Friday, July 27, 2012

Healthy food at home: giving whole wheat pasta a second chance

For a vegetarian, I have a strange aversion to "healthy" recipes. I think, what a nice idea, but will it taste bland, unappetizing? In most instances I'd say I eat pretty healthy food on the regular but for some reason I often assume the healthy stuff will taste better if someone else has made it. Sometimes this is true, particularly for some of the textured veggie protein etc. that I am not yet familiar with how to season/prepare nicely, but you know what, a majority of the food I make is tasty, dammit, and I should have more faith in making "healthy" recipes that taste just as good.

I've also long had an aversion to whole wheat or multigrain pasta, coming to the premature conclusion that I'd rather have regular pasta but just eat less of it. I may have been too hasty in this decision. It really isn't so bad when you flavor it properly. Case in point, a linguine with cherry tomato and white wine recipe I found on Earth 911's website. I made this on Monday, using most of the same ingredients (except I switched oregano for parsley) and I'm still eating from the batch today (and they'll probably still be leftovers for tomorrow!) Suprisingly this simple concotion of whole wheat linguine, tomatoes, asparagus and parmesan cheese even tastes good when reheated in the microwave (and I hate warming up pasta in the microwave). The asparagus is pleasingly crunchy and the sauce feels flavorful without being heavy. I would definitely add this dish to my summer kitchen repertoire.

Sidenote: I took a knife skills class at Brooklyn Kitchen last night which taught me all the things I've been doing wrong and also inspired me to start making my own veggie stock. I'm hoping this whole cooking-my-own healthy-stuff kick is something that'll last.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Christmas in July: Chickpea Stew without the Chicken

Smells of cinnamon wafting through the kitchen remind you of Christmas, right? Add cumin, cilantro, chickpeas, zucchini, and tomatoes for a fun and flavorful, wonderfully beany delight for Christmas in July. recipes can be pretty hit or miss--they're all centered on being healthy, which doesn't always translate to tasting good. But this chickpea stew recipe is the third of my successful attempts at recipes from the site and probably the most repeatable.

It's simple, especially since you don't need to add the chicken if you're a veggie like me.  Pretty much use everything else and swap the chicken for veggie broth and you're good to go.

The flavors in this dish are very Middle Eastern, mild and tongue-pleasing: all characteristics which determine how often I'm likely to re-make a dish.

I actually made it two nights ago but didn't end up eating it for lunch yesterday. It tastes just as good two days later.

Friday, June 15, 2012

On Being a Health Nut...Sort Of

Groupon/LivingSocial/Bloomspot/GoogleOffers/other-similiar-sites-I-have-not-yet-learned-about can be great sources for getting you hooked on a particular place or service...right? I've read how Groupon ruins relationships, how people are obsessed with getting a deal for some activity they never before wanted to try. As it becomes increasingly easier to be a consumer, I'm sure all this buying leads to waste, disappointment when a purchased deal goes unused and expires, and perhaps, arguments between friends and loved ones.

I certainly am not immune to the sway of a good deal, though I can pretty easily talk myself out of a 3/5/7-course meal that I wouldn't have had in the first place. After all, I can eat enough on my own without being encouraged to eat MORE. My obsession with these sites mainly lies in snatching up the gym/fitness/yoga-related deals. Recently it's gotten to the point where I had enough deals going at once that I needed to create a spreadsheet to keep track of all of my classes and when they would expire.

This has my coworkers and friends thinking I'm really dedicated to exercise. Well, maybe. I definitely am a little obsessive/compulsive about planning and what better to plan than something you can do on your own without worrying about other people's scheduling? Looking back now, I haven't actually gotten hooked on any of these places I've bought deals to. They were ok. Tolerable. Sometimes even entertaining. But my favorite dance classes and new favorite yoga studio are places I found out about through internet searches, past experiences in D.C., and word of mouth.

I think this means I'm done with purchasing random deals for awhile. I'm quite satisfied with my Zumba and Hip Hop Fitness classes with Carly Mayo at M Dance Fitness, any of the FIT, basics or techniques classes at Dhoonya, and so far all of the yoga classes I've taken at Kula.

But then again, I just received an email about a new site called GoRecess that lets you search for workout types by what you're in the mood for, location, and day. I think I'm sticking to my guns for awhile but because I'm evil, it's your turn to go nuts. Happy exercising!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Middle Eastern Cooking at Home

"It's all in the presentation" is a phrase that oft comes to mind when thinking of a great meal out or an elaborate meal prepared at home. For me, this is true even before the food hits the plate. There's something about certain containers that get me especially in the mood to cook. Perhaps being able to see the potential for food inside and being able to gauge its freshness at a glance is the quality that most draws me to the mason and pickling jars.

This past weekend I finally fulfilled my months-long goal of acquiring some jars of my own thanks to an afternoon stop in ps coffee tea n spices post brunch at Juventino.

