Cruffin: the latest in nom-worthy food mashups

First, there was the Cronut—an unbelievably indulgent croissant/doughnut pastry creation by the Dominique Ansel bakery in Manhattan’s SoHo. A spinoff of wanna-be cronuts, spread across the country (including at Dunkin Donuts), and even led to alternatively named hybrids like the Doissant and Brioughnut.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Photo courtesy of Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

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Lauren vs. Food

I am a food lover. I often say that if I feel I have no reason to live, living to eat is reason enough. I generally value things that are rich and delicious, and eat more than I should because everything simply tastes SO good.

But this Sunday night was different; I went in with a mission to eat—whether I wanted to or not—until I was done. I tackled the Pinesburger challenge at the Glenwood Pines in Ithaca (a local dive up the Western side of Cayuga Lake). Four cheeseburgers in an hour, served on large slices of French bread.

Pinesburger challenge

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Vegan bed and breakfast offers option for conscious travelers in Ithaca

A black cat with white paws, belly and chin peeks from a first-floor window at 121 Cascadilla Street. From the outside, it looks like a regular home; but on the inside, it’s a sanctuary for Ithaca’s visiting vegans and conscious travelers.

The recently opened Tuxedo Cat Bed & Breakfast—affectionately named after cats like Neo, the one in the window—is Downtown Ithaca’s only vegan bed and breakfast. Owner Amber Gilewski vacationed in the area for years before deciding to relocate to Ithaca, teach psychology at Tompkins Cortland Community College, and open a B&B.

“I figured with my love of vegan cooking, I have a pretty big house, taking care of the cats, that’s kind of a good way to combine all my loves,” Gilewski said.

Gilewski has been vegan for over 10 years, and developed an interest in cooking shortly after making the lifestyle change. She became a certified Natural Chef at the Natural Kitchen Cooking School in Princeton, New Jersey.

“I always said I loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian at one point,” she said. “I was like, how can I say I love animals, but then I eat animals or I pay people to do terrible things to animals that I would never do.”

Once she decided to open a vegan B&B, Gilewski reached out to Gita Devi, innkeeper at the next closest vegan B&B—Ginger Cat Bed & Breakfast in Rock Stream, NY, near Watkins Glen. Devi previously worked at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, and said the demand for this niche hospitality experience is there.

“With the growing awareness of vegan diets and lifestyle and the increasing number of people who are trying to change their diets or eat more of a 100% plant-based diet, the demand for vegan B&B’s is also growing,” she said.

Over 95% of Gilewski’s guests are vegetarians and vegans, she said, and they are excited to stay at a place where they don’t have to constantly ask what’s in the food.

Kristy Mitchell, representative from the Ithaca Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the number of bed and breakfasts in Ithaca continues to rise.

“I think that the local bed and breakfasts provide an opportunity to have a larger number of rooms available for people that are in great areas,” she said. “It also gives people a different experience for people that may or may not want to stay at a traditional hotel.”

Staying at Tuxedo Cat, however, is about more than eating vegan and having a place to sleep within walking distance of the Ithaca Commons and Farmer’s Market—it’s about leaving a positive mark.

Gilewski rescues cats with the feline leukemia virus, an autoimmune virus which suppresses their immune systems and can be passed onto other cats. For this reason, many people give up infected cats, and even no-kill shelters will euthanize them.

The four cats currently housed there need extra attention on their health. These vet bills add up, and the revenue from the bed and breakfast helps Gilewski continue to make rescues.

Tuxedo Cat Bed and Breakfast is zoned for two bedrooms, but currently only offers one for guests. Gilewski said she is working on furnishing the second bedroom in the same way as the first—with locally made, re-used or recycled materials, and a latex bed (which she said is more eco-friendly than other options). Gilewski and her husband also compost everything and installed solar panels on their house, as well as maintain a vegan household.

Guests can expect cruelty-free toiletries, no leather or other animal-hide products, and vegan breakfast options like shiitake bacon risotto or vegan pancakes. Gilewski said one of her specialties is a vegan “McMuffin.”

