Thursday, July 31, 2008

Susie Cakes: Let's Hear a "Whoop Whoop" for the Whoopie Pie! (And a shameless plug for its devourer)

I think that Shakespeare guy was on to something when he wrote in Romeo & Juliet, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

How do I know this? I've eaten Susie Cakes' Whoopie Pie, a decadent treat so gloriously worthy of a place in my mouth that even if it was called a "Dog Poop Sandwich" I would still find myself craving one on a weekly basis.

Sophomoric bathroom humor aside, consuming the Whoopie Pie is a seriously prudent way to plump up those dimpling fat cells. The aptly named dessert is composed of two moist, brownie-like chocolate chocolate chip cookies that caress an abundant layer of lucious vanilla buttercream filling. The description alone is enough to erode tooth enamel and elicit bouts of diabetic shock, and when I suggested that my mom and I share one during our afternoon cookie and tea date last weekend, her eyes bulged out in terror. She didn't think she could do it. But once I staked my claim to the bigger half, she was game.

Armed with our half-sandwiches (graciously divided for us by the lovely counter gals at the Susie Cakes Newport Beach location), we headed next door to Kean Coffee for beverages -- black coffee for her, an iced pear ginger tea for me. We selected a cozy round table tucked in the corner of the bustling coffee shop and wished each other luck as we each took a tentative first bite of the monstrous cookie. Conversation immediately halted as we alternated bites with moans. Bite. Moan. Bite. Moan. Bite. "It's so good!" Bite. "Uh huh." Moan.

By the time we finished polishing off our half Whoopie Pies, I think my mom wished she'd put up a fight for the bigger half. Despite the rich appearance of what some might liken to an Oreo on steroids, the cookie is surprisingly easy to swallow. I didn't have a hint of the sweetness shock that often comes from consuming overly frosted cupcakes, and an hour later, my stomach didn't hate me. (It was too busy plotting when it could get a second round of Whoopie.)

My green (sometimes hazel) eyes are now officially star-crossed with love for my new afternoon sweetie. I'd love him even if his name was Rumpelstiskin. Perhaps, I'd even spin him a sweater. But for now, he'll just have to settle for a notable mention in this piece I wrote for the Daily Pilot Town Hall site...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trader Joe's Mini Mint Ice Cream Mouthful: Mini on the Satisfaction

I'm going to keep this short and unsatisfying -- just like Trader Joe's new Mini Mint Ice Cream Mouthfuls. The description on the box describes the latest addition to the TJ's freezer section as "mint chip ice-cream between two chocolate wafers," or in other words, too good to be true for the 85 calories that each one contains.

The box is fairly smallish in size, which should have tipped me off that the twelve ice cream sandwiches are not particularly girthy. The "mini" and "mouthfuls" in the title might have done that too, but I was too distracted by the words "mint" and "ice cream" and "chocolate wafers" to do much heavy thinking. (I grocery shop using my emotional cerebral cortex rather than my rational frontal lobe.)

When I opened my box of mouthfuls late Sunday night, I was horrified to discover that the description on the box is not a clever ruse to trick nutritionally-conscious nibblers into purchasing a decadent diet-buster. The ice cream sandwiches really are just mouthfuls. Words do not lie, my friends. They do not lie. Pictures don't either. That is my thumb next to the half-inch thick "sandwiches."

Despite my gut feeling that I was minutes away from singing, "I can't get no satisfaction," I proceeded with "Mission: Dessert." I love Trader Joe's chocolate covered chocolate ice cream bon bons, and am normally quite content after downing merely two of the bite-sized delights. I was optimistic that these mini mint morsels would pack a similar knock-out blow to my late night craving for ice cream -- regardless of their size. I grew up in Newport Beach; I know that it's not the size of the wave that matters -- it's the motion in the ocean.

Confident in my well-honed ability to resist return visits to the freezer, I selected one of the sandwiches and skipped back to the couch to enjoy my after dinner treat. Moments later I was digging back in my freezer for my old standby - two chocolate covered ice cream bon bons.

While the mint chocolate ice cream and accompanying wafers were fine on the flavor scale, they were low on the satisfaction scale. There is potential in this mouthful, but only if said mouthful becomes more of a handful, and stocks more of that minty ice cream goodness between the cookie wafers. As it is, the cookie portion overwhelms the ice cream portion, making for a disproportionate ice cream sandwich that does nothing to quench the ice cream monster that lives in my belly. (He's a much more demanding monster than the cookie monster.)

