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Archive for July, 2009

Off to the beach…

I am off to North Myrtle Beach for a few days. I plan to catch up with family, eat, hang out, read, and generally have a good time.

Most of my family is already at the beach – I am just joining for a long weekend. We are vacationing about 25 strong this year. Apparently word has gotten around about my blog on the trip, as evidenced by a few new comments over the last two days.

So I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the fam as new readers! I can only imagine the ‘real life’ comments coming my way when I arrive tonight 🙂

Can’t wait! I need some sun!

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Last Sunday, The Boy and I set out to enjoy lunch somewhere in the South Highland/East Liberty area. We first tried Typhoon. Closed on Sundays. I checked my blackberry for the hours at Paris 66 Bistro, the new French darling of the East-Side food scene. It was about 1:20 and the Paris 66 Bistro website said they were open until 2 for brunch. Score!

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As we approached the restaurant, located at 6018 Centre Ave, a sign outside announced that brunch was only being served until 1:30PM. Hmm. A few parties stood in the narrow entrance to Paris 66, so we joined them. The narrow entrance also houses the open kitchen. We watched a man make thin crepes. Yum.

The place was quite crowded and I could see a patio out back. The whole place is done in dark wood and warm and cheery yellow tones. I liked it.

Luckily, we were seated (inside), even though we arrived close to closing time. The brunch menu contains savory and sweet crepes, salads, a quiche and soup of the day, and a few sandwiches. Looking again at the Paris 66 Bistro website, I believe the brunch menu is similar to, if not identical to, the lunch menu and the dinner menu. I don’t think there were any brunch specials on Sunday, but the website says there are daily lunch and dinner specials.

I ordered ‘La Paris 66’ crepe ((ham, Swiss cheese, egg, mushrooms, tomato Provencale) and The Boy ordered ‘La Pigalle’ crepe (sautéed mushrooms, chicken, old fashioned mustard). Both crepes came with mixed greens.

And this is were the trouble began. The Boy ordered a cup of coffee. As we waited (and waited), it became apparent that the server had forgotten about it. Probably about 20 minutes later (antsy-ness starting to set in at this point), the server returned and apologized for a ‘kitchen backup’ and said our food should be out shortly. The Boy did not mention the coffee at that point because he had somewhat forgotten about it. After another 10 minutes (and an awkward conversation about the poor service with those sitting at a nearby table), our crepes finally arrived. The Boy then asked about his coffee and a cup quickly appeared.

The crepes were OK. I liked that my crepe had lots going on, although I thought the egg was a little underdone. It didn’t seem to be cooked at all? I don’t mind an over-easy egg but there was very little evidence this thing had seen heat. The crepe wasn’t particularly warm either. I kind of mixed the egg into the dish and ate it anyways, trying not to think about how much is resembled a raw egg. I have trouble believing this was how it was supposed to be. My crepe also contained a dollop of the chicken mixture that was part of The Boy’s crepe. The menu made no mention of chicken. Hmm. Overall, I enjoyed my crepe and the portion was large – I didn’t finish.

The Boy said his crepe was OK. The chicken, although it had great flavor (love the mustard) was dry. The portion on my crepe was also dry. The amount of chicken mixture on his crepe was also pretty small – he said he definitely was not filled up after this. I think my crepe, since it had more in it, was more filling.

I want to give this place the benefit of the doubt. I loved the space and loved the idea of the food. I likely will return, definitely to try a sweet crepe. However, at this point, particularly considering the service issues, I would have trouble recommending Paris 66 Bistro to anyone.

Perhaps I will return on a not so hectic weeknight, not minutes before closing? Perhaps take advantage of the BYOB policy and augment the meal a bit? The Boy pointed out that all crepes appeared to be made on 2 or 3 crepe makers up front – I can see how this might cause a backup. The kitchen and servers just came across as overwhelmed during my visit, and it was evident in the food and reflected in my overall so-so experience.

If you have been, and had a different experience, please let me know. At heart, I am rooting for this place – but clearly they have some kinks to work out.

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Total Tuesday!

So this week has been a bit ‘off-kilter’. I am leaving Thursday evening to spend a long weekend at the beach with family. Therefore, I am working some extra hours Mon-Wed of this week to compensate. Of course I am also trying to get in workouts and pack. Whew! So worth it though – reading a book on the beach with a drink might just be the best vacation activity EVER.

This morning I rushed around getting ready. However, I did find some time for oats! I haven’t had oatmeal in quite awhile but thoughts of warm peanut butter and tart pomegranate jam pushed me in that direction.

Here is my PB&J (&B?) oatmeal. I threw a few chocolate chips on top for that sweet tooth 🙂

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My morning at work flew by and I didn’t even stop for my normal 10AM snack. I did sip some ginger tea.

