Octopuscarwash's Gourmet Adventures

I live to eat. Yes, I am an Asian Jew. My favorite meal is breakfast (oatmeal in particular). I'm only in high school, so I am a complete amateur. Some of my favorite cuisines are Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Japanese and Korean. I eat so much Chinese food that it's hard to say whether I like it or not... all I know is that I don't like what most of America seems to think of as Chinese food, Panda Express. I'm a pescetarian and love coming up with my own healthy fusion food.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashana!

Apples and honey

The best challah from Fox and Obel

Chicken soup with knaidlach (which I couldn't have :( )

Grilled swordfish

Carrot and butternut squash tzimmes

Salad with roasted beets, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin seeds

Patrizia's apple cake

Aunt Claire came! And we had possibly the most disorganized and unorthodox kiddush and blessings... we kept singing the wrong tune, and also forgot to bring out the pomegranate! My dad hummed along, as usual.

Sorry I haven't been posting! Not many excuses, but I just haven't felt like it... partially because I eat too much to take a photo of every time I eat.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another week's worth of food

Breakfasts (mainly oatmeal, also had a delicious peach/blueberry compote)

Baked scallops with tomatoes and onions (would have been better seared), used the next day in a salad with walnuts.
Baked eggplant and tomato, brown rice, cottage cheese, salad
black beans with peppers, onions and feta, with radish salad and leftover eggplant.

(Monday I ate dinner at a neighbors and had poached salmon and a delicious salad of beets, romaine, peppers, avocado and pine nuts)
I suppose I could photograph my lunches, but is it really worth it? It's usually just leftovers or a sandwich, a lot of fruit, yogurt, trail mix, etc. Nothing especially interesting.

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Confined in a little space

I'm starting to realize that if I don't exercise, I start to feel sick. Seriously! Today, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I had no appetite, had a horrible sinus ache, felt nauseous, and literally lifeless. I never wanted to see the apartment again: it was too bright, the corners too sharp, and I had never felt more claustrophobic. For a minute I really thought I was on the edge of a mental breakdown. I didn't get hungry for lunch until 4:00... everything seemed delayed.
For some reason, my breakfast picture didn't upload, but I thought I would share my dad's super Asian breakfast because I thought it was so cute (PS, he usually is more of a toast/ bacon and eggs guy, so this is not especially typical). He got back from China yesterday, bringing with him awesome whole grain breads from the little restaurant downstairs: corn, black bean, and a little corn bun filled with wild vegetables. The black bean smelled almost like vanilla (the black flecks reminded me of vanilla beans too). Of course, they were still tasteless (but delicious), so I ate mine with peanut butter. My dad ate his plain with some hot soymilk.
For lunch, I took leftover black beans and diluted them into soup, adding turmeric, cinnamon, paprika, and a little coconut. I ate it with Greek yogurt and more of the Chinese monk buns (so I like to call them).
By late afternoon, I finally realized what was making me crazy was lack of exercise, so I went for a run. At almost 5! That's really rare for me, especially because I wasn't used to the humidity (I'm used to going first thing in the morning). I ran to the 43rd street bridge, which is where I usually go, but for some reason it literally seemed to take only 10 minutes to get there, even though I didn't feel like I was running especially quickly. The run was over too fast, and I was not ready to go back indoors. My knee was starting to hurt, so when I got back to my house, I walked to the Point, watched all the people BBQing and picnicing, then ran back very quickly. I was soaked with sweat. It definitely wasn't tiring, but all I needed was to get my heart rate up a bit. At least that way I had an appetite for dinner! I felt bad that I couldn't help make it (originally I was thinking about cooking), but when I got back it was already 6:15!
We had couscous, which is usually my dish, but today my mom made it. We used all our fresh farmer's market vegetables: butternut squash, zucchini, carrots, as well as chickpeas, raisins, dates, prunes, and a lot of cilantro and parsley. There wasn't enough couscous, so we also made rice.

On the side we had a frisee salad and I made a really good (if I do say so myself) yogurt tahini dressing with a little bit of olive oil, lemon, and paprika.
I need to find things to do on Sundays, otherwise I really may go insane. so far there isn't enough homework to keep me occupied, and I NEVER thought I'd say that... last year I literally had 4 hours a night, and now I don't even have 2. What HAPPENED? I thought junior year was the most stressful one!

