Monday, December 23, 2013

Baking Day 2014

Baking Day started several years ago in San Francisco. I carried it to my home state of New York when I moved back here in 2008.

Baking Day is like a cookie swap, only most of the baking happens on that same day, too. Whoever is hosting invites a bunch of people over, and for several hours, we all get our holiday baking done and out of the way. At the end, it works like a cookie swap. Everyone takes a few cookies (or bars, or candies -- the selection always changes based on what people feel like making) and can do what they want with them from there.

I use Baking Day as an excuse to put together a couple of trays of treats as gifts for people like my boss and building super. And I often make one extra tray that becomes the gift for the person who I plum forgot to get a gift.

This year I made black and white cookies and blondies, which I douse with bourbon and thus like to call "death to blondies" (and yes, I know "death by blondies" would make more sense, but I am not in the business of sense-making when I'm baking).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Recipe: Death to Blondies


The name "death to blondies" doesn't really make any sense. I know it should be "death by blondies," as in "death by chocolate" cake.

Whatever. I think it's a better name.

Death to Blondies
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours.
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon
About 1 1/2 to 2 cups of any candy, chocolate, and nut mix-ins of your choice; suggestions include:
  •   1/2 cup chocolate-toffee candies, broken up, or 2 bars of almond-toffee chocolate
  •   1 cup walnuts or hazelnuts
  •   1/2 cup chocolate chunks (or white chocolate chips, or butterscotch chips)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Liberally butter a quarter sheet pan (13 by 9 inches; note that Dorie Greenspan's original recipe uses an 8 by 8-inch pan, which many people will feel more comfortable using, but I swear by the larger size).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixer bowl with paddle attachment (I use hand-held egg beaters), beat butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. This step may take longer than you'd expect. Just beat the hell out of it. It's the most important part. Add sugar and molasses. Continue to beat on medium for 3 more minutes.

Add the egg, and beat until combined. Stir in the vanilla.

Working in three batches, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and stir until combined. Drop in your mix-ins, and work them in using a sturdy spoon.

Spread evenly in buttered pan. It's going to look like it'll never make it. But it will. It will spread a little and puff up.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is a golden brown. Allow to cool completely in pan before cutting into 1.5 by 1.5 inch squares.

The blondes will last in an air-tight container at room temperature for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What Do Tech Analysts Buy With Their Own Money?

My job involves playing with, analyzing, and writing about technology, all day every day. In the lab where I work, we see more than 2,000 products a year. We have an entire aisle of HDTVs, another one for new laptop computers, and bins and bins of smartphones, fitness trackers, tablets, cameras, wireless routers, and other miscellaneous products in our inventory room. There's a lot of very cool stuff that we get to use and don't have to pay for.

Which got me thinking: What products do my colleagues actually buy with their own money?

The question, and resulting article, began from a genuine desire to know what people actually bought with their own money. I figured the public would be curious to know, too. I hear my co-workers from time to time say things like, "After testing such-and-such, I just couldn't give it up. So I ran out and bought one for myself."

The last three years running, around the holidays, I've asked this question and written an article to go with it. I always get reader feedback from the article. People love the "vote with your pocketbook" angle of the story.

I think it's really interesting to see how different this year's list is from last year's (2012) or the year before (2011). For example, this year's results really leaned toward utilitarian technology.

No one on staff is required to participate in the article, so not all of my co-workers are included in the results. And those who do answer can say anything at all that they've spent money on, so they aren't limited to products in their area of expertise. But it's always funny to see some people who stick to what they know. The camera analyst, for example, has purchased a new camera for himself three years in a row, and this year, he spent $7,000 on one!

Read the full article here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sure, It Does More Stuff, But Can You Understand It?

Just because your technologies can "do more stuff," doesn't mean you the consumer understand it.

One of the questions I face as a product reviewer is whether "doing more stuff" makes one product better than others in the same class that do less.

The ability to "do more" or "have more features," however, does not necessarily indicate a better product. The term "feature creep" alone is a tip-off that too many features can easily become "useless features." Too many features creates a too-busy design or confusing interface.

But the problem goes deeper than that.

In the case of technology products and software, the user should be able understand at all times what value they are deriving from the product, and it's the product's job to present that information. Products (and especially software, which is my area of focus as a technology writer) are responsible for giving their users feedback. If the user cannot  understand that feedback or see how and why it's relevant, than the product is failing to some degree.

The most clear example that I've seen lately is fitness gadgets, like the Fitbit line of products, Nike+ FuelBand line, Jawbone UP, and so forth. They're all modern-day pedometers. They count how many steps you take in a day, and most of them measure a bunch of other metrics, too. But can you make sense of the data they are measuring? And more importantly, are the data they are measuring relevant to you?

With fitness trackers, I personally get a lot of value out of those that have a complete ecosystem that includes a calorie-counting component and weight-tracking component. And I want my account to show me trends that relate my fitness level (i.e., how many steps I took in a day) with those other things: how much I ate and what I weighed. I want to see week-by-week analysis of those data points, not just day-to-day summaries of each one on a separate page. I want to see the relationship between all that information, not just the information itself.

A few fitness technology companies are getting pretty good at making data relevant and understandable to users (I'll point to Basis for that), but a lot of them are poor at it (ehem, Nike). It's an area that can't be overlooked though if the companies that make these devices want to stick around for the long term. As soon as consumers wise up to the fact that they can't really make sense of their data in a way that leads to actions and new habits, they'll recognize there's no sense in tracking the data in the first place.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Write About the People You Love

"What did you do to rebel?" A writer friend asked me this one night, over a glass of wine, after she had listened to a bunch of stories about my messed-up teenage years living in a very dysfunctional household.

"Nothing," I said.

"Nothing? No crazy drug use? No going out and sleeping with a bunch of older guys?"

"No. I mean, I was really focused on graduating early so I could get the hell out of there."

She didn't understand. This was far from her life's story, which was full of rebellion.

"You have to bear in mind," I said, "the adults in my life were the ones doing irresponsible things. So I didn't want to be like them. I didn't want to do what they were doing."

"Well," she said, "I think in your story, you're being too protective of your mother."

That hit home. She was referring to an oral storytelling piece that's still in progress that only minimally mentions my mother. "Why are you protecting your mother?"

"My mother's a good person," I said. "There are a bunch of twists and turns in this particular story that don't make her look great, but that's not the complete person. It would be unfair and not true to only show those things without giving mention to the fact that she did a lot of stuff right, particularly in raising me and my sisters."

