Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Thoughts

I think I want to be a writer.

Never mind that think part. 

I want to be a writer.

Ok, maybe that sounds stupid - I mean, I write this blog, right? But there is a reason for this random declaration. I've never really thought of myself as a writer. In school writing has a always been an academic strength for me, and I am the first to say that emailing me is always better; I abhor talking on the phone and there is something about the written word that lets me say exactly what I want to, in the way I want to. And I've always loved making up stories. But I couldn't be a writer. Aren't all writers broke and living in dingy apartments in the sketchy part of a city, living off stale coffee & Snickers bars? That is not me. And for a long time, I figured that meant I was not nor could I be a writer. And left it at that.

And then I went to Italy. Ha, I can't tell you how often I have used that sentence when talking about what about me has changed recently. [More on that later.] I got on that plane a half-broken person. I returned strong, confident, and more self-assured than I thought was possible for me. It's pretty cool. 

I've been thinking a lot about that M.F.K. Fisher quote, why she writes about food. Because it's a basic, everyday thing with millions of different meanings and symbols that most of time are not given a second thought to. I'd really like to be a travel writer with a focus on food, because I think when you travel and get away from the norm, you naturally just start seeing things differently, in a broader scope, and it's fun to write about those new discoveries. 

I don't know why I wrote all this. It's certainly nothing I haven't written several times before. But maybe if I declare it, "out loud" in a sense, it'll happen?

I'm a writer.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Over-The-Humpday Challenge: Noodleless Lasagna

Remember that time I tried to make an all-veggie lasagna using eggplant & zucchini as the noodles? You know, back when I lived in Florence, Italy.

It is unspeakably entertaining to be able to say that I have actually lived in Florence. I'm thinking of printing onto my business cards. Too much?

...I digress.
That particular attempt ended up as more of an Italian vegetable pie than a lasagna, although that's not to say it wasn't tasty. So, when our neighbor brought over a huge yellow squash fresh from a coworker's garden, the  image of my first good-yet-completely-unlasagnalike try popped into my head:

And the next OTHd Challenge was born.

First, take a pan - I opted for the long shallow pan versus the 8X8, do whatever feels right to you - and spritz with some cooking spray. 
Preheat your oven to 375 (you may end up turning it up to get it to cook faster should you be like me and horribly impatient/very hungry).
This squash was a big mofo, and was almost too much - probably about 3 medium-sized gourds would do it. I also recommend getting smaller squishes because the larger they grow, the tougher their skin becomes. And the bigger a pain in the butt it is to slice it into nice, even, lasagna-noodle-like slices. 
I forged on with the slicing, undeterred by the dozen times I almost sliced my fingers off and by the unaesthetically appealing uneveness of the slices. This is why I love cooking; caution is thrown to the wind and I just wait and see what happens. I know, I know - I'm livin on the edge.

Next, I threw the many unwieldy squash slices into a big ole Ziploc with 2 T olive oil + 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar + 2 minced garlic cloves + fresh parsley-rosemary-oregano + S+P. Let it all mingle together for about an hour or so.

Did you wait the whole hour? Promise? Ok. Now, you know that oven I told you to preheat? Take your marinated squash slices and throw them on a pan and let them cook for about 5-8 minutes on each side (less time for smaller slices!). 

While your squish is softening up preemptively in the oven, let's work on the filling. I must say, I'm a little proud of this filling that I pulled out of nowhere.
All I did was take 3/4 c. of ricotta (I used fat free because it was all I had, use whatever your heart desires!) and mix in some sea salt, pepper, and a bit of lemon zest, about 1 - 1 1/2 tsp. I also pan roasted a clove of garlic I sliced and threw that in, although I might do another clove, I couldn't taste it very well.

Have you flipped your squash? Okey dokey, let's make lasagna. Make a layer or two of the squash. Then, on top of that add your ricotta filling, then 1/2 c. parmesan cheese. After that I made a layer of baby spinach, which I liked a lot, but if you don't have it, don't stress. After the second (and last) layer of squash, pour a can of Italian-spiced diced tomatoes over the top - you know, the ones with garlic/oregano/basil? I promise they are in your supermarket.
Sprinkle some more parmesan on top (~1/4 c.) and bake away. I just baked until it started bubbling, probably about 25-30 min, and I did end up turning the heat up to 400. Take it out & slice away!