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Ethiopian + frozen yogurt = deliciousness

Yesterday began my new regime of investing part of my income (aka babysitting and allowance) into cheap eats. I decided that I should begin with Ethiopian food, since it's one of the few cuisines that I've never ever tried. Last night I went out with my friends Aoife and Michael, who I don't actually know that well, so we had a really good time. Sorry that the pictures are strange... they have an unearthly blue tinge and I'm not sure why!
The restaurant I picked was called Mama Desta's Red Sea Restaurant. It wasn't the best Ethiopian place, but all of those are too far north for us, and this was on Belmont. I was hoping Aoife and I would have big appetites because she had had just had a cross country meet and I had just had a swim meet (4 events, PRed on everything! :) ). The thing was, I got back so late from the meet that I ate lunch late, fell asleep, and woke up shortly before I had to leave. We ended up wandering around Belmont a bit before eating. Everybody used to think Belmont was so cool, and it is, but I still think parts of it are kind of poser and overpriced. People are funny to watch there, though; one guy came up to us and high fived us (Michael thought it had to do with the Cubs game but I thought he was just really weird) and we also saw a bunch of people blowing bubbles for no apparent reason. We checked out all the crazy drag queen shoes in the Alley:
Then we headed over to the restaurant, which wasn't as run-down as all the Yelp reviews made it sound. It was actually pretty cosy: dark, with maps of Africa and folk art (no idea if authentic or not) on the walls.

It took us a long time to decide what to order, but we decided to order a bunch of food and share:
We ended up ordering every single vegetable on the menu, since there was a vegetarian combo of four and the meat combo they got came with two (there were only six):
Yemisir wat-- green lentils,
Metin Shuro Wat-- split peas
Bamyi-- okra
Gomen-- "green vegetable" (which I figured was spinach, since the word is the same in a lot of other languages)
Kantisha Tibs-- white mushrooms with berbere sauce
D'nitch-- potatoes and broccoli
We also ordered:
Yasa Tibs-- fish with onions and green peppers, and Michael and Aoife split the Doro Alitcha-- chicken in clarified butter-- and the Zilzil Wat, a beef dish.
We also ordered rice, even though everything was served with injera, the spongy Ethiopian bread made from teff flour.
The wait was pretty long, but we had a good time discussing everything food related and how we should make this a regular thing.
We thought we had ordered a lot of food, but the portions seemed pretty small (at least for our appetites): everything was served together on a giant platter, with a piece of injera spread out underneath to soak up all the juices. The only problem was that the meat and vegetables were so close to each other that it was a bit hard to avoid touching/ accidentally eating the meat-- I had to be really careful. Also, we definitely didn't get all the vegetables we asked for-- there was no okra at all, and we didn't even realize that the mushrooms had come until we unearth a miniscule mushroom slice under a giant pile of cabbage.

My favorite was the injera that we were also served on separate plates-- I knew it was spongy, but I had no idea to what extent! It was flat, but soft and porous at the same time-- the taste was tart, like sourdough, only with a completely different texture. We ate with our hands, scooping up the various piles of food with pieces of injera. The rice was good, but we didn't finish it (I think it was so good because I have a sneaking suspicion they used chicken stock).
My favorite vegetarian dishes were the spinach (which had a lot of garlic and even reminded me of my dad's stir-fried spinach), the split peas (cooked into a creamy yellow puree, like a dal), the lentils (which held their shape and tasted of cumin and spices).
The fish was decent if not slightly generic tasting. Everything turned out to be pretty cheap, although they still didn't bring us everything we ordered-- it ended up cosing 42.80 something including tax.
This was a good place to get an introduction to Ethiopian food, but I knew what people meant when they said there were better places out there-- there always are, of course.

For some reason, we still didn't feel 100% satisfied, so we decided to set out on a dessert, preferable of the frozen yogurt variety, quest. We were wandering and thinking we were never going to find anything when strangely enough, a woman passed us eating something ice cream-like. I really have gotten more outgoing-- I asked her where she got it and apologized for the weird question. She said, "Oh, it's not weird at all! Other people have asked me before. It's right up there and it's called Yo Berry."
I immediately got excited because I had heard of it before in Time Out's frozen yogurt review. According to Aoife, the layout was exactly like Red Mango, which is a Korean chain that has a branch in Evanston, and according to Michael, it was a lot like Pinkberry. They didn't have any flavors of frozen yogurt-- just plain, and it was nonfat. You could pick toppings ranging from unhealthy (sprinkles, chocolate sauce, oreos) to wholesome (fresh fruit). Michael and Aoife shared one with mango, strawberry and coconut, and I was a pig (well, not really... I still got a small one) and got one with mango, strawberry and pineapple.

