Healthier Holiday Options

00:00 November 20, 2012

Long before you sit down to any holiday dinner, preparations have been under way. I compare the prelude to Christmas to a concert sound check. Much like sound engineers rid the airwaves of unnecessary reverb and static, people force themselves on some sort of crash diet or detox, only to load the lines with harmonious melodies in colossal proportions, or in our case, food.

Firstly, ridding oneself of pleasures during what should be the most wonderful time of the year is blasphemous. Like AC/DC front man Brian Johnson once sang, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, neither should something as enjoyable as holiday feasting be for the body.

A few simple changes in the way you dine can contribute to a healthier holiday. Choose lean meats over high fat cuts, substitute fruit juices and honey for sugar, stay away from heavy alcoholic drinks, such as Egg Nog, go for whole grains over refined grains; the list goes on and on. But what does one do that suffers from food allergies or chooses to lead a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle? Compromising your health and well being because it’s not worth the familial breakdown you know will occur if you deny Uncle Bob’s pork ribs or cousin Nancy’s fruit cake is dangerous. Going against your constitution as an allergen-free eater or vegetarian can leave you in pain, and feeling quite defeated at the end of the day.

Bittersweet Confections, an artisan chocolate shop and bakery may be known for its truffles, but owner Cheryl Scripter suggests they aren’t the only thing on the menu suitable for consumers with restrictive diets. The chocolatier’s diabetic friendly sugar-free truffles do not lack the same exquisite flavor of her regular variety, and the chocolate dipped strawberries are out of this world. Hand crafted confections, like the ‘Happy Trail’ chocolate bark, loaded with roasted pistachios, toasted Louisiana pecans, almonds, dried cherries and toasted coconut bellows a criminal chorus while remaining a guiltless indulgence. Her peppermint bark is a seasonal best seller, a thick layer of pure peppermint oil infused 74 percent dark chocolate sits atop another substantial spread of white Swiss couverture, while the top is festooned with bits of crushed peppermint. Talk about decadent, I was shocked to learn that no additional sugar is added to the chocolate during production. Dark chocolate also contains powerful antioxidants making it a healthier alternative to the average stocking stuffers or dessert items. Now that’s a morsel of information I think we all can chew on. Bittersweet Confections recently celebrated it’s one year move from Lakeview to it’s Central Business District location at 725 Magazine St.

Crescent Pie and Sausage Company, 4400 Banks St. at Alexander, a charming Mid-City eatery run by Jeff Baron and Bart Bell bestows sausage goodness to lovers of handcrafted meat. The duo spices, cures, and cases their own sausages in house, and for those outside of the New Orleans metro area, shipping is now available - the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite carnivore. Being that they do everything in house, the risk of mass produced preservative and allergen-filled links is comparatively low in relation to the regular store bought varieties. Non-sausage, vegetarian plates include thoughtfully created items such as the Gruyere Mac n’ Cheese , Veggie Confit Pies, and hand tossed pizzas, which can be made to order per the customer’s request. The team focuses their sights on locally grown produce whenever possible and I was surprised to learn that they also make their mozzarella and ricotta cheeses in house. House made ricotta is particularly great news for those dieting cheese lovers that perhaps aren’t too keen on cottage cheese. There are a host of healthy, soft cheese varieties, but ricotta is by far one of the lowest in fat, as it’s fat content varies from four to ten percent. Try ricotta versus mozzarella on your next pizza for a healthier version. On a heavier note, if you need some help in the kitchen over the holidays, an assortment of gumbos, pastas, side slaws and hearty salads are available for catering, not to mention the artfully mastered accoutrements, while their Pecan Smoked Meats are delightful enough to demote the ordinary baked ham or roasted Christmas turkey.

Breads on Oak, 8640 Oak (at Monroe), is well on its way to becoming a Vegan-friendly New Orleans staple. Owners Chamain and Sean O’Mahony created a reclaimed boulangerie out of the old Accardo’s appliance parts store. Sean’s mantra that you shouldn’t have to visit Europe to procure fresh, healthy bread is extremely evident in his inventory. The menu contains varietal vegan and gluten free items, like meticulously constructed croissants, where the love hand pressed into every fold is palpable, those and the most beautiful crisp to the touch baguettes with delicate pillowy insides have stained my memory. Their orange cranberry muffins smell divine and would make the perfect sidecar to Christmas morning brunch, while their buttery brioche or toasted walnut bread would pair amazingly well with the traditional dinner.

Holiday eating shouldn’t create a headache, yet an excuse to peruse the ever growing number of food establishments, markets, and farms in the city. Be sure to express any dietary concerns when placing a large catering order, as sauces and stocks can contain hidden allergens. And if you’re one of those self sufficient cooks with a sense of adventure, whether your weapon of choice is a Red Ryder BB or something with a little more muscle, be careful out there, you’ll shoot your eye out.

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