Outrageous experiments in sensible eating.

Feb. 7 2011 7:09 PM

Feb. 6: What I Ate. Farewell, Exotics.

For breakfast: wheat berries with apple butter and almond butter for protein, half a pomelo without sugar--turns out it really doesn't need any.

  

For lunch: minestrone soup with parmesan, wedges of hothouse cucumber, and leftover gluten-free pizza crust from the night before.

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For dinner: This is sort of a roasted root vegetable couscous of my own invention, to use the vegetables in my fridge: rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, eggplant, daikon, red pepper, onion, garlic, potato; with whole-wheat couscous. The yellow chunks are golden beet. Came out pretty well, but not as good as if I'd known what I was doing and had some turmeric in the house.

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This is a prickly pear, which isn't actually a pear and comes from a cactus.

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Here is the inside:

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The texture is sort of like watermelon. The taste is sort of appley and pearish. It was edible but not enjoyable, so I tasted it then chucked it and ate an apple instead, but at least I tried a different kind. This is a gala apple:

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I've got a mango and some plantains ripening, but other than that, my recent foray into exotic fruits is over for the time being.

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Feb. 7 2011 7:52 AM

Week 6: Putting It All Together

When I started Clean Plate on Jan. 1 to try to improve my eating habits, I had a question in mind: Could someone like me--a busy urban professional--eat healthfully without it ruining her life? I had hoped the answer would be yes and that it would be easier than I'd anticipated: that it wouldn't take all my money, time, energy, and brain power. I identified what I thought to be the five largest obstacles to eating sensibly-- confusion , money , time , outside influences , and inertia --and set out to conquer one each week with an experiment related to that obstacle. During Week 1 focused on getting the nutrients my body needs. In Week 2 I attempted to spend as little money as possible. In Week 3 I slowed down the act of eating itself by performing eating meditation. In Week 4 I monitored the outside influences that affect my eating and tried not be sidetracked by temptation or pressure. And in Week 5, last week, I tried to expand my palate by trying new foods. By isolating each obstacle, I'd hoped to discover they weren't as obstructive as I thought or, if they were, to find ways around them.

Focusing on one obstacle a week was the easy part. In this, the final week, it gets difficult: I have to put all my goals together. What I'm seeking is balance. I'm looking for the perfect formula for eating nutritiously, spending as little money as possible, taking time to eat slowly yet not taking up all my time, buying and preparing all my own food, planning ahead, fulfilling my needs and wants, and eating in the best way for the environment.

But I already know this formula doesn't exist. These goals come into conflict with one another all the time. You can't spend as little money as possible and buy everything organic. You can't buy and prepare all your own food without putting some time into it. You can't plan ahead and be spontaneous. You can't eat only nutrients and fulfill every eating desire. You can't always find or afford organic or locally grown foods.

And so I will have to decide what my priority is going to be. Should my main food concern be health, money, time, satisfaction, or the planet? And once I choose my main priority, what else will go down the trash compactor?

Experiment No. 6: Putting It All Together

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The goals for this week are manifold: to continue to eat healthfully, to make smart shopping decisions, to eat slowly and mindfully, to eat foods that satisfy me, and to make the best eating choices for the environment.

I will keep track of which of these come into conflict when and report on it at the end of each day. When I'm standing in the supermarket trying to decide whether to buy conventional or organic bananas, which should I choose: lower cost or planetary health? When I know I should eat a piece of fruit for dessert but I want chocolate, which should I choose: health or satisfaction? When I'm late for work, should I be even later by making my own lunch or pick up something on the way? Should I choose time or money or health?

In the last five weeks, I didn't fully succeed at the experiments. I was particularly bad at spending as little money as possible. For me, desire trumps money: I gotta have my pineapple. On the other hand, there's only so much I'm willing to spend when it comes to organics. It's impossible for me to justify spending $7.49 for 6 ounces of dried organic cranberries when the non-organic ones are only $2.99. But why eat dried cranberries, which are sweetened, at all? For me, desire still comes into conflict with health constantly. When it's time to eat, I still tend to ask myself What do I want? instead of What does my body need? I still have difficulty eating my vegetables when I'm not in the mood. And I continue to struggle with time: I resent having to spend so much of it planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Other things in my life I care about have fallen by the wayside, so how will I cope when­ I have to face all of these issues at once?

There's little doubt I'll need your input and advice this week. What is your priority when it comes to eating? What do you think mine should be? In what order should I prioritize these goals?

I look forward to reading your comments.

Feb. 6 2011 4:29 PM

Eating Experiment No. 5: Preliminary Findings

Goal:

To buy and try foods I've either never eaten or don't normally eat.


