Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Countdown, Post-Holiday, Post-Caloric reflections

Here it is:

Only the dinner portion got captured for posterity. The dessert table was just a blur of hands and mouths!

Clockwise from the far left and spiraling in: Turkey (and more turkey) with gravy, pearl onions & bacon, cranberry-ginger compote,  sweet and sour cabbage, curried brussel sprouts in coconut milk, 2 Fat Ladies parsnips, kasha varnishkes with mushrooms, "Moroccan" tzimmes, kielbasa-apple stuffing, Ponzu-baked tofu with tomato-olive sauce, dill chimichurri and grated cheese, potato-onion kugel, sweet potato cornbread,  and zucchini pudding.

I'll be headed back to research-inspired posts as of tomorrow, but I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on these past few weeks. It was a blur of shopping, schlepping and cooking (Wednesday was 12 hours straight in the kitchen), but I always believe it's worth it, because I get to spend the days with loved ones. I realize I haven't hosted a regular dinner party in ages and instead I now sort of cram it all into this one day, but it's always a good time. Old friends, new acquaintances and chances to experiment in the kitchen: It's a win-win-win situation.

This year has been tough for my Streamlined Ska Librarian lifestyle, but if you can't enjoy moments in life...well, I don't know what the answer to that might be. You have to enjoy them, no matter how hard or tempting they are.

So, Happy Holiday season and don't hate food or yourself during this time. Celebrate the good times!

One good dessert shot made it!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Countdown to eating a lot, part 4: Sufganiyot Ice Cream

Well, I did say it was ice cream time.

My Streamlined Ska Librarian lifestyle usually means I'm not making a lot of ice cream as of late. An occasional sorbet, perhaps, but now I now save the ol' ice cream maker for the holiday season, or to make a tasty gift.

And I figure with maybe 15 people showing up, it's not like there will be double portions for me.

Some past holiday ice creams reflect the season (pumpkin, maple, cardamom), but this time I wanted to make something that reflected the Thankgivingukah season.

One of the few Chanukah type desserts are sufganiyot, or jelly donuts. Not a big fan and certainly not looking to fry up a bunch of doughy things.

But my faithful ice cream maker comes to rescue. I'm already making an assortment of pies, so why not a sufganiyot ice cream?

And here it is!

I made it very vanilla-like with orange hints, which gives it that cakey taste. As for the jam, I used blackberry preserves:

But any jam/jelly would do.

The Streamlined Ska Librarian's Sufganiyot Ice Cream (or Jelly Doughnut Ice Cream):

1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice
2 tbps orange peel
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbps vanilla
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 egg yolks, beaten
jam of choice

In a double boiler, combine sugar, juice, peels and cinnamon and heat until combined. 
Add cream and half-and-half and cook until slightly thickened. 
Add vanilla. Cook until heated.
Take small amount of cream mixture and blend into the egg yolks until thoroughly mixed. Stir into cream.
Cook until thickened enough to coat a spoon.
Cool and chill in refrigerator (preferably overnight).
Place mixture in ice cream maker. When it's almost set, add a few spoonfuls of jam and let mix in.
Remove ice cream from machine. Add another spoonful of jam for good measure.
Set in freezer until dessert time!

I realize this is probably the most unhealthy item you'll ever see on this blog, but mindfully eating something once a year is, for me, ok. I know this will NOT be a nightly snack.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Countdown to eating a lot, part 3: Cranberries!

And we're back to recipes! I just finished completing my Thanksgivingukah shopping list and here's the tentative menu:

Turkey a la Dan
Kielbosa-apple stuffing
Potato-onion kugel
Baked marinated tofu with 2 sauces (tomato-olive and chimichurri)
Kasha Varnishkes with onion-mushroom marmalade
Zucchini "pudding"
"2 Fat Ladies" Parsnip puree
Curried brussel sprouts
Sweet and sour cabbage
Creamed onions with bacon
Sweet potato corn bread
Cranberry-ginger compote
Buttermilk pies (one with fruit, one without)
Pear-cranberry pie
Pumpkin pie
Apple Pie Ice Cream
"Sufganiyot" Ice Cream (Basically a jelly donut ice cream)
Date-pistachio balls

Meat, vegetarian, kosher,'s got it all! You can see one of the experiments earlier this month is on the menu, while the other got cut out of the final list. So it goes...

But I do say this is "tentative" in that sometimes recipes get tweaked at the last minute. And sometimes there have been a few accidents. (The "spilled salt" incident totally killed one of these last year!)

