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Whole Foods: Whole Lotta Hype

Ouch. I’m in trouble for saying that, especially with friends who’ve said how lucky I am that the newest Whole Foods branch, the largest in New England, has opened down the street from me. After all, everyone’s into Whole Foods—it’s the Jolly Green Organic Giant with special food products for almost any diet. So I visited my new neighbor. You hear about people from other countries seeing our massive supermarkets for the first time—that’s how I felt. After entering, I froze, trying to stare in all directions at the same time. There was so much energy and bustling around, it felt like the food version of New York City. There were assorted fresh bars for salads, hot entrées, antipasti, trail mix and granola. Their food court included pizzas, sushi, panini, burritos, artisan breads, cakes and pastries, gelato and more.

But after more visits and taste-testing of several items, the novelty of Whole Foods has worn off. It’s joined my list of stores that I label as needing “intense cost control awareness,” such as The Container Store and Target. You intend to buy a few things but leave with large shopping bags and a dent in your credit card. The difference with Whole Foods is that I’ve regretted what I’ve bought. Their take-out is far from exceptional. I’ve tried the sushi, burritos, shawarma, pastries, and hot and cold entrée bars. People may disagree but I’d rate the food average at best, excelling in appearance, not taste. For example, on a recent visit I found it odd that my grilled veggie burrito tasted identical to the California sushi rolls I’d eaten there the week before, and both were bland, forgettable. I daresay that the much simpler salad bar at the cafeteria in the hospital where I work tastes almost gourmet compared to Whole Foods' super-fancy salad offerings.  

The 365 wheat ravioli tasted watery with a bizarre blend of spices.There are certainly great-tasting commerical brands of organic foods if you don't mind paying high prices. Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand is cheaper with prices closer to a Trader Joe’s or even regular supermarket chain, but unfortunately the taste of those foods isn't that special. I do appreciate certain things like the fresh meat and poultry, a raspberry tart with big berries over a dark chocolate base in the pastry case, and the cranberry Israeli couscous in the salad bar. But overall I'll be admiring Whole Foods for its concept, not its food.      

Raspberry chocolate tart: delectable. Cupcake: beautiful but dry cake and flavorless frosting. 


Nutella Addict? Try These!

I’m a Nutella addict in recovery. I got hooked last summer with Nebo Restaurant's Christoforo dessert pizza. I then created my own simple fix of Nutella smeared on plain graham crackers. But my fix intensified when I discovered the jumbo-sized Nutella at BJs. I could easily polish off a package of grahams spread with spoonfuls of Nutella. Shamefully, I got my 2-year-old addicted and he would chant "want eat chocolate cwackers with mama" day and night. But happy to say that the cravings have finally subsided and we’ve both moved on to other munchies.

Christina may have revitalized that craving with this biscotti recipe. These chocolately elegant biscuits are great for your cookie jar or for an economical yet heart-felt holiday gift. Drizzle on melted white chocolate to give them a festive look. Click here to get baking!


Pomegranate POW!

My first experience with fresh pomegranate wasn't good. A friend handed me a section of the ripe fruit studded with its juicy red jewels. Charmed, I took a bite, which instantly squirted a permanent red stain on my new white blouse. I couldn’t escape two more stains even after extra careful biting. But I was intrigued by the flavor—so tart, so potent! Since then I've stuck with the juice.

Pomegranates are native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, a fruit that’s been grown since 4000 B.C. Some scholars believe the “apple” eaten by Eve in the Garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate! It is rich in polyphenols, natural plant antioxidants that fight disease, which are also found in the superfoods blueberries, cranberries, red wine, and green tea. Published research has found a link between drinking 8 ounces of pure pomegranate juice daily and improved heart health in patients with heart disease (decreased plaque build-up and improved blood flow), and improved prostate health in men with prostate cancer. POM Wonderful juice is one brand with 100% pomegranate juice and no added sugar or juice fillers, which is probably why it’s the most expensive (about $4 for 16 oz). Other varieties are less expensive but may contain other juices or water.

The tart, strong flavor of pomegranate juice and its lingering aftertaste can take some getting used to (even more so than cranberry juice, especially if there’s no added sugar). If you find it too strong, try it mixed with other juices or seltzer. Or try it in recipes like the one below for a fruity quick bread, which I modified from Fat-Free Baking by Sandra Woodruff. Juice and/or mashed fruit adds moisture to muffins and quick breads so that less fat or none at all is needed. I love how easy this recipe is, with a short ingredients list that mixes up in one bowl and perfect for a healthful morning treat that looks festive with the dried cranberries. It’s fat-free and nutritious, which is ideal this time of year as we try to balance out the extra holiday calories! 

Fat-Free Fruity Quick Bread


2 cups flour (I use half whole wheat, half white)

1/3 cup sugar

1 t baking powder

1 t baking soda

3/4 cup pomegranate juice

1 large mashed ripe banana

1 t vanilla extract

1 cup Craisins


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the juice, mashed banana, and vanilla extract and stir just until mixture is moistened. Fold in Craisins.

  2. Coat an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the mixture evenly in pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

  3. Remove the bread from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

For variety, add mini chocolate chips or finely chopped walnuts to the batter, or spread on light cream cheese after it's baked!