My advice to curious Trader Joe's patrons? Read the label. If "mini" and "mouthful" sound appealing, buy a box. But if not, heed the wisdom from my thoughtful review. It may not have been as short as previously promised, but sometimes it's nice to get more than expected. I'm a chatty gal; at least I'm always good for more than a mouthful...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pazzo Gelato: Will Travel For Good Gelato

Silverlake. The word striketh fear in the hearts of many Los Angelos living west of La Brea (and not just because they grow anxious around hipsters). As a resident of the Fairfax District, when I hear "Silverlake" I hear the sound of angry car horns and my precious $4.45 a gallon gas dripping down a drain. LA driving is not kind to my fuel tank (or nerves), and in a town that is built upon stop-and-go traffic, five miles is a long distance to travel for anything. I would probably even cite a five-mile separation as a relationship deal breaker.

Unless said relationship involved food. And ice cream.

Pazzo Gelato, located at 3827 W. Sunset Blvd in the "Sunset Junction," isn't exactly doing favors for my vehicle, but it is doing favors for my taste buds. Enough favors that I am inclined to walk 500 miles for it. Okay, maybe not 500 miles, but nobody has written a song about walking or even driving 5 miles (yet). Someone should work on that. Much more appropriate for the modern times as America eats (and doesn't exercise) itself to death.

Of course, I don't judge any American who wants to eat itself into a sugar coma from Pazzo Gelato's silky creations. I say, "Go ahead, young child who should be on Ritalin -- lick that banana-licious gelato with all the gusto your tongue can summon!" I say, "Go ahead, Miss-I-love-myself-with-food -- I like to feed my emotional cravings with glorious almond-fig gelato too!" And I definitely say, "Go ahead, Mister-I-hike-Runyan-so-I-can-eat-more -- you get a scoop of both the pistachio and hazelnut! Nuts are healthy! And taste most delicious in frozen form."

Pazzo Gelato - I'm going to give the go ahead to drive that extra mile. Or better yet, to walk that extra mile and then get three scoops.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tofu Stir-fry: Because Not Everything Can Be Covered in Cheese

Judging by my last few posts, it would appear as though I have little to no regard for fat grams and calories when it comes to satisfying my stomach. Pizza, grilled cheese, combo breakfasts, and chocolate chip cookies? If I was a doctor I would write myself a prescription for a heart attack. (And then because I would be rich, I'd immediately go on a shopping spree.)

Despite the decadent delicacies I delight in when I am destination dining, my day-to-day meals are decidedly healthier. While I do sneak in a few Amy's frozen spinach pizzas from time to time (er... every Thursday night), most of my dinners submit themselves to lean proteins, whole grains and veggies. Occasionally there is cheese too, but cheese has calcium, and calcium is good for building bone density, and bone density is good for preventing crackling limbs when I start going grey and wrinkly and ugly all over.

I admittedly may not be making the most convincing argument about the health benefits of cheese consumption, but I can make a sound argument for the merits of tofu ingestion. It has calcium too. And when stir-fried with fresh veggies, teriyaki/soy sauce and other goodies, it makes for a nutritious, delicious meal that helps me to justify all the cheese and chocolate I eat on other occasions (er... most occasions).

Plus it's really easy to make and is a great way to clear out the contents of an over-burdened produce drawer. I won't comment on the amount of sodium. Some things just can't be helped.

Save-Diana's-Arteries Tofu Stir-Fry

1 piece Trader Joe's teriyaki baked tofu (solid in packages of two in the refrigerated section), cubed
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon Veri-Teri Teriyaki Sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Red pepper flakes
Slivered almonds, toasted (optional)
Fresh veggies - red pepper, carrot, onion, broccoli, sugar snap peas
Chicken broth or water for healthy "frying"

1. Heat sesame oil in medium-sized frying pan. Add garlic and onion and reduce heat to medium so sesame oil doesn't burn or smoke (can cause it to taste bitter). Throw in some chicken broth or water and cook until onion begins to look translucent.

2. Add broccoli, snap peas, teriyaki sauce, and red pepper flakes (to taste). Cook for a couple minutes before adding diced tofu, carrot slivers, and red pepper. Add chicken broth/water if more liquid is needed.

