Muesli is better than Christmas

I.

I first took notice of muesli when I was young, maybe 10? I was reading Sharon Creech's "Walk Two Moons", and there's a fantastic dinner scene where a picky guest is relegated to eating a dry bowl of muesli. At the time, I had a vague understanding that muesli was like granola, or Kashi, and while I have been a lifelong fan of eating dry cereal, it was clear from the book that dry muesli was not an enjoyable sort of meal. I also formed the association of muesli to long-bearded hippies wearing earth sandals and carrying nature sticks.

II.

While in Bali last year, our hostess recommended a little restaurant just down the beach, saying she absolutely loved their muesli (Bircher-Benner!). We went, we ate, we equally enjoyed. After we got back to the States, I looked up the Bircher-Benner recipe on Wikipedia, noted how it's proportionally opposite to what's mostly eaten today– far more fruit to grains– and carried on with my life. I was having a tremendous love affair with the Maple Frosted Shredded Wheat cereal at Trader Joe's, and there simply wasn't any room in my world for another cereal.

III.

A few months later, we ended up in Europe for 10 weeks. Europe, sadly, does not have a Trader Joe's, and what's more, they are very deficient in shredded wheat, frosted or otherwise (there was plain Nabisco shredded wheat in London, which I ate dry, to everyone's horror). However! London had Weetabix! Having never eaten Weetabix before (I'd read about it in the Babysitter's Club books, when the Australian family that had that son whom Mallory got all super-crushy over moved into the neighborhood), this was a glorious find for me and I dove in head-first.

Then we continued on to Amsterdam, and while perusing the tiny selection of cereals in an Albert Heijn, I decided to shake things up and go with muesli alongside the Weetabix. And then we got to Berlin, where there was no Weetabix (except at one organic earth-happy convenienvce sort of store), so that's when I really, really got into serious bran cereal. And then, for the rest of the trip, we started every single morning with the same breakfast: a bowl of muesli, bran (Noah wasn't as keen on the bran as I was), soymilk (almond when I could find it, which was only once in Sorrento), and yogurt. Every. Single. Morning.

And I never got tired of it. Sometimes we would have it for lunch as well, if we were stuck on a long train ride. There was even one night when we were taking a ferry from Croatia to Italy and ended up having this for lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and IT WAS STILL AMAZING. Other meals occasionally disappointed, but the muesli never let me down.

IV.

Since November, I've been experimenting with different eating habits, and my most recent iteration is vegan, gluten-free, no processed sugars (minimal natural sugars) and minimal grains. I was really hoping to go completely grain-free, but then I found a recipe for gluten-free muesli– and that hope has just completely flown out the window since.

What I ultimately made was a modified recipe, but eating it in the morning is like being back in Europe. Which admittedly was far from a glorious expedition, but nostalgia cleverly elbows out all the negative components and showcases everything else in a radiating golden light. To put it another way, when I eat muesli, I am the happiest pig in the prettiest mud puddle this side of Denton.

It's to the point where I long for mornings, for that shining moment when I get to have my small bowl of muesli. I look forward to it the way kids look forward to Christmas or their birthdays–sometimes, I contemplate going to sleep earlier just to make the morning come faster, thus bringing my muesli time into existence that much sooner.

I know the dangers of nostalgia; I don't deny that many, many parts of that trip were an absolute hell. But the muesli was always perfect, and I like the peaceful memories it invokes. So grains be damned– I plan on making (and eating) this for quite some time.

[Edit: recipe]

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A sign of something when my non-writing boyfriend updates his site more often than I update mine

Some words on 808 [1]:

1. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to my 8th grade health class, but apparently I was listening on they day we covered depressants and stimulants and for whatever reason, I have since clung fervently to this idea that you are not supposed to mix the two, EVER. Bad idea. Bad! Bad, bad idea. So I've always been a little hesitant about Vodka Red Bulls and Irish coffees. Not that that's stopped me from drinking them, but even still, the wariness exists. Hence, I'm likewise a little suspicious of this alcoholic beverage infused with caffeine and guarana.

