Jayne McAllister

Travel Wellness Expert and Author


Eating for Energy When Traveling, Tip #1

Start your day this way!

Start your day this way!


I can hear you groaning and see you rolling your eyes. “That’s not a secret,” you’re saying. “We’re always being told to eat breakfast if we want to be healthier.” But the truth is eating breakfast for eating breakfast’s sake is not necessarily going to serve you. And here’s why.
Most breakfasts are nothing but sugar. Consider a standard breakfast of cereal and milk; orange juice; toast or another bread; and coffee or tea with milk.
• Cereal = sugar. Most cereals are boxes of candy.
• Milk = sugar from lactose.
• Orange juice = sugar, the fiber has been stripped.
• Bread = if it doesn’t have 2 or 3 grams of fiber per serving, it’s starch.
• Coffee or tea with milk and sugar = double whammy from the sugar itself and the lactose in the milk.
So what’s the problem here? The typical breakfast means that you’re consuming a lot of refined sugar that’s going to spike your blood sugar to a great height and result in a resounding fall not that much later. Despite having had a bunch of calories, you’re going to want to eat again mid-morning because you’re feeling lethargic, or you’re going to be ravenous by lunch. Quality protein is conspicuous by its absence.
So, by contrast, what if you take the eggs and bacon route? Is that any better? To be honest, some of the components here are fine. The issue starts when you put them all together. You’re looking at a large amount of fat and animal protein, and no fiber or good carbohydrates. Here you’re missing on the energy from carbohydrates which also feed the brain and the central nervous system.
So now that I’ve slammed most popular breakfasts, what do you do? Especially if you’re on the road.
Breakfast is one meal over which you have a lot of control. It’s not like being taken by a client to a fondue restaurant for lunch or dinner. Typically the day’s obligations shouldn’t be interfering with your eating of the first meal of your day.
If you’re at home, you can definitely strike the balance between nutrients to get you on your way and keep your energy level until lunch time. Here are some suggestions and they don’t take long:
• Oatmeal with almond milk, berries and chopped nuts.
• Veggie omelet with one full egg and one egg white. Time tip: chop the veggies the night before. Start cooking the onion while you shower. By the time you’re done, they’ll be ready and you can add the faster cooking veggies.
• Smoothie – get brave with fruit and greens. You don’t taste the greens. You can down a whole day’s worth of fruit and get a head start on veggies before your day has barely begun.
• I add almond butter to my smoothies for extra protein. I don’t usually use a protein powder. I’m more likely to have an egg or a black bean/brown rice patty afterwards. Most people can keep going all morning on a smoothie. I’m an “O” blood type so I’m always fishing around for extra protein.
• Brown rice or quinoa porridge. Yes really, you can add almond milk to cooked brown rice or quinoa and it makes a fabulous breakfast.
• I’m a little odd – I’ll eat brown rice and black beans for breakfast. It’s great, and can be prepared as a batch in advance. That keeps me going for ever.
All of these recipes are on my website. Email me if there’s anything specific you would like.

On the road, if you’re staying in a room that has a microwave, you can prepare a lot of the same stuff as at home. In a hotel, you’re going to find some healthy options, but you’ll probably have to go à la carte. You may even have to give your server some special requests. The truth is, in this day and age, kitchens are used to special requests. They’re used to preparing gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian. So here are some good options:
• Oatmeal with berries and nuts. Try to avoid the sugar. A little honey is okay. I prefer almond milk. Most places won’t have it, but if you contact the hotel in advance, they’ll get it for you. The more people request, the more likely hotels are going to step up and start offering healthier products.
• Eggs. Veggie omelet. As many veggies as possible. No more than two eggs. You don’t need four.
• If you’re having eggs or bacon (and it really should be either or except for an occasional treat), have them with whatever veggies you can muster from the kitchen. At least you should be able to get tomatoes and mushrooms. Sauteed spinach with a poached or fried egg on top is great.
• Avocado and tomato on whole wheat toast is wonderful. Avocado can be mashed to make avocado “butter” and it’s delicious spread on toast, and better for you than regular butter.
• If you’re in a hotel that serves an international clientele, you’ll sometimes find salmon on the breakfast menu to cater to visitors from Japan. That’s a great breakfast with veggies.

