Thursday, August 30, 2007

SweetLeaf SteviaPlus - a source of sweetness and fiber

Last year, I went to Bonnaroo right here in middle Tennessee and in between shows I wanted to see, I visited some of the vendors over in Centeroo. One of my favorite products, SweetLeaf Stevia--an all-natural, calorie-free sweetener--had a booth set up. My friend (who actually recommended stevia to me when I was looking for a way to sufficiently and efficiently sweeten homemade popsicles) and I stopped by to see what they had to offer.

I told the folks working the booth about how the liquid is perfect for getting my popsicles super sweet without adding bulk or calories and how happy I was with their product. So they cheerfully handed me a free bottle and signed me up to receive some free goodies in the mail. What a nice bonus!

I was cleaning up my desk yesterday and stumbled upon the package they sent me (last October...yeah). Among the goodies in the package were packets of SteviaPlus. When I looked at SteviaPlus previously, I just assumed it was some crystallized version of the liquid (not unlike the Splenda I once bought for baking). But upon further investigation, I realized that the "plus" is the medium--inulin fiber. They use the stevia to sweeten this natural source of fiber to make it into a dry form. So if you use the SteviaPlus (in packets or a shaker), not only are you avoiding the nasty chemicals found in artificial sweeteners, you're getting a gram of fiber with each serving.

Given my diet, I actually get plenty of fiber, but those who don't eat rabbit food and whole grain bread on a daily basis should be happy to hear that you can supplement your fiber intake with your sweetener and without adding calories. To buy, check out their store locator (I've found it in the natural foods aisle at my local Kroger as well as Wild Oats) or buy online from Wisdom Natural Brands.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I haven't been posting about the food I've eaten since my return to Nashville because I've been adjusting to eating at home again. Which is difficult when I haven't been able to make it to the grocery. So I've been raiding the pantry.

I did go to McNeil's the other day to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables, though and I've enjoyed having good, ripe tomatoes around the house. I'm not exactly sure what commercial growers do to tomatoes to make the ones you buy at the grocery so utterly tasteless. Even the "vine-ripe" tomatoes are pretty bland. Though organic grape and cherry tomatoes are usually a little better.

So my diet has been pretty uneventful over the last couple of days--tomato and cheese sandwiches, pasta with sauteed diced tomatoes and a couple of my black bean, cheese and (you guessed it) tomato burritoes. Maybe I'll make it to the store tomorrow.

But tonight, instead of scraping together whatever I could for dinner (I'm now out of beans and cheese but I do still have tomatoes), I met a friend for dinner at Golden Thai. I'm still bereft eleven months later from the closing of my favorite Thai place, Salathai, but Golden Thai has eased my pain somewhat. I say I really like Thai food, but in all honesty, 99% of the time, I order tofu massaman. Click the link if you're so inclined to make your own. Generally, there are certain things that I will not make; things that I can't make better or cheaper at home and tofu massaman falls into that category.

However, in trying to find a good link for this post, I discovered that what I've been eating in Thai restaurants for the last five years (when I first discovered Thai food back in Memphis) is probably not vegetarian. It may be that the massamans I've been consuming have either fish or chicken stock in them. I should have thought to ask, but as a vegetarian, I tend to get excited when there's a tofu option and assume it's vegetarian (bad idea). Then again, there are people out there who ask me if I eat fish when I say I'm a vegetarian. Last I checked, you could not stick a fish seed in the dirt and grow a new fish, so no, it's not vegetarian (though be sure to ask me for some cheese and egg seeds sometime--ha!).

Needless to say, tonight's tofu massaman isn't sitting real well in the stomach. I better pop a few Rolaids before bed. And check the ingredients on them first. Ah, the hazards of being an herbivore in a carnivore's world.

After all these years, it's time to find a new favorite Thai dish. And make my own massaman at home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Saturday in New York/Wilmington

Saturday morning in New York, we got up early and headed to Tom Colicchio's casual restaurant, craftbar, on Broadway in the Flatiron District (NoHo). The vegetarian selection was small, but thoughtful and I settled on the Brioche Pain Perdu with Vermont Maple Syrup (aka French Toast). Along with maple syrup was a dish of fresh lemon preserves which I happily spread on my toast with just a tiny bit of the syrup. It was delicious.