The yogurt was great, because I've never had frozen yogurt that wasn't either vanilla, chocolate or some other flavor. It was creamy like soft serve ice cream on top, but for some reason got harder towards the bottom of the cup. It wasn't too sweet at all, and had that tang that really was as though you were eating Greek yogurt. The acidity of the fruit made my tongue sting a little, but it was perfectly refreshing after all the spicy (not hot, but lots of spicy) Ethiopian food.
We have to do that again sometime!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

A Matter of Taste (beware of educational post!)

Today's AP Bio class was so incredibly fascinating and appropriate for this blog that I knew I had to do a post on it.
Our current unit is on macromolecules (i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, fats, etc.). Ms. Housinger, our teacher, said, "I have an activity today, but not everybody has to do it, since it involves eating chemicals... but don't worry, don't be like 'oh no, it's bugs' brains!' because all of these are perfectly safe and don't cause allergies. Then again, don't take a big spoonful, because it could taste really gross."
My ears perked up. Tasting? In class? Sure! Not everybody raised their hands, but almost the whole class wanted to participate. We got to taste the contents of four paper cups, labeled A, B, C, and D. We knew they were all various types of carbohydrates, but what I thought was funny was how people used what they were positive each cup contained to base their descriptions on. For example, everyone was convinced B was some kind of artificial sweetener, just because they knew it was sweet but also knew it wasn't table sugar, so they said, "hmm... it tastes kind of... artificial. Not like table sugar... but with a weird undertone." Yeah, way to be obvious.
Anyways, here were the various gathered comments on the samples:
A-- Tasteless, powdery (tastes like cardboard or flour), bitter aftertaste (actually, I was the only one who said it tasted bitter. Apparently about only one person per class thinks it's bitter, and we'll get to wh that is later)
B-- Slightly sweet, off putting twinge, not like table sugar (the crystals were much finer)
C-- Good, sweeter than B (there were also people who said it was less sweet)
D-- Some said overy sweet, some said "fabulous", like honey, almost like vanilla (this one had large crystals, like rock candy).
It would have been better if it had been a blind taste test, but our guesses weren't entirely right.
A turned out to be starch, not flour, since flour is a mixture and not a compound. B was glucose, which we're not used to tasting on its own, so we had trouble recognizing the flavor. C, as we all guessed, was sucrose, and D was fructose, so it was good that someone thought it tasted like honey.
BUT WHY DO THINGS TASTE THE WAY THEY DO? That's what this class was about, and for me it was fascinating and almost enlightening.
It's a lie when people say different parts of your tongue taste different flavors (i.e. bitter, sour, sweet, etc.). Here's how it works: the cells on your tongue have protein receptors on the surface. To taste something specific, a protein with the correct shape has to fit into the receptor. For example, only glucose can fit into a certain tastebud... but the interesting part is is that the taste is all in your head-- a nerve connected from your tongue will send a message to your brain, who determines that the taste is "sweet." Starch didn't taste good because the molecule is too long-- as a polysaccharide, it doesn't fit into the receptors.
Of course, there is also something called a structural analog, which is a completely different protein molecule that happens to have hydrogen bonds in the same place, so it will fit into the "wrong receptor"-- this is how cocaine and other drugs trigger messages to your brain.
This is kind of a complicated answer, but it has to do with evolution. Let's use peppers as an example. Mammals think that they're spicy, due to a protein called capsacin that irritates the nerves. However, the ancestors of the pepper plant were berries intended to attract birds to that they could eat the berry and poop out the seeds in order for more berry plants to grow. It tastes spicy to us because we weren't originally intended to eat it-- while birds swallow the seeds whole, our teeth with crush them and destroy them.
And why do most people enjoy sweet things but not necessarily vegetables? Our ancestors, primates, received bigger calorie bonuses from fruit. Because fruit was rarer, they needed a reason to want to find the fruit, so therefore it tasted good. They were surrounded by leaves, so when there was no fruit, they had no choice but to eat the leaves, so there was no strong selective pressure to have some delicious taste for vegetation.
When people say something is an "acquired tasted," you can continue to eat something until your taste receptors recognize the taste. Likewise, you can also eat so much of something that your receptors become a bit "immune" to the taste and you can no longer detect the flavor of the food as much. If you don't have it for a while and try it again, you may find that you no longer like it.
When you try something with artificial banana flavor, that flavor is a combination of molecules that activate the subsets for what your brain recognizes as "banana." However, there is no way that it can activate all the subsets, so while it reminds you of banana, you still know that it isn't really.
More science stuff later, unless you're too bored!