What’s in and out on the breakfast buffet?
In: fresh fruit, whole grain breads, eggs cooked to order, bacon or ham in moderation, any veggies, yogurt, high fiber cereal, almond milk.
Out: scrambled eggs that have been sitting for ages, sausage, biscuits, gravy, any breads with white flour, sweet pastries, juices from cartons, sugary cereals.
A word about eggs: We have been brainwashed into thinking that they are bad for us because they contain cholesterol. The truth is there’s a difference between the cholesterol in food and the cholesterol that is made from saturated fat that is carried into the body and converted.
In the US, if you want to be healthy, you eat egg whites. In traditional Chinese medicine, egg yolks are eaten and the whites are discarded because they are known to be mucus-forming. The truth is there are really important nutrients in eggs. They’re a great source of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E. Plus, the fat in the egg yolk will help you absorb the micronutrients in any vegetables that you’re eating with them. The whole egg is best to be eaten so all the complementary nutrients can do their job.
The problem with cholesterol in eggs is when the cholesterol is oxidized. That happens when the egg yolk is over cooked such as in scrambled eggs that have been sitting on a buffet line for hours or in an over-medium egg. Soft poach, sunny side up or over easy, soft boiled are all okay.

I’m a big believer in getting where you’re going the night before for so many reasons. Better night’s sleep, chance to exercise, no risk of running late because of flight delays, chance to have a real breakfast. These are all factors which help alleviate stress too. But sometimes you’re leaving home in the wee hours, it’s too early to eat, you grab coffee and run. What do you do in this situation?
You have to take something with you. At least, a piece of fruit, some almonds and perhaps a yogurt, but not if you’re a big milk drinker. Find a quiet corner to eat it. Eating in the car or on the train is not okay. You’re going to eat more because you’re not focused. You won’t even notice the food that’s going into your mouth. Your brain won’t even register that you’re full. That will lead to more hunger later and excess calories.

Let me know how these tips work for you. I’m always anxious to hear travelers’ challenges on the road…so I can help you overcome them.


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Top Ten Easy Latin Bean Recipes (Fiesta de Frijoles y Habichuelas)

I’m borrowing my friend Natalia’s blog post because I love beans and it’s fabulous how she has grouped all her recipes together. Check out my Hot, Cheap & Easy friend.

Hot, Cheap & Easy

Some of you have reported hunting down my bean recipes. Well here are some of my faves, all gathered in one place! Just click on the image to get to the recipe.

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A Couple of Tips For Trimming Calories While Traveling

Restaurants directional signTravel and weight gain have been synonymous forever but it really doesn’t have to be that way. After a little re-education, I was able to stop treating every trip like a food fest. This was a far cry from the Jayne that could pile on seven pounds in as many days while traveling. I see it in my clients too. One lady recently took a ten-day trip to Abu Dhabi and lost two pounds, whereas a five to ten pound gain was the norm for her on such a trip prior to working with me.

One of the easiest ways to drop a few pounds while traveling is by changing a couple of habits that might have had you piling up extra calories without realizing it. How many of you have developed your own airport rituals? By this, I mean you check in, you go through security, you’ve got however long to wait for your flight so you go into ritual mode. I have a client, Sally, who always used to grab a huge latte and a Godiva chocolate bar once she was in the departure lounge. She would do it without even thinking about it, the habit was so engrained. Another, Felicity, used to zone out in British Airway’s first class lounge and grab an orange juice and several packets of cookies in case she got hungry later. Yet there was no chance of her skipping a meal. Jim went to the same bar at Heathrow Terminal 4 every time he was there, had two pints of beer, a pork pie and then dashed for his plane. It’s like we go on automatic pilot even though we’re not flying the plane.

In all these cases, the clients are frequent travelers who find themselves in airports at least a couple of times a week. Over the months of traveling the calories afforded by these little rituals really add up. Plus, as you’ve learned from my previous posts, these aren’t the best foods to be fuelling you before a flight.