After brunch, we wandered our way over (way over) to the other side of Manhattan to browse the selection of chocolates at Jacques Torres on Hudson Street. I chose a custom box of chocolates from a large selection that included a key lime granache-filled white chocolate "Lovebug" and a passion fruit granache-filled dark chocolate heart. I also picked up a small bag of dark chocolate covered almonds dusted in cocoa powder for a special someone. It was hard to leave without buying out the store.

We were fairly tired from our trek across the island to the chocolate store, so we took a cab back to Washington Square Park, home of NY Dosas, another recommendation from my friend, Celine. I got lucky to be there on a Saturday when there was not a huge line. Yes, it's a food cart, but each dosa (a southern Indian crepe made of lentils and filled with various things such as potatoes, onions and peas, popularly known as a masala dosa) is prepared to order and takes about five minutes to cook. I ordered the Pondicherry Dosa, filled with the usual curried potatoes as well as some other vegetables (carrots, peppers and a few others). It came with a side of chutney and lentil soup. At just $5, it's a real bargain in comparison to many restaurants in the area, and just as tasty, though you'll have an audience of a cast of interesting characters and animals if you opt to stay in the park to eat.

Not long after lunch at the dosa cart, it was time to head back to Wilmington, Delaware for the evening, where my friend and her husband live. She's of Persian descent and knew that green rice was one of my favorite dishes, so she surprised me with a dinner that included Sabzi or Baghali Polo that evening. The recipe I linked to includes several other herbs, but as far as I know, she only uses fresh dill. A couple of other tweaks: use basmati rice for the base (I've used wild basmati instead of white and it's just as good and healthier), olive oil instead of vegetable oil, and in a pinch, lima beans can be substituted for fava beans. It's an excellent dish and very hearty, though she did prepare some chicken for the carnivores as well as a salad and roasted broccoli. I'd never had roasted broccoli before, but was convinced to try it when I told her that I eat broccoli, but don't like it and she assured me I would like it this way. Try this simple recipe if you have a hard time swallowing broccoli, too because it really does alter the flavor in a positive way. She roasted it long enough to have a few crunchy spots on it, which was a nice touch, texture-wise.

So now, it's back to Nashville and my regular food for a while. Though I did treat myself with a trip to McNeil's to get fresh tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, a seedless watermelon, and "Peaches and Cream" bi-color corn on the cob. It'll be a yummy week.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Friday in New York City

While in New York, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Chelsea. It's right next door to Empire City Bagel, which supplies the hotel with the bagels on their breakfast bar. They don't skimp on breakfast selections, which includes scrambled eggs, biscuits, a variety of cereals, juices, pastries (including muffins) and fruit. I was happy to see I could still get my daily banana in. The bagel I chose was a huge cinnamon raisin bagel with a crisp outside that opened up to a soft and chewy inside. Very good.

Our agenda for the day was primarily focused on Central Park. We decided to take the subway up Lexington to the east side and roam around. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of restaurants on the Upper East Side and had we known that there were lots of restaurants to choose from on the other side of the park, we would have hoofed over to the west side. Instead, we took the train down to Grand Central Terminal where there was a huge food court called the "Dining Concourse." I got a little overwhelmed (the area is very busy at lunchtime) and settled on the first place that looked good. Turns out it was Zaro's, a local chain that served really healthy, tasty and inexpensive food. I got a roasted vegetable panini, potato knish and a sparkling lemonade for under $10.

After lunch, we headed back to the park and explored a while until we decided it was time to grab a frozen treat. My friend had read about Grom gelato in a magazine recently. The New York store is the only one outside Italy and all the ingredients are mixed before they arrive in the states (according to the guys working in the store). It was certainly delicious. I had a cup with two flavors: the Crema di Grom and Gianduja. Heavenly. Sorry--no pictures; too hungry and hot at the time.

