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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

It’s an upward spiral that seemingly will not end any time soon.

I’m talking about the cost of health insurance and specifically the cost that you and I – Joe and Jane consumer – get to bear to have adequate health plans that take care of our families.

In this Wall Street Journal story, reporter Avery Johnson notes that the costs employees are expected to kick in to get health insurance through their employers continues to increase – at an alarming rate.

Knock on wood, I’ve generally been a healthy individual throughout my entire life. No broken bones. No chronic conditions. No major hospitalizations, save for a three-day stint of pneumonia that put me in a hospital bed in 2005. I didn’t like it. I’ve not gone back.

My two teenage kids and beautiful wife are also healthy people. So when we open-enroll for health insurance each October/November, it’s usually a fairly quick discussion and selection of the health care plan that includes a higher than average deductible and lower monthly premiums.

Pretty easy until now, that is.

Seems crossing the 45-year-old threshold has me thinking more about health costs as well as retirement planning (which needs to include saving for health care expenses needed after I end my career as a wage earner).

For the past several years I’ve worked in the health care industry. First for the world’s largest medical device manufacturer and now for the world’s largest health plan insurer. My eyes are open to the ways of health plan coverage and the costs associated with them. I’ve developed strong opinions on the use of medical technology to prolong life.

And as health care reform goes into the implementation stage during the next several years, I hope the very industry I work in gets smart at finding ways to help individuals manage their own care intelligently.

  • A focus on health and wellness early in life.
  • Assistance with the obesity epidemic in a way that makes sense (personal health coaches are already being offered through many work plans, but at a cost to everyone not just those who are affected).
  • Common sense approaches (and cost savings) for families and individuals who are above average on the health front and take the necessary measures to stay healthy.

By putting the onus on individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles, stay healthy and make smart health care decisions, Americans should be able to get the care they need when they need it at a cost that is affordable. Sounds so simple, but my gut tells me we remain a long, long, long way away from making that a reality in our country.

As with any major change, it happens in small steps. We first must get everyone pointed in the same direction before the big flywheel will start to turn (aka Jim Collins, “Good to Great).  This happens through various agents including our own federal government launching new laws and programs. But people, we can’t rely on the government to make the change for us.

In the end, our health and well being is up to each of us. Truly. We own it. And if we expect to have access to the best health care in the world, then we better start taking care of ourselves.

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It’s Friday. It’s also the Friday before the three-day-long Memorial Day weekend. Fun ensues.

Tonight, endless options include taking in Alison Scott at Redstone in Minnetonka.  She’s also playing a gig at The Dakota jazz club in Minneapolis on Saturday night, which is a great venue but likely sold out by now.

Saturday entails road-tripping to Albert Lea, Minn., for a meetup of several high school friends – most of whom I’ve not seen since my 10-year reunion circa 1993. Funny how nothing really changes in the first 10 years post high school. But my, how things have changed in the last 16 years. This small group should be a load of fun.

Sunday/Monday options include movies (Terminator Salvation and The Girlfriend Experience are both on my list); mountain bike rides at Lebanon Hills, where even the intermediate singletrack leaves me bruised; and relaxation. I’m thinking some nicely grilled salmon and Leinenkugels new Classic Amber may be just the ticket to top off the long weekend.

Summer is here people. Enjoy and Happy Memorial Day.

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I’ve never been a regular at any bar, restaurant or other such establishment. Why go back to the same place for the same food on the same plate over and over again?

But last Saturday we chowed at La Chaya Bistro on Nicollet Ave., and people, let me just riff for a minute. After my first dining experience at La Chaya, I’m ready to become a regular.

The staff at La Chaya, first and foremost, know how to get it done. From hostess to wait staff to chef/co-owner Juan Juarez Garcia and his team in the kitchen – friendliness runs rampant. The place is immaculate and beautiful – both inside and out. The service was spot on. And the chef truly knows more than his way around a kitchen preparing menu items with flavors from both the Mediterranean and Mexico.

Within a minute of taking our seats we were presented with bread and a garlic butter that was lick-the-knife good. For our 90 minutes dining experience at La Chaya, we shared a calamari/shrimp appetizer with a spicey red salsa; a panilla cheese, avocado and tomato salad; and, for an entree, pepper-crusted halibut with zuccini, and crusted mashed potatoes. The plates were beautiful and each one had incredible flavor – perhaps because La Chaya uses a lot of organically produced foods in its dishes.

