Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hipster apples and other recommendations

Hipster apples
I love apples. I mean, I’ve always liked apples, but these days, I LOVE apples. My favorite apples are very crisp, juicy and not too sweet (I want some tartness in there, so don’t give me a Red Delicious). I like Granny Smith and McIntosh, though those haven’t been good lately (skin too thick, borderline mealy, not too flavorful). The Galas are great, but I’ve started branching out and trying less common varieties, like Jazz and Piñata. My new favorite, though, I’ve nicknamed the hipster apple because... well, you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s called Envy. (Is it still hipster if it has its own website?) The skin is mostly red, with some yellow flecks. The flesh is crisp, juicy, intensely flavored and just sweet enough. It’s probably the best apple I’ve ever tasted. Even the Engineer, who is notoriously picky about apples (he only likes Golden Delicious raw), tasted it once and said, “Dang, that’s some good apple.” It’s a seasonal variety, though, and unfortunately the season has just ended. (The produce manager at my grocery store said it’s usually available from October to January, but I only found out about it after the holidays! Now it’s all gone, and I have to wait until next fall to get more, and I missed the beginning of the 2012 season! Gah!)

I’m still looking for the elusive Pink Pearl apple (see here, listen here), or any red-fleshed variety, but those only seem available on the West coast and in the fall…

Apps for the iPad
I’m not really used to playing video games. The Engineer is, and most of what I know is from hanging out with him (plus Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt and Sonic the Hedgehog from my childhood hanging out with my older cousin). I never grew up with video games. I’m the one who will not just push buttons on the controller, but move the entire gadget to try to get through the game! Plus, I hate any games were I have to kill stuff to stay alive; they’re too stressful to me and I really don’t enjoy them. What I like are puzzle games, but the only PS3 game I’ve enjoyed playing was Portal. So enter two iPad apps that I downloaded recently and loved: Machinarium and The Room. Machinarium is normally $4.99; I got it on sale for $1.99, but I do think it’s worth the full price. The premise is that you’re a robot and you need to solve puzzles to get through different levels; you do need to solve a little game in which you shoot spiders in order to get the storyboard for each level, but the shooting part is not so bad, and some of the actions to complete in the storyboard are really not obvious unless you are told. That being said, there are walkthroughs online if you don’t want to kill the spiders or can’t solve certain puzzles, but it’s more fun to earn it. It kept me busy for hours! The Room is $1.99; there are three levels where you are basically solving various puzzles to open a box and reveal a secret. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel.

Great brunch
Last month, we had a wonderful brunch at the Scenic Loop Cafe in Boerne! It’s a bit of a drive, but not really longer than going to downtown San Antonio from our house anyway. The café is in scenic Hill Country and has a buffet for brunch on Sundays (9 am to 1 pm). I love brunch, and the Engineer loves buffets, so this place was perfect for us. We both raved about the house fries, which are really roasted potatoes with onions and rosemary; the applewood smoked bacon was delicious, as were the sausage patties. I had scrambled eggs, and even though buffet scrambled eggs are never as good as those made by a chef at an egg station, I really enjoyed these, because you could tell they were real eggs (unlike in some places where you can tell they’re really made from a powder mix). The Engineer also loved the eggs benedict, and liked the chilaquiles. The strawberry pancakes were good, and I tasted the maple pecan French croissants (dipped in egg and cooked), too, but didn’t have room for the French toast. They also had pigs-in-blankets, biscuits, cream gravy, cheese grits, yogurt and granola, and a good assortment of fresh fruit. Service was friendly and attentive, and prices are quite reasonable ($13.99 per adult). We really enjoyed the place and will be sure to go back for brunch every once in a while, especially since it was less crowded than we expected.

Our February outings
We didn’t have an outing per se in January, but we had two in February to make up for it. We had lunch at Chart House, which is the restaurant at the top of the Tower of Americas in San Antonio. We made it a lunch so that we could have a good view of the city! It was really nice, especially when we recognized landmarks, but be aware that the restaurant will only revolve about 30% of the way during the time it takes to eat a meal (we were lucky and got the stretch that interested us). Since they were also serving appetizers from the dinner menu, we started with the hummus trio, served with pita and plantain chips – our favorite was the edamame hummus. Unfortunately, with my current food restrictions, there was only one main dish on the menu I could have (well, besides overcooked filet mignon): the parmesan chicken BLT. I must say, though, that it was delicious! It was a real chicken breast (not deli), the balsamic mayo was from a jar (so no raw eggs), I made sure to ask for the bacon well cooked, and it turns out the bread was probably pan-fried instead of just toasted. Fabulous! The Engineer also loved his chili-dusted ahi sandwich (with bacon, cheese and honey jalapeño aioli). We were both too stuffed for dessert (while there were many off-the-menu selections available, only an apple pie without ice cream fit my food restrictions anyway). It was a really nice outing. On a side note, I’m only just getting used to how many restaurants have menus that are restrictive for pregnant women; it’s worse in high-end places and perhaps French restaurants, but even Red Lobster has me down to a selection of a single dish right now!

We also went to the Asian Festival celebrating the year of the Snake, hosted by the Institute of Texan Cultures. My first impression, which I must say still dominates, was how incredibly crowded the place was! There were demonstrations of traditional music and dance numbers, plus martial arts, as well as crafts displays and stalls that sold small items (I must say that they were the EXACT same items one can buy at the foot of the Great Wall, so I suppose that makes them authentic, and also says a lot about the export business). The big draw, though was the food. The smells were fantastic, there was enough choice to satisfy everyone’s tastes, and it didn’t seem like anyone ran out of supplies. The Engineer had Indian food, while I had Chinese food, and we both enjoyed our meals. That being said, they were expensive meals… So all in all, while I’m glad we went, I don’t see myself going again next year. I’d rather just find a really good Chinese restaurant (and we’re getting pretty close, too).