Loved:
This week's experiment was the most fun because it cultivated an exploratory approach to food, rather than a restrictive or punitive one. Each day I fell in love with something: artichoke hearts, wild rice and cranberry salad, and pepitas on Monday ; apple butter and roasted corn pudding in acorn squash on Tuesday ; wheat berries on Wednesday ; barley for breakfast and Siggi's yogurt on Thursday ; curried black-eyed peas on Friday ; and strawberry butter on Saturday . I managed to incorporate about one-third of the foods on my " Foods I Don't Normally Eat " List (with more to come: Some are still ripening and/or waiting in the fridge). I made some new discoveries and several rediscoveries.

Hated: The exotic fruits were for the most part disappointing. I am not a squeamish person, but some of them wigged me out a little bit. Of the 10 I tried, I'd only willingly eat two of them again. I don't blame the fruit. In some cases I think I bought a poor specimen or let it get too ripe before trying it. I'm sure they are amazing in their native countries. This week took a lot of work: a lot of research and shopping and money and lugging and cooking. I went shopping at least three times in addition to getting groceries delivered. Too much! My dishwasher also took a beating this week.

Learned: My culinary repertoire is limited and repetitive. Trying new foods and new recipes is fun, even though it takes a lot of work. Obviously it's crazy to try to eat all new foods at every meal, but I think trying one new recipe a week would be great and would broaden my world. Emu eggs are green and gorgeous and enormous. Duck eggs are not as good as chicken eggs. I do like acorn and butternut squash; I just don't like cooking them. It's a completely different experience to approach food with apprehension than anticipation. I also realized a lot of the foods on my "Don't Normally Eat" list are there because I don't like them (cabbage and radicchio, I'm talking to you). Almond milk isn't gross. Neither is unsugared cereal.

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Surprises: My picky husband told me he loves tofu. We've been together for 19 years; I knew he would eat tofu but I had no idea he loves it. My husband was also pretty excited about trying new dishes and he liked almost all of them. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this week. I thought it would be a lot of work and not a lot of fun and that I'd feel weird physically. Gluten-free products aren't bad.

Funny Things: Twice I bought fruits I couldn't identify and the cashiers couldn't either. But neither of them asked me why I would buy something when I didn't even know what it was.

Conclusion: Trying new foods is something I should incorporate into my life regularly. It creates a positive exploratory approach to food and broadens my repertoire--and my mind. Plus, it's fun. I subscribed to Vegetarian Times , as a reader suggested.

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Next Up: Tomorrow I begin my final week when I try to put together everything I've learned.

 

Feb. 6 2011 11:14 AM

Feb. 5: What I Ate. Yes, I'd Like Some Starch With My Starch, Please.

After the dog run, I went to the farmers' market in search of more apple butter. Little did I know there'd be so many other kinds of fruit butters. I bought two: peach, which I've seen before, and strawberry, which I never have. Lucky me. They had others: blackberry peach, plum, etc., but I figured I should limit myself, at least a little bit.

 

For brunch I warmed up leftover Curried Black-Eyed Peas With Tomatoes and Mushrooms  from last night . It was even better and spicier the next day. This is a great winter meal.

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It was time to try another exotic fruit. This is a pepino melon :

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Once again, I waited too long. Here's the inside. You can see it's browning around the top and bottom:

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I tasted some of the non-rotting flesh. It was bland. It tasted like an extremely watered-down cantaloupe, so I chucked it after one bite and opted instead for yogurt with the new fruit butters: peach on the left, strawberry on the right.

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We had company coming for dinner--they wanted to make pizzas. Before they arrived, I put together this Asparagus, Fingerling Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza suggested by commenter Jill Brickey . I made mine on bread-machine whole-wheat crust and used white asparagus. Here is pizza slice No. 1. My crust was a bit dense--I had my doubts about the yeast I used--but the toppings were amazing. Yes, I'd like some starch with my starch, please.

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Pizza slice No. 2 came from a more traditional pizza: marinara, tomatoes, olives, mozzarella, garlic, parmesan, and basil leaves on a delicious cornmeal crust my guests brought from Whole Foods. Yum. Perfect texture.

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Another guest brought an exquisite chocolate mousse cake from Financier Bakery in Manhattan. Yes, I had some. I didn't want to be rude. Yeah, that's why. He couldn't have chosen a better cake for a chocolate fiend if he had tried. It was so rich, you could really only eat a little sliver.

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No, it wasn't a very healthy eating day, but it was the first social occasion of the new year. Considering it was pizza and chocolate cake, I think I did all right. I'll have to mainline some greens tomorrow.