Around 12, I got super hungry. Although I had packed a salad, I really wanted something warm so I went for my emergency Amy’s frozen burrito. Always good to have some backup in the work ‘fridge. Amy’s products are all organic and tasty. No funky after tastes or weird meat like product (here’s looking at you Lean Cuisine!). These burritos are regularly under $3 at my grocery store. Granted, they are vegetarian. However, they are cheaper than most other frozen entrées, vegetarian or not, and when paired with some fruit, crackers, or a small salad, I think this is a much better option. Today I am skipping the ‘side dish’ as I have plans to slip out of the office for a small break and a fruit smoothie in a few..

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(I ended up having that fruit smoothie around 1PM and it was divine. I know the smoothies are full of sugar (I see they use some real fruit but also some mix) but I try to choose one with the lowest amount of calories – the small watermelon/strawberry smoothie I had today came in around 180 calories).

Around 2PM I had a small handful of chocolate covered raisins. STILL nursing that mega container from a few weeks back.

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Around 5PM, I got hungry again and reached for a Clif Z-bar. For those of you not in the know, the Clif Z-bar is the kids version of a regular Clif bar. Its softer, smaller, and comes in only a few flavors.  However, many people enjoy the Z-bars. They are all organic, tasty, and sweet and come in around 120 calories. A regular Clif bar (albeit more filling, larger, and denser) comes in around 230-280 calories. I also had the half serving of tortilla chips I had packed to go with my salad.

I know I am mentioning calories quite a bit in this post – as a rule, I do not count calories. However, I somewhat keep a ‘running tab’ in my head during the day. Splurged on chips at lunch? Maybe I will skip the usual after dinner chocolate. Additionally, I do look up calories and nutritional facts on items just to have a general idea of what I am eating. Many times, your preconceived notion of the amount of calories in a certain food is wrong. Many times I underestimate the amount of calories in wraps or other carb heavy items. At the same time, I might overestimate the amount of calories in a veggie heavy dish. I just like to be informed and make the best choices possible during the day!

I rushed home from work to make it to a 7PM pilates class….that was canceled! I took this as a sign and went shopping instead :). I actually rarely would do something like that, but I just felt like it last night. I also got in a decent run (4 miles) on Monday so I felt OK with resting. I did end up getting a few new items at Southside Works, so the shopping trip was also a success.

After shopping, I was starving. I had a salad (greens, cuke, tomato, zucchini, hummus, cheese, and a little bit of some type of sesame dressing) and some chips and salsa. This was not the salad I packed for lunch – that stayed tucked in the fridge at work for tomorrow.

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The rest of the night was spent talking to The Boy (who was landing in St. Louis from Detroit – crazy work schedule), cleaning up my apartment and and watching ‘After the Final Rose’. I unfortunately did not see much of the finale last night, but I am aware she picked Ed. He seems nice enough but I did question his choice of beach attire while in Hawaii with Jills.

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I had a half serving of soy ice cream before finally hitting the hay last night. Hope you had a great Tuesday!

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Another summer weekend…

Finally, I have a few recipes/ideas to share with you. I feel like I haven’t posted many recipes lately. This weekend was full of good eats (as usual).

Friday afternoon, The Boy sent me an email, asking what I might like to do for dinner. I am not sure where my response came from, but it looked something like this:

“MOULES AND FRITES!!!!!!”

And so, thats what we did, home-style.

I steamed the mussels loosely using this recipe. I subbed half wine/half beer for the liquid, omitted the thyme, and used an onion and garlic instead of a shallot.

For the ‘frites’, I did oven fries. After doing some research, I tried a new method.

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

-Scrub and slice potatoes into desired fry size (ours were thicker).

-Bring pot of water to boil and pull off heat. Dump potato slices into hot water. Leave slices in water while oven preheats. This won’t quite parboil the potatoes, but it will soften them a little and pull some of the starch out.

-Pull potatoes from hot water and let drain on paper towels. Toss potatoes with olive oil (you really only need a little) and seasonings (we just used salt and pepper).

-Cook potatoes in oven for 10-20 minutes (depends how thick they are). Ours took almost 20 minutes.

Delicious! Particularly enjoyed with prosecco.

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We cooked four pounds of mussels and ate them all!

On Saturday, I attended a small get-together at a friend’s house. Another close friend was in town and we all chatted, laughed, and munched. I made a layered greek style dip. This dip has been a hit every time I have made it. I usually describe it as ‘kind of like a taco dip but with greek/Mediterranean flavors instead’. I got the idea from a magazine about a year ago and have kind of adapted it to my tastes.

Greek Dip:

Layer 1: Hummus – sometimes I make my own or buy the reasonably prices stuff at Trader Joe’s.