2. But again, not suspicious enough to not try it. I tried it. It tastes like shit. I realize I say this about 97% of all things alcoholic that I imbue, but I passed it by le petit-ami TheNoah, who thinks 97% of all things alcoholic is great, and even he made a face.

3. At first, I didn't want to drink it because it was nearing midnight and I didn't want to not be able to fall asleep tonight, which– if the caffeine worked like it's supposed to (97% of the time, caffeinated beverages don't do crap for improving my energy levels)– would possibly happen. But then a half-hour later, I realized I was really, really tired but still had things I wanted to get done, so suddenly the caffeine infusion was sounding pretty promising– except now I had the alcohol to contend with, as alcohol tends to put me to sleep (oh, let's say 97% of the time). So this drink has become a total crapshoot (and a slightly unpalatable one at that).

4. Totally unrelated, but whoever was responsible for letting the copy for this story go live (and to the front page, no less) can just go to hell [2]:

Picture 4
Picture 2
"Polar bear mauling", "polar bear attacked", "saved her life"– really accurate perspective, there, you know? Especially if by "mauling" they meant "invasion of territory", by "attacked" they meant "defended", and accidentally wrote "life" when they meant to write "from her own stupidity". This woman scaled a fence and leapt into the compound DURING FEEDING TIME, and all the article highlights is polar bear violence? Whatever happened to personal accountability? Since polar bears can't be sued, the blame will probably be directed to the zoo, either for keeping vicious animals that pose theats to public safety or for not posting clear and highly-visible signs that people should not be climbing the fence and into the polar bear compound. During feeding time. I cannot emphasize this enough. The woman was not only posing a threat to the bears' territory, but because she committed this ludicrous act during feeding time, she also posed a threat to their food supply.

I can't help but feel like that polar bear should be commended. They're on display at the zoo so people can see how these exotic creatures live in their (simulated) natural habitat, right? Well, now everyone knows. If you ever see a polar bear in the wild and it's about to eat, don't make a mad dash for it and be getting all up in its business.

[1] I can't find a website or product site for this thing anywhere– we picked it up in some nondescript convenience store in the Mission. The bottle reads: "Imported French Cognac, Premium vodka, apple liqueur with caffeine & guarana. 808 Apple Amp, 10% alc by vol".

[2] As the friend who notified us of this story put it: "How is this news? How is this breaking news??"

And speaking of PB, antibiotics > salmonella, right?

The thing about being on antibiotics is you suddenly feel invincible.
Which I'm sure from a medical standpoint holds no legitimacy
whatsoever, but come on. Antibiotics! Antibiotics are to infectious
illnesses as OxiClean is to stains– what *can't* this stuff eliminate?

So
on the one hand, me being on antibiotics is a great thing because being
sick for three weeks straight, uh, sucked (to put it mildly).

On
the other hand, this self-inflated delusion of protection is bound to
get me in trouble. Hey! Who's down for a road trip to Rosarito for a
tall glass of lukewarm tap water?

*****

In other news, I
was in Solvang for a wedding on Saturday. Cute town. We didn't have
enough time to patronize any of the countless wine bars (etc.) that
lined the main road, which I was perfectly fine with, being as I don't
like wine. Also, Solvang doesn't seem to be too hip with this crazy
hippie bleeding-heart liberal neo-paganistic nude camp lifestyle that I
call vegetarianism (though there is a Subway)… so aside from the
quaint loveliness of its rural surroundings (and its proximity to my first hometown),
I'm not too sure that Solvang holds much appeal for me (whereas Solvang
is one of his favorite places of all time). Though they do have
bakeries, everwhere, and no ma'am I am not opposed to Danish bakeries.
Remarkably, however, I managed to not step foot inside a single one
while we were there (my heart said yes, my ass said no), but all the
same: there's hope for Solvang and me. We'll go back one day, and he
can indulge himself to excess on wine and I can indulge myself to
near-excess on danish, and we'll leave town both singing the praises of
and bemoaning Solvang's plenitude of vice-friendly offerings, and oh,
won't it be grand.

