Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remember "Smart Choices?"

About a month ago, I wrote a post questioning the nutritional value of certain processed foods stamped with the green Smart Choices checkmark. Specifically, I wondered how products like Fruit Loops, with their ridiculously high sugar content, or Diet Pepsi, with its dubious ingredient of aspartame, could possibly be considered by anybody to be a healthy choice. I mean, have you ever looked at a Fruit Loop? General rule: if it looks like a crayon-colored foam peanut, it probably isn't all that good for you...

Anyways, apparently the FDA has finally caught on to what anybody with half a sense for healthy eating has understood from the get-go. Booyah! (Yes, I just said "booyah.")

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reclaiming My Life

Life has been super insane ever since G-20. I've barely been sleeping, I haven't cooked anything substantial (with the exception of bread) in weeks, and my homework has been gathering dust. I've been spending all my time with the same people, and not enough time with myself. The past couple days, it started to catch up to me, and I started feeling overwhelmed, and kind of sad (for various reasons), and pretty manic. So last night, I decided it was time to take a mental health break. I'm taking a relative leave of absence from the lifestyle I've been living this past month and re-centering, regrouping, reconnecting. Today was the first day of the week I plan to devote to reclaiming my life. And damn, has it been a good start.

9:30 - Morning class. Overslept.
12:00 - Roll groggily out of bed. 9 hrs of sleep. Dance around my room.
1:00 - Make a fresh batch of my favorite granola for breakfast. Mmmmm.
2:00 - Hang out with Brendan at The Original table.
3:00-5:15 - Classes. I actually went to these. (I mostly slept through them, which is kind of odd considering I got such a full night of rest yesterday. I think my body functions better when deprived of sleep.)
5:15 - Score a decadent and delicious drink at work. Lay on the benches outside the Carnegie, look up at the canopy of trees, smoke a cigarette, listen to Six Organs of Admittance, feel happy and relaxed.
6:30 - Meet my dear friend Amanda at the GE for some grocery shopping. First time seeing Amanda in a couple weeks. Also first time grocery shopping in a couple weeks. I now have eggs again. And vegetables.
8:30 - Feel inspired by all my new food and have a majjorrr cookfest while dancing around my kitchen to the Black Keys. On the menu: mashed garlic Yukon gold potatoes and stuffed baby portabellas. Stuffed with what, you ask? Stuffed with Russian sausage, garlic, sauteed onion, bread crumbs, rosemary, oregano, and bleu cheese.

10:30 - Espresso & smoke break on the porch with my roommate, Colin. We used to have these every couple days, up until about a month ago, when my regular life derailed. Very nice to catch up again. Accompanying coffee was a dessert of my favorite cookies and some dates.
11:00 - Watch a bit of Goodwill Hunting with my roommates.
12:00 - Nice hot shower. Until the hot water prematurely ran out (damn you, neighbors!). Then rinsing the suds off cursing like a sailor under my breath.
Now - About to actually go to sleep at a decent hour (Yes, 2am is a decent hour for me, if that gives you any indication of my past month.) Today was incredibly refreshing. I saw old friends. I did some errands. I COOKED FOOD. Heavenly choirs are singing in my head right now. Time for warm covers and dreams.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Speaking of Apples: The Big Apple

I just got back from NYC late last night. This was an insane weekend filled with a bunch of very different NewYork-erly experiences (including a free trip to the Guggenheim, sleeping in a surprisingly large Harlem apartment, smoking in Central Park, hanging out in the tiny Chinatown apartment of a crazy twig of a girl with big bleached blonde hair and a Betsey Johnson design internship, and crashing 4 people to one couch in an anarchist warehouse squat in Brooklyn). Here are some noteworthy New York meals that we managed to fit in between all of our ragtag adventures:

Friday night upon arriving in NYC:
-The most delicious slice of pizza ever
Seriously, it was 5:30 in the morning and we get this enormous slice for $4 that has tomatoes and basil and the most delicious cheese and big rounds of melted fresh mozzarella. The crust was thin and crispy and the pizza wasn't greasy at all. Whhhattttt! Pittsburgh, you need to step up your game.
-(Also worth mentioning, we passed a 24-hr seafood joint while wandering around Harlem looking for Hector's apartment. 24-hr seafood? Really? Maybe I need to relocate...)

Saturday for lunch:
-Incredible roasted potatoes from an awesome lunch place near Columbia University
Crispy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside, & flavorful. Only downside was a little too much oil.
-Black Russian bread stuffed with onions, also from said place
A bit dry for my taste, but otherwise, mmmmm--hearty.
-Part of 1/2 a BBQ roasted chicken, same place
Even though the sign said half a chicken for $4, I didn't really believe it. Then he actually handed me half a chicken. I kind of ogled it for about 3 minutes, trying to decide how the hell I was going to go about eating half a chicken while standing on a NYC sidewalk, armed with nothing more than one free hand and some plastic utensils. When I finally managed to juggle all of the elements correctly so as to get a piece of said chicken into my mouth, it was pretty yummy. Relatively moist, and the sauce was really good. 
-All of this came to $8 and lasted me for nearly two meals. Who said everything in New York costs too much?

