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Monday, December 29, 2008

Meeting Goals

I met a 2008 Year end goal this past week by reaching 1,000 miles ridden on my Fuji Road Bike. I hit the 1,000 mark on Christmas Day, allowing myself a holiday gift of biking on what was a gloriously sunny and somewhat warm day (all of 40 plus degrees! But no wind!) Technically, I have ridden more than 1,000 miles on the new bike, but I did not have the odometer on the bike since day one, to give me the actual feedback. I'm sure between riding the cruiser about 20 miles a week on average and roughly 100 miles not calcuated I may have pumped over 1,300 miles since June! Yowsa! Not as many miles as Rabbi Stone's monthly and yearly biking, but nevertheless I am pleased. In addition, I am happy to report that I have also lost over 66 pounds! Whether or not I've kept my latest pound lost off is another story. My holiday meals and cocktails have been indulgent to say the least. Slowly I creep, inch by inch, towards meeting my weight loss goal of 75 pounds. Maybe by March? I'll keep riding and working out to help me meet this next goal.

Found a Christmas Goose on my bike ride along Kelly Drive. A whole flock of these giant birds were grubbing and pecking the ground along the river near St. Joseph's Boat House halfway up the drive. Someone had decorated this bench with Christmas swag. The scene was too perfect the only thing missing was the figgy pudding and Tiny Tim.


Ah! The aftermath of Christmas day. There's Santa, kicked to the curb with the trash. In England, December 26 is called Boxing Day; in the US, it's the day we throw away all of the stuff we no longer need or want, packages, boxes and broken toys. As this was a minimal Christmas for Liz and I this year, we had little if any trash to put outside. These neighbors apparently thought that Santa has overstayed his welcome. Stuffed, no longer with working parts, this poor Santa is just another reminder of the end of 2008. Time to clear out what's no longer working and a new man in to take care of the job at hand. Amen!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

12 Reasons why Retail Shop Folks hate the Holiday Season

Thought I would share a note from my Facebook page, a rant about why the holidays take their toll on you when you work retail. I wrote it after a long weekend at the kitchen mecca, and a long couple of weeks of non-stop work at all of my jobs. I wanted to set the rant to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, but the task seemed too daunting and ridiculous. Most of what I've written happened exactly as I wrote, this past weekend in fact. In general, I do love the holiday season, and I do enjoy working at the haven for all things culinary related. However some folks can just get on my last gay nerve. Read on, enjoy and take what I say with a large grain of salt. I'm prone to hyperbole and exaggeration!

1. Gift wrapping, even under the best of conditions, takes at least 10 minutes. I might like magic spells, I dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched, but I'm not able to twitch my nose, flick a wand or blink my eyes to get your present wrapped in 10 seconds.
2. When you buy an item that has been discounted 75% already, you don't deserve to harangue the staff people and take up additional time in order to make you feel like you made a good gift choice.
3. Taking pictures of an item with your iPhone, so you can shop online for a better price later is just plain tacky.
4. Coming into the store for as much free candy or samples of our food items as a meal replacement is wrong. Not to mention how fattening and bad for you all that junk is. Do you know how many fat calories are in a tablespoon of olive oil? A lot. Just because it's olive oil, doesn't make it any healthier for you when you ingest a quarter of a cup with a half pound of bread at the olive oil tasting bar.
5. When we ask if we can help you, we genuinely mean we would like to be of assistance. We are not trying to make you buy anything. It's our store policy to be polite and offer the best customer service possible. Jeesh, try getting someone at Best Buy to help you. Go ahead, try. You'll be waiting forever to find a sales person with half a brain and any sense of politeness in them.
6. For the sanctimonious types, I know where some of you ought to have been today. So why are you shopping on the Sabbath? Don't pull your religiosity on me when you see me in other venues. I'm not buying it.
7. When the special offer of 20% or any other decent discount or coupon incentive is offered, it doesn't apply to items you purchased days before the offer began. Store policy clearly states this on the offer. No, you should not or cannot bring back your purchase for a full refund return and then repurchase it in order to get that 20% or the $10 for every $50 you spent.
8. Asking for each item to be individually wrapped for the 8 days of Hanukkah is annoying and takes up a lot of time, energy and resources. WRAP your own frickin' gifts. And no, we can't give you extra paper, boxes, ribbons and the do-dads to make your other personal packages as pretty as the ones we've already wrapped for you.
9. Internet and Catalog orders are entirely different sometimes than the items offered in the store. If we don't carry the item, ever, then yes, shipping charges may apply. Sorry. Take the news graciously. I did not make the policy.
10. Returning the dishes and platters you purchased a few days ago, when it's clear you used them for your holiday party is gross. We can tell when the dishes have been used. Have the decency to run them through a dishwasher with some soap for criminy sakes. Scrap that soup gunk off the bowls. That platter, it was still greasy from your roast beast.
11. Rounding up your purchase 11 cents to give to a charity foundation benefits the organization and doesn't hurt you at all. Have a heart and give a buck. I truly cannot believe someone wouldn't round up their purchase to the next whole dollar to give to Saint Jude's Children's Hospital. Less than 50 cents. Like you would miss that change. What did you drop at Starbucks today on that fat latte?
12. Remember, you chose to go out to shop today, 3 to 1 day before the big holiday. So did everyone else. The lines will be long and the staff is over worked. Have a sense of kindness and some patience. We'll all get along a lot better.

Bonus - Returning an item, years after the item was carried by the store, and getting angry that the value of the item has dwindled to 99 cents is ridiculous. So is asking the staff to re-wrap the item so you can re-gift it. Threatening to call the district manager makes you look like an even bigger cheap ass bastard.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Treats: Sweet and Spicy Nuts


