breakfast of champions

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

For two pretty adventurous eaters, DP and I are extremely restrained when it comes to breakfast. We seem to latch on to something and consume it every single day for years-on-end. Seriously--years. There might be an occasional diversion--say, when we go out for breakfast or cook these puppies once in a blue moon, but 19 out of 20 days we are creatures of habit.

It started about twelve years ago when we went to a big, family party celebrating my Grandparents' 60th Anniversary. It took place at a Midwestern chicken joint where so much fried food had been slung for so many years that walking through the front door resulted in a rancid-oil slap in the face.

The meal we were served included:

Fried chicken
Fried sweet doughy corn fritters
Fried shrimp
Fried cole slaw
Fried three-bean salad

Okay. I'm exaggerating about the last two. But if it wasn't fried, it was steeped in mayonnaise. We didn't want to be rude and were also famished that day so had no choice but to dig in. It was a dirty meal. Such a dirty meal that we both woke up in the middle of the night doubled over with a greasy stomach ache. We weren't horribly unhealthy people before this, just people who ate a little bit of everything but I think that particular meal was the mayonnaise-y straw that broke the deep-fried camel's back. We turned over a new healthy leaf that next morning and never looked back.

My brother Josh was just beginning a super health kick and stressed the importance of a clean breakfast. He suggested we eat oatmeal and egg whites so that's what we did for about 3 years straight until we couldn't stomach eggs anymore. What followed was an extremely long stint involving daily bowlfuls of this muesli-esqe concoction (we named it "The Bowl"). The recipe was given to us by a trainer and it necessitated exact measurements of raw oats, yogurt, grape nuts, soy milk and protein powder. We ate that for so many years in a row (5?) that the thought of it now makes me gag.

We then moved on to the drink phase.

We started the morning with powdered greens mixed into water. Then I read about the benefits of hot water with lemon so we added that. And there was of course coffee. Followed by some kind of smoothie.

There were so many drinks that for years our dishwasher was permanently full of dirty glasses, mugs and stirring spoons. I even wrote a song about it. It's called "Drinks" (natch), and here are its lyrics:

Drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks?
Drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks.

I know it looks very simplistic but you should hear the melody. It's quite intricate. Not to mention catchy. Just ask David.

Weary of washing a million glasses a day and being constantly full of sloshing liquids, most of the drinks fell by the wayside but the tried-and-true protein shake remains. At least I imagine it will for the next several years or until I can't stand looking at its face.

Berry Almond Flax Protein Shake
serves 1

1 scoop (about 3T) vanilla protein powder (I like Jarrow's Brown Rice Protein--it's gluten-free, sugar-free and soy-free)
2T flax meal (ground flax seeds)
1 cup frozen mixed berries
6oz. unsweetened vanilla almond milk
6oz. water
agave or stevia to taste (I like this stevia a lot--no bitterness)
1T almond butter (or better yet, Josh's Nut Butter)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and serve immediately. Repeat daily for at least half a decade.


spin city/double-chocolate banana muffins

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I tried suffered through a new spinning class the other day. After my pupils dilated enough for me to find a bike and feel my way onto it in the pitch black windowless room, the following took place:

The screaming, over-eager instructor's mouth was so close to his Janet-Jackson microphone that most of his words became unintelligible:

"OK!!!  Shlarf shlarf shlarf RESISTANCE!!! Schlarfity blarf blarf LEVEL FOUR!!!"

Turn up resistance or down? And level four out of what? 10? 5? I impulsively looked around to see what other people were doing. This proved futile as I couldn't even see my own hand in front of my face.

"CAN YOU ALL shlarf shlarf NOISE?!?!"

A half-hearted woot followed. It startled me. I had no idea there were so many of us in there.

"I CAN'T shlarf YOU!!"

Oy. Really? I rolled my eyes and managed a louder "Woot!"

As if sweating in a dark room with a bunch of strangers wasn't bad enough, I was also required to do the call-and-response song-and-dance and force an enthusiasm spasm all while straining to understand what I was getting excited about in the first place. I got a stiff neck from craning and leaning one ear toward the teacher to try and make out an hour's worth of distorted shlarfing.