*****

Speaking of food: The Grilled Cheese Invitational (2/21 in SF, 3/14 in
Austin, 4/25 in LA). Wondering if there's such a thing as a PBJ
Invitational?

Godiva clamshells would be my BFF.

In mid-December, a few days after finals had ended and I’d flown back to Oakland, I woke up one morning to be informed that we were going somewhere for breakfast, and– unsurprisingly– the destination was a surprise. We left the house a little after 10 a.m. and, if I recall correctly, the drive was short but pretty quiet, as I had yet to gather my bearings of the area and was engaged with staring out the passenger-side window. It wasn’t until we passed by the local tennis club and I saw its sign that I realized we were in Berkeley.

So we’re driving down this quiet little street in some Berkeley neighborhood, right? And even though he’s worried about being late, he’s pretty obedient to speed limit postings (unlike, uh, some other people (me)), so we’re cruising by houses and buildings slowly enough that I can continue silently devoting my attention to them. Suddenly, I notice an old brick building with the Scharffen Berger logo on it, and I finally muse out loud: "Oh, look! I didn’t know they were based out here. I’ve actually tried their chocolate before, but I don’t think I cared much for it."

And as the words are coming out of my mouth, he’s turning. Into the parking lot. The Scharffen Berger parking lot. He’s parking in the Scharffen Berger parking lot.

Surprise!

It turned out that "breakfast" was actually a chocolate tasting tour. On top of unwittingly lodging my foot in mouth with my passenger-seat commentary, I’d been on a few chocolate factory tours before, but I know how much thought he puts into our every expedition, so I resolved myself, determined to be a champion Scharffen Berger enthusiast by the end of the tour.

One hour and four or five samples later, however, and– not so much. The tour was interesting and more factory-comprehensive than my previous experiences, and the chocolate we tried was better than the lackluster piece I’d had a year ago, but all I could keep thinking, the entire time, was: "It’s not Bloomsberry."

Because that’s the thing of it. I’ve had Bloomsberry chocolate, and it’s subsequently ruined me for all other chocolates. It’s the farthest thing from fancy exotic chocolate– there are exactly two varieties, milk and dark bars– but it’s the only chocolate I crave, now. My palate is so attuned to it, in fact, that even when I’m actively un-craving chocolate as a whole, half of a Bloomsberry square is enough to goad me into eating the whole bar. And I know there are hundreds, thousands even, of other chocolate brands out there (I tried a significant number of them before I stumbled upon Bloomsberry), that I shouldn’t close myself off to all those possibilities because what if there’s something I’d like even more? But I don’t care. I don’t need to try new chocolate. I don’t even *want* to try new chocolate. Bloomsberry is all I want; I am left with nothing unsatisfied by Bloomsberry; I can’t see myself ever getting tired of or bored with Bloomsberry.

Which isn’t to say I would downright reject any and all other brands; when presented with such an offer, I politely accept (and eat, as well, also out of courtesy). But I could only be good friends with other chocolate; Bloomsberry is where my heart lies. In sickness, in health. To the death.

Yam, whatever.

Look, all I’m saying is, don’t hate on the butternut squash for trying to be a marginally-healthy dessert. It tried. It even drowned itself in loads of butter and brown sugar and cinnamon (and eventually, marshmallow fluff) in its attempt to be a delicious end-cap to the meal. It’s a squash! It can’t help it if it’s stringy. You want smooth and creamy, you go buy yourself a sweet potato.

