When Sugar is the Healthy Alternative

Not too long ago, the BF and I were in a lovely cheese shop around town, adorably called Cheese and Crackers, and they had a huge glass case of canned sodas.

One of the varieties was Pepsi but it was Pepsi Throwback, as was the Mountain Dew. For whatever reason, I squealed in delight because nostalgia is a big part of who I am. I loved the look of the retro can and its prideful boast that it is made with real sugar; I suppose it’s the original formula.

Anyhow, when I was 17/18 I used to drink full-sugar Pepsi in the can. A lot. Hey, I worked 10-hour days in retail. (Ah, to have that teenage metabolism once again.) I eventually forced myself to stop drinking it but for the time that I did, it was pure satisfaction. I don’t think the late 90s had the ‘throwback’ formula, so it’s a pretty good assumption on my part that it was made with corn syrup. One of the reasons I stopped drinking it, aside from the fact that it was sugary, was that it left my teeth feeling gritty. It’s that same feeling that prompts you to scrub your teeth to the point of wearing down your enamel. Also, I was worried I’d have brown teeth before I turned 30. Not an attractive trait.

I never, and I mean never, indulge in full sugar soda anymore, as it’s all corn syrup anyway, but for whatever reason I was prompted to purchase a can, even for the mere sake of nostalgia.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to last night, when I was craving a soda to go with my dinner, which was a burger ‘n fries. I remembered that I had this can in the fridge and popped it right open.

I took a cold, crisp taste from the can since I am a firm believer that ice cold soda is best from a can. My first impression was that I could immediately and distinctly tell the difference between the sugar version and the corn syrup version.

The soda was actually refreshing tasting and, if I may be so bold to state, tasted cleaner somehow. I wasn’t left with that gritty feeling on my teeth, even at the very end. At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish the soda because it contains 40 grams of sugar/carbohydrates.  I surprised myself by finishing the whole thing and I still didn’t have that too-sweet aftertaste lingering.

While soda has been blacklisted as of late, denounced as being the one thing that can ultimately ruin one’s health, enjoying a can or bottle every now and again is of course not the end of the world.

While this is not changing my mind to suddenly begin purchasing sugar soda by the case, I would definitely prefer to enjoy this variety over the modern version. It won’t replace diet soda in my heart and, in spite of my preference of Pepsi over Coke, I have a strong affinity for Coke Zero.

Perhaps Pepsi adds nostalgia to every can of their throwback soda but it really does taste better and I don’t view it as the devil-with-horns beverage that I do all the corn syrup varieties out there.

Well done, Pepsi. You may be winning back a customer, albeit a sporadic one.

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Oh Yes She Did.

In keeping with the tradition of decorating/preparing for Christmas as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes were whisked into the dishwasher, I surprised my boyfriend with an early Christmas present.

Those of you who follow my posts regularly will know that I seem to have inadvertently made it my mission to mention Charlie Brown Christmas/Peanuts throughout this holiday season.

Since pictures can speak for themselves, I bid you a lovely rest of your weekend and will let you see for yourself what I surprised the guy in my life with.

(He loved it.)

(I’m a great gift giver. One of my skillz.)

(Click on each photo for the enlarged version.)


From Sprigs to Colossal Displays

I wonder if the Pagans from hundreds of years ago could have ever anticipated the extreme lengths to which people in the future would go to celebrate the Winter Solstice, now incorporated into the massive holiday we now know as Christmas.

Certainly there would have been feasting and music, which are more than prevalent today. I personally have an extensive Christmas music collection and I have asked for a multitude of new albums this year. (Julie Andrews singing Christmas carols? Yes, please.)

This is sprigs + lights. And it's stunning!

Since I am not even going into the consumerism aspect of Christmas (i.e., gift giving and shopping), I’m mainly focusing on the lights and decorations aspect.

Obviously there are people for whom Christmas is just another day (I do not refer to the religions that do not celebrate Christmas) and they could care less about decorations or being jolly or any kind of “spirit” associated with the season, unless of course they prefer the alcoholic kind. (And many do.)

But for some decorating is a custom, nay a compulsion, that must be carried out each year and it must beat out last year’s effort. Remember all the episodes of Home Improvement where Tim had to outdo his neighbor for the holiday lights/display contest? (Remember how torn up Charlie Brown is about Snoopy going for the lights and display contest? Ha, managed to get in a Peanuts reference.)

