Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sweet things...

whole fresh tart cherriesSummer time, the time I try to go on regular fresh fruit runs (and pick up canned tropical fruit, to supplement) to the grocery store or other market. The payoff--lots of delicious fruit, obtained at good prices, which helped me drop a few pounds. The last is accomplished by simply having lots of fruit at home all the time, so anytime I'm feeling hungry and it's not quite mealtime, I simply pop fruit into my mouth, which keeps me from getting into dietary trouble!

So, I stocked up at Giant with fresh fruit on sale--blueberries, strawberries, and, of course, cherries (I stocked up on peaches a couple of days earlier). Of course, sweet cherries were there in force, on sale for $1.88 a pound, so I got a bit over a pound. But wait, I also saw the beauties above, pints of tart cherries from upstate New York's Orbaker Fruit Farms (part of the Red Tomato network). Whoa! Now, these were not on sale (not at $3.99/pint), there weren't many of them, and I had never tasted fresh tart cherries, so resistance was futile. All fruits have health benefits, and tend to be high in antioxidants (blueberries and cherries in particular), and tart cherries have among the highest antioxidant levels. OK, so I figure I'll make a stovetop cherry slump or grunt in a couple of days for breakfast.

I'll still make that dish, but it might be a smaller one than I originally planned, 'cause it's hard to stop popping these little red orbs directly into my piehole. Frankly, these guys should be renamed as "sweet'n'sour" cherries or "sweettart" cherries, because while not as sweet as their sweeter cousins, they do have a reasonable amount of sweetness to go with the acidity, almost making them more interesting to eat. Addictive, almost. These tart cherries, so-called "pie" cherries because they keep their shape better than sweeter ones. Fair enough. But don't relegate them to pie only if you happen to run across the fresh version of the tart ones at a farmer's market or pick-your-own farm.

Now, the ones that I will cook do present another dilemma--how to pit. After all, I don't have a cherry pitter at home, as I don't cook enough of them to justify one. But, for a small amount like a pint, kitchen utensils already at home were handy enough. For the first step after stemming, cutting the cherries in half, the knife best suited is a small steak knife (or any small serrated knife), like this...
halved tart fresh cherries Notice how pale the tart cherries are inside, which means that there were no stained fingers even after cutting and pitting!

On to pitting. The easiest, quickest way for me (but not for everyone, obviously) was to take my right thumbnail to scoop out the pits. Using a small knife works OK, as I tried pitting with the serrated knife and a smaller knife, but really, a cherry pitter would work best for folks with short nails, because using a knife takes too long.

halved and pitted tart fresh cherriesFor people who want some of the benefits (and plump texture) of tart cherries when they're not in season, you can find canned tart cherries packed in water at the supermarket. So far, Giant rules again, as its brand is the most reasonably priced canned tart cherries I've seen in stores or online.
shelf of tart canned cherries at Giant Food

That's right--it's almost impossible find canned tart cherries for less than $2.50 a can, so this was a revelation, one which made its way straight into the shopping cart!

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Of course, when you think of sweet things, you can't help but also think of this classic from Rufus and Chaka Khan...

Friday, July 16, 2010

I feel the earth move...not!

No, I didn't feel last night's earthquake, although apparently folks in close by towns felt it. Then again, it was of 3.6 magnitude, strong enough for light sleepers to feel it, but not enough for folks that sleep like logs to notice. In other words, your perception and experience may vary, even from the people next door. I'm used to loud noises at night, grew up with them, in fact, living near railroad tracks in DC as a preteen, so I grew accustomed to night noise. That earthquake would have had to be stronger for me to notice, as jets from Andrews fly overhead at times, scaring the daylights out of me as they sound like they might crash into the house. Day or night, especially before the airshow in May.

Sleep researcher Stanley Coren wrote in Sleep Thieves that when he was a grad student at Stanford, he felt he generally didn't get a good night's sleep. One morning, he awoke to the clock radio, which reported that an earthquake took place. In his words, "Although I felt that I had been awake all night, I had actually been so soundly asleep that I had completely missed an earthquake that had brought down a large quantity of plaster from the ceiling of our bedroom onto our bed. In fact, as I got up, two large chunks of plaster, each the size of a tennis ball, rolled off my chest, where they had apparently been resting for the hour or more since the earthquake. So much for my experience of a completely sleepless night!" I don't think I'm that oblivious, as there's nothing out of place at home, thankfully.

Of course, this morning's adventure makes me think of a favorite song by Carole King...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yuan Fu--fast, fresh, and friendly...

sign outside Yuan Fu restaurantHadn't been this way down Rockville Pike in a while (as it's a little ways straight from the Rockville station), but was in the area the other day, and hungry, so I stopped in Yuan Fu Restaurant for the first time in a while. The outside is nothing to brag about, but at least the signage is prominent. (Have been here a few times before.)
interior of Yuan FuNow, I was there for lunch, a rather late one, in fact. But no worries--the lunch special is served until 4:30 pm, and I was there at around 3. So far so good. The prices are still reasonable, as the special offers a choice of four appetizers (I chose the tasty curry dumplings, which are turnovers), and an entree, which range in price from $6.95 to $9.95; most of them are $6.95 or $7.50. You have to specifically ask for the lunch specials menu, as you're first offered the regular menu; however, the server is quick to provide it once requested.