We did get to explore the Institute a bit, and I was tickled to learn that Jews of South Texas have made guacamole a traditional Passover food (hey, it fits all the requirements!). And in the olden days, when people made their own matzo, they would roll spurs over the dough to get the ubiquitous holes in the crackers.

Ready-made food at Whole Foods
I absolutely love their garden vegetable “sushi” rolls (avocado, carrot, red cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, rice paper and peanut sauce), as well as their vegan chocolate pudding. Not to mention their awesome salad bar! But I recently discovered a new green veggie sushi roll that has green onions, avocado, cucumber, rice, nori and sesame seeds, and it’s fantastic. Plus, the vegan oreo cake is wonderful! I could have lunch there every day for a month and not get bored.

Udi’s granola
I tried this granola because I had a coupon, as I don’t normally buy gluten-free granola just for the heck of it. That being said, it’s actually one of the best commercial granolas I’ve ever tasted! I tried their original flavor, which is sweetened with honey and also contained pistachios, cashews and banana chips. Plus raisins, although those were a bit hard and I could have done without them. This granola is also free of cross-contamination with dairy, soy and eggs. I really enjoyed it and might be buying more in the future! (About that picture: I’m eating this with yogurt here. I sometimes like using vanilla yogurt or Greek yogurt instead of milk, depending on the day. I just didn’t want any commenters worrying that my milk had gone bad!)

American Flatbread’s Vegan Pizza
This is fantastic! American Flatbread makes thin-crust pizzas, and this individual-sized vegan one was just what I wanted. There is a tomato sauce, along with Daiya cheese that is creamy and has just the right mouthfeel. It doesn’t taste quite like cheese, but I really like the taste nonetheless. Great for us lactose-intolerant folks, and even better for those avoiding soy as well! My regular grocery store carries the brand, but not this particular pizza, so I have to go to Whole Foods to get more, but I will. Plus, I love a brand that can make humoristic instructions like the ones you see here (Neolithic method for heating the pizza).

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I saw this movie recently, about Jiro Ono, who has been making sushi for 75 years, still goes to work every day, and whose restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars (the highest possible rating). The movie is about his dedication to his craft (he really does dream that he’s making sushi), how he trains his employees (including his two sons), and what people say about his sushi. Now all I can think about is eating a piece of akami (lean tuna) nigiri from that restaurant. And maybe some tamago (Japanese omlet), and I’m even curious about the squid. (Jiro explains that if squid is rubbery or tasteless, it hasn’t been prepared properly; his is massaged for 40 to 50 minutes and served warm, to highlight its taste. I normally don’t like squid, but now I’m curious about his.) I must admit that since I don’t normally like seafood, I wasn’t salivating at the shrimp and mussels and stuff, but darn it if it wasn’t the most beautiful tuna I’d ever seen! There are two locations in Tokyo; reservations must be made at least a month in advance, and prices start at ¥30,000 (with the current exchange rate, that’s about US$330) per person, and Jiro serves about 20 pieces per person. If I ever go to Tokyo, I wonder if I could convince them to just sell me the one piece of tuna before their dinner seating… So Jiro may dream of sushi, but then again, so do I (and I can’t wait for the end of the summer so I can have it again).

For the dogs in your life
I made some dog treats, based on this recipe, which I doled out to Darwin over the holidays (since all the humans were having treats, too). All the ingredients are things that Darwin loves on their own, plus he loves ice cubes, so the mix was irresistible to him; as a matter of fact, he didn’t leave my side as I was making them! Start by mashing a ripe banana with 2 Tbsp. of (ideally natural) peanut butter and 2 Tbsp. of honey. At this point, resist the urge to just turn that into a sandwich for yourself. Add about 1 cup of plain lactose-free yogurt (I used Greek yogurt) and mix well. Spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze for several hours. Dole out cubes as you see fit.

Hurray for long-desired home improvements
We used to have a cast-iron/porcelain double sink in the kitchen. I hated it. It looked decent enough, though it was harder to clean than stainless steel, and I had to put a rubber mat down in one of the bowls to avoid breaking dishes. The double sink meant that I never had enough room in there to soak a pan or baking sheet. We had been meaning to change the sink, but obviously, since everything was perfectly functional, we put it off. Until December, that is, when we realized that the faucet was broken and leaking (in three places, mind you, so it wasn’t worth fixing). I twisted the Engineer’s arm and got a new sink out of it, you know, as long as we were hiring a plumber and doing work in that general area! I was crushed to realize there was not enough room for an undermount sink, but we settled on this one, which has brought me more joy in the past two months than the previous one in two and a half years, even considering that the plumber had to come back yesterday to fix another (minor) leak. In case anyone is thinking of doing the same thing, here are some Kitchn links that sum up the pros and cons of our choices: choosing a sink, undermount sinks, double-bowl sinks (again, we went with oversized single bowl instead), stainless steel (two things to really keep in mind are the gauge and the corners, which will be hard to clean if they’re at right angles), single-handle faucets (I wouldn’t consider anything else), and spray faucets (we have a spray faucet, which I feel is necessary for a sink this big, though it’s not restaurant style). For the record, our sink is a Glacier Bay model from Home Depot, but I believe the new faucet is a Moen.

Getting rid of the cast-iron sink is surprisingly hard, though. Habitat for Humanity does not take sink donation unless they are accompanied by kitchen cabinets, which is not the case here. Our sanitation system does not take such big objects (we technically live right outside San Antonio city limits and are not eligible for their trash disposal program). We’re now trying to see if we can sell it for scrap metal, or perhaps it’d be worth posting on Craigslist…

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