Thursday, June 30, 2011

Beet it.

This is a post I never thought I would be writing. Growing up, the question of beets (to eat or not to eat?) was a contentious one in my house. My parents were always deeply divided in their opinions on this ruby root vegetable. My mom believed in boiling them or (god forbid) eating them pickled and my dad found them wholly disgusting. For our parts, my sister and I sided with our father, erring on the side of not eating vegetables where permissible. This beet-phobia has stuck with me long after I expanded my eating habits beyond the bounds of grilled cheese sandwiches. Some readers may remember my vegetable blog from a couple of years ago and note beets were among those veggies never friended.

Now, I can't say I've never had beets. I've eaten them in small quantities in salads before at restaurants that I judged too fancy to pick them out. However, I must confess at 25 years of age, I had never had a whole beet in my possession. All of this changed last week.

A couple of months ago I joined a farm share here in my fair neighborhood. Astoria has a couple of community supported agriculture groups, and I'd always toyed with the idea of joining one. I feel like my vegetable horizons are somewhat limited. I know how to make a few things, and generally avoid those vegetables I'm not sure what to do with. Also, I'm terribly incompetent when it comes to eating with the seasons. I was hoping the farm share would cure all these ills. The real kicker came when I realized the distribution point for one of the farm shares was a mere two blocks from my apartment. Thanks to this serendipity, I am now a proud member of Harvest Astoria and will be getting a selection of locally grown, organic produce every Wednesday from now until November.

But back to the beets. Naturally, one of the components from my very first week was: 3 beets. I was conflicted at first. A part of me wanted to immediately hide them in something. I'd heard of beets being successfully concealed in cakes or, better yet, donuts. I wanted to do this, but something gave me pause. While I knew I wasn't ready to boil and eat beets straight, or even chopped on a salad, I didn't want to cowardly retreat from my first CSA challenge. In the end, I took the middle road. I made a beet risotto.

The spoils. For the record, this is before I washed them.

I adapted a recipe from Rachel Ray so that I could use not only the beets, but some of the garlic and onions that we also got from the farm that week. I'll add the full recipe below. It involved whole roasting the beets in the oven before pulverizing them into submission in the food processor to make a brilliant pink puree.

Pink puree. Formerly beets.

One of the reasons people make risotto with beets is apparently for the beautiful color. For some reason (perhaps revenge of the beet gods for years of vitriol?), mine didn't achieve that. It started out a lovely deep red, but as I cooked it, it mellowed into more of a maroon, and finally ended with a sullen grey. Not unlike mushroom risotto really.
Not quite as showy as it might be...

I was making it in the morning to take to a picnic in Bryant Park, but I did make sure to try it while warm. Not bad. Mostly what came through was the creaminess of the risotto with a slight earthy undertone from the beets. It was tasty, although to be honest I probably would have enjoyed it just as much without the beets. Also, the dish held up surprisingly well in my office refrigerator all day and was enjoyed immensely by picnicking friends who all told me they couldn't even taste the beets. I guess they lack my keen palate and beet-honing skills.

Overall, I feel a fear was appropriately faced. Next time I see them on the farm share roster, I won't feel a moment's pause. I might even try eating them without any sort of cloaking device. Or I might just embrace defeat and make a batch of pink donuts. Only time will tell.


  • 3 medium beets, scrubbed, stems and root ends trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Place the beets on a large piece of aluminum foil and drizzle

with a T olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and fold the

foil into a pouch. Roast the beets inside the pouch

until tender, about 45 minutes.

When the beets are done roasting, remove them from

the pouch and let cool for a few minutes. When they're

cool enough to handle, lightly rub the outside of them with

a paper towel to remove the skins. Transfer the beets to

a food processor and puree them until smooth. Reserve

the puree until the risotto is finished cooking.

Bring the water and stock to a boil in a saucepot, then

reduce heat to low to keep warm.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 T

olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and butter. Add the onions and

garlic, and sauté until the onions begin to get tender,

4-5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and toast it in the pan,

stirring constantly with the veggies, 2-3 minutes more.

Add wine or sherry and cook until the liquid has

absorbed, about 1 minute. Ladle about a third of the

stock or broth into the pan with the rice and bring it up

to a bubble, stirring constantly. Simmer the mixture,

stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed,

about 5 minutes. Ladle another third of the remaining

liquid and continue stirring the rice until that liquid

has fully absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Ladle in half of the

remaining stock and stir the rice another 4-5 minutes.