Take this guy, for example (this is in Boston):

Clark Griswold, do you see this?

I have no idea how this guy’s neighbors sleep. It sure is pretty, though.

Then there’s the unveiling of the tree at Rockefeller Center. It’s a huge event that draws the millions in NYC plus the tourists who are there to see….an enormous tree strewn with lights. The concept seems simple but what it all boils down to is that we’re all attracted to pretty, shiny, sparkly things like moths to a flame.

Having grown up in St. Louis, I was fortunate to experience the Winter Wonderland display at Tilles Park. Since words can not accurately describe how elaborate this scene is, I’m going to link you to the video they have about what it takes to put this show together. This year is the 25th anniversary of young and old alike flocking to stare at the pretty lights in celebration of our nation’s biggest holiday.

Do you decorate for the holidays? Have you put up your tree yet? (We have…) What are your annual holiday traditions that you can’t live without?

The Season of Coco/a

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for both Coco and cocoa; one being a person, although not Chanel. Side note: don’t Google Image “Coco” if you’re trying to find Conan O’Brien. Learned that the hard way.

As I was saying, I am a huge fan of the brilliant Conan O’Brien. The other is actual cocoa, but more specifically, hot chocolate.

First things first.

I can’t state enough how happy I am to see the return of Conan to television, where he belongs. When he left NBC, there was this vacuous feeling from his absence. He did me a real solid by returning to television as soon as he could. Thanks, man.

As most people in the given universe are aware of by now, he earned the nickname “Coco,” bestowed upon him by Tom Hanks – and it stuck but good. He probably hates it but it made him even more recognizable, if that is at all possible.

His humor is a breath of fresh air to what I consider the stale, flaccid format of late-night television. He’s a big goofball but he makes it sharp and witty. Plus, the guy’s got heart.

He’s not on nearly as late as he used to be but if I were still living in New York, even his coming on at 11pm is earlier than when he was broadcasting after most people were asleep. I don’t have to worry about staying up, though, since I can DVR the comedy and watch it the next morning or after work.

His incessant mocking of TBS is hysterical. One long-running joke is this whole bit about the Conan Blimp. I also adore that Andy is back and in my opinion, better than ever. There seems to be a more relaxed format to the show now, where Conan and Andy can take more liberties with improv and Conan can do what he does best, which is take a joke, make fun of it, then drag it out (à la Family Guy). Love! Andy even acknowledges this point in this article, stating, “You know what, let’s just have some fun. Let’s just do a show now that we’re not replacing anybody. We’re not replacing David Letterman. We’re not replacing Jay Leno. We’re just startin’ up a show from scratch, which we’ve never gotten to do before. There’s no precedent. There’s no shoes to fill. We just get to do what we want.”

Amen. I have no doubt that Conan will succeed, even if we have trouble finding the actual channel on which it resides.

What’s just as good, if not better, than Coco? Cocoa. Especially hot cocoa, as seen by this delectable cup. Or watching Coco whilst drinking hot cocoa. Mmmmmm. There’s a thought. (Yep, that’s my idea of a good fantasy right there. Conan would do a great job of making fun of that.)

I personally make kickass hot chocolate and in college, we would put Bailey’s in it, dubbing it “adult hot chocolate.” There’s one recipe there, should you care to be adventurous.

However, THE BEST hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life was at Angelina in Paris. Yes, you’d have to go to Paris to drink it but it is hands down the best stuff you will ever drink. It’s served with ice water to help you counteract its richness and costs over 6 Euros per person (at least it did in 2004). It is a creamier version of a melted chocolate bar in a cup, topped with homemade chantilly (a.k.a, whipped cream) and makes you full for hours. Delectable.

If I could have that while watching Conan, I’d have the best of both worlds. Coco/a bliss.

Now that I’m making myself salivate…I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, with or without coco/a. Preferably with.

❤ ❤ ❤

2015 Update: I ended up going to Paris during my honeymoon and we definitely hit up Angelina! Below are some photos. Just as blissfully divine as I remembered it.

Angelina 3_Zoe Says Angelina 2_Zoe Says Angelina 1_Zoe Says


I live with a warlock. Who cooks.

After a long day at work, I came home to an incredible aroma seeping from every nook and cranny of the house. (And we have a lot of nooks and crannies. It’s an old house.) Before I had even pushed open the front door, I could smell something delicious emanating from my home.