There were a couple of other tables also being served, but service was quick, and friendly. Of course, being that the day was a scorcher, I had a glass of watermelon juice to start (and go along with my meal). Then, I saw the another table get hot tea, so I got hot green tea, too (just so I'd have something else to drink, and wouldn't slurp up the juice in five seconds flat, as I'm liable to do).
green tea and watermelon juiceIn a matter of minutes, after I finished the stuffed curry dumplings, my order of crispy eggplants arrived, with a side of brown rice (it offers a choice of white or brown rice).
dish of crispy eggplant with broccoliYum, crispy batter-fried slices of eggplant with a slightly sweet, slightly hot (OK, I didn't crunch into the chile peppers) sauce. And broccoli, too. I've tried the faux meats in the past, and enjoyed most of them (e.g., Chinese-style sausage, tuna steak), but there were a couple of misses, probably because I didn't like the recipe (the yu-shiang recipes have seaweed, which isn't to my liking unless it's in sushi; the soft shell crab was made of potato). Even for dishes I wasn't fond of, it was the combination of foods that turned me off, not the quality of the food.

In fact, I got confirmation of why so many people rave about the quality of its food, as I witnessed this scene while eating the eggplant; in between serving, the servers sat down at a table in the dining room to
servers picking through fresh snow peaspick through fresh snowpeas (presumably for the dinner service meals). Now, I'd been there a number of times and had not seen this happen before.

Anyway, I was feeling adventurous, and decided to order dessert. As the few desserts are (mostly) authentically Chinese, maybe they're not for Western tastes, as pretty as they may be. I chose the small Eight Treasure steamed taro roots paste pudding, to find out what the deal is with taro. Perhaps it should have remained a mystery.

plate of hot Eight Treasures taro root paste puddingThe pudding paste is hot (a hot mess?) with a gelatinous-seeming glaze. What appear to be nuts near the front are gingko nuts, which I can live without. Also didn't realize that taro paste would appear pinkish, which was offputting. (Maybe this will teach me to stick with eating taro in the form of chips.) The pudding also contains various fruits, like dates and berries, which had odd flavors (wolfberries, maybe). Oh well, you win some, you lose some. Most of the lunch was a win, however, so I wouldn't hold this odd dessert against the place.

Fact is, except for dessert, lunch at Yuan Fu was tasty, nutritious, and reasonable in price, as usual. (Which means it's cheaper than The Vegetable Garden, down the pike, which has its own merits, like better desserts [e.g., vegan key lime pie].) Yuan Fu's obviously doing something right, as it's holding its own during these tough times, which is more than I can say for many of the former businesses along the same stretch of Rockville Pike.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth!

photo of fireworks is by Kabir Bakie via wikimediaPhoto by Kabir Bakie (via wikimedia)

Time to have a happy, sweaty, 4th of July, wherever you celebrate. For me, it's a cookout this year. Can't be bothered with going to see fireworks on the mall, particularly since I can see the Andrews fireworks display from my deck.

OK, I did go to the Mall with friends once to see the fireworks, during the '80s, whichever year Roberta Flack was one of the singers. It was great to hear homegirl's (she got her start in DC) sweet voice floating in the air, as we were walking down the hill toward the grassy area. This after we were unsure that we were going to make it there in one piece, due to some kamikaze driving to Capitol Hill, so it was extra nice to hear her. Well, it's always good to hear Roberta Flack, on the 4th or any day.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Water, water, everywhere?

Just in time for summer vacation comes mandated water restrictions, courtesy of a potential giant water main break in Potomac caught in the nick of time. Sadly, it seems these infrastructure slip-ups are no longer for the winter season only.

These regulations aren't too stringent--basically, no topping off of swimming pools, no watering lawns (I avoid this anyway, as this region is a swamp), or washing cars (another activity I loathe).

Car washing is something I've always seen as a complete waste anyway--of time and water. Maybe it's seeing neighbors spend hours soaping and rinsing their vehicles over the years that totally turned me off from even thinking of washing the electric carriage myself. Honestly, I'm thankful for the local car wash, which is the more environmentally friendly, and efficient, way of taking care of a dirty vehicle. Five minutes to the car wash, ten minutes to get ride clean, five minutes back home, with both vehicle and owner being clean and dry. What's not to like?

If only the folks at Andre's also had these skills:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

For best results, keep it brisk!

sky over MarylandNo excuses today for not getting outside and doing something, like taking a brisk walk, which I did this morning. Nice! Perfect weather for the next day or so, giving me and the a/c a much-needed break.

Speaking of exercise, a study published in the June 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (part of the long-term Harvard Nurses Study II) concerning exercise and weight control in young women. Namely, it compared bicycle riding to walking in regard to weight management. The finding is that the women who regularly either rode bicycles, walked briskly, or engaged in other physical activities for 30 minutes per day gained significantly less weight than women who walked slowly as a form of physical activity.

While the above is good news in nice weather, when the outdoors turns into the jungle without the helicopters whizzing overhead a la Apocalypse Now, it's time to find other exercise options. Like the gym, but certainly not the "affordable" options mentioned in the Washington Post the other day. (What, that article was supposed to be serious?) No way, I'm renewing my membership in the gym at the local community rec center, which only runs $35 for three months (slightly over $100 for the entire year), and allows unlimited access to its decent gym. If I were desperate to get to a gym, and the rec center's was full, I'd head to the nearby Capitol Sports Complex (the old Run 'N' Shoot), which you can visit for $10 a pop, and offers access to a spacious gym.

Good ways to keep it toned without taking up the dreaded activity of jogging/running for my life.