Eating Out of a Mini-Fridge for 10 Days

Pretty much the entire month of March has been full of business travel. Indiana and Michigan happened last week. Texas this week and next. Tennessee the week after that. Luckily I have three things on my side:

  • I love to travel, and do so frequently enough that I have some kind of “status” on airlines and hotel chains. Usually things go swimmingly in that sense.
  • I’m a master packer. My mother taught me how to pack well and how to never need to check a bag (except for certain circumstances like bringing lots of gifts for the holidays, needing to pack some kind of liquid that can’t fit in a ziplok bag, etc.). Case and point: I’m going to be in TX for a week and a half and have only one bag that has clothes, toiletries, etc. (along with a second bag that has my work things, including my laptop, notebooks, and steel-toed shoes). Be impressed. 😉
  • I have a mini-fridge and know how to stock it so I don’t spend tons of money on lunches and breakfasts during the work day.

Behold…

Cost: ~$50
Store: Central Market
Purchases: almond milk, small cartons of orange juice, spinach, mustard, sliced cheese, mini-loaf of sliced whole wheat bread, almond butter, freshly made spring rolls, mashed sweet potatoes, cheap zip-top bags ($1 for 150!!), cheap storage containers ($1 for two!!), cheap plastic utensils ($1 for a mix of 24 forks, knives, and spoons!!), three bakery-fresh cookies, and a bottle of Riesling.

I also brought some stuff from home for snacks, including: home-made energy bars, vitamins, trail mix, dried fruit, almonds, and a ton of tea bags.

What I’d normally spend in the office cafeteria here in Texas is probably around $8. Breakfast, around $5. Snacks, at least $3 per day. After 7 work days, I’d get a LOT more than $50 in per diem and meals. It’s all about saving money, and I definitely do that!

It’s really not that hard to plan meals ahead of time when traveling. What is hard is figuring out what to do during the times you want to stray from the plan. For instance, right now I know I’m going to eat some leftover tacos and some of the mashed sweet potatoes for dinner… but I want to go for a walk and get ice cream even though I have cookies and almond milk for dessert! Argh! I may be weak tonight… but that’s okay. I can splurge… we all can!

Right?

. . .

Don’t judge me.

I just love ice cream.

A lot.

Birthday Ice Cream

Friday was the boyfriend’s 27th birthday, and he didn’t want a gift. As a lover of gift-giving, it was hard for me to exactly obey this! I enjoy cooking and baking for him (and others, including me, of course!) so I knew that making him a birthday meal or dessert would be in order, and not exactly breaking his no-gift wish… right?

The guy eats very basic things, as I’ve mentioned once or twice, and most of it is that of a college kid (or younger… haha!): pasta with sauce, hamburgers, pizza, the occasional salad (consisting of nothing more than lettuce, cucumber, and ranch dressing), peanut butter sandwiches… you get the idea, yeah?

One of the meals that’s easiest for me to make for him while still being able to be creative is dessert. A new brownie recipe, not from a box. A cookie with a random assortment of mix-ins from our pantry. Cupcakes, bars, or cakes from a recipe I found online. As long as there isn’t any fruit in it, he’ll eat it. (As a fruit-lover, I’m still not over the fact he won’t touch a single, solitary fruit. What a weirdo I fell in love with, huh?!)

Knowing that I love to cook, and also knowing that at least half of the things I cook in our kitchen can be eaten by him, the boy got me the ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer for this past Chanukah. I’ve made a batch of chocolate chip ice cream with it already and though it was delicious, it wasn’t made the hard way: custard. I can be lazy at times, so when I saw that most of the ice cream recipes out there require the base to be cooked over heat, then cooled for at least 8 hours, I simply thought, “Helllll no! That’s too much time! I want ice cream now!”

Well, my boyfriend is worth the preparation.

I’d been holding onto this recipe for a while, because it contains my boyfriend’s favorite flavor combination: chocolate and peanut butter. Seriously, this guy goes ga-ga over the stuff. I knew this would be a winner, and it was. Though I used regular cocoa powder and not Dutch processed, it was plenty rich! The texture was so creamy, it puts my quickly-made vanilla to shame. I’m not even a fan of chocolate, but you’d better believe that I licked the beaters clean… and scraped the ice cream maker bowl clean…! Give this recipe a try; you won’t be disappointed!

So, we stayed in. I made the base the day before his big day. I threw it in my machine, chopping two dozen peanut butter cups while it churned. We ordered pizza delivery from our favorite place. We got a DVD from Redbox and plopped on the sofa while the quart and a half of frozen confection froze. Then… it was birthday time.

Happy birthday, love.