My new collection of 2 baby jars, a medium-size mason jar, and a large metal tin with snappy closure is just the beginning of what I hope to be a beautiful friendship with food preservation/storage. The first occupant of the two baby jars was an Afghan cilantro chutney I prepared from a not-too-involved recipe in a new cookbook that is all Middle Eastern, all vegetarian (in other words, the best thing ever). The cookbook promised this stash would keep for 2 weeks, but I'm already 1.5 bottles in so I'm not able to confirm this timeline at this juncture, but what a great first foray into the use of these wonderfully cute devices!

This next part doesn't have so much to do with containers so much as the wonderful surprise of an elaborate, slightly time-consuming meal actually turning out really good. I'm not sure I've been this surprised at such a feat since my early years as a vegetarian attempting to make elaborate Indian and Thai dishes for holidays and family member's birthdays.

If you're a tomato lover, you will love this dish...sundried and fresh tomatoes (cherry, beefsteak, Roma--you choose), basil, scallions, and some other stuff rolled into balls or kufteh in a tomato pastey sauce. I thought I'd defy the recipe's suggestion and serve over couscous but Campanelle pasta was definitely the better choice. This foray turned out to be one of those dishes with the potential of being light yet filling. It only turned out to be heavy and filling because it was so surprisingly tasty, I had trouble putting my fork down.

The best lesson from this experience was actually something Ms. Frizzle told me many moons ago (my fellow former Magic School Bus fans, you know what I'm talking about): "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" What a motto to live by in the kitchen.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vegan Food Made with Love (the Loving Hut)

Amidst the hubbub along the Midtown stretch of Seventh Ave., it would be easy to walk on by the small vegan enclave Loving Hut without realizing you missed it. Don't let its size fool you. Their food packs a punch. And with vegan and vegetarian celebs staring down at you from the wall, you may very well nod your head and ask yourself the same question that appears on the wall, "these smart, beautiful, talented people are vegetarian. Why aren't you?"

There's not much to the decor otherwise and the TV is set to a channel with multiple language translations of English, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic (to name a few), sometimes with something cultish on air...something about smiling or happiness. But none of this matters. The fare will truly make you smile.

At the Loving Hut, Latin, Asian, and American vegan goodies converge on a menu prepared to satisfy your palate. On my first two trips, I delved into the Latin-inspired section of the menu. Both the protein quesadilla (stuffed with soy protein, sweet peppers, Daiya cheese and chile pasilla) and the veggie burrito (a mix of veggies, rice and beans) satiated my hunger. If the quesadilla and burrito were to go head-to-head in the metaphorical boxing ring, I'd definitely be in the corner of the protein quesadilla.

Round two: curry burger vs. mac n cheese burger. This one isn't a fair fight since the latter isn't actually a burger. The former is reminiscent of those Indian-spiced patties you can buy at Trader Joe's but this edition is made of a veggie/oatmeal union topped with what you may have guessed by now is my favorite topping: guacamole.

The latter is not a burger at all as I initially expected when I ordered it for lunch pickup during the work week. Once I delved into the creamy goodness of tapioca cheese, tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, soy protein, and sauteed onions topped with Daiya cheese, I soon forgot all about my ambitions for mac n cheese in sandwich form. Saying this dish is delish is an understatement. (Not having eaten meat in 15 years, I try to guess what veg dishes would send my non-veg friends over the moon and the mac n cheese burger, I think, could be a strong contender).

A close second might be the BBQ soy sandwich which I've had a handful of times. It's saucy, melty goodness that has comforted me many an evening post workout.

And last but not least, I finally delved into the Asian section of the menu with the vegan delight, a medley of stew protein, sweet peppers, scallion and cabbage in a sweet barbecue sauce). Vegan Asian dishes are usually last on my exploration list just because there are a wide variety of places that offer tofu-based dishes. Loving Hut shattered this notion because there's a lot more you can do than just steam or fry tofu. The flavors in this plate are just as delicious as those that appear in sandwich form.

In short, if you're looking for an excellent and quick vegan meal and you happen to be in Midtown (and aren't scrambling like the dickens to get the hell out), Loving Hut is the spot to stop in to satiate your veggie needs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Scrambled tofu makes an excellent egg alternative

Either I've been really lazy lately or busy with other things...Who am I kidding? It's usually a combination of the two.

About a month ago I posted about sort of trying out a diet. It only lasted for a week and I didn't follow it to a T but I was inspired by some of the suggested recipes. In addition to the veggie lentil soup I reviewed last time, I also recommend the breakfast tofu scramble--a nice alternative to eggs. I only followed the recipe loosely as I lacked some of the spices, but it turned out pretty great. All you need is tofu--I suppose soft tofu would work best for crumbling purposes, but I used the extra firm I had in the fridge and it worked just as well-- mushrooms, spinach, salt, and pepper. And as is in my nature, I topped it off with Sriracha.

It's so light and quick to make that even a lazy person such as myself doesn't mind making it in the mornings before work. For extra fun, have some tortilla on the side. Heat it up in a pan and serve alongside or make yourself a breakfast taco.

