Best $18.69 I’ve spent in forever

Anyone who’s ever gambled knows how quickly $20 can go. One slot machine & minutes later, HHAHAHHAHH. But even outside a casino, $20 bucks won’t get you far. It won’t buy you a tank of gas. It’s barely enough to cover a large pizza. But a week ago, I discovered something under $20 that has given me far greater enjoyment than all of the above (except for a big cash payout, because that would indeed make my day).

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Stonyfield Cafe

I am someone who not just likes yogurt; I love it.  But when it comes to Stonyfield Farm, it’s more honest to describe my feelings as LOVE (all caps).  It’s been a passionate affair, me and SF.  In the beginning it was honeymoon hot.  We’d rendezvous daily – on average, 12 oz. – sometimes more.  Over the ensuing months, I started noticing others.. but still. SF remained first in my heart.  Back in 2008, when I won a Stonyfield Recipe of the Month contest, I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of yogurt pleasure.  Until, that is, we moved to Maine and I was finally afforded an in-person visit to the very birthplace of my beloved, Stonyfield Farm’s Yogurt Works.  Perhaps that face-to-face meeting was the turning point.  I always knew how much I loved him, but I never dreamt he felt the same way about ME.  Now.  I know it’s true.

Weeks ago I was in the throes of Dress Quest 2010.  I’d driven north to check out a chi-chi shoppe, when suddenly I saw concrete (or maybe aluminum siding) proof that SF LOVES ME JUST AS MUCH AS I LOVE HIM!

WHOOMP!! THERE IT IS!!!!!!

Tucked into an upscale strip mall just north of Portland in the town of Falmouth, Maine, is MY BOYFRIEND the restaurant to top all others.  The one, the only, Stonyfield Café. When first I spied his distinctive blue & yellow sign, I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.  You know when you reaaaaaaalllly reeeeeallllly like someone, and you search for them wherever you go, just hoping to catch a glimpse?  Well, this first meeting felt exactly like that.  But BETTER.  I was (as I said) embroiled in Dress Quest 2010, just a few frocks short of institutionalization.  My sanity was hanging on a dime.  I blinked once, I blinked twice.  But three blinks later, SF was still there.  (That guy above w/ the chairs wasn’t there yet.  Or he might have noticed my SHEER UNBRIDLED DISBELIEF.)  I floored it into the ample parking lot, hustled my kids from the car and literally HOOFED IT into the restaurant.  (For fear it would disappear before I got in.)

Once inside, I gazed in wonder at the beauty of his form..

Despite my daughters’ cool exteriors, I was a jangle of nervous palpitations.  OOOoHhhHhhHHHHH!!!  Good thing SF already loves me more than any other girl on the face of the planet (don’t be jealous) AND knows how to be forceful when necessary!  We dutifully took our place in the queue.

Here we are, self-seated and ready to tuck in.  The girls got Mac & Cheese kids meals w/ homemade flatbread – baked right there in SF’s MIGHTY BRICK OVEN.

Just looking at it made me HOT ALL OVER!

Phew!  So warm in here.. I opted for something lighter to help cool me down.  A Balsamic Cran Salad – no “extra protein” necessary.  With a Chocolate Underground yogurt, for afters, of course.

The first bite.  And the verdict is……???

MMmmMmmmmm!  SF is GOOOOOOD.  So good in fact that we inhaled our lunch in mere minutes.  (Pardon me.)

I didn’t want to embarrass anybody by licking my plate like an animal, but I would have, if only SF and I had been ALONE.  (grrooowwwwlll)

NEXT. Time to freshen up!  OOOooh SF, I’ll ALWAYS be your GAL!

Afterward I noticed how wonderful SF is – providing ample seating for a larger family, as well as free comfy space for community groups to gather.  That is just so thoughtful!  (Stud.)