"You don't have to protect her. This is your story. There are people in my family who won't even talk to me anymore because of things I've written or performed, but fuck them. They have to deal with that."

I have yet to figure out how to write personal, emotional, evocative, engaging stories without exposing the people I love. I struggle with it a lot.

Sometimes I want a pen name, an ounce of anonymity, just so I can say what I really feel about people, positively, negatively, and with the full complexity of the emotional relationship as I have experienced it.

But it feels so unfair to expose someone like that. My storytelling is only one point of view. Stories help us make meaning, and so my portrayal of a person in my life is my way of making meaning of that person, or my relationship with him or her. But it doesn't allow them to have any voice or representation.

Any other writers out here: How do you handle this?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Does Life Change in an Instant?

Does life ever change in an instant?

I believe the answer is no.

It's a question I sometimes want to explore creatively, to show stories of people whose lives do change, but not in an instant. I believe that even when there is a memorable turning point, we are incapable of changing who we are in an instant.

NPR's Ted Radio Hour this week was a rebroadcast of an episode called Turning Points, with three stories from people who theoretically had their lives change in an instant.

The first storyteller, a successful surgeon name Sherwin Nuland, seems to have been pigeonholed into the theme without necessarily really believing that his life did change in an instant. He had been hospitalized for depression for a year, and underwent electroshock therapy. The first eight shock treatments had no effect. Finally, the ninth one seemed to bring about a little change. Slowly, he gained enough of his health back to be let off the hospital grounds to take walks. One day, he walked to a nearby service station and was talking to an employee there who suggested he push away his depressive and obsessive thought by just saying, "Oh, fuck it." And that was perhaps the moment everything changed.

Except it didn't. Nuland goes on to say that for the first few months of trying out his new coping mechanism, it was really hard. It was only little by little over time that he recovered and got his life back.

Without being dismissive of people who do believe their lives changed in an instant, let me say this: Our lives don't change any more or any less on a given day. It is the seeming magnitude of the things that happen that changes, and the magnitude of our response.

What I mean by that is the external actions and effects that happen are nothing. Our response, both in how we perceive and how we react, is what makes the action or effect real, or meaningful, or completely insignificant.

In the second story from this same show, Ric Elias survives a plane crash and professes that his life radically changed thereafter. He appreciates life more, chooses happiness over trying to be right, and now dedicates himself to being the best father he can be. But all those things, surely, did not switch on instantly on the day a plane landed in the Hudson River. They did not come from nowhere. They had to be things he felt and knew for some time before, even if he hadn't acted on them as fully as he does now. Every day he changes. Every day the magnitude of his response to outside actions and effects changes.

The change is constant, ongoing.

We do not become new men overnight.

When I think about this question from a creative standpoint, I definitely take my own experiences into account. I have a number of stories about events that should have been "turning points," but when I think through them, I realize that nothing so significant ever happened on a single day.

The meaningful things that I can point to in my life, when I think about them in their entirety, are never so simple as to be caused by a single event. Everything interlocks. All the momentum connect.

I have been struggling my entire life to write about my relationship with my brother. I grew up believing he had been kidnapped, and later in life pieced together the fact that there was hardly any truth to it -- at least not in the words that I had learned to use to tell the story. It's an extremely long and complicated story, which is why I struggle to write about it.

For years, I thought it was a "turning point" in my life, this thing that happened that shaped who I was. But I also changed all the while. I wasn't a statically different person because of it. And the meaning of my brother's so-called kidnapping on my own life didn't come to me at once. It changed over time, and it's still changing. How I see the events around that story change all the time, too. The magnitude of them changes. My reaction to them continues to change.

Are we the sum of all our days, or are we only who we are right now in this moment?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mixed Emotions About Publishing a Book

The last six weeks, my emotional experience about writing and finally now publishing a book has been nothing but a mixed bag.

The book is called Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life. It spun out of a weekly column that I write, also called Get Organized. The column has tips and advice for how to better organize your technology (think cleaning up iTunes playlists, how to name digital photos, etc.). Each column covers one little slice. The book, on the other hand, is more like a jumping off point for totally and wholly reorganizing one's digitized life, from photos to work files to social networks.

I'm feeling okay right now because the project is finally done. Not "proud." Not "enthusiastic." Not "overjoyed." But "okay." And it's taken a while to feel okay. The writing and editing sapped my energy toward the end, sure, but the emotional ups and downs were much more draining.

'This is Why it Matters'
In May, when I wrote the first draft of the introduction to the book, I was feeling pumped. I believed in what I had to say. Much of the substance of the book was going to based on 18 months' worth of writing that I had already done, and the introduction stepped back from the detail of the topic at hand to say, "This is why it all matters."

I wrote that first version of the introduction while traveling. I was on a driving road trip, seven days from St. Louis to Kansas City to Memphis to New Orleans, and then four more days in San Francisco. During the long evenings alone, I'd take myself to out to dinner somewhere to unwind first, then head back to the hotel. I'd nab some ice from the hotel vending machine and, back in the room, set two beers in the sink to chill. Laptop open, no distractions, I wrote. And I loved it.

I loved being alone and having uninterrupted time to write. I loved that no one was asking for a chapter. I was writing because I wanted to write. I put words on a page that mattered. I thought a lot about what I really believed, behind all the tips and advice, the core truth of what drives me to care about this topic enough to have something to say about it for almost two years straight (the articles run once a week, which means I'm nearing my 100th column).

That first draft of the introduction went to my editor, and I heard nothing back. Excellent.

Ironic as it may seem, I feel best when I send my work into the world and never hear about it again. Sure, I don't know if anyone ever read it, but I made it and did what I had to do with it. It's one of the conflicts I have with writing. I have to send it out, but part of me never wants to acknowledge that it happened. It's kind of like telling a secret. The moment you expunge it, it doesn't feel like a deep dark secret anymore. The moment a secret is off my chest, I forget that it ever was a secret in the first place. It's over and done. My writing is much like that.

Buckle Down
The project didn't actually pick up until mid or late June. When it did, I wrote a chapter a week for six or seven weeks. Mostly I worked from home, setting aside one day for one chapter. Bang it out, I thought, in one shot so as to not interrupt my regular work schedule too much.

It mostly worked.

I cranked through most of the chapters in chronological order, 15 in all. Here and there I set one aside and came back to it when I was ready. But I wrote steadily and consistently and didn't struggle with writer's block or any other nonsense.

