Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 100% guaranteed weight-loss diet

Costco pizzaImage by DJ Lein via Flickr
Pizza from Costco Wholesale.

You'll feel nauseous. When you try to eat, familiar foods will taste funny -- for days or weeks -- and you'll shed pounds without even trying.

I call this the Major Operation Diet. The doctors will put you to sleep and you'll wake up a new, slimmer you, with more weight loss ahead.

Nearly 14 days after I had open-heart surgery, my weight continues to fall. I weighed around 193 pounds today, compared with about 200 pounds on Sept. 20, the day I was released from the hospital.

My last food was at 10 p.m. the night before the operation, on Sept. 16, and I didn't have solid food again until more than 48 hours later in the recovery room -- a couple of cups of diet lemon ices.

Later, all the meals I was served at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center in Englewood were suitable for a diabetic, even though I'm not one. They were low-fat and bland, without salt or sugar.

My heart murmur wasn't related to my diet -- and my coronaries were clean and required no bypasses -- so why couldn't I resume my normal diet right away, and have something celebratory in the hospital -- like a gooey slice of pizza and a glass of red wine?

After all, I had survived an open-heart operation -- a major invasion of my body. But I never received any special recognition of that accomplishment -- not in food, not in any other way.

When I got home on Sept. 20, I returned to my normal diet right away -- with no adverse affects. 

That meant real, caffeinated coffee in the morning; salt to season my food, low- and full-fat cheeses; lots of wild-caught fish, salads and sauteeed greens; and a generous glass of Bordeaux with dinner once or twice in the past 10 days.

My blood pressure today was 121 over 67. 

I resumed eating Korean food almost immediately, including spicy cabbage kimchi. On Saturday night, we tried a new Mexican restaurant in Englewood.

After visiting my cardiologist on Wednesday, we drove over to H Mart in Englwood looking for a dinner of prepared items: a sliced rice-and-seaweed roll with fish cake called kimbap and seafood-and-chive pancakes or pajun.

I also picked up a pound and a half of collard greens. At home, I cut them up, and washed and blanched them in boiling water for several minutes before transferring them to another pan with olive oil, and seasoning them.

Kimbap, pajun and collard greens were a filling dinner, washed down with seltzer. The rest of the family had chicken in coconut milk and steamed white rice.

Tonight, I plan to blow the diet I've been following for more than a year with a slice of Costco Wholesale combination veggie pizza with anchovies (I have to add those at home). An 18-inch pie is $9.95.

I was told not to drive, so my wife is going for the pizza and while at the Hackensack warehouse store, she'll pick up a pound of organic spring mix, so I can make a big salad to have with my first pizza in a year.

Another glass of Bordeaux seems in order. L'chaim. 

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How Whole Foods Market helps and hurts

Image representing Whole Foods Market as depic...Image via CrunchBase
With a pledge like that, what more could a food shopper ask for?

If you could afford to food shop at only one store -- Whole Foods Market -- your troubles would be over.

You wouldn't have to do Internet research and hunt around for a steady, reliable source of naturally raised meat and poultry, wild-caught fish and organic vegetables.

They're all there -- in abundance -- at Whole Foods Market. The store even pledges it's farmed fish is raised without antibiotics and other harmful additives.

And if you time your visits, stock up on some items and take advantage of sales and promotions, you would not be spending a great deal more money than you do racing to three, four or more other places in search of savings.

Celebrity chefs

But Whole Foods Market has blinded many celebrity chefs, doctors and other so-called food experts to what the vast majority of shoppers -- who can't afford this premium food-shopping experience -- have to go through to put healthy, nutritious meals on the table.

With many other supermarkets, the discussion is on how to save the most money, not where to find poultry and meat raised on vegetarian feed -- without antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by products.

At ShopRite, for example, you always see big sales on drug-filled Perdue and Tyson chicken, but promotions are rare on Readington Farms, Coleman and other naturally raised poultry.

