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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Findings: Food, Street Art & Biking

I have not been biking in a month, since the big move from South Philly to Collingswood, NJ.  I have my road bike in storage in our new garage.  The commuting bike has been locked up in an out of the way corner in my workplace.  I've been debating on the best way to get it to the new house - take it on the PATCO line, pick it up and take it apart so it'd fit in the back of our car, or ride it home through Philadelphia, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, through Camden and then to home.  After a month long internal struggle and trying to find the right time to do this, I finally made my decision - ride the damn bike home on a clear, unnaturally warm early winter day like this past Friday when I finally had the time.

So ride I did. But first I took a few detours on my way home, stopping by "Love Park" at 16th and JFK Boulevard.  I hadn't intended to stop here I was only looking for some street art rumored to have been placed at the train station.  Instead of finding a Monopoly installation of the Reading Railroad superimposed on the Penna Station sign, I found three awesome food trucks; Guapos Tacos, Rival Bros Coffee and a cup cake vendor.  

A Bicycle Chef girl has to eat lunch, so I stopped for lunch.  Had two carnitas taco from Guapos Tacos - 7 bucks, very good and fresh, topped with a zesty jicama and black bean salsa. I could have eaten two more and I downed these practically in two bites!  Then to give myself a jolt of energy I grabbed a coffee from Rival Bros for the road.  I thought about a sweet, but since I've been indulging a lot lately, I skipped the biscotti and rice crispy treats the coffee bros were selling and I skipped the cup cakes that were for sale by the 3rd vendor at the corner of 16th & JFK, outside of the visitor's center.  

There were ample photo opportunities at every turn.  Between the new and old City Landmark Sights like the LOVE stature with dozens of tourists posing beneath it and the new Kraft Mac & Cheese Noodle sign, I didn't need to look for found street art, the kitchy landmarks were providing me with many laughs.  But I'm always on the lookout for my beloved street artists so my eyes were wide open for the treasure hunt.  

Outside of the PA Academy of Fine Arts, in front of the new Lenfest Plaza, I pondered the atrocious paint brush installation by Claes Oldenburg and the paint dap.  The paint brush is trite and the paint dab looks like a big pile of shit - sort of like those old gag joke-shop fake dog-doo poops.  No photo, everyone in the City is taking one and I'm not adding to it.  
I did spot this artist's car that looks like a version of a painter's jeans after he's wiped his brush on them to clean the brush. Now this was much more interesting.  On a utility pole in front of PAFA was a double street art find, a modern version of the Sti(c)kman/Robot Tiles with a superimpose or graffiti of another street artist's work.  Kind of like an ink blot.  Hmm, a theme here perhaps?

I find the airplane crash landed in the plaza between the old and new PAFA buildings very disturbing and at the same time clever and thought provoking.  

I like the touch that was recently added by installing a pink-greenhouse inside the cockpit. For a real pop-culture reference the installation reminds me of a set piece from the television show, LOST.  What do you think? What comes to mind when you see this installation? 

And ending my street art tour of Philly, I found another one of my favorite's - DASH - and his timely pop-culture mash-up of a Dick Tracy installation at the corner of Race and Broad Street.  I just now noticed that he's called it Dash Tracy.  Very Clever dude, very clever!

Rode the rest of the way home down Race Street, through a very busy Chinatown and then over the Ben Franklin Bridge.  It was a tougher ride for me on the heavy one-speed old school collegiate Schwinn.  Add the 5 pounds I've gained in the past few months and the fact that I haven't exercised in over two months and I really felt like I was having an asthma attack.  I made it though and didn't have to walk the bike up the bridge's pedestrian walk way.  Then I had to make my way through downtown Camden along Haddon Avenue to my house in Collingswood.  I've done the ride before, when I was in shape, on my road bike, with my riding partner, Sue S.  At least I knew where I was going.  It's a bikeable ride home, just about 10 miles.  It's just not a ride I think I should be doing though.  There are some tough stretches of streets to traverse.  

Here I am, an old white girl, riding this ridiculous bike while wearing my English-style horse riding helmet, biking on a one-speed through the mean streets of Camden.  At one point, I got stopped in some traffic on Mt. Ephrim and Haddon Avenues.  There were ambulances racing through the streets probably to some gun fight and all these cars were blocking the flow of traffic across Mt. Ephrim Avenue.  A woman in a red Monte Carlo flips out of her car and starts screaming at the top of her lungs, "Move your fucking car mother-fucker out the fuckin' way! Shit!"  I never pedaled so fast.  All I could think next was that guns were coming out next.  A woman passenger in the car next to me was putting on make up and talking on her cellphone.  Cars couldn't go anywhere.  It was a bit of drama to say the least.  