Next time I would like to add some cannellini beans to it. You could also play around with the veggies - I plan on using eggplant and/or zucchini the next time around! I think basil would be a fantastic addition as well. But this was pretty good all on its own! Rave reviews from both of my parents - who, I will tell you, do not lie to me about my cooking. The lemon in the ricotta really made it, too - very light and summery. I will most certainly be making this again!

Another humpday, another challenge met and won. All in a day's work.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

All the Rage

Oh, bloggies, do I have some things to share. It is high time I introduce the latest obsessions of the Gillianasana kitchen. Hold on to your food processors, people!

1. Xantham Gum
I finally bit the grit after seeing countless images of protein ice cream and banana soft serve and ponied up the 13 buckaroons for this little bag of magic. Considering I use 1/4 tsp. at most at a time, it was a very worthy investment. Worthy and delicious. Not only can I create fruitylicious ice cream with a light-as-air texture on a whim, in any shade of the rainbow...

Oh yes. Green Monster ice cream. Don't be jealous - go make your own!

...but I have also created what may be one of my favorite oaty creations ever. Which leads me to obsession #2: Ice cream for breakfast, anyone?
Whip up your fave hot cereal & top with a fresh batch of ice cream. It will change your breakfast-lovin life. Seriously. It has that fun hot-cold thing going on, and it's sooo much better than just throwing fruit in the bowl (which, don't get me wrong, has it's place - on a pedestal lower than this.) Carby, creamy, fruity, fluffy...this has it all. Next stop: as a pancake topper. Stay tuned.

#3: PB & Co.'s White Chocolate Wonderful

Oh. My. God. I don't even like white chocolate. But apparently when combined with peanut butter, it's a horse of a different color. A really, really, amazingly yummy & addictive horse.

[P.S. - I can't speak for the company, but I'm pretty sure no horses were/are harmed during the production process.]

Seriously, I cannot decide if I like this better than Dark Chocolate Dreams, and I'm a dark choc fiend. It's sweet, it's salty, and it's good on anything - but my personal preference is a spoon. I have no words left. 

#4: Avocado

More specifically, Gena from Choosing Raw's Dilly Carrot Avocado Spread. I made this to bring up with us to Maine (I promise that post is coming!) and it was a HUGE hit. I have a history of not being much of a fan of this particular brand of produce - and it still bothers me in salads when it gets a slimy and odd (same issue with bananas...well, not so much in know what I mean) - but I have recently discovered a new love for this green goodness when smashed into other things. Sounds violent, tastes delicious. I have many future plans involving this little guy!

#6: Eat a cupcake - Save the world.
Ok, maybe the world won't be saved. But there is something so comforting, so restorative, so blissful about stopping into a local bakery and treating yourself to a little buttercream bliss . And really, if you think about it, wouldn't the world be a happier place if all the haters just stopped for a cupcake break every now and then? I think yes.

(I haven't been eating a cupcake on a daily basis - that would take away its specialness - so this is less of an obsession, more of a discovery. Potay-to, potah-to.)

#7: M. F. K. Fisher
Dear Mrs. Fisher,
Can I please be you when I grow up? And also, could we do gastronomical tour of France together? Call me. Hope all is well in the afterlife. Thanks,

I'm making friends with this book, a collection of her best work, as I chose her as the topic of my senior thesis (of course). The way she writes and weaves food into her stories, it's so...delicious to read.
"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?...The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry."

P.S. - expect the quotes to keep coming. I have to write a small book about this woman and her writing...I'm gonna have some stuff committed to memory, methinks.

And finally, no list would be complete with chocolate.
#8: Stonyfield's Organic Minty Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt
I knew this would more than likely be good. But it is SO much more. It just epitomizes that perfect combo of mint + dark chocolate. I'm amazed and impressed with my own restraint that three days after bringing this pint home, it still resides in the freezer not completely empty. YUM with a capital Y.

