Plenty of fun food experiences abound

by: BARB RANDALL - The Mt. Hood Railroad provides high-quality entertainment for the whole family. Its excursions include mystery dinners, music tributes, wine tours, fictious train robberies and more.I’ve been stewing over something for longer than is healthy and have to get it off my chest so it will quit eating at me. When did it become hip for folks to act like pigs?

I got one of those email group purchase offers recently for half off the admission fee for the Tomato Battle, which will occur in Portland on July 21.

I thought the Tomato Battle was a challenge to see how creative chefs could be with the lovely tomato, but nope. The Tomato Battle is a big food fight. People are paying $50 to toss tomatoes at their friends and drink beer while doing so. Here is how it is described on “The Tomato Battle unifies as many as 5,000 fruit-chucking fanatics for an afternoon of dancing to music, sipping libations and flinging 300,000 pounds of roma tomatoes at one another. Most in a ketchup-covered fray that marries the traditions of Spain’s La Tomatina tomato-throwing festival with Germany’s Oktoberfest.”

Tomato Battles are scheduled throughout the summer in Denver, Seattle, Chicago, Texas and three locations in California.

I wonder if the organizers realized that Oregon has one of the highest food insecurity rates in the nation. Wasting food isn’t something we take lightly. On the website, they profess that “all of the tomatoes used during the exhibition will have been previously marked for disposal, making the Tomato Battle an efficient and entertaining use of nonedible waste.”

I’m not convinced. Tomatoes are not ripe yet and I don’t know of restaurants or grocery stores that buy more tomatoes than they can use or sell with the intention of letting them spoil.

Tomato Battle personnel did not reply to my email requesting clarification on where they get their tomatoes before press time.

Remember the pie-eating contest held at Millennium Plaza Park on the Fourth of July? We all laughed at how funny the contestants looked with chocolate cream pie slathered on their faces, but it really wasn’t funny. I heard the participants and audience groaning in discomfort. Perhaps next year’s Fourth of July celebration could feature a watermelon-eating contest instead of pie. Contestants would still get endearingly messy faces, but they’d be able to walk away without a stomach ache.

Meanwhile, across our nation in Brooklyn, N.Y., Joey Chestnut downed 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes to retain his title as champion of Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating contest. I don’t find that as impressive as the fact that in 10 minutes he consumed almost 20,000 calories, more than 1,150 grams of fat, more than 400 grams of saturated fat and more than 48,300 milligrams of sodium. Ouch!

Food fights and overeating are entertainment? I call it gluttony and wanton waste. Shannon Austin, a fitness expert at Mota Fitness, sees this overeating and misuse of food for what it is.

“Do we even need to tell you what’s wrong with this picture?” she said. “True, (the hot dog competition) is an extreme example of a very bad judgement call and most of us will, hopefully, never consume such a whopping amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium in one sitting. ... This may not be the kind of news you want to hear in the middle of the cookout season, but the traditional barbecue foods are not exactly weight- and health-friendly, even if you don’t swallow 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.”

She points out that greasy dogs and brats, hamburgers on a bun and mayonnaise-based coleslaw and potato salad add up to a lot of calories and saturated fat. Add a six-pack of beer and sugary sodas, and you have a nutritional disaster on your hands.

“Not only does this kind of food, if consumed regularly over the summer months, pile on pounds, but it can also put you at a higher risk for some serious medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And consuming large quantities of processed meats such as hot dogs and brats has been shown to increase the risk of colon and pancreatic cancer,” she said. “You have to make smart nutritional choices. And don’t forget to exercise regularly, so you can burn off all the calories and fat before they do any serious damage.”

Here are Austin’s suggestions:

  • Be a pit master: For a healthier cookout, opt for skinless chicken breasts or lean fish and grill some vegetables as well.
  • Crunch the numbers: Keep tabs on calories as well as fat and sodium content you are consuming.
  • Move it: This part is very important, she said. Even if you eat a reduced calorie, low-fat diet, you need regular exercise, and you need it even more so if you eat a lot of the above-mentioned unhealthy foods.
  • You can learn more about Austin’s suggestions at

    So that we can end on a more upbeat note, let me tell you about my excursion on the Mt. Hood Railroad.

    A friend and I played hooky on a recent Saturday, zipped up to Hood River and joined the crowd taking the Mt. Hood Railroad for a wine tour. What a fun day! Randall recently rode the Mt. Hood Railroad on a wine tour. The tour visited Springhouse Cellar and Mt. Hood Winery.

    After we checked in at the station we walked a short distance to Springhouse Cellar for a sampling. Located in what they call the Hood River Distillery ruins, Springhouse Cellar produces 10 handcrafted, single-vineyard Northwest wines each year and then pours them upstairs in a tap-driven tasting room. Yes, they have wine on tap. You can order a flight, relax with a glass on the porch and then take home a unique refillable Springhouse one-liter growler, or as they say in France, growlier.

    We sampled four wines before we had to catch our train to Mt. Hood Winery. The trail clicks along through the forest, following the river and meandering uphill to meadows, farmland and vineyards. Appetizers and beverages are served while you enjoy the countryside.

    Mt. Hood, as well as courteous staff and delicious wine samples, greeted us at Mt. Hood Winery. This winery is only three years old but is already making quite a splash in the Gorge wine community. We sampled half dozen or more wines and then when the conductor called “all aboard,” headed back to our seats for the ride back to the station. Desserts had been set out at our tables and we enjoyed popular French songs and live guitar music.

    Mt. Hood Railroad offers other excursions besides wine tours. Choose from murder mystery dinners, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra music tribute dinners, dueling piano dinners, Western train robbery dinners, Mother Nature excursions to see forest colors and fruit festival runs. And don’t forget the popular Polar Express holiday runs. Wear your pajamas and bring the whole family.

    For complete details on Mt. Hood Railroad, visit or call 1-800-872-4661. It gets two thumbs up from me!

    Bon appetit! Eat something wonderful!

    Peachy Grilled Chicken Salad

    5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

    1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided

    1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

    4 small skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds)

    2 green onions, minced

    1 shallot, finely chopped

    1 1/2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

    2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

    1 teaspoon honey-Dijon mustard

    2 peaches, peeled, pitted, diced

    1 small avocado, diced

    1/2 cup thinly sliced radicchio

    4 cups mixed baby greens (about 2 1/2 ounces)

    Whisk 1 tablespoon olive oil, lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in 11-by-7-inch glass dish. Add chicken and turn to coat. Marinate 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

    Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Whisk remaining 4 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, onions, shallot, vinegar, thyme and mustard in large bowl to blend. Mix peaches, avocado and radicchio into dressing; toss to coat. Grill chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to work surface; cut crosswise into thin slices. Mix baby greens into dressing in bowl. Divide salad among 4 plates. Arrange chicken alongside and serve.

    Adapted from Bon Appetit, August 2006.

    Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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