The Food Guy, Steven Keith Eating his way through the state, plate by plate

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Well, we did it.

After a daylong sampling of nearly 60 different municipal, purified, bottled and sparkling waters from across the world, me and a handful of fellow food/travel writers and water experts chose winners in the prestigious International Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs last night.

And for the first time since 2004, the top five tap water winners at the annual festival all came from towns and cities in the United States. Even though it was a blind tasting, I guess our palate’s preferred to “drink locally.”

Daytona Beach, FL, was rated the best tasting water in the world, a title they also won in 2005. A pair of California waters – Desert Hot Springs and Santa Ana – won second and third respectively.  Desert Hot Springs has won two gold medals in the past.  Oxford, MI, and Kent, Ohio, rounded out the list. 

Rain waters were surprise entries this year, and two of them won first and fifth in the purified water category. Texan Independence Water from League City, TX, won best purified for their harvested rain water, while their sister water, Virginia Natural from Charlottesville, won fifth.

Another Texas water, Rain Fresh, won second, although it is not harvested rainwater despite its name. Mothers Finest of North Carolina was third and the hometown Berkeley Springs Purified was fourth.

Bottled water came literally from all over the globe to compete, including Argentina, Japan, Tasmania and Switzerland. Selected as best bottled water in the world was perennial entrant – but first time winner – Muskoka Springs from Jarratt in Ontario, Canada.

Second place went to Pristine Springs from nearby Clear Springs, MD, while third was captured by first-time entrant, Highbridge Springs of Wilmore, KY. Almost Heaven from Manassas, VA (bottling water from Berkeley Springs) placed fourth and former gold medalist, English Mountain Springs Water of Dandridge, TN, was fifth.

Winning sparkling waters included two Bosnian waters in first (Esparanza) and third place (Tesanjski Dijament). Second place went to Mountain Valley Springs Water from Hot Springs, AR, fourth to Antipodes from New Zealand and fifth to Arctica of Marchand, MB, Canada.

Including both preliminary and final tastings, judges spent hours tasting 99 waters from 23 states and 10 foreign countries to determine the winners. That’s a LOT of H20!

Want to catch all the action in person next year, the 22nd annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. For more information, call 800-447-8797 or visit

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Or as I like to call it, Float & Bloat …

The judging panel has tasted 33 different municipal and purified waters so far — multiple times each — and we’re only halfway done. Frequent trips to the bathroom notwithstanding, this is WAY harder than I expected.

I’ve judged countless food and wine events, but water is so much more nuanced, making it much harder to decide which ones are truly better than the rest. (Was it #3 or #17 I liked best … I can’t remember … They both look the same!)

But while most fall to the middle of the pack (taste fine, nothing exceptional or offensive) you really can start to detect different aromas and flavors and textures if you keep at it and concentrate. Never thought I’d say this, but there really is an art to it all.

Heading back now to judge the bottled and sparking divisions, then it’s time for judges, competitors and visitors alike to kick up their heels and celebrate at tonight’s awards party. I will NOT be drinking water there, thankyouverymuch.

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I’m having a great time up here in beautiful Berkeley Springs as an official judge at the International Water Tasting Festival. It’s both wild and wonderful on so many levels …

  • In that there actually is such a thing as a “tasting” competition for water, a liquid that – at its best – exhibits virtually no taste.
  • That this tiny West Virginia town has, for 21 years, hosted what is now the largest and longest-running water-tasting competition in the world.
  • And that it truly is international in nature. In addition to a handful of waters from West Virginia and a heavy contingent from Ohio, others come from as far away as Colorado, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Bosnia, Japan and South Korea.

Yesterday was full of interesting seminars (really!) on the history of water’s healing properties, water safety, conservation efforts and more. The actual judging happens today – in municipal, bottled, sparkling and purified divisions – but not before we esteemed judges are put through a training process to “learn” how to “taste” water.

I kid you not.

Check back later for a recap of what I learned, along with tasting notes from the judges’ table!

