Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dear Ben Franklin,

You were a very wise, though fabulously contradictory, man. Your benevolence in politics (and slave relations.. eee) is renowned, your philosophy is widely read, and your wisdom still rocks the constitution. You made so many accurate statements, but among the greatest of these was when you said that "there cannot be good living where there is not good drinking." Thanks, man, you hit the nail right on the head!

Historical address aside, I love booze. Not in a negative, alcoholic way, but in a fun, OMG-COLLEGE way, though those views are likely not that far apart. See, I turned 21 in Ireland while studying abroad. Awesome, right? Well, not really. The Euro is way stronger than the dollar, so buying the booze was a wallet nightmare. No one carded me because, though I don't really look 21, I definitely look over 18. Also, I had not really drunk before going on that trip (at all, really!), so I had no concept of my tolerances, including, for example.. wine (incidentally, I don't recommend testing your limits by drinking an entire bottle of red while on a beach more than a mile's uphill walk from your flat... oh!)

Now that I've been back in the States for about a month now, I've made a few forays into the bars. First, I went to ArtsFest up in State College. Dive bars, I found, are fun, but in a limited way. Nice bars, on the other hand, are outside my experience. Though I developed a fondness for Guin
ness while in Ireland, it's just not so good outside its homeland. So, I turned to Belgium! Delirium Tremens, a lovely though pricey beer, is a Belgian ale with pink elephants on the bottle. This beer is so classy that it comes with a glass.. this is no swigging brew! 

Of course, the best alcohol is that that comes free. Hence, my amazingly tasty, unexpectedly gigantic frozen mango margarita was soo good! See, I went out to dinner with my grampa and, it being only shortly after my 21st, he treated me to not only a delicious ahi tuna and berry salad meal, but also a fabulous, fruity drink. Now, I was not expecting 20 ounces... more like, you know, a reasonable amount like 8 or so. It took me the full two hour meal to get through this drink and, by the end, I was basically slurping it up so we could get out of the restaurant. Whoo! I'm not really sure how I feel about giant drinks.. or menus that don't list the drink size. How do others fall on this issue? 

My most recent alcohol experience was in lovely West Chester, bouncing around from the Pita Pit (if you aren't eating there now, GO) to Iron Hill Brewery (raspberry wheat microbrew and taste of a really sour apple martini) to Kildare's (Jameson and ginger ale, fuzzy navel .. 
yum!) One of my favorite things about alcohol is that there are so many flavors. Even the raspberry flavors are distinct from each other: my lightly raspberry wheat beer was worlds away from the raspberry framboise that I sipped at Kildare's. Both are valid, nuanced tastes, but completely different. Similarly, the nominally fruit flavored apple martini was artificially sour while my fuzzy navel was satisfyingly sweet and elaborately alcoholic. As much as I love fruity drinks, though, there is nothing quite so perfect as a well-crafted beer. Not overly hoppy or filling, but just the right balance of flavor and foam. Humble though it may be, Yuengling is easily one of my favorite beers for at-home consumption, though I haven't decided what my favorite on-tap brew is. 
Any suggestions? Post favorites in the comments section.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two Dinners with Pita

Digging through my mother's freezer the other day, I rediscovered an old love -- pita! Though these pitas are a little past their prime and could be much fresher, I've still been enjoying them a bunch. The key to freshening them up is a quick trip through the microwave, preferably with some delicious, moist food inside. Enter leftovers and salsa. 

If I had to choose a condiment to reign supreme over all others, if I were stranded on a desert island and had to choose what would inhabit my (highly illogically placed) refrigerator, if .. well, i
 guess you get the gist. I freakin' love salsa! So much so that I bought special, hand-crafted salsa from Penn State's ArtsFest
 ... above all the beautiful art and YARN, I chose salsa. Clearly, you see my persuasion. 

So, anyway, I've been trying to creatively use the enormous leftovers this house uses and, with a little cheese and salsa, I've had great luck, especially with the pitas. Take, for instance, the leftover baked chicken breast. Diced and combined with salsa, cheese, corn, and hot sauce, I turned a dish destined for the dogs into a tasty bento treat to enjoy at my new work (tutoring at the local community college). 
As with any bento option, my co-workers are extremely jealous. *grin*

Combine the chicken mixture, half a pocketed-pita and microwave to result in a fabulous, Mexican-inspired healthy and yummy treat. Add in some goldfish crackers, kumquats, green grapes, and a cookie (the rocky road cookies that have kept marvelously fresh in their airtight baggy)... and there's your meal! 

The next tasty pita dish came just today when I used some leftover London Broil (though some chickpeas really would have hit the spot better) and added in some cheese and.. that's right.. more salsa! I didn't have any lettuce or cucumber sliced as I was rushing to prepare this dish, so I kept it simple with the three ingredients. A quick nuke and some already-sliced celery and fruit later, and I had a super-tasty and healthy dinner for work. YUM!

