Cheap, Fast, Good for You and Pretty? (aka the “Upside Down Fruit-on-the-Bottom Yogurt” Post)

If you ask, I’ll tell you that I don’t like breakfast. That given the opportunity, I will choose lunch over breakfast eight times out of 10.

But what I actually mean is: I mostly just don’t like breakfast’s attributes, like the bad (early) timing of the meal, the general shovel-rush involved and breakfast’s propensity for empty, sugar-laden calories that are quick to spike — and quick to plummet. I need protein, I need dairy, I need fiber that doesn’t come in a nasty, powdered mix or meal supplement like Muscle Milk. It’s early and I’m cranky and yes, the food has also gotta look good.

Thankfully, there exists the fool-proof combination of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt plus granola:

When you turn the yogurt upside down into a bowl, the fruit-on-the-bottom becomes the fruit on the top, a pink, strawberry-flecked glaze. Add to that a couple of shakes of granola, dotted with nuts and dried fruit, and, instant success.

Beautiful, and, more importantly, good for you: A Liberté Méditerranée strawberry yogurt and a serving of Bear Naked‘s fruit and nut granola collectively pack 2g fiber, 9g protein and 20% calcium  into just 490 calories. Now that’s breakfast.

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Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.

Thursday: There May Be No Stairway, but $2 Goes a Long Way Toward a Little Bit of Heaven (aka the “Central Park Discovery” Post)

On Thursday night, I did dessert first.

photo-13I’ve begun to build in long stretches of city blocks (or river fronts, or parks) into my ways to get between places, and walking through Central Park I began wishing I had an ice cream thing. Or a popsicle thing. Or, in other words, the exact sort of treats that the park concession carts with the green-and-white umbrellas specialize in.

I’d never bought a frozen treat in the park before, and to be completely honest, I was expecting something closer to stadium prices: $4 and up. So I was shocked, I mean shocked, to discover that (with the exception of the Haagen Daaz and Ben & Jerry’s bars), hardly anything was more than $2-$3!

photo-14photo-12The best idea ever got better: My $2 Blue Bunny FrozFruit bananas & cream bar was only 160 calories, actually lists bananas as the third ingredient (after water and milk) and is not a shabby source of a couple of vitamins and minerals. And it only could have been improved by not being deep frozen — too impatient to wait for it to thaw, I had bitten through most of it by the time it got soft enough to melt in that pleasant way cold things on a stick have a tendency to do.

I have no idea what took me so long.

The Minnesota Edition: On the Road Again (aka the “Strange Synergy of this Trip” Post)

In several not entirely expected ways, my return home mirrored my journey here.

First, there was the Dairy Queen stop, at the beginning of the nearly 10-hour trip home.

photophoto-1This time, I went for a medium-sized, butterscotch-dipped cone, which I happily devoured while staring out at a local highway. Specifically, I was staring at the sign at the start of the bridge, the far side (which the iPhone camera is too low-res to capture). It reads (“announces” might be a better word): The Mississippi River.

“This is so Minnesota,” I thought, “To sit at a Dairy Queen, just off a local highway, and stare at a turn in the Mississippi River.” A moment later. “And damn, this is good soft serve.”

Transferring through the Minneapolis airport (MSP), I had the greater part of an hour to kill, which meant dinner. I ended up at Rock Bottom Brewery (which I photo-3actually don’t like that much) solely because I saw open electrical outlets, and even one guy plugged in and using his laptop, and I wanted to do the exact same thing.

I ended up with the sampler selection (of the beers that I don’t particularly like or dislike) because 24 total oz. of sampler beers was the same price as a large, single, 20 oz. beer — so, I got 4 oz. free. (Plus, I couldn’t remember which Rock Bottom Brewery beer I liked best. Oh yes, I’ve been to one before, in California.)

photo-4And I ended up with the half-order of nachos, plus guacamole extra, because I saw what they looked like on a neighboring table, and that’s exactly what I want.

Multi-colored corn chips (apparently, they exude some sign of authenticity), pickled jalapeno rounds from the can or jar, guacamole scooped out with a melon baller scoop — these nachos are nothing at all like the fare from my beloved taco truck outside the Jackson Height’s subway stop, but when you’re still three hours and change away from even landing at La Gauardia — just do it.

The Minnesota Edition: Thin Mint Cookie Blizzard … Mmm (aka the “Dairy Queen Ritual” Post)

photo-9For as long as I can remember, the drive from the Twin Cities to Crosslake, Minn. involves a requisite DQ stop. Something about Dairy Queen treats just taste better on the road in Minnesota, whether it’s a hot, sunny day or a humid summer night, cars whizzing by on the highway, heading elsewhere.

I usually go for the Dairy Queen Blizzard Treat: creamy soft serve and your mix-in of choice roughly blended so that crumbles, bits and whole chunks of the candy, cookies, nuts or even fruit (or some combination thereof) are strewn throughout. So I was thrilled to discover that August’s “Blizzard of the Month” was a Blizzard Treat blended with Thin Mints, that classic Girl Scout cookie, which the first thing you do is stick them in the freezer anyway (they’re just better that way).

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The verdict: A must-try for any Girl Scout cookie junkie. The cookie bits stay hard and crunchy, and the soft serve has the distinct taste of Thin Mints, which is different from but related to the mint-chip family of flavors.

As the soft serve inevitably begins to melt around the edges into little milky pools, I was reminded of this classic pairing: A short stack of Thin Mints and a tall, cool glass of milk.

BLD Minnesota Edition: Must… Find… Taco Smell… (aka the “En Route to LaGuardia/Jackson Heights Discovery” Post)

“I have to be at the airport by 6 o’clock. It’s a weekday. What time should I grab a cab?” / “It’ll take at least an hour this time of day. Why don’t you take the subway to Queens?”

photo-1What. I knew about the bus to LaGuardia Airport from Harlem, but subway to Queens, and then either cheap taxi ride or city bus transfer to LGA? What?! And it’s so easy. Just follow the signs from the subway marked with a yellow airplane symbol, in a yellow circle, to the bus boarding zone. (If I can justify the time, which is essentially the same as a cab or bus at rush hour, I’m never going back.)

Because: Halfway up the stairs I could smell a taco truck’s grill sizzling — that heady combination of meat, peppers and cheese. Oh, yes. I want. Now. Checked my watch. There’s no way I wasn’t detouring toward the pair of food trucks parked right outside the station.

photo-3photo-2And the rest, as they say, is history. A pair of carnitas tacos, plus a hongos quesadilla (I meant to order the huitlacoche), $6.50. Some of the plumpest carnitas tacos I’ve ever had, plus a quesadilla, the flour tortilla grilled crispy-golden, stuffed with cheese and savory marinated mushrooms that lit up the rows around me on my flight to Minneapolis … I didn’t make friends this trip, and I didn’t really care. My food was that good.

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