Tomorrow brings a new Over-the-Humpday Challenge...bring it on!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spiced Up Monday: Cumin

Cinnamon, cardamom....I decided to keep the 'c' thing going, so this week's Spiced Up is all about cumin!

I was very surprised to learn that cumin seed is actually a member of the parsley family - with its smoky, spicy flavor, I guess it just goes to show how different families can be (and that is meant in all senses ;).

Cumin orginates in ancient Egypt where it was used not only in cooking, but in mummification. You know, in case the dead pharaoh got a sudden afterlife craving for chili con carne. Obviously.
It was also mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible as a seasoning and form of currency. It was pretty popular in the kitchens of ancient Greece & Rome, especially since its spiciness made it a much cheaper substitute for the pricier black pepper.
Cumin, when applied to the skin, causes the skin to pale. Students were all over this one of course and used it to convince their professors that they had pulled an all-nighter studying. Once a college kid, always a college kid. Love it.
It was a staple in medieval-age cuisine and also at that time became a symbol of love and fidelity. It was put in pockets when going to a wedding, and soldiers were sent off to war with a loaf of cumin bread baked by their wives. Of course, anything thrown on top of some fresh-baked carbs says love to me!

In terms of nutritional qualities, it's pretty high in iron and manganese, and it is also a digestive aid. The mere scent of cumin comes from cuminaldehyde (say that 10 times really - GO!), a compound that makes up most of cumin's essential oil, and that scent activates the salivary gland, and the saliva created helps the digestion of food. Mouth-watering - literally! You can even mix it with hot water to help a stomach ache...although I don't know about you, but sipping on peppermint tea sounds a tad more appealing than a hot cup of cumin-infused water. Should the pantry be bare of peppermint tea however, that sounds like an easy enough sub.

When you think of cumin, you probably either conjure up images of a big ole plate of tamales a la Mexico or a lovely bowl of lentil dahl fresh from India. Its unmistakable flavor is often found in both of those regional cuisines. I would like to say I go against the grain and enjoy my cumin wrapped around a lamb chop or in oats (...ew?), but that would be a lie. And that is simply not the Gillianasana way. 

No, one of my absolute favorite recipes involving cumin has to be aloo gobhi, a traditional Indian dish of cooked cauliflower and potatoes. I discovered it during my visit to India a couple years ago and now I find it difficult to order anything else at Indian restaurants anywhere else. It is Trust me - seek out the nearest Indian restaurant and it will probably be on the menu. Order it. Or be daring and attempt it yourself:

[photo source]
Mmmm. Could go for some of that right about now...

Don't believe me? See for yourself! My sources:

There you have it - cumin in a nut shell. Or, at least, a blog post. Close enough, right?


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Restaurant Review: Red Lentil

When my aunt and uncle left to go home to Atlanta, they took my brother with them so he could have a vacation down there. My anti-fish/anti-"health food" brother. What's the big deal, you ask? My parents and I can go out to fun, interesting restaurants the doorways of which my brother couldn't be paid to darken. Naturally, the first on the my must-go-to list was a relatively new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Watertown, near Cambridge, Mass: The Red Lentil.

My mom and I met my dad there, who arrived before us and much to our relief and delight (we were starving), had already ordered the eggplant caponata appetizer and was sipping on a ginger brew - like ginger ale, only with much fresher ginger and very refreshing. I'd never tasted anything quite like it; I stole several sips! 

[Word to future diners - no wine list!]

First of all, I really liked the feel of this place. It wasn't too loud, despite the fact that every table in the small dining area was packed. The walls were a funky lime green that gave it a hip - not 1970s nightmare - aura. The clientele were, well, as expected in Cambridge - in every size, shape & color! For any non Mass readers, Cambridge is where Harvard is located. 'Nuf said.

So, about that appetizer...