The insomnia hit a season late this year

I don’t like talking on the phone; I also have a deep-seated and completely irrational discomfort with cameras. So naturally I am the ideal demographic for something like Skype or Tokbox. Thank goodness for the saving grace of impromptu finger puppet shows! Finger puppets are pretty awesome. With the magical communication power of finger puppets, I ably demonstrated the general concepts behind the proposed maglev train between Vegas and L.A.

*****

This is the chocolate that has made my world this past year. After stumbling upon some really amazing filled (locally-made) chocolate up in Tahoe over my birthday/NYE weekend, I returned to Vegas with a burning desire to find a chain-supplied brand of chocolate that rivaled the Tahoe stuff in every respect. And thus I began methodically hunting through the chocolate sections at Sunflower Market and Whole Foods. And thus I discovered Bloomsberry & Co.

I’ve never considered myself a "chocolate person". I never got cravings for chocolate, especially after I turned 17 and, out of curiosity, decided to give up eating chocolate altogether (I think that lasted a year-and-a-half; I caved merely to appease my boyfriend at the time, who couldn’t handle me being meat-free AND chocolate-free). Even after I started eating it again, there was always sort of an "eh" approach to it. This was pre-Bloomsberry.

Now? Now I am post-Bloomsberry. Now I could eat a bar, a WHOLE BAR, every day and still have moments where I can’t stop wanting it. Now I am a chocolate person. Now I would happily go into debt for a box of Godiva, whereas before I rolled my eyes every time I saw that brand’s label. I may very well be forever ruined this way.

But the point was: Bloomsberry sells chocolate from the website! 24 bars of either milk or dark for $40! Do you have any idea how insanely cheap this is? Discovering this purchasing option was like Christmas *and* my birthday *and* unlimited llama rides for the rest of my life *and* a sheet of fuzzy stickers. Glorious.

Read into this as you will, the literal meaning of it is 100% true

I hate cooking with oil. More specifically, I hate frying with oil, regardless of the amount. I’ve been burned so many times on my hands and arms whenever I’ve done it– twice, I was burned badly enough that it left huge scars that were visible for years upon years. Yet every time something calls for frying in oil, I get to it without even thinking twice. It’s not until I hear that first pop! and sizzle that my stomach knots up and I remember just how much I hate this. I’m filled with anxiety and dread until the whole ordeal is over, convinced that one of these days, the oil’s going to get me in the face (the worst-case scenario involves oil hitting me in the eye).

There are less risk-intensive– healthier, even– alternatives, of course: steaming or baking or even frying using non-stick spray. But it’s not the same. The taste, the texture isn’t the same. Sometimes, for the sake of culinary integrity, oil frying is the only way to go, casualties be damned. The final product tends to be worth it. And you know? Even when I do get burned, I take a few seconds or minutes to nurse and tend to my wounds, but I never turn off the flame. I stick it through.

Still, though. I hate it. Every time.

Or if I just had an orchard and a greenhouse.

I’m having a decidedly unromantic love affair with mushrooms– white, porcini, crimini, portabella. The asparagus and the baby spinach don’t seem to have a problem with it, which is why maybe this affair lacks the excitement and thrill other affairs (Yofrutto vs. Cefiore, Fontina vs. Port Salut vs. brie, San Francisco vs. the world) have had to such high extents. The tofu and seitan feel a bit slighted, but they’ve been getting the shaft for months, anyway.

And of course, it’s mid-August, which means the pears are on their way and the apples soon to follow. I love fall harvests. And once the cold weather sets in? Not only will there be more bike rides, but cold weather means soup season! And fresh tomato soup always means five-grilled-cheese and tomato on sourdough. You should feel the buzz of excitement and anticipation that pervades my kitchen. This could only be better if we had a proper farmer’s market out here.

The breakfast version is peanut butter and Spam on pancakes

Two weeks ago, it’s 9 p.m. and three of us are hanging out in the kitchen while The Wife initiates "But I Thought Everyone Ate This Growing Up, No Seriously, Your Family Never Made This?" Night. Her debut cuisine of choice: hot dogs rolled in corn tortillas, deep-fried.