Some Egg-citing News (Yuk-Yuk) from the USDA

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According to new nutrition data from the United States Department of Agriculture, it appears that eggs are lower in cholesterol than previously thought.

The USDA recently reviewed the nutrient composition of standard large eggs from 12 different locations across the country, and results show the average amount of cholesterol in one large egg is 185 mg, 14 percent lower than previously recorded. The analysis also revealed that large eggs now contain 41 IU of vitamin D, an increase of 64 percent.

At first glance this was big news, folks, because I love me some eggs.

But then the press release goes on to say: “Enjoying an egg a day can fall within current cholesterol guidelines, particularly if individuals opt for low-cholesterol foods throughout the day.”

An egg? As in one!

Boo. Hiss.

Guess I’ll just stick with my Egg Beaters since I’m not about to give up my occasional fluffy, fat homemade omelets.

But if cholesterol is not a big concern for you, read on …

The amount of protein in one large egg — 6 grams of protein or 12 percent of the Recommended Daily Value — remains the same, and the protein in eggs is one of the highest quality proteins found in any food. Eggs are all-natural, and one egg has lots of vitamins and minerals all for 70 calories. The nutrients in eggs can play a role in weight management, muscle strength, healthy pregnancy, brain function, eye health and more. At less than 15 cents apiece, eggs are an affordable and delicious breakfast option.”

So there you have it.

Local Raw Foods Expert Offering Mini-Boot Camp

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If you’re one of the few people who haven’t yet given up on a New Year’s resolution for healthier eating, a local raw foods expert is offering a weekend mini-boot camp you might want to check out.

Sally Miller, owner of Eats of Eden, will lead an eight-hour workshop – divided into two sessions: “Foods That Can Heal” and “Moving into Raw Foods” – on March 4 and 5. She’ll teach participants about the “Living Foods” philosophy (that all enzymes, vitamins and minerals the body needs to heal and maintain optimal health are found within the foods we eat) and show how proper food preparation is the key to unlocking these benefits.

From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. that Friday, she’ll focus on the four main foods for healing based on the “Ann Wigmore” program, which includes the concepts of blending and fermenting food. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. that Saturday, she’ll focus on food selection and shopping.

Over the course of both days, everyday recipes will be shared and you’ll get “hands on” experience preparing (and tasting) some of them. You’ll learn how to make dairy replacements, breakfast and lunch items, plus hear important information about organic fruit and vegetable selections. You’ll even learn how to set up your own raw foods kitchen.

This workshop will take place in a private home in Charleston, so space is limited. The cost is $227.90, which includes all instruction, recipes and food throughout the weekend, plus a course manual and all taxes. Reservations and payment are due by Friday, Feb. 25.

For more information, contact Sally Miller at or 304-744-8748.

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According to retail experts, Americans purchase about 58 million pounds of chocolate during the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, making Feb. 14th the second-largest chocolate holiday. So, how can you celebrate this day of hearts while still protecting your own heart and overall health?

Here are some light and luscious lessons to love from Carolyn O’ Neil, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! 

  • Bubbles for you and your babe: Did you know that Champagne is one of the lightest libations on the bar menu?  Toast your love with a glass of “Brut” Champagne or other dry (not sweet) sparkling wine such as Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco at only 78 calories for a 4-oz. glass.
  •  Choose chocolates with benefits: Ditch sugary heart-shaped candies in favor of Adora, a rich all-natural chocolate fortified with calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. Adora is a win-win for taste and health, with each indulgent disk providing up to 50 percent of the daily value of calcium plus plenty of vitamin D3 and magnesium. Choose dark or milk chocolate varieties.
  • Keep the romance heavy and the menu light: Planning a romantic dinner? Eating too much may make you drowsy before the dancing begins. Whether it’s at a snazzy bistro or a cozy dinner at home, choose lean proteins such as sirloin steak, pork tenderloin, steamed shrimp or grilled fish. Go for the greens in side salads and steamed vegetables, plus avoid fat- and calorie-laden fried appetizers.
  • Red is the color of the day: So enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner. Studies have shown that drinking red wine in moderation, a glass or two a day, can lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Red wine and chocolate is a great flavor pairing, too, and both are good sources of disease fighting antioxidants.

