Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Foray into Live-Blogging

7.50pm – Conclusion to this live-blog – the dining hall is still full of people; the generous spirit that Harry Potter imbues in everyone has not allowed anyone to be turned away. I’m glad it is over, as being a nosy and corrupt reporter is tiring work, especially when doing double duty to be a character and a student in a blogging class. But all in all, I had a marvelous place, and I’m sure the 200+ people who attended did too.

6.30pm – More and more people are still entering, and many of them are in quite good costumes. Sure, a bathrobe is not really a Hogwarts school robe, but it is the effort that counts. The food is great, the decorations are wonderful, and the entertainment (the cast, including yours truly) has really made this event.

6.25pm – I’m getting a little tired of everyone saying “no comment” to me – but it is a testament that I am a believable Rita Skeeter, and they know that I will twist whatever I say. In any case, their short answers give me more time to write down the entries for this blog.

6.20pm – Draco Malfoy is strutting around terrifying people, Cornelius Fudge (resplendent with his signature lime green bowler hat) is proseletyzing on the politics of Muggle-Wizard relationships. Professor Trelawney is blundering around in a dazed and possibly drunken manner, offering to predict people’s deaths for them. Just another day at Hogwarts.

6.15pm – Lorna, the wonderful director of Risley Dining, is arranging trays of butterbeer to be served to people still in the line, to give them a little taste of the great things they will finally eat when they make it to dinner. She is awesomely dressed up as Professor McGonagall.

6.10pm – I try to get the couples to dish on their relationships for the entertainment of the crowd, and as luck would have it, the people playing Hermione and Ron were actually a couple, and the people playing Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory likewise. Harry and Ginny were a bit of a problem, as Harry was played by a girl, but nonetheless I got some juicy faux-gossip to malignly report.

6.05pm – There are so many parents that I am encountering among the ranks of the visitors, along with their prospective children, and the visiting pre-frosh. This event was really well placed to target all these visitors, and even though Rita Skeeter twisted all their words in her reportage, I can honestly say they thought it was an amazing and impressive event.

6.00pm – This event should theoretically be halfway over now, but there is no way the people waiting in line will be denied. Luckily, we managed to get a presentation of various owls by the Cornell Raptor program (, and even if they don’t deliver our mail, they are wonderfully beautiful and fabulously diverting for the people in line.

5.55pm – I’m going around followed by my diligent press photographer, who luckily is taking real pictures, not magical ones, of all the characters and the visitors and the decorations. My bright green quill unfortunately has no magical properties of its own, but I write as furiously and as untruthfully as possible. Rita Skeeter is nothing if not a paragon of yellow journalism.

5.50pm – Professor Dumbledore, played by (real-life) Professor Tom Hill, says a few words in a tremendous voice to the feasting hall. These words are “nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak!” He has obviously brushed up on the details of the first book!

5.45pm – Time for the first showing of Potter Puppet Pals! Six cast members, myself included, are going up to the balcony overlooking the Great Hall. The sounds of the hit video ( are projected across the hall, and the hand-made puppets of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, and Voldemort perform their little skit. Uproarious applause from below.

5.40pm –In the next room, a deadly skit just started in the depths of the “Ministry of Magic” – Bellatrix Lestrange dueling with Sirius Black. The audience held their breath as he fell into the death curtain – separating the common room from the kitchen – but he was hopelessly dead. And his reenactment of this skit a half-hour later doesn’t change that fact.

5.35pm – Mr. Ollivander is also purveying his fine assortment of hand-made wands (made in Risley’s own woodshop) to some people waiting in line, and everyone seems happy that they will get something concrete (and possibly magical?) to take home with them.

5.30pm – Gilderoy Lockhart is passing out signed photographs to his “adoring” public, so some of the people attending are going to get a little keepsake straight from the hands of a Hogwarts professor.

5.25pm – As I am dressed up as Rita Skeeter, the Daily Prophet’s most admired reporter, I have the pleasure of wandering through the line interrogating the Muggles about what they think of the event. I don’t get very many positive answers, but of course my character is rather a bitch in the books.

5.20pm – the line is now out the door! Not just out of the dining hall, but through three rooms, and the length of the main hall, and out the main door. This is an amazing turnout for such an event, considering it cost $350 and the sweat and tears of the cast members who made the decorations and then put them all up.

5.15pm – Most of the cast members are done eating, so we can go and perform our main function at this event: mingle with the guests and the people waiting in the absurdly long line to make sure they are amused and entertained, and are willing to wait through the line.

5.10pm – Our special Harry Potter food (i.e. British fare) is surprisingly good. No haggis or blood pudding or spotted dick to scare anyone away, but fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and roast beef. The crowning glory is the Butterbeer – the magical drink described as warm and golden and happiness-inducing. Even without the magic recipe, it is sweet, milky, and caramelly.

5.05pm – the Christchurch refectory in Oxford ( has nothing on us! The four house tables are decorated in their theme colors, and we have even made a humble attempt at engineering floating candles in the ceiling. Even if we don’t have magic, it still works.

5.00pm – the “cast members,” the organizers and volunteers for this event who are dressed up as official characters (I’m Rita Skeeter) get to go in to eat first, and the dining hall is resplendent, fashioned after the descriptions of the Great Hall in the HP books.

4.55pm – the dining hall has not even opened yet and there is already a line of fifty or more people, meandering through our decorated rooms. It looks like it will be quite a turn-out, and everyone who is already here is genuinely impressed and amused at the decorations and our hard work.

