Getting kids to snack healthier – New product is sweet and portable

Kids. They don’t even know when they’re hungry half the time because they’re so busy growing and learning they forget to eat. Making sure they get enough nutrition is always a challenge.

Artist's rendition of the U.S. cloaked in candy
Artist’s rendition of the U.S. cloaked in candy

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents within the last 30 years. And the culprits are easy to figure out:  too many pre-packaged, sugar-or-corn-syrup-laden, fatty, high-calorie foods instead of nutritionally dense foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.)—the same problem a lot of adults have.

But in this modern, high-stress, no-time-to-cook world, what’s a busy working parent to do? I was intrigued when offered a sample of a new product created by a couple of moms who worried about what their kids were snacking on. The pouches are called Slammers Snacks, and they meet a busy parent’s needs as well as many kid preferences: screw-top, portable snack pouches (shaped like little old-fashioned hot-water bottles) that list organic fruits and vegetables as main ingredients (full list of ingredients below**). Labels say little or no fat plus 60 to 70% of daily vitamin C requirement. Other vitamin and mineral contents depend on the specific fruits/vegetables in each flavor mix (e.g., mango is big on vitamin A). A big selling point for two of their newest flavors is that each also contains seven grams of protein—read the label to make sure you’re getting a protein-boosted flavor.

Squeezable, suck-able fruit protein smoothie in a pouch
Squeezable, suck-able fruit protein smoothie in a pouch

Because without the protein, a potential downside is that they’re high in carbs and sugars because of all the fruit juice concentrates. Calories vary greatly—140 in the “Protein+ Organics Pomegranate Grape Crush” because protein powder boosts the calories, and 70 for the “It’s Epic Orange, Mango & Yogurt.” The concentrated fruit sweetening seems to be the tradeoff to get kids to eat it.

Taste is not overly sweet (no sugar added) and varies by the types of fruits used. The texture is smooth and soft like thin baby food. Or like a thicker version of the protein-powder smoothies muscle-building experts recommend.

The real test, of course, is whether kids eat them. I gave my 8-year-old granddaughter a couple of these squeezable, suckable pouches in flavors of Pomegranate Grape Crush and Orange, Mango & Yogurt. She ate them and is open to more. That’s a thumbs-up in my book—although thank goodness she still likes fresh fruit and vegetables (the very best road to kid nutrition).

You’ll find these pouches at Target, Safeway, Publix, H-E-B, Ralphs, The Market, Tom Thumb, Randall’s, Carr’s, Eagle and Vons. Targets in the Chicago area that carry Slammers: 7100 S. Cicero Ave., 2656 N. Elston Ave., 4433 S. Pulaski Rd., 1154 S. Clark St., 6525 W. Diversey Ave., 1940 W. 33rd St., 2112 W. Peterson Ave., 11840 S. Marshfield Ave., 1200 N Larrabee St., 1101 W. Jackson Blvd.

**Ingredients listed on a pouch of Slammer Snacks Pomegranate Grape Crush Protein+:

Organic apple, organic banana, water, whey protein isolate (Eating Well magazine says this powder can help build muscles and keep you lean), coconut cream, grape juice concentrate, organic pomegranate juice concentrate, purple carrot juice concentrate, organic lemon juice concentrate, ascorbic acid.  1g saturated fat, 26g carbs, 1g dietary fiber, 19g sugars, 7g protein.


Japan’s new Scotch-type whisky surprises and delights

Japan is known, among many other things, for its delicate paintings and its impressively ritualistic tea ceremony. But seldom in the U.S. for its whiskies.

