Tuesday, June 16, 2009


A couple weeks ago, I seemed to be in a three-day spell of Agida. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that term, it is an Italian-American phrase that means heartburn. It's often used to say that you're experiencing some sort of grief, but the kind I experienced was the heartburn kind.

For some reason, I had the worst heartburn after the lunch I had on that Sunday at the airport. (See my next post for a discussion around the phenomenon of airport food.) It didn't get better any time soon. In fact, after arriving in Chicago for a work conference, I was determined to get a steak...but my stomach was hurting so much that I didn't bother and went with bland room service instead. I had some afternoon doses of Mixed Berry Tums, but after the room service, things reverted back to the previous hurt.

The next morning, my stomach still didn't feel that great (not nausea, but pain), so I started the day with some water and a couple Tums. I then when for a run/walk of a few miles. I was feeling good (there's just something about spandex and my Army shirt that turns on my Supergirl persona), and went to the morning buffet. I didn't overdo it (despite temptation). I had fresh squeezed OJ, coffee, a small bowl of oatmeal, a couple small pancakes (which I didn't finish), and because I felt I needed some protein, an eggs benedict.

The oatmeal was fantastic. Each little grain popped in my mouth sort of like perfectly cooked quinoa. I put in a little bit of brown sugar and just a dash of maple syrup (just because it was there), but I suspect it would have been perfection even without the added sweetness.

The pancakes were only picked up because they were just brought out from the kitchen, so they were piping hot and quite fluffy. As pancakes go, they were perfectly lovely, but I didn't feel like finishing them.

Lastly, the eggs benedict. That is likely not a good choice when chafing dishes are involved, but it's typically one of my favorite breakfast/ brunch items. Both the yolk and the hollandaise were congealed. Not good. But I wanted an egg. (I should have gone with scrambled, clearly.) But the meal served as my breakfast and lunch.

(Side note, I was staying at the hotel where Obama spoke to the AMA, so over coffee and oatmeal, I was watching people, police, security, and protesters scurry about. Excitement, but I didn't see the man himself.)

That afternoon there was a variety of treats at the conference - ice cream, a candy bar (literally bins of malt balls, jelly beans, and a big bowl of popcorn), tons of sodas, bowls of hard candy on each of the tables, Kisses, etc. Then on each of the conference tables, there was one (sometimes two) bowls of hard candy. They're trying to kill us. I managed just to have a small cup of popcorn and a chipwich (or rather, a Tollhouse brand chocolate chip ice cream sandwich). During a drowsy afternoon moment, I might have had a hard candy or two.

After the program, we all went to the Hard Rock Cafe's China Grill where we had three different app stations, passed apps, table waitstaff, and a bar...all paid for. There were tortilla chips with tuna tartare, various sushi rolls, pot stickers, skewered meat, etc. I had a few glasses of wine and a lot of appetizers. It was enough so that I didn't feel hungry any more, but not enough that I was stuffed....maybe not quite enough for a full meal. Either way, my stomach hurt again. So when I got back to my room, I ordered ice cream through room service. The cold felt good in my belly. But going to sleep, my stomach hurt again.

Then this morning...ouch, my belly hurts! (A quick side step here. By my "belly" I'm referring to the top of the stomach where it meets the esophagus.) I got up early (after staying up late), packed, ironed my clothes, and headed out the door. I did pick up a coffee (Fat-Free, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte at Starbucks, aka a skinny vanilla late) at Starbucks, which was likely not too kind on my stomach. But I had a toasted poppy seed bagel at the conference center with cream cheese - I thought it might make things better. a) I shouldn't bother eating bagels outside of Brooklyn. It's just setting myself up for disappointment. b) I should have eaten at the hotel (I had a voucher for a free buffet) and had a big bowl of that oatmeal. Bygones.

More agida.

I'm pleased to say that spell has long since passed, but it was a tough three days there.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A reminder to help

As schools are letting out all over the country, many children who rely on their school's breakfast and lunch to make it through the day are now left without food options. While for many of us it might seem like nothing has changed (you still have to go into work, sit in your cube, and eat whatever it is that you've either managed to scrounge out of your fridge or buy from a local eatery), but as you can imagine, this change of season can be devastating to little mouths all over the country.