After getting our gelato, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. We had dinner reservations for 11pm, so I proposed to my friends that I'd go and get us a pizza. There was just no way I was going to leave the city without having had good pizza. A friend recommended John's of Bleecker Street Pizzeria (can't find their website now, though I saw it last week). They don't deliver, so I rode the subway to pick it up--yes, that's how much I wanted this pizza. And though there's some argument over the best pizza in the city, I'll say that I passed a dozen or so pizza places on the way there and only John's had a line of people outside waiting for a seat. I grabbed my large cheese pizza (only $15) and headed back to the subway. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the uptown subway at Bleecker and 7th, so I went all the way up to 14th. That's quite a walk with a hot pizza, but at least it didn't get cold. By the time I finally made it back to the hotel, it was really only warm-ish, but still the best pizza I've ever had in my life. It was worth the trip. And my friends were quite happy to see it. Which is why there aren't any pictures of the actual pizza--it didn't last long. It was beautiful, though--a thin crust with lightly charred edges and just the right amount of cheese.

After I got my fill of New York pizza, I had to shower (I worked up a real sweat on my pizza excursion) and get ready for our late dinner at Tao. When we arrived, there was a crowd of people outside waiting to get a table, but it was nothing like the line across the street to get into what was once Au Bar and Club 58 and is apparently now The Grand. After waiting about 30 minutes (with martini in hand), we were seated upstairs where the thumping bass of the music was still loud enough to prevent real conversation. There was also a roaming sax player who didn't care for the fact that I was talking on my phone while waiting to place my order. He took the opportunity to get in some playful harrassment as did I, but it was all in good fun. After that, it was time to order. Since I'd already had pizza, I wasn't too hungry, but I couldn't resist getting two small plates: the Bamboo Steamed Vegetable Dumplings with Crunchy Cucumbers and Buddha's Harmonized Vegetable Feast for the Minor Gods. Our very intuitive server picked up on the fact that I'm vegetarian and advised that he'd have the chef substitute the chicken broth in the Feast and add tofu. I was certainly grateful as it had not occurred to me that it wouldn't be vegetarian. Both dishes were sublimely excellent. There's no good dim sum for a vegetarian in Nashville (that I'm aware of), so the dumplings really gave me my fix. And the portion was generous so I could share with my friends. And the vegetable feast was also amazingly tasty. I wish I could prepare a meal like this at home. And sadly, there was simply no room left in my for dessert but if there had been I would have ordered the Fuji Apple Springroll with Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream or perhaps the Giant Fortune Cookie filled with White and Dark Chocolate Mousse.

If you're ever in New York, I recommend both John's and Tao, but definitely do takeout for the pizza and call far in advance for reservations at Tao.

You know, I hear there are other things to do in New York besides eat...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thursday in New York City

During my short trip to New York City, I kept a notepad in my bag to record all the great things I ate. My friends were quite amused. I filled up several pages so I'm going to record my gastronomical journey around Manhattan.

My friends and I arrived in NYC shortly before lunchtime, so we dropped our bags at the hotel (in Chelsea) and hit the streets heading toward Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. I figured it would have a ton of restaurants to choose from, so there was no real plan. Unfortunately, what I didn't know was that all the great restaurants were a street over but we were starving when we finally happened upon Manatus. I had a light arugala salad with walnuts and snow peas that was good, but a tad pricey. My friends weren't terribly impressed with their food (meaty stuff--I didn't pay attention to it), so it wasn't the best way to start off our trip. But the patio was nice despite having been yelled at by a passer-by who apparently does not approve of "ladies who lunch." I decided not to argue with him and his assertion that I'm "lazy" and "don't know how to cook."

I didn't fill up at lunch, because I knew that just down the way, there was a cupcake waiting for me at the Magnolia Bakery. It's listed as a must in lots of guidebooks and was apparently made famous due to an episode of "Sex and the City," though I don't recall that episode. I queued up in line and waited my turn to go in and choose my cupcake. I got a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting plus a chocolate drop cookie and toffee cookie. Here's the scoop: the cupcake was dry. The frosting was good but sweet. Almost too sweet. Cupcakes aren't rocket science, so I was surprised by the dryness. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and the cookies were divine. My friends also got cupcakes as well as a huge slice of coconut cake that was quite good. Funny thing, earlier that day, we were looking at a map when an older lady approached us and offered help (one of many nice people I met in the city) and when we told her where we were going, she said, "Oh, no you shouldn't go there. My 12-year-old granddaughter makes better cupcakes than that place. You should go to the Buttercup instead." We didn't heed her advice that day, but we just happened by the Upper West Side location on Friday and, indeed, it was a great place. It had a much better selection (see photo) and I had a bite of my friend's red velvet cupcake (I was holding out for our next stop) and it was excellent. And it's very difficult to make a red velvet batter that's not dry. Read about the cupcake wars in New York here. It's interesting.