Some of these are based on recipes found in cookbooks, but most have been tweaked by me. The exception is the 2 Fat Ladies dish. Such a decadent artery regular Thanksgiving guests insist I make it the "traditional way" every year.

And the first thing I always cook is the cranberry compote. I love cranberries. I stock up on them, toss them in my freezer and use them throughout the year. 

My freezer before I went shopping!

 I love that cranberries freeze easy. I also love that most cranberries are fine to buy. No real brand preference for me. Or the excuse to try to be artisinal:

Do you hipsters honestly think Whole Foods just didn't dump a couple of bags into this water? Sheesh!

Ah, that makes me laugh every time I see it. 

But here we go with my happy, non-artisinal dish:

The Streamlined Ska Librarian's Cranberry-Ginger Compote

There are actually only three ingredients (plus one optional):

1 bag cranberries
maple syrup
fresh ginger (a large piece)
Optional booze of choice (this time we're using a Ginepro grappa, a gift from my hosts during my French vacation, although bourbon, rye and even tequila have been used in the past).

Rinse cranberries and pick out any bad ones.

Place in pot with enough maple syrup to cover

Cook over medium-low heat until simmering. 

Peel and cut ginger into small pieces and add to pot. Stir as needed.
(You can also squeeze the ginger juice directly in)  

As it thickens, you can, if you wish, add a few good splashes of the liquor.

Continue cooking down until it forms a thickened mixture:

Let cool and place in covered container. It can be refrigerated for several days (which is why I make it first!)

The tartness of the cranberry and the bite of the ginger work well with the earthy sweetness of maple syrup. And the grappa gives it a nice herbal finish. This also works well as an ice cream topping. 

Now we're on to ice cream making!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Break From the Countdown: Tight Pants and Bad Research

OK, a slight break planning the double whammy feast to concentrate once again on exercise and diet. I still delight in many of my body changes. Many but not all. There is some thrill along with the frustration when clothes do not fit properly, but only in certain body areas.

My shoulders and lats have exceeded my nice suit jacket? Makes me preen all the more.
My chest and biceps too big for some of my size medium button-downs? Dan-tastic!
My quads actually flexing through my trousers? Well, hello!
My pants not buttoning properly? OK, wait a minute...

Yes for all my continued intense exercise and training, and all the accompanying muscle bloat, two other things have happened:
1) My weight training has now far exceeded cardio time
2) My sense of portion control spun somewhat askew

In regards to the former, I admit I really enjoy weight training and the results I see. Sure it burns calories but more intense weight training means more time spent on weight training. At this time last year, I was probably spending 30-40 minutes on weights and then 20-30 minutes on cardio. A quick self-check shows me I now spend 75 minutes on weight training, which usually leaves not much time at all to get cardio in before I have to book it up to work. Non-weight days are spent running, but now that the weather is turning crappy, there's more of a need to go do it inside.

So, I decided this week would be all cardio. Give my muscles a week's respite and really concentrate on cardio and returning to portion awareness. After a week, I'll how I'll reset this. Even after only a few days some of the water weight has already come off, so I can see it was a good decision.

Except for the cardio itself. I thought I could spend the days with boxing, HIIT and then the cardio machines. But while I'm doing it I quickly remembered that cardio at the gym is SO FRIGGIN' BORING!!

This is why I never could keep exercise plans afloat all those years past! This is why I finally got a trainer and learned what else I could do at a gym. Treadmills and ellipticals are really not very motivating. I'm glad that I now have a lot of gym experience so I can manage to get through this. Maybe add even more HIIT, switching to some light weight workouts with mega reps and little rest, those sort of things. 

I think it's just driven home that I miss that push my trainer gave me. 90% of the work may have been me, but, man some of this stuff is dull! I'm sure other people find that true about weight training, but to me, you're switching it up every day and with different body parts.I really love it.

It's also driven home how easy it can be to just not be motivated.

Now, on to the latter part regarding portion control. No real biggie there, for me. The food scale and measuring devices came back out, so I could really set in my mind how big a portion is. And more self-awareness as I was eating meals. For now, there are no "special treats." Not having a cupcake or a second helping for a few weeks ain't gonna kill me. And there may be a few evenings where I am feeling peckish, but I let it go. 

But I'm also not seeing this as a way to become super-buff. It's merely to get myself back to comfy pants size. My Streamlined Ska Librarian body still looks hot (Yes, it does!). But 10 lbs off the frame will probably be all I need. 

I will not be trying to exceed any levels of diet craziness. I'm not going to end up like this fellow. (Talk about a special diet and routine gone wrong!)

