Travel

My Experience with Meze

I am going to be honest, I have no idea what meze (meza?, mezze?) translates to. Since living abroad, I have had two different mezze experiences. I have had Lebanese meze and Cypriot meze. While mezze is slightly different in the community it is served in, the basic idea is that at the end of eating a mezze meal, you have consumed 10-15 small portions of the most traditional dishes that the country has to offer and you are stuffed and satisfied. It is an experience that you must have during your life – you will not regret it.

A note about my food pictures, they are not great, I apologize. The lighting in restaurants is never optimal, I hate being THAT FOREIGNER who is snapping pictures instead of enjoying the atmosphere and culture, and I am really interested in getting the food into my mouth as soon as possible. Never-the-less, I hope you enjoy.

Lebanese meze: I have had this style of meze a few different times and each meal has been different. All Lebanese meze menu items are small plates to be shared. Each restaurant does their own version of a meze menu but some of the common items you will see on all Lebanese meze include: Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Halloumi, Sausages, Hummus and Pita bread, Kibbe, French Fries, raw meats, and more. For a group of 4 or 5 we typically order 7-8 plates and that satisfies us. After living here for a few months I enjoy all parts of Lebanese meze, except the raw meats – haven’t tried those and I don’t think I ever will.

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Every restaurant has their own version of table snacks. Nuts and carrots were this one’s specialty. The pita bread is for the meal to come, to use to dip and grab food.

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Fattoush salad – my favorite. It has mint, radish, an olive oil dressing and crunchy thin croutons for the top. My favorite is when a restaurant adds pomegranate seeds and juice into the dressing

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What would a meze be without hummus?

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I don’t know why I don’t have my own picture of Grilled Halloumi – it is one of our favorites.

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Sausage – some places serve it in sausage form, this one did a scramble

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Kibbeh – Again, where my pic of this went, I do not know

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Kebob – chicken and lamb. Expertly seasoned!

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Although you can’t see it, the view from our restaurant was lovely, beside a babbling creekSmile

Cypriot meze: On our second to last night in the lovely village of Agia Anna during our visit to Cyprus, Zach and I went to a small village tavern for our Cypriot meze. When I asked the waiter what was included in the meal, he literally said, “We serve you everything that we have in our kitchen.” And then he asked, “Are you hungry?” I was not starving as we were at the end of a very food-filled vacation but I had made sure that I hadn’t eaten much earlier in the day. And 5 minutes after we ordered, the dishes started coming. Here they are, in order:

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Beginning dishes: Fresh pita bread, lemons, olives, tahinosalata, yoghurt

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Garlic bread

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Grilled Halloumi Cheese (Zach’s favorite)

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Noodles and parmesean cheese – I think traditionally a ravioli dish is served

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Courgettes with eggs (zucchini)

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French fries – I tried to not each many because of all the other new and different food

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Spicy sausages – one of my favorites!

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Souvlakia – can be either a chicken or pork dish, this one was pork

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Pork cooked in wine

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I believe this is chicken but cannot find the name online, it was good though

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Keftedes? I believe – they were good but not my favorite because of the seasoning

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Deep friend eggplant

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Grilled pork chop

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Slow-cooked rabbit leg – Stifado – this was delicious and tender!

To sum it up – meze is a beautifully delicious and filling experience, no matter the culture it is served in. Meze is a meal to be shared with others and is a long and special experience. If you come to either country, Lebanon or Cyprus, you will not be disappointed in your meal options, I promiseSmile

~The Optimist

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RD Advice

To Diet or Not to Diet?

It was during my junior high years that I first put myself on a diet. I found the instructions for the diet on the back of my Special K cereal box. The diet included a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a Special K drink for lunch, and another type of meal replacement for dinner. The diet failed later that day when I realized that my mom would not buy me the meal replacement foods that I needed for this diet. “Sigh,” this wasn’t my last failed attempt, but after trying several different diet methods during the rest of my junior high and high school years, I finally began to “get-it.” Over the next few years, as I learned more about nutrition from my college studies, my body found a healthy weight and it has stayed there since then. Today, I thought that I would share with you my thoughts about diets and dieting.