Recently a long-time Japanese whisky maker merged with a famous U.S. group called Beam to form a new entity called Beam Suntory. The original Japanese company had been studying and implementing Scottish distilling techniques since 1923. But now they have a strong “in” to American tastes. After extensive experimenting, Beam Suntary has brought to market a whisky totally in tune with the Japanese style but informed with the experience of the Beam family (makers of Jim Beam, etc.) and the know-how of Scottish experts. It’s known as Hibiki Suntory Japanese Harmony Whisky, and it’s all about beautiful blending.
Beautiful cut-glass decanter shows off the amber liquid
Beautiful cut-glass decanter shows off the amber liquid

Recently at a lovely modern venue in West Loop known as Morgan’s on Fulton, the Beam Suntory company showcased this latest innovative liquor. Packaged in a beautiful cut-glass decanter with 24 cuts to match what the Japanese know as 24 seasons, this light, delicate, oaky (it’s aged in 5 different types of casks) but harmoniously blended whisky is likely to bring a smile to the face of Scotch lovers and bourbon lovers as well as whiskey lovers. It’s delicate without being the least bit fragile (aromas of rose, lychee, rosemary and sandalwood, and notes of sweet candied orange peel and white chocolate on the palate). And it worked beautifully in several mixed cocktails served at the event. And then, Japanese attention to detail was apparent in the way the whisky was presented unmixedwith a hand-carved ball of pristinely clear ice in each glass. This method preserves the flavor and aroma by preventing too much melting to dilute the liquor–and it looks really cool. They make the ice in large square cubes, and the bartender hand-chips it into a ball.

Artist's depiction of Hibiki Japanese Harmony Bar
Artist’s depiction of Hibiki Japanese Harmony Bar

It’s a beautiful sight, the glistening super-clear ice in the pale honey-amber-colored whisky. But they set it off even more by presenting a multimedia, interactive visual display known as the Hibiki® Japanese Harmony™ Bar. This fully immersive, interactive experience  is the first of its kind in the world. It takes guests on a journey through the richness of the Japanese seasons, the moving pictures of paintings (all by famous Japanese artist Shinsuke Kawahara) activated by each of eight participants picking up his or her glass and swirling it. Fluttering butterflies in spring and leaves in fall, snowflakes in winter and flowers and sunshine in summer. Each season was accompanied by appropriate Japanese-tinged musical interludes. The lights in the room were turned down so the visual presentation took center stage.

Leave it to the Japanese to create this exquisite way to enjoy a drink. Get some of this beautiful whisky for yourself (retail ~$65) or as a gift for a really good friend.

Tomatoes star in super dinner at Osteria via Stato

organic Heirloom tomatoes at Slow Food Nation'...
organic Heirloom tomatoes at Slow Food Nation’s garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The name of this place, Osteria via Stato, was familiar enough. But I hadn’t heard anyone raving about it, or really even talking about it. So it was under my radar for a long time. Through a friend recently, heard about their Heirloom Tomato Dinner. Sounded great (and at $75 per person including wine pairings, definitely not overpriced by Chicago standards, so we signed up. And what a delightful discovery.

Even from outside it looked promising. The patio was fairly busy on a warm Wednesday evening, plenty of outdoor diners smiling and looking very comfortable. Then inside, the welcoming began in earnest. The whole place is full of dark wood and soft lighting—perfect ambiance in my book. The friendly concierge helpfully pointed out the ladies’ room and then the door to the private room where the Heirloom Tomato surprises awaited. In the room, amiable-looking folks mingled and sipped wine or little tomato-based, sweet-and-spicy cocktails invented for the occasion, and servers bustled efficiently around doing last-minute prep.

Facaccia studded with salty, lovely heirloom tomato puree
Facaccia studded with salty, lovely heirloom tomato puree

Antipasti, both passed and served at table, set the stage. Delicious little bites – oh, how creamy the Gorgonzola cheese melting under the square of crisp bacon on one—preceded the family-style platters of heirloom tomatoes nestled in marinated rings of Tropea (Italian red) onion and crowned with hand-made Italian Buffalo Mozzarella (SOOO good), big plates of Pappa al Pomodoro (local tomato and bread soup – num!), and super-thin-crusted pizza of Creminelli Coppa (Italian cured meat similar to prosciutto), roasted tomatoes and Pecorino cheese. Oh, yes and baskets of fluffy-inside, crusty-outside Italian bread and moist, salty slices of tomato-adorned focaccia always on the table, along with the roasted-garlic olive oil and dishes of olives. The pairing was a delicious Soave Pieropan 2014.