In all of these cases, I had to show the clients how to create new rituals. Lattes were replaced by herbal tea. Orange juice and beer by water. Chocolate, cookies and pork pies by fruit. It was not an overnight process. I had them reduce gradually. The size of latte got smaller and smaller before tea was introduced. A bottle of water was consumed for each pint of beer.

The key was to make the new routine as mindless as the old one by gradually making the change. The clients didn’t see the change as much because they were still acting out some kind of ritual as they wove their way through the airport.
Most importantly, they shaved off hundreds of empty calories and lost weight.

The next trick to losing weight involves adopting another new pattern and that is eating smaller portions. It seems really obvious but it’s especially applicable if you’re about to sit down for a flight and not have the opportunity to move around much. The last thing you need is a huge meal.

When you’re on the go and rushing from meeting to meeting, you might think you need to eat everything in front of you because you don’t know when you’re going to eat again. Are you the person who will eat on the plane even if you have a meal before you board? Like I used to do… I can pretty much guarantee you that you will not starve if you eat half of your meal and give it time to digest.

Order half portions if they are available. Always start your meal with a salad so that you can digest your main course better. Share the main course if you can, otherwise, leave it. It’s not wasteful on your part. It’s wasteful on the part of the dining establishments that give you the ridiculously big portion in the first place. No one is going to starve because you didn’t eat everything on your plate.

And if you’re dining at the airport pre-flight, with a smaller portion you will feel better, sleep better, have less inflight bloating and suffer fewer effects of jetlag if you are crossing time zones. And, you’ll help your weight loss goal by cutting out tons of empty calories.

There are a lot more factors that contribute to weight gain on the road such as S-T-R-E-S-S, which I’ll touch on in another post. But these two steps are fairly rudimentary and they will make a big difference. Try them and see. I love to hear how it works for you.


How to Avoid Inflight Bloating, Dehydration and Jetlag!

Woman Waiting in Airport (BW Silhouette)Let’s examine what happens to your body when you fly. Basically, within minutes you’re catapulted to an effective altitude one and a half times the height of Denver. That’s because the cabin is pressurized to simulate an altitude of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, although the plane itself may be cruising at 25,000 to 40,000 feet.

How does that affect you? The decrease in atmospheric pressure and the decrease in available oxygen wreak havoc on your body. The decreased pressure causes gases to expand and your body tissues fill up with these expanding gases. That why your shoes become tight. You are blowing up like a balloon just like the bags of chips and peanuts on board.  I know from my own experience that it can take me a couple of days wandering around like a Teletubby before the bloat starts to come down. However, I’ve now found a way to deal with it which I’ll share with you shortly.

First, let’s look at dehydration. We all know we get dehydrated on our flights but did you know that the average passenger can lose up to two pounds of water in a three-hour flight? Instant weight loss! However, it doesn’t mean that you get off the plane super skinny because you’ve got the Michelin man bloat going at the same time.

We know that the air in planes is very dry and that’s why sometimes our eyes can feel scratchy and our nose itchy when we’re flying. But did you know how dry it actually gets? Typically the humidity in planes ranges from 8 to 12 percent, but it can drop as low as 2 percent. And the longer the flight, the drier it gets. And – I hate to tell you this – most of the humidity is actually from the sweat and breath of your traveling companions. It’s enough to make you don a mask next time you fly!

So we know to hydrate while we’re flying but what stops us? What stops us from constantly downing water while we’re in the air? Well, I know what stops me and I’m going to hazard a guess that I’m not the only one that’s thinking this way. You don’t want to be getting up and down and going to the toilet. We all know that airplane toilets get stinkier throughout the duration of the flight. And it doesn’t matter what class of service you’re in.  Then there’s the fact that you might be sitting in a middle or window seat and you don’t want to constantly disturb the person next to you. Then there’s the darned seat belt sign that has a habit of going on right when you want to get out of your seat.