One of the best things about this place hands down is their presentation. Every single dish we saw was beautifully and artfully placed on the plate. You eat first with your nose & eyes before your mouth, and it was lovely that the chefs take this into consideration.

As for taste? Well, I really enjoyed this. The sundried tomato spread was tangy (although a tad pasty, like it had been spread on too soon) and the crusty slice of bread was wonderful. The eggplant was mixed with tomatoes, capers and olives and went perfectly with the sundried tomato spread. My parents felt it was good but still missing something; I agreed, it wasn't the most amazing thing to pass my lips, but it was tasty and made my empty tummy happy.

After LOTS of deliberation (so much looked good!), my mom chose an appetizer & salad:

Beet-potato latkes
Arugula salad w. beets & golden beets, walnuts, and herbed goat cheese.

The latkes were very interesting, and enjoyable, but perhaps not to die for. It was also a lot of food! It was a little too big; by the time you get to the middle, we found our tastebuds a bit bored. The salad was great, very fresh, and a delicious combo of flavors. And the goat cheese was de-LISH!

My dad got the special:
Tamale filled with tropical fruits, black beans, and spiced soy chorizo

Again, a bit underwhelming. And again, we couldn't put our finger on why! Tasty but nothing particularly *wow*.

I ordered the Macrobiotic Platter - a choice of tofu, tempeh, or seitan with pinto beans, fresh veggies (broc, squash, zucchini, sweet potato) and a brown rice-sea vegetable mixture.

I really enjoyed this. The tempeh was perfectly cooked and had that great grainy texture I adore so much, even if it was a tad on the salty side for my taste. The pinto beans were, well, pinto beans, but what I was really impressed with was the sea vegetables! They had the coolest flavor - I've had & love seaweed salad at sushi places, but never had this particular kind of sea veggie before. It tasted like, um, the sea? I know, specific; I suppose it was salty with a pleasant bitterness not completely unlike kale, but with a hint of vinegar in there. (Is that better? ;) It was nothing life-changing, but I did very much like my entree.

We were debating dessert...and then the table next to us ordered. And then my dad reminded me of the "always judge a restaurant by its dessert" rule set forth by my beloved Italian cooking professor. And it was done.
All the desserts at The Red Lentil are vegan, gluten-free, and made in house. Gotta love that! We obviously went with chocolate - if nothing else, for comparison's sake!

This was...a disappointment. The cake was super dry - I think the chef needs to meet Dreena's blog! The ganache was lovely, and as for those peanut-butter-looking bits in there, I have no idea what they were, perhaps pieces of cake that got tiedyed? It was good, but not great. Of course, they could just hire me as their pastry chef and all their problems would be solved. Sounds like a plan to me.

And, another mark against them - my mother went to the bathroom before we left and, well, it wasn't a pleasant experience. Dirty bathrooms in a restaurant? Come on, guys, that's TOO easy to fix!

Overall though, it was a fun dinner. It was new and different, and I am so excited that vegetarian/vegan cuisine is gaining in popularity. I wish one would open up close to me! The biggest issue (food-wise) here is that the dishes themselves won't make you say "whoa." A lot of it would be very simple to make at home. I would, however, recommend it to everyone from strict vegan to the veg-curious. My parents & I truly enjoyed The Red Lentil, and I am more than happy to support veg-conscious places like this.
 Rock on, Red Lentil. Rock on.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Over-The-Humpday Challenge: Veganizing Brownies

After multiple awe-inspiringly successful attempts at tofu frosting topping Dreena's Triple Chocolate Cake with tofu-based frosting... had to have seen this one coming.

Oh yes, people. This week's Over-the-Humpday Challenge: tofu brownies.

I figured there had to be a recipe out there in the depths of Google somewhere - and lo! The universe and I were clearly on the same page, because I woke to find my newsletter in my inbox with none other than a recipe for Triple Chocolate Tofu Brownies. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is.

So, I got straight to work - you can view the recipe here.

I stuck to the recipe as closely as possible, which I like to do when trying a recipe for the first time. Then, I figure out what needs to be changed. The only alteration I made this time was to use a combo of  vegan chocolate chips and white chocolate chips in the batter - and LOVED it. I would definitely keep the white chocolate next time, it rocked! A nice contrast to the dark cocoa-y flavor.