4.30pm, Friday April 17th. Short preamble for this live-blog – At this moment, Risley Hall of Cornell University is still preparing and setting up Harry Potter Night. Soon, the residential hall will become Hogwarts, and surrounding locations in the Wizarding world.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Those Crazy Brits and their "Cuisine"

So, British food. Cue the groans. Yes, British food has gotten so much abuse lately. As soon as England became a fashionable and popular place to visit, everyone was struck by their odd, unappetizing, or poisonous-looking foods.

Blood Pudding?
Spotted Dick?
Bubble and Squeak?
Bangers and Mash?

Honestly, as a former resident of London, and as a recent attendee at Cornell’s Harry Potter Night (where British food was delectably served up), I cringe at the criticism of British food. All one needs is an open mind. Haggis is sheep's heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Does that really sound so bad? Well yes. But consider, the French – exemplary for their gourmet food – adore Andouillette sausages, which are pretty much just intestines. And Americans’ beloved chitterlings are likewise the same thing. So it’s nothing too scary.

Blood pudding is animal blood that is cooked with various tasty fillers such as meat, bread, or oatmeal, along with spices, until it congeals, and basically it tastes like the fillers. It’s usually soft in consistency, and is very nice to spread on bread. And seeing as England, Scotland, Germany, Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and a slew of Eastern European countries have their own specialties, it really can’t be all bad.

Spotted Dick is in fact a delicious dessert. Well, delicious for British standards anyway. It is a steamed dough with currants (or other dried fruit) served with warm vanilla custard. Nothing dirty or venereal about it. No worries.

Bubble and Squeak is scarier in name than anything else. It is basically a dish of leftovers, where vegetables, such as cabbage, onion, carrots, Brussels sprouts, etc, are fried up with mashed potatoes to make a cohesive patty. It’s nothing too fancy, but it certainly isn’t scary.

As for bangers and mash, it is just sausage served with mashed potatoes. And British sausages are quite a bit better than their American counterparts. Just so you know.

Now another famous British “delicacy” – one that’s found on at least every street corner – is fish and chips. You find this in local joints, the greasier and seedier the better. And not the sad and soggy specimens of some establishments, but thickly battered and crisply friend cod, with thick, golden fries. It’s a cardiac arrest waiting for you, but at least you’ll go out in glorified grease.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

As an honorary American, an almost-teenager, and a resident of Oklahoma, one of the fattest states in the US, I really should have seen Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's documentary about the horrors of McDonalds' nutrition and marketing, long ago. Instead, I saw it just this weekend, and I'm not sure what I'd rather do - stop eating food altogether, or never step into a fast food restaurant again. Which would be easier? Everywhere you go, in a car, on public transportation, in a plane, to another country - there are McDonalds everywhere. But rather than try to focus on the bad stuff you get to eat at McDonalds, it's so much more salient to see what the bad stuff you get on your body is. Morgan Spurlock was a man with above-average health; 34 years old, 6'2", 185 pounds. After 30 days of eating nothing but McDonalds, he weighed 210 pounds. His cholesterol had increased by 60 points, his body fat percentage shot up from 11% to 18%, and he experienced heart palpitations, shortness of breath, mood swings, headaches, sluggishness, depression, and sexual dysfunction. All this, just from a month of food. All this to a man who had a healthy diet, body, and lifestyle.

You may say, that's not really a problem. Look around Cornell, there aren't really many obese people around here. And yes that's true, partially because we are in New York, which is certainly not a "fat" state, and partially because we are at an Ivy-League school, where the students and faculty tend to be more affluent, better educated, and less likely to be raised on junk food. But this is a national epidemic. And that is not too strong a word. I can personally relate to this problem when I go home for breaks, and see the drive-through lines to McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Arby's, Taco Bell, KFC, and the dozen more local fast food chains packed with cars. And, worst of all, everything is marketed to kids! In high school, I remember the great glee everyone had when it was "Taco Bell day" or "Pizza Hut day" in the cafeteria. How, in good conscience, can a company market such poison to children? Overall, it is not the conscience of the companies that need to be changed, it is the personal knowledge and choices made by everyone. But seriously, watch this film if you haven't already. All you need is a shot of Morgan Spurlock puking and unable to have sex after his second burger. It's enough to make you go eat a laaaarge salad.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Go Break that Fast...

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

Cue collective groan. Yes, Mom. We all know. Breakfast is as important as the day is long. This knowledge is so intensely common that nowadays it has almost lost its meaning. Really, in order to perfectly understand the importance of breakfast, it is worth experimenting to see how the body completely fails without it. For example, take a 20-year-old busy female at an Ivy-league institution. Next, take a week - as there so often are - in which this student is lucky to get more than three hours of sleep a night. After such a week, on a morning when this student went to the gym to take a kickboxing class, she almost fainted. Light-headed, dizzy, seeing black and white spots amongst the spandex-clad legs. Of course, not sleeping much, not drinking enough water, and strenuous activity in the morning is not a good combination. But the primary cause for this was the lack of a good morning meal.

So what then is a good breakfast? Obviously, not all breakfasts are created equal - and this article tells us why. Fast food breakfast sandwiches, greasy breakfasts of eggs, bacon, and hash-browns, pastries and donuts, and super sugary cereal are all examples of terrible breakfast foods. They are too rich in fat and/or sugar, and sadly lacking in fiber and protein. Next, there's a bagel and cream cheese, a breakfast bar, or fruits. These are on the "OK" level, because they are mostly healthy except they are lacking several components to make them a complete meal. They lack fiber, protein, or good fats. Alright, so now for the winners, the best foods, the A+ breakfasts. They contain healthy fats, energy-filled carbs, fiber, protein, and a serving of fruit.
1) Oatmeal with berries, a half ounce of nuts, and a glass of orange juice.
2) Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread, and a glass of skim milk.
3) An egg, boiled or scrambled, and low-fat yogurt with fruit and granola.