The Oz phenom

I've watched Dr. Mehmet Oz for many years on "Oprah" and occasionally since he started his own TV show, and I've never heard him discuss how a steady diet of antibiotics in meat, poultry and fish can raise resistance to antibiotics he and other doctors prescribe.

Does Dr. Oz shop for food or is he familiar with what is offered at most mainstream markets? I imagine he's never stepped foot in a supermarket, and leaves all of that to his wife, who probably shops only at the Whole Foods Market in Edgewater, near their Cliffside Park home.

Now, his daughter Daphne is getting into the act with her own TV show on eating healthy. I don't expect much, judging from her book, "The Dorm Room Diet," published in July 2010.

On her Web site, she lists "5 principles of healthy eating,"  including "always have breakfast," "drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily" and "eat at least every three hours."

This from a Princeton grad, no less.

TV cooking segments

I've watched morning TV cooking segments on "Today" and other programs from an exercise bicycle at the gym for more than a year, and have never heard any chef discuss how animals are raised or how animal antibiotics can harm us.

Some of the chefs offer naturally raised or organic food at their restaurants -- more in Manhattan than in North Jersey -- but apparently don't think the home cook should bother to look for them in supermarkets.

When Chef Bobby Flay opened his so-called Burger Palace in Paramus, near Whole Foods, he apparently made a bottom-line decision to serve Certified Angus Beef -- which is raised conventionally -- over a Natural line that receives no antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts.

Lucky for Flay, the clueless reporter who wrote a lavishly promotional story about the restaurant and the chef's family for the local daily newspaper never questioned the chef about the quality of beef used.

Paramus Whole Foods

I attended opening day at the Whole Foods in Paramus on March 19, 2009, and have returned every two weeks or so to take advantage of sales or pick up an item I simply could not find elsewhere.

I stopped eating meat in February 2010, so appreciate the store's fresh seafood delivery seven days a week, and how it cooks or discards  unsold items after a day and a half or so. 

I've paid a lot more for mussels at Whole Foods than elsewhere, but found sand or other problems with cheaper mussels.

Hake is a meaty fish you rarely see outside Whole Foods, and when fillets are on sale at $5.99 a pound, it's a good deal for great-tasting seafood.

But Whole Foods has disappointed me lately.

Slowly, I've gotten my wife to go to Whole Foods for the poultry and meat she uses to prepare her home-cooked specialties.

Missing chicken feet

A few weeks ago, I went to the Paramus store to pick up frozen organic chicken feet, but there were none. A butcher took my home number and said he would call when they came in, but he never did.

Last night, my wife called Whole Foods -- still no organic chicken feet. So, she went to Hackensack Market and bought a couple of pounds of "Grade A" mystery feet.

In place of the organic chicken feet, Whole Foods has begun to offer organic goat meat from Coleman Natural Foods -- free of antibiotics, animal byproducts and growth hormones -- and my wife was delighted with how tender it was in her curry goat.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Pasta maker says don't blame us

Long PastaImage via Wikipedia

I call them tiny black insects, but the maker of San Giorgio pasta refers to them as "infestation."

I remember buying three boxes of the pasta at ShopRite -- because they were on sale -- even though I had never tried the brand before.

I put the packages -- spaghetti, linguine and angel hair -- in an above-the-counter cabinet with other brands of pasta and packages of dried Asian noodles, and basically forgot them.

Then, my wife used the spaghetti for dinner one night and in draining the cooked pasta, found a trio of tiny, black insects. She put them in a napkin and brought them to the hospital to show me.

When I got home, I sent a message to the company from its Web site, and last week, I received a letter of apology from Ronzoni Foods Canada/New World Pasta, with coupons for two free pounds of pasta or other San Giorgio products:

"We are confident that it [infestation] did not take place in our manufacturing facilities or warehouses," said Natalia Francois of the company's Consumer Affairs Center.