Add in the beet puree and the rest of the stock and

cook an additional 4-5 minutes, until the rice is

al dente. Season with salt, pepper, and cheese.

Put in tupperware and bring to the park to share with

beet-loving friends!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Here comes the pride

Yesterday, I went to New York's annual Pride Parade. I've never been to this particular event because, contrary to all the exceptions chronicled on this blog, I really don't like parades. Particularly popular, well-attended ones that require you to get there hours in advance to stand and be squished against police barriers by strangers. I've been to some of the more crowded New York marches (the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island and the Village Halloween Parade when not marching in it) but only on fairly rainy days when I thought the crowds would be somewhat abated. (Sadly, this approach really only leads you to being squished against police barricades by true parade diehards). However, yesterday was sunny and gorgeous, and I was totally ready to make an exception.

Like most New Yorkers, I was relieved and heartened to hear about the vote late Friday night legalizing gay marriage in the state. I seldom talk about politics here, mostly because talking about politics usually frustrates me greatly, but it's nice whenever there is an occasional ray of hope that our country is heading in a direction of equality instead of quailing from it. I knew that the parade would be extra crowded in light of this, but, like the inauguration in 2008, it seemed like a crowd worth putting up with. In the end, apparently 500,000 people were out celebrating at the parade. There were people proudly showing off brand new engagement rings, marching bands playing "Here Comes the Bride," and generally an air of happiness and incredible energy.

I'm telling the rest of the story in picture of the event. If you put on Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" as you scroll through them, then it's pretty much like you were there.

This was my photographer's favorite photo from the parade. I agree that the composition is lovely and that it really captures the spirit of the event.

Sadly, you can't read her sign, but it says "Proud Mom."

I admire this man's confidence.

While he let Mike Bloomberg and parade rock-star Andrew Cuomo strut by undocumented, my photographer captured countless photos of Senator Chuck Schumer. Look at the man. You can see why.

Savage Love columnist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry. I admire them for starting the "It Gets Better" Project, but I'll admit this picture was taken mostly as a fan of the podcast.

This pretty much speaks for itself.

Never question the presence of the Wells Fargo Wagon.

Sometimes I totally forget you can be a member of a flag corps as an adult. It's nice to know that I live in a city that has countless outlets for gay and lesbian color guard enthusiasts.

I bought pretty much the exact same vacuum this weekend. The amount of cat hair I took off two rugs was enough to piece together a whole new cat. But perhaps that's an over share, and it certainly doesn't reflect kindly on my housekeeping skills.

Remember him? This man's star shines too brightly to limit himself to just the International Dance Parade. Now, I'm wondering how many other sightings I miss out on by not regularly attending New York parades.

That about sums up the 2011 Pride Parade experience. Congratulations to those New Yorkers who in less than 30 days can now choose to marry the ones they love!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Downward facing graduates

Happy summer solstice, readers! (Lest my readers in the Southern hemisphere feel left out: I hope you have an excellent winter solstice!). The one downside of the start of summer, and this is a sentiment none of my teacher friends share, is the end of the school year. Normally, the end of the school year wouldn't affect me much except that there would be fewer youngun's playing in the schoolyard across from my building and the lines might be slightly longer at Astroland on summer Fridays. However, this school year, I've been volunteering biweekly to help teach children's yoga classes on alternating Saturday mornings. Sadly, the end of the school year means our little 4th grade yogis are spreading their wings and graduating to 5th grade meaning they no longer qualify for the enrichment program.

I've never been a devoted yogi. The p90x yoga dvd was the only one I ever cheated on (although I think that had more to do with it being the only one that was an hour and a half), my yoga mat spends weeks at a time in the closet, and on the rare times I do attend yoga classes, I don't shy away from chilling in child's pose when I get uncomfortable. Luckily, my limited skills still make me qualified to teach children's yoga. Actually, my friend teaches the class, and the rest of the volunteers' jobs are to wrangle kids and keep them from causing mayhem when they're supposed to be using feathers to note their breathing or practicing partner poses. They are rambunctious and with a seemingly endless quantity of energy that they can't always seem to harness into a single aim.

That said, this class was one of the highlights of my Saturdays. Few times as an adult, and certainly never in an adult yoga class, do you get to take breaks to scream as loudly as you want or play childhood games like "Red Light, Green Light" (the yoga twist being that you have to freeze in tree pose). You also seldom get to make meowing noises when you do cat pose or stick out your tongue and hiss when doing cobra. I mean, I guess you could do that in an regular yoga class, but likely people would start moving their mats away.