3. Once the veggies begin to look tender (should be still crisp to the bite), reduce the heat and whisk the teaspoon of peanut butter into the teriyaki/soy/sesame sauce. The nutty taste pairs well with the tofu and as an excellent way to thicken the sauce without adding cornstarch.

4. When sauce has thickened enough to not run amuck on the plate, spoon the stir-fried veggies and tofu over brown rice. Top with toasted slivered almonds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Stirring the Peanut Butter

My roommate and I like to share deep and important thoughts when we are busy piddling about and making exceedingly delicious delicacies in our kitchen. Sometimes we discuss our work woes, other times we discuss our ice cream idolization, and quite frequently we discuss Rachel Ray's latest disaster on 30-Minute Meals. (She does truly heinous things with pork chops and EVOO.)

The other night, as I begrudgingly began the task of washing a bunch of green leaf lettuce for my sandwiches this week, the topic of hateful kitchen and cooking tasks came up. Even with my handy dandy salad spinner from Bed Bath & Beyond, I dread washing my leafy greens every week. It's loud, it's messy, the spinner is a challenge to clean, and the muscle fibers in my arms do not appreciate the effort it takes to make that lettuce spin round, right, round (like a record, baby).

After several minutes of complaining to my lovely roommate about my hatred of this and other tasks, she suggested I post a list on my blog. She's got some smarts in that foodie brain of hers, and making lists is one of my favorite neurotically-inspired activities, so I was delighted to heed her thoughtful advice. (Plus, I really like post comments and think my list begs for additions from my readers.)

Diana's Most-Hated Kitchen Activities

1. Washing lettuce

2. Stirring the oil into my Peanut Butter & Co. Smooth Operator peanut butter

3. Chopping and peeling garlic (I do not yet own that fancy little doodad called a garlic press)

4. Chopping and peeling onions (I do not yet own a pair of steel eyes, and a lit candle and/or placement of my face in the freezer are not always successful remedies to the drippage from my tear ducts.)

5. Touching raw chicken

6. Grating carrots

7. Removing loose tea leaves from my tea infuser

8. Cooking eggs. I'm not embarrassed to admit it -- I suck at it.

9. Packing my brown bag lunches

10. Cutting, dicing, do anything with red/green/yellow peppers. (I don't deal well with the confetti-like seeds sprinkling the surfaces of roomie and my spotless kitchen.)

I've told you mine... now you tell me yours...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mozza Memories

The moment I heard about Pizzeria Mozza, the lovechild of the fabulous Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali, I knew something special was afoot. I'm a bit psychic like that. When I was a senior in high school, I totally knew that I was going to win the fierce black Kate Spade bag at our Grad Night. It so wasn't even a surprise when they called my name out to claim my prize!

As par the course with occasional psychics like moi, it also wasn't a surprise when Pizzeria Mozza exploded onto the LA dining scene in Fall 2006. I'd been to Babbo and knew to expect a feeding frenzy to secure reservations, or the patience of a Teach for America Kindergarten teacher to receive a coveted seat at the Pizza Bar.

Even with my expectations for the subsequent Mozza madness that descended upon Los Angeles that winter, the hype and drama surrounding the restaurant still scared me. I thought that the Mozza was too cool for me. The glowing reviews from authoritative critics, the long list of celebrities who regularly pissed off their trainers to dine on the thin-crust pies, the bizarre toppings like Lardo and runny egg -- it was all extremely intimidating for a young unconnected foodie like me. While I'm not exactly a schlub from the back country, I don't have a resume that would convince any host that I am worthy of a seat at the hottest table/bar stool in town.

As the months passed, I erroneously maintained the belief that Mozza's pizzas were unattainable for a gal like me. I like to think of that period of time as my "ignorant fool phase." What soon came to pass was something that my clearly struggling psychic mind could never have predicted: Pizzeria Mozza opened up its heavy wooden door for me with wide welcoming arms. I lept right in and never looked back.

Until now.

Since my first bite of the Coach farm goat cheese, leeks, scallions, and bacon pizza a year-and-a-half ago, Pizzeria Mozza has reigned at the top of my list of favorite Los Angeles restaurants. Over the course of my four visits to the chic eatery that oozes New York City sophistication, I have discovered many reasons to adore the Mozza -- many of them completely unrelated to the truly spectacular food.