The quality system includes "high manufacturing temperatures, and careful shipping and storage of finished goods" to prevent infestation.

"Unfortunately, products may become infested once they leave our control and enter the distribution system.

"Retailers and distributors do not take precautions to prevent infestation.... Moreover, except for a tin can or glass jar, insets can penetrate virtually any type of packaging on the market today."

We just emptied the cabinet that holds our dried pasta and noddles, bottles of pasta sauces, energy bars and other snack and food products, and vacuumed the plastic shelf lining before replacing everything.

When I first opened the door, I saw a tiny, black insect crawling on the bottom of the cabinet frame.


On Oct. 4, my wife opened another box of San Giorgio pasta and found more little, black insects she referred to as weevils. She immediately threw that pasta and a second pound of unopened pasta into the garbage, recycling the boxes.

I found the two coupons the company sent me for free San Giorgio pasta or another product and threw them into the recycling, too.

We'll never buy it again, no matter how cheap.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lost and found: A great Taco al Pastor

At El Califa in Mexico City, pork and pineapple meet two corn tortillas.



In February 2008, we vacationed in Mexico City and amused ourselves searching for the perfect Taco al Pastor, then returned to the same restaurant to enjoy them at least two more times.

These scrumptious tacos are deceptively simple: 

First, marinated pork is roasted on a vertical spit, in the Lebanese style brought over by immigrants from that country.

Then, the meat goes into two warm corn tortillas with fresh pineapple, onion, cilantro and a great salsa. Yet, I have not found anything like them in North Jersey or the city -- until last night.

We had dinner at Las Maravillas de Tulcingo in Englewood, the second branch of a restaurant that serves food from the mountainous state of Puebla. The name translates to the wonders of Tulcingo de Valle, a town well-known for its cooking.

My 14-year-old son raced through the long menu and laser focused on Tacos al Pastor ($7).

Fresh pineapple is the key. When we've found Tacos al Pastor on this side of the border, canned pineapple proved too sweet, throwing off the balance of sweet, savory and spicy flavors.

You'll find the perfect taco al pastor in Mexico City.

Could only watch

I no longer eat meat, so could only watch as my son and wife tried the tacos, filled with tender pork, fresh pineapple and salsa -- made with two corn tortillas, as in Mexico City, but much larger overall. 

There were three to an order, which included sliced radish and spicy green salsa on the side.

My son loved them and found them filling, and my wife said the sample she tried was delicious, though not quite as good as at Taqueria El Califa in Mexico City.

The rest of our meal explored the marvels of simple Mexican food: 

A large guacamole, crunchy with chopped onion ($8); a large bowl of chicken soup, enough for two ($7); a Tulcingo-style salad of fresh cactus, radish and crumbled cheese ($7); shrimp with peppers, onions and melted cheese, served on a large platter with yellow rice and beans, hold the bacon ($11); and a whole, farmed tilapia that was deep fried and served with rice and beans ($13).

The shrimp dish is called alambre de camaron, but the waitress brought me the pricier platter, not the $9 tacos I ordered.  

Reasonable prices

The moist fish looked to be between 1 and 2 pounds, and the price tells you immediately this restaurant serves large portions at reasonable prices, with the exception of the guacamole.

With tax and tip, we spent about $16 a person, and were stuffed. For some reason, we weren't charged for our drinks.

We took home most of the cactus salad, which was bland and could have used a good dressing. I tried squeezing on fresh lime juice, but it couldn't rescue the dish.

We also didn't like the tortilla chips, which were limp from the humidity. The restaurant had its front door open, which I'm sure is a violation of the health code. 

Spotty service

And service from the lone waitress was rough. Only a couple of other tables were occupied, but it took a long time to get our tamarind, hibiscus tea and other cold drinks.

We asked for plates to share the food, but they were small, probably because the square table for four barely had room to hold everything. Water? When my son asked, she brought only one glass.