I have a picture from the end-of-year party we threw the kids, but we all look sweaty and a little worse for wear from playing yoga freeze tag, so I won't post it. Also, I'm semi-uncomfortable posting pictures of other people's kids without their permission anyway. However, I can post my hard-won yoga completion certificate. My friend who teaches the class made them for all the kids, but she had extras, so she agreed the volunteers deserved them too. Mine already got crumpled in my purse, and it doesn't quite look right on my refridgerator. The only place I can really think to proudly display this accomplishment is here on my blog.

This is something I will treasure always. Clearly, an achievement for the ole resume.

Happy summer (or winter), friends and Internet community!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tony would blush to see me now

I'm sure you've all been poised at the edge of yours seats wondering what I've been doing to maintain my personal fitness now that p90x is but an adrenaline-fueled memory. What has she been doing to maintain her nascent musculature now that she's no longer updating us on her every push-up, is a question you are no doubt asking yourself. Frankly, I've been wondering myself.

I'd been trying to maintain a plan of running 3 times a week and doing the p90x ab workout 3 times during the week as well. Naturally, when the temperatures in New York spiked to nearly 100 degrees (who am I kidding--this started when they barely hit 80), I found building up a sweat just walking to the track encouraged me to just stay home instead. Also, thanks to the summer schedule at my office and going to work 45 minutes earlier, I found getting up earlier--even just the 15 minutes earlier it requires to do Ab Ripper X--nearly impossible. My weekly average dropped to about once. On a good week.

About this time, my friend sent me a Groupon for a good deal on 10 Bikini Burlesque Bootcamp classes. She had taken the class previously and said it was a lot of fun. I wasn't sure if this was the answer to my fitness needs, but I did know it met two important criteria, 1) it was done in an air conditioned dance studio, and 2) it was cheap. Also, although apparently styled after the comedic, seductive dance-style burlesque, it has the word "bootcamp" in the name, so I figured the fitness potential must be there somewhere.

Despite assuming some fitness would be gained, I showed up to my first class without water and in normal workout clothes. (My friend said dressing up in burlesque-type outfits was encouraged, but that she was the only student who really does it. I promised to think about joining her, but I'm not sure how comfortable I am profusely sweating in fishnets.) I would come to regret not bringing water.

I have been to 5 classes now, and I've yet to forget water a second time. The class always starts with our assuming the showgirl pose, and reciting a mantra of the day. These sexually empowering chants range from the cute "I put the pop in popsicle" to the slightly more cute "I am a weapon of mass seduction." I was quickly lulled into a false sense of security. However, while encouraging, the instructor Lady Chardonnay turns to shouting drill sergeant commands with great comfort. The workout is really only about 25 minutes of the hour, but it is an intense 25 minutes full of wall squats, tricep dips, sprints, and push-ups.

After the sweat-inducing first half of class, we learn a burlesque dance to a specific song. So far song choice has ranged from the Bond classic "Diamonds are Forever" to the equally not contemporary "Kiss" (surprisingly, in a dance attempting sexiness, they chose the Tom Jones version over the Prince). I'm not a person whose hips naturally move where I want them to go, as I've learned from every dance class I've ever taken from belly dance to salsa. The exception to that is, I guess, the Irish dance class I took where I learned that hip movement is unnecessary, but that I also have trouble getting my legs to go where I want them to with any sense of rhythm. But that's really neither here nor there. The point is, I'm not sure my dancing came off as sexy as intended, and it's admittedly hard to feel attractive in tennis shoes, but compared to running around and intermittently doing push-ups it was a pretty good time.

The teachers: Lady Chardonnay and Pink Champagne. They do even the sprinting/push-ups/wall squats portion of the workout in three inch heels. I am continually impressed.

Overall, I'm looking forward to completing the second half of my Groupon classes. I don't think going to this twice a week will keep me quite as buff as Tony would, but I certainly get to do a lot more hair flipping.

Also, apropos of nothing save maybe overall health, I saw another bean-related baked good recipe the other day. This one for cookie pie looks a little healthier than the brownies--there's only 3 tablespoons of oil and no eggs to speak of. She claims it was raved about by people who aren't used to healthy desserts, but I'll have to reserve judgement until I get a chance to make this.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Gifted chefs and not so gifted digital artists

I feel like all I write about is food these days. Sometimes it's food that was made in my Astorian kitchen, but mostly it's just food for food's sake. Perhaps I need a new blog name? But at any rate, today I have a very worthwhile reason to chronicle an excellent meal I had this weekend. My friend who has been in culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute was cooking dinner with a group of his fellow classmates as part of the school's graduation. He's a talented chef and knows his way around farmer's market fixin's.