Antipasti and first course at Osteria via Stato's Heirloom Tomato Dinner
Antipasti and first course at Osteria via Stato’s Heirloom Tomato Dinner

Okay, now we get to the primi (first course). Utterly lovely, light and creamy risotto made with Laughing Bird Shrimp from Belize and laced with chunks of fennel and flavored lightly with tomato. Simply excellent. We both wanted to keep eating this one.


Next came family-size platters of both secondi courses—pan-roasted large cod in a spicy, light tomato broth so good I felt like drinking it; and braised, forkably tender lamb shanks bathed in a deeply flavorsome, rosemary-scented red-wine sauce along with irresistibly succulent roasted tomato slices and potato puree I couldn’t get enough of in each bite. Each in its own way was spectacularly good.

The wine that came with the secondi deserves a whole paragraph to itself. The Tormaresca Trentangeli 2012 was extraordinary—rich-hued, velvety in the mouth, and deeply gratifying to the palate with a long, smooth finish. A perfect companion to the food. I dream of acquiring a case of this in the hopefully near future. What a surprising treat as your next hostess gift (see earlier post about Antinori wines) – and if Wine Searcher is on target, a bargain in the price range of $15.

Well, and finally we come to the Dolce. I am not usually a dessert person, but I simply had to try each one of the specialties on offer here. Gelato, which I normally can live completely without, was so flavorful, creamy and rich that I had to try several flavors, each more lovely than the one before. The cookies—sandy-sweet wafers sandwiched with fabulous chef-made heirloom tomato jam, slices of almond-studded chocolate-covered soft crackers, and dark chocolate truffles dipped in powdered sugar—were impossible to resist. And the fact that the server brought over a slender chocolate bar wrapped in heavy paper and smashed it with a hammer to break it into smaller pieces made it seem impolite not to try some chocolate—lovely.  Of course, the pairing of Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2013 made a bubbly light companion to these indulgences.

Congratulations to Chef David DiGregorio and his crew for taking the treasures of the earth lovingly grown by Nick Nichols of Nichols Farm & Orchard and transforming them into dishes fit for the gods.  And thank you to Nick Nichols for investing the love and labor to coax these gems from the earth against all weather and natural odds. In case you’re interested, Nichols Farm has a CSA (community support agriculture that delivers fresh vegetables to Chicago and suburbs).

And thank you to the excellent servers and helpers at Osteria via Stato. They were efficient and gracious and helpful in every way.

Farmer Nichols encouraged us to take the heirloom tomato centerpieces home - my breakfast this morning
Farmer Nichols encouraged us to take the heirloom tomato centerpieces home – my breakfast this morning

Portuguese Wines of Tejo have big appeal

Portugal. Home of port wine, right? Yes, but also home to many beautiful table wines as well. Master Sommelier Eric Entrikin from California recently presented an array of samples from Wines of Tejo at the beautiful Sepia Restaurant private dining space.

"White" table grapes
“White” table grapes (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Entrikin said that even though grapes indigenous to Portugal have very different names from the ones most Americans are familiar with, they possess categorical similarities. He explained how, during his formal training as a sommelier, he had to learn to taste all over again. He learned to sense and taste similarities between types of wines that are made from different grapes yet have distinct features in common. For example, Alvarinho grapes from Portugal produce wines with similarities to those made from Albariño  grapes from Spain and to some wines made with Chardonnay grapes. Aragones grapes in Portugal are known as Tempranillo in Spain and produce wines that might compare to some of those made from Pinot Noir grapes.

