Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ben & Jerry's cookies revisited

A little bit ago, I stopped by a Ben & Jerry's shop to get three scoops of ice cream for three dollars. While I was there, I simply had to indulge in one of the cookies that were displayed so temptingly by the register.

As you recall, I reviewed Ben & Jerry's cookies back in April, and found them wonderful in almost every way. This time, however, I met quite a disappointment.

I chose the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie again, and my first bite failed the crumble test in a big, messy way. The cookie was so crunchy I could barely get my teeth through it. Since my first experience with Ben & Jerry's cookies was so good, I have to assume this is an unfortunate case of overcooking, but at the very least, it tells me Ben & Jerry's quality control is questionable.

I must therefore revise my rating to:
Taste: 3 stars
Texture: 1 star

As an aside, in my last Ben & Jerry's post, I claimed that there was another brand name mentioned on the cookie display. But on my last two visits to Ben & Jerry's, I have seen no such thing. I'm afraid Ben & Jerry are going to have to take full responsibility for this travesty.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Working in Working out While Working

For the past couple of years, my weight (as measured at the doctor's office) has been a consistent 132 pounds. Winter, summer, spring, fall, it never varied. It's not a bad weight to be at—smack dab in the middle of the "healthy" range for my height—but I wouldn't want to get any fatter.

So naturally, when I first accepted my full-time job as a Web developer, my biggest concern was, "Am I going to get fat?" After all, my previous job had me on my feet, walking, lifting, and staying in some degree of motion for my entire 6-8 hour day, and my future job was going to mostly entail sitting at a desk for 8 and a half hours.

Plus, I'd read some horrible things about the health hazards of prolonged sitting (much more insidious than just getting fat)! Fortunately, fear is a great motivator, and within my first week of work, I had established an exercise regimen to keep me safe from sedentariness.

Once an hour, I make sure I get up and engage in some fitness activity for a full minute. This gets my blood pumping (and resulted in me having sore muscles every day for the first 2 months!) but 8 minutes of exercise every day is not enough to counteract the effects of adding 8 hours of non-exercise and an extra meal (sitting still is so boring, I absolutely cannot concentrate unless I eat at least every 3 hours), so I also increased the intensity of my daily exercise-bike ride (this lasted until I broke the console a few weeks ago—now I'm forced to bike at a roughly moderate intensity as established by a stick wedged into the resistance mechanism), and I ride my bike to and from work (15 minutes each way) whenever I can.

When the weather is nice enough for me to bike to work and I don't have to run errands or have any number of other excuses, I also use the free-to-staff gym across campus (I only do this on bike days because walking there alone would take 15 minutes, and catching the bus afterward would be an incredible pain), where I clock a whopping 10 minutes on the treadmill, at least 4 of them running (!) (Ok, jogging), and then hit the weight machines to work all the upper body muscles that I have trouble exercising without equipment.

After almost 5 months of this routine, I went to the doctor and stepped on the scale, which read 132 pounds! Apparently I'm nothing if not consistent. Although I'd like to say I became a well toned goddess from my new workout regimen, I guess I'll settle for not having developed a pot belly.

In case you'd like to experience the same kind of success lack of failure, here are some exercises you can do with nothing more than 5 square feet of open space (and either an absence of shame, or a closed door). All you must do is keep each one up for a whole minute. I usually count 60 seconds and then continue until the next multiple-of-10th repetition, cause I'm a little OCD.
  • Push ups (I'm up to 10 real ones in a row, followed by 20 girly ones!)
  • High Kicks (a la the Rockettes)
  • Side Kicks (a la Chuck Norris)
  • Back Kicks (a la nothing you've ever seen before because they look pretty dumb)
  • Squats
  • Skater squats
  • Planks (I usually do the arm-raising variation of this, because there is nothing more boring than balancing on your knees and hands for 60 seconds)
  • Relevés (a la a ballerina, but not all the way up!)
  • Jogging in place
  • Standing side crunches
  • Lunges
  • Glute sweeps (They really do exist; I just couldn't find any pictures or videos!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Accentuating the Positive

Funny, for all my reputation as a cheerful person, I've mostly filled this blog with lists of things that annoy me. Of course, if you read often enough, you've probably gathered there are some things I adore, such as Giant Cookies, macaroni and cheese, and a well crafted sentence.

