Monday, June 28, 2010

Learn to Crave Exercise!

After forty-three years, I finally figured out how to take care of my body.  It has been a learning process the whole way.  I want to share with you how I convinced myself that exercise is essential to my life.

Here are three very good reasons for my exercise:  Tim, Ben and Natalie.

I exercise six out of seven days for about forty-five minutes a day.  The CDC suggests that adults be moderately active for 150 minutes each week with two or more days for strength training.  That works out to be 25 minutes a day for six days.  I believe Americans can do better than that.  We need to incorporate less siting and more movement during the day.  I carry a pedometer in my pocket and track my steps everywhere I go.  It is recommended that your average American take  10,000 steps a day.  If you take 10,000 steps a day, you are walking the equivalent of 5 miles.

You might ask me, how do you get that many steps in during the course of the day.  I measure the steps I take during my forty-five minutes of exercise.  I also try to incorporate walking when I can.  If I drive to a store, I take a parking spot that is further away from my destination.  I add an evening walk around the neighborhood if I haven't been active enough for the day.  In other words, I try not to sit for long periods of time.

Another approach that has helped me is to exercise right after waking up.  By doing that, I don't procrastinate and find an excuse not to work out.  I have mentally trained myself to expect exercise early in the morning.

Do I feel like working out every day?  No.  Do I enjoy myself every time I exercise?  I struggle some mornings.  Do I think it is a waste of my time?  Definitely not.

I rationalize my physical activity with the belief that exercise staves off heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis to name a few ailments.  I also view physical activity as a way to avoid knee replacement surgery (which has affected a couple of family members already).  In other words, there are ruinous consequences if I don't exercise.  That thought is enough to keep me off the couch.

An additional motivator for exercise is the mental health benefits.  Aerobic activity and weight training are great for relieving stress.  I know that if I haven't exercised, I am crankier, tenser and less relaxed.  Once I have completed my body conditioning for the day, I feel calmer.

A third personal motivator for exercise is my children.  I want to be able to keep up with them as we grow older together.  They are playing soccer, baseball and basketball.  If I didn't exercise on a regular basis, I wouldn't be able to jump, dash or play catch with them.  Both aerobic exercise and strength training have helped me to keep up with the kids.

Yes, exercise can be a pain but the results from it far exceed the short term discomfort.  I avoid sedentary habits by exercising first thing in the morning and walk constantly.  Furthermore,  I can avoid major health problems, be relaxed and stay youthful.  That is why I crave exercise.

Think about fashioning a new active lifestyle.  Consider your motivators and utilize them with your physical routine.  Soon you will be developing a love affair with exercise.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm a Happy Camper

After posting yesterday, the phone gods must have heard me.  AT& T decided to step up their iPhone activation system for the early recipients.  I was able to get my new phone working yesterday evening.

Diane is much happier with her new iPhone 4
The iPhone 4 is all that they promised and more.  I like the new design of the phone.  It is narrower and slightly thinner.  The glass does attract thumbprints galore but the screen is crisp.

After playing Angry Birds, I could tell that the phone was a vast improvement over my old 3G.  The game loaded faster and had crystal clear graphics.  You have to see it to believe it on this tiny screen.

One of my favorite educational apps' Star Walk, shows great pictures of the day with the new phone.  Even Google Earth displays most beautifully.  Apple once again is a leader with graphics.

Probably the most anticipated feature of the iPhone 4 is the software update.  I know you can have multitasking with the earlier phones, but it is lovely to have on the new phone.  Now I can have folders for all my favorite apps.  I made a news folder along with separate movie, educational and games apps' folder.  The multitasking feature is so helpful now.  I can now leave an app open, go to another application and then return to the previous app without reloading it (provided I stay within the folder I created).

Overall, I am a happy camper with my new iPhone 4.  I didn't have to wait in line for three hours in the Apple store to get mine.  It came straight to my house.  If only AT& T had their act together, it would have been a near perfect experience.  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Got iPhone 4?

Sometimes it is frustrating being an early adopter.  I just got my package from ShenZhen, China around lunch time.  I couldn't believe that FedEx delivered my new iPhone 4 to me a day early.

Diane is not too excited about her iPhone 4.
I decided not to skip lunch.  Tim and I had a leisurely meal with leftovers.  Boy, I am glad I didn't rush upstairs to activate my phone.

After I opened the package to see a sleek new phone (Apple does an exceptional job on presentation), I thought I would remove my sim card from my old iPhone 3G.  It took me a couple of minutes wrestling with a paper clip and watching a video to get it out.