New Year, New Food

On the first morning of 2012, I made a cup of tea.

This is monumental for a coffee-addict like myself, especially since for as long as I can remember, I’ve hated tea. Loathed it.

I’ve tried to introduce tea into my diet for many years, on-and-off, but it wasn’t until I read about kukicha tea in The Kind Diet and gave it a try that I discovered a tea that didn’t make me gag! I bought a box of 24 kukicha teabags about 9 months ago and as of this morning, I only had 3 left.

And I drank all three bags’ worth of tea today!

As already clearly mentioned in this blog, I love to try new things. 2012 will be no different! I have much more in store to share with you, Internet… especially new foods!

Get ready.

Now, it’s time to get back to my final cup of tea for the day!

5 Reasons Why I Haven’t Blogged in 5 Days

…inspired by this post.

  1. I took Friday off from work. No real reason, other than the obvious fact that vacation days and three-day weekends are awesome. Also, I didn’t use enough vacation days this year and they will all disappear at the end of December… so, like everyone else at work, I’m rushing to use them all up!

    I slept in, went for a bike ride downtown, ate here, shopped here, and listened to Christian evangelists yell at us while I enjoyed my grilled cheese sandwich here.

    I took a glorious nap when I got home!

  2. I was busy busy busy giving tours in the morning on Saturday. Needless to say, after 5 hours on my feet I took another glorious nap! But, before I did, I ate here… yes, for both breakfast and lunch!
  3. I packed. A lot.

    More about this in a future post!

  4. Sunday = football… preceded by a little bit of shopping. I’ve tried drafting blog posts while watching my beloved Giants, but I can’t focus and/or come close to spilling adult beverages on my laptop. Not safe at all!
  5. We have no food. Well, obviously that’s not entirely true, but we don’t have much going on in the kitchen lately. The boy and I are planning on going grocery shopping today so maybe – just maybe – we’ll be able to eat something that didn’t come from a box or from the freezer.

    Then again, not everything boxed and bagged is all that bad…

Wannabe Vegan Pho
Makes one serving.

  • 3 oz firm tofu (I used Trader Joe’s Sprouted Tofu), drained and patted dry
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Non-stick, 100% natural cooking spray
  • 1 oz soba noodles (rice noodles can be substituted)
  • 1 cup Pacific Natural Foods Vegetarian Pho Base
  • 1 cup water
  • Toppings of your choice: traditionally cilantro, fish sauce, sriracha, bean sprouts, etc.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Cut tofu into 2″x1″x1/4″ rectangles and place the pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray the top of the tofu pieces with non-stick spray and sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper on top. Rub into each piece, place the sheet into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Turn off the oven and let the tofu sit for another 5 minutes inside the oven.

In a small pot, heat water and pho base until it boils. Add noodles and lower heat to medium-low. Let cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are done. Add the tofu pieces and let simmer for 2 minutes.

Serve in a bowl topped with whatever you’d like! All I had on hand at the time was sriracha and dried cilantro… but it was still delicious!

WIAW #3

I know, I know. I’ve skipped out on the last two weeks’ WIAW posts. Two Wednesdays ago I was in a training class all day and couldn’t take photos of anything because I was eating and learning simultaneously. (Multitasking is hard in a windowless room when you’re being lectured to!) Last Wednesday I had a Dentist appointment in the middle of the day and found it pretty pointless to just post my breakfast, my lunch that I ate on the car ride to the dentist, and the dinner I ate 6 hours later when I could finally feel my face again!

Well, here I am again! Back to WIAW mode!

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Breakfast was muesli, coffee, and chocolate soy milk.

I had a morning snack of a really yummy chocolate-coconut granola bar, but I forgot to get a photo. 😦

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Lunch was leftover Grown-Up Hamburger Helper. So, so yum.

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My afternoon snack was a big handful of leftover home-roasted garlic pumpkin seeds.

Now, dinner was the highlight of yesterday. (See my contradictory, food-flirty ways of eating vegan all day, then eating a very non-vegan dinner! Haha.) We decided to try this barely month-old restaurant that is about 4 miles from our apartment: A Tavola.

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Beer to start.

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Crazy-good meatballs topped with goat cheese and salsa verde. For someone who hates tomatoes (including tomato sauce) I could’ve probably drank the rest of the sauce after the meatballs were gone!

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Dinner itself was a pizza creation of our own: margarita pizza with crumbled sausage and fontina cheese. (If the boyfriend wasn’t with me, I’d have had one of the house specialties, like the one with roasted cauliflower or fig jam! Silly picky boy!) And that leftover sauce from the meatballs? You’d better believe we dunked our pizza crusts in that!