The restaurant is simply decorated, with vibrant wall paintings. Tables are bare, napkins are paper. Lively Mexican music and a baseball game on TV competed with each other.

Las Maravillas de Tulcingo opened in June on the working-class side of the tracks in Englewood, a small city of haves and have nots. Palisade Avenue was lively last night, with many pedestrians and people just hanging out in front of coffee shops and bakeries.

Closed businesses

Here, you'll find McDonald's, Wendy's, Dunkin' Donuts, a weird Japanese Fusion Tex-Mex Grill, Colombian restaurants and bakeries, a Mexican grocery, Kennedy halal fried chicken and barber shops. Next door to Las Maravillas is an oddly placed auto-parts store.

Unfortunately, there are several closed businesses as well, including Saigon Bistro, which replaced the wildly popular but cramped Saigon R after the latter relocated to Tenafly. 

The long-empty Panera Bread appears poised to reopen as a Wells Fargo Bank, next to City Hall.

Las Maravillas de Tulingo Restaurant 3, 84 W. Palisade Ave., Englewood; 201-568-1980. BYO with street parking. Credit cards accepted. Open seven days from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some of my meals come in pill form

Hot and sour soup from Ping in San Jose, Calif...Image via Wikipedia
Hot-and-sour soup.

A week and a day after open-heart surgery, my proportion of pills to food is higher than ever.

I take pills in the morning, just before bed and "as needed."

Meanwhile, I still don't have my old appetite back, and anesthesia residue continues to affect my taste buds.

I've eaten well since I returned home four days ago, enjoying grilled shrimp, cheese omelets; baked, wild-caught haddock breaded with panko, and big green salads.

Last night, we had Chinese takeout -- hot-and-sour soup, vegetable and shrimp dumplings; sesame shrimp for me with brown rice; and chicken with mixed vegetables for the rest of the family.

Tonight, I'm looking to get more spice out of life, so we're planning to go out for some scrumptious Mexican tacos, as I try to wipe out the memory of all those no-salt, no-caffeine, low-fat and low-taste meals I was forced to eat in the hospital before and after the operation.  

My nurse at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center gave me a list of nine pills -- including a vitamin, pain killer and pro-biotic -- and told me to take them daily. 

Before the operation, I took a baby aspirin, a 20-milligram cholesterol pill and a multivitamin.

When I eat and drink now, I still taste something funny in the back of my throat. My visiting nurse said the anesthesia affected my taste buds and hasn't left my system completely.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

At the supermarket, organic lactose-free milk prices are defying gravity

Lactose-free milk at Walmart in Teterboro (2016).


At $4.99 or more for a half-gallon of organic, lactose-free milk, avoiding cramps and gas from eating dairy is getting expensive.

This summer, I started buying conventional, lactose-free, 2%-milk at the expanded grocery section of the Target in Hackensack, where a half-gallon of the store brand cost as little as $2.89 in August.

I was at the ShopRite in Englewood to fill prescriptions on Tuesday, and saw organic, lactose-free milk for as much as $5.19 a half-gallon. Instead, I bought the non-organic store brand for $3.39.

Lactaid, one of the first widely available brands of lactose-free milk, explains on its Web site: 
"Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest a sugar called lactose that’s found mainly in milk and dairy products.
"Normally, the small intestine produces an enzyme called lactase , which breaks down lactose into two simple sugars, glucose and galactose, that can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
"People whose bodies don’t make enough lactase can’t fully digest lactose, causing mild to uncomfortable side effects.
"Some people have a higher chance of being lactose intolerant. These groups include Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and people of Jewish descent. It also affects adults more than children, since the body produces less lactase enzyme as people age."

Gas, cramping

Signs and symptoms are gas, cramping, bloating and diarrhea (sounds like my recent hospital stay, with constipation standing in for diarrhea).

Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, also is available in a pill, which you can eat before or with such problem foods as cheese. I buy mine at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, but the warehouse store doesn't carry lactose-free milk.