1. When a new diet is introduced it almost never has any research that supports it. It is only after the diet has been around for a while that interested parties perform research studies and make conclusions about whether or not the diet actually works. Why do I say this? Example A: The Cayenne Pepper, Apple Cider Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Molasses Beverage thingy that is supposed to “burn” belly fat. We all know how ridiculous this sounds and no, it was never researched and I doubt that anyone will ever fund a research study to see if this actually works.

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2. Dieting can start a yo-yo effect on your weight. You want to lose some weight so you go on a diet and you lose weight. You go off of the diet the when you have lost the weight or when you get fed up with denying yourself food and over time, the weight comes back. Yo-yo.

3. This is sort of connected with #2 but many diets are full of dos and don’ts. Because of this, certain foods are thought of as only “diet” foods and some foods are thought of as “dessert” or “treat” foods. To eat chocolate while on a diet is a sin and sometimes people who are not on a diet feel guilty eating this food as well. While there are foods that are more nutritionally dense than others, it does not mean that guilt and shame should be associated with (moderate) portions of foods that we love like chocolate, ice cream, cake, bread (CARBS AREN’T BAD!), good cheese, pasta, and meat, etc.

4. Some diets use a lot of processed and packaged foods. For example, Nutrisystem uses a lot of packaging to send prepared meals to clients. Walk down the health section of the grocery store and what will you see? A million little healthy snacks wrapped in individual portions and powders and seeds in plastic bags or containers. Don’t get me started about the price of membership for diets (not affordable for many) and for these “health food” items. Healthy should not produce that much plastic waste and should be affordable for all.

5. A good thing about diets? I have had clients in the past tell me that they learned about portion sizes and how to not overeat because of their time doing Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem. Proper portion sizes is not a topic taught in school so I would agree that if you have the money to spend to learn this lesson, it is a valuable one that you would hopefully not forget. You could also spend your money to meet with a Registered Dietitian for a session or two – I guarantee that portion sizes would be taught within the first session.

Whenever I would have a client come to me asking for me to “put them on a diet” these are some of the things that we discuss and then they usually agree that a diet is not something that they are interested in. My motto and the motto of most other dietitians is that no food is off limits and you can maintain a healthy weight and live a life free from chronic diseases by practicing healthy lifelong habits such as these:

-Eat three meals a day, don’t wait too long in between meals (4-5 hours max) or you might over-eat during your next meal or over-snack.

-Try to make half of your plate either fruits, vegetables, or a mix of the two and put your whole grains and low-fat proteins on the other side of your plate.

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-Drink water 80% of the time, eat/drink low-fat dairy (3 cups of dairy per day!), and only on special occasions allow yourself things like soda, juice, or alcohol.

-Watch your add-ons. These are items that we add to foods that increase the calorie content and do not add nutritional quality to our meal. Coffee creamer, butter, condiments (mustard is just fine), salt, gravy, jam, too much peanut butter, too much cheese, etc.

-Indulge in the sweet, savory, and salty but don’t go overboard. These are special foods and they don’t need to be eaten in large quantities and not every day, save them for special occasions and fun treats. If you think you might be over-indulging in these items, track how much of them you are eating and try to cut down to 3/4 the amount per week, and then 1/2 per week, and so on. My husband and I love to go out sometimes and treat ourselves to a nice burger – its a treat, not a habit.

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-If you have a desk job, be intentional about walking breaks. Try to get 20-30 minutes of walking during your work day. The office that I used to work in did two stair sessions (7 floors) per day. It was fun to get people involved in being healthy together.

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-In addition to this, try to get 3-5 days of exercise in per week. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week (jogging, walking at a nice clip, swimming, biking, etc). If you prefer higher intensity workouts (interval training with short bursts of speed, followed by a moderate pace) the recommendation decreases to 75 minutes of exercise per week. The AHA also recommends at least 2 sessions of strength training (weight bearing exercises, these can be done with our without weights). They don’t give a time for this but anywhere from 15-45 minutes. Beyond 45 minutes and you might be over-doing it for your muscles. Whew!

This may look like a long list and I have to say that sometimes I fail at several of these (we all do at times). But that doesn’t mean you are a failure or that you should stop trying. Keep up the hard work and the habits only get easier.

What are your thoughts about diets? Have you ever tried any that worked for you or helped

~The Optimist