This Page

has been moved to new address

Awake at the Whisk

Sorry for inconvenience...

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
Awake at the Whisk: January 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Zesty Freshy Spinach Pear Salad

Meet my winter happy salad! We haven’t seen the sun in days, and the constant grey is starting to affect my mood. However, there is a blessing to California living. Despite the cloudy skies, our trees are covered in bright orange, and our gardens are perky with greens. My own garden is happily churning out spinach, despite the recent frosts. The farmers’ market is still selling the last of the pear crop. All this color calls for a celebratory salad, the likes of which will perk up any mouth and mood!

Welcome to my Zesty Freshy Spinach Pear Salad. When served on a yellow plate (a must!), this delightful salad offers the crunch of strong, fresh spinach, the zip and happy aroma of grated orange zest, the sweet melting away of hearty pear sugars, and the meaty richness of pistachio nuts. The lively orange juice and grainy mustard dressing add the perfect energy to this pick-me-up salad. Top with some parmesan, and you’ve got a true winter winner!

Zesty Freshy Spinach Pear Salad

One bunch fresh spinach
One pear, diced
¼ cup pistachio nuts
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Zesty Orange Mustard Dressing:
Zest of one orange
Juice from one orange
2 Tablespoons grainy mustard, such as Boetje’s Stone Ground Mustard (you can find it at Corti Brothers in Sacramento)
¼ cup olive oil (depending on how juicy your orange is)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and dry spinach. Tear leaves by hand into large pieces and throw them in a large mixing bowl.

Make the salad dressing by adding the orange zest, juice, and mustard to a small bowl. Whisk together. While whisking, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add black pepper and whisk again.

Add desired amount of dressing (you’ll probably have more than you need) to the spinach and mix with tongs to coat leaves.

Split the leaves between two yellow plates. Top each plate with half the pear, nuts, and cheese. Serve and smile!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Hot Italian Slice Review

Check out my Yelp review of Hot Italian's pear, gorgonzola, honey pizza. YUM!

Labels: , ,

Monday, January 25, 2010


Thai Cottage: A Food Review Adventure in Eating the Entertainment Coupon Book

Thai Cottage is not what it used to be: in more ways than one. Several years ago, this was a hidden spot nestled between two car dealerships off a busy road. Once inside, you were whisked away to a romantic cove. The back of the restaurant had large windows overlooking a strong tree twinkling with white lights. A small creek flowed beneath. This felt like one of the fanciest establishments in town. To boot, their Thai food surpassed any in town with its clean flavors and bright menu.

But alas, a few years ago, Thai Cottage moved onto Howe Avenue, leaving its romantic hidden cove behind. As loyal subjects, my husband and I returned, only to have our memories tarnished by a much lower quality, oily food, and an utterly sub-par atmosphere, especially when compared to its former self. After one visit, we banished it from our lives.

That is, until our latest Entertainment Coupon Book purchase…

I was in the mood for Thai food. The husbo flipped through our coupon book in search of a bargain.

“How about Thai Cottage?” he asked hesitantly. “I don’t see too many others that I recognize.”

Memories of the beautiful cove knocked into those of oily eggplant in my head. Yet, my desire for those unique flavors that only Thai food can offer made me say, “Sure, let’s give them another chance.”

Off to Thai Cottage we went. A sign posted on their enormous door told us that we were supposed to present our Entertainment Book coupon to the server before ordering. This is something I’ve never seen before. We decided to ignore it. After all, what difference should it make? Would they cook us a smaller portion? Perhaps ring up a higher bill? It seemed suspect, and we weren’t willing to find out.

Taking our seats in the empty restaurant, old worries resurfaced. Usually, a busy restaurant is the sign of a tasty restaurant. I sure hoped we weren’t doomed!

I decided to order the fated dish that sent me running the last time I visited: spicy eggplant. My husband ordered his favorite red curry. When the plates arrived, they were overflowing with vegetables. On our last visit many years ago, we remembered only a few scant vegetables among many onions and bits of cabbage. But today, we were greeted happily by broccoli, eggplant, bell peppers, carrots, onion, cabbage, and even tomato. It was vegetable bliss!

My spicy eggplant summoned all the right notes: zippy ginger mellowed by bean curd and then brightened again with basil while running garlic up and down my tongue. The clean heat as I swallowed opened my nose, allowing me to take a deep, aromatic breath of my flavor-packed meal. This was a wake-up dish, and just what I needed to start the weekend off right.