Although Lactaid milk has been widely available for a decade or more, you never see lactose-free milk served at Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts or in restaurants, forcing you to carry lactase pills or drink coffee black, as I do when I'm not at home.

Some yogurt and yogurt products are said to be naturally lactose free, including a sliced yogurt cheese available at Trader Joe's with and without jalapeno peppers.

Doctors talk food

In all the years I've been going to Dr. Glenn Brauntuch, my general practitioner in Englewood, he's never asked me what I eat, commenting only when I started gaining weight and urging me to eat less.

"I love food," my 228 pounds protested last year.

"Just love it less," he replied.

I was a food writer and news copy editor for a daily newspaper until 2008, so any food talk usually involved restaurant recommendations or complaints.

A decade or more ago, Brauntuch detected my heart murmur -- the swooshing sound of blood passing through my aortic valve, which was calcified and wouldn't close completely.

Heart murmurs aren't related to diet, he said, so I didn't have to stop eating milk, yogurt and other dairy food.

Open-heart surgery

Last Friday, my sluggish valve was replaced during open-heart surgery at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. 

When I was discharged on Tuesday, I was given a sheet of paper from the hospital outlining what I should and should not eat -- the most comprehensive advice doctors have ever given me about food.

Foods to avoid include high-fat bakery goods, fried vegetables or those made with butter, cheese or cream sauce; fried fruit or fruit with butter or cream;  butter; whole milk and other dairy products; smoked meat or poultry; frankfurters, sausage, cold cuts and other cured meats; too many egg yolks and all canned beans.

Except for canned beans, I've avoided all of those foods for many years, preferring heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables; wild-caught, cold-water fish (salmon, sardines and so forth), and almonds.

In the past year, I've lost 30 pounds with a regimen of five weekly visits to the gym, weight training twice a week and virtually eliminating bread and pizza. And I was out of the hospital only four days after surgery.
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recovery is harder than the operation

Image of the heart showing the coronary arteri...Image via Wikipedia
The coronary arteries and the aorta, which carries blood to the rest of the body.

I've just spent four more days in the ugliest, most ill-fitting clothing known to man -- the hospital gown.

When I looked at my naked body -- shaved, bloodied and bruised -- in the mirror of my hospital bathroom Tuesday afternoon, I winced. But soon, I had my first hot shower and first shave since open-heart surgery on Friday, and I was going home.

I survived not only the operation, but food and sleep deprivation. The medications I received altered my taste buds, a problem that continues.

Food tastes funny 

Even familiar salt-free almonds I roast at home tasted weird. The hospital's orange juice from concentrate tasted so sour I thought it was grapefruit, which is incompatible with my cholesterol medication.

Because of a heart murmur, I needed a new valve fashioned from a cow's heart, but I required no bypasses. My surgeon said my 66-year-old coronary arteries  are whistle clean, affirming my no-meat diet, which is heavy on heart-healthy fish.

I have no memory of the operation, the sawing open of my breast bone and the replacement of a calcified aortic valve that was barely opening. Before I went in, the operation was estimated at four to six hours, from putting me to sleep to waking me up in the recovery room.

Recovery is real challenge

One moment, it seemed, I was talking to a doctor and male nurse as they administered anesthesia Friday morning at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and the next moment I awoke in the Cardiac Recovery Unit -- on a bed with my hands restrained so I couldn't try to remove a breathing tube jammed down my throat.

I also had chest drains, catheters in arteries in my throat and arm; a temporary, portable pacemaker with two hair-thin wires into my heart, EKG posts and leads all over the place, and an IV drip of saline solution.

I couldn't see the line of stitches obscured by dried blood that ran vertically down my chest -- about 9 inches long -- covering where my femur had been opened for the operation, then secured with stainless-steel ties. Under that  were horizontal cuts for pacemaker wires.