This may seem more than you can handle in the morning, but remember, if you consume a considerable number of calories early, you will kickstart your metabolism, have more energy throughout the day, and end up consuming less later on.

Besides, breakfast foods are really the best foods anyway.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Michael Pollan’s hit book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, took the organic, locavore, foodie world by storm in 2006. It was at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and purportedly changed the lives of several people (one person told me she went vegetarian after reading it), however, I have only recently been aware of its existence and importance.

Michael Pollan describes the US’s production and consumption of food, and how it is, in a word, revolting. The root of all evil, he says, is corn. That’s right, CORN. Because, according to him, everything is made with corn. Obvious things, like popcorn and high fructose corn syrup, but also almost every preservative, fruit and vegetables that come in contact with corn pesticides or are grown in the same soil as corn was, and – most shockingly – meat, fish, and poultry. This is really the worst – fish are force-fed corn! How is that possible? How could someone say that such a practice is healthy for the fish and healthy for the people who will then eat the fish? In the book, Pollan describes how livestock is fed with a mixture of cornmeal, dried up bones, and indiscriminate pieces of discarded slaughtered animals that may well be a mother or a baby cow. Chicken are fed cornmeal and ground-up feathers and chicken bones. Essentially, these animals are kept alive in the worst way possible just until they grow to a nice size for slaughtering and selling. Disgusting.

America’s dependence on corn and corn products is a direct result of a government-led farming initiative in the 1970s that monopolized on the cheap and hardy corn crop. Pollan analyzes the production of four meals throughout the course of the book, showing how the foods come from the corn field to the candle-lit dinner table. The first meal falls under the “industrial” category of food production – it is McDonald’s. It is basically poison, as well as being made almost entirely of corn. That burger is made of corn because the cow it comes from was stuffed to death with a product that none of her four stomachs was naturally made to process. The next meal falls under the “big organic” category – food that is purportedly organically grown. The problem here is that since the organic movement has grown bigger and bigger, more farmers and food producers have taken on the practices of big industrial agriculture, therefore big organic food is not much better than industrially produced food. The meal that Pollan analyzes was cooked at home with food from Whole Foods. The next meal that Pollan makes and analyzes is on a small organic scale – from a local, sustainable farm that uses very few artificial substances or practices. This is a good meal, but it is economically unfeasible for the country because of the government’s subsidization of corn and industrial agriculture. The final meal that Pollan prepares is a “hunter and gatherer” meal: he only uses foods that he has found and gathered, including wild feral pigs, berries, mushrooms, and various greens. This is obviously the least feasible option, because in order to live like this Pollan has to cut himself off from his family and his work, and go around foraging for truffles.

The overall message of this book is very bleak – the only thing to do is to move away from America and avoid any American-grown meat, fish, and poultry. Luckily, I was also told about another book that is much more helpful – What to Eat, by Marion Nestle. It’ll fix you after reading Pollan, trust me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The chemistry of an epic meringue

Next in the series of food and its chemistry is: meringue!

This sweet, white, perfectly angelic confection has an almost mystical quality – how does it get so shiny, so crunchy on the outside, and yet remain a little chewy inside? Or, conversely, how does it stay perfectly soft in a meringue pie, yet still maintain its height and structure? Read on for the answer.

Meringue is made from some very simple ingredients – egg whites, sugar, and sometimes cream of tartar or cornstarch, as a binding agent, mixed together to make a foam.

A what?
A foam.
That’s all meringue is. Air, essentially.

A standard recipe is one egg white for every quarter cup of superfine, caster, or baker’s sugar. The egg whites are first beaten into soft peaks, the sugar is added tablespoon by tablespoon, while beating all the time to stiff peaks, which are very shiny and glossy, and remain stiff when lifting the beater.

That’s a general recipe – now on to the science!

The answer to a meringue’s feather-light baked structure and its voluminous height topping a lemon pie lies in the egg whites. These parts of the eggs are teeming with protein, and as such, they provide structure for the meringues. The amino acid bonds in the protein are denatured as the egg whites are beaten, which traps air into the fixture. Beating therefore serves the double purpose of breaking up amino acid bonds, and incorporating the all-important air into the meringue foam.

Next comes the sugar – this is the reason everything actually comes together and is stable. The proteins in egg whites cannot stretch and break down completely, which is what would happen after beating and baking them. The sugar, added bit by bit, bonds to the proteins and lends them more strength and elasticity.

The foam should be 5 or 6 times the volume of the unbeaten egg whites. Either spoon the foam into individual meringues on a baking sheet, bake a whole crust of meringue for a pavlova or a cake base, or use the foam on top of a pie. Meringues usually are baked long and low, that is, for an hour at least, and at a low to moderate temperature. With the heat, the air expands, the water naturally in the egg whites evaporates and no longer poses a problem to the structure, and the proteins coagulate to harden and form a crispy, shiny, light meringue. Perfect!