Sunday for breakfast:
-Eggs Zanny breakfast wrap (with the included large coffee) at Zanny's Cafe
This was pretty delish. Eggs with pesto, onions, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, all conveniently wrapped and grilled for consumption on the go. Where did we go? Central park. Life is good. Also, I only ate one half of the wrap for breakfast. The rest was saved until much later, closer to dinnertime. What's noteworthy about this is that the wrap itself was still dry--even the bottom. Usually, you leave a wrap sitting in the car for 8 hours and it becomes a bit of a soggy mess. This one stayed good, didn't drip all over the place, and tasted just as good cold as it had hot. All around, a success.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Healthy Hedonism: Smoke Your Weed Through an Apple Bong

Almost entirely off-point: Our hearts pump 1,776 gallons of blood a day. Dear Jesus, imagine that for a second. That's insane! Bodies are so cool.


Tis the season for apples. Now, I never notice this season too much, because I think apples are pretty delicious year-round. But, it's something I keep in the back of my mind, mostly because I'm still holding out on my dream autumn day of apple-picking followed up by fresh homebaked apple pie and watching a movie cuddled under a blanket drinking apple cider.
Unfortunately, this has yet to happen. You know how it is with us kids and our grand plans that half the time don't come to fruition (pun intended); you're all pumped and driving to the orchard and then you see a billboard for the world's biggest burger off exit 67, just 12 miles ahead, and there is NO WAY you can pass that up. So, the apples wait another year.
Well, I still haven't gone apple-picking, unless you count plucking tart half-ripe apples from the orchards in NC and munching down while reading under the tree. Mmmm.
But I eat apples almost every day and had a fun time making experimental baked apples with JJ a couple nights ago (note: goat cheese and cayenne are really good in baked apples, especially together), so I decided to devote a post to them (specifically, to their health benefits).

Now, I don't know about you, but I never really think about the health benefits of apples. I mean, I don't think too much about the health benefits of any of the food I eat, beyond trying to make sure that there are some. But I still know that nuts are high in fiber and cranberries are supposed to contain antioxidants, etc etc. As for apples, I just love them because they're fast, filling, healthy and delicious. But I never knew how specifically they were healthy. Until now. And now you will, too.
  • A medium-sized apple contains 15% of your daily fiber. Good to know. 
  • They contain antioxidants (doesn't everything, though?)
  • Eating half a medium-sized apple a day can help lower cholesterol (make a mental note, all those multitudes of overweight middle-aged men reading this right now)
  • There is good evidence suggesting that apples help reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer
  • Here's where it gets interesting: apples have a strong link to lung health. They significantly lower asthma risk and, here's what caught my attention: eating apples every day has been shown to reduce the risk for lung cancer in women. Furthermore, apples are the only fruit that have this beneficial relation to lung cancer. 
    Well, if I didn't already eat apples every day, that would have convinced me. Now that you know why to eat apples, let me offer a suggestion for what apple to eat: the Pink Lady. They're yellow and pink and have this really interesting waxy texture that makes me feel like individual water droplets should stick to them. Also, they're freaking enormous. I'm talking the size of a softball. Pretty sweet and tangy. Basically, they're the crispiest and most delicious apples ever. If you're looking for a cheaper alternative, Jazz apples are pretty similar and I think $1 less per pound?

    Okay, so here's what you've learned today: next time you're getting high and watching Fight Club or whatever, smoke out of an apple. It'll help cancel out some of the effects of all that smoke in yo lungs, AND as a bonus you can eat the apple when you're done and the munchies hit. 

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    G-20, You Have Commandeered My Life

    Ever since the summit and my arrest, my life has been entirely consumed by working for G-20 justice.
    Now, if this just took up my time, that'd be one thing.
    But it also has taken the wheel of my mind, and every other responsibility and thought has taken backseat. This includes old friends (fellow G-20 activists are pretty much the only people I see now, which is cool, because I really like all of them), homework, and sadly, cooking.
    Every time I find myself trying to study or read, my thoughts stray and next thing I know, I'm checking the news and/or calling up Nicole or Keith or JJ or Matthew to hang out. I can't concentrate on any of my work because it's like (and this is going to sound cheesy, but it's true) my heart and my mind are stretching out towards all of these new people and towards this greater cause and I just feel such love for them that I can't concentrate on the task at hand. This works like blinders, so that I can't see any other aspect of my life. Out of sight, out of mind.
    How does this relate to my food blog? When every attempt to do homework is thwarted by overwhelming affection, work doesn't get done. And when work doesn't get done, I have a lot of work to do. And when I have a lot of work to do, I have no free time. And to cook, I need free time.
    I don't remember the last time I went out to eat this much. Dinner usually consists either of Sushi Boat if I'm in South Oakland or a slice of bread and cheese with an apple if I'm at home. Two days ago was the first time I had actually made myself dinner in like 5 days.
    Ah, the unmeasured effects of the summit, of my newly one-track mind.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Sweet Sourdough Bread