So, in addition to asking you to volunteer your time or money to your local food bank (I'm arranging for my group at work to spend a half day at the Capital Area Food Bank here in Austin), I am also sending out this quick reminder of the "Pledge to End Hunger" campaign.

While of course they will gladly accept monetary donations, what they are asking for is for you to "sign" their campaign. You put in your email address, name, and state, and poof...their partner, Tyson, donates tons and tons of food to food banks in your state. I blogged about this first back a few months ago when there were only 1350 pledges, but I'm surprised to see that the number is only up to 4801. That's a great start, and it's translating into 140,000 lbs of food & 560,000 meals donated. But 5,000 people is not that many; imagine what we could do if twice that many signed up.....

Please "sign" the Pledge to End Hunger campaign and tell your friends. Just by posting your support of this program, people receive food. It's that easy. I signed up and I've maybe received about 2 emails a month at the most, so it's not like you're adding your name to some crazy telemarketing roster. It's just a super easy way to help.

Sign up. Today.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Lunch Express leads to a future Mexican fiesta

Today I went with my friend, Adrienne, to the Whole Foods Market Lamar Culinary Center for one of their Lunch Express classes. These are not hands on classes like knife skills (though they offer those). Instead, they provide a starter, an entree, and a dessert while the chef instructor demonstrates the same menu at the front of the class.

Let me tell you - these people know how to do demonstrations. First - the instructor. This woman, Chef Allison Heaton, is high energy, down-to-earth, clearly skilled, and has great suggestions as to ways to tweak the recipes. She says things like, "if you're making this for a dinner party, you might do it that way, but if it's just me and my fiancee, we do this." She understands that while we all deserve it, we don't always feel like going all out when it's just us. I believe she instructs most (all?) of their Lunch Express classes, as she knew many people in the audience.

The second impressive thing is the ingredients they use; this is, after all, Whole Foods. They have the tastiest looking produce, sustainable products, and all of the ingredients are available upstairs at the store (which I'm sure is very appealing to those people who do not have to go back to work after the class). As for the sustainable thing, I just read last night in edibleSeattle that hearts of palm "harvesting" typically kills the palm trees they're taken from. (The latest issue was my souvenir from a recent trip to Whidbey Island...more on that trip in the next post.) Apparently the quickest way to the heart is just to chop the whole thing down. Hearts of palm isn't really on my regular pantry list, and I'm not a "greenie," per se, but hearing that made me think they never would be. Enter Whole Foods - today Chef Allison made explicit reference to the fact that the hearts of palm she was using were sustainable. She said that all hearts of palm that they sell at Whole Foods are sustainable. She mentioned that if you buy them at another store, just make sure to check the can for the word "sustainable."

Lastly, it's the set up. There are nine tables holding four seats each. It's a tad crowded, but it's really not problematic. The drink options are ice water or unsweetened tea (they do provide both "Sugar in the Raw" and a stevia-based sweetner). Simple, but it really does cover most bases. Periodically, a couple of the people helping out bring pitchers of the two drinks around the room filling half-empty glasses. They provide you with a printed menu of what you will not only be tasting, but also seeing demonstrated (it's double-sided, which wins a prize from my non-greenie self). They also provide you with a newly sharpened #2 pencil, the feel of which I absolutely love between my fingers (said the girl who prefers to type...but there's just something about a good ol' yellow pencil, don't you think?). And the last thing about the set up that I find impressive is the way in which the cameras are set up. Now this may sound like a given for a demonstration classroom, but I have been in two cooking classrooms I can think of where the cameras just didn't do the process justice.

A small bonus at the end of today's class was that I asked the front desk people if they knew of a good knife sharpening guy/gal. They did, and they had his card. And guess what - he makes house calls! Hazah! Finally the knives in my kitchen will be worth using again (I'm just not very good with the knife stone I have....).

I encourage anyone in the Austin area to attend these classes. The Lamar Culinary Center offers a variety of classes on a number of themes and their prices seem to be quite competitive with other classes of this type that I've seen out there.
Lamar Culinary Center - 525 N. Lamar Blvd - 512.542.2340 - http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/lamar-culinarycenter/

And if you're near another Whole Foods somewhere else, find out if they have a Culinary Center. It's a great $18 "lunch and a show."