Next came creating some images, which took a week or two, followed by making five videos that are included in the book (did I mention it's an ebook?).

I slagged on the videos.

At this point, the editor was not doing any project management, and he didn't get on my case to stick to the schedule that I had created. In all, I think I was three weeks late delivering the final video. But no one bugged me about it. I knew I was to blame, but no one blamed me but myself. That was a problem.

I should mention that there was a whole team of people behind this project, although I'm not going to talk about any one of them in detail.

Doubt
Mid September marked the start of final editing. We had done one major revision pass at this stage, and it was time to pin down the language once and for all.

This was the moment when I started to hate the book.

I wanted it to be done, to have been sent out into the world already so I could hurry up and forget about it. I started to reflect on the fact that it wasn't my best work. What would people say about it? How would they criticize the content? Hell, I was already able to criticize the content, so I knew it wasn't the best it could be. A few people would buy it, read the first few chapters, and rip it to shreds and rightly so, I thought.

Maybe no one would buy it, or a few people would buy it but none of them would actually really read the thing. I latched onto the idea that maybe no one would read it. Yes. I would love it if nobody ever read it. That would be ideal.

The publish date wasn't for another three or four weeks yet, and we had more to do.

Fatigue and Anger
Head down, I pushed through the editing, copy editing, and proofreading stages.

Proofreading went horribly, but I don't want to get detail about why. It wasn't due to the number of errors we found, but rather because a few people misunderstood how the proofreading phase needs to work. Nevertheless, I felt angry.

Shilling
Just as I thought the project was wrapping up, the team and I had a meeting where I learned in a lot more detail how much more needed to be done in terms of marketing and promotion -- self promotion.

I should email everyone in my contacts list and ask them to buy the book and write a review of it. That's what I was told.

No.

They knew I wouldn't do that, not in that way at least. Instead, I asked exactly 23 close friends and family to write a review. I even gave them advanced (unproofed) copies to read so that if they chose to write a review, they could actually read the book or pretend like they did. [Since I first wrote this post, I did send a note to 30 more friends, so that makes 53 people in all, which is plenty.]

Shilling the book felt even worse than feeling doubt and anger. At least I had some control, though, over how much effort I might actually put into shilling. With writing and editing, I'm trained to do a thorough job. It might not be brilliant, but it will be thorough. With promotion, I could (and would) half-ass it. I would do as much as I deemed necessary without going whole-hog.

More advice from our consultant: I should reach out to my contacts in the media and ask if they would mention the book in articles or have me as a guest on their television or radio shows, or maybe just mention the book.

I reached out to exactly three people in this fashion, and I hated every moment of it. I don't have many contacts "in the media" beyond a few former co-workers who now write for bigger and better general-purpose or technology websites, and a handful of email addresses of people who have booked me as a talking head on some TV news shows.

Outward Enthusiasm
"Be yourself." I understand why that hackneyed advice exists, but I swear it is not equally applicable to all people. Some people actually have to put in effort to fit in with others and appear as normal, well-adjusted, socially acceptable, empathetic human beings.

In my situation of having to now talk about my book when people asked me about it, I should under no circumstances "be myself."

Why?

Because I'm cynical and moody. Because I have the ability to see the worst in things while convincing myself that what I see is highly pragmatic and objective. Because I am extremely hard on myself and open about that fact. I think I believe that being hard on myself is a way to beat other people to the punch.

So on the day that the book launched and a co-worker asked me how excited I was, I said, "Not at all really. I kind of hate it right now..."  and after going on for 30 seconds like that, I finally cut myself off.

"Wait. Let me start over," I said.

"I'm so excited! Today is one of the best days of my life. I'm so happy to see everyone's hard work pay off. The book has been such an amazing project. Everyone has been super supportive, and it's just great!" Big smiles. Gratitude. A modest amount of pride. God damned jazz hands.

My co-worker obviously knew it wasn't genuine. I did want to prove that I could flip a switch and turn on the right attitude when necessary. But I also wanted to show that, yeah, I'm not thrilled about it. It's been hard. I feel shitty right now. I'm afraid people will think my ideas and writing are dumb, and that therefore I'm dumb.

Are We There Yet?
There's a saying among writers: The piece isn't finished when it's published. It's finished when people read it.

Get Organized has a launch party this coming week. I will get up in front of a few dozen people and put on my smile and thank people and gush about the book. Some of it will be sincere, some of it will be for show. And I'll honestly do my best to balance what I should say and how I should act with an ounce of my real open and honest self. The self-promotion and marketing stuff will go on for a few weeks, but I will probably only do it half-heartedly and not with the zeal that would otherwise land me interviews and radio spots and such.

I know there's still more to go, but I am ready for a few weeks of quiet and forgetting.



Monday, October 14, 2013

My First Book: Get Organized

My first book is out!

Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life grew out of a weekly column I write for PCMag.com. The column teaches very simply ways in which most people can better manage their digital lives. In other words, it's all about being organized with your technology, as well as how to make yourself more organized through technology.

The book is like a starter's guide to getting organized with technology. It begins with the computer, and even more specifically with the desktop. How should a clean desktop look? What are the benefits of a clean desktop (hint: it can increase your productivity and focus)?

It then takes baby steps into concepts like coming up with a consistent way that you name your files so that you can know at a glance exactly what each file contains, without even having to open it.

The book gets a little more advanced as it goes on, but it still circles back to some basics, like how to clean a smartphone tidy and what kinds of things you should put on your smartphone to stay organized (grocery shopping list, family calendar, an app that gives you access to important files on your home or office computer, for example).

You can buy the Get Organized ebook for Kindle on Amazon, and the Get Organized iPad version from iTunes. Barnes & Noble appears to be behind in processing the Nook edition (c'est la vie). There will be a small run of print books at a higher price in the coming weeks. I'm not sure how much it will cost, but probably in the neighborhood of $15-$20. The ebook is $4.99.

And you can read the weekly column every Monday on PCMag.com.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Love of the Interview

How much can you get a person to reveal about himself or herself?

One of my favorite kinds of writing, to both create and read, is the interview. Interviews take a lot of preparation, and even then, they can go sour quickly. Some interviewees warm up immediately while others stay cold the whole time you're asking them questions on the record. Some people answer questions better the second time you ask the same thing. Some people simply will not be interrupted for a follow-up. Some don't know how to elaborate.

