Monday, January 27, 2014

Baked Better: Digg Inn Trail Mix Cookie

Welcome to Baked Better, a recurring segment that I use as an excuse to eat cookies.  I taste test baked goods marketed as special--because theyre organic or all natural or gluten free or what-have-you--and then report back on my findings.  I pride myself on my commitment to baked goods, and Ill tell you whether Ive found a brownie worth your time and money, or whether to stick with Oreos.

The target: Dig Inn Seasonal Markets Trail Mix Cookie.

The draw:  Dig Inn is an NYC-based farm-to-table market that serves tasty, wholesome lunches to the office workers of Manhattan.  The company prides themselves on making all their food from scratch with real ingredients, but these cookies come individually sealed in plastic so theyre probably not baked on site.  That said, I dont have to watch cookies being made to know I enjoy them.  The list of ingredients is lengthy, but there are no weird chemical compounds in the mix.  There is also no butter (they use soy oil and applesauce), sugar (they use evaporated cane juice and brown rice syrup), or white flour (they use spelt).  

From their website. No photoshop; this is exactly how it looks.

The rundown: This cookie may have 17 grams of sugar (roughly the same its counterpart from Subway) but ingredients like whole oats, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds make it taste more like a really healthy breakfast.  Its hearty, to the extent a cookie can be hearty, and although its sweet, its not decadent.  It is nice and squishy and even a bit airy inside.  The cinnamon and vanilla give it a satisfying aftertaste without leaving me sugar-crashing and craving more.

In short, this cookie is amazing.

The score: 4 stars (out of 5).

Now I want another cookie.

The moral:  Filling and tasty and all natural?  I'm a happy blogger.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Creating Kombucha, Part Ewwwwwwww

I discovered that one of my jars had a little bit too much going on.

Is that what I think it is?

I hope it goes without saying that mold is a deal breaker when it comes to brewing.  Fermentation is the only metabolic process allowed, period.  The whole thing has to be tossed, right after you photograph it artily in a weirdly matchy bowl.

Like a SCOBY in a bridesmaid dress.

And then start again from scratch.  Luckily SCOBY is self-replenishing and I'm in it up to my elbows.  Back to the brewery* I go.

*Kitchen.  I only have a kitchen.

Update 2.6.14:
This happened again.  Both times it happened with green tea by a company called Williamson Tea, which I'm not really familiar with.  All the tea came from one box.  I'm not sure if maybe this is an effect of using green tea (rather than black) and the green spotting on the SCOBY is normal, but I threw the second batch out anyway.  Next time I'll use a different brand of green tea and document the results.  HOLD YOUR BREATH.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sassy Water, Deconstructed

If you’ve got a Pinterest account, chances are you’ve heard of Sassy Water.  Every third pinner has a picture of it somewhere on her boards.  It’s sitting on a table made of repurposed—upcycled—wood, in a scene flooded with sunlight.  It’s a jug full of citrus and cucumber slices, floating in a sea of sparkling clear water. 

But here’s a dark secret.

Sassy water is gray.

While not technically upcycled, I did find this table on the street.

I’ve been doing the Sassy Water thing for the past few years.  Not religiously; just when I can summon the effort to slice cucumbers.  At first I was really averse to the name Sassy Water, until I found out its inventor is named Cynthia Sass.  That tidbit seriously flipped the script.  If my last name were Sass, I would preface the title of everything I owned with the word Sassy.  I would run that joke straight into the ground and kick it till it was good and dead.  So now I’m cool with the name Sassy Water.  Cool and a little envious.

Cynthia Sass is the nutrition editor at Prevention Magazine and author of the massively popular book The Flat Belly Diet.  Sass’s book (which I haven’t read and am not reviewing [which you would know if you could see my belly]) contains the recipe for Sassy Water, the bloat-busting refreshment of the gods.  It’s pretty simple stuff: one lemon, one cucumber, ten mint leaves and a tablespoon of ginger, slice into a jug of water and let sit overnight.  Bam.  Sassy.

So does it work?  OK, to be honest, I don’t know; my cucumber-slicing strength is intermittent.  But there is science behind Ms. Sass’s concept.  Lemon, cucumber, mint, and ginger all have properties that help digestion and fight bloat, so how do they do it?  I decided to do some research into the matter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Creating Kombucha II: The Reaping

I promised to check back in about my kombucha progress, and now I'm late to my own deadline.  In my defense, I was kept rather busy with things like Christmas and New Year's and a very cold trip to Quebec (more on that later), but I do owe an update.