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Dessert was the restaurants own home-made soft-serve gelato… salted caramel was the obvious choice!

Sweet Potato Trio: Part II

So, the other day I had a minor fail. It was an edible creation, but that baby food consistency of what I hoped would be soup made it a little unappealing.

Time for a renaissance.

The reason why I love cooking more than baking is that when you cook, even if you mess up you can fix it (most of the time). A baking disaster is almost impossible to fix, but as you will see below, with a little bit of creativity, you can turn a minor cooking faux pas into a delicious creation (or two)!

Curried Sweet Potato & Zucchini Stew
Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 3 cups of leftover curried sweet potato stew *
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 zucchini, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp dried cilantro

In a large saucepan, brown the garlic in sesame oil on medium-high heat until fragrant and barely golden brown. Add cubed zucchini and cook until zucchini begins to soften and get browned on some sides.

Add sweet potato, vegetable broth, and cilantro stirring until completely combined. Continue to stir until soup begins to boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve hot.

* NOTE: You can use store-bought pureed sweet potatoes or plain sweet potatoes that you’ve processed yourself. If so, add 1.5 tbsp of yellow curry powder, 2 tsp of smoked paprika, a good tablespoon of garlic powder, and a tablespoon of cumin. Follow the rest of the directions as written.

Five of My Favorite Family Dinners

I’ve always, always been a fan of family dinners, so I’ve been fully supportive of the new-found initiative by many organizations and agencies promoting such a thing. When I heard about Blog for Family Dinner, I knew I had to write a post about this!

In my world, current and past, family dinners are a given; in fact, I never really thought of not having dinner with my parents at the kitchen table every night! Every afternoon I would come home from school and hit the books to get my homework done asap. (I’m a dork, so sue me!) Up until 7th or 8th grade, my mom stayed at home, so she’d be brainstorming and preparing dinner before I even got home. When I got older, however, she would come home from work at least an hour after me, so dinner planning was a bit less… planned. Regardless, 90% of the time we’d have a home-cooked meal. (The other 10% would be those nights where we’re both not in the mood, and simply ask my dad to pick something up for us on his way home!)

Age two -ish, eating something while at the beach with my parents.

My mom would start cooking dinner when my dad called on the beginning of his drive home which, thanks to the Long Island Expressway rush-hour, would take about an hour or so. My mom would do the majority of the cooking, but I was always eager to help. Usually my job was to make the salad and set the table, and my dad usually cleaned up the table while my mom put the dishes in the dishwasher. On the days where we wouldn’t cook, my dad would usually stop at this great Italian restaurant and get us linguine and clam sauce or pizza, or get Chinese take-out. No matter if it was cooked in our kitchen or not, we still ate it on our plates, using real silverware (or our chopsticks set), and at our table. My dad would come home at around 6:30-7:00pm, change out of his suit and into lounge-wear, and we’d sit at the table for dinner.

We’d talk about our day: mom about work (when she was employed) and/or the daily neurotic, one-sided, gossipy phone call with her mother or sister (when she stayed at home); dad about business-y sort of stuff that usually went over my head; and me about school (well, whatever my parents could drag out of me, as I wasn’t much of a talker). We did have a TV in our kitchen (*gasp!* sacrilege!) but we’d only have one of three things on, and at a low enough volume that we could still talk during commercials: Jeopardy!, the news, or 60 Minutes. Looking back, I think my parents wanted me to stay up-to-date on what was going on in the world. (Thanks, mom! Thanks, dad!)

When trying to come up with how to express my feelings about family dinners, I didn’t want to spit out the same stuff that everyone knows and reads about: eating together decreases children’s risks of obesity and getting into trouble, kids get better grades, the family unit is more stable, blah blah blah. That’s all good and all very valid, but what I want to share with you is simple: the memories. Having great memories of family dinners is why I know eating at a dinner table will without a doubt be a part of my future family’s routine. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite family dinner memories:

