Saturday, July 16, 2011

More Than Just a Blender

Maria: Gary and I love our toys, and sometimes while checking out one, toy, we are unexpectedly led to another.  That's what happened to me when I was checking out hula hoops.  What do hula hoops and blenders have in common?  Glad you asked!  One day while reading about hooping and imagining what fun it would to go back to something I enjoyed doing when I was 10, I read a reference to "green smoothies."  Well, I like smoothies and green was my favorite color when I was little.  But what the heck was a green smoothie?  Further investigation led me to a whole world I hadn't known existed.  The world of green smoothies - that is smoothies that use greens as one of the principle ingredients.  Spinach, kale, collard greens, and tons of others.  The idea is that if you smush these nutrition power-houses up into smoothies, add a little fruit, maybe a bit of sweetener, voila - you can drink your greens, and get all that good nutrition not just painlessly, but yummily!  I loved the idea!  However, further investigation led me to the conclusion that we needed a better blender.  Your standard, everyday blender just can't handle the tougher greens without eventually burning out the motor.  And our blender was so old that I didn't even remember when or where we got it.  So, that was the next question.  Which blender?

Gary: Huh? Blenders? Yes dear, whatever you say (turns to watch baseball game).

Maria:  Ok, Sweetie, enjoy the baseball game!  Just don't fall over in shock when I tell you what I discovered.  From my research it it seemed that there were two main competitors for the best blender to handle grinding up greens.  The two blenders were Blendtec and Vitamix.  The first one I read about was the Vitamix. The name Vitamix rang a bell.  I was sure we had seen demos of it at fairs and expos, and even back then I had been interested. So that's the direction I was leaning initially.  There was one main drawback, however.  Well one main drawback besides the price.  I'd already had to pick myself up off the floor after learning how much one of these puppies was going to cost.  The cost, however, was surmountable.  The other drawback was not, and that's the size.  Vitamixes are *huge*!  Gary and I love our place, but we live in the expensive Bay Area, and do not have oodles of room, so space is always at a premium.  I just could not see bringing a Vitamix into our place.  Where would we put it?!?!?  So, I began to look into alternatives.

Gary: OK, we won. You have my full attention now. Right after a game of Doodle Jump.

Maria:  Yay, we won!  When you lose the first game of a double-header it's always nice to win the second game!  Ok, so the Vitamix was too big.  What to do, what to do?  Well, I started reading about other blenders, and the name that kept coming up was Blendtec.  The more I read, about it the more I liked it!  It was just about the size of a regular blender and could fit easily on the kitchen counter.  It seemed that Vitamix had certain features that Blendtec did not have, but Blendtec had certain features that Vitamix did not.  Most people seemed to agree that you couldn't go wrong with either.  So, after looking extensively for the best price online, we placed the order for our Blendtec!

Gary: We did? Oh yes, we did. I'll admit even I am impressed with these blenders. They are industrial strength. Watch a demo at your local fair and expo and this genre (either Vitamix or Blendtec) seemingly chomp up a whole farmers market of produce without breaking a sweat.

Maria:  It is truly amazing to watch them swallow whole apples, melons, etc.  The only problem for Gary is that he does not care for smoothies!  However, not to worry.  Smoothies are not the only thing these blenders do well.  Something else that is a blast to make is soup!  The motor is so high speed that it will even heat the soup up as it blends, although you can also help it along with some hot broth.  While Gary did not care for the smoothies, he did seem to like the yummy soups I was able to concoct with fresh veggies - tortilla soup, broccoli soup, beef barley soup - the possibilities are endless.

Gary: Yes, soups, yum!

Maria:  Yes, the soups are good, but I really enjoy my green smoothies!  I started out using spinach as a base, which grinds up easily and does not have a strong flavor.  Some of the other greens, such as kale, can be a bit overpowering, so I had to learn to use them in moderation.  In addition to the greens, I experimented with different frozen fruits.  My favorites have been the mixed berries and pineapple.  Fresh fruit is always good too, but the frozen fruits act like ice cubes to give it that "smoothie" or "slushy" feel.  I started bringing these concoctions to work and soon attracted the attention of co-workers.  For some, the reaction was "blech," but others were quite interested.  One of my co-workers ordered a Blendtec on the spot, and had it sent to our workplace.  Once it arrived we gave a week-long series of demos at lunchtime, just for fun.  We offered smoothie and soup samples to our colleagues.  Everyone had a good time, and I know at least a few have since bought their own blenders.

Gary: Bravo, much healthier than the cookies, candies and cakes that are the usual fare.

Maria:  Yes, too bad we can't have a Blendtec permanently living at work.  Perhaps we should start a fund!  It would be better for everyone if the e-mails read, "Smoothies in the 7th floor lunchroom" rather than "Doughnuts in the 7th floor lunchroom."  To be honest, though, not everything we make with our Blendtec is always totally healthy.  One thing Gary and I both enjoyed were the chocolate milkshakes we made using our homemade vanilla ice cream.  We enjoyed these one winter night last year after bringing home our Christmas tree!

Gary: Yes, as you can see, Maria really loves the Blendtec. And I love the results. And the Blendtec fits nicely in our small kitchen. So, I would say this is one appliance that gives you great value for the money.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Big Green Egg

Gary: It's summer, the weather is warm and barbecues are fun. I have nothing against gas grills and Weber kettles, but a Big Green Egg, well - it is just in a different dimension! Not only does it look cool, it is one serious piece of cooking hardware that allows you to smoke foods at low temperatures or sear them at really high temperatures. And it uses lump charcoal-slower burning and more aesthetically pleasing then the standard stuff you by in the store.

Maria: I remember when we were looking for a new grill and we came across the Big Green Egg. We both thought, "how cool!" I couldn't wait to "meet" one in real life, and when we did it was love at first sight. The basic design goes back to the ancient Japanese kamado. This type of clay oven grill apparently came to the attention of Americans after World War II. We were intrigued by it not just because of its looks - beautiful dark green color, thick clay walls and round shape - but also because, as Gary mentioned, it uses lump coal rather than briquettes. The pros and cons of one over the other is a hotly debated topic, but for us is was a definite plus.

Gary: It's also fun to be able to use wood chips and smoke food. Our Pecan smoked turkey was a big hit a Christmas dinner a couple of years ago and alder smoked salmon - yum!

Maria: Gary and I took a walk this lovely warm evening, and the scent of a neighbor's smoking wood chips came wafting through the air. I can't wait for the 4th of July two days from now! We are planning to fire up our Big Green Egg and grill something delicious!

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