Monday, April 28, 2008

One to avoid: Crystal Light

In my quest to eliminate plain water from my diet (especially while I am waiting for a refill for my beloved edition one seltzer/soda maker) I tried these Crystal Light on the go drink mix packets. Each package flavors one glass of water. It was a big disappointment. The flavors do not taste all like what they purport to be (either in the tea or "enhanced" varieties)but instead taste threateningly medicinal. They also remind me how much I dislike artificial sugars as they not only have a bitter aftertaste, they are bitter going down. I couldn't even manage to get one full glass of any of the flavors down despite the flavors being things I like: mango, pomegranate etc. My suggestion: rework the powders using actual sugar or agave nectar. The quantity needed to flavor a glass of water is so small, the calorie difference would be negligible and the flavor might even be palatable.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Align Winner...

The winner of the 3 month supply of Align is...Bebemiqui! Thanks to everyone who entered!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Picnic Basket, Anyone?


Does anyone really use a picnic basket when they picnic or are they just bought and forgotten? I have to admit I am tempted by this one which is part of the new Cynthia Rowley collection even if the furthest I'd probably take it is my own backyard.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Flip & Tumble Reuseable Bags


I have amassed quite a collection of reusable grocery bags but none have impressed me as much as the ones from flip&tumble. It is made in such a way that it folds into a tiny ball (about the size of the palm of my hand) that is the perfect size to stick in your pocket or purse. Which is exactly what I've been looking for. Sometimes I don't know I will need a bag when I head out for the day and my other reusable bags are all rather bulky-they almost take up as much room in my cart as my groceries-so I don't end up using them as often as I'd wish.

I also find that the non collapsible bags are not very convenient to schlep about in general, they have a tendency bang into things and people. I like to use reusable bags for non-food shopping so often I'd have them in various shops and ones that say "Wegmans" are bulky and conspicuous, this one looks more like a regular bag. Even unfolded, it is a lot less bulky than most bags and has an over-the-shoulder strap which I prefer to the handle style.

And they come in pretty colors!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Win a Three Week's Supply of Align


Align is a probiotic suppliment which is supposed to have what you need for a strong, healthy digestive system. I'm going to take it for 3 weeks to try it out and will like to give one of my readers a supply so they can try it out as well. Leave a comment here to enter and feel free to share this contest on your own blogs. Make sure you leave an email address so I can contact you if you are the winner. Drawing to be held on April 26th.
Check out other blog giveaways here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hansen's Natural: Dragonfruit



I've been eyeing the Hansen's Natural line of soda (sparkling fruit water?) for a while now, but for $4.99 for a 4 pack, I resisted. What if I didn't like it? At the Safeway today, however, they had them buy one get one free so I picked up a pack of the dragonfruit and one of the blueberry pomegranate. I haven't tried the pom one yet but the dragonfruit one is pretty good. Sweet, but so are actual dragonfruit, and there is no icky HFCS aftertaste just the clean finish of actual cane sugar. It actually tastes like dragonfruit (sort of tropical and floral, if that makes sense) and contains real dragonfruit extract in it, not some amalgamation of other juices like some "dragonfruit" drinks I've come across. I'd buy it again (especially if it was on sale, $1.25 per can is a little steep for a multipack soda) and maybe try it as a mixer?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Favorite: the Knork


As someone who prefers to use the tines of her fork to cut up her meal rather than using a knife (sorry, Emily Post) I adore the knork . Oh, yes the knork: a knife/fork hybrid. While it can cut through most foods (even meat!) it isn't sharp-the end tine is angled in such away that it can cut through things easily. I think it would be perfect to have on hand at work or in the car for those times when you are out and need a utensil unexpectedly. Or maybe that would only happen to me back when I worked outside of the home. I hate digging plastic utensils out of communal bins. The thought of all of those strange fingers touching something I eat with-ick. Anyway, I think it is pretty neat and much more functional than the spork.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BJ's