Guests of Tuxedo Cat B&B do not leave without something to remember their stay and continue their conscious lifestyle; Gilewski gives them the choice between DVDs of two vegan documentaries by local filmmakers.

The response has been positive so far, and Gilewski said she has three bookings coming up within the next month alone.

“I seem to attract people who love cats, vegans, to say it affectionately, crazy cat ladies like myself… they really seem very interested and willing to stay here.”

Chatting with Syracuse.com SM Professionals

Today in my Ithaca College Social Media class, we Skyped with Trish LaMonte, director of digital operations for the Syracuse Media Group, and Katie Kramer, web and mobile producer/SMO specialist for Syracuse.com—both Syracuse University Newhouse alumnae. They discussed everything from best practices for news outlet social media use to what they look for in social media job applicants.

The Syracuse newspaper, The Post-Standard, made a huge push towards digital, and their online presence Syracuse.com. LaMonte said she aimed her career towards social media because she saw that everything was moving towards digital. Even internally, the push to stay current is evident.

“I think we’re constantly evolving and deciding which social media we should use and shouldn’t use,” said Kramer.

Syracuse.com has a presence on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and Kramer said they will sign up for certain social media accounts, like SnapChat, simply to protect brand identity so other people can’t use the name.

They said they post “less serious” content on Facebook, because it seems to get the most engagement, and are also a little more lenient with readers comments. On their site, however, they will make sure to filter comments for any cursing or derogatory phrases.

“It’s very rare that people come at us very negatively [on social media],” Kramer said. “There are sometimes that people do that, and we just ignore it because it’s not worth getting into a back-and-forth about it.”

However, they said their reporters are required to read and respond to comments on the site, provide updates and answer questions when necessary, and often actually use comments to get additional sources.

“We make a huge point of getting everybody engaged in the comments,” LaMonte said. “Reporters know now that publishing the story is just the beginning, not the end.”

When looking at social media job candidates, they said having a strong presence on social media is crucial, and that, if you’re geared towards a certain beat, engagement and continuous focus on that beat is important.

Overall, it was an inside look in the real-world journalistic applications of social media, and a reminder that our professor really does make us do all of these things for a reason.

Happy national PB&J day!

For a moment, think back to your childhood. To the Peter Pan peanut butter and grape jelly on sweet white bread that you used to devour during lunchtime at elementary school. It’s one of my sweetest (pun-intended) memories of being a kid and having the luxury to eat whatever I wanted. Although not quite as scary as the neon orange cheese balls and purple ketchup we used to eat, PB&J is a food that many people grow up loving (the average American will eat 1500 PB&Js before they turn 18), but not truly understanding.

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

PB&Js—though not an unhealthy choice—can be made much healthier with the selection of different ingredients.

Let’s take it at it’s most elementary level: peanut butter (which, depending on the brand, can be loaded with tons of extra sugar and added fat) and grape jelly (fruit? Kinda. More like sugar coated fruit remnants). Throw that winning combo on some nice Wonderbread, and you’re instantly back at 5 years old.

Classic creamy Peter Pan peanut butter logs 210 calories per two tablespoons, including 3 grams of sugar and 17 grams of fat. It contains roasted peanuts, sugar, and less than two percent of hydrogenated vegetable oils, salt, and partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil. All in all, not terrible. Nut butters provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. A better choice, however, would be an all-natural peanut butter with no ingredients other than peanuts. Continue reading

From Ethiopia to Ithaca: a new ethnic cuisine comes to the Commons

The waitress swoops over with a plate of unidentified earthy-colored stews—called wot—spread atop a piece of flat, sour-like fermented pancake, and places it on the table. The two diners hand-rip pieces of this bread—called injera—to scoop chunks of spiced lentils, meat, and vegetables into their mouths. Every table in Hawi Ethiopian Cuisine in the Ithaca Commons is buzzing with people.