Does straining to hear burn calories? How about squinting?

This experience reminded me of all the nut-ball spinning classes I've taken in my lifetime. When spinning is good, there's nothing better. And when it's bad? It's AWFUL. One class I attended years ago featured a live percussionist which could've maybe been artsy and cool but instead turned out to be uncomfortably interactive: The guy bongo-ed for a while from the front of the room (have you ever tried spinning to a lone bongo beat? It's a new form of punishment) but then he switched to a Zamfir-esque pan-flute and started mingling amongst the bikes. Fluting. He stopped in front of my handlebars to jam on his reed and I found myself struggling to react appropriately--was spinning more rigorously a compliment or an insult? Should I slow down to listen and give him my full attention? This was very confusing. Thank God he didn't linger and moved it along Pied-Piper-style.

Another class I frequented for a while was taught by a perky, free-spirited lady that played loads of Justin Timberlake. She jumped the shark though, when one day, mid-class, she got off her bike and started putting stickers on people's hands. I suspected this was meant to be fun and motivating. When she finished making her sticker rounds she doubled back to start drawing on people's arms with colored markers--hearts and stars and clovers for luck (good luck washing this off?). I saw a chink in her perky exterior when I stopped her with, "I'm gonna pass!"--I was shooting something at the time and I imagined trying to explain to the makeup department why I had marker drawings on my skin from a workout class.

The worst offender, though, may have been at a studio I attended a few times that featured a different positive affirmation-word each week on a big sign in the front of the room.  GRATITUDE for example, or PEACE. This time the sign said FACING REALITY and the teacher proceeded to talk for the entire hour from her soap box/pulpit/therapy couch/bike about her miserable dating life and all the reasons how she needed to face reality. And how we, her captive audience, did too. It was hateful. Then to add insult to injury she made us sprint to the song "Fat Bottomed Girls". It couldn't get more dismal.

Since I imagine ear-strain, squinting, and trying to disappear yourself into thin air create serious calorie-burn, let's compensate by eating some baked goods, shall we? It's either that or rocking in a fetal position. How many calories does that burn?

Double-Chocolate Banana Muffins
adapted from
yields 12

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
a heaping 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Scharffen Berger)
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 super ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 1/2 cups--I like to leave it slightly chunky)
1 egg
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted to liquid
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I like ghirardelli--feel free to use milk chocolate or semi-sweet if you prefer.)

Preheat oven to 350 and either grease muffin tins or line with paper. Mix the first 5 ingredients together well and set aside. Beat the egg and add the mashed banana, coconut oil and salt. Mix well. Combine wet and dry mixtures and stir until just combined. Using a small ice-cream scoop, fill tins 3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then remove to cool on a rack the rest of the way.


P.S. I almost forgot about this awesome spinning class!

kitchen mishaps

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Well. I had big blog plans for this weekend. One of which was a key lime pie that photographed horribly. I spent so much time crafting cool pictures along the way and in the end it looked like a pie topped with blobs of spinach dip. I guess I could have called it "Spinach Dip Pie" and devised some new innovative hors d'oeuvre but the lime slices would've given me away. At least it was super tasty and devoured in full at a dinner party last night. (Note to self: FINISH READING BOOK ON FOOD STYLING.)

Secondly, I made some paleo-friendly coconut-flour pancakes that looked like they might be pretty good for carb-free. The recipe came from a blog entitled PALEO PANCAKES. Not just the name of the post--the name of the entire blog is called that so I figured they must be pretty good. They'd be fanfreakingtastic if you'd been consuming only vegetables and protein for months on end. These were pancakes for desperate people. We ate them in the kitchen standing at the stove and took turns rubbing our hands along each other's throats the way you'd help an animal swallow a pill. Despite their sawdust-y mouthfeel they weren't horrible; we did manage to easily finish them all as they made a very good maple-syrup delivery system. The best thing was they made the house smell good. Like a Sunday. 