But this doesn't mean I can't still peruse the food blogs out there to continue my search for Thanksgiving-Chanukah recipe inspiration. And there's always the Dietitians blogs. Except now comes this recently published study by Dietitians seeing if food blogs provide nutritionally balanced recipes.

OK, I hate to diss my new favorite profession, but as a Librarian, as a blogger and as someone who reads a lot of food blogs, I'm not sure this is great research.

Mind you, the food blogs they chose were pretty popular (Smitten Kitchen, The Pioneer Woman), but they weren't marketed as "healthy" blogs. What were the findings? 

"Recipes met energy recommendations but were excessive in saturated fat and sodium."

OK, that's not so unusual. And:

This study revealed an opportunity for dietitians and public health professionals to improve recipes accessed on social media...Dietitians may also partner with existing food blog authors to add more healthy options or to create alternative, healthy versions of each recipe using modified ingredients. Other possible interventions include designing a branded icon for labeling recipes that meet specific nutritional standards."

Um...isn't that why you have your own blogs, as linked above? If the blogs in this study were claiming to be healthy or specifically targeting weight loss, then that might be different. It's your job as nutrition professionals to ensure that there should be some vetting of fact. But they're not. These are just regular, albeit popular, food blogs. 

To try to push one's agenda on something fairly open to interpretation doesn't work, and it also doesn't do the profession any favors. I would most definitely go to a RD blog to learn more about healthy food trends (I already do that!), and if someone was claiming health from their "special food system," I would hope Dietitians would weight in. 

But this smacks of just grasping at research straws. I'd be more concerned of RDs played a larger role in the social media of community health initiatives, school lunch programs, even the Affordable Care Act.

Maybe it's the sugar deprivation and the cardio boredom but my take is: Be a professional. Don't be a nudge.

Next post will be back to recipes (probably not RD approved.)


“I Got Six-Pack Abs in Six Weeks. Here’s How I Feel One Year Later.” Greatist. Accessed November 13, 2013.

Schneider, E. P., McGovern, E. E., Lynch, C. L., & Brown, L. S. (2013). Do Food Blogs Serve as a Source of Nutritionally Balanced Recipes? An Analysis of 6 Popular Food Blogs. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 45(6), 696-700.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Countown to eating part a lot, part 2: Did you say radish? And Campari?

When I cam back from my time in Japan, I was more than happy to continue the Thanksgiving tradition at Chez Ska Librarian (still Retro in those days). But I had picked up a few tricks of the trade in Tokyo and wanted to fit those into the meal.

OK, so not really tricks. More like me doing my usual recipe tweaking much to the horror of my Japanese acquaintances. I always joked (joked, it's all in fun!) that the official motto of Japan should be "No substitutions on the menu." And that's basically a direct challenge for me!

One of the very ubiquitous (and one of the the few inexpensive) items one found at Japanese markets was the daikon radish:

You can buy one in Japan the size of an entire arm for about 2 bucks!
Daikons are usually used as a garnish or soup addition, just grated straight into the bowl. They taste...well, like radishes.

But I soon discovered another way to use this root. If you simmer or poach them in water or broth until soft, they become these sweet, soft, delicate pucks of tastiness. More mellow than a turnip. 

In Japan, it's a basic boil and then served with white miso. But after one or two tries like that, I began to wonder just how it would work with other flavors. I often poach chicken in vermouth, so why not these? They were deLISHous! So I added olives soaked in gin and made Martini Daikons. 

It was a fun idea, and I certainly have enough martini-loving pals, even if I don't drink them anymore. But I wanted to see if something else could be done with these big fellas. Something more festive that might work spice-wise for both Thanksgiving and Chanukah, yet also appeal to the non-meat eaters attending.

And I spied this in my kitchen:

Hmmm.....I know Campari is an acquired taste, but if your guests don't mind complex tartness, this is for you!

So I now present:

The Streamlined Ska Librarian's Campari Daikons

Wash, peel and slice the daikon into 1 inch discs. Score one side of them. 

In Japan, you're also supposed to bevel the edges. But shape however you like. Make them into Magen Davids. Or Turkeys!
Place daikon slices into large saucepan with enough liquid to cover. This one is:
1 part Campari
2 parts water
1 cinnamon stick

Bring to a simmer and cook until fork tender (about 25-30 minutes). Remove from liquid and let stand until room temperature. (You can also refrigerate them for a few days and bring back to room temp before serving).

And here we are:

Do these not look lovely? They're actually a little pinker than this photo. 