Meanwhile, the husband’s green curry (the kitchen goofed and brought him green instead of red, and we decided to keep it) looked equally inviting loaded with all the veggies I was enjoying. Like a standard green curry, the heat nipped at the heels of your mouth like a tiny dog: a warm, glow-all-over heat cooled only slightly by the soothing coconut milk. Bright spices skipped and glided about, sneaking merrily between crisp bites of broccoli and silky melting fresh tofu. Wonderful food, although a little on the salty side.

Neither dish was tainted by over-oiled sauces, as we had experience before. I certainly detected more oil than I use at home, but it was markedly improved from our last visit.

Upon presenting our coupon to our server at the end of our meal, she never mentioned the sign on their front door. Perhaps she still felt bad for giving us the wrong curry dish? Perhaps the sign was more wishful thinking than an actual threat? Regardless, she made no comment and graciously applied our discount. After two entrees at $10/each and two orders of brown rice ($4), our bill was a mere $15 with tax.

Overall, I was pleased by the experience at Thai Cottage, even though my heart still yearns for the pretty environment of their former location. If they continue serving such a great array of vegetables and keep their oil to a minimum, I will gladly return—coupon or not.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Birthday Cake Memories

When I was little, my mom said that I thought a “birthday” was a cake. I can understand why: my aunt, mom, and grandmas were all phenomenal bakers. My birthday cakes were never made from a box, and the frosting never came from a can. Furthermore, I can’t remember a cake that wasn’t a present in and of itself. I remember each cake fondly—even some of the flavor memories still remain.

7-Minute Frosting
My favorite surprise flavor was a deep chocolate layer cake hidden beneath a pillowy cloud of 7-minute marshmallow frosting. Dancing on top, like a scene from a snow globe, were tiny plastic ice skaters wearing fluffy red coats. I had never seen frosting that looked so much like the feathery snow outside my window. I didn’t even wait for the candles to be lit—I stuck my finger in for a taste. It plunged deeply!—this was silken frosting, light as air. And the taste: sweet vanilla melting softer than ice cream. This was like melting snow, quickly fading, leaving only sweet behind. To this day, 7-minute frosting remains my all-time favorite!

Cookie Monster
My second favorite cake resembled Cookie Monster, my favorite Sesame Street character. I’m not sure what sort of cake was inside, but I sure remember that fluffy coconut-died-blue fur, the round eyeballs, and the sandwich cookies sticking out of his mouth. That ingenious cake looked like my best pal—made just for me. No wonder I thought cakes were the birthdays themselves!

I also remember a cake shaped like a rainbow. In 3-D, it literally arched over the horizon of the cake plate in strips of red, orange, and yellow on both sides. No birthday was celebrated without a cake of artistic proportions, and this was no exception. Where the women of my family found time for such elaborate cakes, I’ll never know. But I’m sure glad they did!

The highly crafted cake tradition has continued in my own life. I collect fancy cake pans in all shapes and sizes. When I was in high school, I used to decorate them using only a butter knife. For my sister’s 21st birthday, I used a Burt & Ernie pan. That cake took me an entire afternoon to decorate with my butter knife. I placed it atop a giant box covered in black paper. Next, I taped photos of me and my sister over the years—just like Burt & Ernie. After all, I believe cakes are about more than just being pretty. Like birthdays, they have their own stories to tell.

West Coast or Bust
When I finished grad school, my boyfriend, best friend, and I threw a joint party. I was in charge of baking the cake. Across the giant sheet cake, I painted (with frosting) the outline of the United States of America. I made photo stick cutouts resembling paper dolls for each of us. My boyfriend’s paper-doll-self was placed firmly in California: he had vowed only to apply for jobs on the West Coast. His doll had a thought bubble that read, “West Coast or Bust!”

My best friend’s doll was placed in DC. She was hoping to move there and find an internship. Her thought bubble read, “DC or Bust!”

My paper doll was placed in Illinois, where we were all living at the time. I had not yet decided where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to do after graduation. My photo showed me with shoulders raised in a questioning manner. My thought bubble read, “Just Don’t Bust!”

On another occasion, I was in charge of baking a cake to celebrate the departure of two co-workers. Because I believe in interactive cakes, I created fortunes that were tucked neatly between the cake layers. Each was tied with twirly ribbon, creating a frill and swirl of color to help decorate the dessert. These were not just any fortunes. Because both colleagues were moving on to new jobs, each fortune was a spoof on the workplace taken from the website The typically dismal office farewell party was transformed into a gut-busting, whooping good time. Even the President couldn’t help but laugh.