And then. it truly was goodbye.  SF begged me to share a glass (or three) of organic wine with him, or splurge on some frozen yogurt for the kids.  But it was still early, and the girls were full.  So with that we parted ways.  But not for long.  Be seeing you soon, SF!  Try not to miss me too much.  xo

Eating like a Maine-ahh

Being new in town, we don’t know a whopping lot of people yet – which, coming from Philly where everyone knows everyone, is a bit weird – and lonely. So last night was a real treat. We were invited to dinner at the home of one of John’s coworkers. Sitting down to a meal in an authentic *MAINE HOME* – complete w/ backyard, grill, and Jack Russell terrier, was wonderful. And they were so thoughtful – they even served us traditional Maine fare. I am of course referring to RED HOT DOGS.

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Holy smokes!!  They really truly are THAT RED.  I’d heard of Red Hots before, but I’d never in my life SEEN anything like this.  For those of you also “From Away” (aka, Non-Native Maine-ahhs), these colorful franks are typically referred to as red “snappers” – or simply “Snappers” due to the crunchy BITE of their natural casing.  Although hot dogs across the board are pretty much verboten to me, I HAD TO TRY THESE.  My alloted bite had a pleasant snap, and the taste was (as w/ most hot dogs) divine.  You’d think they’d be spicy – with that fiery GLOWING RED color, but nope.  I found a link, so if anyone not now residing in Maine wants to try these too, you can ORDER THEM HERE.  PS: This morning I’m pleased to report we are all still normally pigmented – which, as pale as we are, is a good thing – right?

Thanksgiving is ALMOST HERE!

Hello everyone! I hope that you’re enjoying the crisp autumn weather, as the days grow shorter and snowflakes begin dotting the air. As our thoughts turn collectively to turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, I wanted to touch base for a quick run-down of Thanksgiving recipes.

The holidays can be especially hard for those on salt-restricted diets – but they don’t have to be. With a little preparation and ingenuity, these times can be the best – and healthiest – you’ve ever known.

So let’s talk TURKEY. When it comes to the bird, think fresh. Although most free range fresh turkeys are expensive, they’re worth it. Not only will you be getting a bird much lower in sodium, but the animals themselves are also treated much more humanely. WIN-WIN. Whole Foods Markets, as well as many food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and butcher shops are selling fresh birds like hot cakes this time of year. With a little leg work, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to find one. If you haven’t or can’t purchase a fresh bird though, don’t despair! Most supermarkets have a whole array of options. In the past I’ve opted for kosher birds, which tend to be lower in sodium than the standard butterballs. But don’t limit yourself. Roast chicken is a healthy substitute, as are guinea hens, duck and quail. And many butcher shops have fresh birds that have not been treated with the broth/salt injections commonly afforded the processed birds.

Or, if you’d prefer skipping poultry altogether, I highly recommend this fabulous recipe for Roast Pork with Dried Plums.

Not to overlook vegetarians, I have recipes for several meat-free entrees that are sure to please. Vegetarian Holiday Loaf is adapted from a Vegetarian Times recipe of the same name. Vegetarian Lasagne, Zucchini Cakes, and meaty Gorgonzola Portobellos are all delicious, and there are a ton of other vegetarian entrees at THE DAILY DISH.

But – as usual – I’m getting ahead of myself! Why not start at the START with a delicious soup or salad! Soup makes any meal more memorable, and I have recipes for some serious stand-outs. Butternut Squash Soup will have your guests raving. As will the phenomenally gorgeous Beet Soup or Apple Butternut Soup. If greens are more your speed, try this tasty Warm Asparagus Salad or Simple Autumn Salad.

Now, let’s talk sides. No turkey dinner is complete without Cranberry Sauce and Stuffing! Baked apple slices are delicious with fowl, and are a sure hit with kids. Another idea is topping Mashed Sweets with some marshmallows, baking, and serving as an irresistible sweet potato casserole. Or you could try your sweet potatoes roasted, as in Fingers and Sweets. Creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes are FABBBULOUS, as are the always popular Twice-Baked Potatoes. Winter squash is also wonderful this time of year! For an extra showy and delicious meal, I highly recommend both Stuffed Acorn Squash, as well as Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots.