I thought erroneously that I had to place my old sim card into the new iPhone 4.  After a call to Mike, he cleared up my confusion.  The sim cards are different sizes with the iPhone 3G and 4.  I just waisted another ten minutes doing the wrong thing.

Early adopters do make a number of mistakes trying to figure out how new technology works.  That can be real exasperating.  Especially when you know there is a pot of gold at the end of the technology rainbow.

Mike suggested that I plug in my new iPhone 4 to the computer and let it sync with iTunes.  Supposedly I could activate my new phone this way.  Not!!!!  AT & T has decided that early recipients should wait one more day till all their counterparts receive their new phones.  Why did I have to be awarded this punishment?

It is like getting a Christmas present with no batteries.  Oh and the convenience store is inconveniently closed that Christmas.  Come on AT & T, you can do better.  Why did Apple and FedEx work so hard to exceed expectations while AT & T decided to be average or worse.  If I didn't like my iPhone so much, I probably would be a Verizon customer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Flatbread Heaven 3

By far, my family's favorite flatbread is pizza. During the summer, grilled pizza is such a satisfying meal. Whenever Mike needs to go somewhere in the evening and can't cook for us, I usually put pizza on the menu.

This recipe is inspired from Cook's Illustrated . I like the fact that the dough is made in a food processor. It makes the task easier and simpler. I can have dough made in less than ten minutes and prepared an hour before dinner time. This really gives me little excuse for calling the pizza delivery guy.

Diane's pizza dough recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated Pizza Dough (May 1, 1995).

3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/4 tsp yeast

1 1/2 table salt
1 3/4 cup filtered water
2 tbsps olive oil

Add all the dry ingredients to the food processor. Process the ingredients until combined. Add the water and oil in the feed tube until the flour mixture is wet with a consistency like play-doh. Let the dough rest in the food processor for two minutes. Reprocess the dough for about a minute after resting.

Turn out the dough into a bowl coated with olive oil. Cover and let rise for one hour (if the room temperature is cool, heat the oven to 200 degrees for ten minutes, shut the heat off and place the bowl in the oven). After rising for one hour, turn the dough out onto a floured counter.

Divide the dough into six to eight balls and let rest covered for fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, roll the dough out after lightly dusting with flour. Place pizza discs on sheet pans with parchment paper.

Preheat grill for fifteen minutes. While letting grill preheat, make pizza sauce (1 tbsp olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, 28 oz. crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste). After preheating grill, brush grill to clean and coat grill grates with oil.

Turn heat down to medium and place pizza discs onto grill carefully and quickly. Cover and cook for two minutes until pizza is puffed with grill marks on bottom. Place uncooked pizza side face down on sheet pan.

Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to grilled side of pizza. In addition, add any meat or condiments to pizza. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese lightly onto the pizza.

Place uncooked side of pizza down on the grill and cook while covered for five minutes. Cheese should be melted and the bottom should have grill marks. Voila!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Flatbread Heaven 2

My family loves flatbread season.  Another go-to recipe in my collection is chapati.  I was introduced to chapati by Marc Bittman of the New York Times.  He published an easy grilling recipe in August 2008 and I have been using it since with some modifications.
 Buckwheat chapati dough can be made in the food processor.
I like his recipe since it starts in the food processor.  This of course makes clean up easy.  Bittman's recipe suggests using whole wheat flour with an addition of all purpose flour.  I decided to use buckwheat because I was out of whole wheat flour.

Once the dough is mixed in the food processor, it's important to let the chapati rest for thirty minutes.  The resting helps to soften the bran in the flour and make it easy to roll out.  I decided to use my tortilla press for making the chapati.
It is easy to use a tortilla press with buckwheat chapati.
Before pressing the dough into discs, I usually preheat the gas grill on high for fifteen minutes.  Feel free to use a charcoal grill if you are cooking additional foods.  Traditional chapati is rolled out on a counter dusted with flour.  I decided to use a tortilla press.   A cut open plastic zip top bag is necessary for this process.  I will warn you that the dough does stick slightly to the plastic after flattening it.  To avoid this, you can sprinkle a little all purpose flour onto the plastic before pressing the dough into chapati discs.

