A Different Kind of Fish Story – Alexandra Stafford, 54, Metairie, Louisiana
NSGA’s Personal Best initiative seeks to inspire an attitude for lifelong health and fitness in everyone by presenting profiles of Senior Games athletes who are successful examples of healthy, active aging. Having a sensible approach to nutrition is one aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, so we decided to have a recipe contest with senior athletes in Louisiana, one of the culinary centers of the world.
We partnered with the Louisiana Senior Olympic Games to ask athletes there to submit great tasting alternatives to the traditional recipes of the region that are not always as health-conscious. The best recipe and athlete story would be selected for a Personal Best athlete profile.
We are grateful to nationally recognized healthy culinary expert Holly Clegg, a Louisiana chef and author of the award-winning and best-selling Trim & Terrific cookbook series, for her assistance and expertise with the recipe selection.
E. Alexandra Stafford of Metairie, a New Orleans suburb, offered up the best recipe and profile. Her background and personal food style is not typical for the area. “Alexandra’s Fabulous Fish in Foil” is deceptively simple but is tasty and healthful with a French inspiration and a little nod to Louisiana’s spicy reputation. Alexandra, a part-time producer of documentaries for the local PBS TV station, has lived in Metairie for 22 years, but was an American child raised in France. She still carries the influence in her accent and with the French provincial approach in her cooking.
Competitive sports has only recently entered her world. Crossing the age line of 50 prompted Alexandra to take her exercise routine to a higher level to stay in shape. Badminton caught her fancy for its aerobic workout and for the social interaction it afforded. When she heard about senior games last year, Alexandra joined two others from her club and entered the Louisiana Senior Olympic Games. She was surprised to do well enough to qualify for the 2015
National Senior Games Presented by Humana. We welcome Alexandra to the Senior Games Movement and invite you to try her recipe in your home.
What follows is the recipe and a conversation about it, her food perspective and commitment to step up her activity level. You can also find the recipe plus three Holly Clegg “trim and terrific” Louisiana style recipes on the Recipes page in the Health and Wellness Nutrition section of NSGA.com.
Alexandra’s Fabulous Fish in Foil
By Alexandra Stafford
My family loves this dish as it seals in all the flavors and is very light in calories. One can successfully use salmon or other flesh fish as well.
Recently, I have read articles and seen documentaries about the devastation we are creating in our fish supply, so I am trying to support local, line-caught fish in favor of farmed fish. I hope you like this easy to do and elegant recipe and join me in my ocean friendly health kick!
4 – Filets of Gulf drum or your preferred fish (salmon is lovely too)
1 – 12 ounce jar pickled okra (I use Trappey’s)
1 – Large Vidalia onion, chopped or cut in long strips
3 – Lemons, 2 sliced in rounds, 1 cut in wedges
Tony Chachere’s Creole Lite seasoning to taste
Olive oil, optional
- Preheat oven to 400°F
- Pull one sheet of aluminum foil for each filet, enough to cover and wrap individually
- Lay fish on foil sheets. Sprinkle with seasoned salt, onions, lemon and half of a pickled okra, sliced lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil just to moisten. Seal fish in foil and place on baking pan.
- Bake 20-25 minutes on middle rack until flaky with fork. Unwrap and drizzle with more fresh squeezed lemon, place on plate and savor with your favorite sides!
Congratulations Alexandra! Yours was actually the simplest of the recipes submitted, but it was definitely the healthiest.
Thank you! It is simple, yet also elegant. The French actually eat very simply at home and I have continued that tradition. Of course, I don’t stop myself from enjoying our wonderful local Louisiana cuisine, but at home, I love to cook healthy, low calorie and simple-to-do dishes.
My family loves this dish as it seals in all the flavors and is very light in calories. It is a healthy recipe and it’s good either hot or cold. Because my children are picky and actually eat and love this dish, I thought I should give it up to the world!
Fish is also good for me. It has lots of Omega-3 which is great for achy joints! But recently, I have read articles and seen documentaries about the devastation we are creating in our fish supply, so I am trying to support local, line-caught fish. I try to stay away from farmed fish.
The technique that makes this more flavorful than expected is that you wrap the fish in foil. With your background growing up in France, was your inspiration to make it like a version of “en Papillote”?