The ride took about 40 minutes and I made it home in one piece, feeling the uphill bridge ride in my lungs and legs.  I miss riding, the freedom, the exercise and the sense of being a part of a riding community.  Not that I want to make a New Year's resolution, but I do want to put biking on my must do list.  I'd hate to think that by the time spring arrives I'll be so far out of shape that I'll be back where I was in 2007 when I first started riding again.  Plenty of good riding in Collingswood; most of which won't take me in the line of fire.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Collingswood

We celebrated our first Christmas in the new house 
and it was even more wonderful than we imagined it would be.

Technically, we had a "Boxing Day" celebratory meal in our dining room, with friends and family.  Christmas day we went to Liz's Dad's house in Easton and spent the day with the other side of our clan: Sister, Brother, Sister-in-law, nephew and nephew-to-be, Step-Mom, Dad, Aunt.  It was a big noisy joyful day filled with a lot of great food and presents.  The boys, Nate and Nephew/Cousin Dylan spent the day running their Papou ragged, playing, rough-housing and exploring in all the non-child-proofed areas of their grand parents' house.  Back at our house in Collingswood, we had guest come over all day and evening, spending the night and continuing the festivities until Tuesday evening.  Christmas for us last three whole days!
Nate, with his Oma Maggie, as he tries to steal a cookie, or a piece of cake, or maybe even a sip of wine.  Who knows? Our table was laden with many goodies!

I may not be blogging much about new recipes and food finds, but that doesn't mean I'm not cooking and finding new things to create.  Au Countre! I discovered a new way to use butternut squash and cannot wait to tweak it a bit for my own Bicycle-Chef recipes.  

Roast butternut squash cut into large chunks & toss with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, sliced onions and diced fresh chestnuts.  When it's caramelized and tender (after about 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven) put the roasted butternut squash into a bowl and stir in cleaned fresh spinach; the heat from the squash will wilt the spinach.  Toss in dried cranberries and serve hot immediately.  

We also had scalloped Japanese Sweet and Idaho Potatoes, sliced thin, layered in a baking pan with minced onions, salt, pepper and olive oil between each alternating layer of sweet and russet potato.  For the main course, I made a brown-sugar cured bone-in ham, with a glaze of Dijon Mustard, molasses, dark beer, hot sauce and smoked paprika.  Roasted the ham for 2 hours at 425 degrees and then let it rest before slicing.

Cheese - some from Wegman's and some brought back to the States from Amsterdam by our friend, Jen. She brought this amazing pesto Gouda that's emerald green and very herbaceous.  There was also a smoked cheese that went perfectly with a slice of Sicilian Salami.  Also on the cheese board, an earthy, creamy brie and a Stilton with dried cranberries.

Of course there were also cookies of all kinds and the Bouche d'Noel from DiBartolo's Bakery on Haddon Avenue.  I'm not a big fan of icing but the cake was very moist and fresh.  The icing tasted too much of shortening.

We drank lots of wine and beer, ate lots of great food and everyone was engaged in endless laughter and conversation around our table.  At one point, Nate was running around through the dining room, into the kitchen, up and down the steps that lead from the kitchen to the living room and back around again.  People were whooping it up at the table and the wine was flowing.  It was a raucous joyous time.  

Both Liz and I had real moments of realizing that this was exactly what we had hoped and envisioned but we didn't realize it until it was actually happening.  To share a holiday meal with people who we love so much and who bring us so much happiness was the most extraordinary gift of the season.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Collingswood Christmas Light Parade

Our first Christmas in Collingswood and we were here just in time to catch the Annual Christmas Light Parade of Firetrucks.  All the local boroughs festoon their old, new and somewhere in-between fire trucks with lights, holiday decorations, characters, Santa's, Grinch's, sleighs and whatnot.  There was music and lots of candy canes tossed to the kids along the parade route.  We weren't sure that Nibblet would make it through the night, it started at what is typically his bed time and the boy can get ramy after 7 pm.  But we didn't want to miss this annual event since we missed the big Christmas Kick-off Parade Thanksgiving Weekend, the weekend before we moved to town.

The Parade of Lights was well attended with families lined up along Haddon Avenue, out in folding chairs, blankets, holding cups of hot cocoa, coffees and other warming agents of cheer.  This was exactly what we were hoping to find in our All-American Small Town Dream we call home.  People were friendly, smiling, waving and saying hello to all who passed.  The fire trucks were decked out in bright light splendor.  The parade went on for close to an hour, with the trucks moving along the route slowly so all could catch a full lengthy gander of the lights.  There were a few song and dance segments, with some trucks stopping, kids and adults did choreographed dance movements and routines!  Many trucks were vintage, harking back to the 1940's, 50's and 60's!  It was very much like a scene out of my favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story.  If only there were a local department store to run to visit afterwards, to see the revealed spectacular holiday toy window display.