Let me give you some compelling reasons why you need to hydrate on your flight. Hopefully they will be enough to have you booking an aisle seat not too far from the toilet.
1. Dehydration causes your cells to become less efficient and that contributes to fatigue and poor performance. That cellular imbalance will worsen if you eat the salty foods and snacks you’re offered on board.
2. It takes only one percent fluid loss for your body to become dehydrated – ONE percent -and you can’t depend on thirst to tell you that it’s happening.
3. As your cells dry out, they pull water from your blood, reducing your blood volume. Your heart has to work harder to circulate the smaller amount of blood to every part of your body, which means your muscles don’t get oxygen and nutrients, and it’s harder to eliminate waste. (There’s another reason you bloat up).

If I’ve convinced you to drink more water before you fly, know that you should drink what you can before you board, then have at least one 8-ounce glass for every hour in flight.  What else can you do? Here are some tips for what to do while you’re on the ground to lessen the effects of the beating your body is going to get in the air.
• Eat a salad before you fly. It helps avoid bloat. I promise you this. It is my new trick. I did this twice recently before trans-Atlantic flights and I didn’t get the puffed up feeling I usually get for two days after.
• Another good reason to eat a salad is that leafy greens oxygenate the blood. They’re an excellent antidote to dehydration. Try to get a variety of greens in your salad. I know that airports can make this hard but you can find them. Of all places, the Irish pub at Chicago O’Hare’s American Airlines terminal has one and it saved me on my last trip to the UK. Eat the salad dressing to help absorb the micronutrients on the lettuce. Iceberg letter is the lowest on the nutritional totem pole, romaine is better. Best of all is a mixed greens variety. You might even find spinach. If anyone out there knows of an airport restaurant that offers a kale salad, let me know so I can send them a virtual hug.
• Choose a meal that is high in fiber with lots of veggies and whole grains. Keeping everything moving and regular will ease the bloat… So, if there’s a Mexican eatery in the terminal, a side of black beans and a corn tortilla will be a good option.
• Stock up on fruits that have a high water content, such as apples and melons. You can get containers of chopped fresh fruit at most airports now. The quality of water in fruit is the best there is. It’s better than any spring water or alkaline water you’ll buy.
• Drink plenty of water with your meal and take your own liter bottle on board. You should never drink anything but bottled water, no ice, on planes. Don’t rely on inflight service to bring you as much as you really need unless you’re in First Class.
• Drink hot water with lemon. This is my other favorite trick. I start my day with it and sometimes drink it all day long. It stimulates the digestion and helps the liver detox. The steam from it moistens dry sinuses. You can have a mini facial while you fly!

To balance all of this, I’m afraid there is a list of things to avoid.
• I’ve already mentioned the salty nuts and snacks which mess with cellular water content.
• Watch out for salt in drinks like tomato juice and V8.
• Caffeine, whether it is in coffee or soft drinks, will dehydrate you.
• Avoid soda and sparkling water. These can cause discomfort as gas expands in your body.

And what about alcohol? We all know the answer to this. It’s not a great idea to mix drinking and flying. I would say it’s better to have a drink with your pre-flight meal while you’re able to drink lots of water with your meal too. This will lessen the effects of dehydration, help you digest your food and relax you before your flight if you’re a nervous flyer. Just don’t overdo it.

If you do elect to drink in-flight, as I do occasionally, understand that the effects of alcohol are multiplied two to three times in the air and that the alcohol will dehydrate you. My client Bill who flies over 100,000 miles a year in first class, doesn’t touch the stuff while he’s flying, even though he’s a wine connoisseur with a valuable collection. He promises himself he can have whatever he wants when he lands. As long as he’s not on his way to a meeting, of course.

A word about jet lag and food. It’s pretty simple. The lighter you eat, the better. Overeating and drinking will contribute to the lethargy you may already feel. Plus heavy food will really slow down your digestive system which means that you’ll be zapped of energy and even more bloated. Your digestive system is already going to be dysfunctional from the time change as your body clock is so messed up. The less you can do to exacerbate this, the better.

Simple food combining can help. Eat good quality proteins such as fish and eggs earlier in the day, and save your heavier meals for the evening. This would include pasta or rice-based dishes. Of course, you’ll continue to stay hydrated with lots of water and fruits with a high-water content.
So there you have it. Give these tips a whirl next time you fly and let me know how it goes.