This meal isn't packaged particularly efficiently. The thick pita doesn't fit very well into my shallow bento box, so I substituted
 a glad-ware box from mom's cupboard. The deep design really helped me make the 
most of my celery, a pretty bulky vegetable, as well as the pita's shape. Also, it made for a fun layered effect. I even had so much food that I had to finish the celery as a snack on the way home from class (class immediately following work) and I was able to spread some kumquat love with my tutee. 

If you haven't tried kumquats, now is a great time to try them (no time like the present?). They're small.. only the size of a grape, but pack a really mighty flavor. You eat them whole, skin and all, which is extra great because the flesh is really really sour, but the skin is tender-sweet and perfectly balances the inside's flavor. They make excellent bento food because they're small and self-contained... great for filling in gaps. Because they have such a strong flavor, a few can quickly satisfy my desire for tasty citrus. 

First World Food

While this blog rarely focuses on first-class food, it really does center its view on food produced and available in the first-world (as differentiated from the third world.. the second world, being the best, is not included in this survey.. yes that's a lousy Candide reference). Normally, I would think nothing of this fact: I live in a "first-world" country, thus, my experience is largely limited to my home. In my attempts to find information about environmentally conscious living, though, I've stumbled across a few very strong reminders of my incredible privilege. Not only can I eat healthy, nutritious, even awesome food, but I have the resources to maintain a blog about it. So, in a cheap effort to attempt to give a little of my time to the developing world, I thought I'd make a convenient post to remind my readers how easily technology can help people to help other people. Please visit to enrich your vocabulary and give free rice (hence the name) to poor people around the world through the UN's food distribution service. If you're not a big word person, how about numbers? donates 100mL of water per number correctly memorized (easier than it sounds). Lousy at math and English? How about geography? donates up to 10 cups of water per correctly located destination on an unlabeled world map. I learned exactly where Mount Fuji is (it's in the deepest part of the angle of Japan.. you'll see).

Though I strongly believe that a better infrastructure will improve global problems of economy better than simple handouts, people need food in order to figure out sustainable farming techniques. So, give them a hand. These simple sites cost you nothing and are a great alternative to wasted human computational cycles spent on games of solitaire at work (or in class as I do). 
If you don't have time for a game, check out the click-a-day sites. Just one click gives a multitude of donation options (depending on the charity). 

While this blog will continue to be about fairly frivolous issues (start looking forward to great leftover posts in the future), it does have a conscience above the local. 

And, for your entertainment.. some frivolous food! Firefox cookies from March 2007. Bonus, they're not entirely frivolous. Firefox is a great example of the free, open-source movement. And they make a great cookie! 

*awesome dessert "bag" courtesy of some killer restaurant in Boston -- we went there for my fiancee's college graduation. The bag was made of delicious chocolate, then filled with rich cream, fresh berries, and a yummy cinnamon twist pastry. My future-sister-in-law and I devoured it, then promptly felt guilty and stomach-achey.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Walnuts and Marshmallows

After an exceedingly long delay, I've come back to the blogging scene. There's been much action over here in the bentobear land -- finals week came (and went, thank God), college commencement (though I still have classes until August 14th), study abroad in Ireland (zomg!), Arts Fest, and now.. cookies! Oh, I also got engaged. *squeal* TheBoy proposed with a really sweet video that he made for me and that you can view here
Aside from personal news, there actually hasn't been much in terms of food production. I moved back in with my family for the rest of the summer (August 22 is moving day... YES!), so I've been stuck in a rut of few bentos and even fewer imaginative meals. 
Well, today, I broke the cycle. I was in the mood for some cookies, so I decided instead of heading to the wawa (read: best convenience store possible), I made some chocolate rocky road cookies
I stuck pretty close to the recipe: my family only uses veggie oil spread instead of butter, so I used that instead of heading to the supermarket (probably not a great choice, but they still taste great). I also didn't have mini marshmallows, so I just used a pair of kitchen shears to cut up some regular-sized 'mallows (probably also not the best choice, but worked out fine).

One thing that really surprised me while making this recipe is that I no longer hate walnuts. For years, I avoided anything involving walnuts and replaced them with almonds in any recipe. Well, no more! (unless I'm cooking for my allergic future father-in-law). I used to maintain that walnuts are soapy tasting and gross, but I guess I've outgrown that. These cookies made great use of the nuts to provide a fun texture (though the marshmallow goes a long way into making a good feel) and give this treat a tiny bit of redemptive nutritional value. Yay, nuts!

So, verdict on the cookies: rich and yummy, and just right for a girl who needs some chocolate, but doesn't need to be overwhelmed. Now, if only I had some rocky road ice cream to accompany them!

Edit: Guess who ate the most of these cookies? No, it wasn't me.. or even my little brother.. it was my aunt's bad dog! ::sigh:: I hope she'll be ok -- chocolate is so not good for doggies.