Semi-related anecdote: I got the spinach for this faux omelette scramble from this Caribbean market in my neighborhood that has a stellar vegetable selection that is much more affordable than neighboring grocery stores. The last time I went I walked away with a full head of spinach (can I call it that?), scallions, kale, carrots, celery, poblano peppers, oregano, rosemary, parsley, lentils, and an onion all for less than $12! I chuckle to myself whenever I pass it because it's called The Meat Barn even though they mostly sell vegetables, fruits, beans, and Caribbean spices.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Soup's Up!: Building food consciousness

I'm not usually one to follow diets. I think, why do that to yourself? Food is so good. A coworker suggested one to me that sounded pretty reasonable, however. It's called the UltraSimple Diet and you can download the companion guide here (Who wants to buy a diet book? That definitely goes against my principles). The thought behind this diet is to rid the body of toxins while still eating food. It's about eliminating common toxins, or allergens, from your diet such as gluten, dairy, alcohol and caffeine for a week.

I'm only following this loosely as I have no intention of giving up yogurt and while I know I probably should drink less coffee, I do need something to keep me awake at work. I'm not even taking the advice to take spoonfuls of lemon juice or olive oil before my first meal of the day. So why even post about it? Basically because like me, you may find some of the recipes inspiring. I'm using this as a general guide to being more conscious about what I eat and to be more observant about how certain foods make me feel.

Tonight I cooked up the hearty vegetarian lentil soup (found in "Recipes for Lunch and Dinner" in Section 5 of the companion guide) and am looking forward to slurping it down for lunch tomorrow. As a general plug for soup--it's so great--you can throw in a bunch of veggies and herbs and make all kinds of combinations sure to pique your palate. I also think soup is a great place to put your efforts in shopping at ethnic markets. You don't know what something is? Why not throw it in a pot with a bunch of other intriguing ingredients and see what magic can be made?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Va-va-va-voom: Vegan delectations on either side of the BQE

You know when something's so good, you feel obligated to do it proper justice? That's how I've felt since I discovered Champs and foodswings, both cash-only, vegan eateries located in Williamsburg. To be honest I'm still hesitant that I can do these places full justice but it's not fair to keep them from you any longer.

So without further ado, let's start with foodswings. Located near the BQE on Grand Street, this little vegan haven is great for late night junk food savories. While I've only tasted two of their dishes so far, I feel it's safe to assume that the plethora of items tattooed across their chalkboard menu are fabulous. One I can certainly vouch for is the chick'n parmigiana sandwich featuring breaded veggie chick'n with Daiya mozzarella and marinara sauce smushed between two pieces of garlic bread--which in itself is genius. Even vegans/vegetarians get the occasional craving to nosh on something that feels bad for you. This little diddy perfectly satisfies that craving. And since my first post on using Daiya, the taste of this soy cheese has really grown on me.

Second on the hit list: the philly cheese steak--veggie steak with onions, mushrooms, and Daiya cheese on Italian bread. In one word: hearty. Not as perfect as the chick'n parmigiana but stands up in its own right as a late night indulgence.  And if you've already made the commitment to indulge in this mouthful, why not wash it down with a chocolate soy milkshake?

Moving on to the other side of the BQE, we come to Champs. Sigh. If I lived in Williamsburg, this would be an old standard. I'm sure it is for actual residents. While you're sitting in your retro booth with a portrait of Rue McClanahan or Mike Tyson staring down at you, you may wonder why this place is so well-known for being a bakery when its true delights come in the savory variety. On my first visit, I played it safe. Why, I can't remember. I had the bomber burger, which all these months later, I don't remember at all. I'm sure it was tasty but if you're going to go, I recommend getting something with faux meat because they use it so well.

Option 1: the Reuben--grilled seitan with melty vegan mozzarella, tangy mock Russian dressing and homemade purple kraut served between fresh slices of marble rye bread. Each sandwich is served with a side of leafy greenery and balsamic vinaigrette. Are your tastebuds watering, yet?

Options 2 and 3: The Buffalo Chick'n vs. the Hot Cubano. Both these hot sandwiches are contenders for my number one, favorite vegan sandwich of all time. The former for its finger-licking-good sauce and the latter (a melty paradise of soy ham, jalapeno and pickle) for its punchy kick. Both pack some heat, the latter more than the former. And both are the reason I haven't tried more things on the menu. These little buggers are so delicioso that it's hard not to order one or the other when I find myself in the neighborhood.

By virtue of a friend ordering something else, I was able to try the chili. As a main or a side, the chili is a wise choice. It's robust and beany and is apparently made extra special when served alongside the breakfast menu item called the Drunken Cowgirl.

Whether you're in the mood for a hearty breakfast, a savory lunch paired with leafy greens, or a sumptuous snack, I highly recommend checking out either of these vegan havens in W-burg. It's well worth the trek, even if you're coming all the way from South Brooklyn like I do.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pocketful of Rainbows...or Veggies

I remember a dark time in my life. A time when I didn't like baba ghanouj. The truth of the matter is that I had one rotten (literally bitter) experience and shut out the Middle Eastern spread altogether. I now realize I'm a fool. I now say yes to the opportunity to have it at every turn. I now say yes to life.