  1. The Night the Ladies Put Dad in His Place — I don’t remember this, but this story has been told so many times by my mother that I feel like I do! Just for a bit of back-story, I’m my mother’s only child but my dad had two children with his first wife: my half-brother and my half-sister, 18 and 16 years older than me, respectively. I was probably two years old and we were living in our “old house”. We were eating dinner at our wood-panel covered particle board dinner table in our classic 80s kitchen (avocado green dishwasher, corn husk yellow refrigerator, orange and yellow linoleum tiles). I was innocently eating dinner when my dad, assuming I had finished, started eating off of my plate. Well, I immediately start bawling and say, “Da-da-daddy… *sniffle*… I’m not done!!!” My mother, a professional at the sport of guilt-tripping, says, “Ed! You’re stealing off of your daughter’s plate!” You’d think he’d know I had the same food-loving attitude as my older siblings! How dare he!
  2. The Night I Learned About “Manitas” — My mom is 100% Puerto Rican and is the main reason why I love trying new things. Most of my experiences trying different Puerto Rican dishes growing up resulted in a love for them: pasteles, platanos, acapurria, yuca root, mofongo, avocado, mango, etc. But, I don’t love them all! One night my mom was preparing something for dinner that she said I should try, but forewarned me that I may not like it. She called it “manitas”, which means “little hands” in Spanish. I looked in the pot she had on the stove and saw what looked like little white, lumpy cubes simmering in broth. She saw the look of confusion on my face and told me, “They’re pig knuckles… well, pig feet.” Seeing me practically turn green, my lovely mother told me that I could call my dad and ask him to pick up a pizza for the two of us instead. She ate the “pig knuckles” over white rice while my dad and I held our noses, averted our eyes from what she was doing, and happily ate our delicious New York pizza.
  3. The Many Nights I Brushed Up on Spanish — As I already mentioned, my main supper-time job was to make salad and set the table. My mother always took it upon herself to make this educational: sometimes she would teach me to properly cut certain vegetables; sometimes she’d teach me a new salad dressing to make from scratch; and, many times she’d take the time to teach me new words in Spanish. Being Puerto Rican, my mother is fluent in both Spanish and English. Figuring it would be an easy A for me, I took Spanish in junior high school and high school (4 years total, in addition to one semester of it in college). Indeed, it was an easy A for me, and my mom is definitely a major reason for that. I learned “cucharra” (spoon), “servilleta” (napkin), and “arroz” (rice), to name just a few, far earlier than the curriculum in school would have me learn them. In fact, I basically knew nouns and verbs taught as far as my 2nd year in Spanish as early as elementary school! Of course, my father never picked up on the language like I did. Even after 27 years of marriage, my father knows nothing more than “garbanzo beans” and a few dirty words in Spanish!
  4. The Night I Ruled the Kitchen — For those of you who have always had siblings, hear this: as an only child, you really really have to learn to entertain yourself. This was very true for me, given that nearly all of my memories at home were of myself and my parents (my brother was a college freshman when I was born, and my sister left for college when I was a year and a half old). I’ve always loved food, so with an abundance of free time, imagination, and cookbooks at my disposal, it’s not surprising that I found many ways to keep myself occupied in the kitchen, far beyond my Easy Bake Oven! If memory serves me correct, it was my parents’ anniversary and I was probably no older than 10 or 11 years old. It was the weekend and I was hunting for something to do. I opened up my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook and desperately searched for a recipe with which to surprise my parents. I found something that I knew I loved at restaurants and for which we had the ingredients on hand: quiche lorraine. Not only did I make my first pie crust from scratch (something I honestly can’t do today), but my quiche came out great. I set our dining room table (not just our kitchen table… this was a special event, after all!), made a salad, poured glasses of Pepsi, and set my quiche on the table for my parents’ surprise. To this day, they still talk about “how Jessie made us a quiche when she was little”. My mom especially loves telling everyone that I barricaded the entrances to our kitchen with chairs and constantly proclaimed, “Don’t come in here! And I promise I’ll clean up everything!”
  5. The Night I Finally Got Final Jeopardy Right — I mentioned earlier that one of the only things we’d put on TV during dinner was Jeopardy! Well, when you haven’t even graduated high school yet, it’s hard to even understand the questions (or are they the answers??), nonetheless answer them. Well, one night we’re watching our show and my parents keep answering questions while I spat out responses that are very obviously incorrect. I think I was 14 or 15 at the time, so unless it pertained to basic trigonometry, I wasn’t going to gain any imaginary Jeopardy money anytime soon! Final Jeopardy came up, which I’d never even considered to be answer-able for me. I don’t remember the question (answer??) but I blurted out, “Habitat for Humanity”… and I was right! I’ll always remember the first correct answer I had to Final Jeopardy, and I’d like to think that I got an extra dessert that night.

When I think about the families that don’t have regular dinners together, I’m honestly in disbelief. It is such a norm in my life that an alternative to eating dinner with my parents every night just never entered my mind until probably when my siblings had kids, or when I met my boyfriend. I’m pretty confident my brother has dinner at a table with his family, and I’m sort of sure my sister does, too. My boyfriend’s family didn’t have dinner in the same way as my family did (kids ate different meals than the parents, and they eat much later than I do – around 8:30-9:00pm) and as a result my boyfriend and his younger brother are two of the pickiest eaters you’ll ever meet. (Don’t get me wrong – I love my boyfriend’s parents! They’re some of the best cooks ever, and they themselves eat a wide variety of yummy food! Unfortunately their kids fell far from the proverbial tree.)