Some DON’TS:
DON’T allow any speck of yolk into the egg white mixture when separating them. This introduces fat to the mixture, which will kill the structure
DON’T use a plastic mixing bowl, or any bowl that is not meticulously clean. Again, fats tend to stick and therefore would contaminate the egg whites.
DON’T stop once the sugar has been added and the eggs are being vigorously beaten. The mixture will break otherwise
DON’T start making meringues on a rainy or humid day, or store the finished product in the fridge, or allow any water to come into contact with the meringue. Water softens and destroys meringues.

NB: no actual recipe is provided. This is a general look at what substances go into meringues, and how each reacts chemically. When actually baking, use a real recipe (like one with measurements and oven temperatures.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A little cooking chemistry

Ever wonder how flour becomes layers of pastry? How egg whites crispen into perfect angelic meringues? How a soufflé stays up? How caramel doesn’t burn or turn into rock (hopefully)?

Thanks to the blogger’s experience as an ex-chemistry major, these questions can be answered.

Let’s examine pastry to start. Pastry dough is, in its most primitive state, made of flour, butter, and a little water. The butter should be cold, so that the molecules that make it up will best retain their structure. Likewise, the water should also be cold so that the butter does not start to melt. Essentially, the kneading of the butter-flour-water mixture should not melt the butter, instead, the butter and water remain cold and just change shape – into a ball of dough.

The kneading has combined the water and the butter, however, they do not completely mix because of the chemistry of the two molecules. Water is a polar molecule, which means that it has a permanent charge in one of its molecules that is not cancelled out by another charge in the opposite direction. Fats are nonpolar; as they are much larger molecules than water, they have more charges in opposite directions that eventually cancel each other all out.

As everyone knows, mixing oil and water does not work – the two repel each other, because one is nonpolar and the other is polar. This same principle applies to baking. The water and the butter do mix inasmuch as they form a dough with the flour to clue everything together, but they do not actually combine – the butter and water rest as layers of sand, unmixed.

Then, when everything goes into a hot oven, the water evaporates into steam as it cooks, the steam expands into bubbles in the dough, leaving behind inflated layers of pastry with lots of air in between.

In the end, when the dough comes out of the oven, it takes the form of flaky, crispy, buttery pastry. Success!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The quiche is no longer kitsch

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!!!

While the US celebrates this holiday today, let no one forget another very important, if slightly underappreciated, holiday from this past weekend.

Pi Day!!!

Yes, Saturday, March 14th (3.14) was Pi day, also known as Pie Day. And in honor of this, let's explore something a little less traditional than the average, all-American pie - quiche. Now, according to Food Network and various modern cookbooks, quiches have become kitsch in the last few years, and what was once a cool and cosmopolitan food, suitable for impressive dinner parties, has fallen from grace. And a good thing too, because quiche has regained its humble origins - as a French pie filled with egg and cheese, and other random vegetables and meat lying around. That doesn't sound too fancy, does it?

So, the questionable part is whether a quiche can really be called a pie. To answer this, let's dissect the anatomy of a quiche. The crust - identically made as that of an apple pie, with one minor addition - an egg. The insides - well, a quiche is, by definition, filled with savory eggy cheesy things, therefore is unlikely to have apples, cherries, peaches, etc. residing inside its crust. But the principle is the same. Bake the whole thing, serve warm, room temperature, or cold, and you're good to go. The quiche is the counterpart to sweet pies. And since almost everyone's made a pie in their lifetime, there's no reason everyone shouldn't also try making a quiche.

The following recipe was harvested from at least four online recipes and some old cookbooks. Use at own risk, however, it probably will be delicious.

1.5 cups flour
1 stick butter (cold)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp cold water
1 egg white

Mix flour, sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter in half-inch cubes, mix with fork and hands into course meal (if blessed with a stand mixer, use this instead). Add the beaten egg and cold water, knead, and fold into a ball of dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, refrigerate for an hour.

Prepare a 9-inch pie pan with butter and flour. Roll out the dough, fit it into the pie pan, and refrigerate another 45min- 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400F. Wrap dried beans (or pie weights, if you're fancy) in foil, place on top of the dough in the pie pan to weigh it down, and bake for 20 minutes. This is called blind baking.

Remove the weights, prick the crust all over with a fork, and return to oven without the weights for another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and decrease heat to 350F, let cool for a while, then brush with the lightly beaten egg white. Meanwhile, prepare the innards for the quiche.

1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped Portobello mushrooms
1 cup chopped ham and/or bacon
1 green pepper, chopped
1 leek, chopped
0.75 cup milk
2 eggs, plus one egg yolk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or gouda, gruyere, swiss, fontina, asiago - this recipe is not picky)
1 cup shredded havarti cheese (ditto)

Heat some oil in medium pan. Cook onions until browning. Add mushrooms and vegetables, and cook until tender and their liquid has evaporated. Add the ham/bacon, and cook until crisp.

Mix the shredded cheeses with the milk and the eggs, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Coat the crust with the vegetables and ham. Gently pour the egg and cheese mixture on top. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the quiche doesn't jiggle too much.

Now, as quiche was a peasant dish that one could put anything into, don't hesitate to add or subtract. This would taste great with spinach, potatoes, and tomatoes too. And probably most cheeses that you can get your hands on.

And with that, Happy (late) Pi(e) Day


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CloFu - the food of the future

In recent years, the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle has been publicized with ever-increasing attention. Nowadays, there seem to be many more substitutes for meat, cheese, and dairy products than there are actual meats, cheeses, and dairy products - tofu, tempeh, seitan, mock meats, veggie and Boca burgers, soy milk, rice milk...basically any combination of soy protein, wheat gluten, nuts and vegetables.