The guys from City Food Tours hosted their 4th Annual Non-Holiday Party this past Saturday night. Their theme was New Orleans. I was recruited to help make a few dishes for the party - my tasks were to make Cheddar Jalapeno Corn Bread; Vegetarian Hoppin' John; and I offered to make Sweet and Spicy Pecans. The party was a success and all of our food, both theirs and mine got rave reviews. Apparently there was nothing left! I will eventually get around to posting all of the recipes, today I wanted to write up the recipe for the pecans. These are a holiday treat that you can easily make instead of baking cookies. They are something I like to make during the holidays, or whenever I am called upon to to cater Southern or New Orleans style party. I used pecans for the batch I made for the party, but I usually use a combination of pecans, cashews and almonds. Peanuts or walnuts would work well too, but the original trio is really best. Use the freshest spices you can purchase, and only buy nuts that are raw, unroasted and not salted. In Philadelphia, one of the best resources for nuts is Nuts to You, either at 20th and Chestnut or the store at 13th & Walnut. To purchases great spices, visit the The Spice Corner in the Italian Market; Spice Terminal at the Reading Terminal Market; or go online or visit Penzeys in Chestnut Hill.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Paprika (hot or smoked will be even better)
  • ½ teaspoon Cayenne
  • 1 Tablespoon Cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons Cinnamon
  • 2 Cups Raw and Unsalted Pecans
  • 2 Cups Raw and Unsalted Cashews
  • 2 Cups Almonds – Whole, Unblanched, Raw and Unsalted
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix nuts in a colander and rinse under cold running water until thoroughly wet. Shake off excess water.
  3. Put nuts in a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of the spice mixture and stir to completely coat all the nuts.
  4. Use a sheet pan, lined with either parchment or a Silpat. Evenly spread the nut/spice mixture on the sheet pan.
  5. Sprinkle another ¼ cup of the sugar mix over the nuts. If more is needed, sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture over the nuts; otherwise, the extra sugar can be kept indefinitely in an airtight container. The potency of the seasonings will diminish over time though.
  6. Bake in oven for up to 25 minutes. Check the nuts after 15 minutes and stir the nuts carefully; keep the nuts in an even layer. Check every 5 minutes, allowing the nuts to get crisp and the sugar mixture to caramelize and melt but not burn.
  7. Remove nuts from oven when nuts & sugar mixture looks dark brown and shiny.
  8. Cool the nuts on the sheet pan. When they are cool enough to handle, break the nuts up and put them into a plastic or other airtight container.
  9. The nuts will last in cool dry weather for about 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Merrily I (try to) roll along

My postings have been slow to come these days, as the ideas have been dry and my time has been taken up with dramas, work and social activities lately. The drama is not really that dramatic, just some unusual things happening with a few friends. One friend was hospitalized with a case of nerve damage in her hand and arm - it happened while she was enroute on a plane from LA to Philly. Liz and I had to go to the airport to retrieve her luggage while she was whisked off the plane and taken to the hospital. I spent a few hours in the ER with the friend, and then took a taxi to her house to get her settled. Said friend is mostly and hopefully fine, but it was a late night out with lots of text messages and errands for a few days. Another friend is staying with us for a while; Liz and I are playing mother hen's to our wayward "baby" chick, helping her to find her wings and her own nest in which to roost. We've been going out and about, hanging out with friends, hitting a few holiday parties and soirées, and enjoying a few cocktails. Then there's the extra shifts I've been working at Williams-Sonoma and a few catering, cooking and mitzvah things I'm doing here there and everywhere. Cooking for City Food Tours Holiday Party and making a meal for Winter shelter at 22nd and Spruce Street. As for ideas for the blog, I am low in the reserves of inspiration or recipes to share. Yikes.

Of course, there are a few topics I want to explore, one of which is about biking. As it is now winter, in all of its cold and dreariness, I find I am not biking much at all, other than my daily commute to work. Between the cold, wind, early darkness and my lack of free time, I don't have the inclination to bike much these days. I rode the clunky beach cruiser on Saturday around town, to do errands and then took an impromptu ride around the River Drives with Susan Hill. Not my first choice of biking "vehicles", but it's what I had to ride and we had the time and energy. I'm sure I looked a sight moseying up Kelly Drive, huffing and puffing my way on a one speed clunker. I felt like it was my first time biking, sort of like how I felt riding a year or so ago, not sure if I had the stamina to make it up one side of the river. It was more to do with the heaviness of the bike and not my ass this time and the cold wind blowing into my face more than my lung capacity. It was a good ride and made me realize that while biking more than 10 miles on the cruiser isn't ideal, I can do it. I also found that without a strong wind, riding in the winter isn't so bad. What I also discovered, which is more interesting to me, is that when I bike with someone else, especially my close riding partners, like Susan Hill and Sue S., I feel a profound connection with them. I wonder if other cyclists feel this? The right and left brain engagement, the moving forward and sharing a communal act of biking. Taking in the scenery and witnessing the changing seasons, morning sun rises and the light at dusk. You are free to allow your brain to either free associate and feel the stresses and tensions fall away, opening yourself up to being uninhibited and unencumbered by social constraints. The thoughts and conversation flow effortlessly. My riding partners and I have had some of our best conversations while biking. The same is true about people I've only just met while riding, like Jim, Itza, and Susan Brooks, folks with whom I met while on a long bike trek.

The physical motion of propelling yourself forward allows my mind just goes into some happy groove, an exercise induced euphoria that makes me feel free and light. When I bike with my friends the connection we share makes me feel a part of something greater.



I've also noticed this happy groove when I cook. There's something about the repetitive motions of cutting and chopping, of finding the culinary rhythm of prep work. I'd forgotten about this feeling and then, last night, I rediscovered it during my Mitzvah Cooking project for Winter Shelter. We prepared over 10 quarts of hearty Lentil Vegetable and Kale Soup and 5 half hotel pans of baked ziti with vegetables and mozzarella cheese. For the first hour or so, I was alone in the BZBI kitchen, working in silence and organizing myself. There was a moment when I thought I would be completely alone cooking this massive amount of food, but instead of getting panicked and overwhelmed, I felt at ease. Cooking on a mass scale is easy for me having worked at Whole Foods and other large catering venues. Anyway, I felt in charge and content. The calm paid off; two volunteer assistants came about an hour later and we worked as a small team cranking out the food in record time - 2 hours!


There are studies, books and theories abound regarding feelings of happiness and contentedness that develop in us when we volunteer or do altruistic deeds. Nice to know that biking, cooking, exercising and volunteering have been a part of my over-all wellbeing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Beckoning of Lovely

Several years ago, Liz gave me a book for my 38th birthday, called, An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It is a magnificent book of happiness and kindness, a book chronicling the life of the author, in encyclopedia format. I found myself instantly smitten with this tome and vowed to share it with as many people as I could. I did share this book for a while. This book moved me in so many positive ways that I wrote to the author one night. It was spur of the moment extemporaneous writing, that I just "put out there." To my surprise, I received a lovely reply from Ms. Rosenthal. As a further surprise, I was asked to forward to friends information about An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and the website. In return, I was given an autographed copy of the book. Three years have passed since I first read or even thought about the book. Then, as peculiar things often happen to me, I thought about re-reading the book and touching base with the specialness inside its pages. I thought about Amy Krouse Rosenthal and wondered what was happening in her writer's world. Her book inspired me years ago and I find that I am in need of fresh inspiration. Lo, a sign appeared to me today - an email from her! Ms. A. K. Rosenthal has been a busy lady over the past three years, raising a family, writing other books, making video projects and creating mass happening collaborative art projects with the world. Once more I feel compelled to share her vision and art.
Her email to me, and I'm sure others on her list, asked us to check out her latest creation, a short, 7 minute, YouTube video project called, The Beckoning of Lovely. I encourage all of you to watch this short, and then to look at other videos she has made. If this doesn't move you, I don't know what will. If you like what you see, and I think many of you will thoroughly enjoy this happening, then you should also check out her website: http://whoisamy.wordpress.com/ or her website about the book that brought so much pleasure to my life:
Beckoning the Lovely, on YouTube http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=0QVQSZA9zSk
Here is the email I received today from AKR:
Hello You
As a person who has at one time or another expressed interest in my work and/or sent me a nice note (and by the way, thank you again for that), I am operating under the assumption that you might want to know about "The Beckoning of Lovely." What is "The Beckoning of Lovely" you ask? It is a short film (and by short, I mean like 7 minutes). It's about creating and collaborating and writing and music and art and life and exploring the unknown and interacting with the universe and splashing in fountains.So now, if you will please drop everything you were doing and watch this...:)"The Beckoning of Lovely" http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=0QVQSZA9zSk