And my chest hurt like hell. Five days after the operation, I still feel both a heaviness and  a tenderness. I was warned about raising my hands above my head or bending down to pick up something.

No solids for two days

I had stopped eating about 10 Thursday night, when I had some red grapes while watching TV. My first solid food in the recovery unit were diet lemon ices early Saturday, followed by a scrambled egg, large tater tots, a slice of toast and decaf coffee on Sunday morning.

Doctors placed me on a meatless diabetic's diet -- no salt, no sugar, no caffeine, no taste -- even though I'm not diabetic.

I was dying to get out of the recovery unit, though had nothing to look forward to in terms of food. When the physical therapists  came by, I impressed them with my ability to get off the bed and walk normally -- thanks to a solid year of going to the gym five days a week and losing 30 pounds.

The man who came to transport me on my back to the 7th-floor Cardiac Step-Down Unit said I was the first recovery unit patient he had seen who was able to walk on his own.

Best food isn't shared

Six more meals brought to my private room would follow before I was released Tuesday afternoon, and I actually thought a couple of them were palatable.

One was Monday's lunch of pale, farmed salmon that had been cooked through but still retained some moistness, served with scrumptious oven-roasted potatoes,  and Tuesday's lunch of seasoned, baked fish with mashed potatoes and melted Smart Balance spread.

When I asked for fresh vegetables -- asparagus, carrots, broccoli -- they invariably were cooked too much. A fresh fruit cup on Tuesday held two kinds of sweet melon.

Sleep was nearly impossible. My vital signs were monitored frequently, sometimes on the hour, and to measure blood sugar, the end of one of my fingers was pricked by a needle -- and a brown scab formed.

The door to my room was left open, flooding part of it with bright light. Telephones rang, patient call chimes echoed and monitors beeped.

I could hear conversations in English, Tagalog, Spanish and Caribbean patois.

One form of all-night torture were sleeves slipped over my lower legs that inflated every minute to fight blood clots.

Electrocardiograms were taken first thing in the morning, once at 5:15 a.m. by a woman who could be someone's Italian grandmother. While she hooked me up to the machine, I silently admired her ornate, gold eyeglass frames.

The best food at the hospital is brought in by employees for "lunch," which could come at 2 a.m. at this 24/7 operation. One of my night nurses was a gap-toothed Asian Indian who had just eaten her home-cooked meal of rice with spicy fish.

Boy, I would have loved some of that.

Good and bad shifts

I asked an elderly woman whose English had a Caribbean lilt why she was working in the middle of the night.

"I want to eat bread," she said, but added she slept poorly, because there is nothing like "night sleep."

Marta, the Polish nurse who took care of me during the day, said she worked a 36-hour week -- three days of 12-hour shifts. I heard her on the phone one day, expressing concern that an upcoming shift would have only three nurses for 21 patients.

When you ask doctors or other employees why the food served to patients is so bad, they invariably say, "It's a hospital" or "It's a big institution."

Other patients

I walked around the Cardiac Step-Down and Cardiac Telemetry Units and chatted with other patients.

A Cuban man said he lives in Miami and had worked for 30 years, most of the time in a factory producing milk and eggs, and never had to learn more than a few words of English.

We spoke in Spanish and he laughed heartily when I said the food is "como mierda."

A man in his Seventies was recovering from an operation to remove a tumor from one of his kidneys. He had two bypass operations in the past. As he was trying to peel a banana, I noticed he had no fingers on his right hand.

A woman in her Sixties had taken advantage of a 2-for-1 sale, getting a new heart valve and a triple bypass at the same time. She thought her valve came from a horse.

Rich ethnic stew

During my four days in the hospital for the operation and two and a half days for tests the week before, I met about one hundred employees, from Dr. Adam G. Arnofsky, my cardiac surgeon, to a Dominican woman who was mopping floors Tuesday morning.

I didn't catch her name, but a couple of days earlier, she had left her 2007 Toyota Camry at the curb and started taking the bus to work from upper Manhattan after the George Washington Bridge cash toll was raised to $12.