I love ordering a quartino of fine Italian wine -- one glass is never enough, and for a slight girl like myself, two will often send me on a trip to very fuzzy brain land (not to mention the offense to my credit card). At Mozza I can get a quarter bottle of Barbera for $15. It's the perfect amount to keep my mouth wet and my brain slightly numb for the entire meal.

Clams, garlic, oregano, parmigiano, and pecorino pizza

I love deciding at 5:15 pm on a Friday night that I want the clams, garlic, oregano, parmigiano, and pecorino pizza, and be cramming it down my pizza pie hole that very evening. Most of the finer restaurants in town aren't as gracious to reservationless diners, but at Pizzeria Mozza, I have always been treated with the same respect proffered to the parties who had the foresight to secure their tables four weeks in advance. On two occasions, I have even been offered one of those precious tables (with the agreement that my companion and I be done with our meal before the next party arrived for their reservation). For a restaurant that exudes exclusivity, this is practically revolutionary.

Nancy's Chopped Salad

I love the warm club-like atmosphere that sparks with foodie intensity. There is something special going on in that room and everyone there knows it. And I ain't just talking about the salami making love to the provolone, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, radicchio, and finely shredded lettuce in Nancy's chopped salad. (It's actually the oregano vinegar-based dressing that's doing that nasty trick.) But alas, the salad is not the only thing that gets my butt cheeks into Mozza's wooden chairs and stools time and time again. It's the "I'm alive and loving it" feeling I get every time I walk through the big Mozza door.

Squash blossoms, tomato & burrata

I love the finely managed marriage of fabulous food and fabulous scene. It's a party there every night of the week -- a statement that my stomach will boldly reinforce. It's not typical to find a restaurant where the scene and food are equal partners. I can't say that I have flipped for everything that I've eaten within those burgundy walls, but I can say that I have always left with a smile on my face. It's enough to make me forgive them for the overwhelming amounts of sausage (and lack of cheese) on their Fennel sausage, panna, red onion, and scallion pizza that doesn't quite meet my tastes. I'm even willing to give a Randy Jackson, "It's aight, dog," with regards to the Squash blossoms, tomato and burrata pie that is high on quality ingredients, but a bit understated on the palate. Fortunately, the fried ricotta-stuffed blossoms save face for Sir Squash and provide plenty of pop when the creamy cheese center oozes its way onto the tongue.

Giandiua and Pistachio Gelati

Finally, I love that dessert is not to be missed. The now infamous Buttorscotch Budino is a nutritionist's worst nightmare and is guilty of heavy stomach-punching, but there is something seriously buzz-worthy going on in that glass cup. I am also fond of the Caramel Copetta with Spanish peanuts that is somewhat reminiscent of an ice cream sundae -- complete with marshmallow cream. At the moment however, my heart belongs to the Giandiua (chocolate hazelnut) and pistachio gelati. Any restaurant that can churn out gelato this good has my blessing 100x over. Paired together, it's a symphony in a bowl.

As I sit here reflecting on my many memories of Mozza, I feel almost guilty mentioning this final note. But the beauty of Mozza extends far beyond the pizzas that make my mouth water with desire on many a Friday afternoon. The beauty of Mozza is that it is accessible to the everyday foodie with prices that allow for a memorable evening without being particularly memorable on the back account. For a gal who is currently foregoing her pedicures to pay for her gas bills, that's something that's truly remarkable. And I didn't even need to pretend to be psychic to figure that one out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vie de France and the Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

I am many things - a runner, an aspiring writer, a sister, a daughter, a neurotic, and a chocolate chip cookie aficionado. While I maintain a moderate appreciation for the non-chocolate variety as well, not even the oatiest oatmeal raisin (found at Urth Caffe) or perfectly frosted sugar cookie (found at Wonderland Bakery in Newport Beach or Al's Deli in Evanston, IL) can summon the same "mmm" response that a chocolate chip variety is able to elicit from my pretty pink lips.

While the "mmming" noises are mostly attributable to the superior taste of the chocolate-speckled cookie, part of the "mmm" factor comes from the nostalgia attached. With each bite I can't help but remember the Saturday mornings when I awoke to vanilla and cinnamon wafting through the house, or the road trips where my family and I got through the miles on an all-cookie diet. The chocolate chip cookie is representative of my childhood -- of the carefree days when fat grams didn't count and Atkins was just a funny-sounding word.