How to Navigate the Maze of Airport Dining Without Packing On Pounds

wolf at food nw kitchen ftl

There’s been a lot of publicity about airport dining since the Daily Meal published its list of the 31 best airport restaurants late in 2012.  Some Michelin starred chefs have taken their wares to the traveling masses.  We have Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food at London Heathrow, and Gilles Dupont and Thomas Byrnes’s Altitude at Geneva Airport.  In the US, mainly burger and pizza joints made the list, which reflects more on the Daily Meal’s staff who conducted the survey than anything else.  The notable exception was Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. 

The problem I have with all of this, including the $1.4 billion renovation of Delta’s terminal at JFK is that these venerable eateries are never in a terminal that I fly out of.  They might be in the same airport, which is even more frustrating.  I’ll be stuck in the one that has pizza, ice cream and cinnamon buns while Wolfgang Puck, Todd English and Danny Meyer‘s establishments are just a terminal and security checkpoint away.

So here you are. You’re at the terminal.  You’re hungry.  You have the time to eat.  What do you do?  What are the best options for you even when it looks like nothing else is available?

Let’s start with the food court.  You have pot luck here.  You could have fantastic options such as at Chicago O’Hare where the food court boasts aforementioned Tortas Frontera by local chef Rick Bayless.  Fresh made guacamole, homemade chips and salsa and a bunch of different tortas are offered.  Bayless even lists the local farms from which meat is purveyed. (Yes, really!).

Then there’s the real world for the rest of us.  We’re in the terminal that’s offering Burger King, Panda Express and Nathan’s Hotdogs.

The best advice I can give you is to keep it as simple as possible.  I give a categoric “no” to fast food.  Even though they claim to be offering healthier food, their sources are to be questioned.  You should be able to pick up a salad or a sandwich.  The salad should have an oil-based dressing rather than a creamy one and you should put it on your salad, not keep it on the side.  You need the dressing to digest the micronutrients and antioxidants in the vegetables.

Your sandwich should be on whole grain bread and not have too many ingredients.  Tuna and chicken salad in mayonnaise are out; slices of lean meat are in.  If you’re having meat, do not add cheese.  There’s plenty of protein and enough saturated fat in the meat.  Always sneak in at least one veggie serving to your sandwich, even if it’s lettuce and tomato.  Choose mustard over mayonnaise.

Soups are great as long as they are not full of milk and cream. Choose soups with vegetables and beans or lentils for fiber and energy.  Whatever you order will probably have a lot of salt in it, so drink lots of water to maintain the right balance of sodium and water in your cells.  You’ll feel and function better that way.

What about the ubiquitous Asian food court offerings?  If you order well, they can actually be okay.  You can always find a vegetable dish, noodles, scallops, fresh fish or something simple like chicken and broccoli.  You do have to watch out for MSG and very salty foods so see if they’ll make a serving of whatever you want to order.  Ask for it without salt, MSG and request less soy and oil. 

Always ask for brown rice although chances are that they’ll only have white rice which is tantamount to a bowl of starch.  In this case I do suggest that you order chicken or pork with your veggies as they stop your blood sugar hiking as much.

If sushi is available, that’s a lighter option unless you eat tons of it.  Figure between 50 and 60 calories a piece.  Sushi rolls are better because they have the seaweed around them which is one of the single best foods out there.  The average roll is around 300 calories, assuming it’s not fried or got over the top ingredients.  Again, brown rice is better if it’s available.  Miso soup and noodles in broth are also good options.  Teriyaki isn’t so great because it’s very salty.

If there’s a Nature’s Table or similar healthy eatery, just be careful what you order.  Not everyone’s definition of healthy is the same.  Watch for hidden sugar in smoothies and sodium in savory dishes.

Let’s take a look at actual restaurants rather than food court choices.  If you have the option of going to a restaurant and sitting down to eat your meal in relative peace, please do so.  It’s a better option on so many levels.

The rules here are similar to the regular guidelines for eating out.  The good news is that you can probably find a salad.  It’s not necessarily going to be organic baby greens but it’s still a salad and it’s the best place to start. You’ll have alkaline food that will help you digest everything else and will help you deal with any inflight bloating that may occur.