The sweetness of the cooked daikon with the spiciness of the Campari and cinnamon. Mmm...
These were eaten with some salty-savory snacks and the play of flavors was great.

Will this recipe make it to the Holiday(s) table? We'll see!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Countdown to eating a lot

Oh, where to begin? So many weight loss and weight maintenance studies our there. And yet, a recent study shows that a large percentage of research on obesity and nutrition tend to overstate their results. Is this really a surprise? I also think the topic lends itself to that. We like to grab onto a definitive "solution" or "answer" when it comes to obesity and nutrition. I know I've certainly been guilty of cherry-picking data I need to make a point. But then again, I'm just blogging here, not claiming I've done grant-funded research. 

I do recommend you seek out the entire article. But that's not where we're going now....

I'm going to take a break from some of the usual format this month and go for a theme. We're coming up on one of my favorite holidays, Thanksgiving. For almost every T-day for the past 22 years, I've hosted anywhere from 3 to 30 people for the feast. Over the years, I've gotten intoa "zone" where I cook EVERYTHING, down to making ice cream for the pies. All guests just bring drinks, themselves and an appetite. It's worked out very well. 

I have some standard favorite dishes (there are a few I've been told can never leave the menu), but it also gives me a chance to try some new things each year. Very rarely is there a true cock-up (more often the casualties are dropped dishes). And I actually find it very enjoyable to just prepare and cook up a storm for a week. 

This year, however, we have a slightly different agenda. Thanksgiving falls on the first night of Chanukah. Yes, the All-American holiday where we all gather together to give thanks and eat a lot of food we may avoid most of the year is now being mixed up with a Jewish holiday where ... we all gather together to give thanks for being alive and eating a lot of food we may avoid most of the year.

Hmmm...this shouldn't be too hard.

Except when you're a kid and you probably feel more left out when everyone around gets Xmas presents, Chanukah doesn't play a big role in many adult Jews lives (or Adult Jews with no kids, I should say). 

Yes, it commemorates, as do many Jewish Holidays, our survival at almost being wiped out, and, like most Jewish holidays, it involved a lot of fried food. And I don't want to be frying latkes just as we're all sitting down to turkey.

So how to combine these two holidays into one super food day?

The rest of this month, I'll be trying out a few recipes and sharing them online. As you know, it's hard for me to actually write down amounts, but I will do my best to ensure you can all share in this. Yes, yes, I am very magnanimous that way.

One of the things I often skip or avoid is a bread with Thanksgiving dinner. In the past there's been pumpkin biscuits, a basic wheat loaf, polentas "crackers" but most often I buy a baguette or two. But I've been toying with a cornbread idea. It's quick, easy and goes well with the all those fall foods. 

But how to make it Chanukah-like? I've seen a few pumpkin or sweet potato corn breads. And a traditional Jewish dish is tzimmes. My family made it with carrots, but I had some yams, which is also "traditional." So why not make a Tzimmes Cornbread? Hmmmm...

I used yams and prunes. I think carrots may be added next time, but yams were a nice thought because you can microwave them very fast. And I thought using coconut oil added another "fruit" flavor to it. I also tend to favor my cornbread more on the corn side with less flour. I actually dropped the flour on the floor (see? that's my thing!) and after that clean-up, I substituted chickpea flour. The end result was good but I think whole wheat flour would work a little better, giving it a little less density. 

I decided to spice it with middle eastern spices and spiked the prunes. The result:

It was fragrant, sweet yet not too much (which is sort on un-tzimmes like) but a nice amalgam of holidays!
This could be good with gravy or applesauce and sour cream! Or even with peanut butter as a snack.

Will it make it to the holiday table in a few weeks? We shall see...

The Streamlined Ska Librarian's "Tzimmes" Cornbread:

12 prunes, cut up
1/4 cup bourbon or rye
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ras al hanout
1/4 tsp dried mint
salt to taste 
2 egg whites 
3 tbps coconut oil
1 to 1 1/2 cups yams, cooked 
1/4 cup yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar 

1. Preheat oven to 350
2. Soak the prunes in the bourbon
3. Combine next 5 ingredients
4. Add next 5 and mix well
5. Stir in prunes and bourbon. Adjust seasoning
6. Bake for 30 minutes or until done. 


Menachemi, Nir, Gabriel Tajeu, Bisakha Sen, Alva O. Ferdinand, Chelsea Singleton, Janice Utley, Olivia Affuso, and David B. Allison. “Overstatement of Results in the Nutrition and Obesity Peer-Reviewed Literature.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45, no. 5 (November 2013): 615–621. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.06.019.