But today I'd like to do what I should have done long ago and compile some of my greatest loves in a real list, giving them the recognition they so richly deserve!

Little Doors

By this I mean doors to utility closets, attic crawlspaces, and the like—doors that would be just the right size for a dwarf, but laughably short and tantalizingly mysterious to a human of average height. What do they conceal? Surely behind them is a mysterious adventure of fantastic proportions!

Emotional Overload Music

It's no secret that I'm obsessed with music, but certain types of it stand a cut (or octave, get it!?) above the rest—specifically, songs that sound deliriously blissful and unfathomably sad at the same time. Songs like Jonas Steur's Simple Pleasures (Like all good trance, it runs long, so skip to 3 minutes if you want to get to the meat of it right away—and for your ears' sake, turn down the volume! I've never heard such a loud recording!). If anyone asked me what being in love feels like, I would play them this song—but they never do. A few years ago, Sundawner's Krystal Dreams (Marcus L. Remix) filled this role for me, so it wouldn't hurt you to try that one as well. I can't believe that this, one of my favorite songs, hasn't yet been featured in my blog!

Falling in Love

Sure, heart-stopping music is a good substitute, but there's no thing like the real thing. And that's all I have to say about that.

CSS Layouts

I only have one shirt that says I ♥ anything, and that's CSS. If you are not a Web geek, you might not even know what CSS is, but if you are, you know that it's the language that describes how things look on the Web. CSS is that magical language that combines two of my favorite things: written syntactical language, and pretty designs!

Chemical Pleasures

Some people turn to nicotine or liquor to give them their fix; all I have to do is sniff a band-aid. Or open a new inflatable water toy. There's something about plasticizers that just makes my heart melt. Also, probably my brain cells.

The Wrong Side

Have you ever looked at a tapestry or a bit of brocade...from the back? It is almost invariably prettier than the front. The colors are inverted, and what on the front looks like tiny detailed patterns, on the back shows up in wide blocks of pure color. And I love me some color! This picture is a pretty good example.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spring Mill Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

It doesn't feel good to be dropping $6.50 on a bag of 5 cookies, but it sure feels good to be eating them! The cookies I'm talking about are Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from Spring Mill Bread.

Spring Mill Bread Co. is one of my favorite sources of Giant Cookies, and had been for many years before I started this blog theme. They are a local company, so if you don't live around DC, you will sadly be deprived of their delectable treats, but if you come to the capital for a visit, you should definitely give them a try. As a bonus, most of their locations are inside Mom's Organic Market stores, MOM being another great local company that you must experience while you're in town!

But enough evangelizing my favorite small businesses, let's talk about cookies!

You'll notice that only four cookies appear in this photo of cookies which
ostensibly are sold in a 5-pack. Well, this discrepancy reflects the author's
raging need to consume cookies as soon as they arrive in her house.
These oatmeal chocolate chip cookies always hit the spot. In addition to being wonderfully chewy, with just the right amount of oatmeal for texture, they are studded with bits of chocolate for an addictive flavor! This company makes oatmeal raisin cookies, too, and they surprisingly make oatmeal raisin cookies taste almost desirable!

You can buy a 5-pack of these cookies for $6.50, which feels like a lot, until you do the math and realize you're only paying 1.45¢ a gram—definitely on the cheaper end of the Giant Cookie spectrum. Of course, if you buy them individually, they're a little bit more, but what kind of crazy person wants only one cookie anyway!?

The Bottom Line:
Taste: 5 stars
Texture: 5 stars
Price: 4 stars

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Every so often, Li'l Language Lady is wrong (and I'm not talking about the controversial way she spells "little").

The last time this happened was several months ago. I've been so humiliated by my failure that I haven't been able to talk about it until now. Please be patient; this could be difficult for me.

It all began one pleasant morning in February, when I attended a webinar in which the presenter – twice – said the word "problematical." Well, I put on my Condescending Cap, thinking to myself the clever way I would address this crime in my blog: "The only thing problematical about this is it isn't actually a word! The proper adjective form of the noun problem is problematic."

It's a good thing I consulted a dictionary before spewing my ignorant bombast all over the Internet (by the way, have we reached the point where we don't have to capitalize that word yet?), because and Webster both confirmed that "problematical" is a synonym of "problematic."