My boyfriend and I both agree that eating together as a family will be something we will do with our kids, and he admits he doesn’t want our offspring to have his eating habits. (I guess he knows being a food flirt is a good thing!) I only hope that our kids have some crazy memories about family dinners just like I’ve had!

I hope they learn how to say “pepper” in Spanish (“pimienta”) and hand me three napkins when I tell them, “Dame tres servilletas, por favor!”

I hope they surprise us with a home-cooked meal of their own. (Dear future offspring: I still love quiche! Love, Mommy)

I hope they forgive me when I cook something they think stinks to high heaven and won’t touch with a 10-foot stick. (Don’t worry! Daddy will buy you some New York pizza instead!)

I hope I have the chance to bake them congratulatory cookies when they get a game show question correct for the first time.

Dinner is more than just food: it’s time spent taking in what will soon be distant memories!

New Food Story: Tempeh

When embarking on a vegetarian challenge in 2009, I was curious about different types of meatless protein. I was familiar with a few already (tofu, eggs, dairy, and beans), having enjoyed them for years prior to even considering this month-long vegetarianism. I can make a mean vegetarian chili. I love egg white omelets. I can marinate and grill tofu like a pro. But… what else is out there??

One that I’d heard from many vegetarian and vegan friends of mine was tempeh. Not sure of how to even pronounce it properly, I surely hadn’t a clue as to what this stuff was. As usual, Google had the answer, leading me to the Wikipedia article, which states:

Tempeh… is a traditional soy product originally from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form, similar to a very firm vegetarian burger patty…

Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and an earthy flavor which becomes more pronounced as the tempeh ages. Because of its nutritional value, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine; some consider it to be a meat analogue.

My brain screamed, “Yay! I love soybeans! I’ll obviously love tempeh!”

Speaking of "brain", doesn't the stuff have the same striations as a brain? Weird.

I headed to Trader Joes and nabbed myself a block of plain ol’ tempeh. I hunted down a recipe that simply marinated it in soy sauce for a while, then sauteed it with vegetables like you would a stir-fry. It smelled great and looked delicious! Golden cubes of this mysterious soybean substance, sliced carrots and zucchini, fragrant garlic, dark and gleaming soy sauce… it was seemingly magnificent.

I spooned a helping of the stir-fry atop a nice mound of brown rice.

I took a bite.

I spit it out.

With a look of confusion on my face, I tried another [smaller] bite.

With a look of disgust on my face, I swallowed.

I headed to the refrigerator, grabbed a bottle of sriracha, and drizzled some of the delicious spicy sauce om top of my next spoonful.

I unhappily swallowed that bite, grabbed my plate, and proceeded to toss away my meal into my garbage disposal. I finished off the second half of the rice with stir-fried veggies, after picking out every last cube of tempeh and letting the garbage disposal chew it up instead.

Obviously, this was a failure. To this day, I don’t like tempeh. I’ve tried it once since (two fried slices on a sandwich) and still hated it. It’s a texture thing and it’s a flavor thing. The texture is very solid, but particulate. It reminds me of very hard, dry feta cheese that is chewy and tastes like spoiled milk.

I have countless friends who love the stuff, and when I see recipes that include tempeh, the photos show meals that look really good!

For right now, tempeh is not for me. I gave it a try – just like I do with everything – but try as I might, I can’t stand it!

Luckily, I’ll always have beans, tofu, eggs, and [faux] dairy!

WIAW #2

Breakfast
Breakfast was yet another soy pumpkin spice latte with some oatmeal made with water, lots of Saigon cinnamon, some stevia, and a dash of sea salt.

I had some dehydrated apples for a morning snack, but I ate them too quickly to photograph!

Pad Thai lunch!
I went out to lunch with coworkers and got some tofu pad thai. Not authentic pad thai, but pretty good. I only ate half of the plate because it was so much food, but afterwards I had a scoop of ice cream (not pictured) so I was totally stuffed!

Huge freaking apple.
When I got home from work I had an apple. I was surprised that after my huge lunch I was hungry after all!

Well, I ended up making myself some awesome mashed cauliflower to go with leftover basmati rice, spinach, and sweet potatoes… but the photos I took of my dish got erased from my phone when it shut down on its own. Lame.

Well, this is WMBFA [what my boyfriend ate] for dinner:

Meat Loaf + Mashed Cauliflower

No dessert because I was so full!

I swear I’ll get better at this WIAW stuff!