Nibblet was a good sport, lasting the whole evening with nary a tear or scream at the sight of any of the many Santa-Grinch or Smurf characters.  He even waved and said hello and goodbye to all the people who waved and/or handed him a candy cane.

As more people make quizzical remarks to me about why would I want to live in New Jersey, here's my reminder of why we made this move.  Collingswood is a wonderful place to be and this Parade of Lights illuminates all the reasons why I love it here already.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seasons Greetings from Collingswood, NJ!

We recently moved to Collingwood, NJ.  It's not even a full week that we are here in this wonderful little town that bills itself as "The Place You Want to Be..." It's listed as one of America's best small towns.  As a life-long city dweller, this move is a radical change for me, having lived in either row homes or apartments for my whole existence.  Granted, I haven't always lived in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, but for my entire adult life, since I was 19 years old, I have lived within 2 miles of my home and wherever I may have been working at the time.  The ten miles distance from my new front door to my office isn't that big of a deal.  My commute takes half an hour give or take ten minutes, depending on how I get to the High Speed line station.  What is so different is the attitude and tranquility and the lack of stress.  We moved for all the obvious reasons - wanting more space for our son, a back yard, better schools, a better quality of life.  Liz would say it was also for the parking.  We were both tired of spending hours of our lives looking for parking each week.  I supposed the time  commuting to the City is less than the time wasted on looking for parking in South Philly.  No more worrying about losing my parking space if I needed to go out after 7 pm on a weekday.  No more parking a block away when the car was packed with groceries and we still had to get Nibblet into the house along with all of his accoutrement's.  Nope, we traded in and up for a three story house with a substantial back yard, two car garage, small front lawn and a real porch on which you can sit and have your coffee on warm mornings.  It's the Modern-Family American Dream!

Over the past two years as we discussed places where we wanted to live, Collingswood kept coming into our consciousness.  First we discovered this charming small town via our friends Bobby and Julie.  We had great hamburgers at the Pop Shop on Haddon Avenue and I was hooked.  A few more drives and a bike ride into town and a visit to the famous Collingswood Farmer's Market convinced me that this hip, urbane town of 15,000 residents was a place that we could call home.  It's walkable, cute, full of great shopping, dining and drinking establishments.  It's affordable and best of all, gay-friendly.  What most people don't realize is about Collingswood is that it is a remarkably progressive town.  The vibe I get from the town is that it's like an ideal small town with cool amenities.  Think New Hope, Cape Cod, or as I've been describing it, the unstuffy version of Chestnut Hill, PA or Haddonfield, NJ.  Collingswood is cute enough to be described as quaint and charming but   it still retains a bit of its working class roots. 

The reaction I'm getting from people upon hearing about my move out of the city has been uniformly surprised.  Most people want to know how I'm going to get to work, as though my only mode of transportation is via bicycle, which, to be honest, was true for over 25 years of my life.  However, I can drive now and there is a great train that runs from my house to the City in less than 18 minutes.  I can still ride my bike to the City in the Spring and Summer, taking the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I can still ride my bike to the train station and if I wanted, I could take my bike on the train into the City.  The other reaction I've been getting is that my friends that are City Dwellers think I'm going to become a Levittown Suburbanite.  Having spent my entire 44 years as a Philadelphian, I don't think I'm going to change into an wearing an A-line skirt w/hostess apron and pearls lipstick lesbian just because I no longer live in  gritty Philadelphia.  Now I might don a dapper fedora and smart suit and kiss the missus as I walk out the door and head towards the train to the big city! Don Drapper's wardrobe is much more my style.  

The truth of the matter is that I'm tired of the hardness of the city.  I'm tired of the trash, the bad attitudes, the lack of ambition of the people who lived around our old neighborhood. I'm over the crime and hearing gun fire when I want to believe I'm hearing fire crackers.  I'll still have to deal with it, it's not like I've waved some magic wand and put on rose coloured glasses and everything is magical and shiny and nice because our car is in our driveway and I can lay back on the porch couch and put my feet up while waving to Joan down the street as she walks her dog.  We weren't doing things in Philly that made it feel worth living there any more.  We drove a lot, didn't go out to eat all that much since Nate was born and we hardly ever took advantage of events going on in Center City.  This may be the case here in NJ, but living in a smaller town gives us a community that we didn't have before.  I'll still be riding my bike around town, driving to the grocery and taking Nate for our long Sunday morning strolls to the Avenue and parks.  We traded up for a prettier environment, more trees, grass and friendlier neighbors.  