Today, the chocolate chip cookie still holds significant value in my family. It is the cookie my mom bakes when my brother comes home to visit from Phoenix. It is the cookie she bakes my dad on Father's Day. And it is the cookie that my mom and I cannot resist whenever we pass a bakeshop or cafe.

Over the years, my mom and I have consumed an exorbitant amount of chocolate chip cookies in our quest for mid-afternoon sugar-craving satisfaction. While we have found significant joy in sharing the Coco Loco cookie at Pain du Monde in Newport Beach, the triple chocolate chip cookie with toffee at Wonderland Bakery, also in Newport, and the unexpectedly flavorful chocolate chip at Zov's in Newport Coast, no cookie has ever come close to the chocolate chip from Vie de France in South Coast Plaza.

Thick and adequately freckled with bittersweet chocolate chunks, this cookie often emerges from the Vie de France display case still warm from the oven. It is neither greasy nor gooey, and imparts an ample flavor of vanilla on the tongue with each delectable bite. The edge is perfectly crisp -- not brittle enough to scrap the mouth, but crunchy enough to provide the proper amount of textural contrast with the soft interior. It is a cookie that eradicates all thoughts of fat grams or body consciousness. It is a cookie that transports me back to the days when I wasn't afraid of salmonella and felt free to lick my mother's pale green mixing bowl for errant batter. And it is a cookie that my mom and I will continue to eat together for years to come.

Or until we find a version we like better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Jack 'N Jill's: Is the pail half empty or half full?

I fancy myself a bit of an optimist. I like smiling, always truly believe that the perfect parking space will be open when I arrive at my destination, and I wear loads of bright colors like pink and orange and yellow. My glass isn't just half-full, it's half-brimming -- preferrably with iced green tea like the subtle, slightly minty (it comes with a mint leaf) variety offered at Jack 'N Jill's, the popular Beverly Hills lunching and brunching eatery on Beverly Drive.

Minty Green Iced Tea

Despite my inclination to blanket the world with kindness and love, my sunny disposition can only extend so far. When my optimism and high expectations come colliding with the big bad bullies, disappointment and suckiness, I just can't keep my smile from evening itself out. Or worse, doing that horrid upside down trick!

This past Sunday, during brunch at Jack 'N Jills, the frown came out from hiding for a few brief moments. And not just on my face. On my friend's too! Though that wasn't so shocking. He's a little more pessimistic than me, wears darker colors and tends to give nasty looks to people who try to get him to sign petitions on the street. (Okay, maybe I do that too. It's so obnoxious!)

As big fans of brunch, my friend and I had high expectations for the morning fare at Jack 'N Jill's. Particularly when presented with so many appetizing choices on their lengthy menu. Cinnamon roll french toast, a scramble with goat cheese and sun dried tomatoes, and chocolate chip pecan pancakes beckoned me with promises of tongue satisfaction. I blinked in confusion, blinded by hunger and the light from my aura, and suddenly found my savor: Rob's Big Combo, a $12.95 breakfast steal of a deal that included two pancakes of my choice, three eggs any style and my choice of meat. I settled on the Savannah Strawberry Oatmeal Pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon that I promised to my counterpart who was only ordering the Blueberry Belgium Waffle. (I know, so generous of me! Don't tell him that it was only because I'm pretending to watch my girlish figure. I may be an optimist, but I still don't really like to share my food!)

I was super excited for my big old plate of Mister Savory Eggs and Miss Sweet Strawberry Oatmeal Cakes. I love fruit, I love pancakes and I love scrambled eggs! Could my smile be any bigger or wider or more Cameron Diaz-like? Maybe. If the food hadn't taken a few more minutes than necessary to get to our table, and maybe if the STRAWBERRY oatmeal pancakes had come with more than the three measly slices of strawberry that were most certainly NOT heaped on top of my fluffy cakes. Hey, Jack, hey, Jill? Just what exactly happened on that hill? Me thinks that somebody dropped the pail... of strawberries.

Rob's Big Combo - Strawberry Oatmeal Pancakes, Scrambled Eggs, Bacon

When our waitress returned to check on us, I asked her if the pancakes typically come with more strawberries. She shook her head and responded, "No, that's all we usually do. Do you want me to bring you more?" I nodded eagerly (after discovering she would bring them without charging me extra), and immediately felt my frown start to turn back up into its usual happy shape. I dug into my breakfast and delighted in my thick, seriously oaty cakes that made me think I was being healthy, and the perfectly cooked scrambled eggs. I even thought the half piece of bacon I tried was a decent chew of pork. And the real maple syrup? A superb way to de-nutritionize my fabulous oatified pancakes. Things were looking up. The birds were singing! My stomach was purring!