I followed the scent into the kitchen and saw this, bubbling on the stove:

Mystery stew?

What IS that?

How could something so….gray looking…smell so delicious? Also, has it escaped anyone’s notice that it’s simmering in a cauldron? It looks like it belongs over a witch’s fireplace.

(Or warlock’s, since the person cooking it is a man.)

The difference being the ugly creature who needs dental work, I half expected to see Kevin standing over the stove stirring this stuff with a stick.

He reassured me that I would like it and that, in fact, it was red beans and rice! I adore red beans and rice but I couldn’t recall from memory that it looked like that as it boiled down. This is Alton Brown’s recipe, specifically. Click on that link to try it yourself.

In actuality, our dinner was being cooked in a cast iron pot, which is a favorite of many cooks alike.

Side note: I know how much this sweet guy of mine wanted to stay true to the flavors required in the recipe because he added a celery stalk to the brew while it simmered. Celery is on his Top Five Foods [He] Won’t Eat so I was very taken aback. I really do think it makes a difference in dishes like this, too.

Touched beyond belief and keeping the faith it was going to come out tasty, I made a big pot of rice and shortly thereafter, dinner was served. Here’s the final presentation:

Yummmm.

It’s hard to believe it went from that mystery goulash to these delicious, savory, bursting-with-flavor chunks. (This has pork in it, for those who are wondering if it is vegetarian.)

Lastly, I whipped out an extra secret ingredient to put on top:

This makes all dishes sing.

If your read beans and rice aren’t already quite peppery or if you really enjoy a bit of a kick with your meals, this mild jalapeno sauce from Tabasco is insanely delicious. One of the best things I like about the chain Chipotle is that they stock it in their restaurants when you dine in. We honestly go through about one small bottle a month of this stuff.

Do you like red beans and rice? Do you have any “secret ingredients?” Let a warlock’s girlfriend know!

Cake-plosion

After dinner this evening, I was so excited. I was finally going to make Smitten Kitchen’s Spiced Applesauce Cake. After hearing rave reviews of it by my dear friend Meg, I made sure to have all the ingredients for it, rolled up my sleeves and got crackin’.

I got to use my new red mixer and everything!

It’s incredibly easy to put together. I didn’t have a square baking pan but I made sure to grease up my round cake pan, just in case.

The cake couldn’t have come out better. I was just waiting for it to cool the requisite 15 minutes before having to transfer it to a cooling rack, where I could frost it.

The aroma coming from my oven was absolutely heavenly. It’s how a kitchen should smell so close to Thanksgiving: apples, spices, sugar and anything else made from divinity.

When I pulled it from the oven, it couldn’t have been baked more perfectly:

Classic. Cake.

Sniff...so beautiful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the unthinkable happened.

After waiting for the cake to cool I went to transfer it from the pan to a cooling rack. It was firm but not jiggly and had very nicely pulled away from the edges of the pan. It was ready.

It’s almost unbearable. Just…look.

It disintegrated.

I shrieked. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I actually yelled this, no exaggeration.

I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t speak. (I could grab my camera, however.) Speechless, I reached out a shaking hand. Still steaming in the middle, my beauty of a cake lay helpless. Frosting it was a waste of time and effort.

Fortunately, it was still delicious as-is, but the joy of eating it (with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, no less) and then storing it for a day or two and enjoying it the rest of the weekend is gone.

I have more ingredients. I can try again. I just hate thinking that the only thing standing between me and a fully formed cake was parchment paper.

Sad and bewildered about why bad things happen to good people, I took to my computer to grieve.

To cheer me up, my dearest other half brought me the little Charlie Brown Skating Pond that is part of our holiday repertoire. You press Snoopy’s doghouse and it starts the little figures skating around the pond and it plays one of the tracks from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Anybody who regularly reads this blog is going to ask, “My God, how many references to Charlie Brown can one human possibly make?” The answer is: plenty.

Here’s a photo of the skating pond. It was taken through a Hipstamatic effect:

Isn’t that one of the cutest things you’ve ever seen? Because I am a huge dork, I may have also taken a video of it. It may or may not also be seen below.

So…the lesson is I will have to try making this spiced applesauce cake once more. Thankfully it’s a pinch to make. Once more into the breach, dear friends…and next time, there will be frosting.