Will I miss living in the City? Sure, but I'm also so ready for this next phase of my life.  The new house is a bit bigger, not tons bigger.  It's like moving from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom apartment, meaning that it's more spacious but it's not a McMansion.  I'll have a bit of lawn to mow, lots of leaves to rake and Nate will have a spacious yard to run, play and drive his cars, bikes and scooters.  We wanted the peace and quite and a more gentle pace to our lives.  We traveled 10 miles and went across a river and already I feel like a new woman.  Now where are my pearls?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Memories

I've always been the one to cook Thanksgiving dinner, as far back as I can remember.  Before I became a trained chef, cooking the Thanksgiving meal has been my all time favorite meal to make.  As a teenager, living at home with my bi-polar manic mother, Thanksgiving was and is the only holiday that doesn't have negative memories attached to it.  The gatherings were usually fun and low-key.  The food was plentiful and delicious and if we happened to be at someone else's house, there wasn't any of the momma drama that  usually accompanied the other big family holidays - Christmas, her birthday, New Years, Valentine's day, et al.  Those holidays necessitated a lot of screaming, crying, histrionics and tree and gift throwing, starting oh, immediately after Thanksgiving and lasting clear through until after Valentine's Day.  My mother's theme song for the whole month of December?  Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O'Sullivan.

Thanksgiving on the other hand is and always will be, about the food.  And as we all know that feeding people is akin to feeding the soul or at least eating away the sadness in order to find peace and happiness. Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to quell the angry beast right in its belly.  

As a young adult living on my own, I discovered that my passion for cooking and entertaining dove-tailed nicely with throwing a big feast and party for all my stray friends.  In my early 20's I realized that there were many people in my life that had no place to go for Thanksgiving.  Our families either abandoned us because we were gay, or we didn't get along with our families because we were gay or misunderstood, or came from crazy backgrounds, or all the above.  With so many friends "homeless" on Thanksgiving, I took it upon myself to host the dinner.  One of the largest gatherings I had was for 15 people, crammed into my small three-room apartment at a make-do table.  I spent far too much money and cooked for hours.  People arrived late, some still drunk from the night before.  One friend fell asleep on my bed before dinner, sleeping off the many gin and tonics he consumed the night before and morning of Thanksgiving.  Homemade cranberry sauce was spilled on my new white tablecloth and all over the floor.  Ah, memories!  

Another year, I hosted the bird-day for a more manageable crowd of 6 or 7 guests.  It was during my more manic years and I was heavily into all things Martha Stewart.  I was also big into partying, drinking, doing other illicit things and staying out all night.  Trying to be the gracious and pretentious hostess after a night out on the town dancing and drinking meant that I came home from last call and started cooking at 3 am, napping for an hour or two before starting the final cooking push.  This was the year I decided that I'd make individual Cornish game hens for everyone, along with all the fixings from scratch.  I turned my nose up at a friend's delicious green bean casserole and brown and serve Parker House rolls (until I tried them and realized what I had been missing for all those years!)  Another guest was even snottier and ruder than me.  He insulted my choice of Cornish hens, stating it wasn't a Thanksgiving dinner without turkey.  He said that he was surprised at how much great art and collectibles I had.  I'm not sure what kind of decor he expected, pin-ups from Penthouse and On Our Backs? Adding insult to injury, proclaimed that since he was attending dinner at a lesbian's house, there must be marshmallows and sweet potatoes on the menu too.  I'm still insulted after all these years.  Needless to say I never did forgive this smacked ass for his trash talk.  

As I grew older, a bit more mature and a lot more sensible with my choice of friends, Liz came into my life and our guest list changed faces.  We still enjoyed hosting holiday dinners for our stray friends but they were people with whom we shared more things in common; art, music, politics, social graces...our families would be a part of the feastivities and the dinners were far less polarizing.  I still cooked a lot of food and tried to make a lot of things from scratch but if someone wanted Campbell's Green Bean Casserole with French's Fried Onion topping, who am I to turn up my nose to this ubiquitous holiday dish?  

The year before Nate was born, Liz and I had a small intimate Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us.  I made healthier fare as we were both doing Weight Watchers and I had renounced all things fattening and unhealthy.  Dinner tasted great, there were plenty of left-overs for the weekend and even though it was healthy we didn't feel deprived of our Thanksgiving favorites.  Being a lesbian, I still had to have sweet potatoes and marshmallows at my table, though this time I roasted the sweet potatoes and used light butter, cinnamon and topped them with a few mini marshmallows.  

The past two years we've spent with Liz's mom and step-dad, in Staten Island, bringing Nate with us to celebrate the holiday.  Thanksgiving 2009 he was just a month and a half old.  We were both sleep deprived and tense from the long traffic filled drive up the turnpike.  Our best memory of the holiday was having a baby boy, the first grandchild with us to fill the holiday with love and happiness.  The holiday became less about the food, the need to fill the void in our souls and more about being a fully realized family. 

In 2010, we again spent Thanksgiving up in Staten Island.  Nate was now a year old and just about ready to walk (which would happen the day after Christmas.)  Our best friend, Jen and her mom came up to join us.  The day was about friends and family being together and enjoying a good meal together.  It's funny how having a child can truly change your perspective and help you get your priorities together.  