Yes, you got it! I much prefer to use foil because I’m always afraid of burning the paper. (Laughs) I love aluminum. It’s clean and easy, and sometimes I have extra fish and I leave it cooked and sealed up in the foil to keep in the juices. Then it’s always moist and delicious cold the next day.
You’ve been in Louisiana for over 20 years now. Do you still always cook in French style?
Yes, mostly French. I grill, sauté and sometimes use the broiler. One thing I love that’s not really French is to mix blue cheese in hamburger meat and grill burgers. It’s the only kind of burger I make now! One herb that I use in my burgers and in a lot of my cooking is thyme. It’s uber used in France and I’ve become very accustomed to its taste.
So you don’t cook New Orleans style?
Not much as it’s everywhere here. There’s an old corner restaurant nearby that’s very popular. I go there for red beans and rice with sausage on Mondays. They also make a great seafood gumbo which I get without the rice. I don’t need the carbohydrates.
When I met my husband, he had actually started a company offering frozen Louisiana dishes on QVC and elsewhere. Things like gumbo, alligator sauce piquante, shrimp Creole and crab and crawfish cakes. I like the cuisine but I just personally don’t overdo it. Hurricane Katrina drowned the factory in 2005 and that was the end of it.
Was there a time you weren’t as conscious about cooking and eating healthy?
I have always followed a very French provincial diet. Unfortunately, I just learned that I have high cholesterol. It’s genetic because I exercise as well as eat healthy. I now use olive oil and don’t use a lot of butter anymore. And I use lots of herbs. But I have to admit that I do have a bit of a sweet tooth, especially for pralines. I’m in heaven with anything crunchy and sweet. But I don’t think that has as much to do with the cholesterol—or at least I am telling myself that!
Tell us about your sporting life and fitness.
I’ve only been playing badminton for two years. An older friend of mine introduced me to it. When I was younger and lived in New York I played squash and took aerobic classes. I gave tennis a go before taking up badminton and I liked it, but not only was it dependent on the weather but I found it was difficult to find partners to play with at my beginner’s level. With badminton you always play doubles and our local club always plays at specific times. Members play with you when they need a partner and even the good ones have played with me! It’s a very aerobic sport. I did get a little eager a couple of weeks ago and slightly sprained my ankle so you have to be careful. But there’s a man in our group, Ted Cotton, who’s in his ’70s who has had knee and hip operations and he plays really well. He also always takes time to correct my game and give me tips on getting better. He’s amazing!
Congrats for qualifying for the National Senior Games. Was this your first year to compete?
Yes. I did not know it existed. This young lady-well, I thought she was young-came into the badminton club one night and asked “Can I come play? I want to do the Senior Olympics.” I thought she was kidding but it was true, there is such a thing and they have badminton competition. So I immediately wanted to do it too. My friend Charlotte Estopinal and I then wanted to get the others in our group interested. Most of them are Asian and they are kind of shy at first. Charlotte, Ted and I became the guinea pigs for the Louisiana games and now all the others want to compete next year!
So now I know I can challenge myself at the Louisiana Senior Olympics and maybe nationwide, although I know at this point I’m sure to be beaten at that level! (Laughs)
So you are a “newbie” to your sport. Have you done others in the past?
I love to horseback ride. I did it a lot in France and also here in America. I’ve actually been somewhat un-sportive and have to make myself exercise…you may not want to write that down! (Laughs) But now I have been going to the gym regularly for maybe a year. I’m taking it much more seriously. I find the gym classes are very helpful. I enjoy the companionship. It’s a very positive, proactive environment that keeps me going.
I’m also secretly trying to jog which I’ve honestly never liked. I “wog,” which is a mixture of jogging and walking to help catch your breath. When I can, I will just jog, period. I’m going to get better at this and then surprise my husband who runs three miles every day. I’ll say “Hey honey, can I come with you? I’d like to get some fresh air.” and then shock him when I jog past him!
Sounds like the light bulb went on at a point. Was it crossing the 50 threshold that made you more aware of the need to get more active?
Yes, actually. All of a sudden, my bones ached and cracked in the morning. I was all stiff and felt like everything was breaking down. I just knew that my waist would expand and my arms would get flappy and all that, so I became resolved to do fun sports that would keep me healthy.
Also, my mother is 86 and never exercised much in her life. She does not have much muscle mass left. I have someone come and exercise her at her home and it’s made me more aware of what I need to do. If you want live longer, if you want to be healthy, if you want to do fun activities, then exercise has to be a part of it.