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Alone on a Saturday

Today was a good balance between eventful and relaxed. I woke up at 8:30!!! my alarm didn't go off! I had to be downstairs by 8:45 to get to my piano re-audition, so I hastily gulped down some yogurt and cottage cheese with berries and grabbed an english muffin with peanut butter to take with me. Didn't take a photo.
It was a good thing my mom got a grad student to give me a ride because it has been POURING outside for 4 days or something like that! Luckily, I got to my music school early and was able to warm up. The audition was no big deal-- it was just in front of 2 of my old piano teachers who only had me play 2 pages of my piece (weird contemporary Russian one that involves banging my fist on the keyboard).
I got home a little after 10, and knew that I had to be at my swim meet by 12. I figured that I should probably eat a real meal before the meet, but I needed to give myself time to digest. Although I wasn't hungry, I made "lunch" at around 10:35-- It was mainly very carb-y, easy to digest things: spinach and feta omelette, a piece of toast, and left over pasta from last night.
It was still raining out, so I gave myself a little extra time, because I'd decided to bike there. However, when I got downstairs, I ran into one of my favorite neighbors, Marian, who offered to give me a ride. She is so incredibly nice... she also gave me a ride back and invited me over for dinner tomorrow night!
The meet went really well for me. Of course, it was my first meet of the season, so I didn't really have any times to compare it to. I was in the 200 medley relay (breaststroke), 50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, and 400 freestyle relay. I really felt confident about my starts and flip-turns... I'm definitely getting the technique down. My time for the 50 wasn't that great.. 34.55, but still, probably better than what I would have gotten last year. As for breastroke, I DROPPED 5 SECONDS OFF MY PR FROM LAST YEAR! 1:27 is actually a pretty decent time. I was so happy... I also feel like if he'd put me in a different heat I could have gone even faster, since I was in a heat with just one other person, who happened to be on our team. My last event was right after breaststroke, and I was first in the relay, so I was pretty exhausted by that point. Everybody felt so exhilarated afterwards, though. There was also pizza with the other team afterwards, since our schools are both UHigh (they're UniHigh, and we're UHigh). I hung around for a while (didn't have any pizza, big surprise), then went home.
Once home, I finished Breaking Dawn... maybe I should take a break from trashy books for now. I do have to read chapter 3 of Moby Dick. I also talked on the phone to relatives and did my math, which was really tedious and time consuming. UGH, I still have a lot to do... although compared to last year, this amount is negligable:
-3 more chapters of bio reading (4 chapters total, and the pages are HUGE), plus a sheet of essay-ish questions
-study for math quiz
-read chapter 3 Moby Dick
-Sit by the lake (in this weather?) and write a reflection about the water (gotta give it to the English teacher for creativity)
-2 page long French composition
I would do the composition now, but I can't figure out what to write about! There are 3 questions, and I can't think of answers to any of them.
Anyways, when I came back from the meet I had a pretty big bowl of cereal and nuts and berries and milk, so I didn't get hungry until after 8:00, but I decided to make myself a real meal. My mom won't be back till midnight on Monday, so I figured it would be good to have leftovers in the fridge.
I made a variation on a Deborah Madison recipe for a summer vegetable ragout, using whatever was in the fridge: parsnips, carrots (purple and orange), squash, an onion, garlic, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and an apple. Instead of first sauteeing the onions, she had you add everything to the pot with a little olive oil. After letting it simmer with some herbs and salt and pepper and water, I added chickpeas, some tomato paste, and the tomatoes. I also made a pesto to go with it, only instead of following her advice and using a mortar and pestle (who has that kind of time?), I made it in my Vitamix blender, the love of my life... of course, the texture was more of a puree than a pesto, but the taste was the same. Her pesto was a marjoram pesto, but I didn't have that, so I just added some mint and some unidentifiable herb off a plant by the kitchen window. Also in the pesto were a piece of bread soaked in vinegar, capers, pine nuts, garlic, parsley, and olive oil.
I figured that the pesto would be essential to this dish, the stew not having any flavor, but as it turns out, the vegetables were so fresh that the broth was sweet and fragrant... maybe from the apple? Still, the pesto was the perfect accent: all those strong flavors really made it a bit more special. I ate the stew with a Japanese sweet potato (microwaved it then broiled it) and some ancient bulgur pilaf I once made that was in the freezer (it had raisins and pine nuts in it-- yum!).
Tomorrow I really need to get work done! I think I'll get up early and then set out for the lake if the weather's nice (if it's really nice-- unlikely, maybe I'll go for a run) to do my English paragraph. I'll probably end up doing homework at Istria (nearby cafe with awesome gelato) so I don't feel like I've been in the house all day. Maybe I'll also bike down to the grocery store and do some errands and feel like a real adult. Either way, I have to babysit at around 5, and according to Marian, Sarah (the girl I babysit) and I will be having dinner at her place.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Week 1's meal summary