This weekend we finally used that free two month pass to BJ's and made our first leap into bulk shopping. Our reaction? Eh. We liked the 6 pack of Pacific organic chicken broth for $9, the 400 trash bags for $10, cheap flour and sugar, a variety pack of pork for $2 lb, a 4 lb bag of limes and a great deal on duck. We did notice that a lot of the food and even the much lauded paper products were not cheaper than what we normally buy on sale or even at normal prices at a regular store, just in larger amounts. I think maybe some people don't pay as much attention to what things cost because people were snapping up some of the items (canned tomatoes, tuna etc) that were actually the same price or more expensive than what we normally pay at the local store without having to buy 20 cans at once.

Also, since you had to buy things in such quantity, it was a lot of money to lay out at once, even for things that we will use for a long time like those trash bags or the "use by 1/09" broth and we still had to make a trip to the regular grocery store for more manageably sized perishables. Luckily most of what we bought could be frozen or had a far off sell-by date so we are set for a while.

I think that if we had kids, threw giant banquets or ate a huge amount of processed foods we might be able to find more "deals" or want to buy food in vast quantities. While I am happy with what we bought and will use it for a long time, I am not sure it would be worth spending $50 for membership. Still, I wouldn't mind going back and picking up some more broth and another duck.



I do admit to being amused by the little characters gracing the packaging of a lot of the store brand foods.



Saturday, April 12, 2008

How much...


do I want this?? Answer: very much indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flat Earth Crisps Revisited


I recently revisted Flat Earth crisps. We generally don't have any snack foods like potato chips or pretzels around the house, but these are a healthier choice so I don't feel bad about trying them again. I had Tangy Tomato Ranch flavor, even though I generally don't like "ranch" flavored things as they tend to be a bit sweet. These crisps, however, were not sweet at all and had a good tomato-y flavor. They are made with rice flour and potato flakes, which sounds odd but was actually pretty tasty. They are very crisp and airy. The flavor comes from the sort of powdery substance one finds on cheese curls but it much tastier and doesn't seem to flake off as much or stain your hands. The serving size is one ounce and since they are so light, that is about 12 chips. Each ounce contains a 1/2 serving of vegetables, which might be a good way to sneak some vegetables into a veggie-phobe's diet. The other flavor I tried was the Farmhouse cheddar which was also pretty good.

They also sell some fruit flavors: Wild Berry Patch, Apple Cinnamon Grove, and Peach Mango Paradise which have 1/2 serving a fruit in every ounce. I tried the apple flavored ones and they were pretty good. I still think having fruit flavored crisps is sort of a bold move, I don't think people generally think of fruit flavors when they are looking for a potato chips substitute but they weren't too sweet or fake tasting.

Actually the whole Flat Earth healthy chip thing is a bit of a departure for it's parent company, Frito-Lay. You can read what they have to say about the product here. All in all, a good alternative to traditional, fried potato chips.

Home Composting

I'd like to start composting regularly. Anyone know of a small, reasonably attractive bin that is meant to be kept inside for kitchen waste? We have an area in the yard to dump it, but I'd rather not have to run outside each time I peel a carrot.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Craft for Wine Lovers

Make a trivet or coasters from old wine corks! Details here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sassy Sauces



Words can not express how much I love this stuff. Buy it here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Reader Question: What Can You Tell From a Menu?

While I am not a restaurant critic by any means I am pretty discriminating when it comes to eating out. A reader recently asked if it was worth checking out a menu before you go to a restaurant. My answer? Menus are always worth a look and I think they tell you more than you might think. Even some of the fanciest restaurants have menus online and up-to-date so it is easier than ever to get an idea of what they serve before you go.