Win a Stack of Free Pancakes – Every Day of the Year

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Love you some pancakes?

IHOP will reward one lucky winner with a year’s supply of free pancakes (that’s one short stack every single day of the year) through its “Stacks for Good Acts” online contest, which coincides with the company’s annual free pancake giveaway fundraiser benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Good Samaritans everywhere are invited to submit a story of 250 words or less on about a good deed they or someone they know did in 2010. Entries will be judged on emotional impact, originality and entertainment value. One grand prize entry will receive free pancakes for one year.

Entries can be submitted now through midnight Feb. 25, with the winner announced on National Pancake Day, March 1. On that day, IHOP will also give customers a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes from 7-10 a.m. in exchange for a voluntary donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or another local charity.

For more information and rules, visit

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I recently made a mess of (as in “way too many”) braised short ribs for a family dinner. We loved them the first night and enjoyed leftovers the next. But by Day 3 my 8-year-old was, like, “Again with the short ribs?”

Point taken.

So I gave them a break that night, but it was only a temporary reprieve.

The next day I cubed those leftover short ribs and placed them in a casserole dish with their remaining sauce, a thick blend of chopped onions, celery, tomatoes, herbs, red wine and such – reduced to perfection. Then I sliced in carrots,  poured extra beef broth over the whole mixture and let in simmer stovetop for a few hours.

That night, I steamed some rice and ladled my “new” beef stew over top of it for dinner.

“This is awesome!” they said, asking for seconds. (Insert sinister laugh here.)

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In case you missed it, my column in today’s Daily Mail offered some healthier game-day snack suggestions for this weekend’s Party of all Junk Food Parties – the Super Bowl. Things like making turkey sliders instead of cheeseburgers, serving veggies and dip instead of chips and drinking flavored seltzers instead of beer.

Although we all know that last one is just crazy talk.

But here are a few more suggestions from NuVal, a new nutritional scoring system that factors in 30 different attributes of foods (from fiber to folate) to give it a score from 1 to 100 on the Nuval scale. The higher the number, the healthier the food. These NuVal scores are starting to show up on some supermarket shelves nationwide, though none in our area yet, listed right next to the item’s price.

Here are some suggested “nutritional trade-ups” to help raise your NuVal snacking score this Sunday …

  • Some refrigerated dips, such as hummus or guacamole, can benefit from their protein, fiber and vitamin E. Fresherized Foods Wholly Guacamole, for instance, scores a 59, a very high score for the category.
  • Gringo Green Mountain Salsa Scores a 9 and Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa scores a 48.
  • Don’t let terms like “fat free” or “fruit dip” fool you. T Marzetti Dill Fat-Free Veggie Dip scores an 11 on the NuVal scale, and the cream cheese fruit dip gets a lowly 2.
  • All chips are not equal. While barbecue potato chips rank in the low single digits, other regular-brand chips score in the mid-20s. While “baked” chips score higher, the difference in score may not always justify the difference in taste. Lay’s Baked Potato Chips, for instance, score a 24. Regular Lay’s? A 23.
  • Don’t assume pretzels are more nutritious than potato chips. Rold Gold Pretzel Rods score a 14, while Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat Chips score a 31. It’s also possible to find chips that score relatively high. If you don’t mind skipping the salt, Garden of Eatin Blue Tortilla Chips score a 52, the highest score in the category.
  • If you’re looking for better nutrition than chips or dips can provide, why not go with some nuts? Whole natural almonds score an 81 and Flavorite sunflower seeds rank a 52. Even Planters’ Honey Roasted Peanuts come in at a respectable 29. Others however, such as toasted corn nuts, are way down in the single digits.
  • If you’re craving a football game staple like buffalo wings, TGI Friday’s Frozen Buffalo wings come in low at 14, while Morningstar Farms meatless “buffalo wings” fare better at 29.

For additional game-day suggestions or to learn more about the NuVal scoring system, visit