It pains me, though, to interview people in a limited amount of time, as is usually the case, and not have the chance to ask more personal questions. Their histories and personas, I believe, actively inform the "why" and "how" of their work--or whatever it is I'm interviewing them for.

Not everyone opens up, either, and often, based on the nature of the interview, there isn't time to get to what I'm truly interested in knowing. Last week, I interviewed a prominent businesswoman and entrepreneur, Cindy Gallop, who has a very open personal life. Before we started recording the interview, she said a few things off-hand that I wanted to ask more about. It had to do with her life's trajectory and how the uncertainty of her future is, right now, very exciting and brings her happiness. I could have asked a hundred questions about those few ideas alone, but the purpose of the interview was something else, and I didn't want to take up more time than I had initially said I would when she so graciously agreed to be interviewed in the first place. [Video below.]


One of my favorite interviews I've done was back in 2008 with game designer Eric Zimmerman. Before the interview, I overly prepared for it. I was working at home at the time and living alone. I had an abundance of time and a lot of flexibility at work. I researched Zimmerman and discovered he's an open book online, with his resume (which included even his home address) all fully there for the taking. So I prepped and prepped and prepped.

I think the interview itself must have lasted 90 minutes. That's a lot of time to ask of someone. We met at the office in New York where Zimmerman worked and had a quiet conference room where no one bothered us. So I fired away, mostly on the topic of games as systems and the topic of systems thinking. Here's an excerpt of my favorite bit (I'm "GCG") where I tease out something more personal but still manage to stay on topic:
GCG: I found a quote from Karen Sideman. She was quoted in an article on The Escapist last year called "Gamelab's Hustler." I think you had spoken at the Astoria Museum of the Moving Image and someone had interviewed you. Karen Sideman spoke to the same reporter and she said, she thought that you were successful because you are "extremely comfortable" talking about things "systematically." I was curious first for you to comment on that, and second, if you could tell us something that you are either not systematic about or something that suffers because you are too systematic.  
EZ: Oh, wow, that gets kind of personal. ... 
I also want to say that thinking about things systemically is not dehumanizing. It just depends on what you do with it. In the instance of the resume, what I'm really saying is that you need to understand that there is a human being who is going to be looking at your resume, and it's not just about the object of the resume, but it's about how that object ramifies in a human context. I wouldn't want to think that thinking systemically somehow empties all the humanness out of the equation. 
So you said, "What is an example of one thing I don't do systemically?" 
GCG: -- either something you don't do systemically or something that suffers because you're too systematic. 
EZ: Deep engagement with something, whether that's a romantic relationship, whether it is being in the moment of playing a game, or something that you study seriously -- I've studied martial arts for a number of years -- you go through cycles. Sometimes you rise above it all and have a very rational analytic consciousness of what's going on. Other times you're really taking a very deep dive and are acting very intuitively.  
I think that you need to be able to let go of systemic thinking. Sometimes it's good to be able to analyze what's going on in a relationship or with your feelings. Other times it's just totally wrong because that analysis itself is you sort of hiding your feelings. ...I would say that systemic thinking is not necessarily rational either. Part of acting intuitively is that you have learned systems so well that you're no longer thinking rationally about it. You've moved through that rational process into some space of deeper play. 
If you think about great play, whether it's Counter-Strike or tennis or poker or basketball, there's a kind of flow that occurs. In that space of flow, is that really systems thinking? Yes, but maybe more on a preconscious level than a conscious level. I'm not a cognitive scientist, so it's hard to speculate. I wouldn't want to always associate systems thinking with rational analysis.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

5 Dishes Not to Miss in New York


Uni toast, Aldea, New York. 

Image: starchefs.com.

Aldea
Uni Toast ($10)
Crisp toast spread with cauliflower purée, then a layer of mustard seeds that seem to pop as if they were roe, lovely lobes of buttery uni, adorned with shiso and lime

Casa Mono
Skirt Steak ($17)
Indulgently fatty skirt steak on top of a chunky and smoky Romesco sauce, with a pile of onion mermelada dripping sweetness into the whole thing.

Roberta's 
Bee Sting Pizza ($15 lunch, $16 brunch)
The most delicious blend of sweet and spicy on a classic tomato sauce and mozzarella pizza because it's topped with sopressata, chili, and honey.

Luke's Lobster
Lobster Roll ($15)
Lump lobster meat barely dressed in a dash of mayonnaise, a flick of lemon-pepper butter, a speck of seasoning (thyme, oregano, celery salt, salt, black pepper) on a toasted and thankfully wimpy white bread roll

ABC Kitchen
Ice Cream Sundae ($14)
Salted caramel ice cream with candied peanuts, popcorn, a dark and velvety chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.

Runners-Up
Motorino: Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta Pizza ($16)
Jane: Vanilla Bean French Toast (brioche bread, crème brûlèe batter, Vermont maple syrup) ($15)
Ippudo: Karaka Men ramen ($14)


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rum Saffron Sour, Hotel Herman, Montreal

Labor Day weekend, Montreal

All our money went to food. Sure, we paid for airport taxis, the subway, and a whitewater rafting excursion down La Chine, but really, we blew all our money on food.

I have no regrets. Montreal has a unique dining scene and an admirably nationalistic palette for Québécois food. Think force meats and game, country style cheeses, maple, and lots of crusty bread.

One night we had planned to eat at Lawrence, but it was closed, and so we ended up down the block at Hotel Herman, where I ordered a "rum sour." Threads of saffron left minuscule streaks of orange in the soft egg whites balanced on top of this sweet and tangy drink. A sprinkle of cracked black pepper somehow tasted muted and mild.

We ate sea urchin served in their own shells with edible flowers and herbs from the restaurant's back garden. 
We passed on steak chéval and chéval tartare (horse meat), but slurped briny New Brunswick oysters, nibbled away at delicately pan-fried sweet breads, and tore into duck two ways (seared breast and confit leg).



Thursday, August 15, 2013

100 Grams Carrots

100 grams of carrots, raw, shown on digital scale
100 grams of carrots, raw.
100 grams of carrots, raw, contains around 41 calories, 69mg sodium, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 5 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

It also contains 334 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 10 percent of vitamin C, 3 percent of calcium, and 2 percent iron.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

100 Grams Cabbage

100 grams green, raw cabbage.

100 grams of green cabbage, raw, contains approximately 25 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, 18mg sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 1 gram protein.

It also contains roughly 2 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, 61 percent of vitamin C, 4 percent of calcium, and 3 percent of iron.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

100 Grams Bread, Seven Grain

100 grams of seven grain bread shown on digital scale
100 grams of seven grain bread.