Sepia's unique and refreshing zucchini-basil gazpacho
Sepia’s unique and refreshing zucchini-basil gazpacho

The white wines presented were exceptional in flavor and remarkably value priced, most ranging from  ~$9.99 a bottle to $13.99. Sepia chefs did an admirable job pairing dishes with these lovely wines. For example, with the first course of super-creamy, zucchini-fresh-basil gazpacho studded with burrata and garnished with Marcona almonds, three very different types of dry white wines each complemented the dish in a uniquely enjoyable way.

Favorite white wines included the complex but beautifully balanced Quinta da Ribeirinha 2014 Vale de Lobos Branco–an incredible value at ~$10.99–and the Quinta da Aloma 2014 Arinto VR Tejo–bright and crisp and delightful in a multitude of ways (think Sauvignon Blanc without as much minerality) and well worth its ~$9.99 price tag. I kept going back to taste this one because I felt like I discovered something new with each taste.

Sepia's braised pork cheek and smoked mushrooms
Sepia’s braised pork cheek and smoked mushrooms

Several rich red wines were selected to accompany a red-wine-braised pork cheek (bearing some resemblance to a chunk of braised beef) that was served artfully with a smoked mushroom escabeche atop a smear of creamy polenta and garnished with tiny sprigs of fresh herb. Notable values among the reds included Casal Branco 2012 Quinta do Casal Branco Tinto (~$10.99) and Adega Cooperativa do Cartaxo 2012 Bidao Classico Tinto (~$8.99).

The imaginative food items paired so well with the delightful, delicious Wines of Tejo–and served in such lovely surroundings–that this was an occasion to remember. Visit Sepia soon, and talk to your favorite wine merchant to seek out some of these exceptional Portuguese values. You will not regret it.

Read more about some of the luscious wines from another region of Portugal, the Duoro River Valley.

French winemaker surprises with affordable luxury wines

Jean-Claude talks about his luxury affordable wines
Jean-Claude talks about his luxury affordable wines

Jean-Claude Mas is a tall, handsome, slender Frenchman who has earned a respected place among experts in the wine world as the leader of Domaines Paul Mas. He said while in Chicago recently that he never grows tired of talking about his wines because he doesn’t talk about the technical side. He speaks from his heart about the emotional side of winemaking.

He spoke with obvious pleasure and pride about the wines he’s been creating in Languedoc since 2000. His deep enthusiasm for the process and the joys of making wine, tasting wine, and enjoying wine with friends and customers came through as he spoke with passion about his dedication to creating “everyday luxury” for wine consumers.

Domaines Paul Mas is a leading wine producer from the South of France. At it since 1892, the Mas family bequeathed 35 hectares of vines in Languedoc to Jean-Claude Mas in 1998, and he has taken the reins with gusto and imagination far beyond where the family had previously gone.  Now owner and producer, Jean-Claude Mas takes full advantage of the many variations on Mediterranean climate and the wide array of terroirs available in the region by establishing ten separate vineyards.

He makes the most of each location by hiring winemakers who have the technical skills needed and who share his commitment to sustainable growing practices, while he himself makes the critical decisions: when to pick the grapes and so on. His portfolio of fine-yet-affordable wines has been instrumental in propelling forward what many call the “new Languedoc” or the “new wave” of French wine.

The Mas culture and philosophy is called “luxe rural” because, he says, “we cherish our rural roots, we strive for excellence in everything we do. Our wines are the end result of our desire to delight and thrill.” And yet, he makes a point of honor that almost all of his retail wine prices be kept under $20 US–the point at which many buyers begin to question value for dollars.

Delightful small bites at Naha restaurant went well with the luxury wines
Delightful small bites at Naha restaurant went well with the luxury wines

As proof, almost all of the wines showcased at Naha restaurant, 500 N. Clark St. were extraordinary and yet are available at that mark of under $20. The wines were a treat for the palate, and the elegant table setting in the downstairs private dining room at Naha was a treat for the eyes, while the imaginative American-and-Middle-Eastern-inspired tapas made delicious satellites to the starring wines.