It isn’t until after she’s fried a batch and we’re getting ready to try these suckers that she realizes we don’t have ketchup. We look at the food. We look at each other.

The Wife is openly put-out. "But we *need* ketchup!"

"Actually, I’m cool without it," offers R.

"I need ketchup," she clarifies.

I tell her to go ask the people who live next door; she bugs me to call the boys who live on the other side of the neighborhood. I cave first, but there’s no answer on the other end. The Wife threatens to make us all draw straws, with the loser having to perform the Herculean feat of going to the damn store and purchasing ketchup.

In the end, we all went. Somehow, I got conned into being a participant of the expedition, though there was a brief showdown of stubbornness ("GET IN THE CAR!" "Well what if I don’t WANT to?"). I say "somehow" because I was wearing what ultimately amounted to a towel (with three little yellow ducks embroidered across the top, no less) and I was refusing to change into real clothes. Silverado Ranch: we class up this town real nice.

Cue 10-o’-clock. We’re back in the kitchen, ketchup in tow. The hot dogs aren’t bad– like American taquitos, really– and suddenly I decide to participate in the theme of the night as well and I retrieve the peanut butter from the pantry.

The Wife knows about this, though she’d as yet never tried it; R., on the other hand, was completely clueless and thus reacted the way everyone reacts upon hearing of peanut-butter-and-hot-dogs: a ton of incredulity with a heaping tablespoon of disgust, complete with a dash of curiosity. Curiosity is a lot like oregano, however, in that it might just be a dash, but that dash has the ability to completely overpower the other ingredients.

I wish we’d had a video recording of R. when he dared to try it. If you’ve ever seen footage of people on the street who get approached by magicians (e.g., David Blaine)– and the trick is performed, and it’s SO MIND-BLOWING that the people do an abrupt about-face and speed a few paces away, they just can’t handle what they’ve experienced? That was R. The Wife and I watched him take a bite– chew– swallow– then immediately spin away from the counter and head toward the living room, muttering "Oh my god. Oh my god."

He looked like he was going to throw up, basically.

Except then he turned back around and looked at her, then looked at me, then started laughing. "That was really good!"

Et voila. Peanut butter and hot dogs, as invented (or at least, passed down to us daughters) by my dad. You might recoil in horror, but you’d only be missing out. And anyway, it could always be worse. It could be Beerios.

Yet another triumphant notch in my Belt o’ Converts

A friend of mine used to swear by Pinkberry. He and his friends/coworkers/army whatevers would drive 75 miles just to satisfy their Pinkberry cravings.

When I found this out, I could not stop giving him shit about it. I’m not against the idea of driving so far for frozen yogurt– I’ll go 400 miles for pie, after all– but just against the idea of Pinkberry. I was annoyed enough that I went 4 miles for the stuff, if you recall.

Cefiore, I told him. Cefiore is where the real quality frozen yogurt is at. He scoffed at my claims, insisting Pinkberry was delicious and I was insane and "Cefiore" sounded like "sulfuric acid" and it probably tasted like chemicals. I swore I would get him to Cefiore one of these days and learn him up right.

There’s one down the street of my house, incidentally, but as it would turn out, the Cefiore of enlightenment choice would be in Arcadia, CA. I dragged him inside, he ordered a small original with some fruit, and I held my breath as he took his first spoonful, half-expecting him to spitefully inform me that there was no difference between that and Pinkberry whatsoever.

Instead, he paused. Looked at me, almost quizzically. Took another spoonful. Paused again.

I couldn’t stand it. "Well??" I demanded.

"This… is really good." He spoke in that newly-awakened, what-was-I-thinking-all-that-time-before voice. "This… *doesn’t* taste like crap. Wow."

And now his Pinkberry preference is wiped. A-frigging-men.