You can now see side-by-side comparison photos on a new 100 Grams blog! New photos will be added daily.

100 grams of seven grain bread contains around 288 calories, 5 grams of fat, 457mg sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of protein.

It also contains 11 percent recommended daily allowance of calcium, and 15 percent of iron.

Monday, August 12, 2013

100 Grams Blueberries

100 grams fresh blueberries shown on digital scale
100 grams of blueberries.
100 grams of fresh blueberries contains around 57 calories, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein. 100 grams of blueberries has 1 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A and calcium, but 16 percent vitamin C, and 2 percent iron.

Friday, August 9, 2013

100 Grams Tortilla Chips

100 grams tortilla chips, white corn, salted.
100 grams of white corn, salted tortilla chips contains about 489 calories, 23 grams of fat (36 percent of one's daily allowance), 421mg sodium, 66 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 8 grams of protein.

It also contains 17 percent of one's daily recommended dose of calcium and 13 percent of iron.

100 grams tortilla chips, white corn, salted.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

100 Grams Quaker Oats

100 grams Quaker Old Fashioned oats, raw.


100 grams of Quaker Old Fashioned oats, raw, contains approximately 375 calories, 7.5 grams of fat, about 68 grams carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of sugar, and 12.5 grams of protein. A recommended serving is 40 grams.


100 grams Quaker Old Fashioned oats, raw.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

100 Grams Lemon, Raw With Peel

100 grams of lemon, raw with peel and seeds intact
100 grams of lemon, raw with peel.
100 grams of lemon, raw with the peel and seeds intact, contains about 20 calories, 3mg sodium, 11 carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary fiber, and 1 gram of protein.

It also contains 1 percent of the daily allowance of vitamin A, 128 percent of vitamin C, 6 percent of calcium, and 4 percent of iron.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

100 Grams Apricots

100 grams of apricots measured on a digital scale
100 grams of apricots.
100 grams of fresh apricots has approximately 48 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

It also contains 39 percent of one's daily allowance of vitamin A, 17 percent of vitamin C, 1 percent of calcium, and 2 percent of iron.

Monday, August 5, 2013

100 Grams Granulated White Sugar


100 grams white granulated sugar on a scale with coins for visual comparison
100 grams of white granulated sugar.


100 grams of white granulated sugar has 387 calories and 0 other nutritional value.

100 grams of white granulated sugar.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The 100 Grams Project (Preview!)

The 100 Grams Project shows photos of 100 grams of various foods.

I'll be posting this month as many photos and foods as I can muster, and if it goes well, I'll start adding all the images from the project to a new blog.

It came about because on many occasions, I've searched online for pictures of 100 grams of different foods, usually because I was reading a recipe or nutritional information, but had no frame of reference for how 100 grams of that food might actually look.

Post a comment if there is a particular food you'd like to see included!

Here's a preview:

100 grams of apricots measured on a digital scale
100 grams of apricots.
100 grams of fresh apricots has approximately 48 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.

It also contains 39 percent of one's daily allowance of vitamin A, 17 percent of vitamin C, 1 percent of calcium, and 2 percent of iron.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Truffle Tour: 5 Top Chocolate Shops in New York City

MarieBelle chocolate truffles: banana, lavender, sesame 

(from left, clockwise).
Five turned out to be the maximum number of chocolate shops I could tolerate in the end. A few others were on the back of my list the day I set out with a friend to eat truffles in New York, but we hit our chocolate ceiling by the fifth stop.

We started at Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn, New York City's only bean-to-bar operation. A display table showing off piles of solid, single-origin bars also held four plates of broken pieces of chocolate to sample. And though our mission was truffles, we started with the pure chocolate. One chocolate from Madagascar was absolutely stunning, with prominent raspberry notes, like a fruit-forward wine. At the counter, we found truffles and bon-bons, so we picked up one banana caramel bon-bon and one dark chocolate truffle rolled in confectioner's sugar ($2 each). The bon-bon had a soft caramel center flavored with what tasted like true banana, no imitations and flavorings here. As for the truffle, my friend, who's more of a truffle expert than I am, says she looks for a delicate shell and the right texture inside, this one was high quality in both areas.

We hopped on our bikes and pedaled over the Williamsburg Bridge, burning a few calories along the way, and parked outside Essex Street Market, where inside we'd find our second shop.

Roni-Sue specializes in bacon-chocolate creations, but also has an interesting line of cocktail-inspired truffles, including a Manhattan (bourbon, sweet Vermouth, and cherry), which tasted uniquely sour in contrast with the sweetness of the chocolate. Another stellar creation was a beer caramel, covered in chocolate and topped with pretzel pieces. The most basic and classic truffle, in this case called "chocolate cake" tasted dry and uninspiring.

Back on the bikes, we winded our way up to Soho, where we intended to hit at least three more chocolate shops.
Marie-Belle Chocolate in New York.

MarieBelle takes image seriously. The first images of painted chocolates on this page are from this haute chocolate shop in Soho on Broome Street in New York. It's intimidating. A chandelier hangs in the middle of the room, and the walls are hand-painted blue and gold (one wall has an intricate painted pattern; not shown). The selection is also intense with dozens upon dozens of flavors. We chose a few more off-beat flavors: banana (to compare it with Mast Brothers), lavender, and sesame. The sesame was disappointing, with only a hint of warmth and texture, but no real flavor of sesame coming through. The banana tasted artificial in contrast with our banana caramel from earlier in the day. But I'll sing praises for the lavender chocolate: quintessentially French.

By the time we arrived at Voges, just around the corner on Spring Street, I was already started to feel sugar overload. My friend and I had been sharing the chocolates, eating only half of a truffle or bon-bon each, but it adds up fast. We were turning down free samples at this point, and struggling to choose new truffles. Should we do more comparative tasting and stick with flavors we already had, or go in a new direction. I caved at Voges and picked a seasonal limited edition "Italiano" that was flavored with balsamic vinegar and roasted hazelnuts, lovely and subtle. For our second truffle at Voges, we opted for coconut, in part because it was offered as a free sample and we just couldn't keep turning them down. It had a strong coconut flavor and lots of sweetened shredded flakes on top, which is fine by me.