So, thanks to all. Thanks to Marta, Daisy, Jamie, Martina, Jo Anne, Liberty, Karen, Erin, Ari The Greek and all the doctors, nurses and other workers whose names I forgot.

I haven't seen the bill yet, but I also want to thank Medicare. I couldn't have done it without you.   

Celebratory meals

On Tuesday night, I celebrated my release with a spicy shrimp dinner prepared at home and eaten Korean style in red-lettuce leaves with rice, kimchi, scallion and garlic.

This morning, I had my first cup of real coffee in days and later a breakfast of my wife's delicious ackee and saltfish -- Jamaican comfort food -- with boiled green banana.

That was a real welcome home.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A heart-to-heart talk about food

The femoral artery.Image via Wikipedia
A doctor snaked a tube up my femoral artery to look into my heart.

Food lovers will find just what they're looking for at nearly every turn in Englewood, where they're lured by:

Fiery jerk chicken, savory empanadas, scrumptious tacos, hummus, falafel; hand-made kimchi and dumplings, pristine sushi, Neapolitan pizzas, the best baguette south of Montreal and some of the freshest whole fish you can find in North Jersey. 

That celebration of food ends when you walk through the doors of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, where I spent the better part of two days this week undergoing tests.

At the hospital, food is an afterthought. My medical history was taken four or five times, but no one asked me what I eat or discussed how my diet affects my health.

I had four or five meals prepared by a kitchen that says "no" -- as in no caffeine, no salt and no taste. At the bottom of a sheet of paper listing what was on my tray, "LoF50" appeared, and I took that for "low fat."

Who put me on a low-fat diet? I haven't eaten meat since February 2010, preferring heart-healthy fish and other wild-caught seafood, and to lose weight, I've also cut out bread and pizza.

My first hospital meal on Monday was a tuna-fish sandwich fed to me by a nurse in the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, where Dr. Richard Goldweit had made an opening in my femoral artery and inserted a flexible tube (catheter) that allowed him to see into my heart.

On the back of his card, the doctor summed up my condition: "Strong heart, critical aortic stenosis, coronaries OK."

My heart murmur, which doctors have been monitoring for 10 to 15 years, had become worse with age. Symptoms, such as chest tightness and jaw pain, were occurring more frequently, with and without exertion.

In the past, a calcium buildup -- unrelated to diet -- had prevented my aortic valve from closing completely.

Now, it's hardly opening at all, and my 66-year-old heart has to work harder to push blood through the aorta, into the heart and onward to the rest of my body, explained Dr. Samuel Suede, an Englewood physician who sent me for the catheterization.

I was admitted to the hospital and taken to a private room on the 7th floor, where I could see the tops of hundreds of trees and many buildings, including a new elementary school and the high school's ornate tower, poking up through dark-green leaves. 

For lunch, I asked for fish, but got tuna-fish salad with cooked fresh, cut-up asparagus, all of which was fed to me by my wife, because I was told not to lift my head or move my right leg for six hours.

On Tuesday, breakfast was corn flakes with non-fat milk, orange juice and decaf coffee. I didn't eat a whole-wheat roll on the tray. Lunch was "seasoned baked fish" -- probably farmed tilapia -- with a lemon wedge, bland white rice and more asparagus.

A small side salad had terrific red and green lettuce, and cucumber, but the tomato wedges were tasteless. Dessert was canned apricots.

No fish was available for dinner, so I had to settle for bland cottage cheese with more canned fruit and white grapes, plus another small salad and bland canned spinach. No-salt seasoning made the cottage cheese palatable, but far from exciting.

The best item on my tray Tuesday night were four or five wedges of oven-roasted, skin-on potatoes. Who smuggled those in?

Before I was discharged on Wednesday, I filled up on a breakfast of vanilla yogurt, oatmeal, a banana, orange juice, decaf coffee and a single, scrambled egg.

