Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Brown Bag" Resolution

I decided yesterday, after purchasing yet another over-priced 1/2 sandwich baguette from my favorite little lunch spot, Pret a Manger, that one of my {many} new year's resolutions moving into 2010 will read as follows:

"Brown-bag healthy lunch to work at least 4 times per week."

My hopes are that this spirited endeavor, (soon to to be logged into my Filofax for safekeeping), will a.) Save me some pennies b.) Hone my Top Chef gourmet sandwich-building culinary skills and c.) Result in lunches I will still find appetizing by noon on the same day.

So let's get the ball rolling! Last night's prep and this early morning's whirlwind sandwich assembly involved a panini. I recently discovered panini bread at Whole Foods (they sell 4 loafs per bag) and it's just absolutely delicious. Let it be known, I'm no panini master. I also don't own a panini press. But, with a little bit of creativity, I devised a tasty little sandwich for lunch today that was super easy, quick, and deeeelish reheated in the communal office microwave. Coworker envy may have ensued. Just maybe.

Step 1. Cut up yellow squash, zucchini, red onion, and roasted red peppers.

Step 2. Saute veggies in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (I'm embarrassed my skillet looks absolutely filthy in this picture. I promise it's clean...I just haven't taken the scrubber to it in a good, long while).

Step 3. Add in some Balsamic Vinegar and coat the veggies.

Step 4. Admire panini bread.

Step 5. Slice open panini bread, avoiding any bodily injury.

Step 6. Generously spread goat cheese on one side of the panini bread.

Step 7. Top goat cheese with some balsamic-sauteed veggies.

Step 8. Heat up grill pan, (mine is cast-iron and weighs about 20 lbs), and place panini on grill.

Step 9. Take a heavy pan, (here I use my cast iron skillet), and place on top of panini to press.

Step 10. No, it's not a grilled piece of chicken. It's a scrumptious panini! Wrap in tinfoil, stuff in bag, put in fridge at work, and heat up later in the day for a tasty, tasty homemade lunch.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fast. Good. Cheap.

My Father has a framed print displayed on the wall of his office that reads:

Pick Two.

The idea is, if you choose two words - let's take for example, "Fast" and "Good" - that leftover third word describes what those first two words put together will not be. Something that is "Fast" and "Good" probably won't be Cheap. Something "Cheap" and "Fast" probably won't be Good. More often than not, especially concerning food, travel, transportation, and shipping costs, this always seems to be the case.

Which is why when the stars align and you come across something Fast, Good, and Cheap, well - that's mighty worthy of a late-night blog post.

Introducing The Bolt Bus. I recently climbed aboard this past weekend on the route between NYC and D.C. We left Manhattan on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. sharp, and arrived in Washington D.C. promptly at 10:00 p.m. There was no traffic on the return trip Sunday evening and I was magically door-to-door in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Elation! That may seem like a long time on the road, but the Bolt Bus has a power outlet available in each seat, functioning (and surprisingly decent) free onboard wireless, and of course - a bathroom. All that combined with a nap (and not driving), makes the time fly by. The bus was also very clean, the seats comfortable, (except next time I may tote along a neck pillow), and the service prompt and orderly. The drivers, most importantly, drove safely and were courteous and helpful to passengers.

The farther in advance you purchase your tickets, the cheaper they are. The website is clear and concise, and I had no issues with billing or obtaining my boarding pass. While I haven't yet encountered the seemingly elusive "$1.00 fare" they advertise, $38.00 round-trip still can't be beat. Less than a tank of gas one-way.

The Bolt Bolt travels between major cities on the East Coast. Be sure to check it out if you're looking for an easy, affordable, safe, and reliable means of transportation.

One satisfied, soon-to-be-returning traveler, signing off.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Please Proceed to Register

In Manhattan, you learn to reluctantly accept the fact that there will probably be a gargantuan line wherever and whenever you walk into a popular store to buy something specific. This coincidentally occurs precisely when you finally have the free time to go out and make said purchase. Which is when - surprise! - everyone else in the city has their free time too.

Every so often though, as you stand there in line waiting impatiently, you begin to absorb and understand the "fellow shoppers' bond." You see, there's no hurried New Yorker that particularly enjoys biding their time in line. BUT if the price is right, well, then everyone knows that everyone else realizes those extra ten minutes of wait-time are deemed a worthy and economical sacrifice.

Let's take a case in point: Trader Joe's Wine Shop in Union Square...(Friday night, post-work nonetheless).

This photo, via iPhone stealth-mode, depicts my exact position in the Wine Shop check-out line at time: 11 minutes, 42 seconds. Within sight of the registers people! This is a big deal considering my journey in the queue started only steps away from the main entrance. I kid you not: Trader Joe's employees were also stationed outside on the street regulating another line down the sidewalk. This one was just to set foot inside. Several minutes later, after touring the wine regions of Italy, France, Spain, and Napa, I had also taken a roundtrip scenic tour of the store's inner circumference and read through all labels on the Charles Shaw/Two Buck Chuck varietals.

Is this really worth the wait, you ask?

In a city where an 8.9 oz. box of Cheerios will cost you no less than $5.00, cheap GOOD wine is hard to come by. And since I thought blood-orange mimosas this weekend would be fantastic, I sprung at the chance while I was in the area to purchase two bottles of decent bubbly for $20.00.

I'll raise my glass to that. And, well, stand in line too.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Home on the Free-Range

After a relaxing Thanksgiving hiatus that turned into a lovely tour of the Northeast, (namely Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), it's back to NYC and my cozy little apartment. I say cozy because my room only measures a mere 10' x 12' and the building's thermostat is currently set on "inferno."

Some R & R over the past few days was certainly a refresher for the mind, body (well, maybe too much pie on that front), and soul. Now, I'm all geared up to tackle the remainder of 2009 with fervor and embrace this joyous holiday season with open arms.

Which leads me into the completely unrelated topic of free-range chickens.

My Mother is a born-and-raised Vermonter. (Thanks to her; a love for Grade A, Dark Amber Maple Syrup). This Thanksgiving, per the norm tradition on major holidays, we traveled up North to visit family. As we pulled into the road that leads up to my Grandparents' house, we were thrilled to be greeted by the neighbor's newly acquired free-range/cage-free flock of 35 chickens and 2 roosters.

I've seen many a chicken, and well, tasted them too. But never before in my life have I seen chickens so healthy and happy. They were going about their own chicken business as chickens are meant to do: scuttling about in the woods, scratching the ground for insects to eat, running across the grass, flapping their wings, and in the evening - diligently returning to their clean, well-built and roomy shed together to roost. (A chicken, like any bird, naturally likes to perch while it sleeps). Every single fowl had unhindered access to fresh food to eat, clean water to drink, rocks to climb on, and plenty of room to stretch their legs. No hormones. No antibiotics. Just plain happy Green Mountain chickens.

We harvested twenty-four of their freshly-laid eggs and whipped up some omelets two days later for breakfast after refrigerating them overnight. They tasted absolutely delicious. Hearty, bright yellow yolks, and perfectly natural and nutritious the way nature intended.

Even if quality eggs and meat backwardly cost me slightly more in this industrialized food society of ours, and I ultimately end up eating less of them in my diet, I have vowed to try my very best never to eat a NON free-range/cage-free chicken or egg ever again. Because if the living conditions of the animal whose product I buy are anything but what I had the pleasure of experiencing, it's not worth the creature's suffering or inhumane treatment. A chicken with a life well-lived, with clean air to breathe and grassy patches to roam, is simply the more responsible and ethical choice on my plate.