Since most of us love some bread with our meal, try the simple rolls I made this summer with my daughters. Incredibly easy and delicious – and a great time even if you don’t have children of your own.

And what holiday meal is complete without DESSERT? Pumpkin pie is a must-have at our house. But there are some other absolutely delicious pies to consider as well – Squash and Pear Pie and Sweet Potato Pie are particularly popular this time of the year. I also highly recommend Pears in Wine, which look (and TASTE) divine but are supremely simple to make.

Finally, don’t forget beverages! I recommend a nice chilled white wine to complement the meal, but if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to feel deprived. Try some sweet milky Chai Tea with dinner or dessert.

Just remember, Thanksgiving is set aside as a day for giving thanks for all of our blessings, enjoying friends and family, and celebrating life. So don’t let your kitchen time stress you out so much you lose perspective. If things burn, flop or turn out just plain ugly, laugh and put your feet up, knowing you tried your best. There was always plenty of cursing around the kitchen while I was growing up, and my mom often sat simmering long after the meal was over. But there’s no reason to sweat the little things. So enjoy yourself, and enjoy a big satisfying meal without having to worry about the aftermath.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

THE GREAT YOGURT TASTE OFF!

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Yogurt. The stuff of legend. Well.. maybe not, but to me.. yogurt is T-RRIFIC. This weekend while visiting w/ my sister and her FABBBULOUS new boyfriend, we got to talking about yogurt. And I finally decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do. NAMELY, hold my very own taste test… of YOGURT!  YAY!!!!!!!!!!

I eat enough of the stuff to support at least one company in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.  (I am talking to YOU Stonyfield.)  BUT why limit myself?  I am a woman of adventure, of daring, of DAIRY!  There are dozens of yogurts out there on the market, just waiting to be sampled.

Thinking about all that yummy delicious yogurt makes my mouth water…. but how to compare a peach whole milk to a soy caramel latte to a goat’s milk key lime pie?? In order to maintain fairness and accuracy in this TASTE OFF! I would have to set restrictions. BEHOLD the 3 Basic Criteria for Eligibility:

  • VANILLA yogurt only;
  • made of NON FAT cow’s milk; with
  • NO Chemical Sweeteners.

Most manufacturers produce some sort of vanilla.  I excluded non-cow’s milk (soy milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk) to be fair.  And to hedge against varying levels of milk fat across low fat or light brands, I opted for FAT FREE products. Finally, I decided NOT to taste test any yogurts containing artificial sweeteners – b/c I hate them and this is MY CONTEST.

Although most of the yogurts are organic, a few are not. I decided to include conventional (aka, NON organic) yogurt for two reasons. One. Although there is normally a price differential associated with buying organic (i.e., it usually costs more), this was not necessarily the case here.  I wanted to see why.  Two. I felt comparing organic and conventional yogurts would add yet another level of interest to the experiment. YES we all know that organic yogurt is better for you, but does it also TASTE BETTER??

Curd for curd, my goal in this GREAT YOGURT TASTE OFF! was to find the best tasting, best value nonfat vanilla on the market. NOTE: In an ideal world, I would have been able to find all of the yogurts in single-serving 6 oz. cups. Unfortunately, after hauling it to 5 stores I took what I could get. BUT YOU GET THE IDEA. Now onto the results.

THE WINNERS!!!

Colombo Classic New England Made Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt (conventional)
colombo
$0.80 for 6 oz.
Good texture. Slightly thick, yet smooth and creamy. Reminds me of Stonyfield’s subtle sweetness, but with a touch more vanilla flavor. This is a yummy yogurt I would definitely buy again and recommend to others.