Since it launched a couple months ago, a lot has happened...And that in turn led to the next phase of the project (but don't watch this til you've seen the first part). This part is titled "Invitation to the Universe."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtNGmXkQQpA


Finally, if you go to http://www.whoisamy.wordpress.com/ you can read about the team I'm assembling to help make the final feature film -- 14 key positions in all -- and the weird happy bit of synchronicity having to do with Obama's first 100 days in office.Maybe you'll submit your own lovely thing?Maybe you'll apply for a key position?Maybe you'll just watch and (I can only hope) not regret having done so.Thanks for reaching out to me when you did...Be well.
amy krouse rosenthal

Here is the email I sent over three years ago. To get the references about which I write in my letter, you really must read the book; they will make so much more sense!

Dear Ms. Rosenthal,
I received your book as a gift, for my 38th birthday. My day was last week, 3/3. Like you, I really feel that the date fits me well. I like the doubleness of the threes. On March 3, 2003 - our local daily newspaper's cover story was 03/03/03 - as if though it were some sort of supernatural event. This, coming from a paper that only cares about our corrupt politicians (we have many) or the Eagles football team (they've been letting us down for years).
Just about everything in your book gives me an "AHA - YES!" moment. And while this is completely corny, it is true - I've never, as far as I can remember, written to an author before. I've wished that I had. I regret never writing to Helene Hanff, author of 84, Charring Cross Road. She inspired me to read, learn more and of course, desire more than ever to go to England. Which I did do eventually, and visited the famed spot of her beloved bookshop. Sadly, it is now a Pizza Hut. Damn American Corporations! They're everywhere. - Oh, yes, as I was saying - I think about writing people who make me happy, or inspired or those who's work has affected me. My intentions are always so much bigger in the middle of the night. Like now, except I am writing to you. Email is so immediate.
I've been laughing out loud on public transportation while I've been reading your book. I've been smiling a lot more - and I'm a smiling kind of person, trust me, it's a lot. I keep thinking about the people I know who have to read your book. My friend Maureen, who just had her second baby, when she gets a spare moment has to read it. Rachel, my best friend of 20 years, who recently moved to Arizona. My girlfriend, Liz, who gave me the book, has been sneaking entries when I'm not reading it. This book is clever, real, touching, and absolutely connecting.
Tonight I was on the subway, on my way home from work and I was listening to the compilation I made on the ipod - and thinking about the mix tapes I used to make. I keep laughing when I remember your mix tape reference - it's so true. I read about the purple flower moment and kept thinking - what's my moment? Everything felt so contrived though - like it wasn't just a just, but rather a "had to be". So I let it go.
Came in the door, brought in the mail, trash cans and papers. Walked the dog. Opened the mail. And then, there it was - a chain letter! I haven't seen one of those in over 15 years. Chain email, daily. But not an actual chain letter mailed to my home. Of course, it wasn't addressed directly to me, but rather another name and/or current resident. 3 pages long. Testament to how we could make over $800,000. Just send a dollar to the 6 people listed. Make 200 copies. Blah blah blah. The crazy thing is, when I read your entry about chain letters, I thought about the time when I would get them all the time at my first job. How when I would try to send them back to the P.O. Box or have the mail carrier take them back or send them to the correct address, they would just keep returning to me. Oye, the dread I would feel throwing them away. Eventually I got over it and chain letters stopped arriving. Until now.
Well, I am enjoying your book and bits I've discovered on the website. If I didn't love the book so much, I might feel compelled to leave it somewhere for someone else to discover. Maybe I'll just leave spare change with a note saying put the money towards buying this great book.
Many thanks for all the good reading.
Sincerely,
Denine R. Gorniak
Philadelphia
P.S. Where does one find your signature fragrance?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Apple, Orange Gingered Cranberry Compote

As it is almost Thanksgiving, I feel as though I must offer a few recipes for the season. I still cook the entire feast, even though the past few years it's only been the two of us at dinner. Last year, I made the whole meal healthy - cutting out a lot of fat, sugar, and the bad stuff, but keeping all the flavors intact. It was one of my finer meals of the year. The left-overs were spectacular. Which is the real reason why I even cook the entire meal. I love left-overs, the turkey sandwiches with coleslaw and dressing. Pumpkin pie with a dollop of cranberry sauce as a sweet/sour accompaniment; reheated and re-crisped stuffing. It's all good to me for about 3 more days. By Monday, there's usually little remaining, just in the nick of time, as I'm about done with the carb overload and the stale taste of 3-4 days old turkey.

As for today's recipe offering, here's my version of a cranberry compote or sauce. Cranberry sauce is so easy to make, almost as easy as opening that can of jellied ring-lined sauce that tastes of tin. MMM, Yum! I like the Williams-Sonoma version of Apple-Orange Cranberry Relish, and I have a nice recipe for Cranberry and Ginger Chutney, but I wanted something homemade a bit simpler for my holiday table this year. Herewith I give you my Apple-Orange Gingered Cranberry Compote - a sweet and sour study in color and taste sensations.

Ingredients:
  • 2 Apples, such as Gala or Golden Delicious - Peeled, Seeded & Cut into Medium 1-inch Dice
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider (unfiltered, like Ziegler's)
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • Segments and Juice of 1 Orange (cut away the pith and segment the orange slices)
  • 1/2 Cup White Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Bag Fresh Cranberries - rinsed and picked over
  • 2 to 3 pieces of Candied Ginger (about 1 tablespoon's worth) - minced or finely diced

Directions:
  1. In a medium, non-reactive sauce pot, add the cut apples and the apple cider and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the orange zest, orange segments and orange juice.
  3. Add in the sugar and the cranberries and stir to combine.
  4. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture and keep a close watch on the mixture as the cranberries begin to pop and cook.
  5. Once the cranberries begin to cook and break down, reduce the heat to a simmer.
  6. Add in the minced candied ginger pieces.
  7. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool in the pot. The mixture should thicken and firm up as the natural fruit pectin's in the apples and cranberries will cause it to gel.
  8. Refrigerate and cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container for up to 1 week. Makes about 4 cups of compote.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ceci with Cauliflower, Spinach and Pumpkin Pesto