So since I got nothin' else, I will ply you with a cute picture of Lena Girl.


P.S. If you are one of the pancake desperate (Hi, Norm!!), here's the recipe.

behind the scenes

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Working this week on THE EXES. 

I <3 soundstages.


(gluten-free) flourless chocolate cake

Friday, May 11, 2012

Occasionally my keen multi-tasking ability bites me in the ass. Yesterday I had so many plates spinning (and one too many diet cokes*) that I had major false confidence. I thought, cavalierly, that I could bake this entire cake from scratch (and take its picture) before needing to leave for a meeting in 45 minutes. Silly me.  

*for me, one too many diet cokes = 1 diet coke

My life tends to have several simultaneously-moving parts. A small sampling of yesterday's variety:
  • Fielding phone calls about interest rates for a possible refinance while cleaning up dog puke.
  • Learning lines for a Febreze commercial callback while plucking my eyebrows.
  • Trying to carry a spider-covered 250lb. tank of propane down three flights of stairs while dodging a chatty mailman.
  • Googling how to get dog puke out of a sisal rug while shopping for and cooking an entire dinner party.
(And I don't even have kids. How the eff do you people do it??)

As if those things weren't enough, I had this awesome thought: why not also bake a cake right now? You'll have 30 minutes while it bakes to get even more shit done! It's like found time! 

What I was forgetting: while this cake has very few ingredients and is fairly easy to make, it involves several moving parts of its own. I had the mixer going and the chocolate melting and the camera snapping and it all seemed to be going swimmingly until all hell broke loose. I filled the springform pan with batter and as I lifted it to stick it in the oven, the removable sides came with me while the bottom suctioned to the counter. A complete chocolate cake batter blowout ensued. Before I could intervene, it oozed like lava into every nearby nook and cranny and made its way to the floor. All the while I'm looking at the clock knowing there's no possible way I'm gonna get this cake baked in time.

I notice, too, that in stressful situations I talk to myself out loud. Like, a lot. At one point while this was all going down I actually said, "YOU'VE GOT TO GET THIS MOTHERF@#&ING CAKE IN THE MOTHERF@#&ING OVEN!!!!" like I was Samuel L. Jackson shouting about loose snakes. With chocolatey fingers I texted my meeting-mate (CAKE 911!!! SO SRRY!!! WILL B LATE!!!), and then managed, miraculously, to coerce most of the spillage into a backup pan. I opened the door to place it in the hot oven and found a baking sheet harboring two sad, blackened and smoking turkey cutlets from the previous night's dinner. Oh yeah. Crap. Forgot about those. I did a little manic pan-juggling jig, and aside from a small shoulder burn and a a kitchen that looked like a rotten hell hole, crisis averted! Cake was in the oven. (BTW, who burns themselves on the shoulder with a hot pan?  Me, that's who.)

When it was finally baking I cleaned up the mayhem (with all my "found" time) and then, with one eye on the clock, sat there like a little kid peering into the oven window willing willing willing the cake to bake faster faster faster. Finally, I could wait no longer and it was only halfway done so I did something unprecedented: leaving the cake in there, I shut off the oven, said a little prayer and left for my meeting. 

Two hours later I gingerly opened the oven to find...the perfect cake! It was a cake miracle! Which now makes this cake my new favorite cake of all cakes. 

Moral of this story: quit multitasking like an idiot and/or don't buy cheap springform pans and/or don't be afraid to say a prayer for a cake. It might just work!

(Gluten-free) Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from Tyler Florence's Cracked Chocolate Earth
serves 8-10

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I used Valrhona 71%), cut into small pieces
9 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
scant 1/2 t fleur de sel
1t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9" springform pan with either butter or cooking spray.  Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double-bolier (or like me: in a glass bowl set over 1-2" of simmering water in a saucepan--just don't let the bowl touch the water). Stir occasionally and when completely melted, set aside off the heat. Meanwhile, in a very large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well mixed. Add a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of the warm chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs--so they don't scramble from the heat of the chocolate all at once. Add the remaining chocolate, fleur de sel and vanilla. Mix well set aside. Beat the egg whites in an electric mixer (with the whisk attachment) until stiff peaks form, about 5-7 minutes. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture (this is where the largeness of the bowl matters).  It's gonna look crazy and like it will never mix but trust me, just keep folding and folding and the egg whites will become incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30-35 minutes until the top is slightly cracked and/or a toothpick/skewer inserted comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. When cool, release the sides of the pan and dust with powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature with coffee, ice cream, whipped cream or red wine. Or all of the above.