Stonyfield Farm Organic Fat Free French Vanilla Yogurt
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$0.99 for 6 oz.
This has been my go-to yogurt for years. I still love Stonyfield’s thick (almost chunky) appearance and very smooth & creamy texture. By comparison it is much less sweet than competitors, with only a hint of vanilla. Just how I like it.

Horizon Organic Fat-Free Vanilla Yogurt
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$4.69 for 32 oz.
Top marks for this delicious organic yogurt, with its smooth, light and creamy texture. This one is a bit sweeter than Stonyfield, with a more discernible vanilla taste. Highly recommended.

Brown Cow All Natural Nonfat Vanilla (conventional)
browncow
$0.89 for 6 oz.
It’s hard to believe this yogurt’s fat free! TONS of vanilla flavor in a very sweet, rich and creamy base. This yogurt is perfect for those craving decadent desserts while dieting. A little sweeter than I’m accustomed to, but delicious all the same. Recommended.

THE LOSERS

Chobani Vanilla Non Fat Greek Yogurt (conventional)
chobani
$1.59 for 6 oz.
This yogurt is not cheap, though it was the least expensive of the three Greek-style yogurts sampled. I read a bit about Greek yogurt before undertaking this experiment, both to educate as well as prepare myself for what it would be like. I agree with most reviews which describe Greek yogurt as chalky and unappealing. Both adjectives can easily be used to describe Chobani, as well as unbelievably thick, not sweet, with no discernible vanilla flavor. Do not buy this unless you enjoy Greek yogurt or need cheap glue.

365 Organic Vanilla Nonfat Yogurt
365organic
$0.89 for 6 oz.
I am not sure how to describe this yogurt. I took one bite and UGH!!!! actually had to spit it out. It had a very pronounced sour “yogurt-y” taste. Almost too much to believe. Until I looked more closely at the cup and realized it was actually expired by THREE WEEKS. Way to sell me that Oct 28th yogurt on November 18th, Whole Foods. I will not be going back for another.

Wallaby Organic Vanilla Bean Creamy Australian Style Nonfat Yogurt
wallaby
$0.99 for 6 oz.
This Australian-style yogurt is actually manufactured in California. Having never been to Australia, I’m not sure what difference there is in our yogurts, except to say this had a smoother, more blended feel. This was one of only two yogurts to have any visible vanilla bean specks, and Wallaby had by FAR the strongest vanilla flavor of any yogurt sampled. Check and check. Unfortunately, it was also extremely sweet, with a flavor reminiscent of Kaopectate. I will not be buying this one again.

Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt Vanilla
oikos
$1.99 for 6 oz.
This Greek-style yogurt is made by Stonyfield Farm, which might account for my liking it slightly better than the other two I tried. It had a much lighter consistency – almost whipped – which made it mildly appealing, though in flavor I’d be hard pressed to distinguish it from plain yogurt. Very little sweetness and virtually no vanilla flavor. Not recommended.

Skyr.is Vanilla (conventional)
skyr
$2.79 for 6 oz.
FOUR WORDS: UNBELIEVABLY THICK AND EXPENSIVE. This was the priciest yogurt by far, and not even organic. Granted, it’s a Greek Style yogurt manufactured in Iceland. But even that can’t make up for it. I want to label this yogurt a novelty – it even comes with its own very nifty snap-shut spoon, but frankly save your $2.79. The yogurt is, as I said, incredibly thick, with a soft cheese consistency. To its credit Skyr.is was the only other yogurt besides Wallaby to have visible vanilla bean specks. But its barely sweet taste and batter-like consistency were just too much to conquer. I will not be buying this again.

Butterworks Farm Vermont Vanilla Organic Nonfat Yogurt
butterworks1
$3.99 for 32 oz.
Knowing my predilection for ALL THINGS VERMONT, I was poised to love this yogurt like none other.  Unfortunately, this was the only other yogurt – besides the EXPIRED ONE – that I physically spit out. I am sorry. I feel terrible saying this about yogurt lovingly and wholesomely produced by a small family farm in the Northern Kingdom, but this yogurt is awful. Truly sour. AND Curdy. With no discernible vanilla flavor. Looking at their website, their Maple Yogurt seems to get high marks. Try that one instead.