Feb. 4 2011 9:15 PM

Feb. 4: What I Ate. So Many Good, New, Exotic Things!

We begin with a breakfast battle of the berries (wheat) and the barley, in lowfat milk. Who will come out a winner? The berries are buttery but the barley is nutty. No winner declared. Both delicious.

One thing was sure: It wasn't enough food. Time to hit the fruit. This is a pomelo, a grapefruit native to Southeast Asia. Huge.

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This is the inside. Look how thick that peel is and how the edge of the fruit curves in and out.

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I haven't eaten grapefruit halved for a long time, but I was pretty sure I couldn't eat it without sugar, so I threw some turbinado on it. I also had some gluten-free toast with apple butter. The toast tasted fine. The pomelo was much milder and less bitter than our grapefruits. Very juicy.

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Then work got busy for several hours. I held off eating because I wanted to make something new, but there was just too much to do and I got too hungry, so Round 2 of the battle of the berries vs. barley, with dried cranberries, because I'm out of raisins, and almond milk, because I'm out of regular milk. The almond milk added something to it. And I declared a winner in this battle: me, because I don't have to choose one over the other and together they are kind of nice.

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Exotic fruits were rotting in my fridge and I felt guilty about it--so it was time to try to eat some. These were the wiltiest: dragonfruit on the left and I don't know what the one on the right is. Maybe you can help me out. The cashier where I bought it didn't know either, so he gave it to me for free. I thought it was either some kind of pear or melon. My co-worker said it looks like a little owl, so I'm calling it owl fruit.

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This is what they look like on the inside: The owl fruit looks even more like an owl!

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I think they were both past their prime, though. I took one bite of each--the owl fruit smelled delicious, like a cross between an apple and a pear. It tasted appley and pearish and melony, so I still couldn't determine what it might be. The dragonfruit had no flavor--maybe because I tasted the other one first. After one bite I threw them out. There goes 10 bucks.

But, not to worry, Siggi's yogurt and apple butter will revive me. This is happymaking:

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I think Siggi's might be--dare I say it?--better than Fage? Go ahead, fight it out in the Comments section.

What could be better for a scratchy throat and congested nose than a little spicy Indian-ish food? This is a recipe recommendation from commenter Liz Derosier: Curried Black-Eyed Peas With Tomatoes and Mushrooms . It's extremely fragrant, so I took a shower between cooking and eating so I could fully taste it. It's like healthy, tasty comfort food. The recipe included a spice blend called garam masala. Super yum. What else can I do with garam masala? The recipe also suggested serving this with rice, but I already had cooked barley waiting in the fridge. Hearty and delicious and plenty of leftovers for lunches next week. This dish also helped alleviate the cold symptoms. Thank you, curry, and Liz. Now I need to find a good raita recipe.

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And then I realized I'd eaten nothing green today, so I snacked on some sugar snap peas. Everyone said the best way to eat them is raw. Now I understand why they are called "sugar" and "snap." Nice crunchy snack.

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Tomorrow night friends are coming to dinner and we are making pizzas (their idea). I'm gonna go for this recipe suggested by commenter Jill Brickey: Asparagus, Fingerling Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza . And I've got some white asparagus to use. Can't wait!

Feb. 4 2011 4:23 PM

Fun With Decoding Misleading Food Labels

This is a 14-ounce container of Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice. It's not big; it's a size you might get to-go, and it would be quite easy to drink the whole thing. Oh look, the picture suggests it's just like sticking a straw right into the fruit and drinking it.

 

You can see pretty clearly at the top in large print it reads, 2 SERVINGS OF FRUIT!*, with an asterisk. So you might naturally assume that this carton contains two servings of fruit. Seems reasonable.

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If you turn to the nutrition information on the side panel, you see that it says this entire 14-ounce container is one serving. It's almost as if they want you to think of it as only one serving. OK, so maybe one serving of juice is equivalent to two servings of fruit according to some specific guidelines or diet plan or something. Makes sense. Let's see if we can find where that asterisk leads to. Nope, not on this side.

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Oh, here it is, way down at the bottom below the bar code in tiny print.

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I've retyped it in case it's still too small to read. It says:

*Per 8-oz. serving. Under USDA's 2005 Dietary Guidelines 4 oz. of 100% juice = 1 serving of fruit.
The guidelines recommend that you get a majority of your daily fruit servings from whole fruit.

So let me get this straight. When they say "2 SERVINGS OF FRUIT," they mean at least two servings of fruit are in this carton. If you drank all 14 ounces, what the nutrition information refers to as 1 serving, you'd really be getting 3.5 servings of fruit, according to the USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines, or, in my case, more than my entire daily requirement of fruit. Well at least they are clear and up front about it.