This is about to be a really boring post.
To summarize junior year, it's awesome! All my classes are great, and not taking history makes a huge difference with my workload.
AP Bio: the teacher explains everything as though you were having an everyday conversation, and we go into molecular structures in ridiculous detail. It meets 7 times a week, so I'm still getting used to that.
Math (TSTDM= Trigonometry, Statistics, Something else that starts with a T, Discrete Mathematics... it's a mouthful). The teacher, Mr. Khan is Indian-British, who stops every few minutes to ask if we understand or to say something like "Pi is WILD. It ain't rational... it will haunt you in your sleep."
AP French-- honestly, I'm probably the most disappointed with this, because the class size is too BIG... 21 people is way too huge for a language class, and there are annoying senior guys who can't even use the present tense, but find it necessary to say stupid things as often as possible... god, don't I sound like a killjoy, but it's true.
English-- MY FAVORITE! The Moby Dick elective is insane... never before have I been in an English class where everybody participates voluntarily, and everyone has something different to say.
Adv. Drawing/ Painting-- the most relaxing class to have last period. We're doing gesture painting as opposed to drawing. The teacher is also my
Art History teacher-- art history is also a really laid back class, and Mr. Wildeman calls people "dude moneys" and things "dongles."

Breakfast has been oatmeal every day this week, and here are sample photos.
Some possible stir-ins have been fruit compote, trail mix, banana, berries, coconut, peanut butter, etc.

A sample school lunch:

Night 1-- Eggplant, squash and roasted pepper gratin with goat cheese and brown rice. And salad.

Night 2-- Red lentils with coconut milk, served with brown rice, sauteed vegetables, yogurt, and cilantro. Stirfried watercress.
Night 3-- I went straight from swim practice to piano, so we picked up food from Greek town: vegetarian moussaka for me, chicken for my mom, a Greek salad, and a spinach cous cous soup. The moussaka from artopolis is SO GOOD. It was an excruciating workout that day, so this incredibly caloric (probably) dish was great for me. It was a huge wedge of creamy cinnamon-spiked custard layered with eggplant, carrots and SWEET POTATO, served with rice. YUM.
Night 4-- Vietnamese-style claypot shrimp with glass noodles, celery, and onions, spinach and pepper salad with sweet and spicy dipping sauce, basmati rice. And corn.
Night 5 (AKA tonight)-- Swim meet tomorrow, so pasta gorging time: spaghetti with a sauce of eggplant, olives, squash, peppers and cherry tomatoes. Sadly, this was so bland that we had to add feta and sherry vinegar. We also had spinach salad and a caprese of cherry tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella... it was just from Trader Joe's but it was incredible, almost like fresh cottage cheese but less lumpy... I bet it would be great with fruit and a drizzle of honey.

I must confess that I haven't been doing any cooking, and as you can see, my mom has been going all out (my dad's not back yet). Actually, we haven't been eating until really late because she's usually in the kitchen for a long time, realizing she picked a complicated recipe that seemed really easy. I don't remember what she used to cook, but it used to seem so effortless... she really doesn't need to make such elaborate food (not that I don't appreciate it). The thing is that when I'm in training, I'm really more focused on getting food fast than being a gourmet.
PRACTICE HAS BEEN SO HARD. Every day I dread it, but once it's over I feel so strong, no matter how tired my muscles are. He makes us do IM order sets with shoes on, lunges around the pool, laps where we spring, then get out and do up-downs, etc. The other day a few people were 4 minutes late and we all had to do 40 up-downs as punishment. Yesterday we had to kick vertically while holding poles above our heads, and we also had to hold our breath for 10 lengths (breaths between lengths, of course). Today we did kicking sets and for some reason, I lapped people in my lane! I never thought I could kick before, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. Tomorrow is my first meet, and I've been put in all my favorite events. It's also my piano audition (lesson went fine), so it's going to be a tight fit.

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