The chapati are layered between parchment paper to keep them from sticking.
Chapatis are usually brushed with ghee (clarified butter) to retain the bread's softness.  I chose to use a thyme butter brush (I used DadCooksDinner for inspiration) for half the bread and olive oil for the remaining half.  My children aren't quite fans of green herbs yet.  I also brought sea salt to the grill to sprinkle on the bread after grilling.
From Left to Right, Clockwise:  Thyme butter, spanish olive oil and French sea salt.
After scraping the grill and brushing the grates with oil,  I turned the burners down to medium heat.  The grilling goes quickly so don't walk away.  After placing about six chapatis on the grill, I cooked them for two minutes while covered.  You may want to check them sooner if your charcoal grill is really hot.  Flip the bread and cook while covered another two minutes,  The bread should be puffy and darkened with grill marks.  Brush each chapati with oil or butter and sprinkle with salt.
Grilled chapati can be enjoyed with your next grilled dinner.
Chapatis are a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, pork or fish.  I make them whenever we need a starch addition to our meal.  It is such an effortless way to make bread without opening the oven door or adding yeast.  Summer is prime time for flatbread!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Flatbread Heaven

My family's carb loading food of choice is flatbread.  They look forward to the corn scent of tortillas or a whiff of grilled chapati.  As soon as the weather gets warmer, it makes sense to stop using the oven and start using the griddle or grill to make flatbread.
This is Diane's well used, ten year old tortilla press.
About ten years ago, I started making tortillas and it began in the clearance section of Williams-Sonoma.   The Beachwood store had a Imusa Victoria Cast Iron tortilla press on sale for $10.  I thought, 'why not' and bought it.

The hard part was finding masa to make tortillas.  Since we don't live in Chicago (which has the third largest Hispanic population), I didn't have a source for fresh masa so I had to locate some masa de harina (powdered masa).  The closest source for masa de harina was actually my local Super Kmart.  Our grocery stores back then didn't have a great selection of ethnic foods.

I found Maseca masa de harina which can be reconstituted with water and salt.  At first I used chicken broth instead of water to give the tortillas some depth of flavor.  I later switched back to plain water since Mike would complain to me about using all of his homemade chicken broth.

It is important to follow the prescribed ratio of masa de harina to water.  You want the dough to have the consistency of Play Doh.  Once the dough is made,  it is suggested to cover the bowl with a damp towel.  I don't bother since  I am a lazy cook.  It is also recommended to portion all the dough into golf ball-sized units.  I however make them up as I go along.

Once the dough is made, it's time to heat up the griddle.  In the beginning I was using a stove top nonstick griddle by All-Clad.  Mike bought me an Presto electric griddle to save stove space.  I now cook six tortillas together.  If I make a double batch, this process takes me about twenty to thirty minutes.

Since the tortillas require a hot dry griddle, I set the temperature to 400 degrees.  After a few minutes, the griddle is ready to go.  No oil is necessary for cooking tortillas.

While the griddle is heating up, a piece of plastic must be found to prevent the dough from sticking to the press.  I customarily cut up a quart sized zip top bag for this purpose.  Just snip off the top and slice open the sides of the bag.  The long rectangle is a perfect shape for pressing masa into tortillas.

In the open press, I lay the plastic down and place the ball of masa on top.  Make sure the masa is covered on top and below with the plastic before closing the press over it.  With gentle pressure,  compress the masa into a disc.  Open the press and rotate the tortilla a quarter turn clockwise.  Re-close the press a second time with light force to ensure an even layer of tortilla.

The tricky part is releasing the tortilla from the plastic and laying it onto the griddle.  After opening the press, peel the top layer of plastic away from the tortilla.  Flip the bare tortilla onto your palm.  Carefully strip the plastic away from the rest of the tortilla.  With a sweeping motion, lay the tortilla onto the griddle.  I repeat this process another five times to fill the griddle with tortillas.

Cook the first side of the tortilla for 30 seconds.  Flip with a spatula and cook the second side for 60 seconds.  The tortilla will start to puff up.  Turn over the tortilla once more to cook for an additional 30 seconds.  After flipping the tortilla for the third time, I press down on it with a folded up paper towel.  This step helps the tortilla to inflate and become airy.

 Here are tortillas cooking on the electric griddle. 
Once the tortillas have been cooked three times a piece, I place them on a plate and wrap them up with a tea towel.  This keeps the tortillas fairly warm for about an hour.

You may ask me why I bother doing this when I can purchase tortillas at the grocery store.  Well, you haven't experience life fully if you haven't eaten freshly made tortillas.  My family nine times out of ten prefers homemade tortillas.

They also enjoy having leftover tortillas (if they haven't eaten them all at dinner).   The next day, we use leftover tortillas to make great chips in the oven or quesadillas on the stove top.  My family never gets tired of eating tortillas.

I hope that you now consider making tortillas a simple pursuit.  I encourage you to try it.  Buy a press, get some masa and use your griddle.  You will get to experience firsthand, flatbread heaven.