It’s not easy choosing memorable wines from among the thousands of possibilities. But based on this tasting, you should be able to choose almost any wine from one of the Domaines Paul Mas estates and be sure you’ll get a highly drinkable fine wine. One thing you could do is have this list with you when you speak with your wine merchant. Pick the varietal you’re in the mood for and ask for a bottle from one of these ten estates (see photo of map below):

  1. Château Paul Mas, Clos de Savignac & Clos des Mûres, Montagnac;
  2. Domaine Silène, Saint Pons de Mauchien;
  3. Château Paul Mas, Conas & Clos de Moulinas, Pézenas;
  4. Mas des Tannes, Montagnac;
  5. Château Teramas Astruc, Malras;
  6. Château Arrogant Frog, Gaja et Villedieu;
  7. Château de Martinolles, St Hilaire;
  8. Château Crès Ricards, Ceyras;
  9. La Ferrandière, Aigues-Vives; and
  10. Château Jérémie, Fabrezan.
Map of Domaines Paul Mas vineyards and wineries
Map of Domaines Paul Mas vineyards and wineries

How France promotes sustainable growth in vineyards

Like most people today, you probably care deeply about how your food is grown. If you can afford it, you may buy organically grown fruits and vegetables, but do you know what’s involved in keeping plants organic? If you’ve ever known a farmer—of even a small plot—who tried to grow organically, you know how hard it is to keep soil healthy and what a raging, frustrating, ongoing battle it is to keep the bugs, the subterranean creatures and the above-ground animals from ravaging your crops before it’s time to harvest them.

In vineyards around the world, winemakers fight the same battles on a daily basis. Jean-Claude Mas, winemaker and owner of Domaines Paul Mas wineries, who brought samples of many of his luxury-for-value French wines to Chicago recently, subscribes to a sustainable-growth program called Terra Vitis that was created in 1998 and is certified by the French Ministry of Agriculture. “It is the stamp,” he said, “of French vinegrower-winemakers who respect nature and apply sustainable agriculture.” Below is a simplified description of the program and a few ways his wineries practice it.

Domaines Paul Mas agri1
Winemaker and vine growers consult on sustainable practices
From vine to table - sustainably grown luxury French wines
From vine to table – sustainably grown luxury French wines


  • Respect the environment.
  • Preserve our terroirs.
  • Safeguard our soils and respect their ecosystems by:
    • Promoting biodiversity throughout the vineyard, and
    • Preventing soil compaction and making use of available mineral and organic resources from our vineyards.
  • Reduce the use of chemicals (herbicides) in the vineyards.
  • Meet consumer expectations.


  1. Inoculate the soils with selected endomycorrhizal fungi (to help vine roots absorb nutrients more effectively).
  2. Bring biological enrichments to increase the microbial biomass of soils. For example, in our Les Tannes vineyard we are introducing certain selected bacteria that act as biological activators. That is, they make possible the mineralization of organic fertilizers and increase the bio-availability of critical plant nutrients.
  3. Practice deep plows to decompact the soils and encourage roots to grow and other life to develop and be active in the soil.
  4. Use lighter machinery to avoid excessive compaction of the soils. As an example, we bought a Kubota tractor—1000 kg lighter than its equivalent from Fendt or New Holland.
  5. Use phytosanitary products that are more respectful of the environment, usually consisting of plant decoctions like these:
    1. Anti-mildew: We use horsetail decoction as an elicitor—that is, it significantly increases the width of the cell walls, which makes the plant more resistant to plagues.
    2. Herbicides: We use a decoction of fern that works well as a repellent.
  6. Use existing phytosanitary products and use them in a reasoned way. The timing of the application and the dosage are very important. We have been able to reduce the dosage to one third while maintaining total efficiency.

Really makes you think about what goes on behind the scenes to produce that luscious glass of wine you’re drinking with dinner, doesn’t it?

