Kale is the New Bacon

Taking control of our eating habits, one meal at a time.

After five years of culinary one-upmanship in the categories of butter, bacon, salumi, artisan pork rinds, and pretty-much anything you can tie-down and shove into a deep-fat fryer, it seems eaters are ready for a little food sobriety.

Look no further the flood of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks released in 2011, the rise of campaigns like Meatless Mondays and the fact that a recent Harris Poll concluded that about 33% of the U.S. population have at least one meatless meal per week to conclude that vegetables, rice and grains are starting to push out their meaty plate-mates. Oh yeah, and the foie gras ban that will go into effect in June.

Hold on, though. Most of us aren’t about to eschew eggs, chicken, cheese and the occasional In-N-Out burger altogether. Maybe flexitarian is more your speed — adhering (at least for the early months of the New Year) to the new USDA MyPlate guidelines that relegate “protein” to a quarter of your diet. And veggies, fruits and grains to the remaining three-quarters. Call it moderation, not misery.

So how can you embrace a little food responsibility without, well, giving up the whole hog? We’ve at least a few answers…

There’s An App for That
That new tablet everyone got for Christmas can do more than play Angry Birds (really!) Cooking at home is a great way to get a handle on exactly what you’re eating, learn new techniques and expand your edible repertoire. But cookbooks can be hit or miss with complicated techniques and unclear instructions.

That’s why our absolute must-haves are Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and How to Cook Everything apps. The New York Times food columnist has created fool-proof recipes accompanied by illustrated guides on everything from dicing carrots and forming veggie burgers to making pasta by hand. The recipes are well-tested and include variations to add pizzazz to standards. $9.99 each, but include weekly recipe updates.

Whole Foods also has a solid recipe app (free) that includes many of the recipes from their own cookbooks, shopping list functionality and the ability to search by “diet” including dairy-free, gluten-free, low-fat, low sodium and sugar-conscious recipes.

Want to know what’s in season at the farmer’s market? Try the Locavore App (free) that shows what’s coming into the market this week and where to find it.

Specialty Menus
Many restaurants offer low-fat, vegetarian or gluten-free options on their menus. But too often they’re bland afterthoughts rather than meals to look forward to. Want something healthy and tasty? The Flamingo Hotel (2777 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 545-8530) recently created a diabetic-friendly menu. Though the name sounds snooze-worthy, the dishes are anything but: Chai crusted ahi tuna with cilantro lil, fresh spinach, brown rice and organic baby vegetables; Caramelized Salmon (they use ‘Splenda’) salmon with balsamic glaze, mango salsa and citrus asparagus; chicken and goat cheese panini on ciabatta bread or an Asian chicken salad with cashews, mandarins, fried udon noodles, watermelon radishes and spicy Thai dressing and sugar-free lmeon cake with fat-free whipped cream and sugar-free chocolate sauce. The menu also offers a variety of McDougall-approved dishes including lasagna with tofu ricotta, whole grain penne pasta and a tofu burger with oven baked fries.

And speaking of our resident diet doc, John McDougall, the starch-friendly diet guru releases a new book this spring “The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health and Lose the Weight for Good.” Perhaps just saying it a few times will burn off some calories.

Another option for eating out: Peter Lowell’s macro-bowl (385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol., (707) 829-1077); want to go a bit more upscale?  How about table-made tofu at Cyrus, where diners get a personalized ramekin of soy milk that turns into fresh tofu before your eyes. (29 North St., Healdsburg, (707) 433-3311.

An Herbal Boost
Steep yourself in the power of healing herbs during a discussion by Lily Mazzarella, Clinical Herbalist and Educator. No, those those herbs. Mazzarella will talk about herbal tinctures using mushrooms, licorice, ginger and many other immune-boosting herbs on Wednesday, January 18 from 6 to 7:30pm at the Ceres Community Project (7351 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol, 829-5833 or ceresproject.org for registration).  Can’t make the talk? Check out Farmacopia (95 Montgomery Dr., Santa Rosa, 528-4372) to get a custom-blended herbal extract or herbal/nutritional consultation from their trained staff.