This year will be our final year in South Philadelphia.  We are moving in a few days to South Jersey so surrounded by boxes.  We are packing and purging for our big move to a new house.  Nate is very mobile these days, running from the moment he's awake until the moment he falls asleep.  It's a lot easier to stay home with him, keeping him contained and entertained with the things, toys and tv shows with which he's familiar.  While our house is in chaos I'd rather do the entertaining here than be worried about what Nate is up to in someone else's less-than-child-proofed home.  Jen, her mom and our friend Ryan will be our strays this year.  Dinner is a mix of prepared foods from Whole Foods Market and offerings from our friends.  I hope there will be a casserole - Jen's promised to make broccoli and cheddar cheese soup casserole with Ritz Crackers! We'll eat among the boxes and watch Nate run, sing, play and show off for us.

Next year, we'll start another round of new Thanksgiving traditions, with a bigger family (a new nephew will be born sometime soon) and we'll see how life in Jersey changes our lives.  I'm sure I'll be cooking something wonderful and I'll try to find a way to get marshmallows and sweet potatoes combined in my menu.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pumpkin and Barley Breakfast Risotto

When it gets colder I want to eat hot cereal for breakfast. I'm not content with Quaker Instant Oats anymore, having graduated to more hearty grains.  As a kid, I ate the instant oatmeal packets.  Shudder to think how much sugar and preservatives I ingested.  Being from South Philly, I also ate a fair share of pastina, the tiny Italian pasta for babies - it's the most minuscule pasta grains, usually cooked with butter, milk and sugar or as a savory with butter, milk and cheese and almost always with an egg beaten into it just before it's done cooking.  During my love-affair with all things Martha Stewart in the 1990's, I got into toasting my whole grain, minimally processed lightly rolled organic oats before cooking them in a flavorful water and milk "bath".   Toasting the oats before cooking makes them taste nutty -  it's a good thing!  

breakfast quinoa porridge
These days I find that I want multi-grain oat blends, or breakfast couscous or I'll make quinoa porridge - as I wrote about on The Bicycling Hub's blog as a guest blogger a few weeks ago (read all about that here at this link!)  My co-worker, Phyllis, and I often talk about the many ways you can use barley outside of barley soup recipes.  One great idea that I've been wanting to try is using barley as a risotto.  It's kind of a misnomer, as a true risotto would use arborio rice but the idea is the same.  You bring out the starch from the grain in order to have the final dish be thick and creamy.  Barley is a wonderful naturally nutty grain, toothsome, hearty and protein dense.  It can be used for a side dish, breakfast, in spirit (beer/wine/whiskey) productions, in breads, as a soup and stew ingredient and as a breakfast cereal.  In short it's perfect and it is easy to cook. 

As I wrote in my guest blog post about quinoa, you can make a batch of barley risotto for breakfast but you can also use it as a savory meal, all by the application of what you decide to add to the final dish.  It's important to flavor the cooking water to start with a base of flavors.  I used a cinnamon stick, some chopped candied ginger, a pinch of clove and a generous dash of pure vanilla extract in the cooking water.  The featured picture  of my pumpkin barley breakfast risotto could have been my dinner if I had not added maple syrup and seasoned it instead with salt, pepper and olive oil.  However you decide to use this recipe, make it, you won't be disappointed and you'll have a new hearty winter recipe to make that will stick to your ribs on the cold days ahead.  I've made suggestions on dried fruits, seeds and nuts to embellish the final dish.  Use what you like and what you have on hand.

Pumpkin and Barley Breakfast Risotto Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup Uncooked Pearled Barley - rinsed
  • 3 to 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons Candied Ginger - chopped
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Dash Kosher Salt
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
For Garnish/Serving:
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Craisins
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Fruit of Choice - Apricots, Cherries, Pineapple, Dried Plums (aka Prunes), etc - chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons Flax Seed or Sesame Seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Toasted Coconut Flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Nuts of Choice - almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, etc. - sliced/chopped
  • 1//2 Cup Skim or Low-Fat Milk  - warmed
  • Maple Syrup - to taste
  1. Rinse the barley in a fine mesh strainer and shake off the excess water.  Add the rinsed barley to a 3 or 4 quart, heavy-bottomed sauce pot along with the 3 cups of cold water.  Add in the cinnamon stick, chopped candied ginger, ground cloves, vanilla extract and dash of salt.  
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a low simmer with a lid on the pot until all the water is absorbed and the barley is very tender but not mushy to the tooth, about 35 to 40 minutes.  If the barley is not cooked enough, add more water, a half cup at a time.  The end product should look creamy and the barley should still have some bite to it.  
  3. When the barley is cooked through, remove the cinnamon stick and then stir in the cup of pumpkin puree.
  4. Serve hot and fold in the dried fruits, flax or sesame seeds, nuts, coconut flakes and warmed milk.  Sweeten to taste with pure maple syrup or sweetener of choice.  
  5. Makes 4 to 6 servings.  Will hold for up to 1 week in a tightly covered container, refrigerated.  To reheat, heat in a microwave in one minute intervals, up to 3 minutes until heated through.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Food Finds: Green Giant Steamers & A Crustless Quiche