My “Seriously??” Moment

It is late and instead of being asleep for the past two hours I have been tweaking things here and there and everywhere, instead of simply writing the short post I intended. For example, it took me an hour to figure out that my blog theme is one of four that doesn’t have Options on the Links Widget. Terrific. At least the blogroll is back up there and has been updated.

—————————–

I love my man. I really, really do.

Yet the longer time passes as we live together, the more I find examples which perfectly illustrate how differently we think and operate. I have many but few are able to be so perfectly captured by two snapshots.

Over the weekend, I noticed that the plastic bin in the bathroom which houses extra toilet paper was empty. I thought we were totally out when my wonderful boyfriend pulled the remaining eight rolls or so from another closet. Delighted we didn’t have to resort to kleenex and paper towels until we got new toilet paper, I kindly asked him to refill the bin. He ever so willingly obliged.

If I were more of a control freak – and I really am one – I might have “checked his work” sooner. However, in working on not being ‘that person,’ I didn’t think twice about it. Then, as is the natural way of things, the first roll ran out and I went to the bin to get another. Here is how he – and most men would – refilled it:

Toilet paper stocking, man style.

I burst out in a shocked laugh. “Seriously?” I said to myself.

Muttering some more with things like, “I should have known” and “Figures,” I rearranged the toilet paper. There is no way I would be able to sleep with that kind of mess going on. Isn’t that so completely irrational? Yet there is no way I could not NOT fix it.

The compulsive or "normal" way to stock TP.

I really can not think of another way to demonstrate just how polar opposite these approaches are. One takes the extra twenty seconds to get as many rolls in to the bin as neatly as possible, making it look nice and ready when we need it. The other says that the person can’t be bothered to care about how something as trivial as toilet paper should be stocked and at least it’s in the bin so what are you complaining about?

And let’s face it. It’s not the end of the world. But it goes deeper than this. This kind of haphazard “arranging,” if you can call it that, extends to other organizational and cleanliness tendencies around the home. I simply do not have the time or energy to delve into it but let’s just say that this is just a metaphor for how each one of us does things. I’ll have to write more on this at another time. My dog is staring at me non-stop and nudging my elbow, urging both of us to climb in bed where we belong.

Still baffled by the line of thinking that believes the arbitrary throwing of the toilet paper is “fine,” I must bid goodnight and get some sleep.

Onions? Or…B.O.?

I really wanted to do this post because of the title alone. Here is the conversation I had online with a girlfriend, which inspired the title:

Her: I just got a whiff of B.O. but nobody walked by, so now I’m paranoid that it’s me.
Me: HAHAHA!
Her: I smelled all around myself and I don’t smell anything. But then, you smell people on the subway, like some guy who sits down next to you, and he seems to have absolutely zero idea that he smells as badly as he does. And you think, “How can someone be so oblivious of his own smell?”
Me: Yeah, I definitely know when it’s me.

Later:

Me: I love how onions are reminiscent of B.O.
Her: Right? It’s such a weird smell, to have a food smell like body odor.
Me: I guess it’s all about man blending with nature. “Onions? Or…B.O.?” Ha! Great title for a post.

So I created this draft with the title with nothing in the body but a note that said, “Can this really be a post?”

Upon getting my Google on, I discovered this awesome article about body odor, men and women. So it really is women who smell like onions when they’re super funky, as opposed to cheese in men. I’m sorry but I think cheese is the more offensive character here. I don’t want to smell a man who reeks of onions, either. Or garlic. Or cumin.

Incidentally, my friend and I had proceeded to have a conversation about men’s underarm smell and how it can actually be quite sexy. Along those same lines, each of our boyfriends thinks it’s strange or gross that we think this. Apparently we’re just fitting right on in with God’s Great Plan, though, because it’s totally a pheromone thing designed to keep the genetics mixed up. Nice work, God.

When I showed my same friend the article, she had this to say: “Who would have thought that me connecting the onions in my garbage to the smell of B.O. that kept coming in waves while sitting at my desk was actually based in fact? Even though it was a fact I didn’t know existed?”

Deep stuff, right?

Author’s note: I have tried Crystal Deodorant and it actually really does work to neutralize one’s natural smell, i.e. onions and cheese. But since it is not an antiperspirant you still sweat like the devil. Unless you plan on wearing dark shirts all the time in the summer or don’t care about pit stains, it’s a try-it-at-your-own-risk product.