Because I work at a conservative synagogue, I am forced to "keep it kosher." This can be a real problem for a pork chop loving, shrimp snacking, steak loving carnivore. I know, going vegetarian is healthier and more economical but it's just not going to happen for me at this stage of my life. I won't say never, but I don't see how I can stop the chicken and turkey cravings I have. I love my tofu and have developed an awesome tofu chicken salad dish that is completely vegan, but I want my protein sources from fish, fowl and land roving grazers. However, there is only so much tuna fish I can and should eat even though I eat tuna sans the Hellman's. As for Salmon, it's becoming a fishing liability and the really good wild caught Pacific Salmon is too expensive for my budget. So I make my garden vegetable cakes, bibbity bobbity boo aka Bibimbop and other stir fries, salads, and other vegetable medleys to take to work every day. These meals do get boring after a while and I have to keep the starches and carbs in check too. As I am still going strong on the Weight Watchers treadmill, I try to keep my rice, pasta and potato intake to once a day, which is also difficult. Ah, the life of a non-kosher gay goy on a diet working at a synagogue. Meal time is tricky. Hence, a reason to celebrate my latest creation! Ceci, or Garbanzo or Chick Peas with Cauliflower, Spinach and Pumpkin Pesto over Brown Rice. Another inspired meal from several sources revised as one of my own lightened, healthier and vegetarian versions. I have taken a big short-cut though, the Pumpkin Pesto is from Stonewall Kitchens; makers of fantastic prepared products. Jams, syrups, pestos, and other culinary delights in jars. Liz and I found Pumpkin Pesto when we were at the shore this past summer in a little gourmet kitchen shop down in Cape May, New Jersey. I'd make my own, and would love to do so, but this was handy and so I used the prepared version instead. Some of the ingredients listed in the pesto are: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Sugar, Balsamic Vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Parmesan Cheese. It was a bit on the sweet side. If I made it myself, I'd cut out the brown sugar. Anyway, here's the quick rundown on this recipe:

Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion - small to medium Dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 1 Can (about 14-16 ounces) Ceci Beans - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Cups Cauliflower Florets
  • 1 Cup Frozen Spinach
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Pesto (such as Stonewall Kitchens brand)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice - for serving

    Directions:
    1. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
    2. Add in the diced onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, until the onion turns translucent and begins to take on a golden color.
    3. Add in the minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.
    4. Add in the red pepper flakes and the Italian Seasonings, stir to combine.
    5. Pour in the white wine and reduce the liquid until only a few tablespoons remain, about 6 minutes.
    6. Add in the drained and rinsed ceci beans and stir well to combine. Cook the cecis in the onion/garlic mixture for about 5 minutes.
    7. Add in the cauliflower florets and the frozen spinach. Saute until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes; the spinach will defrost and cook down very quickly as the cauliflower is cooking, and will release additional liquid.
    8. Stir in the pumpkin pesto.Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground pepper.
    9. Serve hot over cooked brown rice. Makes 4 Servings as a side dish, or 2 servings as a main course.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Tagnabbit! Seeing your friends in a whole new way.

    I received a "TAG" notification today from my friend, Maren, who has a blog called: SuperMaren. The gist of being tagged is to write a few facts about yourself, tag some friends who have blogs or sights of interest, and get others to 1) have a post to read, 2) have another blog to read and check out 3) leave something like a comment behind to let you know they stopped by and checked out your page. Sounds easy enough. Plus, like my friend Maren said in her last post, it's fodder for blogging. I've been trying to think of things to write about that feel worth reading. There are thoughts in the old noggin, but nothing that I can really dig into or feel like sharing. Some topics are verboten and other things are just too stupid to get into. It's been too cold to bike and I haven't cooked up anything of note to recipe share. Yikes! I sound depressed and while I'm not 100% sunshine and daisies, I'm not that out of sorts. Busy, working too much, and trying to keep working out at the gym. Aside from divining my "Striper Name" - which I will share as well, I don't have a heck of a lot to post. Hopefully these two diversions will suffice and give you all something to help waste a few moments of your day.


    "The Game of Blog Tag" Here are the rules:

    1. Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
    2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
    3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
    4. Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

    Seven odd, random or little known facts I am choosing for your reading pleasure:

    1. I have been riding a bike since I was about 5 years old. I can remember the first bike I rode - a teal coloured Schwinn with one of those "gas tank" metal pieces that was in the mid section of the bike. A neighbor from down the way taught me how to ride a bike, and turned up my training wheels. Once I learned to ride, it was all I ever wanted to do. I can remember "borrowing" a bike from a neighborhood kid who live next door to one of my grandparents. I would take the bike whenever I could so I could ride it. Borrowing became a problem. I wouldn't give the bike back. To this day, the sight of an old black cruiser gives me a thrill!
    2. My first cooking memory is of trying to cook bacon - when I was about 9 years old. I did not understand how you got the "grease" or oil in the pan. I didn't realize that the bacon made the grease. I poured cooking oil into the pan and then fried the bacon in that. It was messy and probably tasted awful. There haven't been too many culinary failures in the intervening 32 years or so, but...I'm sure Liz can tell a tale or two about some mishaps.
    3. I've always been the party hostess. As I write this, I realize I had an exciting childhood that is completely unknown to my mother - who for those who know me well, this comes as no surprise. I would often do things, have adventures or friends about whom or which my mother had no idea. Ah! A theme is becoming apparent. I remember when I was 7 or 8 throwing a Halloween party for my neighborhood friends in my little sleepy borough of Aldan, PA. The lady who became my adopted grandmother, Mrs. Rhoads, aka Nana Rhoads, set us up outside with treats and stuff. Another neighbor melted caramels for us to make caramel apples. I think I made treat bags, and I made all my little friends wear their Halloween Costumes. Parties, events, dinners have always been a part of my repertoire. Events with themes, costumes and appropriate decor is my speciality.
    4. My first memory is of climbing out of my crib to get our cat, George. The visual images are a bit vague but this act is totally in line with my personality. I'm sure the cat scratched the heck out of me. And how I did not fall and break my head is one of those mysteries that will go on unexplained. If ever I believed in guardian angels, it is through little stories like this one that make me believe I definitely had someone looking out for me.
    5. I had my first serious crush on a girl when I was 12. It was my schoolmate, a total bitch who was the queen of the cliques. She had all of us wrapped around her proverbial little finger. This gal was smart, sexy and conniving. She had gorgeous auburn hair, tawny colored eyes and an unusual but interesting nose. We were "frienemies" long before Paris and Nicole were born. I often felt inferior to her, as did a lot of the girls who circulated her orbit. Once we broke free of Junior High and escaped the petty mundane idiocy of the 13 to 14 year old set, I found myself and was no longer one of her slaves. My high school years were really happy and liberating. Hers, I heard through the gossip lines, wasn't so great. She got pregnant before she was 18, and whatever potential she showed at 12 to 14 was sadly wasted. Not because she had a kid before she graduated high school, but due to some other issues, like drinking and doing drugs. Thankfully, my taste in women has improved tremendously since then. Though I do still love the redheads and women with interesting noses. Liz - wanna dye your hair for me?! Haha!
    6. I hate leaving dishes in the sink or doors, drawers or closets open. I cannot go to sleep knowing there are dirty dishes to be washed, or if the closet door is open in our bedroom. Liz and I have a an evening ritual, which we laugh about daily, on how I have to make sure the closet is closed all the way or else I can't sleep. There's also this whole thing I do with putting on hand lotion and lip balm each night, pulling salves, balms and ointments out of my "apothecary" drawer in my bedside table (which must be closed too!) I'm a lucky gal to have Liz put up with my quirks.
    7. I believe that if you are lucky and stay true to your self, that the person you were at age 5 is the person you will always be. My friend Barbra Katus once told me this and I think it's true. I hope that that crazy bicycle riding party hostess I was and am will always remaining a firm part of my identity.