I've only had four things at Eva's in Greenwich Village--two were soups and two were sandwiches. All were excellent. With each pita sandwich you get a filling of some sort--baba ghanouj, hummus, falafel, just to name a few, a mountain of salady goodness that cannot be contained in the walls of the pita, and a choice of dressing such as tahini or yogurt. The vegetable and lentil soups are both packed with vegetables, hearty enough to stand on their own but also serving as a great accompaniment to the overstuffed pitas.

I like this place. Many vegetarian options to choose from. There's lots of items on the menu with "protein" in the title. I haven't tried them yet but this spot seems to be all about healthy eating, which I appreciate when I'm looking for a quick bite that doesn't make me feel weighed down and convenient in that I can pay by debit card. It's also not too far from this place:
which reminds you what an eccentric neighborhood Greenwich Village is. Sparkly jumpsuits anyone?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Twisting Your Way to Bliss, Part 2

My month long pass of unlimited classes at YogaWorks is almost up and I'm finding myself at a crossroads. Do I buy another unlimited pass like the one available on Groupon now? So far, I like YogaWorks. The majority of classes I've attended have been with instructor Sarah Bell at their Union Square location.

YogaWorks classes have a different feel from classes I've taken elsewhere in the city. The vibe is quieter and feels less judgmental. As an instructor, Sarah is laid-back but also not too hippie dippie as some instructors can be. There's no music played during the 85-minute class but neither the lack of music nor the longer class time makes me more antsy or restless than any other class. In fact, the first two times I took it, I actually felt less emotional. I can't say if this was state of mind, concentrating more intently on the poses, lack of moody music or something altogether different, but I appreciate the fact that I've been focused rather than having my mind wander and that I've remained focused without struggling too much.

I'm also not used to non-Vinyasa classes. While a little bit of flow is incorporated into Sarah's 5:45 p.m. Monday and Wednesday classes, most of the session focuses on alignment and doing what's right for you in your body on that day. The website describes the YogaWorks signature classes as focusing on alignment, Sun Salutations and postures and modifications that "individualize the practice for each student" and I have to agree that it lives up to that description.

So where does the dilemma in this situation arise then, you must be asking yourself if you made it this far down the post. The dilemma is it's hard to settle on a yoga studio. In an earlier post, I mentioned liking some of the classes at Yoga Vida, which still holds true. The vibe there isn't as chill as at YogaWorks though. There are only two teachers there so far that I enjoy taking. I'd like a studio option where I can take class any day of the week and want to be there and feel welcomed to be there. A space where no one seems in competition with anyone else.

The next studio I want to try is Brooklyn Yoga School. It's donation-based but I'm hoping the classes don't get too crowded. I'm also hoping it's better than Yoga to the People, which I have a few grievances with. Anyone ever been? Thoughts?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Eating Out on a Budget: Dorado Tacos in Union Square

It's all too easy to get out of the habit of things. One busy week at work turns into neglecting your exercise routine in the evenings; one week without groceries leads to a second week of justifying your "fatigue": This is the last night I'll pick up takeout.  One week of not allotting time to post to your blog leads to two weeks of laziness. But I know one thing that seems to be habit-forming and that's a trip to Dorado whenever I'm in the vicinity of Union Square. Since having lunch with friends there for the first time a few weeks ago, I've been back a handful of times for their all-too-tasty tacos.

Having tried all but one of the options I can eat, my favorites have become the Baja Original (sorry true vegetarians who don't eat fish) and the Veggie (yay for everyone!). The fish in the Baja is crispy perfection topped with tangy crema sauce and the veggie consists of perfectly grilled zucchini and red peppers tied together with guac and a kicking spicy sauce.

Tacos are the perfect light meal, filling but doesn't make you want to go back in time to when you could've made the choice between a food that would keep you going and a food that was sure to knock you out. While visiting, I recommend rounding out your meal with the guacamole and chips, for Dorado does what so many find hard to do: make an excellent guac.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Italian-inspired Veg-ging Out, Part 2

I want to say that New York trumps D.C. in terms of its offering of Italian fare. It probably does but I should be honest: I rarely sought out Italian food while I lived in the District so there's not much I can compare except for the pizza. It's kind of superfluous to say that New York pizza is better than D.C. pizza.

And luckily some of the best New York pizza can be found in my neighborhood, Midwood. DiFara is a small, corner shop located off the Avenue J stop on the Q. My friend and former co-worker recommended this little place of heaven/hole-in-the-wall to me even before I moved here. Now that I live within walking distance, I see the wisdom in her suggestion. I don't care that they were shut down a few months ago for health code violations. They worked it out and have reopened. Owner Dom makes some of the best pizza I've ever tasted in my life. The simple cheese slice comes with deliciously fresh basil, rich tomato sauce, oozing cheese and oil you actually don't want to dab away. It's well worth the wacky operating hours and what can be a 30-40 minute wait.