I'll be returning to the hospital on Friday at 6 a.m. for open-heart surgery to replace my faulty valve with a piece of cow heart, which I'm told will last for 10 to 15 years.

Four or five more days of food deprivation will follow until I'm allowed to go home.

I told Dr. Adam G. Arnofsky, one of the surgeons, that I don't eat meat, but he said he's heard all the jokes about the cow valve: 

If Orthodox Jews protest, he tells them it's from a kosher cow. And, no, patients won't start mooing or crave grass after the operation, though I suggested they might not settle for anything less than grass-fed beef.

The hospital charges $11 a day to use the TV and telephone, but you can't pay extra for better food. As far as I know, I won't be able to order a celebratory meal after my operation.

Why don't hospitals follow the airlines' example and charge patients who want to eat well while getting better or even serve champagne, caviar, lobster, a gooey anchovy pizza or whatever "last meal" they want?

Why doesn't the Englewood hospital provide menus from some of the great fine-dining and ethnic restaurants in the small city and allow patients to order out?

The Korean supermarket a couple of miles away offers prepared food that would really hit the spot, including a vegetable-and-crab roll wrapped in rice and seaweed or translucent noodles made from yam flour.

The prepared Italian food at Jerry's on South Dean Street in Englewood is to die for. His Meals To Go -- restaurant-quality, multi-course fish, chicken or pork dinners -- are only $6.99. 

At home Wednesday afternoon, I asked my wife to go to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, a couple of miles away, and buy fresh wild salmon, organic spring mix and a few other items.

For dinner, I grilled Alaskan coho salmon fillets on the stove, with lemon juice, fresh herbs and Aleppo red pepper, and served them with a big salad. Terrific.

This morning, I prepared a deconstructed breakfast sandwich, substituting green-leaf lettuce from H Mart in Englewood for toasted bread, and piling on plump, heart-healthy canned sardines; marinated mozzarella balls; tomato; and olives and whole garlic cloves from Jerry's -- all in a light dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.

Now, that's a breakfast.

Tonight, I plan to have a couple of glasses of red wine with dinner, in an emphatic celebration of food and life.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Introducing the 50-cent lemon

The rind of a lemon is exceptionally bitter, w...Image via Wikipedia

My wife called from the ShopRite in Englewood, where she was picking up an Ace bandage and a painkiller for our son, who saw a doctor for his sprained foot. Did I need anything?

I also saw a doctor in Englewood on Thursday, and picked up 4.5 pounds of fresh king whiting at H Mart for a fried-fish dinner ($3.99 a pound). But we had run out of lemons, so I asked her to pick one up.

When she got home, I looked at the receipt and was shocked to see a single lemon cost 50 cents.

We usually buy them at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, and today, I went there to pick up photos and get more lemons.

I bought a 5-pound bag of lemons from Chile for $6.79. That works out to about 57 cents for each of the dozen lemons in the net bag, although these are almost twice the size of the ShopRite lemon.

When did lemons get so expensive? 

H Mart credit

In an earlier post, I described how I returned a stainless-steel pot that started to rust to the H Mart in Little Ferry and how getting a $19.99 credit wasn't easy.

But I made sure to ask whether I could use the credit at other H Mart stores, including the ones in Englewood and Fort Lee. I was told I could.

I put the credit slip in my wallet and wanted to use it in the Englewood store on Thursday, when I bought the whole whiting, a 20-package box of spicy Shin Ramyun, green-leaf lettuce, a freshly made seaweed-rice-vegetable roll, white peaches and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce. 

My total was $46.32. The cashier accepted a few H Mart coupons, but wouldn't take the credit slip, saying it wasn't good at that store.

She got on the phone, and another woman came over, but she said I couldn't use the slip, either. I protested, and said I was told it was good at any H Mart.

Finally, she called over another employee and he OK'd it.

There must be a lot of bureaucracy in Korea.

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