Ginger chocolate truffle (left) and black sesame truffle 

at Kee's Chocolates in New York.
Last up: Kee's Chocolates, and intentionally last on the list. We didn't mean to eat so many truffles at Kee's, but once again, the free samples started coming and, well, it would have been rude to turn them down. The flavor combinations of Kee's truffles range from standard to exotic, and the only one I was dead set on trying was black sesame because it was a truffle literally rolled in black and white sesame seeds, and the texture combinations was like nothing I'd ever tasted before, the pop of the sesame seends and their delicate crunch, the melt-away quality of the chocolate... Another irrestiable truffle was honey saffron, which turned out to be overpoweringly sweet after all the chocolates we had eaten that day. Ginger was the free sample, and a final blood orange truffle hit all the right notes with its quiet fruitiness without a strong citrus punch.

Here's our route from the day:


N 3rd St., Brooklyn
Recommended: Madagascar single origin chocolate, banana caramel bon-bon

120 Essex St. (inside Essex Street Market)
Recommended: Manhattan truffle (bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry) and beer caramel with pretzel

484 Broome St.
Recommended: lavender truffle

132 Spring St.
Recommended: seasonal "Italiano" truffle with balsamic vinegar and roasted hazelnuts 

80 Thompson St.
Recommended: everything

Sunday, July 28, 2013

5 Best Beer and Cheese Spots in New York

One of my favorite new styles of beer bars is the market-hybrid, and they're cropping up like mad. These shops sell beer by the bottle, usually with an entire wall dedicated to refrigerated cases, but also often sell pints to drink on the spot. And many have some sort of food component built in, too, whether it's a small deli counter or an entire charcuterie list, plated and served alongside a flight of craft beer.

Between this kind of shop and other small restaurants specializing in cheesey foods and craft beers, I have been loving what I see. These five are my favorite beer and cheese specialty shops and restaurants in New York.

Bierkraft
191 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn (Park Slope)
Beirkraft offers an enormous selection of beers to take home or drink on the spot, including both bottled beers and draughts that you can order by the glass or growler. Picnic tables inside the horseshoe-shaped bar provide ample room for spreading out a few glasses of beer, as well as the  sandwiches, cheese, and bags of chips and nuts you can buy at the deli counter right inside the same store. Check out the freezer cases for some amazing ice cream sandwiches, too. The taps rotate often. Go mid-day on a weekend, as the place closes fairly early, and enjoy the outdoor patio in the summer.

ABC Beer Co.
96 Avenue C, Manhattan
ABC Beer Co. has much more nightlife than Bierkraft--it's open until 2AM on Fridays and Saturdays--while still feeling more like a sit-down deli than an Alphabet City bar. It also has bottles and taps, although I've been turned down from drinking a bottle inside the establishment itself, so be prepared to drink off the small but well curated tap list.

The Queens Kickshaw
40-17 Broadway, Astoria
I adore The Queens Kickshaw, a chic beer restaurant that specializes in some of the most interesting grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever tasted. Try the egg sandwich with ricotta, and a cheese crisp, and maple hot sauce. The beer selection is super, both bottled and draught, although you can't take the bottles out as Kickshaw is a restaurant and not a market. Kickshaw also makes damn fine coffee.

Earl's Beer and Cheese
1259 Park Ave., Manhattan
Earl's takes the cake for being the weirdest of all the beer and cheese shops in New York. It serves grilled cheese sandwiches and a beer-cheese dip, rather than cheese plates. And they have a burrito that's disgustingly large. Earl's itself is tiny, as is its tap list (four on my last visit, which was admittedly a few months ago), and they don't sell beers by the bottle. But Earl's is wildly interesting and does pick some fantastic and original beers to try.

Astoria Bier and Cheese
34-14 Broadway, Astoria
Another Astoria spot? It's true, and who would have thought it? Astoria Bier and Cheese is so new I've only been once so far, and the place still seems to be getting its legs. There's a lovely tap selection, full array of bottles to drink on the spot or carry out, a cheese and meat counter, as well as a flat-top grill and sandwich press for grilled cheese and other sandwiches. I had a flight of four beers recently ($10) that were all knew to me, a good sign of an interesting selection.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Site of the Day: Skydrive.Live

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

Skydrive.Live
Did you know you can use free and legal copies of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint online? People who work with technology quite a bit likely already know about Skydrive, but I'm always surprised how many others have never heard of it. That's probably in part due to Microsoft's notoriously poor processes of choosing names for products, switching the names, and bungling the media outread (sorry, Microsoft, but it's painfully true).

Update: Microsoft will be renaming Skydrive due to a trademark battle in the U.K. Can I just say that this is so completely typical? One of my biggest complaints about Microsoft's products and services is that they are inconsistently named and often renamed during the course of their lifetimes, which means if you search for information or tutorials about the service online, you might not find what you need because you would have to be searching under the old name.

Think of Skydrive as being similar to Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), only it's all sanctioned by Microsoft. You get Web-based access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so that you can create and edit documents that run in those programs. You also get some free online (ehem, "cloud") storage with an account.

How do you get Skydrive? Simple. Sign up for any Microsoft Live account, which includes Hotmail and Outlook.com. If you already have a Hotmail account, you already have Skydrive. Look in the upper left corner of the screen. See that down-pointing carat? Click, and you'll see Skydrive as an option.

Students especially should know about Skydrive because unless they need the full version of Microsoft Office, with every single feature, then they can probably get by with Skydrive and don't have to buy Microsoft Office! That's really a big deal. I wish I had had Skydrive when I was in college.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Site of the Day: Focus@Will

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

Focus@Will
Focus@Will, pronounced as "focus at will," streams music designed to help you focus. All the tracks it plays are lyric-free. The site has different styles of music, or stations, such as cinematic, spa, ambient, and others. The idea is that the music is designed to minimize distractions and help you keep your eyes on the task at hand; in other words, you listen to it while you're at work.

Certainly, a lot of people already listen to their favorite playlists while they work, and still manage to focus, and to them I'd say Focus@Will is probably not for you. If you already have a listening routine that enables or enhances your productivity, so be it. But if you could use something to help cancel out distractions from your environment, it's well a worth a shot.


For $3.99 a month, you can add some special features to your Focus@Will account, but I say pass on that. The features aren't that great, and you can get what you need out of the free version.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Site of the Day: Global Fat Scale

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

Global Fat Scale
I really wish the BBC had a more permanently configured web page with a memorable URL for its Global Fat Scale calculator, because it's actually very cool. You key in your age, sex, height, weight, and country in which you live, and it spits back out your BMI and some stats about how you compare to others in your country and across the world.