    Whew! I sure did have a lot to say. Now it's the turn of the following fellow bloggers to write a few words. Remember to check out these blogs that I enjoy. At present, it's only 5. I'm working on finding a few more to tag.

    1. Aimee, Ben and the Sheaffer Twins
    2. All about Triplets - The Peapod Squad (this is a friend of Liz's)
    3. Kate C - and her Japanese Adventure - Paper Flowers
    4. Bikes and Beer - Beer by Bicycle
    5. Rabbi Stone and his bicycle musings

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Looking for a Sign



    The last impression I gave about my state of being from the previous post is that I'm feeling not so great about myself these days. This is sort of true. Going through body-identity issues and having to rethink my weight loss goals and place. It's funny, when I was fat, I never saw myself as such. Now that I am slim, svelte, in shape, with muscles, almost "skinny", I don't know how to view myself. Instead I fixate on the new wrinkles on my face,under my chin and on my neck. I see the flabby mid-section, the start of the dreaded dangling bubby arms. Ahck! It's to be expected at my age and other than working out and keeping it all at bay, there isn't much any of us can do sans surgery to prevent the body from slipping and falling and letting gravity do its thing. Apropos of these feelings, I was on the train last night, heading out to my therapist for my emotional "tune-up". Among the signs posted on the R5 Septa train was a sticker pasted over the sign that reminds one to take all trash, litter and stuff with you to discard it properly. Perfectly positioned, looking as official as the sign on which it was placed was the sticker you see in my above photo. If ever there was a sign for me, this was it. "You are beautiful". Simple, thoughtful and uplifting. All it cost me was the price of the train ticket (and a hefty fee to my therapist!)

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    I Feel GREAT!

    Moyamensing Avenue June 22 #3
    Moyamensing Avenue June 22 #3,
    originally uploaded by neenyd03.
    Well, actually, I've been feeling myself mood swinging in the past few weeks. I feel great today because I've been asked for permission to have this photo used in a book project.
    called, We Feel Fine. Check out this amazing website - WeFeelFine.org The request came via my photo host sight at Flickr. It's an interesting project and an amazing sight that collects data from the Internet and blogs in relation to feelings. It's hard to describe - but from what I've read, data is collected every minute looking for the phrases "I feel" or "I am feeling". While my photo does not exactly invoke a feeling or emotion, I do remember or "feel" that I was in a time and place that was far removed from my actual location. I thought the area and the lighting, the buildings and the way the sky and clouds looked reminded me of Europe or the Midwest.

    As for my photo being used, anytime that I get recognition for one of my photos is cause for me to celebrate and feel good about my photo hobby. This particular photo isn't one of my most favorites, but the series of photos it is from is. I remember the day so well because it was one of those perfect Summer days when the sky is so optimistically blue, the clouds look like happy cotton puffs and the air is clear and clean. Makes one feel anything is possible. As for my general moodiness of late, I do think it's related to the weather here in Philadelphia this past week - rainy and dreary, as well as to my weight loss state/stasis.
    In general, I've been struggling to move past this plateau I am at again. Can't quite get to my next goal number. I know I've made great progress but it just never feels like enough. It's not good enough that I've lost close to 65 pounds, I haven't lost that next 5, 10 and 15. I also have not been riding or heading to the gym nearly as much as I was in the summer or in September. This past week's been better - rode twice, went to yoga, I even ran and lifted weights! Geesh, I am turning into one of those weight and look obsessed woman who can't be satisfied with my weight loss accomplishments. No, I'm not becoming anorexic or bulimic (the bulimia phase I went through at age 16 is thankfully long over). As great as the Weight Watchers program is, I do find it a bit frustrating that the program is all about reaching your "goal weight" which is the weight one should be based on height and age. I don't know that I will ever truly be between 117 and 146 pounds. The lower end of those numbers sounds skeletal scary to me for my medium boned frame. 146 just seems impossible to reach, not as impossible as it did 63.8 / 65 pounds ago, but hard to reach. I wanted to get to 150 pounds, and/or to lose 75 pounds in order to get my next "weight charm". I will continue to work towards that number, but I have to say, it's freaking hard. Anyway, I will continue to stick with my program and work on new exercise goals. I need to train for another triathlon and a series of bike races. The goals for the Summer of 2008 were definite motivators for me and gave me a structure that helped with the weight loss and reshaping my body. Does anyone out here have any advice? Can you identify? Leave me a comment. I'm curious to know what you all might think.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Mostly Martha