If you want more atmosphere with your pizza and more distance from the greasy kitchen, I recommend Fornino on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg. When I stopped in this cute little brick-walled place, I had trouble deciding what to order but finally eeny meenied my way to a decision: the Bianca pizza. It was quite good, but I wasn't paying close attention while choosing and didn't realize that it was sauceless. Even so, the arugula and cheese were so fresh and amazing. This is a cheese lover's pizza indeed: mozzarella, ricotta, and parmigiano--yum! I personally would've been happy with the mozzarella alone, but everything blended nicely for a fresh, satisfying taste. To accompany my meal, I also had an $8 glass of Chianti. For dessert, spumoni--a blend of pistachio, chocolate and vanilla ice cream. What a great finish. On my second trip I ordered the Melanzane (pictured on the right) which knocked Bianca out of the park. Between the delicious flavors, the soft lighting, the exposed brick, and the cozy feel, Fornino makes a great date spot.

A couple blocks further up Bedford Ave. is another good date place: La Nonna. Their gnocchi. Oh. my. god. This is the best gnocchi I've ever had. It's light but also filling. The buffalo mozzarella combined with the red pasta sauce and soft potato gnocchi are like a ballet troupe dancing gracefully on your tongue.

I ordered something else on my first trip here, but I don't even remember what it was called. Some pasta I had never heard of, a fun shape, but definitely not as memorable as their gnocchi. I'm sure there are more wonders on the menu but I'm not sure I'll ever get to them because I'm hooked. I can tell you, however, that their bruschetta is also divine and they have some of the best homemade balsamic vinegar I've ever tasted in my life. I'd drink it if I could. Well, I should admit, I was not too ashamed to literally lick the plate.

Unlike my first post on Italian veg-ing out, I can't imagine trying to recreate these perfect palette pleasers. If you should find yourself in either pole--North or South Brooklyn, I highly recommend you hit up one of these delights on your journey.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What to eat for lunch when you're too lazy to cook it

Sometimes I'm really good about planning my lunch meals the week ahead. I buy fresh ingredients or get inspired by recipes I see online. Then there are other weeks I can't be bothered. That's when I turn to Trader Joe's for my lunchtime dining on-the-go/at work.

And because I happen to be particularly lazy/tired at the moment, I'll just give you a quick list of my favorite Trader Joe's items to bring to work.

The following selections are based on savoryness and low sodium (for the most part). The list would definitely be longer if I weren't taking into account how much salt is in a lot of their frozen food.

-Vegetable or vegan pad thai--For some reason I can't quite distinguish, I prefer the vegetable to the vegan pad thai. It tastes more flavorful but I haven't figured out why.
-Paneer and spinach basmati rice--This is absolutely divine and colorful (the reddish orange paneer coupled with the green rice makes for a festive lunch plate). The only downside is that there's a lot of sodium in this one.
-Shells in brie and asparagus--Watch out! This may be so tasty that many of your coworkers will smell it from a distance and hound you on where you got it from and can they have a bite. I speak from personal experience.
-Pizza Olympiad--Here you get two meals out of the price of paying even less than you would for a slice at some places. Topped with olives, feta and tomatoes, this little pie will surely delight your palate. It's the best microwave pizza I've ever had. Take that DiGornio/Red Baron/Freschetta. Actually, take Freschetta off that list. It's too bready.

-Try any of the Indian Fare varieties. If you're looking for spice, try the Punjabi Chole. I find the boxed Indian selection to be spicier than the frozen selection at TJ's. It seems even spicier than Kitchen of India and Tastybite, if you're familiar with those brands.
-Butternut squash soup--Dip crackers, bread, anything you can get your hands on into this soup and wait for your body to warm up and your stomach to smile.

-Organic lentil vegetable soup--Serve with a side of TJ's vegetable crackers available in the assorted crackers box (4).
-Organic vegetarian chili--Delicious and filling, flavorful but not salty or gassy. The tofu and red beans really make this meal shine.
-Organic split pea soup--Not too salty. Split peas can be on the boring side but this is tasty for such a soup. Makes me wonder how I was ever able to digest Campbell's condensed soup.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tastes from the Middle East in Brooklyn

Note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my friend Dina who introduced me to zaatar, lebneh, and most important of all: the wonder of Doritos dipped in yogurt.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are great. With both you get a punch of flavors without the intensity or spiciness of South Asian food (which I love but can't eat for every meal). It's light but filling and there are many options for vegetarians. For these reasons, when I'm thinking of a place to eat out but not overindulge, Middle Eastern cuisine comes to my mind.

A few weeks ago, I checked out Bedawi Cafe in Park Slope. A small and cute location on Prospect Park West, Bedawi had excellent food and a homey feel. It was hard to narrow down what I wanted to eat so my sister and I decided to get an assorted plate. I feel like the picture here speaks for itself. Deliciousness. Baba ghanouj, foul (fava beans with tomatoes, garlic, parsley, scallion, and lemon), beet salad, lebneh, and black beans with plum tomatoes, scallion, parsley, and bulgur.

And because I can't get enough of lebneh (a strained tart yogurt that is almost cheese-like), I ordered a separate plate after downing half of the assorted plate.