    So a couple weeks ago, I ended up at this guy Ben's house for a Boggle night. And when we got there, lo and behold, Ben had two loaves of sourdough bread rising in the oven.
    As you've all probably figured out by now, I got into bread baking at the farm over the summer. And sourdough is delicioousssss. So I mentioned how awesome it was that he baked it. To which he replied with an offer I couldn't refuse: free 20-year-old starter that his mom had given him.

    So here's the recipe, illustrated with some sporadically taken photos:
    (Keep in mind that this recipe is specifically for my starter, and I don't know if it varies with others, but it's probably a good reference point regardless)

    Feed the starter:  
    1) Add to the starter
        --2 1/2-3 c warm water
        --1 c sugar
        --1/2 c potato flakes OR 2 T flour
    2) Mix it up and let it sit in a warm place for 4-6 hours, or until it gets a bit of a frothy layer on top and starts to smell nice & alcoholic

    Make the dough:
    1) Mix the following
        --2 1/2 c starter
        --1/2 c canola oil (or any other non-olive oil)
        --6 c flour (all-purpose is actually fine here)
        --1 T salt
    2) Pour the rest of the starter into a sealed jar and stick in the fridge

    the leftover starter

    3) Knead the dough until it's smooth and not sticky, adding water or flour as needed
    4) Once you have a nice ball of dough, transfer it into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel
    5) Let the dough sit for however long it takes for it to double in size (mine took about 8 hrs, but my house is kind of cold)

    the risen dough
        --When you can press it with your finger and the dough doesn't heal (spring back), that means it's ready

    Baking the bread:
    1) Punch the dough down (literally) and knead it a little bit more, then cover it until the oven preheats

    punch it, punch it, punch it!

    knead it, knead it, knead it!

    the risen and then kneaded dough

    2) Preheat the oven to 550° and (optional) put a cast-iron skillet on the bottom
    3) Fill a spray bottle of some sort with cold water and a cup with hot water (also optional, but preferred)
    4) Turn out the dough onto a cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with some polenta or greased
    5) When the oven has been preheated, pour the hot water in the skillet, put the dough into the oven, and spray the sides of the oven with the cold water. Spray it again every 30 seconds for 2 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350°

    dough in the oven

    **The hot and cold water bit is optional, but it really gives the bread a nice crunchy crust, so I recommend it. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, don't worry about it--you can just skip that part.**
    6) Bake the bread at 350° for about 30-35 min, or until the bottom crust is solid and sounds hollow when you tap it.

    Yum :)

    the finished product

    The bread didn't come out quite as I expected: it actually was pretty sweet, and not very sour at all. The strange thing about this is that the longer you leave a starter out to proof, the more sour the bread gets. I had my starter sitting out for...about 18 hours, and it still came out pretty sweet. Curious. Maybe next time I'll leave it out for like 2 days, hah. But it's all good, it was still delicious. I also left the bread in the oven for about 5 minutes too long, so the crust was a bit burnt in some spots, but nothing you could really taste. 
    As for the texture, that came out amazing! The loaf rose a lot better than I had expected, and I swear it weighed like 5 lbs. It was suuuupper dense and moist with a crispy crust. When I cut it open, steam rose with a delicious aroma. Mmmm. 

    Try it! Not everyone can score sweet 20-year-old starter, but there are several recipes for it online :-)


    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Schools Cut the Coke to Prevent Future Incarceration

    They must have read this.

    Their criminal careers start early, pocketing SweetTarts and Twix minis from the Giant Eagle candy line...

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    Sun-Dried Tomato B-Yay-gels

    The best things in life are free.
    Sun-dried tomato bagels are no exception.
    "Oh my gosh," I bet you're wondering, "where are you getting these delectable treats for free?"
    Let me tell you how it works. Late at night, often as a final stop on the way home or as a welcome study break, my roommates and I will hop on our bikes and ride down to our local treasure trove. There, a package awaits us. It is an enormous bag, left behind for us by some faceless ally. It is hidden in plain view, in an enormous box. It overflows with dozens of soft fresh bagels.
    Hidden in plain view? Why doesn't anyone take our gift?
    Sometimes someone else does get to it first, but we are happy to share.
    But most of the one thinks to look in the dumpster.
    Now I can see your face, jaw dropped and nose crinkling, saying, "eww that's naasssttyyy!"