    I am a huge fan of Martha Stewart. Say what you want, love her or hate her, she is an inspiration. She's a great business role model (albeit one who has served her fair share of "time"); her company has great products and books; and her magazine is one of my constant resources for recipes, research, decorating and collecting ideas. This past Friday, November 7th, she came to the Williams-Sonoma store where I work. Martha has a new cookbook, Martha's Cooking School, that was just published. Our store was lucky to be her only Philadelphia book signing. It's rare, positively unheard of, for our store to land any celebrity cook book authors or chef's, let alone the queen bee of them all! There was a lot of planning, staffing, cooking and cleaning that happened in the weeks and days before her visit. The managers and assistant managers worked themselves to death to get everything ready for this book signing and their hard work paid off. Our store had an amazing event. We had Restaurant IXI giving out food; our resident chef, Margaret, made gallons of Martha Stewart's Tomato Soup and about a thousand chocolate chip ginger cookies. We made turkey stuffing and gravy, showcased in Calphalon chaffers. Staffers demonstrated knives and other equipment. Just about every staff person who works in our store, as well as several from other stores was on hand working. We were packed full with hundreds of customers, photographers and Williams-Sonoma corporate managers. It was like an elegant expo. I was asked to demonstrate the Breville Panini maker, and make turkey cranberry paninis for over 400 people! Mind you, it was just a taste, so I did not have to make 400 sandwiches! I think I made about 60, and cut them into small bite sized pieces. They were a hit! What was basically a "white-trash" sandwich became elevated to a whole new level! It was a slice pf whole wheat bread on one side and a slice of potato bread on the other - slathered with butter on the outside; I put Dijon mustard on the whole wheat, then a layer cheddar cheese, luncheon turkey meat, more cheese, and spread Williams-Sonoma Apple Orange Cranberry Relish on the potato bread slice; then onto the panini grill! People were losing their minds over these little sandwiches. I couldn't believe it. The soup, cookies, stuffing and offerings from Restaurant IXI were all scarfed up so fast, it was as though the customers came to our store starved and looking for their last meal. The evening's event ran smoothly and was a success. And Martha - she was so gracious. She came in at ten to five, went up to our offices, and was downstairs at 5 pm to start the book signing. In two hours, she must have signed over 500 books! At precisely 7 pm, she was finished; said a few words to the staff and remaining customers, and promptly left our store to head upstairs to Restaurant IXI for dinner. Luckily I was done making panini, so I was able to be at the end of the "receiving" line as she left the store. I felt like I was seeing the queen! Unlike the day when I saw Pat Burrell (The World Series Champion Phillies Right Fielder!), I was able to keep my composure and say something intelligent - basically thanking her for visiting. My big moment! Actually, it was just fantastic to be a part of the whole evening's event, and to snap a few photos, and get a signed book. Not that I can now die happy, the Phillies winning the World Series and Barack Obama winning the election made that possible, but Friday night's event was a definite event high light of my culinary life.

    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    The World is Ours



    The above photo is at the top of a new condo being built at 18th & Walnut Streets. Below is a photo from the polling results from one voting machine as posted at 18th & Spruce Street. The building where I work is used for a voting place. The election results were posted, I guess, as part of the official tally process. When I came to work on Wednesday morning, the sign was up with the printed results for each one of the 6 machines that were used on Tuesday. What a great sign. As we all know, it has been a truly historic week for the United States. I kept saying if the Phillies could win the world series, then anything is possible. While I am only in my 40's, I truly thought that this country would not get its act together to make Obama's historic win happen. Change may be slow to happen, but when it does, more quickly follows. Amen to the end of the Bush era; Amen to the end of the losing drought in Phillies baseball; and AMEN to Barack Obama winning the election.

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    World Champions!






    video

    With all the media coverage of the Phillies World Series Win of 2008, there's not much need for me to recap what happened. The Drought is Over! No more Reign Delay! WE WIN! As to be expected, South Philly erupted into a frenzy all along Broad Street. I've nearly lost my voice from yelling and screaming and running around in the cold, cheering along with thousands of other crazed Phans. It was an amazing fun time, and the amount of people swarming along Broad Street, surfing on the tops of cars, climbing light poles and otherwise dancing in the streets was a sight to behold. Back in 1980, I was all of 13, too young and not living in South Philly to enjoy the impromptu parade. In 1993, the Phillies didn't clinch the title, so our parade was delayed for the next 15 years. I had to experience the rush first hand. My neighbors, Fabrizio and Michele, their dog, Esmeralda, and I headed up to Broad and Mifflin. Later, Liz met up with us and the four of us watched in amazement and bit of shock as people packed cars 10 or more full, spilling out of windows and doors. Some sights were funny, others were scary, such as watching young kids stomp on top of cars and on occasion, break car windows. We witnessed people climbing onto the backs of pick-up trucks, dragging down the back of the cab. A flat-bed tow truck had the misfortune to get stopped at Broad and Mifflin; within seconds, people were flying onto the back of it, turning it's empty cargo area into a silver surfing platform. Stilt walkers, giant billboard sized Phillies "P", a man in Joe Biden Mask; Silly String squirting all over. It felt like New Years' Rockin' Eve! I can only imagine what the real parade will be like on Friday. Until then, enjoy the photos and video. I'm sure I'll have more to come!

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Halloween Cakes



    Allow me a cooking diversion, to clear my mind from baseball and foul weather. Tis the season for Halloween goodies. Found this fun silicone mold at the cookware store mecca - Williams-Sonoma; six decent sized cakelets, 3 pumpkins, a ghost, a bat and a witch. If you haven't used silicone bake ware you have to try it out. Incredible details, quick release and easy to use. And this one is a Halloween theme, my favorite holiday. The cakes, quick breads really, were from a mix that is sold at Williams-Sonoma, Chocolate Peanut butter Quick Bread. I'm not much for baking from scratch, as much as I love my desserts, baking is not my thing. There are so many good bakeries around where I can just find something good, why bother to bake? Of course, there is that thing called trans fats to avoid, excess sugars, highly saturated processed goodies. To combat these devilish side effects, I've devised a way to make a box mix, even a good mix, even better and good for you. If you find yourself wandering around Williams-Sonoma pick up a package of this mix. It's not cheap, $10.50 for a package, good thing I have a discount, but well worth the splurge. To make the mix low/non-fat here's what I did:

    Replace the 1 Stick of Butter with one 5 to 6 ounce container of non-fat plain Greek Style-Strained Yogurt(Fage pronounced Fae eh; Oikos,Chobani, or Trader Joe's Greek Style)
    Replace the 2 eggs with either 1 whole egg and 1 egg white or 1/2 cup of Egg Beaters/Egg White Substitute
    Replace the 3/4 Cup Water with 1/2 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee (it makes the chocolate taste more chocolatey)
    Bake - 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan and testing to see if the cakes are done.

    Note - the mix only works as a loaf bread or in the silicone molds. I've tried them in mini and regular sized muffin cups. The peanut butter chips sink to the bottom and caramelize, making it impossible to get the cupcakes out in one piece.

    This recipe adaptation is a good way to reduce the calories and fat in any box mix. Substitute the oil and butter with either 1/4 cup or up to 6 ounces of unsweetened applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I love to switch out the liquid with coffee, juice or booze (sweeter liquors work best); as for the eggs, I don't get crazy with removing all the yolks, but I do like to eliminate some and just use egg whites. Every little bit helps. Almost makes your semi-homemade desserts not so sinful.

    Go Phillies!

