, then served with a side of soy sauce laced with cilantro, scallion and ginger. The dumplings come steamed or pan-fried, so prepare to make a difficult decision. I’d recommend the pan-fried for more texture and flavor, but you can’t go wrong either way.

Chef Hung Le, co-owner of Southeast Kitchen. (Photo by Anthony Santoro)
Chef Hung Le, co-owner of Southeast Kitchen. (Photo by Anthony Santoro)

Le has been in the restaurant business for 29 years. He was born in Danang, Vietnam, and raised in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) until his family emigrated to the East Coast during the Vietnam War. As the eldest son, his responsibility was to support the family, who were on welfare. He worked part-time in a Philadelphia restaurant while earning his high school diploma, then attended Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia from 1993-95. Walnut Hill was one of the first colleges to focus on hospitality education. After graduation, he gained restaurant experience in both the kitchen and front-of-house.

In 2015, the owner of Southeast Kitchen was ready to sell. The three-year-old restaurant focused on smaller dishes, specialty groceries and take-out. “I came to visit the restaurant,” says Le. “I liked the town and the area [Trolley Square], but I couldn’t do it myself, so I asked my co-worker, Liem Ngo, who knew about service [to join me].”

Le has done extensive renovation work on Southeast Kitchen. The new seating area includes two handmade benches, the addition of more two- and four-person tables, and single seating at the windows to accommodate more people. This has allowed him to grow the business in the short time he has owned it.

“I’m very lucky that people like my food,” he says. “Philly is too big, Wilmington too small. In Wilmington word-of-mouth travels very fast. In Philly, word of mouth takes years to travel. After the first couple of months, people knew that there was a new owner. They’d say, ‘I’ve been here before, but I didn’t come back. And now that I hear there’s new ownership, I’m happy to be back.’”

As its name indicates, Southeast Kitchen specializes in cuisine from Southeast Asia, and the goal is to prepare a variety of dishes, such as Thai curry, from that diverse region.

Thai curries come in various colors, including red, green and yellow. In Bangkok, curries are eaten at all times of the day and are available from street food stalls to shopping malls—yes, shopping malls. The city’s malls are legendary. For example, MBK in Bangkok has some 2,000 stalls that occupy seven floors, and it has two food courts. There, diners must electronically load money onto plastic cards—think Dave and Buster’s—to purchase food from the dozens of stalls.

Fork and Spoon

It’s customary to eat most Thai dishes with a fork and spoon, a tradition that differs from the use of chopsticks that is embraced by the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. Chopsticks are available at Thai restaurants, but are mainly used when eating noodle soups —a dish brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants. Embrace the culture and use your utensils the Thai way—spoon in your right hand, fork in your left. The fork is used to push food onto your spoon and then into your mouth. Southeast Kitchen caters to all eating customs, and will provide a spoon, fork, and chopsticks, depending on the dish ordered.

I visited Southeast Kitchen at lunchtime on a Thursday and sampled the basil and Shanghai baby bok choy with chicken. This is a dish that may become your new favorite vegetable. Juicier and more tender than the bok choy with white stems, this dish is made with chicken, baby bok choy, carrots, red pepper, onions, basil and a smoky red broth. The smokiness comes from the wok preparation, when high heat from the gas range allows food to be lightly charred, but not burned. Served with a side of rice, it’s a comforting reminder of Thailand and its many curry preparations.
For more information, see southeastkitchen.net.

Soybeans and More

Bring your appetite (and your patience) to the award-winning Soybean Asian Grille at the Pike Creek Shopping Center on Route 7. It serves lunch and dinner six days a week, and is closed on Sundays. The first time I went was on a Saturday afternoon and it was packed. Be ready to wait for your table, or order takeout in advance. Like Southeast Kitchen, this unassuming location also cranks out some of the most authentic Thai food in the region.

Soybean Asian Grille prepares all its dishes with soybean oil, which it claims to be healthier than other vegetable oil due to its high concentration of healthy fats. The menu is extensive but manageable, enabling customers to choose their protein from a long list. Lunch is a great time to visit. It’s (slightly) less busy and the specials are affordable and quick.

Dishes ranged from the colorful coconut curries to fried rice and noodle dishes. I tasted the pad prik khing, which is made with shrimp, chicken, string bean, kaffir lime leaves, and two varieties of bell pepper served with a healthy portion of jasmine rice. This surf ‘n’ turf-like dish is different from most familiar Thai curries; it’s slightly drier and does not contain coconut milk. The curry paste is made from dried Thai chilies, galangal, garlic, onion and small amounts of lemongrass, shrimp paste, and kaffir lime leaves.

The amount of each ingredient is unique to every chef, but the result is the same: an aromatic dish that encompasses the five main flavors present in all Thai dishes—sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter. It’s a touch less spicy than its traditional Thai counterparts, but that doesn’t take away from the umami (the savory taste) created by the five requisite flavors.

Bring on the Heat

In Thailand, I noticed that all restaurants had an assortment of tableside condiments, including fish sauce with chilies (prik nam pla), dried red chili peppers, sliced garlic, sugar and Thai chili sauce. These condiment sets come in many shapes and sizes, but their purpose is the same—to harmonize the aforementioned flavor profiles. Soybean Asian Grille doesn’t have the full condiment caddy, but if you ask your server for a side of “peppers,” he or she will bring a beautiful duo of dried red chili peppers and chili garlic sauce, the chunky version of Sriracha sauce. The peppers will add a new dimension to your noodle or curry dish and allow you to customize the spice level to your liking.
For more information, see soybeanasiangrille.com.

Thai on the Riverfront

Nikki Sritham of Ubon Thai holds at plate of shrimp pad Thai. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)
Nikki Sritham of Ubon Thai holds at plate of shrimp pad Thai. (Photo by Joe del Tufo)

Ubon Thai serves up comforting, homemade Thai dishes in an inviting atmosphere. The warmth in the dining room is only surpassed by the friendly wait staff. This family-owned and operated restaurant on the riverfront serves Thai dishes influenced by their homeland in Northeast Thailand. Recipes from this region, also known as Isan, have been passed down from generation to generation.

Many of the dishes have been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2011. Neua naam tok, for instance, is a spicy steak salad made with thinly sliced flank and doused with a mouth-watering combination of shallots, tomatoes, cilantro and chili lime dressing. The finishing touch is a sprinkling of toasted rice powder, a nutty, crunchy element that makes this dish a knockout.

The fried rice is one of the most popular entrées at Ubon. “It is a great option for those looking for something familiar,” says Ubon Manager Lakia Ellerbe. “The rice is stir fried with mixed vegetables, basil, chilies, egg, and a protein. You have several options, including chicken, steak, shrimp, crab, duck, scallops and tofu for the vegetarians and vegans.”

Despite that rave review, Ellerbe admits her go-to after work dish is pan seared king (and sometimes Norwegian) salmon—not a traditional Thai dish. The filet is lightly lacquered in a chili rub made with Thai spices and herbs, then served alongside a garlic or basil sauce with a medley of vegetables and a side of jasmine rice.

Ubon presents live music on Wednesday and Sundays. Arrive early to enjoy happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., then sit back and listen to local and regional musicians play jazz, R&B and soul.

For more information, visit ubonthaicuisine.com.

All three of Wilmington’s Thai restaurants offer dishes for the daring. Some of the more adventurous treats include: pad kee mao or “drunken noodles”; Thai larb, laab, or larp (spicy ground chicken salad with chili-lime dressing); masaman curry (mild peanut curry); and tom kha gai soup (sweet and sour coconut soup).