    But is it? I'm not talking about picking half-eaten burgers out of city street trash cans here. Have you ever thrown a plastic shopping bag in the kitchen trash only to realize there's still a plum or something left inside? You fish it out, of course. This is no different. No one has touched these bagels. No trash has even touched them--they sit there, enveloped in the safety of a clear, protective garbage bag, just waiting to be liberated.
    And my roommates and I happily oblige, because there is no nightcap like a midnight bike ride eating soft, chewy bagels with your friends.

    So hopefully, now you're a little less grossed out. Maybe you're even a little bit intrigued. "Where can I get in on this tasty bagel action," you might be wondering.
    Well, I can't tell you.
    It would compromise our spot. Dumpster diving is, after all, illegal.
    Why? By Jove, I wonder the same exact thing every time I go. Why the hell is taking trash illegal? It's already been discarded, after all. It's not like anyone is making any more profit off it.
    The only reason I can think of has corporate America standing scowling right behind it. If people trash-pick things, that means they're not buying them. Whether it's a chair on someone's tree lawn or red peppers in the grocery store dumpster, why would somebody pay Office Max or Giant Eagle if they can get the same thing for free? Exactly.
    Well, in the case of the bagels, you can rest easy, _________. I never used to buy bagels anyway. In fact, your dumpster actually led me inside your establishment one day to buy a cup of coffee and a pastry. I had had a particular craving for one of your tasty menu items and it had happened to still be daylight.

    There is no reason for people to go hungry in America. For some reason, "one man's trash is another man's treasure," is an illegal sentiment in this country. But we live in a wasteful society where a bruise on an apple is sufficient grounds to toss it out back. So trash those bourgeois anxieties and dive in that dumpster. My, is the treasure-trash plentiful.

    I Swear I'm Not This Neurotic

    Reading over this blog, you'd think I was a health nut.
    I'm not.
    I mean, I definitely think fast food and processed foods are shit, and I do believe they have a lot of bad effects that we don't even know about yet.
    But despite the fact that Diet Pepsi probably causes cancer, my favorite gum still contains the oh-so-mysterious aspartame, I love french fries (though not from McDonald's...never from McDonald's), I think pie a la mode is an acceptable snack, I smoke casually, and the only exercise I get is riding my bike everywhere. "The gym" is about as foreign a place to me as the school football stadium or the frat house down the street: I know it exists, and other people go there, but it's kind of just some vague untouchable concept of a different world.
    So yeah.
    My point is, a lot of things are bad for you. As long as you don't subsist on a diet of microwave TV dinners and Antoon's, it's not worth obsessing over. I just think it's all very interesting, hence this blog.
    So please, readers, don't think I'm crazy for preaching death to cereal.

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Oh-My-Fucking-God Food: Rosemary Pita

    Oh-My-Fucking-God Foods is a pseudo-regular feature I want to start having on this blog. It's pretty self-explanatory. If something is sooo good that when my friends and I bite into it, our eyes widen, and we can't help but exclaim "oh my fucking god," and then continue to repeat that (or some variation thereof) for several more bites, then that food belongs under this feature.

    I made this rosemary pita about a month ago in a brilliant night of slightly improvised cooking with my friends Ben and Noah. The fact that I'm still thinking about it should be a testament to its greatness. It originated as a pita recipe Grace and I made all the time at the farm. At Ben & Noah's, we lacked several ingredients and had to substitute and bum wheat gluten from the neighbors. We also happened to have fresh rosemary lying around, so we added it. This turned out to be what I have to say is the most magnificent cooking accomplishment in months.

    Rosemary Pita:
    1/4 t yeast
    1 t sugar
    1/3 c warm water

    1) Proof the yeast (i.e. mix all of the above together and let it sit until it starts to get a foamy layer on top)

    2 c white bread flour
    1 c whole wheat flour
    (or 3 c all-purpose flour + 1 t wheat gluten (that stuff rocks!))
    1 1/2 T sugar
    1 t salt

    2) Mix that

    3) Add the yeast mixture, along with:
    1 1/8 c water
    1 T olive oil

    as much fresh rosemary as you see fit

    4) Knead the dough until it's smooth and no longer tacky.
    5) Then, put a little olive oil in a large bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, & cover with plastic wrap.
    6) Let it sit for like 1-4 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
    7) Take it out, cut it into 8 pieces, form them into balls, cover them with a wet towel, and let the dough rise a little more, 10-30 min. Also, preheat the oven to 500˚.
    8) Take a cookie sheet, spread it with a little bit of olive oil & baking soda.
    9) Flatten out the dough balls (best to do this by stretching and slapping them between your palms, so they don't stick to the counter), slap em on the cookie sheet, and bake them for about 5 min on the first side (until they can be taken off the cookie sheet and the bottom is golden brown). Then take them off, flip them, and put them directly on the rack for like another 2 min.