Layer 2: Plain greek yogurt (can drain overnight to make it super thick) with green onion, salt, and pepper mixed in – I used TJs fat free greek yogurt

Layer 3: Diced cucumbers

Layer 4: Diced tomatoes

Layer 5: Feta cheese

Layer 6: Diced Kalamata olives

Layer 7: (optional) Diced green onion

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I don’t really measure when I am making it. However, for ratio sake, the dip I made on Saturday (which was small and made in an 8 inch square pyrex dish) contained the following:

-1 small container hummus, 2 small containers greek yogurt, 2 green onions (one in yogurt, one on top), 1 cucumber, 2.5 roma tomatoes, 1/3 cup feta cheese, 1/4 cup olives.

I serve this with pita chips. Yum!

Lastly, The Boy and I ended our weekend with a Sunday night ‘roof picnic’. This is one of our favorite things to do and I think it serves as the perfect summer dinner.

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A ‘roof picnic’ usually includes lots of finger foods, packed in a TJ’s bag and dragged up to the roof deck.

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Look at that plating by The Boy! He also purchased a nice Malbec to drink. The plate included goat cheese, asiago cheese, cheddar cheese, whole grain baguette, ciabatta, spicy marinated shrimp, and dark juicy cherries.

Cheers!

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Review: Food, Inc.

Wednesday night, I went to see Food Inc, the much talked about documentary focusing on the food industry. It is playing at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.

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I have read Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser), Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan), and In Defense of Food (Pollan). Therefore, I anticipated having already been exposed to most of what I was going to see in the film. However, I still wanted  to go and see how it all would be adapted for the big screen. The film features commentary from both Pollan and Schlosser. I thought the film was well made and it held my attention.

The movie touches upon all the hot issues : large scale meat processing, the use of corn and soybean, lack of government regulations, organic food, and seed patenting. To note, the movie is not ‘anti-meat’, although it could be considered ‘anti-non-organic meat’.

Information that was ‘new to me’ was the use of seed patenting. This specifically relates to Monsanto and their soybean seed patent. Monsanto developed the ‘Round-Up Ready’ soybean, a product resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This technology has allowed farmers to grow soybean faster and more efficiently. These genetically modified soybeans have become the dominant player in the soybean market. However, when a farmer purchases Monsanto soybean seed, he or she agrees to the terms of the patent agreement, which prohibits the farmer from cleaning and re-using his or her seeds at the end of the growing season. Historically, cleaning and re-using seeds was the norm. It seems farmers now struggle with adhering to these patent agreements (its just counter-intuitive to the way farming should be- not to mention pricey) and life long friends and neighbors are pitted against each other as Monsanto (seemingly with an iron fist) works to enforce the terms of the patents.

To be fair, Monsanto has now released a ton of literature (all available via the website in the above link) countering the many claims the movie made. Monsanto argues that the ‘Round-Up Ready’ soybean is not something that previously existed in nature and is therefore intellectual property and worthy of a patent. Does this make them evil?

What is the answer? In this short review, I really only touched upon the seed issue in detail. However, the whole movie contains information and arguments that are hardly one-sided, despite the fact they may be presented that way in the movie.

The film (along with all the books I have read and other information I have absorbed) surely push me to make the best food choices I possibly can. I try to purchase organic products, free range chicken, grass fed beef. I try to eat more whole foods and less processed ones. I support local farmers’ markets.

However, I struggle to grasp how we could feed the world organically.  I suppose I still view food choices as personal choices. Maybe not everyone puts organic food high on their priority list – and therefore, there should be choices available for them too.

Yet, I can see how ill informed the public is in regard to the products they put in their bodies every day. Maybe if they had all the information, the above mentioned priorities might shift.

What is the answer? If you go see Food Inc. and think you have it, please let me know. I also encourage you to read the books by Schlosser and Pollan, as they contain tons more information than was presented in the movie.

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Total Tuesday

I woke up to gloomy skies in Pittsburgh this morning. To be fair, we have had some sunshine this summer but it is just never enough, at least for me!

I shuffled through my morning routine. Somewhere along the way, I had two slices of Ezekiel sprouted grain bread, toasted. Ezekiel bread gets its name from the bible verse where the ingredients for this bread (roughly wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt) are mentioned. Anywho, many, religious or not, like this bread because of its low calorie count, lack of flour, and high protein content.

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On one, I slathered organic peanut butter and pomegranate jam. On the other, I had a smear of almond butter and some banana. I also had half a nectarine. The bread isn’t bad toasted – not sure I would want to make a big sandwich out of it (give me ciabatta!) but for toast, I like it.

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After breakfast, I continued shuffling, all the way to the bus stop. I zipped down the East Busway and started another day..

Around 10AM, I had a handful of dried banana chips (bought at Stan’s Produce, Penn Ave, over the weekend – dangerously addictive – must also prepackage into smaller baggies for portion control). I also had 4 juicy strawberries.