It was overall a success - they were almost gone by the time the plate returned after I sent it over to the neighbors'. I found them a tad too sweet though, and would like to add some instant espresso powder to the batter - coffee in general emphasizes and complements chocolate and just helps bring it out more. I meant to add it, I just forgot! I think I'd reduce the sugar - I knew a whole cup of white sugar sounded like a lot, but I went with it. I'd prefer to use raw sugar, and not quite so much. I'd also like to experiment with different oils - I couldn't quite tell how the olive oil affected it, but I would like to try canola or walnut just to see what happened. 

Another day, another OTHd Challenge done. And the weekend is almost here! Make some brownies - it will get here faster. I promise.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Coffee Talk

Here's what I've learned after 3 consecutive summers working in a small coffeehouse:

1. Eat a good breakfast. Preferably involving an ample serving of protein + fat + fiber.
[oats + greek yogurt + melone]

2. Sandwiches are friends. Quick, tasty, portable friends.
[tempeh + Crofter's SuperFruits jam + goat cheese on sprouted grains bread. makethisNOW.]

[cucumber + anchovies mashed w. avocado + oregano + rosemary. also quite delicious!]

3. Bars are friends of sandwiches. Don't split those lovebirds up. Your blood sugar will thank you.
[ProBar's Fruition Cran-Raspberry: This is a truly wonderful bar! Not too tart, just pleasantly refreshing. If only it were a bit less $$$$, they'd make many more appearances in my life.]

[Clif Chocolate Almond Fudge: Anyone who can't stand how overly sweet Clif bars are, this will change your mind. It's like a wonderful chocolatey brownie with hints of almond extract, helped by the real chunks of almonds in there. Must be my favorite Clif. SOgood.]

4. Drink water nonstop. Yes, you will have to pee a lot. But I have learned that the chances of the front of the store exploding or a line of customers around the block forming in those 3 minutes of potty time are shockingly small.

5. Be prepared to be hangry when you step in the door. Make a fast, delicious, & healthy snack.
Overeasy egg on toast will do just fine.

6. Always have your camera on hand. You never know when you're going to walk out after closing and witness one of the most photogenic sunsets of the summer.

And finally, my latest lesson learned:

7. Windex makes a kickass fly killer. Even if your clientele think you're insane because they see you spraying Windex into the air with a ninja-like look on your face.

To all my fellow baristas out there - keep on brewin'. And to all my dear coffeehouse patrons...have you tipped your barista lately?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spiced Up Monday: Cardamom

Hello blogworld! Welcome to the 2nd Spiced Up Monday. Today features one of my secret weapons: cardamom.

You usually find cardamom in its ground form in the grocery store, but what is it ground from? Seeds, of course! They are the seed of a tropical fruit in the ginger family, eletaria cardamomum (say that 10 times fast!), which makes perfect sense from a taste perspective - it definitely has that spicy, sharp flavor in common with ginger. It originates in India, where both the green and black seeds are used; the black is actually from a different but very similar species, and is a little less expensive.

In India, it was used for medicinal purposes and the Greco-Roman era wisely used it as a digestive aid (and you can, too!). Interestingly enough, it is mentioned several times in the ancient story Arabian Nights as being used in Arab culture as an aphrodesiac and to prepare love potions. I can't attest to that being true, but I sure do have lovey-dovey feelings for a bowl of oats when I throw in some cardamom!

In India, it is a staple spice in countless dishes, both savory and sweet. In the Middle East, they traditionally grind it with their coffee beans, which sounds like a fascinating idea to me! It's also quite popular in Scandinavia, thanks to its discovery by the Vikings in Constantinople, and is used often in pastries. ANd in ancient Egypt, they chewed the pods to clean their teeth. Know the term 'Renaissance man'? I think cardamom classifies as a 'Renaissance spice'!