The menu was all vegetarian and enjoyably Southern-themed. There
were hushpuppies, grits, collard greens, and okra aplenty. There was also the surprisingly delicious combination of basil ice cream, strawberries, candied nuts, and whiskey for dessert. Sadly, I didn't bring a camera and neither did the lovely ladies and gentleman who attended the event with me. Not one to let this prevent me from sharing visuals with you, I've decided to recreate the first course for you through the use of some online paint program I found (as apparently I don't have one on my computer).

This is (as if it wasn't totally obvious) a spring pea salad with three hushpuppies (we were actually only served two, but I hope you will forgive the inaccuracy because I didn't know how to delete the circles, and it seemed too hard to start over). There was also a delicious dipping sauce that I didn't even attempt to depict. Oh and the turd-ish looking things at the top are boiled peanuts. I didn't know that was a thing until this dinner, but it turns out it's a sublimely delicious thing.

I was going to draw the other two courses, but as it turns out, working with strange online drawing programs that aren't terribly self-explanatory isn't that fun. And in the name of art and people with good taste everywhere, I should probably quit while I'm still creating shapes that vaguely approximate the food. Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening that reminded me that I don't sit down with good friends for a nice three course vegetarian meal nearly often enough.

Edit: My friend just sent me some photos of the food. Here's the meal in actual photographic detail:
Does the plate to the right look especially familiar?
Surely, it does.

I had to post a picture with a close-up of the dessert too. Further proof that I need an ice cream maker in my life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A hill of beans (or more precisely: a square)

Those readers familiar with my baking history will know I have something of a sordid past of hiding weird things in chocolate confections. It should come as no surprise then that when I saw a recipe for Black Bean Brownies, I could hardly not make them. Unlike my Velveeta fudge days though, this decision was entirely health motivated. Black beans add fiber to the brownies making them every-so-slightly healthier than regular bean-less brownies.

The result of this recipe is chocolatey deliciousness without a hint of bean aftertaste (my one fear in making them). I wanted them to be tasted by someone who didn't know the secret ingredient, so I kept key information from my boyfriend while making them. (This was more difficult than I thought as he walked into the kitchen while I was working and questioned the use of beans. I told him I was making black bean burgers, and luckily he's seen enough of my experimental cooking to not question why black bean burgers involved being pulsed with walnuts.) The consensus was positive both from test subject A who knew about the addition of beans (myself) and test subject B (the control group) who did not. You would never guess these had no refined sugar or flour in them! They have a very rich and dark chocolate taste which I think is heightened by the coffee and cocoa powder. Now if there was just a way to drop the two sticks of butter out of the equation, I would have a genius health food on my hands.

Black Bean Brownies
(I found this recipe on 101 Cookbooks and only tweaked it slightly.)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter (This is where black bean brownies stop being healthy...)
1 can black beans (thoroughly drained and rinsed)
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I added more. You can never have too many walnuts)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 T cocoa powder
3 T instant espresso power of instant coffee powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs
1 cup light agave nectar*

*I used half agave syrup and half honey (based on what I had in my cabinet), but you could always use all honey if you don't have agave around. You could also use regular sugar, in which case, I would reduce the amount to about 3/4 of a cup.


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease an 11" by 13" pan and set aside.

Chop the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high (stirring periodically). For those of you, like myself as of 2 months ago, who don't have a microwave, feel free to jerry-rig a double boiler of some sort. Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely.

Place the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blend about 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.

Add to the original chocolate mixture, the instant coffee, the cocoa, powder, the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Mix the egg mixture, the bean mixture, and the chocolate mixture together. Pour into the prepared pan and put in the oven for 30 minutes or until the brownies are set.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sun bathing where the sock monkeys roam

The weather has been gorgeous lately. As a side note, I'm beginning to wonder how many times I can continue to comment on seasonal conditions outside before I get pigeonholed as a "weather blog." At any rate, this weekend a friend of a friend went out of town leaving behind his beautiful condo apartment with rooftop pool in Jersey City. Also, a sock monkey. This normally would have a minimal impact on my life, but luckily said friend of friend left behind the keys to this awesome summer day hang out and sock monkey roost. Although the day wasn't quite warm enough for real swimming, it was an excellent day for lazing around pool side, gazing at the view from the roof, and marveling at the luxuries available just across the river in New Jersey. Such amenities include a lounge with pool table, a fancy gym and yoga room, a pool and huge bbq pit area, a screening room, and a personal balcony.