Global Fat Scale results and factoids show countries where your sized body,
based on body mass index, is average according to age and sex.

For example, with a BMI of 22 (no decimal places are used, but I'm actually more like 22.9!), I am most similarly sized with women of my age in Niger. If I gain a pound, I'm more like women in Liberia. The site displays some other neat factoids, too, such as:
"If everyone in the world had the same BMI as you, it would remove 16,565,158 tonnes from the total weight of the world's population."
What's really neat is to scroll through the display of countries on the chart that this website outputs to see how various nations rank next to one another. If you scroll way down to the bottom, where people are very slim, you will find a list of mostly poorer countries... plus Japan at number 14.

Where do you fall on the global fat scale?
Countries with the leanest women, on average, age 30-44
(ranked bottom to top; i.e., Ethiopia is 1, Sri Lanka is 2, etc.)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Site of the Day: GlobalRichList

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

GlobalRichList.com
Feeling poor? Nothing changes that feeling in a heartbeat like GlobalRichList. Go to this site, enter your salary or net worth ("wealth"), select your country's currency, and be amazed to see just how rich you really are (if you're reading this blog, chances are you're in the very tippy top).

Scroll down to see more statistics about how lucky you really are in the grand scheme of things.

What I love about GlobalRichList is it doesn't make you feel guilty about your wealth so much as cultivate a desire to be more generous, which you can do by making a charitable donation right from the same page. I'm not sure if the organizations change from time to time, but it was Care International the last time I visited the site.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Site of the Day: ifttt

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

ifttt.com
ifttt stands for "if this, then that." It's a free website that lets you create automations, or "recipes," for your digital life. For example, you can use ifttt to follow this command: "If I someone tags me in a photo on Facebook, then save that photo to Dropbox." Another one might be, "If Apple's stock price reaches $500.00 per share, then send me an email notification."

It supports a wide array of websites where you likely already have accounts, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Evernote, Blogger, ESPN, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Wordpress, and you can even connect it to your phone number to receive calls or text messages.

ifttt is free and super simple to use. I just love it.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Site of the Day: AlternativeTo.net

Over the next few days here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorite websites. Enjoy!

AlternativeTo.net
When  you don't have the software of app you need (usually because it's too expensive), you can turn to AlternativeTo.net for suggestions. Just type into the search bar whatever app, software program, or service you need, and AlternativeTo will offer suggestions for alternatives. This site uses community feedback to rank the applications that are suggested, and you can read reviews of the suggestions, too.

In the image below, you can see I've asked for alternatives to Adobe Photoshop. The list of suggestions was quite long, but you can see the top three: GIMP, Paint.net, and Pixelmator.

AlternativeTo is a great resource for finding new apps, services, and the like, or just browsing for useful tools.



Friday, July 5, 2013

Site of the Day: Doodle

Over the next few days,  here and on social media (follow me on Twitter), I'll be sharing some of my favorites websites. Enjoy!

Doodle.com
Doodle is a free website that helps you find a time when all your friends or colleagues are free for an event, meeting, or appointment.

Go to Doodle.com, create a free account, and the site will walk you through the steps of making a poll. People can reach the poll from a URL that Doodles gives you, and the respondents don't have to be Doodle users to respond.




Sunday, June 30, 2013

How to Cook Healthy at Home 5 Nights a Week

Peruvian chicken soup: healthy, quick, and made from leftover tacos.
Most nights, I cook dinner at home. For a full-time career woman living in New York City, that's rare. New Yorkers tend to dine out frequently, work late, and order a lot of take-out. I'm always astonished how often they eat out, whenever I ask my friends and co-workers.

One time, I asked a friend if she cooked at home much, and she said no, not really.

"But why? You're a really good cook!"

"I don't always have time."

"Who needs time? You just throw something together!"

"Maybe for you," she said, "but I need to use recipes still."

What? Who uses recipes to cook on an average day? Certainly not me.

The secret to cooking at home most nights is to keep it really simple. It helps to have a good market nearby where you can pick up a piece of fish or a fresh baguette on the way home, but it's entirely possible to do a load of grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday and have food for the week.

Stock up on foods that you love that go into multiple meals, and the rest really does come naturally over time with practice. For example, we always have tortillas in the house, and very often avocados. As a result, there are three or four staple meals we eat that use avocados or tortillas. Simple as that.

I wanted to show a real world example of what we ate for dinner five nights in a row to show you how simple weeknight meals at home can be. This list came from a meal-planning note I had on my smartphone from October last year (so you know I'm not making it up):

Monday: Chorizo Meatball Tacos 
Taco fixings, such as queso blanco and avocados, easily

turn into a healthy and quick second-day meal as soup.
Ground pork with spices cooked in 8 minutes in a pan, plus cilantro, chopped onions, sour cream, and a side of chips and pico de gallo (tomatoes, cilantro, onions tossed in a bowl with salt and lime juice)

Tuesday: Soup
(I honestly don't know what kind of soup we had, but I probably took some vegetables and sautéed them in a pot with olive oil and then added some broth or stock. Serve with a baguette.)

Wednesday: Leftovers 
Chorizo meatballs go into the leftover soup -- done. We might add fruit, or cheese and crackers, or a salad to a dinner like this one.

Thursday: Chicken Caesar Salad
Romaine topped with grated Romano cheese, anchovies, and croutons made with two-day old leftover baguette; lemon juice and olive oil on top. Again, we might supplement this with fruit or maybe a side of olives.

Friday: Grilled Cheese
Grilled cheese and probably a side salad, knowing me.

Other easy staples in the summer time include things like smoked salmon tartines (you take some smoked salmon from the fridge, you toast a piece of bread to make an open-faced sandwich, and you layer on anything else that you have on hand that you like: tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, jalapeños, red onion, etc.).

We eat tacos in some form at least once a week. Usually we use fish or shrimp. Shrimp are great to have on hand because you can buy a two-pound bag of frozen shrimp, and a handful of them can thaw out in about ten minutes in cold water.

We used to keep chicken or pork sausages on hand because they made for another quick and simple dinner, but we've cut back because 1) they're not really that healthy and 2) we can't find good quality sausages that we like in our current neighborhood.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Do Some People Bring Out the Mean in Us?

The sentiment that "you can never go home again" seems completely false to me.

Especially in my early college years and early 20s, my friends and I all suffered a horrible regression any time we went back home. All the feelings and relationships that were in place during the time we last lived at home bubble to the surface. You might be 24, but the moment you stepped back into your mother's house, you acted like you were 17 again.