But if this is the case, then I must wonder (after I exhume my face from my hands), how many suffixes can we add to a word before it stops being a real word? Why are -ic and -ical semantically identical? If I use enough grandiloquent words, can I redeem myself for wrongfully taking on airs?

At another time, I might research the answers to those questions, but today, I shall just leave you with this open end.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese - Val's Galore Style

If you recall, one of my favorite parts of my childhood was fresh home-microwaved macaroni and cheese from Stouffer's. However, even more favorite than that savory ambrosia was the oven-baked macaroni and cheese my grandma used to make.

It was so rich and chewy and hearty, not liquidy like the Stouffer's stuff! Although in my youth, I had a reputation for eating "like a bird," I have recollections of coming back for seconds when Grandma's macaroni and cheese was served.

I have the recipe, but I cannot review Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese in its purest form, because I'm always messing with the recipe.

The original called for 11 oz. of cheese—I'm pretty sure that was American cheese, but since I hate American cheese on its own, I can't seem to bring myself to buy it for a recipe, and I definitely can't get excited about the thought of peeling 16 individual slices of semisolid cow byproducts out of their wasteful plastic shrouds. So I use cheddar or Amish yogurt cheese or a mix of both, and since those do not come in 11-oz packages, I'm always obliged to guess. I suppose I could use a scale, but that's not the Adventure in Cooking way. The "real" cheeses give this recipe a real fat-separation problem, and I'm never sure whether I'm going to end up with too little cheese or too much (OK, honestly, there is no such thing).

Although not explicitly specified in my recipe, I'm sure the original was produced using white flour noodles and real milk with some fat in it. When I make mine, I use whole wheat noodles, because I like to offset my mountain of cholesterol with a little bit of fiber, and powdered nonfat milk.

Lastly, while the recipe says to cook it for an hour at 350°F, I consistently burn the top when I cook it that long. Last time I started it when the oven was still heating up, at around 250 degrees, and cooked it for 50 minutes, which seemed to work.

When Grandma made this recipe, it was happy noodles all across the board, but when I make it, the texture's a little off, it's usually not salty enough, and it's frequently burned, so the low rating here should not surprise anyone.

I estimate this recipe to cost around 6 dollars for all the ingredients, divided by 4 servings – make that 3 restaurant-size servings – and it comes out to 2$ a serving. Definitely a winner when it comes to price.

All in all, I give it one happy noodle for the price, one happy noodle for old-times' sake, and 2 sad noodles for all the things that go wrong.

1 happy noodle1 happy noodle  1sad noodle 1sad noodle

And here's the recipe, in case you think you can do it better than me:

Grandma's Macaroni and Cheese

1& 1/3 c. uncooked macaroni
1½ Tbsp butter
1½ Tbsp. flour
1 c. milk
11 oz. cheese
Cook noodles.
Melt butter. Stir in flour until bubbly.
Add milk. Stir til flour thickens slightly.
Break up cheese into mix. Stir til melted.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour over noodles in greased casserole dish.
Bake 1 hr. at 350° uncovered.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Carol's Cookies: Toffee Crunch

Carol's Cookies are proof that any cookie, if giant enough, can be good—even if it's crunchy.

I found Carol's Cookies at Whole Foods Market in DC. I suspect, although I am not certain, that they are the same brand of giant cookies I used to find at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor—a brand of giant cookies that I loved so much, they were my favorite thing about Ann Arbor.

The available choices were chocolate chip and toffee crunch. I tried toffee crunch because I wanted something different and new.

The cookie was thicker than your average cookie. It could almost have been mistaken for a scone. It was dense and therefore crunchy, but still good thanks to a rich buttery flavor. Sadly, the toffee pieces, because of heat or maybe just age, had gotten a little soggy by the time I ate them, even though the cookie had been in a sealed bag. This unfortunate circumstance diminished the cookies some in my eyes, and made me wish I had taken chocolate chip instead. Oh, well, maybe next time.

These cookies were $2.49 for an 8-oz cookie, or only 1.1¢ per gram, which I think makes them the cheapest giant cookie I've reviewed so far (at least, out of the cookies I've quantified).

So while they aren't the gooey-chewy champions of my cookie dreams, they are definitely good enough and cheap enough to make me want to grab another one the next time I'm at Whole Foods.

The Bottom Line:
Taste: 4 stars
Texture: 3 stars

Price: 5 stars