But this post is not an exploration of all the different options offered to vegans and vegetarians. Neither is it a criticism of the plethora of these products that seem to be choking meat eaters. It is, instead, going to showcase one particularly ridiculous product. A product that has not yet been made, but that will no doubt become a clamorous issue for vegans, meat-eaters, and George Clooney alike.

George Clooney? Yes. George Clooney. In the article below from World Entertainment News Network, PETA describes another publicity measure to convert people (most likely the female demographic, age 18-59) to veganism.

PETA Bosses Eye Clooney-Flavoured Food

12 March 2009 3:00 PM, PDT

Bosses at animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are sweating over a new idea to turn George Clooney's perspiration into a tofu flavour.

PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk has written to the movie star asking him for his permission to market CloFu.

The wacky idea came about after Newkirk was offered a vial of handsome George's sweat - apparently taken from a gym towel he used during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

Unsure what to do with the sample, Newkirk took it to PETA's boffins, who assured her it could be scrumptious.

In her letter to Clooney, the president writes, "The technology actually exists to take your perspiration and make it into George

Clooney-flavored tofu. We could do that and give the tofu away.

"Of course, your fans would swoon at the idea of eating CloFu, but what interests us most is that we would attract many people who don't try tofu because they worry that it would be bland or that they wouldn't know how to cook it. CloFu will help people be healthier and more environmentally friendly and will spare animals from being killed for the table."

And taste expert Dr. Harry Lawless of Cornell University insists the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds: "It is no different than making artificial chicken flavour for instant gravy."

PETA spokeswoman Amanda Schinke says, "We believe CloFu would be delicious on its own or served over rice with a light soy sauce and sauteed collards, in a casserole with melted vegan cheese and olives, or perhaps pressed with vegan pesto in a panini."

But Clooney's initial response isn't all that encouraging. In a statement through his representative, the movie star says, "As a mammal, I'm offended."

Verdict has yet to be passed on whether PETA is serious, whether Clooney is willing, and whether Cornell University has lost any credibility.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Those pesky fruit and vegetable requirements again...

While the mainstream diets seem to be ever-changing - from all-meat, to no-carbs, to single food groups (grapefruit diet? cabbage soup diet?) - the "official" recommendations seem to sensible. The USDA recommends "Two cups of fruit and 2½ cups of vegetables per day" in their Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

And yet look at a measuring cup. Does anyone get that much really? 2.5 whole cups of vegetables seems a daunting task. Therefore, entrepreneurs have increasingly developed "get fruits and veggies quick" schemes, particularly in the form of V8 fruit and vegetable juices, and Naked fruit smoothies.

V8 is no longer just a thick tomatoey juice that one must drink down with one's nose pinched. V8 produces 100% vegetable juice, V-Fusion, a mix of fruit and vegetable juices, and V8 Splash, a low-calorie fruit juice. One serving of V8 provides 1.5 cups of vegetables (therefore, 3 out of 5 servings of vegetables each day), one serving of V-Fusion provides half a cup of vegetables and half a cup of fruit (a full serving of fruit and a full serving of vegetables), and Splash just seems to be a diet version of juice.

Naked juice similarly appeals to this trend of liquefied fruit and veggie servings, and provides, in each of its 24 flavors, "a pound of fruit in every [15.2oz] bottle." Take, for example, the "Red Machine" flavor - it boasts having 13 raspberries, 11 strawberries, 3 cranberries, 1.5 apples, a quarter of a pomegranate, a third of an orange, half of a banana, and 7 grapes. On a conservative estimate, that seems to be about 4 cups of fruit. Double what the USDA recommends! Can it really be so? Jove and my stars be praised, it's a miracle juice! In 15.2oz of liquid one gets twice the recommended daily servings of fruit!

Well yes, it certainly wouldn't hurt to consume this drink, as long as it's clear that it's not a low calorie food, nor is it a substitute for water. The fruit juices do provide various vitamins, but it is the pulp and fibrous content of the fruit itself that provides sustenance and digestive benefits, not the juice. The juice is fine for a snack or as a supplement to whole pieces of fruit, but munching on an apple daily and popping some grapes are still essential for good health.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yes, this is why we're fat (meant in the nicest way possible!)

This link is a little different than the previous one posted – while FoodPornDaily presents its pictures in wonderful clarity and resolution, with gourmet taste pairings and appealing colors, ThisIsWhyYoureFat has no regard whatsoever for the “art” of food. Rather, it implores the viewer to feel the primordial ooze of grease drip down their lips; to marinade in a sea of corn syrup and MSG.

It gives a candid, but completely unapologetic look at “why YOU’RE fat.” For every wannabe gourmande that delights in the exploration of new flavors, there is another foodie – the one that deep-fries anything that can be dipped in batter, and wraps every foodstuff in bacon.

Cornell has its own answer to “why you’re fat” – in the form of the Hot Truck (on West) and Louie’s Lunch (across from Risley). The stench of grease smacks you in the face like an old moist sock anytime you pass within 30 feet of these trucks, yet all is forgiven and forgotten when you have that innocuous brown bag with oil stains petering through.

The trucks are fine for occasional late-night cravings, study breaks, makeshift dinners; but please do not make this a regular feature in your diet. The morning after a double tully burger with Cajun fries does NOT feel so good.

As with the freshest fish and the ripest vegetables, flavor is fleeting, therefore use it well and with care at Louie’s and the Hot Truck. Best eaten still warm, on the walk home.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

French Toast vs. Crêpe

Dessert for Breakfast? Yes please!