Oh, and by the way, it would really be better if you ate actual fruit instead of drinking this juice. So nice of them to let us know that.

Feb. 3 2011 9:16 PM

Feb. 3: What I Ate. What's a White Sapote?

For breakfast, a different grain: barley with raisins and skim milk. I wasn't sure barley is so nutty and savory but it was good. Not as good as wheat berries, of course. Notice I held off on the apple butter.

All the exotic fruits I bought are not being consumed fast enough and are getting soft. This is a white sapote fruit . It was a bit overripe, but unusual takes like a pear but texture is kind of like an avocado combined with a peach.

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The hunger began but work was busy, so the snacking began. Lots of leftovers and things you've seen before coming up.

Edamame:

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Wild rice and cranberry salad. Still delicious.

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Brussels sprouts:

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Someone suggested I try other brands of yogurt, such as this one: Siggi's. I've actually had this before, but I was so sugar-saturated then I couldn't taste the pomegranate and passionfruit flavor, but this time it tasted really good, yet subtle. Also, very rich, which encouraged eating slowly.

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Then leftover tofu, asparagus, mushroom, and pepper stir-fry over red quinoa. Much better as leftovers especially the quinoa. Usually when I cook I take a shower before eating to get the smell off of me. Otherwise I don't quite taste the food fully. No time to shower the other night when I made this, and I didn't really love this dish then, but today it hit the spot.

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Thursday tiredness was setting in or maybe I'm coming down with another cold (it's been a tough winter in New York). I was still hungry, so I tried these waffles, dry (not even with apple butter!). They're gluten-free. In the interest of trying to avoid wheat this week, I bought a few gluten-free products. These were grainy, but they squashed the hunger.

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And that was it. My husband reminded me he was going out with a friend tonight, I was no longer hungry, and I was tired, so I skipped dinner. Boring, I know. Hopefully I'll make something new and exciting tomorrow. I bought some garam masala today.

Feb. 3 2011 12:13 PM

One Way My Supermarket Tries To Fool Me

Though I do most of my regular grocery shopping online and thus am not regularly subject to the trickery of actual supermarkets , my online market has its own tricks, such as this one: Atop the homepage, there are options to click; I've circled "Organic."

Which you would expect to take you to their organic food section, but when you click on it, it takes you here:

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The organic and "all-natural" section. What's so wrong with that? While the term organic has a specific legal definition and organic producers are inspected and regulated, all-natural has virtually no meaning , or rather, it can mean whatever producers want it to mean.

That's not the only misleading term  the food industry uses. There are several meaningless and unregulated food terms .

Though the USDA has set forth a definition of natural , without regulation from the FDA, it remains meaningless. However, this may be changing in 2011 .

Before I started researching this project, I was fooled by my market. I'd click on "organic" and when I saw all the products, many of them items I regularly buy, I actually thought Oh good, I didn't realize that was organic. Marion Nestle's book What To Eat has lots of great information to help you see through the techniques of the food industry.

Feb. 2 2011 9:06 PM

Feb. 2: What I Ate. The Day I Fell in Love With Wheatberries.

For breakfast I cooked wheatberries in a crockpot overnight, then added skim milk and apple butter in the morning. I know, the apple butter looks like a gift the dog leaves you in the middle of the night, but it tastes like rich appley, cinnamony goodness. It's really the hot fudge of apple products. I think I've found my Pop-Tart replacement. And ding! ding! ding! ding! I think we have a winner. Wheatberries rock. These are obviously overcooked in fact, luckily I woke up at 2 a.m. and turned the crockpot off but they were still hearty and textured: a bit like steel-cut oats or brown rice or barley. I guess I like a little texture in my morning grains. Someone send me a recipe for wheatberry salad, please. I could eat wheatberries all day long. I kind of hoped to avoid wheat altogether this week, since I've probably never gone a week without it in my entire life (at least once I got on solid food), but I had an inkling I would like these.

I was in a bit of a grocery bind today. New York City got an ice storm, and everyone else had beat me to putting in a grocery order. I couldn't go out and get my own groceries because it was too slippery, and my order wouldn't be delivered till 8 p.m. at the earliest. So what did I have in the house that was new?

Lunch: Swiss chard (the first I've ever eaten, as far as I know) cooked as commenter "Nina" suggested. Sort of. She had written to saute it in olive oil and garlic, add raisins and pine nuts, then salt and red pepper flakes. I did as she said, except I didn't have pine nuts I looked at some in a store yesterday and they were 10 bucks! so I used pistachios instead. That's the other duck egg I bought, fried. Turns out I do like dark leafy greens they just feel healthy and nutritious. I would have been happy without the nuts and raisins even. I didn't have a new grain to try though, and I didn't want to indulge my new love of wheatberries.