This meal definitely rivaled a similar assorted plate I had at Turkish Cafe Restaurant on E16th St in Midwood. Open 24 hours, Turkish Cafe is a hole-in-the-wall with a family atmosphere. It's not as pretty as Bedawi but it does stay open on Christmas, which was convenient when my dad was in town and we were looking for a place to eat.

The full plates on the menu are all meat-based, but if you happen to be in this part of Midwood, I recommend stopping in for their appetizer mix. The small size coupled with the delicious fresh bread was enough for me, but for $4 more you can order the large. A mix of hummus, baba ghanouj, Russian salad, piaz (white beans with vegetables), cacik (yogurt, kirby, mint, and garlic), and Turkish eggplant with mashed green and red bell peppers and garlic. So delish! Next time I want to try their falafel--like finding good guacamole, finding good falafel is also a task.

Before telling you my lazy person's version of an assorted plate or mezze, I must go on a slight tangent about lebneh. If you haven't tried lebneh but you love plain (Greek or not) yogurt, do it. You'll thank yourself. Every time I think I can go vegan, something dairy pulls me back. First it was my discovery of the crisp taste of Dubliner cheese, intermittently because of goat cheese, and now more than ever, plain yogurt. I just love plain yogurt--whether it's with fruit and granola, on top of a taco (salad) in lieu of sour cream, along with a beans and rice/couscous dish, or alongside a spicy Indian meal, it makes my tongue happy. And a trick I learned from one of my best friends, it also tastes delicious with Doritos (the original nacho cheese version).

Ok, and now with my lazy person's mezze recipe (which is not so much as a recipe as a "let's-throw-this-all-onto-a-plate" technique).

What you'll need
-Middle Eastern flatbread, lavash, or pita
-olive oil
-tomatoes (grape or cherry, but any will do)
-fava beans
-garlic, lemon
-plain yogurt (Greek or not) or lebneh
-parsley or cilantro

Start by warming up the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat the flatbread/lavash/pita with olive oil, then sprinkle on desired amount of zaatar and sumac. If you're like me, sprinkle a lot. Warm in oven for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile heat olive oil and garlic in a pan. Before garlic starts to brown, add canned fava beans and grape tomatoes cut in half. Sprinkle lemon juice over it all and cook til fava beans and tomatoes are soft. For eggplant, cut up into small pieces, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it until tender. When all the hot elements are done, place a dollop of plain yogurt and hummus on your plate, the hot stuff, and voila! a lazy person's mezze.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Twisting your way to bliss, part 1

In order to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle, one must eat. Frequently. To balance out all that eating, however, there's exercise. And it can be fun! Finding the right exercise class takes some scoping out. Important factors to include are:

  1. The instructor. Is he/she encouraging or slightly judgmental? Does she/he clearly have favorites and only pay attention to them?
  2. The playlist.  Do the songs match the mood of the workout or do you want to cringe the umpteenth time you've heard "Moves Like Mick Jagger"?
  3. Continuity. Is this something you can actually see yourself sticking to? Do you find it enjoyable?

If the sound of lunges, burpees, crunches and flying pushups makes you cringe, as it does for me, you may get exhausted just thinking about the workout even before it begins.

I prefer the option of dancing myself silly (getting into shape is an added bonus). Zumba, Hip Hop, Belly Dance, African, Bhangra/Bollywood, and Yoga. These are all methods to fitness I revel in and if you're like me, you may want to de-stress/balance out all that yummy food intake with classes at these places:

M Dance Fitness has several locations in Midtown, Chelsea, and Union Square. All the instructors here are super nice and the Zumba and Hip Hop classes are equally fun and the best playlists (for Zumba) I've heard so far in New York. The three main instructors have their own unique style, but all are worthwhile talking. With her small frame and short haircut, Diana Dove puts me to shame when she teachers her hip hop class. I mean, yeah, I wasn't trained in it, but her movements are just so fluid that I'm jealous. The one class I took with Gina Masulla was high-energy too. And Misty's classes, instructor and owner, are always a good time.

While many Zumba moves are repeated no matter what class you take and who's teaching it, I've found I definitely like certain teachers' styles and playlists a lot more than others. Some classes mix in a bhangra or Middle Eastern song or something unexpected and that's usually great fun. Aside from the classes at M Dance Fitness, I quite enjoy the Friday night Zumba at Pearl Studios with Jessica from R.i.S.E. It's high energy and so fun. I sweat more than I have in awhile (partially because the room was super hot, but it was also a good workout). Her playlist my first class was great. It was all Latin except for "Rock around the clock" and included Danza Duro and some Shakira, winning choices in my book. The Monday night class with Julie gets you pumped too. She's a lot more peppy but not overly so and "Jai Ho" seems to usually be on her playlist, which I'm a big fan of. I'm not sure if it's because I've sweated so much by the time she gets 'round to playing it or because the song gets in my bones, but I always feel like I'm going to take flight when we dance to it.

