Archive for January, 2009

Ginger Dragon

My roommate came home the other day raving about a drink at the “local”-ish coffee place (it’s only “local” because it’s about 500 yards from the anthropology building. It’s not locally-owned). It should be noted that this coffee place in fact serves absolutely disgusting coffee. It is not only weak, it is consistently burned. But, if you bring your own mug, it only costs $1.* So they get a good business (especially from predictably caffeine-addicted anthropologists). It gives me pleasure that they are no longer receiving my dollars now that I am not addicted to caffeine. But I digress.

The drink my roommate had tasted (yes, a mere sip warranted this kind of praise!) is called “Ginger Dragon” and consisted of lemons, ginger, and sugar. I decided I’d give it a try.

When I asked about it, the baristas (if you can call them that) insisted that I would feel “SO healthy” after drinking it. Uh, okay. Sure. I asked three times, three different ways, if there was any caffeine in it. No caffeine. Just health, pure and sparkling.

The drink was, in fact, delicious. It was tart and spicy and sweet, all at the same time. It warmed me from the inside out. I did, in fact, feel marginally healthier after drinking it. And… energized. At $2.50 a pop, however, I ran the risk of quickly finding myself bankrupted by this drink. Well, maybe not bankrupted, but significantly poorer.

So I stopped at the co-op on my way home and bought $3 worth of lemons and ginger. $3 got me three organic lemons and a solid chunk of root-matter. (I also had to buy some honey, because the “raw” stuff I had seems to be a little rancid— or fermented, or something, so that bumped the total up to $12).

After my delicious and nutritious dinner (and a complete protein, no less), I sliced one lemon and peeled and sliced about 2 inches of ginger. I stuck it in my saucepan (recently cleaned from my rice and beans) and filled it with water (about three inches over the lemon and ginger). I let it simmer gently until the lemons were falling apart, and then added 2 teaspoons of honey. To serve (and save) I strained it and poured it through a funnel into (first) a mason jar (to warm up during class tomorrow) and then my mug, which is sitting by my right hand this very moment.

Not bad! Not nearly as sweet as the coffee shop version (just how much sugar did they put *in* that?!), and perhaps a bit more gingery (I can feel the heat on my throat– sinuses are officially cleared!) but very perky and satisfying. And a heckuva lot cheaper than the original.

Yes, I realize that lemon-ginger infusions are really (REALLY) nothing new. I don’t care. This will help me through the 4-hour seminar marathon tomorrow night.

*People don’t realize that, just across the quad, is a locally-owned coffee shop that will fill your mug with *good* coffee for just $0.73. The guy who owns it was in my anthro senior seminar, and is applying to the PhD program this year, too.



Friday morning, I needed to run some errands. First, I had to go buy some cat food and lotion and tomato paste (they’re cheaper at the chi-chi store up the street than at the co-op). Well, actually, I’ve needed to buy cat food for about a week. Poor kitties have been eating the stuff they don’t like, that I had leftover from a while ago.


Then, I had to go rent snowshoes for the evening excursion with some friends out at Pinckney.

Since I was at the (fancier) store anyway, I decided to treat myself to some (decaf) coffee from their coffee bar. Then I grabbed a cart and went to get my items.

I became preoccupied by the lotion section. I set the coffee in my cart so I could better focus on the lotion bottles, and hold one in each hand for side-by-side comparison. Usually, I buy the “organic” stuff, except it’s about $10.50 and I didn’t want to spend that much. I took a second look at the ingredients, and realized that the only “organic” part of it was in fact the scent (lavender). And maybe the water? They put organic lavender in it, so they can call it organic. Sorry, not worth $10.

Looking at a few other brands, I tried to figure out if *any* of them did not use petroleum products. Then I realized that they were all in plastic bottles…

I compromised and bought the “natural” oatmeal lotion that also happened to be the cheapest. The ingredients on the back looked pretty typical, with the last half having names I could not pronounce. Oh, well.

Grabbed the cart and wandered over to the cat food.

I was caught off-guard by this guy standing at a little table in the middle of the aisle. “Ma’am, would you like to see our specials today? Lots of free stuff! Step right up!” He was really loud. And he called me “ma’am.” I veered around him and muttered a “no, thanks.” I didn’t think stores like this let those people set up shop in here…?

I found the tomato paste I was looking for (in a resealable tube!), but, when I went to place it in my cart, I realized something terrible had happened.

