Originally created 09/27/00

Small portions



Down-home food

As you're glued to the tube for the Summer Olympics in Sydney, get a taste of the delightful eats Down Under, as well.

In Australian Food: In Celebration of the New Australian Cuisine (Ten Speed Press, $24.95), Australian food writer Alan Saunders sets the stage with the historical British and French influences on the cuisine and then introduces the new Asian flavors jazzing up dishes now.

He also talks about the importance of native ingredients such as Kakadu plums, bunya bunya nuts, lemon myrtle, kangaroo, spring lamb, freshwater crawfish and blue-eye cod. Fifty-four top Aussie chefs contributed recipes, and they're ranked to let you know how easy or difficult they are to make.

In A Taste of Australia: The Bathers Pavilion Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, $35), restaurant owner Victoria Alexander and chef Genevieve Harris tell the story of their Pacific Rim- and Mediterranean-influenced restaurant, which is housed in an old bather's pavilion building on the beach at Balmoral.

Both cookbooks give substitutes for things not easily found outside an Australian pantry. Both books also list recipe ingredients using both metric and U.S. measurements.

Fragrant fall

Less showy than the leaves that are beginning to change color in some regions, the ripening of scuppernongs and muscadines provides a more subtle signal of the arrival of fall.

Take a walk along a country road this time of year, and these wild grapes will make their presence known with their fragrance. The sweet, musky aroma is hard to ignore.

These thick-skinned grapes are native to the Southeast. They range in color from deep purple to bronze and have a sweet, juicy taste. Although now domesticated, muscadines and scuppernongs continue to grow wild in many parts of the South, where they thrive in our warm, moist climate.

For eating, though, it's hard to beat the vineyard-grown varieties. The biggest differences between the two are taste and size. Vineyard-grown muscadines and scuppernongs are sweeter and at least twice as big as wild ones.

The grapes peak in late summer and early fall, before the first frost. They are best harvested when fully ripe.

Food and sex

Having a snack attack? A survey by the DietSmart.com Web site found that women who regularly watched Oprah were seven times less likely to crave fattening foods than women who watch other daytime talkers. (Oprah Winfrey has no connection to DietSmart.com.) The survey also found that women were four times more likely than men to crave fattening foods when paying bills and that 62 percent of women surveyed said they craved fattening foods after sex. Both sexes also crave munchies when they're starved for sex. The top five candy bars people desire to sublimate their desires are Mounds, Three Musketeers, Baby Ruth, Twix and Snickers.

Where less is more

Speaking of snacks, you might want to have one "before going to a fancy New York restaurant. Faced with rising labor and rent expenses, high-end restaurateurs in the Big Apple are finding that one way to increase profits is to shrink portion sizes, Crain's New York Business reports. The business strategy is not to make money by charging eaters more money for less food. Rather, restaurants believe smaller portions will spur patrons to order more side dishes and dessert. Of course, restaurant managers, consultants and chefs deny this, saying restaurants that manipulate their customers' eating habits would quickly be discovered and spurned.

Big Mac attack

Is our appetite for Big Mac waning? McDonald's added 1,790 new restaurants last year, with 90 percent outside the United States. But so far this year, sales at all U.S. McDonald's rose only 3 percent, and in Europe they were unchanged compared to a year ago.

Bee bombers

You've heard of being bombed by bees. Well, in Macedonia honey producers are as angry as bees that their bees were bombed by NATO. The producers are demanding compensation, saying last year's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia made their bees nervous and aggressive, resulting in a drop in honey output.

Acid remedy

When cutting fruit for fruit salad, chop the pineapple first. The acidic juice on the cutting board will prevent apples, pears and other low-acid fruits from darkening.

Making the grade

If you think that leaf of iceberg lettuce and paper-thin slice of tomato on your burger are enough, it might be a good time to expand your fruit-and-vegetable horizons.

The 5 A Day campaign, sponsored by the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the National Cancer Institute, encourages Americans to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day to improve their health.

You don't have to change your eating style to go meatless. It can be as simple as substituting vegetables for the meat in many of your favorite pasta and casserole recipes.

Try veggie pizza or vegetable nachos. The next time you make spaghetti, leave the meat out of the sauce and try vegetable combinations such as tomato and mushroom or artichokes and olives. Vegetarian lasagna is another popular dish, and pasta salads can be turned easily into main dishes.