Packing a healthy, mostly vegetarian lunch every day can get a bit tedious, day in and day out.  I usually try to have a lot of prepped salad stuff, cook up extra veggies and make a few whole grain sides like quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat pasta to have on hand for my lunches.  This way I can toss together decent meals quickly the night before and have a healthy lunch to take to work.  If I'm successful over the weekend, I'll have cooked enough food for several meals worth of lunches and dinners to get us through until Wednesday night.  I hate it when I don't plan a proper lunch, I don't enjoy spending excess money on bad lunches out and I don't like the lunch choices in my work neighborhood.  My other issue with having to prepare a week's worth of vegetarian or kosher friendly lunches for work, I get bored with the same meals; I'm not a big fan of left-overs beyond two or three meals.  It's a tricky dilemma but somehow I figure things out.  

I received a coupon from FoodBuzz and the Tastemaker program for a free package of Green Giant Steamers.  I like frozen vegetables, especially in the winter when fresh or local options aren't as readily available.  Frozen peas, broccoli and spinach are nearly as good as (and sometimes better than fresh, in the case of peas) fresh vegetables.  Having a few bags in the freezer can make all the difference in rounding out a pasta dish some nights.  When I saw the coupon for the Green Giant Steamers, I wondered how I could use in a recipe.  Breaking the lunch-time boredom was my inspiration.  I decided to make a crustless quiche, using the Green Giant Broccoli Rice and Cheese Steamer.  Taadah! A good lunch option and an interesting use of a good side dish too.  Lunch cannot be just a bowl of broccoli, rice and cheese, though it might not be such a bad idea...if only I could bring a piece of grilled chicken to eat with it. 

The crustless quiche, or frittata was easy to make and needed few other ingredients to add to it.  I used the package of broccoli, rice and cheese, a few eggs, some seasoning, a cup of milk and because I had it, a bit of pumpkin puree whisked in to add to the vegetable quotient.  Baked it in an 8 x 8 baking dish for 35 minutes and let it cool to set before I cut a piece for my lunch.  An all-in-one meal pret a mange.

Crustless Quiche with Green Giant Broccoli Rice and Cheese Steamer Ingredients:
  • 1 Package Green Giant Steamers - Broccoli Rice and Cheese- steamed according to package instructions
  • 4 Eggs - beaten
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat or Low-Fat Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasonings (or dried seasoning of choice)
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper - several grinds
  • Cooking Spray
  • 8 x 8 baking/brownie pan


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease the 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray, butter or oil, set aside.
  2. Heat the Green Giant Steamer Bag in the microwave according to the package instructions - about 4 1/2 to 6 minutes.  Let sit for 1 minute before opening bag, then open bag, and pour contents into a bowl; set aside to cool.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat the 4 eggs, 1 cup of milk and 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree until the mixture is frothy and thoroughly incorporated.  Season the mixture with the Italian seasonings, red pepper flakes and several grinds of black pepper, then fold in the cooked and cooled Green Giant Broccoli Rice and Cheese Steamer.  
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan, place in the preheated oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the mixture is set and the eggs are no longer soft or runny in the center.
  5. Cool at least 30 minutes before cutting.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.  Will hold for up to 3 days, covered and refrigerated.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Street Art Finds: Dash and Friends

Along the Bike Lane in Center City Philadelphia - I think it works well with the bike lane directions!
A few weeks ago, I saw a photo on my Flickr contact feed that showcased the above Street Art Installation on the green street pole to the top right.  As the installation is in Center City, on a street that I ride along nearly every day, I knew I needed to go and find it to photograph.  I made a comment on my contact's page, stating that this was an installation that I needed to have - more than just to photograph, but it spoke to me.  Street Art and bikes, it all goes together so perfectly.  A few days after I saw the photo online, I set out to find the install and take my own photos.

This piece is big - larger than most of the work I find around town and you certainly cannot miss it, positioned so prominently on the pole, along the well-traveled bike lane.  It's bright yellow paint and direction arrow matching the bike lane images.  The artist who created it is called DASH - a fellow who's work I've been documenting, seeking out and following since I started taking photos on a daily basis over these past 4 years.  This is by the same artist who did the Neeny installation in South Philly - that was a riff on my nick name - Neeny or Neenyd.  I found it and added it to the photos on my online photo server, pushing my street art finds closer to 1000 images and finds!  Imagine my surprise then when I received an email from one of the artists, inviting me to meet them at First Friday in Olde City this past weekend.  I wrote back that I could make it and asked where could I find them; the follow up email told me to come down to The Arden Theater and that they had a little giftie for me of the bicycle installation!  I was jumping out of my skin with excitement!