In addition to the options we discussed for food court outlets, you should be able to put together a plate of meat or fish with a selection of vegetables.  Substitute extra vegetables for the starchy potatoes and white rice.  Steak and sautéed spinach is a lovely option, as is salmon with broccoli.  Broccoli seems to be the most widely served restaurant vegetable, but you may find spinach and asparagus as well.

To my mind, the best part about eating in a real restaurant is that they are more likely to adapt to your requests because the food is made to order.  Nowadays restaurants are used to special requests.  They are being asked for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan all the time.  So don’t be shy about asking for exactly what you want.

There’s usually some kind of Latin American restaurant or Mexican at most airports.  Rice, corn and bean dishes will be readily available. You can put together a great meal with salad, rice and beans, salsa and guacamole.  You can actually be sure of getting the perfect protein, and a variety of fresh vegetables.  I select the Mexican option quite often when I’m traveling.

The hardest part about Italian restaurants is avoiding the stuff that’s bad for you.  Good choices are soups such as pasta e fagioli, escarole in broda if they’re available.  Pasta is usually made from white flour so you have the same issue with sugar that you get with white rice.  Ask for whole wheat pasta because you never know.  If it’s not available, consider adding fish or chicken to keep the blood sugar steady, just like I suggested with Asian food options.

Keep the sauces light. Choose pasta primavera for a vegetable medley or a plain marinara sauce. Just remember to go lightly on the cheese.   Some Italian restaurants offer sautéed spinach, broccoli or escarole as a contorno or side dish.  That’s a great way to add more fiber to your meal.

If you travel through the same airports a lot, you can check out their eateries’ websites to see what kind of ingredients they use.  Au Bon Pain for example is very transparent about the ingredients they’re using.  You can even check their menus by airport and plan ahead for healthy eating options.

A little bit of planning can go a long way.  The bottom line here is to steer as far away as you can from “composed” dishes.  The more complicated the dish, the more hidden stuff there’ll be.  Go for simple.  Fewest ingredients. If it looks like food, it probably is.  The more you have dishes with tons of ingredients, the more likely hidden fats, sugars and calories are lurking.

And one day, you never know, you may actually find yourself in the right terminal enjoying a sumptuous meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Until then, however, I hope I’ve helped you make some better choices.

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Rules Were Made To Be Broken

Rules were made to be broken.  Who came up with that phrase anyway? I’ve always said that there’s a reason for cliches and I’m holding myself to it on this one.

My diet is pretty much wheat-free, dairy-free, green smoothie laden and low on animal foods these days.  I certainly don’t expect my clients to eat like me – this is the culmination of over 18 months of integrative nutrition on my part. But, there always has to be a dark side, a yang to the yin, a night to day, blah, blah and THAT is why every now and again, you just have to be naughty.

Today was a naughty day. While some people might go and paint the town red, my definition of being utterly rambunctious was hitting the tastes buds with a  few ingredients they hadn’t had in a while. Like cheese. Like prosciutto. Like pastry. Like chocolate that wasn’t raw.

I have the weekend to myself, a rarity in and of itself, so I was itching to do something a little beyond my usual green smoothie or veggie omelet sans fromage. It’s funny how being on your own and having the ultimate luxury of time all to yourself can turn you into a whirling dervish of culinary creativity. “He’s not here; bring out the cheese and prosciutto.” Well, if he were here, he’d probably be thrilled to see them coming out of the fridge because he bought them in the first place despite my protestations.

I digress.  I love eggs and eat pretty much one a day, usually scrambled or in a veggie omelet. I get my eggs at my local farmers’ market and pay way more than one does for “regular” eggs ($5.99 a dozen), but they’re from pasteured chickens  and are free of hormones and antibiotics.  And a word about the price, I look at it like I get a healthy breakfast for 50 cents a day for 12 days.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo how thrilled was I to see this recipe as an opportunity to go beyond fried and scrambled to en cocotte but with the lovely twist of prosciutto.  There’s even a green veggie in there.  Even better, it takes no time to prepare so it works mid-week.  Switch on the oven when you first get up and bake the egg while you take your shower.