Cake as Entertainment
As I’ve advanced in my career and my day job becomes more demanding, my cakes become more like the pretty ones I see in bakery display cases: white frosting dotted with nuts, chocolate frosting sprinkled with candy, or whipped frosting mounded high with the back of a spatula. They’re lovely. But you can’t play with them. I feel guilty when I prepare a birthday cake for a friend using a flower mold, and then cover it with a mere chocolate ganache. My friends get excited. They like my pretty cakes. They don’t know any better, because they have never experienced my cakes of yore. I long for the days when I had time to spend a half day doing nothing but decorating a cake, turning it into an edible form of entertainment. But hey, the eating is still the best part!—and that will always remain.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Most Important Meal of the Day: Saving Money & My Husband’s Cholesterol with Oatmeal

Nothing feels more satisfying than waking up on a cold morning and wrapping your hands around a steaming bowl of oatmeal. As your fingers warm, your tummy does, too. It’s the feeling of sitting inside Grandma’s kitchen where the morning isn’t rushed, plans for the day are revealed, and news from the paper is discussed. All this comfort in a cup of oats.

Yet, there’s so much more to oatmeal than mere comfort. It can save you time, money, and improve your health, too. All this in a simple cup of oats.

My husband and I used to dine regularly on cold cereal and milk each morning. I might have slept in while he gobbled down his ingredients. When I was finally situated with my own bowl, he was off to the shower. Since switching to oatmeal, we share our mornings together while reading the paper. To me, that’s worth the extra ten minutes to prepare it.

We switched to oatmeal in a creative move to address two concerns: 1) our household budget in a crummy economy, and 2) a cholesterol test that showed my husband’s points were too high. The easy answer to both these dilemmas: oatmeal!

Thanks to cereal commercials, most folks know about the cholesterol-fighting power of oats. Yet, I never thought twice about its financial benefits when purchased in raw form.

When we were eating cereal, we were paying about $3 per box. My husband would eat two boxes per week, and I would eat one box of my own. Once you factor in the cost of organic milk (a “luxury” item we refuse to skimp on—we don’t want extra hormones and antibiotics floating around our bodies), that’s another $6.50 per week, and a gallon would hardly get us from Monday to Sunday. That’s about $16 each week just on our morning breakfast.

In addition to the high dollar cost, I also noticed that most cereals are loaded with extra sugars and preservatives—even the “healthy” kinds. For example, a toasted rice cereal with zero grams of fiber and no whole grains contains four grams of sugar. When eating cereal, I normally opt for cereals with high fiber and whole grains. Yet, many of these contain 20 or more grams of sugar. They also contain ingredients like “emulsifiers.” I’m not sure how those work inside my body, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat them if I don’t have to.

Put the health and budget concerns together, and oatmeal is starting to sound like a brilliant solution! My husband and I used to prepare oatmeal on the weekends as a treat like others might prepare pancakes. Adding it to our daily routine would feel special every day of the week.

Although I’m shopping on a budget, I don’t have to skimp on my oatmeal. Here is my comparison of cereal versus oatmeal costs per week:

Milk, $.650
3 boxes cereal, $9
TOTAL: $15.50

Water, $0
2-lb package oat bran, $3 (lasts two weeks, so $1.50/week)
Raisins, $2.50 (lasts two weeks, so $1.25/week)
½-lb walnuts from farmers’ market, $3
Brown sugar, $1/week
Cinnamon, $1/week
TOTAL: $7.75

I save $31 each month just by switching to oatmeal. And I consider my oatmeal pretty fancy. Most folks would be happy without the nuts and cinnamon, but I’m just gourmet like that.

Altogether, I’m spending far less money, yet buying high quality ingredients—without any funky preservatives. I control the quality of my breakfast and share a warm meal with my husband every morning.

On top of the savings, we’re starting the day right with lots of healthy fiber. I stay full longer, so I eat a smaller lunch, and I just feel darn satisfied after my breakfast.

I’ve also figured out a way to save time each morning. I don’t wait for oats to simmer on the stovetop, and I don’t have to wash a pan. With oat bran, the steps are quick and easy (instant, really), and breakfast can be prepared right in a cereal bowl (this also makes it easy for folks to individualize their own).