A sample of DASH's art and some collab work with other talented underground Street Artists 

Liz, Nibblet and I bundled up and headed downtown for a stroll in Olde City and the First Friday events.  It's been years since Liz and I have gone to First Friday - more than 4 years I think; certainly more than the two since Nibblet's been with us!  We figured it's time we indoctrinate the little man into the art scene of Philly.  

First Friday has changed a lot since it began close to 20 years ago.  The scene now is much more on the streets - dancers and theater companies were out on the corners, handing out fliers and doing impromptu pieces from upcoming shows.  Protester groups were set up with petitions, hand outs and encouraging people to participate in upcoming events, protests, and OCCUPY movements.  There were all kinds of folks selling hand made crafts; knitted creations; jewelry; vinyl sticker decorations for your lap top; beautiful Polish and European Stoneware.  There were free dance events in the Arden Theater and I'm guessing the galleries were all open with new shows.  The vibe was definitely more interesting than it was when I last went downtown to gallery hop. There was a diversity of people that I've not seen before; it wasn't the usual middle class white crowd and the poor starving artists trying to be the next big thing.  It was a more genuine, of the people on the streets kind of feeling, much like the scene should have been when it first began but instead got appropriated by the 1990's yuppies.  The energy was truly electric.

A gift from DASH - my very own bike lane street art installation!
As Nibblet and I rolled up to the Arden Theater, taking in the whole event and looking at all the artwork on display and for sale, DASH found me.  Since I have so many photos here, on Flickr and on Facebook, I guess I'm pretty easy to spot.  I met DASH and Willy The Fool, as well as Sloth and Krispy.  DASH handed me an even cooler version of the bike lane installation - with the City of Philadelphia Skyline added to it.  Then the other artists handed me a mega cache of stickers and hand drawn art of their work, along with other artists who's work I follow: Radius, Blip, Bad Dog, Huggie, Sarge, Robots Will Kill, Under Water Pirates and many other artists who I like.  I felt as though I won the art lottery.  We chatted with the guys, talked about how I've been photographing their stuff for a few years now and that most days it's like a treasure hunt throughout the City to find the next piece.

A huge sampling of the many amazing Street Artists of Philadelphia
Meeting these guys was much like meeting anyone who's art/talent/intellect that you admire.  There's that awe then you realize they are just regular people, creating art because they love it and that's what they do.  Some of the guys are young, but they are all hard working and care deeply about the art they make.  I read an interview with DASH in a local 'zine that DASH is a former graffiti artist, a dad and a deeply committed artist to his craft.  It surprised me to read this as I assumed that he was a younger man, not a parent and not someone who plans out his work so carefully.  As a former graffiti tagger, he no longer wanted to make his art these statements that were illegal, yet creative, especially given that he now had kids to whom he was setting an example.  Out of his former tagging came these small master works of art created on cd's, small mdf boards, wood scraps all secured to poles and street signs with long bolts and nuts.  They're placed onto existing street sign poles with no actual destruction.  I like to think of the pieces as embellishments to otherwise boring utility poles.  Some are very small, 3 inches by 3 inches.  Many last for months, even years.  I love to re-find old pieces and see how well they've held their own among the elements of time, other artists and the Streets Department workers. 

Most of the sticker artists' work last only a few weeks with the sun and rain wearing the works out before they've been fully appreciated.  There are other artist slapping up stuff over the work too, making it a sort of meme street art war of egos.  There was no ego war going on during my meeting the artists - they were all friendly, extremely kind and exceedingly generous.  After all of these years documenting these finds, I now have a collection of actual art to call my own.  The gifts were a thank you and an appreciation for my being an avid fan and photographer.  Can't wait to frame the stickers and to find a place of honor for DASH's painting in our new house across the river in New Jersey.  I also cannot wait to keep finding more art along the streets of Philadelphia and hopefully, in my new hometown of  Collingswood, NJ.  

Guys - keep up the great work - I'm a fan for life!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lightened Sweet Potato Pie

We are officially in the season of indulgence. It starts with Halloween and all the trick or treat candy, caramel popcorn balls and candy corn.  We move right into the over-eating carb and tryptophan festival known as Thanksgiving. Next we roll ourselves over towards Hanukkah Donuts and Latkes, Christmas Candy, Hams and Pies topping ourselves off with splits of champagne and buttery rich hors' doeuvres for New Year's Eve. I like to think of these next two months as the Season of Too Many Extra Pounds.  It doesn't have to be this way — there are many ways to eat real, tasty and good for you foods that no one need know you've trimmed, slimmed and tweaked.  Over the past four years that I kept the 60 pounds I lost off of my body and maintained my weight, I have found a lot of ways to eat what I love without  banning my favorite treats from the holiday table.  