My coffee mug, neglected in the basket while I considered lotions, had turned on its side and spilled its contents. All over the cat food, and my reusable shopping bag. My mug was now half-full.

As I retraced my path with my eyes, I realized that it had in fact overturned some time ago. I had left a coffee-dribble-trail around half the store, forming puddles where I had paused.

I sheepishly ducked into the next aisle. No one had seen me.

I found the checkout counter with the shortest line. The cat food left a puddle of coffee on the conveyor belt. “I, uh, spilled some coffee over there…” I explained to the checkout guy. “Where?” He asked.

“Oh, um, in that aisle there,” I said, gesturing vaguely behind me.

Remembering my coupon for the cat food (another reason for coming to this store), I fumbled with my wallet. There was a handful of change caught up in the folded coupon, which I then proceeded to drop all over the conveyor belt. Nervous laugh.

I’m sure the checkout guy thought I was giggling because of him (he was about my age). I assure you, I was not. I was giggling like an idiot because I had just dribbled half the contents of my coffee mug around the store. The contents being my one cup of (decaf) coffee this week, and not the cheap variety either. I am a flake.

Aside from the aforementioned Coffee Incident, and then later losing one of my hubcaps at some point in my errand-running (damned $50-piece of plastic!), the day actually improved. How could it not? 😛

Variations on a Theme

I was two dollars over my food budget this week (mostly because it was my turn to buy olive oil and dish soap for the house), and I couldn’t stop beating myself up for it. Oh well.

I managed to keep everything else pretty simple, though. The key ingredients this week were beans (pinto and red were leftover in my pantry, black and white that I bought) and canned tomatoes. I made both three-bean chili and marinara sauce, which ended up having almost exactly the same ingredients in each; the spices were what made them different. Amazingly, aside from the tomatoes and fresh veggies that went into these, I was able to use mostly pantry staples. Hooray! I love not having to buy a big bottle of [insert ingredient here] every time I go to the store– it’s nice to have commonly used non-perishables well-stocked.

Three Bean Chili (roughly based on the recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian):
about a pound of mixed beans, soaked
one medium onion, chopped
three or four smallish carrots, chopped
three stalks of celery, chopped
three or four (or five) cloves of garlic, smushed
one 28 oz can of fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed
one 28 oz can of water (heh, a good way to get the last of the tomato out!)
chili powder to taste (I ground up three dried chiles de árbol)
three tablespoons of molasses
2 oz or so of chopped chocolate (60% dark or higher)
one cinnamon stick
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sautée the vegetables (less the tomatoes) until the onions are translucent and just starting to brown. Quite honestly, I just throw ’em all in together, and they seem to come out fine (though cookbooks will tell you to *first* brown the onions, *then* add the garlic, *then* add the carrots and celery). Add the chili powder (you can always add more later), molasses, and chocolate.
2. Add can of tomatoes and another can-full of water. Add cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil; add beans and reduce to a simmer. Let simmer until the beans are soft (about 45 min- 1 hour or so, depending on how long you soaked them and how old they were to begin with).
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with shredded cheddar cheese (or not, if you’re vegan).


Marinara sauce (which I served with polenta and white beans and chard. Mmm.):
about a pound of white beans, soaked
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal
one bunch of chopped chard, kale, or collard greens

one medium onion, chopped
three or four smallish carrots, chopped
three stalks of celery, chopped
three or four (or five) cloves of garlic, smushed
one 28 oz can of tomatoes, crushed
1 tbs dried sweet basil
1/2 tbs dried thyme
1/2 tbs oregano
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil water. Add beans. Cook until soft. (45 min.)
2. Sautée the vegetables (less the tomatoes) until the onions are translucent and just starting to brown. Quite honestly, I just throw ’em all in together, and they seem to come out fine (though cookbooks will tell you to *first* brown the onions, *then* add the garlic, *then* add the carrots and celery) –> hmm, this looks familiar.
3. Add can of tomatoes, and maybe a tiny, tiny bit of water (depending on how thick you like your sauce) and the herbs. Simmer on super-duper low (barely even on) heat.
4. While the the previous two things are simmering, sautée up the chard with some olive oil. (5 min, tops).
5. Boil 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup of milk for every cup of polenta (cornmeal) you’re going to use. Add cornmeal to water/milk while stirring briskly with a wisk. Simmer gently until thick (5 min, tops).
6. To assemble: put a little of each (polenta, beans, chard, sauce) in a bowl. Shred lots of parmesan or asiago cheese over the top. Stir. Mmm.