Crêpes are a seminal French food - for snacking, a quick lunch, a dessert. The best in Paris is Banana Nutella, but standards include cinnamon, lemon and sugar, as well as ham and cheese. The closest you can get to that in Ithaca is Synapsis Café, in Weill Hall. Their version is even more Frenchified, because it is in fact Banana Nutella French Toast.

So French Toast is about as French as Chinese food is Chinese, but the concept is correct - French Toast is bread dredged in milk and egg, and crêpe batter is basically milk and egg.

Therefore, go forth (before 10.30am!) and order a baby-sized serving of Banana Nutella goodness. It'll wake you up, then put you in a sugar coma. But at least it's a serving of fruit.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Pinesburger CHALLENGE

Anyone who is an Ithaca local must have heard of the infamous Glenwood Pines - home of Ithaca's best burger, and its even better CHALLENGE.  This is the kind of challenge that is only for the big, brave, and hungry.  Now, their burgers are already large and delicious - 6oz of beef, slice of cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and thousand island dressing on a large french roll.  Sounds good already.  

The CHALLENGE, then, is eating four (4) of these monstrosities in under an hour.  I went to this illustrious restaurant this weekend, with four males in search of sustenance and glory, a polaroid on the walls of the restaurant, and a free t-shirt.  Three other females accompanied me, and made up the cheering and lecturing section of the table.  

So, to describe the contenders.  A, 21-year-old senior, works at Louie's Lunch therefore is around burgers quite a lot.  B, 21-year-old junior who takes pride in his inability to eat vegetables, subsists entirely on pizza and french fries (no joke).  C, 22-year-old non-Cornellian senior, here to visit and try out this infamous challenge.  D, 20-year-old younger brother of non-Cornellian, is obviously a boy amongst the men.  

The eight of us are seated at the table.  The four girls get various other levels of fried goodness, but nothing to reach the level of the CHALLENGE.  The four boys order their burgers.  Once the burgers arrive, all four at the same time, the contenders are not allowed to leave the table.  They must perfect a fine art of balancing the dry fillingness of the bun, the heaviness of the beef, the variety of the sauces - thousand island, mayo, ketchup, and hot sauce - and their water intake in order to trick their brains into ignoring the fullness of their stomachs.  At 7.30pm exactly, the CHALLENGE began.  

7.35pm. Contestant A is into his third burger already.  B and C are enjoying themselves, and agreeing on the fact that their CHALLENGE does not seem that hard in person.  D is laboring with his first burger.  

7.39pm.  Contestant A has, against all odds and aghast looks, finished the CHALLENGE.  4 giant burgers in 9 minutes.  We ask the waitress, she admits it is impressive, but tells us that someone has in fact finished in 7 minutes.  Nevertheless, A never broke a sweat, never struggled, never belched - he polished them off cleanly and effortlessly.

7.50pm.  Contestant B has finished his CHALLENGE too.  His trick was spicing up each burger, making it taste different and more interesting to his overloaded tastebuds.  B also ordered fries, and at the end he was still able to each them with relish (figurative). 

7.54pm.  Contestant C finishes his CHALLENGE.  He is possibly the smallest physically of our contestants, and therefore I had some doubts, but he was steady to the end. He also maintained a very positive mind frame, insisting to himself he would be able to finish.  Quality effort, good ending.  

8.00pm.  We are halfway through the CHALLENGE.  3 out of the 4 contestants have impressively finished entirely.  Contestant D, however, has encountered some difficulties.  He has finished 2 out of his 4 burgers, but he is tiring fast.  He was mentally unprepared, and decided to participate so as to be part of the male team.  He even went so far as to dip his bun into water to soften it, making it easier to swallow.  Slowly and none too steadily, D continues onward. 

8.17pm. After several queasy moments and some close calls wherein I ducked behind contestant A, D decided to throw in the towel.  Pale and belching, with the wreckage of one burger remaining, D decided his own mental and gastronomical stability was more important to him than the glory from the restaurant, respect from his friends and diners, and sense of worth from himself.  The waitress came by with a knowing look, and took his plate away - she didn't want to risk anything.  Luckily, my fellow female diner and I and not had any of this famous burger, so we decided to try some of it.  Certainly good, possibly Ithaca's best.  

8.20pm.  Contestant A bravely took it upon himself to finish D's last burger.  In effect, he had eaten almost 5 burgers in less than an hour.  After that, he ordered dessert to share with C.  I also ordered dessert to share with fellow female diner.  Their special, the Kentucky Derby pie, was sinful.  Unbaked chocolate chip cookie dough in a pie, topped with nuts, chocolate, and pie crust.  Steaming and melty, with ice cream on the side. 

Perfect end to the evening, except the precarious ride home for D, who was teetering on the edge of a burger coma.  Unfortunate, but the CHALLENGE is not for the weak.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Click, drool, repeat.

One word. Or link, if you will.  

Wow. Just click away. You'll be amazed how quickly 2 hours of study time passes.  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Wasted Weekend

I fear that my last post hath jinxed me.  

If my kind readers remember, I last wrote about the peanut butter food poisoning crisis, and how I was adversely reacting to it (to the lack of peanut buttery snacks, not the poison itself).  Oh, if only I could eat my words.  And even if I could, I'm sure I couldn't keep them down.  You see, since Friday night, I have not been able to ingest solids.  