The first batch I made, I used 20 black tea bags and a cup of sugar, and I let it sit for about 2 1/2 weeks.  The result was a little bit sour and flat; certainly the taste fell within the ballpark of "kombucha," but it was no great achievement.  It did, however, produce a new SCOBY, which grew separately from the mother.

You can kinda see it here; it's the gross-looking piece that's sitting on top of the other gross-looking piece.

So I pulled that out and gave it its own mason jar to grow in.  I did a little troubleshooting with the help of this excellent page from Phoenix Helix, which has all sorts of helpful hints about how to optimize your kombucha brew, and I made some tweaks in the new batch.

My second batch of kombucha was a little light on the black tea, since I was running low.  I used 14 black tea bags and one cup of sugar in each jar, and I let them sit for just about two weeks apiece.  When I bottled the tea after two weeks, I kept the bottles at room temperature for a day before refrigerating.  This allowed the tea to ferment in the bottle a little longer, so that it would be nice and fizzy when I went to drink it.  Here is the result:

After I guzzled half of it, of course.

It was delicious.  Well, delicious by kombucha standards, which is never going to quite match up to, say, tiramisu.  It was a little on the sweet side, likely because it could have used a little more tea to even things out, but it was nice and fizzy and there was no sour tang at all.

One of these bottles does not contain the equivalent of 20 tea bags and a cup of sugar, by the way.  That would be more like brewing Red Bull than kombucha.  The tea and the sugar are what feed the SCOBY, and the fermentation process gets rid of most, if not all, the caffeine and sugar.  For more information on how that works, you can also check out Phoenix Helix, which is really quite comprehensive in its coverage of kombucha brewing.  I'm still just a rube with a couple of mason jars.

Anyway, the next step is to brew three jars in a batch.  A person could continue multiplying their kombucha output indefinitely, since each fermentation produces a new SCOBY mother, but at the moment I only own three mason jars so I'm limited in my options.  It's good to use the same SCOBY over and over, letting it grow and peeling off the dead bits, so that you're working with a nice big wad of healthy bacteria and yeast each time.  Although I guess you can't let it get too big, since you'll need some space for liquid in there, too.

A fresh batch with an XL mother.

I've been drinking a bit every day.  It's still too early to claim any definitive health benefits, but I'll keep posting updates on my venture into the world of brewing.  One final note: It's good to keep the SCOBY rich and gross with live cultures, but contamination is dangerous, so I make sure to wash the jars and bottles thoroughly between uses.  This also affords me the opportunity to pull the SCOBY out and place it in a bowl, where I can examine it more closely and marvel at how bonkers nature actually is.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

An Open Letter to the Scientists Who “Proved” that Cats Don’t Love Us

Esteemed Researchers:

A word?

Just a brief one.

What is your purpose, exactly, in announcing that cats don’t feel love for their owners?  Are you trying to tell cat owners that our affections are futile?  That our pet relationships are one-sided?  Do you mean to say that all those snuggles are empty, all that purring a ruse?  That when we come home after a long day to be greeted by a scratchy, temperamental little hairball yowling for its dinner, the hairball in question doesn’t even care who opens the can? 

Who’s in charge of this study, anyway?

I thought so.

Well, I take issue with your methodology.  I fail to see how a cat that indicates recognition of its owner’s voice, but does not respond, is proving its own sociopathic inability to love.  Maybe cats are just cool.  Have you heard that expression, “cool cats”?  It’s outdated, but not obsolete.  When I’m at a party and I hear the baritone of someone I’m really excited to see, I indicate recognition.  My ears prick up, I stumble over my words, and I maybe sneak a glance in the direction of his voice.  You know what I don’t do?  I don’t yelp and squeal and drool and hump his leg.  You know who does that?

Crazy bitches.

Look, it’s been shown time and time again that pet (and even cat!) ownership can help improve well-being.  It’s good for us physically and psychologically.  Cat therapy has been used in hospitals, nursing homes, and even prisons.  Sure, cats are known for being narcissistic.  But they’re also known for being charming little cuddlebugs, and in this generalization I include my own kitty, who is currently snuggled into my hip.  

I say: “Bullshit.”  

I simply cannot fathom comparing this widdle face to the dead-eyed de-evolution of the average crocodile.

Pictured: A monster.

In closing, I ask that you cease and desist with your mean-spirited research and redirect future studies toward something a bit less cold-hearted.  Perhaps the emotional capacity of snakes or spiders, or maybe the interspecies bonds formed by cockroaches and sewer rats.  But please leave cats alone.  They face enough persecution as it is.

 Via. Is this still your fantasy, by the way?