Note: you can also use garbanzo bean flour instead of polenta, for a slightly creamier base. I just tried it– it’s pretty tasty.


In other news:

I made some delicious granola bars. They’re a tad crumbly, though (I think I needed more coconut oil, molasses, and maple syrup. Next time).

Still no caffeine. Boo-ya. 🙂

If you want to follow my new (ahem) “training”, you can check out the motivational genius that is Dailymile, complete with colorful graphs!
View my training on

There was something else I wanted to say, but now I forget.

Refrigerator White Board

Bruno’s fierce cat drawing, plus some of my own edits…


Still no caffeine

It has been almost a month… and I’m still drinking decaf coffee and herbal tea. Can you believe it?!

Neither can I.

Granted, some people might claim that decaf is “cheating” because there are still small amounts of caffeine in it. And granted, I have been craving chocolate like never before (and, um, indulging). And there’s caffeine in chocolate. But I’m seriously considering switching over to herbal tea. No kidding.

I guess you could call it a New Year’s Resolution. But resolutions almost never stick, so I’m trying to think of a new name.

Health? Balance? Discipline?


Yeah, I feel a lot saner when I’m not on caffeine. And I have cool dreams!* Except… ever since I watched “The Science of Sleep**,” I’ve been wondering if my dreams are really happening. Like, I woke up the other morning and wondered if I had actually sent an inappropriate email to the entire department listserv, or if I had just dreamed it. I’m pretty sure I just dreamed it, because I didn’t have the angry reply from the graduate coordinator that I had in my dream.  I guess that doesn’t sound “more sane,” does it?

In other news, I’m training for mountain biking again. Really. I’m going to do a 100k race in June, before I take off for field research.  I signed up for, which is a social-networking/ training journal site.  My old racing/ riding buddy signed up as well, and we’re keeping each other honest 😉

Part of this training includes a new yoga class– really spiffy. I came to the realization that my posture is steadily degenerating, thanks to near-constant sitting and reading or typing. That class is exactly what my back (and abs, and legs, and arms) needs.

I had the sudden urge to “go vegan” the other day… but then the last piece of cheesecake Doc made was staring at me from the bottom shelf of the fridge. Ohhh, cream cheese and eggs and butter-and-oreo crust! Not to mention crackers and cheese, and scrambled eggs, and mac n cheese, and cream in my (decaf) coffee…

Little steps. One change at a time.

*Caffeine is a dream suppressant. Bet you didn’t know that!

**Good movie, highly recommended. And not *just* because Gael García Bernal is in it. Really.

Winter Break Recap… in Pictures

What a fabulous 3-week break!

First, E. and her adorable puppy, Renly, visited.  The cats were not thrilled, but they recovered. A little excitement is good for them.


We (E. and me, not Renly, though he supervised) made delicious food, including this Moroccan Chickpea and Kale soup with leeks braised in lemon juice and chicken broth.


Then I went home and visited the family (see previous two posts). And then it was back to Ann Arbor for New Year’s!  D. came for a visit, and we made some creative pizza for our New Year’s Eve dinner (while puppy-sitting Renly 🙂 ).


The pizza in the back has a caramelized squash and onion sauce, and the one in the front has my marinara sauce thickened a bit with tomato paste. Both are topped with sauteed kale, chicken sausage, parmesan and goat cheeses.



(yeah, okay, they’re not champagne glasses. whatever.)

After starting New Year’s day off with some fluffy whole wheat pancakes and peach butter (sorry, no pic), we went right in to lunch preparations.

According to D. (and other people too) it’s good luck to eat black-eyed peas, collards, and pork on New Year’s Day. He fixed a variation of Hoppin’ John and sauteéd up some heritage pork sausage to have with our collard greens.  We threw in some comfort food (mashed potatos) and leftovers (pizza!) for good measure.


I’m pretty sure we spent most of the remaining week cooking and hiking, but it went by in quite a blur. Of course, despite having cameras in tow, we took a total of about three pictures.

This sweet potato, caramelized onion, spinach, and goat cheese frittata was pretty durn good though, and I got a picture!


Sadly unphotographed: broccoli soup; roasted chicken and veg; homemade buckwheat pasta and homemade bolognese sauce; chocolate cheesecake; chicken- tomato soup. Like I said, a fabulous break 🙂

Now it’s back to reality.