Thanks to WebMD, I was informed that my three symptoms (fatigue, vomiting, and you can guess the third) could stem from any of 20 conditions, but food poisoning was at the top of the list.  While I usually consider myself to have an iron stomach, and a stalwart immune system (if I find myself sneezing or coughing, it's usually enough for me to sternly chastise myself saying "NO you will not get sick!") this illness took me by rather fierce surprise.  I was practically immobilized all Friday night and Saturday, and this was sad indeed as I couldn't do my usual weekend food stuff - be it an exciting brunch, this year's Chili Festival (dammit how could I have missed it?!), or a great pre-, during, and post-Oscars spread. 

Let's just say that this incident, and the peanut butter fiasco, are making me slightly more leery of food in general.  I may now start to check the expiration date on my milk, and make sure to have my steak fully cooked.  Even though in France I ate steak tartare once a week and was fine.  Ah the French. They know how to live.  

Now if you know what's good for you, go watch the Oscars with amazing snacks!  They are to me what the Super Bowl is to most American males.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Recovery from PB&J withdrawal

Although I hope I am generally quite well-informed on, well, stuff, I returned to the US after my semester abroad having no idea what this whole peanut butter ban and recall was. And as a peanut butter lover, I didn’t much care – there was still peanut butter on the shelves of Wegmans, therefore I bought it. But since January, seemingly tame and loveable peanut-butter related products have been responsible for 9 deaths and 637 illnesses. And although peanut butter itself seemed exempt, I realized so many other things in my life are not. Namely, Peanut Butter Cookie flavor Luna bars, Nestle Crunch Bars, and (travesty of travesties), Cornell’s own Nutty Buddy Franklin flavored ice cream.

A few years ago, when the tomato crisis occurred, and before that, the great spinach scare of ’06, Cornell seemed exempt thanks to organic homegrown local foodie Ithaca. Alas, Arachis hypogaea does not grow in our frigid climes. Still, I advise everyone to soldier on. Today at Trillium, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were still available for sale (rather too available – I don’t think anyone bought one). Whole peanuts themselves seem fine, and thus are no-brainer substitutes. And if all else fails remember peanut butter’s oft-overlooked sister – Nutella.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Everything in Moderation (Even Tapeworms)

The weekend of the much-loved and revered Valentine's Day may not be the best to start talking about body image, seeing as if you have a sweetie you're most likely gorging on chocolate together, and if you don't, then you're certainly gorging alone. I know I am (but that's neither here nor there).  Body thinning, contrary to popular belief, and to what was mentioned in class last week, is not a modern phenomenon.  

Everyone cites the mass media as the main source of all the weight problems and eating disorders that plague many young girls and some males. With no TV, no fashion magazines, no websites obsessing over celebrity's weight, experts say people wouldn't dangerously diet, models wouldn't be worshipped, and anorexia and bulimia wouldn't be on the tip of anxious mothers' tongues.  

However, weight loss has been on people's minds since the beginning of time, and the certainly the beginning of being fat.  According to this article, Hatshepsut, William the Conqueror, and Marie de Medici all had some weight problems. Elisabeth of Bavaria was the first queen to really promote exercise (and an arguably public bulimic), and Scarlett O'Hara, renowned heroine of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, had a "seventeen-inch waist, the smallest in three counties." 

So, to tackle some of the proposed weight loss strategies: liquid (liquor) diet - this exists on college campuses most commonly as "drunkorexia." 

Inventing health food, such as Corn Flakes and Graham Crackers, might have worked for a while, but nowadays their inventors would stand around and watch their foods be drenched in high fructose corn syrup and produced en masse.  

The parasite diet - who in their right mind hasn't wished for a ginormous tapeworm, a fit of stomach flu, or some nice long bout of food poisoning to help in the eternal struggle with weight??

As for the genius-girl creator of the "calorie" - why, Lulu, why??? I think this, more than magazines covered with bikini models and anorexic film stars, has affected people's mentality.  

The Sleeping Beauty diet, however, is something I can very willingly accept.  If I could hunker down and hibernate for a couple of days and wake up newly svelte, I would certainly try.  If Elvis does it, it has to be good, right?

OK kids, I think I have made a good point - weight loss has been a fad since forever ago, and it has never been especially smart or useful.  So don't do anything too crazy. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jetlagged...for food.

I have lived in four different countries in the twenty years of my life, and each time I left one, I was forced to give up so much more than just my friends and school and home - I had to give up THE FOOD.  Not just the restaurants, not just the supermarkets and the specific brands, but also the customs that dictate homemade food.  Certainly one could argue that if one moves to another country, one always has the same ingredients ready to make dishes that are traditional from the other country.  My mother would laugh in the face of this argument.  She is forever complaining that the fruits and vegetables just aren't "right," they just don't taste the same here in the US compared to Europe. 

And I have to admit, coming back from Paris a month ago today, most food here just doesn't taste the same.  Coffee, French roast - What? What French roasting method are you thinking of?  French baguette? Oh hell no. You are surely mistaken.  Please don't think that any "baguette" you get here is anything like the real thing.  Camembert? Don't be ridiculous.  There is no way to achieve that smelly, moldy, creamy, gooey, sensational cheese if you have to pasteurize it (which you do in the US - to my chagrin).  Eggs, fruits, jam, Nutella, pasta - everything tastes different (read: better) in France. 

Thanks to Wegmans, some limited food imports are available to us in Ithaca.  I can have chocolate digestive biscuits to reminisce on my childhood in London, or Le Petit Ecolier to snack on while doing my French homework.  Last time I was grocery shopping, my friend and I stocked up on some Indian food - spinach paneer, potato and lentil curry, and other such wonders contained in a little cardboard box.  Yes, it is box food - but knowing that it actually came from a factory in India makes it taste better. More authentic.  It doesn't come much better than "Tasty Bomby Potato" brand, right?