Blueberry Belgium Waffle

And then I noticed it. My friend was not making yummy noises. He wasn't rubbing his belly. And he most certainly was not turning down my offers for bites of my indulgently proportioned pancakes. I paused, mid-smile. "How is yours?" His face remained stoic. "Eh. It's okay." I frowned. It didn't sound "okay." It didn't sound "okay" at all! Especially when he told me that it was soggy and devoid of blueberries embedded in the batter. Jack and Jill seemed to have dropped the pail again. Don't they know that waffles are supposed to be crispy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside?

When the check came, complete with tootsie pops that neither my friend and I took, I couldn't help but notice that the level of green tea in my glass was not quite brimming any more (and not because I'm a thirsty girl). I enjoyed my Rob's Big Combo, but did not like the disappointment I felt when I saw the single strawberry that graced the top of my plump pancakes. And while it was overall a pleasurable meal once I got the proper amount of strawberries to allow for my bites to have both carb and fruit in tow, I struggled to get past the almost frown on my friend's face. Mister Jack and Miss Jill need to bring down the water that they went up the hill to fetch. A promise for water does not mean presenting the thirsty parties with a half-empty pail. A promise for a golden Blueberry Belgium Waffle does not mean presenting a hungry patron with a soggy, under-blueberried waffle. And a promise for strawberries means a mountain of berries -- or at the very least, enough to keep the integrity of my smile intact.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Brown Bagging It Doesn't Mean Lunch Has to Suck

Gas prices are obscenely high, restaurants are charging more than ever for food I could make better myself, and the thought of going near a Subway makes me want to gag. It's not exactly prime time for taking the leisurely lunch out, and faced with bills to pay, a fabulous wardrobe to maintain, and toes that need to be pedicured, I choose to do something rather revolutionary instead. I brown bag it. Or more accurately, adorable-pink-striped-tote it.

When my boss asks me what I'm doing for lunch and I respond that I brought it with me, she looks at me as though I am some kind of green-faced, purple-spotted anomoly. "You're so good," she says with a mix of admiration/slight horror, as though the thought of eating homemade food at lunch is akin to building schoolhouses alongside Oprah in Africa. I shrug and smile sheepishly, not sure how to take her "compliment" and then happily begin constructing my mid-day meal.

My self-made lunch is not the typical brown-bagged fare that accompanies school children across America to their classrooms. I do not bring peanut butter and jelly on white bread, and I do not perform experiments to find out how soggy my sandwich can get before I sit down to eat it. Rather than putting the whole thing together in the morning, I bring the individual parts so I can make my sandwich to order. Armed with Boar's Head turkey, Applegate Farms' provolone cheese, Tribe Sweet Red Pepper hummus, green leaf lettuce, and Orowheat Whole Grain & Oat with Corowise bread, I may look like I'm sporting half the grocery store when I arrive at work on Monday mornings, but it's worth it for the fresh taste that fills my mouth when I take my first bite of my very unsoggy sandwich.

As far as accompaniments, I keep with the whole healthy vibe I've got going on with my fiberlicious bread and nutritionally sound spread, and add some raw sugar snap peas, baby carrots and self-made pomegranite green iced tea to the mix. Approximately an hour before I'm ready to break bread, I put a single bag of tea in a water bottle, shake it like a polaroid picture and the pop it back in the mini-fridge to seep. By the time I'm spreading my hummus over my turkey and provolone, it's ready to go.

While the typical deli counter-assisted sandwich does present the propensity for boredom if consumed on a daily basis, topping options help keep my palate on its toes. A quarter pound of cranberry tuna salad from Whole Foods is one of my favorite ways to get my weekly mercury allotment in, and hummus veggie sandwiches loaded with red pepper and zucchini squash is another way I like to spice up my mouth with some different flavors. I have great intentions to make chicken salad or egg salad sometime, but the thought of buying, cooking and preparing all the ingredients makes me tired when I'm grocery shopping on Sunday. More often than not, I'll head straight to my favorite meat slicer at Gelson's and ask for a half-pound of the maple honey glazed turkey, please. He slices it just how I like it. And if he doesn't I make him re-do it.

I don't want my adorable-pink-striped-tote lunch to suck.