Also some great views, none of which I was responsible for photographing, naturally:
The true advantage of living in New Jersey over Manhattan (despite the lower taxes and cheaper apartments) is the view of downtown across the Hudson.

Also, a lovely view of the Statue of Liberty. I hate to say it, but you just can't see these things from Astoria. At least not without a decent telescope and the ability to see through smog.

I call this one "Liberty in Blue."

I didn't get a picture of the sock monkey, which judging from the amount of sock monkey paraphernalia in the apartment, is a much beloved pet. I didn't even know you could buy "I *heart* sock monkey" magnets, but apparently they're out there. These are the kind of things you learn when you cross the river to lovely, and surprisingly-cheap-Mexican-food-having, Jersey City.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Culture club

Now that I have a large, cabinet-space-rich kitchen, I find myself unavoidably drawn to food making gadgets. While barely begun, this summer has nearly convinced me to buy an ice cream maker, as summers so often do. However, before I could get that far, I became convinced (and this is what reading food blogs gets me) that what I really needed was a yogurtmaker. And with the ease and efficiently of online shopping, I was soon able to price check, compare reviews on Amazon, and have a model (specifically this one) shipped before even really thinking through the idea.

I should preface this post by saying (for those of you who might be questioning why a person would need to make their own yogurt) that I eat a lot of yogurt. In fact, I usually eat at least one single serving size Greek yogurt a day. And at city prices, each of those easily-portable, fruit-on-the-bottom cups goes for around $1.50. Plus there's the environmental cost of throwing out all those plastic yogurt cups. I quickly became convinced that the Euro Cuisine Yogurt Maker would pay for itself in no time. A stance I still, having now made yogurt, stand by.

After receiving my yogurt maker on Tuesday, I immediately went out and bought whole milk to try her out. I've gotten in the habit of buying fat free yogurt lately, but I went with whole milk because I wanted my maiden yogurt-making voyage to be rich and delicious. Also, whole milk only takes 8 hours to transform into yogurty deliciousness, whereas skim milk takes about 12, so my natural impatience was a factor. According to the directions, you can use soy milk as well, and I'm considering experimenting with out options (almond milk? rice milk?) in the future. But for now, I'm recording the fermentation of my very first batch of yogurt made with plain, boring dairy.
Step 1: Boil a quart of milk. Then Step 2 is to let it cool it to room temperature, which is what is actually pictured here. Naturally, I put it in an ice bath because I was too impatient to let the cooling process happen organically.

Next, I added 5 T of yogurt. You have to have yogurt to make yogurt? You might ask. The yogurt machine directions state that you should routinely set aside one of the 7 containers from each batch of your yogurt and use that to start the culture for your next batch. Of course, for the inaugural batch, this simply isn't possible, so I had to also buy yogurt. May this be my last yogurt purchase for some time!

Step 4(?): I decided to make strawberry yogurt for my first time out because strawberries are finally starting to come into season in New York, so I have a bunch of them. The yogurt recipe suggested cooking them prior to adding them to the milk mixture. It'll probably be at least two batches in before I start cutting corners and skipping Euro Cuisine sanctioned steps, so cook them I did.

Step 5: Decant pre-yogurt into the 7 glass jars of the yogurt maker. I took this picture before I put the glass lid on top and turned it on. I have no idea why this photo is shrouded in darkness.

Step 6: After leaving the yogurt overnight to allow the bacteria to mature, I awoke to find 7 jaws of nicely thickened yogurt. Alas, they were quite warm, so I had to abide by the yogurt maker's recommendation to let them cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours before eating.

Step 7: Enjoy! Here is my finished product. Slightly blurry because I can't maintain a steady hand while in the presence of such lactose greatness.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the way it came out. It had the perfect yogurt tang with just a slight sweetness from the berries. It was also far more rich than the yogurt I'm used to, but that's probably more due to the addition of fatty milk as opposed to a sign of my yogurt-making prowess. I brought one of these little guys in my lunch today. While I felt a little like an adult baby eating out of a small glass jar, it's nice to be able to re-use it for many lunch-time yogurts to come.

Of course, now I'm pretty sure I really do need that ice cream maker, so I can perfect the fine art of frozen yogurt.