Domaines Paul Mas everyday luxury wines
Domaines Paul Mas everyday luxury wines

Save the date – Compassion, Fashion & Cocktails 2015

It’s a funny name, but football fans know it well. Israel Idonije. He played for the Chicago Bears for ten seasons. He had a Super-Bowl season. And now he guides a Chicago foundation to help under-served kids.

Mark your calendar now for October 29th for an evening of culinary delight and artistic flair that benefits this worthy Chicago charity. Join professionals, entrepreneurs, media, sports and entertainment personalities for Compassion, Fashion & Cocktails 2015, a fun event to raise money and awareness for several kid-oriented projects of the Israel Idonije Foundation.

“IFF programs focus on helping kids further develop social and emotional life skills in the hope that every child  achieves his/her goals.”  Even though you’ll hang out with many of Chicago’s who’s who to enjoy the fashion show and great cocktails and food from local restaurants, the best reason to go is to support this Chicago-based foundation.

The event will be Thursday, October 29, 2015, at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago  | I|O Urban Roofscape, 127 W. Huron St. at LaSalle St.  VIP private cocktail reception (5:30 – 6:00 pm) with Israel Idonije. Private cocktail reception from 6:00 to 7:30 pm for general ticket holders, followed by a runway show with fashion by international designers Zadig & Voltaire, hair by George the Salon (George Gonzalez), and makeup by Makeup by Aga (Aga Kaskiewicz) at 8:00 pm.  The event features light hors d’oeuvres from a collection of local restaurants, a wine tasting led by advanced sommelier Jim Bube from Heritage Wine Cellars, and a raffle for cool donated items.

Purchase tickets in advance (prior to 10/26) for just $50. Tickets may also be purchased at the door on the night of the event for $65. A VIP Patron ticket ($100) entitles you to a private meet-and-greet cocktail reception with Israel Idonije, a gift bag, 5 raffle tickets and reserved seats.  To reserve your tickets in advance, visit I’ll see you there.

Wine terms and picks from Ste. Michelle fine wines

Ste. Michelle Estates winery
This is the picture that you see in most bottles of Chateau Ste. Michelle wines from Washington state. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Titled “Women in Wine: Sip Summer Tasting,” a recent portfolio tasting of Ste. Michelle Estates’ wines took place inside the cool and elegant confines of City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St. The showcase, meant to celebrate the influence of women on wine making, featured a series of booths designated by place of origin and staffed by experts in each of the wines displayed. Presenters offered generous samples of their wines to enjoy with unique and tasty appetizers chosen specifically by City Winery’s chefs to pair with each set of wines.

A couple of the experts manning (and womanning) the tables defined some terms we hear all the time but may not know the precise meaning of. “Fruit forward”–a term that’s become very popular recently–simply means, according to one expert, that fruitiness is the first thing you notice when you smell or taste a wine.
“Legs” refers to that phenomenon whereby when you swirl the wine in your glass you notice long “legs” of it remaining on the side of the glass after the main portion of wine re-settles at the bottom. The longer and thicker the legs, the fuller, more viscous the wine is–and that’s often the most noticeable visual difference between a $10 bottle and one that goes for $20. Wines with legs are said to have great staying power and can be aged longer.

Tannins is another term used constantly in the wine industry. Naturally occurring substances found mostly in grape skins, seeds and stems, tannins can give young wines a mouth-puckering bitterness and astringency, but some tannins are desirable in red wines to give them structure. Generally, wines with high levels of tannins can take a long time to mature. For more about the language of wine tasting, check out the Gallo glossary of wine terms online.

 The Ste. Michelle portfolio is extensive, so it can help to have specific recommendations when you shop:
 To find retailers who carry Ste. Michelle wines, use the handy “Find Our Wines” feature on their website. There are hundreds of outlets in Chicago that carry at least some of these wines, including many locations of Walgreens, CVS, Mariano’s and Jewel/Osco, among others.