Here’s a great little secret in Minneapolis – and the owners are doing things right. They’ve won me over and I want to become a regular – a fixture of sorts – at La Chaya. Put my name on a table, Juan. See you all at 7 sharp.

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Blue Heaven, Key West

There’s a popular little outdoor restaurant in Key West that all tourists must find – at least that’s what we were told by nearly everyone who offered advice on “definitely do.”

So on Day Two out on the island, we walked to Blue Heaven. While neither of us ordered the famed lobster eggs benedict, we did have an awesome avocado omelette and a blueberry pancake.  No Bloody Mary’s before Noon, unfortunately. Still, Blue Heaven served as a great reminder to those of us in the upper Midwest: There’s something about breakfast outdoors that amplifies the flavor of all foods.

key-west-cheri_chuckHere we are waiting patiently for our table at Blue Heaven’s bar (no drinking before Noon on Sundays). Who looks hungover?

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The South Beach of Miami and Key West held a varitable cornocopia of sites to see. We arrived on the front end of Spring Break, which meant plenty of youth, energy, martinis, mango margueritas, and Cuban pork (with black beans and yellow rice).

Best takeaways of 96 hours out of Minneapolis…

  • Exit and bulkhead row seating
  • No winter coat, no jeans and no socks
  • Manual elevators at Merv Griffin’s Blue Moon
  • The Seven-Mile bridge
  • Wandering roosters
  • Sand
  • Grey Goose martinis with triple olives (make mine dirty)
  • SPF 15
  • Self-guided tour of Key West on motor scooter
  • Hemingway’s Key West home complete with plenty of writing inspiration
  • Late night key lime pie and coffee at the Grand Cafe
  • Local artists
  • Walking Eastwardly for the best Cuban restaurant on the planet
  • 801 Duval
  • Peel and eat shrimp with horseradish
  • Tiki Bars
  • Helping the directionally challenged
  • The Southernmost Point
  • Blue Heaven’s avocado omelette
  • It’s a small island
  • No wristwatch

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Last night’s trip to downtown Minneapolis and the chic urban Chambers Hotel and Kitchen proved a great little diversion. Here’s a three-minute review:

Greeting from Hostess: Friendly

Seating: Slippery

Table Set Up: Funky, angular dishware that refused to support flatware between bites

Waiter: Chuck served our table and also recently waited on First Lady Laura Bush when she was in town for the RNC. Unfortunately, this piece of fame-dom gave Chuck a bit of an attitude. Service was slow and we didn’t get an adequate amount of attention from him or Alex, the water/bread server.

Wine: The bottle of 2005 Laetitia pinot noir was a highlight, but marked up more than 100 percent. It retails for around $30 but the Chambers sells it for $63. Yikes!

Food: While the menu at the Chambers Kitchen is in desparate need of a refresh (has it been touched since the place opened two years ago?), the food was all prepared to perfection. We shared apps including a miniature satay plate (chicken, sausage and beef) and tomato salad consisting of locally grown yellow and red tomatoes soaked in a mystery tomatoey sauce. Entrees we ordered included duck, seared chicken, sea bass, and a beef tenderloin that was delicious (but needed a side order of mashed potatoes, which was “extra). The asparagus side was a winner as well.

Desert: We shared a smallish round of cheesecake topped with a spiced ice cream and coffee. All memorable and more than adequate – although I would have liked my second cup of java to NOT have come from the bottom of the coffee server (and I only received a half serving).

Overall Dining Experience: It’s the little attention to details you expect when eating at a trendy, chic restaurant. While the serving sizes were perfect and the chef clearly knows what he’s doing, it seems two years of business have put the wait staff in a lull. The restaurant was hardly full on a Saturday night, and it was all we could do to wave our arms off in order to request the check, pay and depart.  As one person at our table said, “I never ever have to go pee twice when eating out.” Yeah, it was a two-trips-to-the-restroom night for most of us.

Total for four: $298 plus tip (which we intentially skimped on due to the lack of good service).