The sugar buzz propelled me through an afternoon of wandering around the Village and SoHo, but I was certainly ready for dinner that evening. I'd gotten several recommendations and also consulted CitySearch and settled on a Venezuelan restaurant called El Cocotero. It took a little convincing to get my friends to try it, but I think they could tell it was important to me and they knew they wouldn't be forced to eat vegetarian food. El Cocotero is quite small and it took some work to squeeze into our table, but it was actually okay being that close to other people while eating. The pitcher of sangria might've helped. If you look at their menu, you'll see it's large and not your everyday tapas fare. It was a hard decision to choose a few dishes, but I went with the
1) chiquinquira arepa (guayanesa cheese, avocadoes, and tomatoes stuffed in thin white corn pocket (similar to a pita, but so much better having been made of ground white corn)
2) tequegnos (a cheese stick wrapped in some kind of bread and deep fried)
3) cachapa con queso (a stack of cripsy small corn pancakes with cheese--everyone's favorite dish of the evening)
4) Tajadas (sweet plantains)

I can still conjure up the taste of the cachapa in my mind. It was so good. A similar, yet vastly inferior version was a popular treat at Bonnaroo this past year, I believe.

Sadly, the plantains had to serve as dessert because I was far too stuffed to have the tres leches. Next time. Next time...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The day's not over yet, but I pretty much already know the plan for the rest of the day since I'm getting on an airplane in a couple of hours.

Here's the list:
Sandwich with a side of Kashi TLC crackers

A few words about Gardenburgers. They're my favorite. I've tried Boca Burgers and some of the other brands, but I prefer original style Gardenburgers over them all because they don't try to be hamburgers. The fake burgers that try to be too hamburger-like creep me out. There's a restaurant in Memphis that serves a burger that every time I order, I have to have a lengthy discussion with the server to ensure that it's not a real hamburger. The consistency is that similar. Heck, if I'd wanted a burger, I wouldn't have become a vegetarian!

Anyway, as you know, I'm picky, so it's always the same style of Gardenburger and my bun of preference is Rudi's Organic Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns. Unfortunately, Wild Oats is frequently out of them, so I have to settle for other whole wheat buns. I can't remember what I've got in the kitchen right now.

I thaw the Gardenburger for about 55 seconds in the microwave and then sautee it on the stove in a little olive oil. Occasionally, I'll sprinkle some cheese on it and then I load it up with baby romaine lettuce and a slice of fresh tomato. Yum.

Though it's starting to look like from this week's posts that I eat very little, I assure you that is not the case. Starting tomorrow, my adventure begins in New York City, where I'm less interested in touristy sites than I am in all the great food. I've gotten a ton of tips on everything from cupcakes places and the best food carts to vegetarian dim sum in Chinatown. So I won't be blogging again until Sunday, but expect a full report of all the culinary goodness I sample in New York.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


As I thought might happen, this little diary experiment made me take pause this afternoon when I got irritated and turned to the kitchen for relief. I'd love to say it was self-control that kicked in to keep me on track, but it was my lack of Rasinets (I swear I thought I had a stash) and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from the international market (I knew PMS was coming; why didn't I save them?).

So here's today's list:
One Whole Grain Fig Newtons Bar (I got the box at Big Lots!, so I'm wondering if they've been discontinued)
Veggie Fajita Burrito

My sandwich at lunch is my very standard sandwich. If you know me, you know I'm picky, so of course I have it a certain way with certain components:
•The bread is always Arnold's 100% Whole Wheat Bread, lightly toasted (remember: always eat whole grains for protein and to avoid empty calories)
•The cheese I use is always (again) Sargento Baby Swiss Slices (aged cheeses tend to give me a headache)
•A small handful of my baby romaine lettuce
•A slice or two of fresh tomato (which I have to buy at McNeil's since the squirrels eat all the tomatoes I grow)

And that's it. No mayo (pointless on a sandwich with a fresh tomato) or mustard (which I rarely use and never on sandwiches). When it's a fresh, homegrown tomato, I don't want anything screwing up its taste.

Side note: you ever notice how sandwiches always taste better when someone else makes them?