Some basic things to look for:



  • Does the menu change with the season? No restaurant should serve the same thing all year long unless the focus is on a cuisine doesn't really have a season, like sushi*. At the very least there should be some seasonal specials. Tomatoes just aren't tasty during the winter-even those flown in from far away- and a restaurant that serves a special entree featuring loads of fresh tomatoes in the middle of December is lacking a certain fundamental knowledge of about food. Similarly, there should be no Autumnal root vegetable dishes on the menu during Spring; a phenomenon which I have unfortunately seen on some celebrated local restaurants' menus lately. When you see such a thing, your first thought should be "why are they serving vegetables from November when good produce is finally available?" followed by "the kind of restaurant thinks that winter squash is a great idea in April is not the kind of restaurant where I want to spend my money". Living in the mid-Atlantic shortens the growing season some, but still food in season tastes better and there are plenty of clever things a restaurant can make to see you through the dark days of winter. And even if you go to a restaurant that serves this sort of out-of-season blandness, don't order it. If everyone ordered only foods that were in season and actually tasty the menu would eventually improve.



  • In the same vein, beware of restaurants that claim to use only "local" ingredients but are serving things that are out of season/not available locally. They're just trying to jump on the locavore bandwagon. We just don't have lobsters in the Chesapeake Bay.



  • Does the menu seem unusually large? Unless you are at diner, a menu should have some sort of theme or unifying characteristic. I've seen restaurants that sell a dozens of varieties of pasta, sushi, sandwiches and burgers all at the same time. How good could that sushi be? It's generally better to stick with a restaurant that has narrowed the focus a bit.



  • In a similar vein, the more items on the menu even if they are related, the more likely that they will be out of things when you visit. I find that this leads to some unexpected last minute substitutions in your order. In addition, the larger the menu, the greater the risk that the most infrequently ordered items (most likely the ones that seem out of place, like surf and turf at a Thai restaurant that are put there for picky eater and seldom ordered or the very most expensive items at a moderately priced restaurant) are poorly prepared or not very fresh.


  • Is the drink menu larger and more elaborate than the food menu? Maybe the focus isn't on good food.



  • This may seem too basic to mention, but when you look at the menu, make sure there is something you like on it. I've been out with people who don't eat raw fish but then suggested an all-raw sushi bar for dinner. They didn't know that's what the restaurant was, but a quick peek at the menu could have solved that problem before we were seated and ready to order.

Okay, so you might review the menu get to the restaurant and it still might not be up to par, but I've avoided some restaurants that I later heard were really dreadful, just by reading the menu. There's nothing worse than spending a lot of money at a restaurant that serves flavorless, out of season food.



*Or is fast food but I am really talking about actual, sit-down restaurants here.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2008

    Grocery Shopping


    It might surprise you that I actually hate grocery shopping. I like finding new foods and bringing exciting ingredients home, but the actual act of grocery shopping leaves me cold. Now shopping at H Mart or other ethnic/specialty markets is a bit more bearable because of the sheer variety of items and the possibility of discovering something new.

    The major issues I have with grocery shopping: crowds*, the sticky carts, check out people who can't identify the produce, the selling out of sale items on the first day. The list goes on. To streamline the process I like to carry a list. A list that I may or may not write in order of how I shop and by isle. I am blessed (and cursed) with one of those minds that just doesn't forget anything and I can pretty much remember exactly where anything is in the store at any time, even what shelf. So we keep a running list of what we need on the fridge and then I organize it depending on the store before I go shopping. Today I am going to the Wegmans with my mother (she's never been!) so I am buying a bunch of only-at-Wegmans products: their better-and-cheaper than national brand faux Ziplock bags, fake Claritin, freakishly cheap vitamins ($2 for a 100 count bottle of B-12! $6 for a 300 count of calcium+vitamin D), a 2lb block of Cabot cheese, and Wegmans brand beans (often only about 50 cents a can).

    How about you? Do you shop with a list? Plan out your trips? Eat before shopping?






    *Wegmans is crowded no matter when you get there. Early morning, late afternoon, right before closing; no time is safe. The Safeway at least is pretty quiet when I go during the day. Of course, sometimes the Safeway shelves are as bare as I imagine they were in Soviet Russia, but that's another story.