I first discovered its wonderfulness when attempting to make a bowl of chai-flavored oats, as it is a prominent ingredient in traditional Indian chai tea. Once, I just threw about 1/8-1/4 tsp. of it in my cinnamon oats, and WHOA! It made the whole bowl much more flavorful and sweeter. It was a breakfast miracle. And it's only right to share my love for this spice with you! It also makes some mean oatmeal cookies, too.

It does have a very intense flavor, and you only need the teeniest bit to make the difference. I suggest a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of cinnamon to cardamom, and perhaps a bit of nutmeg and/or coriander. I ADORE it in cream of wheat. Its comforting flavor will give you that rainy-day-curl-up-with-a-book feeling you know you love. And it's super fun to experiment with - both in sweet and savory recipes.

Want to learn more? Here are my info sources:

Happy Spicing!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Maine Bound

After a long day of yoga, eating, playing with my new friend Martin, and closing the coffee house, I'm zonked. And off to Maine tomorrow! Just overnight. I will be back Sunday with molto pictures!

Have a fab Saturday!

Ain't she cute!


Friday, July 16, 2010

Split Decision

I hope you're enjoying the new blog daily themes! I'm sure having fun thinking up my spices and OTHd Challenges to come!

Today, however, I decided to tackle a different challenge. Foodbuzz, my ever-so-fab sponsor, has issued a challenge to all of its featured publishers to create the Ultimate Banana Split. Recently they helped Electrolux and Kelly Ripa raise money for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund by sending 2 featured publishers to New York and giving them the opportunity to make banana splits with their kids, and now they are sharing this idea with everyone! For every post published, Foodbuzz will donate $50 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Ice cream for a good cause? No need to ask me twice!

So I thought. And ate some Fage + berries.

Thought more. Made some kale chips.
[P.S. - make.these.NOW.]

And then it came to me, with the help of newest best friend:
Meet Martin, the mini food processor! I saw him in the store and just couldn't say no. He was just too cute! (That, and our old food processor from the 80s caused me a slight mental collapse a few nights ago. Something had to change.)

So, don't yell at me, but I have yet to try the wonderful banana soft serve that's been flying across the foodie blogosphere lately! Mostly because of said food processor problem. But, I had a frozen banana in the freezer, and with Martin as my companion, I knew it was time. Into the bowl went:
1/2 banana
1/4 c. frozen mango chunks (because no Gillianasana Ultimate anything would be truly complete without mango!)
...and that's all! Just blend, baby, blend, and BAM! 
Soft serve ice cream, just waiting to be eaten. Or, in my case, paired with a fresh-baked brownie:
I call it my Lazy Summer Split - the banana IS the ice cream!

Happy Splitting!


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Over-The-Humpday Challenge DEBUT!

I told you I had fun stuff planned! So, from now on, every Wednesday I will have an Over The Humpday Challenge to overcome. For the very first OTHdC (c'mon, you know you love the acronyms), I was very excited to put a new-found ingredient to some good use:
I first saw them on Angela's blog, and then I spied them at our weekly farmer's market with a sign that said "Last Week!!" and snatched a big ole bag of them up....with no idea what in the world I would do with them. Luckily, destiny called and lo and behold, the stand that sold the scapes had little recipes printed out from garlic scape pesto. Sounds like a good plan to me.
After reviewing the recipe, I decided to just use my regular pesto recipe and sub the basil & garlic clove for just the scapes. Into the food processor went:
-12 garlic scapes
-2 T pine nuts
-2 T extra virgin olive oil (pesto is raw, so the more flavorful the olive oil, the more flavorful the pesto!)
-5 T parmesan cheese
-pinch coarse salt (we actually didn't have any, but it is recommended - makes it easier on the blades)
-water (about a glass) to add as needed
I did chop up the scapes to help the food processor a little. 
WHOA these babies are strooooong! This pesto was uber-garlicky, to the point of being spicy, but I and my taste testers thought it was great! I tossed it with some whole grain fusilli with a bit of basil torn and sprinkled on top:
I like to think my cooking professor in Florence would be proud :)
I made it a second time (SO many scapes!) and instead of pasta, threw it in a bowl with a can of cannellini (white) beans, fresh tomato, and black olives - this time adding a touch of ricotta cheese to the sauce. Again, success! We had plenty left over and ended up using it as the sauce for a bag of tortellini for dinner. TOO easy!