For dinner, I sliced up the rest of the fresh squash, zucchini, Vidalia onion, and some fresh tomato and sauteed them in some fajita seasoning and added them to some cheese (since I was low on ingredients) and had a veggie fajita burrito.

Another side note: I live alone and work at home all day alone, so I get a little stir crazy sometimes (okay, a lot). An example is that just about every time I fix myself a burrito, I sing to myself, "Burrrrrrrrito. Suave. Burrrrrrrito. Suave."

The water still sucks here in Nashville, so I decided to rummage around in the fridge for some beverages. I'd forgotten I had a stash of well water and Memphis water, so that was a nice surprise.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I had a fairly busy day, so I didn't do a lot of boredom snacking. I started off with the banana and had about a cup of blueberries for my mid-morning snack. For lunch, it was my favorite at-home salad.

A few words about salad. For years, I thought I hated salad. I don't hate salad. I hate salad dressing. Oh, and I'm not a huge fan of iceberg lettuce. So once I was out on my own and had enough money to buy premium lettuce, I discovered that salad can taste good. Here are the components of my salad:
Earthbound Farms Organic Baby Romaine (or Baby Lettuces)
• A drizzle of O Olive Oil infused with blood orange
• some fresh ground pepper
• a sprinkle of Sargento 4 Cheese Mexican Blend shredded cheese (which doubles as my cheese of choice in burritoes)
• a handful of organic grape or cherry tomatoes

I eat the salad with a slice of Provence Organic Grains bread. For those of you wondering, the cheese and the whole grain bread provide plenty of protein for the meal. And buying good whole grain bread can be tricky (not all of them taste good), so that's why I stick with Provence (a local bakery here in Nashville). It's important to eat whole grain breads because white bread is just a waste of space and calories as far as anything in your body is concerned (past your tongue, that is).

I generally crave something sweet not long after eating this salad, so I ate a fresh peach that had been ripening for a few days in a brown paper sack.

For dinner, I needed to finish off a few Roma tomatoes, so I decided to make a pasta sauce. I must admit I apparently inherited at least some of my cooking ability from my great-grandmother because I rarely use a recipe. But here's a description: I slice and chop the tomatoes, add them to a hot skillet of olive oil (regular, not extra virgin), add in some crushed garlic, dried rosemary, dried oregano, freshly ground pepper and sea salt and then cook on about medium heat. Sometimes, I just barely warm the tomatoes (when I want a chunky, fresh sauce) and other times, I let it stew for a while so it's a little pasty. Tonight, I went for pasty and spread it over some whole wheat (never white!) rotini pasta. As with bread, whole grain pasta is a lot healthier and heartier than refined white pasta. I'd already hungry again if I'd used standard pasta.

The water today here in Nashville tasted like my mom's pool (lightly chlorinated) instead of a pond. It's a slight improvement and definitely a reminder to change out the water filter on the kitchen faucet.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


As always, I started my day with a banana. My power went out right about the time I was going to fix lunch, so instead of lunch, I had four Kashi oatmeal dark chocolate cookies. Not the healthiest but not the unhealthiest lunch ever. All my bread was in the refrigerator, though and required toasting to be edible. Though in retrospect, I could have placed it on some aluminum foil outside despite it not reaching over 100 degrees here today for the first time in recent memory.

Later, I had a Kashi chocolate chip cherry snack bar. Yes, I eat a lot of Kashi brand products. Target's the best place to get them (much cheaper than at the grocery).

And fortunately, the power was back on in time for dinner. I made some vegetable fajitas (chopped fresh squash, zucchini, mushrooms, Vidalia onions, and tomatoes). I use the McCormick brand fajita seasoning. The link is for a larger container than I've seen at the grocery; I've always bought the packets and only use a partial packet for small meals, so I'll look for this next time--it's my favorite. All I do is mix up a little of the fajita seasoning with some corn oil and water and fry in a skillet for a few minutes and serve in some fresh flour tortillas. I'd use corn tortillas if they made burrito size, because I like the taste better. Note: vegetarians should always check labels on tortillas to make sure they're not made with lard. And for everyone, don't wuss out and buy low-fat tortillas--yuck. Buy Lupita or Ole or Mission if you're in a pinch. I don't recommend the Azteca brand at all.

The tap water here in Nashville continues to smell (and taste) like algae, so I didn't drink enough today. Perhaps I should have splurged on some bottled water.