These classes were much better than say the time I took an evening Zumba class at the New York Sports Club in Midwood and endured two country western songs. I have no problem with country music (well, good country music that is) but I feel like it just didn't fit. It's like the swing dancing to rap.

A trial class at M Dance Fitness is $15. The normal drop-in rate is $20 with class passes available for varying costs. Zumba drop-in at R.i.S.E is $16 at the door, $13 if purchased online.

Perk: Last time I checked, M Dance was looking for someone to stay at the front door at one of their studios and let people in in exchange for classes. Not sure if this has already been filled but check back. Many studios offer classes in exchange for volunteering at the studio.

I started taking classes at the D.C. location of Dhoonya Dance five or so years ago during college. I was searching for a space with a less competitive atmosphere than say GW University's bhangra scene/dance teams. I wasn't too keen on the Joy of Motion Bollywood/bhangra option either. I started off doing DhoonyaBasics and basically retook it four times in a row, sometimes with the same instructor, but always with new routines. I liked the idea of mastering something. No need to challenge myself. It felt nice to know what I was doing and not have to hide in the back of class. Then a few years ago, they added DhoonyaFit--an intense and fast workout. The first time I took it, I felt like I was going to pass out from being out of breath. But in comparison to other feelings I've had during/post some workouts, I decided this was something to continue. While it was fast-paced and challenging to keep up at first, it didn't make me want to cry like the thighs and tris class I attempted at Triomph Fitness in Park Slope. When Dhoonya expanded to NYC, I was not only ecstatic for the ladies I saw grow a small business into an awesomely marketed/visible dance/performance school, I was glad that if I moved, I could continue my dance education.

NYC Belly Dance with R.i.S.E
Wednesday night class was fun. I've taken belly dance classes before (and in Spanish too) and been confused. Especially about making figure 8s with your hips but now I get it. Instructor broke it down in away I understood. Something I can do with my hips and not feel limited by them or that they're too big. I know it sounds cliche to say, but knowing that you can indeed move in ways you didn't makes you feel a bit better about yourself. I'm an accessories girl, so the instructor having extra hip scarves for students to wear was so much fun.

I know yoga isn't dancing, but it's just as graceful (ideally anyway.) That's why I've included it here. There are so many yoga spots in NYC and Brooklyn, that I won't even attempt to go to all of them. Here are a couple I have gone to.

Yoga Vida's Union Square location is beautiful. The dark hardwood floors, big windows and crimson drapes are so inviting. I was lucky enough to have work off on a day when some classes were still going on and take the Friday noon Flow class with Amanda. She explained transitions very well and was supportive of students taking any modifications they needed (not like some other yoga instructors I've had who expect people to go into crazy bendy things without checking out their level of experience first). Amanda's playlist was so chill and unexpected: Alicia Keys, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, and Joss Stone (since the rest of it was so good, I won't discredit her for the inclusion of Joss Stone). Zoe's Flow class is pretty awesome too. I enjoyed her transitions and positive attitude.

Perk: Newbies can take as many yoga classes their first week for just $10.

YogaSole in Park Slope has an awesome, laid-back vibe, which is actually hard to achieve for studios in New York--at least you can tell the difference between a Manhattan and a Brooklyn studio. I recommend Merav as an instructor. She introduced me to this starfish pose I had never done before but found it a great stretch. This is very tranquil space, quiet. Classes weren't too big and there's no sense of competition here.

Perk: Drop-ins cost $15, but newbies can sign up for a deal to pay for 2 classes and get the third free.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

exercise playlists to live by

Sometimes when I'm on the cross ramp or elliptical (so, rarely), I like to imagine that my hair is blowing in the wind and that I'm in a Bollywood movie, particularly a musical scene. When this fix isn't enough, I go to actual Bollywood/bhangra classes. Well, at least I did in D.C. I fell in love with Dhoonya Dance back in college and can't wait to start classes at their locations in NY. So far, I have taken a few bhangra classes here--mainly at the New York Sports Club on W16th and 8th Ave. when I had a Groupon for a month-long membership. And lately my morning train rides have consisted of listening to past mixes I made and thinking in my head how much choreography I can remember from the past classes I've taken. It also got me thinking...what songs would I like to choreograph a dance workout to? I came up with two lists below:

Bhangra Beats
songs I'd include if I taught a bhangra class:
  1. Patola by Daljit Mattu
  2. Aaja Nachiye Boliyan Paiye by DJ Rekha and Gunjan from Basement Bhangra
  3. Hauli Hauli by Bikram Singh feat. Tigerstyle
  4. Nach Ley (New Flava Mix) by Dr. Zeus
  5. Kudi Patole Wargi by Malkit Singh
  6. Nach Baliye (Bhangra Mix) from Nach Baliye-The Music Album
  7. Bhangra Mega Mix from Judgment Day 3
  8. Mele Vich Jatt by Lehmber Hussainpuri
  9. Pe Pe Pepein by Neeraj Shridhar, Master Saleem, Hard Kaur 
  10. Romantic Jatt by Miss Pooja
Alternates: Lal Ghagra feat. E=MC by Sahara (video below), Captain Bhangra Da by Daljit Mattu, Daru Pee Ke by Romey Gill, Aankh Naal by Kam Dhillon, and Dil Tera by Soni Pabla feat. Miss Pooja