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Garlic scape pesto: a dip, spread, sauce, side dish, main attraction, snack, omelette filler....oh, the list goes on. 

OTHd Challenge: Garlic Scapes? Accomplished. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spiced Up: Cinnamon

Ok, I know that it is Tuesday...but I have decided, this being my blog and all, that this post is still Monday. Because I can.

For a while I have been getting annoyed with myself about the blahness of the blog - although what I expected after coming home from Italy I don't know - either way, it's about time that changed. That said...

Welcome to Spiced Up Monday! Every Monday I will pick a spice and talk about its history, good-for-you properties, uses, and basically what makes them so great. Because Monday is boring and blah and everyone needs a little spice!

I'm starting with a personal fave: cinnamon. I will add it to pretty much everything with full confidence that it will become an even tastier, more interesting dish than before - and more often than not, it works!

Where to begin with this wonderful spice? Well, the beginning sounds pretty good.

It originates from Ceylon (aka, Sri Lanka), but there is also a Chinese variety. Those are the most mainstream, although I know there are several other different origins out there. Each variety has a slightly different flavor profile, and it is really interesting to taste the differences. I had become so accustomed to the Saigon (Vietnamese) cinnamon we get in bulk from Costco, which has a much heavier, spicier flavor, the cinnamon I bought at the euro store in Florence was so light I must have added a tablespoon at a time to my oats!

Cinnamon makes several appearances in the Bible, and was a symbol of friendship. In ancient Rome, cinnamon was burned in funeral pyres during their ceremonial cremations to hide the, um, none-too-pleasant scent of the burning of the dead (eau-de-flesh? I think not.) In the Middle Ages, it became a status symbol - if you could add cinnamon to your food, you had some serious money bags up in your castle!
At banquets, guests would be presented with a plate piled with just different kinds of spices to show them that they were dining in some pretty sweet digs - it was very impressive if you could afford exotic spices from the mysterious East. 
Cinnamon was also used for medicinal purposes, aiding in coughs and with indigestion. And it worked, too - the bark that cinnamon comes from contains three basic types of healing substances found in its essential oils. Cinnemaldehyde prevents clotting in the blood, and acts as an anti-inflammatory because it can lower the release of a particular fatty acid that causes inflammation. It can also stop icky bacteria from growing, AND if that's enough for you, it can help stabilize blood sugar levels! Cinnamon will slow the speed our stomachs empty after we eat, which is especially beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes.
And for all my fellow college students out there, research has been done that shows cinnamon's ability to improve brain function. Just one a whiff of this tasty can improve cognitive processing - so if you need a better reason to eat that bowl of cinnamon oats before finals, here it is! 

Cinnamon is high in the mineral manganese as well as fiber, calcium, and iron. All good stuff that we need!

Wanna read more? Here are my sources for the above info:

Now, all this info is all well and good...but what's the best way to eat it? Oh, the options are limitless. Throw some in your cookies, smoothies, even salads! It's great with fruits like pear, apple, and banana. And it really makes chocolate pop! That may sound a little crazy, but go with me on this one. One of my favorite hot cereal bowls goes a little somethin like this:
-hot cereal of your choice
-milk of your choice
-cocoa powder (eyeball it, I like using about 2 t)
-a little less than 1 tsp of instant coffee/espresso
-cinnamon (again, eyeball it)
-vanilla extract
-strawberries and blueberries
Cook the cereal as you normally would, adding in the spices. I like cooking the fruit in with it so the flavors meld together, but you could definitely throw them on top fresh as well. It's like a fruity Mexican Mocha! I promise, it's awesome.

Of course, you could just stick with the classic apples & cinnamon. Can't go wrong with that.

 Of course, when it comes to cinnamon, it's pretty hard to go wrong in general - it's really good stuff.