In conclusion, when I moved from Romania to England, I could barely tolerate the food - I was five, I had never had processed, frozen, or ready-made food before.  When I moved from England to the US, I lost all my favorite snacks and brands and candy, and had to adjust to living in a gastronomically-challenged Midwest town.  Moving from the US to France was spectacularly mind-blowing, and the return was...well, I won't dwell on that.  The point is, people adjust, people tolerate, and people learn to appreciate new things.  In the meantime, if food choices have go you down, dreaming of your homeland cuisine (or things you ate on a really awesome vacation), just try this - say "Tasty Bomby Potatoes" with a funny accent.  Come on, I dare you - tasteeee bombeee potatooooooes.  It's guaranteed to make you smile. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ski Food - Pro or Con?

For someone who has only skied five times in her life, I really really REALLY love it.  So I know the connotations of skiing - rich snobby white people, who can afford their own skis and a season lift pass to the fanciest ski resorts in Colorado and the Alps.  But in my limited experience, these stereotypes have been busted.  In smaller, intimate, kind of slobby ski resorts in Montana, Utah, and California, the focus was on the slopes and the quality of snow, rather than the extra facilities and the gourmet dining and the yearly film festival.  

So I agree, the gourmet dining might( (ie. certainly) would be delicious.  But every ski resort I've been to has some requisite food choices; namely, soup, fries, chili, and hot chocolate.  And honestly, what more does one need?

This weekend, I went to Greek Peak for the first time in my undergraduate career at Cornell.  And it was the epitome of smaller, more intimate resorts, bestowed with ancient chairlifts and rundown lodges.  But the weather was fabulous, the snow was groomed, and the chili was beany and cheesy.  Honestly, the only food I can even think of eating after a morning of skiing is steaming, chunky clam chowder, tasty thick-cut fries, and meaty chili in a paper bowl - you know, healthy, nutritious, energy-providing food. 

I hope no one thinks I'm bashing the smaller, cheaper ski resorts - I love them, and therefore I associate certain foods with them.  Food that you'd never willingly eat except after being frozen on slopes for four hours.  Food that is greasy and of ambiguous origin, but is warm and liquidy and comforting.  So before you blow big bucks on expensive fine-dining resorts, remember the littler, friendlier, slightly scruffier resorts; that are cheaper and closer, but just a satisfying.  


Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Weekend of the Leek Soup

So my dear readers, tell me something. You’ve heard of those crack diets, right? Of course, everyone has, but the experience I will relate differs slightly – it is non-brainwashing (hopefully), it does not proclaim to be a “lifestyle change” (mercifully), and it failed utterly (hilariously).

Last summer, my friend mailed me a going-to-Paris-have-fun book. It was a highly entertaining read, and I recommend it for much of its advice, if not this particular recipe. Therefore, said friend and I decided that one weekend we would try the “magical leek soup” diet. The premise is that leeks are nutritious, low in calories, tasty, and most of all, detoxifying, and that drinking the broth periodically will keep you hydrated, and eating some leek chunks will keep you “full.” Obviously, why didn’t we all think of that?

So I’m going to divulge this wonderful, top secret, gourmand, magical recipe. Are you all ready?

1) Chop leeks
2) Boil in water
3) Eat for 2 days straight

No oil, no salt, no seasoning. And in a fit of what I considered to be pure genius, I chopped up the dark green tough parts of the leeks too, not just the pale stems. Making it extra delicious and…fibrous.

I woke up Saturday morning at 7.30am, deciding that if I ate a banana then and fell back asleep it wouldn’t impinge on the detox diet. Around noon, I also decided that the nice people in my dorm making carrot cake wouldn’t take no for an answer – so of course I indulged. Later that night, at a dear friend’s party, I decided it would be awfully rude to refuse her birthday cake. And by Sunday, I was full speed ahead back on solid food. Utter failure of the weekend leek soup diet.

Of course, I blame my social environment entirely. If not for living in a dorm, if not for having friends who eat, if not for this birthday party, if not for my insatiable appetite…but I digress.

I certainly don’t want to repeat my weekend experience, but at the same time, I feel passionately for the denigrated leek. I sincerely hope this post hasn’t adversely effected your relationship to this noble vegetable. I found joy and tastiness in leeks, in the form of a leek and lentil curry, after this weekend. I therefore advise you all to first fail then rectify.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A first-post welcome

Kudos to me for finally having set up my blog! While most of the country is now watching the Super Bowl, I'm huddled in a wi-fi hotspot typing away my very first post, which hopefully will be the first of many good ones. 

The general, and rather ambiguous topic of this blog is FOOD. 

Something that everyone likes, right? Right? Well I only hope my dear readers are as avid fans as I am, and are as interested in hearing about interesting recipes, utter food failures, and fun dining experiences as I am.  I am not sure whether my semester in Paris last fall caused or resulted from my passion for food, but in either case, it definitely changed my life (and my weight). From then on, I tried as much as possible to be a true "gourmande" - fond of good food, gastronomically-inclined.  Being a college student during a recession in a country that does not allow unpasteurized cheese definitely put a damper on these aspirations.  Hence, the "wannabe" part.  

I hope that this is a good enough introduction to whet some appetites (pun proudly intended) and garner some interest in this blog - but I certainly don't intend to be the next FXcuisine

Coming up in my next blog post, experience the fascinating, the misunderstood, the oft-forgotten enigma of... the leek!