I also love oatmeal because it’s such a versatile canvas. If I’ve made a pumpkin dessert over the weekend and have extra pumpkin puree, I will stir the leftover into my oatmeal during the week. If I run out of cinnamon, I’ll use cloves or cardamom to spice up my morning. I’ve added coconut and ginger for a fresh flavor. I’ve added peanut butter for a heartier morning. I also add slices of whatever fruit is in season. You can throw in wheat germ, corn meal, or any other grain you like. Breakfast is never boring with oatmeal, and it’s extremely hard to mess up.

I would never have imagined so much depth was wrapped up in a cup of oats. Yet, each morning I look into my steaming bowl and feel comfort. I know my husband is healthier (he doesn’t have high cholesterol any more). I am healthier. Our pocketbooks are fuller. And our morning starts off richer. All this in a cup of oats.

Homemade Quick Oatmeal
½ to 1 cup boiling water (depending on how moist you like your oatmeal)
1/3 cup oat bran
¼ cup chopped local walnuts
1 heaping Tablespoon organic raisins
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon—add more if you like it spicier. (I do.)
½ Tablespoon organic brown sugar
Splash of whole grain milk, organic milk, whatever you drink; (eggnog is yummy at the holidays)

The amounts listed above serve one person. If you’re cooking for two, double it. And so on.

First, I boil about two cups of water in my tea pot. The water needs to boil. If it’s just lukewarm the oats won’t set and it will be soupy.

While the water heats, I fill two bowls (one for me, one for the husbo), each with the above-listed amounts of oat bran, raisins, walnuts, and cinnamon. I mix the ingredients together in each bowl while they are dry. This prevents the oat bran from clumping when I add the hot water.

I pour the boiled water into one bowl of oat mixture and stir, and then repeat in the second bowl. I top them each with a splash of milk (and sometimes more water) until I get the consistency I like. I sprinkle a little brown sugar on top (add this last, because it can slow the oats from setting if you add it too soon), and we’re ready to eat! No pans to clean up, no time wasted over a hot stove. It’s faster than quick oats and contains a heck of a lot more fiber.

If you’re traveling, you can make this ahead and pack it in individual containers. All you need is boiling water to add, and you’ve got a healthy breakfast no matter where you are!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, January 14, 2010


What the CLUCK?!

Cooing chickens. Imagine the horror! The nerve of some urban farmers and their children's feathered friends! Read my latest article on

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 11, 2010


Eating the Entertainment Coupon Book

There’s nothing I love more than a good bargain. I’m a thrift store junkie and a garage-sale hound. I know just the right hour to visit the farmers’ market when the farmers bag up dozens of fruit and sell them for a mere $3. Yet, when it comes to restaurant coupons, I am often leery. I wonder if there’s a reason the establishment needs to lure customers in with the promise of “free.”
When I first moved to Sacramento more than eight years ago, my husband and I bought our first Entertainment Coupon Book at the suggestion of a colleague. After all, we were fresh out of college and didn’t have much to spend on eating out. Importantly, we didn’t know our way around Sacramento. Trying new restaurants from the coupon book helped us begin to navigate our new city.

That first experience was mixed: some places were great, others lousy. After a while, we developed favorite spots that we visited again and again, so we stopped buying the coupon book. A long time has passed since then.

In this economy, we have cut back our dining adventures largely due to cash flow. Lately, we find ourselves flipping through newspapers on a hunt for coupons before choosing a dining location. So, the coupon book suddenly seemed like a great idea again. After all, if there are only five restaurants in the book that you like, you’ll still save money. Those coupons are all buy-one-get-one-free deals. You make up for the price of the book in your first two or three dinners. Even on a budget, we find ourselves going out a few times per month. In a year, we’ll surely make a dent in that book.

Now that I have the handy coupon book in my possession, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see how well I can actually eat while using coupons. By eating “well,” I mean eating healthy (except for the occasional pizza splurge).

Realistically, I know I need to make a home-cooked meal to get the most health mileage out of a meal. So, when I eat out, I typically gauge health by whether I’ve had fresh vegetables, a lack of oil and fried foods, that sort of thing. It’s not a perfect system, folks. It’s coupon-eating.

I don’t recommend that anyone try eating at every restaurant in the coupon book. In fact, the first thing I did was to rip out all the fast food joints, the hot dog stands, BBQ spots, and the high-calorie-filled establishments that I know I’ll never attempt to visit. Now, I’m ready for adventure…

Wish me luck!

Labels: , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]