Individual Prosciutto and Spinach Pies

12 servings (Only making one? Amounts are in italics and parantheses)

  • 12 thin slices prosciutto, halved crosswise (1/2 pound) (1 slice)
  • 10 eggs, slightly beaten (1 egg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt (pinch)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (smidgen)
  • 1 cup loosely packed spinach, stems trimmed and roughly chopped (small handful)
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (1 tablespoon)

Pre-heat oven to 350. Lightly butter a 12-cup muffin pan or 12 ramekins. Place prosciutto slices into bottoms and up sides of cups, overlapping in a crisscross pattern.

Combine eggs, salt, and pepper.  Divide spinach and cheese among muffin cups.  Pour egg mixture evenly into muffin cups.

Bake pies 14 to 16 minutes or until just set.  Let stand about 5 minutes.  Loosen pies by running a knife around the edges of each cup, and then lift out of pan with a small spatula. Serve immediately.

Single serving: butter ramekin and line it with prosciutto in criss-cross shape.  Add chopped spinach and grated cheese.  Add beaten, seasoned egg. Bake as above.

When I’m on my own, I like to not have to fuss about meals. If I want to create a magnum opus I can, but if I don’t feel like a performance while flatly refusing to eat something that isn’t made from scratch, here I come. I’d been eyeing up a recipe for an olive and onion tart that I’d pulled out of a magazine. (Can’t remember which one, sorry).

Onion and Olive Tart

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt  had the air of pissaladiere that I’ve had in France. Plus by now, I was deep into a magazine article I was writing and really didn’t have much time to come up for air. Did I have all the ingredients? Frozen puff pastry. Check. Large sweet onion. Check. Arugula or Spinach. Sort of. A bit of spinach (I’d used most of it in the egg recipe) but found kale which is ubiquitous in my house. Olives, because this is an olive and onion tart. Er, the husband has them, along with the spinach but he doesn’t know when he’ll be home. Okay. Ha! Found some homemade tapenade in the fridge, we’ll figure this out.

Defrost the puff pastry but don’t do what I did and leave it for too long so you can’t do anything with it. Since only half is required, I cut the thing in two and rolled it thin. Next time I’ll do it right and read the instructions, just like I never do.

  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh arugula or spinach leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped green rip or kalamata olives
  • Fresh arugula leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 375.  Stir egg yolk in a small bowl.  Place puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and cut 1/2-inch-wide strips off each side.  Lightly brush each piece with egg wash.  Place cut pastry strips on top of puff pastry to form raised edges, trimming as needed.  Prick center of pastry with a fork.  Chill 30 minutes.

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; saute onion 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to low, add sugar and vinegar, and cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes or until onion is a dark caramel color.  (Take more time with this if you need to.  Crunchy caramelized onions don’t work.  If it takes longer to soften them, take the time). Set aside.

Puree arugula, garlic, and anchovies, if desired, in a food processor.  Slowly add remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil; process until mixture is thick and creamy.  Stir in breadcrumbs and next 3 ingredients.

Spread arugula mixture over puff pastry, and top evenly with onion.  Bake 30 minutes or until tart edges are golden brown and bottom is firm.  Let cool to room temperature.  Top with olives, and sprinkle with additional arugula, if desired.  Cut tart into squares.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA note. My hubby is still AWOL with the olives so, as you can see, I enjoyed my tart with a dollop or two of the tapenade which I spread atop. It would have been lovely with some mixed greens and a homemade vinaigrette, but alas the greens are also in the back of a car somewhere in Indian River County, Florida.

Not to worry, I washed my tart down with a suitably hearty red wine. A tempranillo/merlot/cabernet sauvignon mix from Navarra, Spain.  A wimpy wine won’t match up to the strong tastes of the arugula paste and the olives so be bold. As one should, if one is being naughty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see how much I enjoyed my dinner…

My final digression was some delicious mango chilli chocolate that said prosciutto- and cheese-buying husband had stashed in the fridge.  It also went extremely well with the wine.  On reflection, even though my other half was away all weekend and not home in time with some of the goods, I did really well working with what he had provisioned.  He can buy prosciutto, pastry, cheese and chocolate more often!