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So Good – Vodka Lemon Slush

This is a perfect summer drink. Lemonade, limeade and orange juice concentrate, plus a little sugar, water and Skyy citrus flavored vodka. Frozen over night then served up with a splash of Sprite and a couple fresh raspberries.  Dangerous!

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I caught this story on Google News today and just had to write about it here.

While I’m not a huge fan of the Subway chain of sandwich shops, I have to admit, this kind of incident is one of those rare things that just happens.

The gentleman that purchased the sub, complete with a deli knife baked INTO the bread, got lucky when he tasted his deli concoction. He’s already settled his case for $2,500 (I’d say Subway corporate got off easy with this settlement, wouldn’t you?).

So the next time you belly up to the sub sandwich place of your choosing, you may want to ask the sandwich stylist (or whatever it is they call themselves today), “Say, what’s in your bun?” And then inspect that sandwich before chomping down on it.

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The Minnesota State Fair is its own best PR machine.  Apparently the newest and most highly anticipated treat on a stick at the upcoming fair is called the Piglick. Details of the treat on a stick have graced the monologues of both Leno and O’Brien on recent evenings.

What is it?

A Piglick is deep fried bacon on a stick, coated in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. Of course fair-goers of all shapes and sizes will be standing in line to try the Piglick – and no doubt be writing home about it. Or perhaps going home in a coffin.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fair. I love watching the people at the fair. I love the carnival/midway and the well-coiffed carnies who get my attention with their whistles and call-outs designed to coerce me into shooting a stream of water into a tiny target 10 feet away in order to win an even tinier stuffed Stewie doll.  Stewie is the star of the upstanding family-oriented show on television called, “Family Guy.”  All kids need a Stewie.

Forgive me if I come across as arrogant, but the only thing I want to eat on a stick is a corn dog. Hot enough to burn my tongue and coated with a nice layer of ketchup and mustard. That’s all. I don’t need the Piglick to make my fair-going experience memorable. And I definitely don’t need the extra plaque in my arteries when I wake up the day after my fair excursion.

But that’s just me.

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It just occurred to me that we began daylight savings time today. No wonder I’m tired!

The weekend brought about excellent opportunities to get out and visit unique places in Minneapolis.

SevenFirst, the new sushi bar Seven, located one floor above R. Norman’s (a newly opened, high-end restaurant focused on great steak). In the time we sat at Seven, the atmosphere literally evolved. At 7 p.m., plenty of open tables and chairs – as well as lots of room to sit at the bar and sushi counter, which is where we chose to sit. The wine list was plentiful and the wait staff very attentive – even when it got busy later in the evening. By 10 p.m. the place had evolved into a class ultra lounge with great views overlooking Hennepin avenue. It was standing room only but the staff remained smiling – happy to be part of a terrific and popular venue. We held tightly to our chairs at the sushi bar enjoying a Spider and Winter roll all very well prepared and filled with flavor. People, a 20- and 30-something crowd for the most part, dressed in the most expensive suits to the shortest of painted-on skirts and blouses strutted through the venue as the music popped and grew louder. We never felt really out of place, but certainly got our eyes filled with skin and club-like behavior. When in Rome, right? Our visit to Seven ended shortly after midnight and it seemed the place was really just hitting its peak.

Then today, at The Wilde Roast Cafe, a cafe and coffee shop in Northeast Minneapolis, I could barely believe my eyes as I nearly had to push and shove for a table – ala after 9 p.m. at Seven the night before. But as I stood and waited for my iced mocha a table opened up just for us. Sharing a great tasting, fresh cranberry scone (which seemed like it’d just been baked even though it was 2:30 in the afternoon), we people watched again. There’s never a shortage of interesting…ahem…people trapesing through for their coffee or late lunches on the Northeast side of the city. The Wilde Roast’s Victorian-casual atmosphere, with deep leather-covered barrel chairs, a mix-and-match assortment of tables and straight chairs, high-top tables and stools and a hugely uncomfortable bench running the length of the north side of the shop, features breakfast and brunch as well as unique salads, pizza, sandwiches, desserts, and of course a great list of coffees.

Of course any bar, restaurant or coffee shop can be first rate if you’re in the right company. I was definitely with the right girl, which made the explorations of downtown and Northeast Minneapolis all the better.

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