Last year I made a lighter pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, cutting back on the sugar and fat without compromising taste.  This year I discovered the same thing could be done with sweet potato pie.  We recently saw an over-the-top decadent sweet potato pie on my favorite show, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.  It was made with lots of brown sugar in and on top, butter, pecans, and brulled marshmallows.  I nearly caved in and made the exact recipe until I realized that a piece would equal my dessert sugar, fat and carb intake for a month.  My options were to figure out how to lighten this classic Southern dessert and still keep it rich and luscious. 

We received too many sweet potatoes from our CSA farm share, getting the sweet tubers every week for almost two months.  I was swimming in sweet potatoes.  It was a classic moment of when life hands you lemons you make lemonade.  In my case, I made a delicious Sweet Potato Pies with some interesting swap-outs.  I used non-fat evaporated milk; cut the sugar down to a 1/3 cup; roasted the sweet potatoes so they would be naturally sweet; and substituted Egg-Beaters for the whole eggs.  For the topping, I used a combination of chopped walnuts (they were what I had on hand); whole wheat flour, light butter and some brown sugar.  My only cheats were on the pie crust - I didn't have time to make my own and I didn't want to improvise on the crust by using a graham cracker, or phyllo dough crust.  I also "cheated" with the marshmallow topping — using mini marshmallows which I ran under the broiler element in my toaster oven.  You can splurge here as there is little fat in the pie custard and marshmallows are fat free.  They are pure sugar, but you use only a few marshmallows per piece of pie so it's okay!

Once you realize that making a sweet potato pie is almost the same as making a pumpkin pie — which is making a custard — the baking is easy.  I often say and write, I'm not much of a baker, but when I have a pastry or baked good that I know and understand, the scientific process is easy.  Read the recipe, make and bake it, then improvise once you know it inside out.  

Sweet Potato Pie Ingredients:

  • 1 Ready-Made or Home-Made Deep Dish Pie Crust - 9 Inch Pie Plate (unbaked)
  • 1 1/2  Pounds of Sweet Potatoes - Scrubbed clean and roasted until tender (about 1 hour)
  • 1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar 
  • 1/2 Cup Egg Substitute (such as Egg-Beaters) or 2 Egg Whites - whisked until frothy
  • 6 ounces (1/2 can) Fat-Free Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Tablespoons Pumpkin Pie Spice 
  • Pinch of Kosher Salt (1/8 teaspoon)
For Crumb Topping:
  • 1/3 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts or Pecans
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Pinch Kosher Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Light Butter (such as Smart Balance Light Original)
  • Mini Marshmallows for serving/topping — optional

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. If using a store-bought pie dough, roll out into a 9-inch pie plate, or make your pie dough, rest, roll and place into a 9-inch pie plate.  Dock the dough with the tines of a fork in several places.  Refrigerate (or keep frozen) until ready to use.
  3. Prep the sweet potatoes: scrub them clean, remove any spots, eyes or blemishes, but keep the skin on the potato.  Piece in several places with a knife or fork.  Roast the sweet potatoes in the oven until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  
  4. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the sweet potatoes from their skins and place into a large mixing bowl, mashing them and beating until they are nearly smooth and all chunks and lumps are gone. Reduce the heat of the oven down to 350 degrees.
  5. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and the Egg-Beaters until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is frothy; add in the evaporated milk and vanilla extract and whisk again until the mixture is very frothy; set aside.
  6. Make the crumb topping by mixing together the whole wheat flour, chopped walnuts or pecans,  1/3 cup of brown sugar, pinch of kosher salt and tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice.  Blend in the light butter and either using your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the light butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse sand or small peas.  Set aside.
  7. Pour the egg/sugar/milk mixture over the mashed sweet potatoes and season with 2 tablespoons of  pumpkin pie spice and 1 pinch of salt.  Whisk until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
  8. Pour the sweet potato custard into the prepared, chilled and docked unbaked pie shell.  Sprinkle the crumb topping over the top of the custard and set the pie plate onto a baking tray; bake in the 350 degree oven for 55 minutes until the custard reaches 165 to 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer.  
  9. If the crumb topping and the edge of the pie shell appear to get too brown, cover loosely with aluminum foil. The pie will set as it cools.  Cool completely before serving.  To serve, cut pie pieces and top with mini-marshmallows — heat in the oven under the broiler for a minute or so until the marshmallows caramelize and melt.  Pie will keep (if there are any left-overs) covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.  Serves 6 to 8.