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Baseball, Interupted

    Bud Selig has to be the worse thing that has ever happened to baseball. He is a despicable excuse of a human being and a terrible baseball commissioner. As Angelo Cataldi said today on the WIP morning sports show, Bud Selig has ruined baseball. The only other person who has wrecked such damage on the American psyche and spirit - George W. Who, by the way, had he been picked to be the baseball commissioner when he was involved with the Texas Rangers would have surely wrought havoc on our greatest national past-time sport, but possibly we could have avoided the havoc and hostility he caused to the entire United States. I guess you can figure out, I am royally pissed today, along with the rest of Philadelphia and Phillies Phans. We've been momentarily cheated of our place in baseball history. Along with the cold and rain, there is nothing more depressing than a major event interrupted at an inopportune time. Mitch Williams - "WILD THING" was jawing off this morning about the unfairness of Cole Hamels (the phenomenal dreamy Phillies pitcher) having to pitch the top of the 6th inning in adverse nasty conditions; our outfielders having to stand in mud and rain puddles; yet the cry-baby Tampa Bay Rays didn't have to face these conditions when it was the Phillies time at bat. I quite agree. BOO Bloody BOOHOOHOO. Oh, the Phillies Fans are too tough and rough on the Rays' Fans. Oooh, the fans are making it tough on the Rays' baseball players. The fans behavior and loudness is hurting their confidence and ability to play. Cry me a river. What the heck did the Rays think they would be facing? Nuns? Saints? Deaf Mutes? What would have happened had they played the Mets? Think the Philadelphia fans are crazy, try any other sports intense city. Look at Boston - Red Sox Nation is horrid. I know first hand, having sat in an area that became a mini-Red Sox Nation at Citizens's Bank Ballpark several years ago when the Sox played against the Phils. Those fans out screamed, out yelled and out misbehaved all the Phillies fans in the Cit that night. Tampa Bay - your team is young. Grow up.
    Good going MLB and Mr. Selig. Keep on chasing that mighty dollar. If you haven't nearly ruined baseball with the steroid crisis, the strike of 1994, surely you are doing your part to rain on the Phillies Parade of 2008. Baby, we're not dead yet. We've still go a lot of Fightin' left in us. Go PHILS!

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Spreading the Phillies Love

    I have been so busy, too busy in fact, to really devote thoughts and time to writing. Work at the Shul has been odd due to the month of High Holidays. Working at Williams-Sonoma, one or two shifts a week, and getting in a few tours here and there with City Food Tours, as well as studying and practicing my tour materials. Not much time left over for feeling inspired to write, recipe develop or even bike much for that matter! Frankly, I've been feeling bereft of ideas and inspirations, I've been in a definite low-grade funk lately which has not been aided by my lack of work outs, biking and exercise in general. I realize now that I've become slightly addicted to exercise. There could be worse things to get addicted to, food, drugs, booze, baseball. Oh, wait, I am addicted to baseball! The Phillies! How great have these series play-offs been? Fantastic! Last night, for game 4, you could hear the roar of the crowd at Citizens Bank Ballpark all the way in our neighborhood, nearly 2 miles away! It was a still night, with the winds most likely blowing northwest out of the ballpark. Every time a great pitch, hit or play was made, the uproar and cheers would carry down 9th and 10th Streets into the heart of South Philly. It was amazing to hear, made it feel like we were at the ballgame. I hope my next entry will be about the madness and parties I'll see tonight after the big win. In the meantime, here are a few inspiring sights of Phillies love I've spied around the neighborhood and city.



    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Biketoberfest 2008: Drive 1st, Drink Later

    What a fine way to spend a sunny and chilly Sunday afternoon. Sue S. - my biking partner and now, Driving Instructor, and I went to the Bicycle Coalitions Biketoberfest 2008 event at Dock Street Brewery, 51st and Baltimore Avenue. Earlier in the day, Sue came to pick me up and to take me for some driving lessons at an empty parking lot area down around Columbus Boulevard aka Delaware Avenue. We - I, drove through the parking lot and then we actually went onto a service road that runs parallel to Delaware Avenue near Oregon Avenue. For those of you who are unaware, I don't drive. I have never driven! I don't have a driver's license, yet, and have for all of my adult life, been scared to learn and in the ensuing years, I have built up a major amount of neurosis around driving. I've got to hand it to Sue, she not only pushed me on the why's of why I don't drive, but pursued the question to the point of just saying, we're doing it. Which made the first lesson a good one. Without having to wait for me to make a decision, the choice was just put forward to me. It helped a lot since I tend to do what I do best, procrastinate and do nothing.

    Our first lesson went well. I figured out how to start and stop, turn and sort of park. We picked up some speed and I felt more comfortable with the car in general as our lesson progressed. I just have to figure out how to become "one with the vehicle", which unlike riding a bike, I don't know how this happens. The bicycle becomes an immediate extension of my body. A car is huge and it surrounds you. I'm not quite sure how you figure out how to drive, be aware of your surroundings and not freak out at the cars turning and stopping around you, but I guess I'll get it eventually. Everyone keeps telling me if I can ride my bike in traffic, I can drive. I hope!

    After our lesson, Sue drove us up to the Bicycle Coalition's Biketoberfest celebration. We hung out at Dock Street Brewery for a few hours, and I enjoyed a few pints of Pumpkin Ale, brats and pizza. Since Sue was the designated driver, she slowly sipped one ale. A roaming photographer snapped a bunch of photos of the event, and lo and behold, Sue and I appeared in a few. Alex Doty of the Bike Coalition is talking to us, asking if we would like to buy a raffle ticket to win a new bike. It looked like a nice bike, but as neither of us needs another bike, we passed on the raffle. Now if it had been a mountain bike or cross-breed, I might have purchased a chance to win it. For $5 to $20, who could argue with another bicycle purchase? From the photos put up online at the Philly Bike Coalition's Flickr page, it looks like the right person won the Lager Bike raffle. Besides, I had too many beers to drink to allow any more driving of any sort - cars or bikes.

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    On the Road to the World Series!

    In case you have been in a coma or living in a cave with a terrorist named Osama Bin Laden, The Phillies clinched the Pennant last night to win the National League Division Title for the Best Team in the National League for 2008! Yeah! Thank You Phillies! Now we head into the World Series, but first there is a bit of celebrating to do. I was at Misconduct Tavern, a bar at 15th & Locust Street last night, watching the final innings of Game 5 vs the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the most exciting shared communal television view experience as any I can remember. Certainly lightens my memories of other news worthy television events that I've witnessed in my lifetime - The Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill trial and the infamous OJ Simpson Trial. The Phillies win is the highlight of the low lights of being with strangers on the street all watching in anticipation the outcome of a major, almost life altering event. Strange that these are the tv memories I have, but there they are. Glad that the Phillies are on the positive side. Here are some of the sights and fans of the winning final inning.

    Waiting for the final pitch and catch of Game 5.
    This is our friend, Colleen applauding a great final inning.
    Fans cheering Ruiz's awesome catch to win the game.
    Group Hugs are about to ensue!

    Fightin' Phils rally towel as a shirt.
    The parking lot might be full, but the phans are hungry for a win!
    Signs of the Season are everywhere! Halloween, Phillies and Obama - Perfect Together!

    Wednesday, October 15, 2008

    Gingered Carrot and Pumpkin Soup


    Soup Season is here, or it ought to be. The topic of conversation at my weekly Weight Watchers meetings has been about how we have 12 weeks remaining for the year. 12 weeks can you believe it? Our leader discussed ways to realize our goals and dreams and remake ourselves over in the next 12 weeks. Soup is a part of the 12 week/12 step program. Go figure. It was the first topic covered last week and is one of the smarter food choices you can make when trying to lose weight. The idea is that soup is nourishing, filling and should be full of low-point and good for you vegetables. Like the ad states, Soup is Good Food.