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But this wasn't enough food and I was hungry again soon after. Time to break out the uglifruit . I gotta be honest: I was a little scared of finding out what was under that peel. When I bought this there wasn't a sign near it, so I didn't even know what it was. The cashier didn't either, so she went to find out. When she returned I said, "What is it?" She said, "Uglifruit." I said, "Sho' is."

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Here's what it looks like inside:

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Just like an orange or a grapefruit. In fact, it's a hybrid of a grapefruit, an orange, and a tangerine. It's not as sweet as an orange and not as bitter as a grapefruit. It was quite delicious, though I'd still prefer a good orange.

I was pretty hungry again a couple hours later, so I had a snack of yogurt, Grape-Nuts, and apple butter. Nothing new here; I was just hungry and craving this. However, this does make my new addiction to apple butter official. Does anyone know if there's a chapter of Apple Butterholics Anonymous in New York City?

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Then, of course, my 5 p.m. edamame a bit early:

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And dinner: I thought I'd have leftovers for dinner, but the husband wanted to get something new delivered. I said OK as long as I could try some new foods. We ordered from one of our favorite places, an "Asian fusion" restaurant (I know it sounds horrible but it's not). I chose seaweed salad (at 12 o'clock on the plate below) and shiitake spinach (on the right). We split "Fantastic Four," which is tofu, string beans, broccoli, and eggplant in malay curry.

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You know, I have given cooked spinach chance after chance after chance, and it's just too mooshy for me. I like it raw and baby and in a salad or sandwich, or stirred into sauces where I won't notice it, but I'm just not going to like it cooked and that's going to have to be OK. I've tried. I was not a fan of the seaweed salad either. It was too gelatinous. I've had "Fantastic Four" before and it is one of my favorite dishes. How can I get my tofu crispy on the outside like that?

So, not bad for a day with limited resources. I will always remember it as the day I fell in love with wheatberries.

The new groceries did arrive so many vegetables that I had to clean out my fridge. I bought lemongrass: What the heck am I gonna do with that?

Feb. 1 2011 8:52 PM

Feb. 1: What I Ate. Another Day of Fun Eating.

Breakfast was Bob's Red Mill 10-grain hot cereal with dried cranberries and milk. It tasted a bit like Cream of Wheat—a little grainy, a little salty. Eh. Steel-cut oats are better. On the right is papaya. It was OK, a little overripe.

Snack No. 1: an Asian pear-apple. Once in college I tried one and didn't love it, but this one was quite good: crispy, juicy, and pearlike. They are huge, though.

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Yesterday I bought some duck eggs:

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They look similar to chicken eggs—a bit more oblong and narrow at the top, and spotted. The shell is thicker and harder to crack.

Lunch was one fried duck egg, a pile of baby arugula, and leftover wild rice and cranberry salad from yesterday. The egg tasted similar to a chicken egg, though a bit richer and gamier.

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I also saw emu eggs —they are large, dark green, and bigger than my two fists put together. They seem as though they might contain a baby dinosaur. Should I try one? They are also $6.99—each. And what does one do with quail eggs ?

Afternoon snack: yogurt with apple butter. Yum.

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Plus Tazo chai tea:

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The Twinings from yesterday was spicier.

Fact: I get really hungry around 5 p.m. Since I don't eat dinner till 8ish, a snack at 5 is helpful. Today's: edamame.

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Commenters have been posting such amazing recipes and ideas. Tonight I tried my first, sent by "Jane Doe": Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash . Here's how mine came out:

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The house smelled amazing, and aside from cutting and hollowing the squash, it's super easy. (Let me give my Santoku knife another shout out!) You don't have to do a lot of preparation or tending to it. I wouldn't call it diet food: It's hearty, total comfort food for vegetarians (though not vegans). It would be great at Thanksgiving for vegetarians (or carnivores), and it makes a hearty, comforting cold-weather dinner. I'd even eat the leftovers for breakfast. It makes a lot of food; my husband and I didn't even finish one of these. And he loved it!

Here's my plate:

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Thank you, "Jane Doe"!

On another note: I find peeling garlic really annoying and frustrating, so at last I bought myself a garlic peeler . It's ridiculously expensive for what it is, but an amazing tool. I recommend it! (And if you are smarter than me, you could probably buy a tube at a hardware store of the same material that would do the job for much less!)

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