P.S. I was only 20 minutes late! Bonus: I found a bunch of tasty chocolate freckles on the drive.

roasted garlic and sour cream smashed potatoes

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I had an audition yesterday and the waiting "room" was outside in a corridor between two buildings, effectively activating a wind tunnel strong enough to rival JPL's.

I sat there with a handful of women, all of us attempting to secure whirling skirts and hair. In order to minimize lipgloss-hair stickage, I turned my head 55 degrees into the draft and apparently that was perceived as an open invitation for the girl next to me to start up some chit chat:

"Did your agent tell you to show your boobs for this audition today?" I turned my head the remaining 35 degrees. It was no joke. Her shirt was working overtime trying to keep up.


"Huh. Really? That's so weird. I think my agent likes me to show my boobs because she makes a point to tell me before every audition." I pursed my lips and nodded. She just stared at me.

"Well, you do have nice boobs," I heard myself say, goddamn people pleaser that I am.

"Nursing," She explained, as she pointed back and forth between her engorged mounds. "She's a weirdo anyway, my agent. I invited her to my baby shower? Well, actually it was a Goddess Circle--it was really beautiful--anyway, you pass this rock around and then whoever holds it says a prayer or a blessing and when my agent got the rock, she just did this..." she drooped her eyes to half-mast and demonstrated a slow, lascivious nod. "...and she said, 'I love that you're having a boy. Mothers and sons??...That's gooood'. People around the Goddess Circle were getting uncomfortable."

So were people in the wind tunnel. "What's up, Oedipus?!" I joked. She looked at me like I just spoke Chinese.

"Ladies, I'm gonna have to bow out of this conversation," piped in another girl who never once joined the conversation. Hold on--bowing out was an option? "Oh, yeah, I better concentrate too," I said, using the back of my hand to smear off any leftover lipgloss so I could face forward. And then I pretended to look at my scenes while trying to remember verbatim everything that just happened.

I ask you: who doesn't need comfort food after an interaction like that?  Or even after reading about an interaction like that?!

I made these potatoes last week to go underneath these short ribs. But here's another idea: they'd be perfect for your next Goddess Circle potluck!

Roasted Garlic and Sour Cream Smashed Potatoes
serves 4 generously
adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

Mashed potatoes always seemed so fancy when I was a kid. They only made an appearance at Holidays and I thought my Grandma was the only person who was allowed to make them. She would whip them into submission with butterbutterbutter and then let us lick the beaters after. For a non-Holiday weeknight dinner I like leaving the skins on--more chunky and rustic, like a super-smashed baked potato with lots of sour cream and butter. But feel free to peel them if it strikes your fancy. Also--I love the trick of cooking the potatoes in very salty water. It imparts great flavor while cooking--and you hardly need much salt at the end.

2 pounds yukon gold potatoes
1T kosher salt
1 head garlic
drizzle olive oil
4T (half a stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream (light is fine)
3T finely chopped Italian parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Halve the garlic through its equator, leaving on all the papery skin. Drizzle a little olive oil on the cut sides, put it back together, wrap in foil and bake for 50 minutes. When cool enough to touch, squeeze each half over a plate and all the cloves (now roasted garlic paste deliciousness) will squirt out easily. Set aside.

Peel (or not) and cut the potatoes into 1-2" cubes. Place in a pot and fill with just enough cold water to cover. Add 1T kosher salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are tender, about 15-16 minutes. Drain well in a colander and return to the hot pot. Add the butter, sour cream, and garlic paste and mash with a hand-held potato masher. Stir in parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste.

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