    I very much enjoy making soup but I don't enjoy eating it nearly as much. It's a mental/stomach thing. I love the way I can make a lot of soup from few ingredients. I love that I can pack in tons of flavors with minimal effort. When I worked at the mostly vegetarian restaurant at the Reading Terminal Market, soups were our main menu items. I was the soup queen when I worked at Whole Foods Market, making stocks from the hundreds of rotisserie chicken carcasses and creating good food from almost nothing. Soup appeals to the frugal side of my soul. However, I haven't always been satisfied with eating soup because as an over-eater, I often find myself wanting a more hearty meal. Loads of bread, sandwiches, a fat-laden meat and potatoes kind of meal. 65 pounds ago (yep, it's official, I've now lost 65 pounds), I liked soup, but it was not my first meal choice. Now I see the error of my ways. Start off with a vegetable based soup and you may find that you will eat less, or at least eat the rest of your meal slower, while filling up quickly.

    As the topic at my Monday Night WW meeting lead to discussions on how to make healthier soups, I wanted to share this version of a carrot puree soup. Once again, it's a variation on an old favorite of mine. Usually I use an Idaho potato, but with it being pumpkin season, I switched out the potato for the pumpkin. I found this version to be creamier and more visually appealing. It is practically non-fat and completely vegetarian/vegan. It's basically a five ingredient dish, not counting salt, pepper, oil and water: Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Ginger and Pumpkin Puree. It takes about an hour to make which is mostly the cooking time. Here's a step by step how to for this extremely satisfying and curiously creamy vegan low-fat soup.

    Gingered Carrot Pumpkin Soup Ingredients:

    • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable or Olive Oil
    • 4 Cups Diced Carrots (about 6 large carrots) - peeled,cleaned and medium dice
    • 1 Large White Onion - large dice
    • 2 Tablespoons Ginger - Minced (about a 2-inch piece, peeled and minced)
    • 3 Cloves Garlic - minced
    • 4 Cups Cold Water
    • 2 Teaspoons Salt
    • 1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
    • Salt and White Pepper to taste
    Directions:
    1. In a large heavy bottomed stock pot, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
    2. Saute/sweat the onions and carrots for about 8 minutes, until the onions turn translucent, the carrots start to release their water and the onions are starting to take on a golden color.
    3. Add in the minced ginger and garlic and stir to combine.
    4. Pour in 4 cups of cold water and bring the mixture to a boil.
    5. Reduce heat; add the 2 teaspoons of salt and keep the mixture at a gentle simmer for about 25 minutes.
    6. Check the soup, when the carrots are fork tender but not falling completely apart turn the heat off.
    7. Strain the solids from the liquid, reserving the broth. Set the vegetables aside in a large bowl for about 10 minutes to cool before pureeing.
    8. Working in small batches, puree the carrot, onion and ginger mixture in a food processor or blender - CAREFULLY! The vegetables are still hot and will feel like napalm on your skin if it splashes on you!
    9. Use some of the reserved broth to thin the soup and to get the puree to whiz in the food processor or blender.
    10. Add each batch of puree back to the stock pot. When you are finished pureeing the carrot mixture, stir in the cup of pumpkin puree and any remaining broth. Stir thoroughly to combine.
    11. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and white pepper. Use white pepper, since the black would appear as annoying little specks, and this soup is all about the gorgeous orange color.
    12. Serve hot with pumpkin seeds as a garnish (optional). Makes about 6 cups of soup.

    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Photos of the Week - October 6 to 12

    A special shout out to all of you who have been following my blog! Hello out there Lynette, Dana, Jen, David, Leslie, Renee, Lisa, Rabbi, the Susan's and Sue's, Roger and Astrid and many other readers! It gives me such a thrill to know that you all have been following my journey of cooking, biking and photography. I do try to write as much and as often as I can but sometimes time just gets away from me - what with all the cooking, biking, photography and that pesky thing called my many jobs! To be frank (and no, I'm not cross dressing here letting you onto my alter-ego named Frank, his name is David anyway...), because honesty and being forthright and upfront are a few of the qualities for which I am known (those and for just plain speaking my mind and inserting my foot into my mouth a lot. Good thing my shoes are tasty.) I'd rather be biking and cooking and taking pictures so I could be writing about my three passions more often. But we have to be able to afford to eat and pay for my hobbies and the clothes that they require, so off to my jobs I must go. And oh, I do love my jobs, even though I can bitch about the High Holiday ticket debacles and what whinny bridezilla or greedy inept groom we've had to deal with for a registry at the pot and pan heaven. I love my co-workers fiercely and have formed many a close bond with so many people with whom I work. As you know, if it weren't for the Rabbi, I wouldn't be biking. If it weren't for my team of co-workers and managers at Williams-Sonoma, I wouldn't be able to afford cool kitchen gadgets or have met the guys for City Food Tours. So in celebration of my jobs, which affords me the possibilities of my life I pay homage to the daily grind and say, thank you! And now onto my regularly scheduled installment in the life of the Bicycle Chef!


    Praying Angel and Go Phils #6 (that would be Ryan Howard by the way). Found this charming scene around 20th & Delancey Street in Center City on Saturday, October 11th.




















    Just when I thought all of the folks in my neighborhood had lost their minds and were all voting a McPalin Ticket, I came across this sign that just gave me pause and hope. Say no more!




















    I've been finding random shoes left in random places all over the city. The great thing about always having a camera is that I can snap this images just as soon as I spot them. Case in point, here are a perfectly good pair of Aerosol Shoes that someone left next to a cup of Dunkin Donuts Coffee, on top of a Philadelphia Weekly newspaper box. I have several pairs of shoe photos at my Flickr photo website. Check it out sometime. And if you care, send me photos of found shoes too. I'll add them to my growing collections.


    And speaking of my photo collections, I've also been documenting cool and unusual bikes or mopeds that I've seen in my travels. On Tuesday, October 7th, we spotted this van outside of Via Bicycle loaded with used bikes and spilling onto the street behind it. Via is a used bike shop that specializes in old bikes and great repair work. My guess is there are over 100 bikes loaded up here. On another bike excursion this week, I spotted a man on a bike with a dozen or more bike wheels and parts strapped to his back, body and bike. I didn't have time to snap a photo though, so I'll have to keep on the lookout for this fellow again. I suspect he's a regular in my neighborhood who does a lot of salvaging and scavenging for scrap.

    If you enjoy these photos, don't forget, you can click on my photo sight to the right of these entries. I have a Flickr Photoshow running with my most recent uploads. At my Flickr sight you can see more than 2,000 of the images I've captured in the past two years. Whew! I told you all I'm busy! My Flickr ID is Neenyd03 in case you want to do your own search!