365 Fat Free Vanilla Nonfat Yogurt (conventional)
365conventional
$0.59 for 6 oz.
I normally LOVE BARGAINS. But sometimes you have to pay more to get what you want. This is one of those times. This yogurt was – shall I say it? GROSS. with a pronounced vanilla flavor that tasted fake. It was so nasty, I double-checked the fine print to see if it was natural vanilla. TWICE. I guess it’s the yogurt equivalent of buying a GUCCI bag off the guy in the street. Whole Foods may be a wonderful store, but frankly their yogurt has left me shuddering. First expired, then THIS. Good thing it only cost 59 cents.

IN CONCLUSION.

The GREAT YOGURT TASTE OFF! was certainly a learning experience. As someone accustomed to eating roughly 2 cups of yogurt on an average day – even for me, this was a little TOO MUCH.

The difference in taste between these yogurts was nothing less than astounding. Now having sampled so many different makers, I realize just what I love about Stonyfield Farm and why I keep coming back. Although I liked Brown Cow and Colombo, neither is organic. And although I also enjoyed Horizon Organic, I don’t like it any better than Stonyfield. In conclusion: there’s a reason why I’ve stayed with Stonyfield all these years. Healthy, delicious organic yogurt at a reasonable price.

The Giant Puffball Mushroom

Nature is FASCINATING. Especially for someone like me who loves food. Although I’ve never been daring enough to collect and consume wild mushrooms – mostly b/c I have no idea what I’m doing and would likely wind up dead or whacked out of my mind – I still enjoy discovering the abundance of fungi out there. Just look at this one I found in Vermont, which looks quite egg-y to me:

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Or this one, also from VT, which resembles a giant puffy pancake.

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My husband recently introduced me to this online program – a mushroom catalog, detailing which are edible and which lethal. I particularly like the little emoticon faces – from happy to ill, and worse.

I visit a local nature refuge several times a week.  This fall has brought forth several remarkable mushrooms, each the size of a soccer ball.  I was FLOORED the first time I saw one. WOW! Look at the SIZE OF THAT THING!  Of course my husband and I – being the way we are – immediately grabbed one and began kicking it back and forth to each other.  After a few kicks…BAM! it exploded, and we were left with large white chunks.  We realized the whole mushroom had been solid, rather than hollow.  It struck me as so remarkable that I decided to take a few photographs and do a little research.

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When I got home, I googled “GIANT PUFFBALL” and Whaddaya know?! CHA-CHING! The Giant Puffball Mushroom, or Calvatia gigantea

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Giant puffballs resemble the white button mushrooms you find in every supermarket, but are smooth solid white globes, lacking gills of any sort. The ones we’ve found have been no more than 12 inches in diameter, but puffballs can be as small as golf balls or as large as medicine balls – some weighing up to 40 POUNDS. The young, all-white mushrooms are edible and said to be quite tasty, w/ a flavor akin to tofu or melted cheese. For more detailed information on consuming giant puffballs, see the following RecipeTips entry.

As the Giant Puffballs age, they eventually split and turn yellow, and then brown, as they begin to spore.  I found a specimen at Tinicum which had opened and begun the process.

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Once they reach this stage, giants puffballs are INEDIBLE. (Not that anyone in their right mind would be interested in gobbling that mess up.. But still. I offer the warning.)

For more information on Giant Puffballs, check out the following websites:

Tom Volk’s entry w/ FUNNY PHOTOS is definitely worth a click.
Wikipedia entry on Calvatia gigantea
Wildman Steve Brill’s entry on the Giant Puffball
David Fischer’s American Mushrooms entry on BEST EDIBLE WILD MUSHROOMS: Giant Puffball