Lunch consisted of leftovers from last night. I had lots of veggie odds and ends from the weekend and so I roasted up some butternut squash, zucchini, sweet potato, and onion. I threw the roasted veggies over 90 second whole grain rice and added some shredded rotisserie chicken. Yum! I still don’t crave veggies ‘straight up’ but I adore them with a bit of a carb or protein. The amount I made last night was perfect for a dinner and a lunch.

After lunch, I had a serving of TJs dark chocolate covered raisins. Still working on that massive container..

I also managed to get myself into a food conversation at lunch. A few people I work with are on ‘diets’. These diets consist of eating a set amount of 100 calorie packs for lunch. This frightens me. One particular ‘dieter’ is a friend and I jokingly have tried to push him in the direction of more whole foods, etc.

Anyways, while eating with this friend today, the lunch conversation kept circling around my dislike of the 100 calorie pack diet and my ‘hippie-ness’, which I suppose is related to liking vegetables and turning down lunch time visits to McDonalds or the local Chinese joint. Oh dear. I really don’t take myself too seriously (nor am I by any means worthy of advocating any type of uber healthy lifestyle), so I am overly bothered by any of this. I also don’t want to overstep any boundaries, so I keep my rebuttals in check. However, I am secretly hoping one of these ‘dieters’ thinks about picking up an apple or something after our lunchtime chats.  

How do you deal with someone you feel is being unhealthy? I try to ‘live and let live’ but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Whew. Around 4 this afternoon, hunger crept up on me a bit and so I had a Larabar. It was the Chocolate Coconut Chew variety and it was kind of bleh. It borderline tasted rancid or something. Of course I still ate it but I won’t be purchasing that flavor again.

I finally arrived home from work around 6:15PM. I downed a bowl of Kashi 7 grain puffed rice cereal with organic skim milk and forced myself to the gym.

I did 3 miles on the ‘mill and called it a night. I know I will be able to run the Run Around the Square 5K straight off ‘mill workouts but I should probably integrate more outdoor running into my routine in order to be better prepared. Motivation for this is low at the moment though. Maybe its the crappy weather.

After the gym, it was back home for a quickie dinner – pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce (The Boy would be horrified! Sauce from a jar!). This was such a staple dinner for me in college and I haven’t had it in forever. I actually wasn’t super hungry and only ate a small portion alongside a mini caprese salad and some shredded rotisserie chicken. The majority of the pasta was packed up for Wednesday’s lunch.

lots of flash and out of focus. oh well.

lots of flash and out of focus. oh well.

I love packing leftovers for lunch. If what I am making is something that will make a good next-day meal, I always make at least two portions and have plastic containers ready to go to pack up the leftovers. Pack up those leftovers before you start picking at them!

I spent the rest of the night on the phone catching up with a friend. I munched a handful of dried banana chips as we chatted.

Tomorrow I plan to see Food Inc. Stay tuned for a review.

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This weekend went by in a flash. Somehow, I did not take one photo. And the time was filled with such great cooking! Oh well.

Friday night, The Boy and I did homemade pizza. A thunderstorm canceled our outdoor grilling plans but the pies were still tasty cooked in the oven. We made a prosciutto and arugula pizza and a veggie pizza (onion, zucchini, mushroom).

Saturday morning was spent in the Strip Dictrict getting things for a Saturday night dinner party. The Boy and I had decided to invite our parents over to his place for a casual dinner. I am not sure either of us had ever cooked for that many people (there were seven of us) so it was an adventure.

Overall, the dinner went great! The Boy actually did most of the cooking as I ran around and chopped and cleaned and poured drinks. Success 🙂

The menu was as follows:

Appetizers: Crostini with chevre and roasted red pepper, crostini with chevre and honey, prosciutto and melon

Salad: Caprese salad served on a bed of arugula

Main: Grilled lamb filets and fresh (homemade by The Boy!) summer pasta with zucchini, squash, carrots in a white wine sauce

Dessert: Ginger, lemon and raspberry angel food cake trifle

To Drink: Prosecco and Amarone

Now the day wasn’t without a few flaws. My angel food cake ‘trifle’ was supposed to be just a regular angel food cake. I used my tried and true recipe, subbing out the almond extract for lemon zest, lemon juice, and fresh chopped ginger. However, when I tried to whip my egg whites, they just would not turn into meringue. I whipped and whipped and finally just threw the thing in the oven. The tube pan proceeded to leak the thin batter all over the place but I soldiered on. Nothing a strategically placed cookie sheet couldn’t fix.

The cake did eventually bake, albeit unevenly. Luckily, some of the cake was salvageable.  It wasn’t very pretty though, hence the entrance of the trifle idea. Cut into cubes and layered with a fresh raspberry sauce and whipped cream, the angel food cake became a passable dessert.

Lesson of the weekend: don’t freak out, just improvise!

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