None of it was pleasant. Going back to the emotions and demeanor of a 16 or 17-year old felt awful. It always brought out the mean in me. Not "the worst in me," but the mean in me.

"Family always know how to push our buttons," my friend said to me the other day.

"Yeah," and replied, "And they don't know how to push any other buttons."

Thankfully, I don't regress nearly as much as I used to when I'm around my family now. It happens sometimes, but it's much easier to recognize and check back into place. When I was 20, it was impossible. It just happened, and I couldn't even see it until I had hindsight, like after a six-hour plane ride home.

It happens less with family now, but occasionally I have moments of hindsight with some of my friends when I realize two people had brought out the mean in each other.

Sometimes one friend instigates with another. Other times, a group dynamic will take shape to bring out the mean in every body. Boyfriend and I used to hit these moments in front of our friends when we were mean-spirited bickering, and we'd joke that we were like George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Then one day I realized that it rarely happened when we were alone. It was much more likely to happen when we were around certain people -- because they brought it out of us. How does this happen? And why?

Sometimes I think it's all part of a deep psychological power play. If you can get the other people in the room fighting and acting like jerks, you're clearly in control. Other times I think it's insecurity. Perhaps people who bring out the mean in others feel socially inferior, and so they level the playing field a bit by getting friends and family around them to come down a notch.

The keys to warding off people who bring out the mean in me are 1) awareness and 2) practice. And these two pieces necessarily have to work together. Boyfriend has helped me with the awareness part, and my family has certainly given me a lot of opportunities to practice, but there are still moments when someone manages to get me and bring out my mean.





Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Recipe: Hummus

Photo from PaintedParsley.blogspot.com.
Once you make your own hummus at home, you'll never want to buy the pre-packaged store-bought stuff every again. It's simple, quick, cheap, and doesn't even take that much effort to clean up the mess.

Here’s my recipe.

Hummus
2 cups chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), boiled, and skins removed
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon or more tahini (sesame paste)
2 cloves of garlic
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
olive oil 
Garnish: 6-12 whole chickpeas, paprika, olive oil 
If using dried chickpeas, just make sure to thoroughly cook them first. You can speed up the cooking time by soaking them overnight in cold water. Remove the skins after cooking by simply putting them in fresh water and rubbing the beans between your fingertips. They'll slide off and float the top. If the skins are still on, it's not a big deal, as the recipe will still turn out just fine.

In a food processor, grind down the chickpeas, lemon juice, and tahini until it starts to turn into a chunky paste. If you don't like the taste of raw garlic (I'm not a fan of it), you can slice or chop the garlic first and sautee it lightly in a small pan with olive oil. Otherwise, rough chop it and add it to the food processor, along with a pinch of salt, and the paprika and cayenne pepper. Blend it again, and then with the motor running, add a few tablespoons of water, then olive oil until you get the consistency you want. (To reduce the fat and calories, just use more water and less olive oil.)

Serve room temperature or slightly warm, and garnish with a few whole chickpeas, a dusting of paprika, and a good glug of olive oil.

This recipe is entirely flexible. You can add any other ingredients and flavorings that you like, such as roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, more garlic, more lemon, lemon zest, olives, parsley, even almonds. Hummus keeps in the refrigerator more than a week.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

5 Healthy Office Lunches That Aren't Salad

I eat a lot of salad, especially for lunch when I'm at work. Salad is one of those foods that lack definition, so I feel like I can always change it up and it's never boring. Today I'll add cheese. Tomorrow? Lentils. And it is with a very heavy heart that I recognize a lot of people hate salad. The stereotype that salads are unsatisfying and not filling enough just kills me.

But I get it. And everyone should have some inventive ideas for healthy alternatives for brow-bag lunches to bring to work. Here are a few of my favorites that travel well, are easy to eat, don't make a mess, and still manage to be extremely healthy.
  1. Egg and jalapeño sandwich. Americans notoriously overlook eggs as a lunch option. This sandwich is Boyfriend's go-to weekday meal. Every Sunday, he hard-cooks (i.e., "boils" although you'll have much better quality hard-cooked eggs if you simmer them instead; see how to cook a hard-boiled egg) a couple of eggs, which he slices and puts onto seven-grain bread with mayonnaise, fresh baby spinach, and sliced jalapeños. If you can't take the heat, leave off the jalapeños, but know that capcaisin packs plenty of health benefits from having anti-inflammatory properties to delivering a huge punch of vitamin C. Eggs last a few days, so you can make a stack of three sandwiches on Monday and have lunch for more than half the week ready to go in the fridge.
  2. Smoked salmon sandwich. Similar to the above egg sandwich, smoked salmon sandwiches travel well, keep for a few days, taste delicious, and are loaded with good-for-you proteins, fats, and more. I like mine with sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and avocado, which I keep in a second container so the bread stays dry until lunch time. A few sprigs of dill can elevate this sandwich to a much classier level.
  3. Roasted vegetable platter with feta. If you're roasting up some vegetables for dinner, throw in some extra eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgettes), summer squash, onions, fennel, green beans, whatever you like. Pack up the leftovers into a plastic container, toss in a hunk of feta cheese and maybe a slice of bread, or leftover grains if you added rice, pearl barley, bulgur, or some other grain to your dinner. Make sure to let the vegetables cool before you pack them so that they don't sweat and drip off excess liquid, which can cause a mess when transporting the lunch. Roasted vegetables also taste lovely on top of a bed of greens (unless, of course, you are really turned off by salad).
  4. Hummus pocket. Grab a pita -- and while I prefer pocketless pita, there's a time and place for pocket pita, and it's here and now. Pop it open and spread a tablespoon or two of hummus, preferably homemade hummus (it's really easy to make) inside. Add other fillings as you like, such as sliced turkey, cucumbers or pickles, tomatoes, hard-cooked egg slices, avocado (see how I keep coming back to a couple of staples?), or roasted red peppers, which is one of my favorites. Pack a side dish of olives or almonds on if you need extra calories and fat to keep you full.
  5. Frittata or quiche. Here's another way to cook eggs so that they last three or so lunches: make a frittata. If you're handy with your baking skills, you could do a full-on quiche. Or keep it simple and whip together a Spanish tortilla. Use five or six eggs, and you'll have two or three lunches. For add-ins, try mushrooms, bacon or diced bacon, sauteed scallions, mixed herbs (parsley, basil, thyme), cheese, or a combination of those.