....and Bollywood hip shakers
songs I'd include if I taught a Bollywood dance class:
  • Tumse Milke Dil Ka Jo Haal by Aftab Sabri, Hasim Sabri, Sonu Nigam from Main Hoon Na

  • Laga Laga Prem Rog by Alka Yagnik and Kamaal Khan from Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya
  • Lodi by Gurdas Mann from Veer-Zaara

  • Dil Dooba by Sonu Nigam from Khakee
  • Ishq Kamina by Sonu Nigam from Shakti-The Power

  • Marjaani by Sunidhi Chauhan from Billu Barber

  • Shut Up and Bounce by Sunidhi Chauhan from Dostana 
  • Jogi Mahi by Sukhvinder Singh from Bachna Ae Haseeno
  • Aaja Nachle by Hans Raj Hans from Aaja Nachle
  • Jee Karda by Labh Janjhu from Singh is King
  • Twist by Neeraj Shridhar from Love Aaj Kaal
Alternates: O Re Kanchi by Shaan from Asoka, Fitna Dil (remix) by Udit Narayan from Shikhar, Desi Girl by Shankar Mahadevan from Dostana, Touch Me by Alisha Chinoy from Dhoom: 2, Kajra Mohabbat Wala (remix) by Sonu Nigam
    *I couldn't find YouTube videos for all these songs but if you are really curious and can't find them to download, make a note in the comments section and I'll send them to you.

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Continuing education

    Typically I like to try out activities I write about before posting, but I just can't wait this time. Since I moved to Brooklyn, I've hit the ground running, researching all the things to do in the borough and beyond on a budget. I recently came across Dollar Fridays at Brooklyn Creative and thought, "yes! a way to continue my interest in photography without breaking the/into a bank." Brooklyn Creative, an art and photography education center, offers $1 photo classes on select Fridays. Though I minored in photography in college and am already schooled in the basics, I'm sure I could definitely use a refresher. And so, I've marked my calendar to attend the Jan. 20 Composition class from 6-8 p.m.

    $1 Friday classes run two hours and cover a small range of topics in photography including a DSLR Crash Course--if I had one, I'd totally go!--(Jan.13) and one in Adobe Photoshop (Jan. 27). Maybe I'm a nerd, but this sounds like a fun, creative way of spending a Friday night--at least if you want an alternative to happy hour with time to spare should you want to do something after.

    Brooklyn Creative offers a wider range of photography, printmaking and other classes for a heftier fee. Sadly, I will probably not participate in these unless I decide I need to give myself an expensive gift. But if you're less cheap than I am, I encourage taking a look at their course offerings.

    Another site I've been eyeing in hopes to build my skills and have some fun in the process is the listing of classes offered at Brooklyn Brainery. Crowdsourced education for varying prices, the Brainery offers an array of course content but it seems that you have to act fast before classes fill up (of course the food ones I want to attend are all full!) They add new ones all the time, so check back. I certainly will. In the meantime, maybe I'll check out this course on Indian art and architecture.

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Weeknight Adventures: Dance the night away

    Thursday night after work I had every intention of finally going to the Brooklyn Library to get/validate a library card. I emailed a friend who lives in the vicinity of the Brooklyn Heights location about an hour before the end of work, asking her if she wanted to come with. She called me right on the dot at 5 o'clock and said she and another friend (someone we went to college with) were actually going to go dancing and that there was this sangria open bar thing in the Meatpacking District. This was very much the opposite of going to the library, but I thought, why not? Sangria and a free bhangra lesson? These are two things I enjoy very much.

    And then I realized this was all a precursor to the famed Basement Bhangra nights. Since high school, I have been obsessed with Bollywood movies, Bollywood dance, and bhangra. (My love of Indian food goes further back to when I became a vegetarian at 10 years old and started experimenting with cooking). Anyhoo, not only was this something unexpected that sounded like fun, but also something necessary. I always looked forward to DJ Rekha coming to play at the Black Cat in D.C. and now it was time to see her where it all began: NYC!

    The sangria open bar for $5 at Sob's ran from 7-8 p.m. and the free bhangra lesson began sometime after 9 p.m. All-you-can-drink white or red sangria is a pretty sweet deal and by the time the bhangra lesson rolled around, the place was packed. The crowd ranged from those who clearly needed no lesson to those who were curious to learn. My friends were even called on stage along with other volunteers from the audience to help demonstrate some bhangra moves. So indeed, a great time was had by all.

    And apparently Sob's hosts these bhangra nights about once a month or so. The next one is for this Thursday, Jan. 5. Choose your own adventure. Again, there's an open bar from 7-9 p.m. $5 before 8 p.m. The free bhangra lesson starts at 9 and if you want to stick around for the actual DJ Rekha show, which is bound to be energetic and awesome, tickets are $13 in advance and $16 day-of. If you miss this one, you'll have another chance on Thursday, Feb. 2.