Though the small staff and minimal setup hint that the restaurant has only been open since March 11, the crowd of people inside suggests otherwise.

“It’s a small town so the word has spread quickly,” said Aelaf Tafesse, a waiter at Hawi. “But people were coming in before we had a sign.”

Hawi has been busy every night, said co-owner Citra Mohammed. She moved to Ithaca just three weeks prior to the opening with Tafesse and Gedese Degebasa, co-owner and head chef. All three are Ethiopian natives who previously worked together at an Ethiopian restaurant in New York City. After two years, Mohammed and Degebasa decided to open one of their own.

“We started planning and looking for locations and I came across Ithaca as a college town,” Mohammed said. “We came to visit before we found this location and I really liked it… how it’s a small, close community and still there are so many international things going on and people from different places.”

Hawi is the only Ethiopian restaurant in the area. Rochester has several—including Nile Restaurant, Zemeta Ethiopian Restaurant and Abyssinia Ethiopian—which were previously the closest Ethiopian options.

“We saw a lot of ethnic restaurants here and thought we could serve the people another flavor they would like,” Lafesse said.

Ethiopian food traditionally consists of injera bread topped with wot, which can be made with meats, spices (such as berbere and paprika) and pulses (which include lentils, split peas and beans). The plate of food is typically shared among the table, and diners use their hands to scoop wot up with the injera. Tafesse said that while most customers have eaten Ethiopian food before, there is extra pressure to make sure people new to the cuisine will love the food.

Amber Gilewski, owner of Tuxedo Cat Bed & Breakfast and a certified natural chef, has already been to Hawi twice, and plans to go again soon.

“I think the restaurant here is just as good, if not better, than some of those restaurants I’ve been to in bigger cities,” Gilewski said, having eaten Ethiopian food numerous times in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

For the first three days of business, Mohammed, Degebasa and Tafesse were the only three on staff. This made the surge of business difficult to keep up with.

“Even though it’s busy and service isn’t great, people are so supportive,” Tafesse said. “We thank the people and ask them to be a little patient with us to get everything together.”

Mohammed said they plan to expand and adjust the menu, as well as hire more people to satisfy the high demand.

“Hopefully there will be more Ethiopian restaurants in the future as well,” said Mohammed. “Because they will see the reaction people have towards this place, so there will be other options too.”

Although the style of Ethiopian cuisine is a bit different, Gilewski encourages people to give it a try. After she had it a few times, she said she began to crave it.

“When I first tried Ethiopian, to be honest, I was a little hesitant,” Gilewski said. “Just go be adventurous… It’s just a fun way to enjoy your food that I don’t think most Americans are used to.”

Move over, oatmeal. Amaranth is here

I’m an oatmeal addict. I think the idea of my peanut butter and banana oats gets me out of bed in the morning just as much as the thought of a steaming hot cup of coffee.

So, naturally, when I saw this post by PopSugar about an even better oat alternative, I had to check it out.

Credit: Associated Press

Credit: Associated Press

Amaranth – a rice-like grain popular among Mexican and Peruvian cultures—is a gluten free alternative to your favorite breakfast grain. But it’s not actually a grain. It can be referred to as a pseudo-cereal, meaning it belongs to a different plant species than most other cereal grains you know and love (oats, wheat, etc.)

It started as a major food crop of the Aztecs (who also inspired us to fall in love with “supergrain” quinoa), and spread to become an important food source in Africa, India and Nepal. In the last two decades, China, Russia, Thailand and Nigeria all started consuming Amaranth as well. Today, it is grown domestically in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouria, North Dakota and Long Island. It’s popularity is partially due to the fact that it’s a complete protein source, is high in fiber, contains healthy oils, and shows potential for lowering cholesterol. When cooked, it never completely softens like other grains, which lends to its translation from Greek: “everlasting.”

Perhaps the best part about amaranth is it’s versatility; unlike oats and quinoa, amaranth can be cooked like rice or polenta, popped like popcorn, baked into muffins, stirred into soup or fluffed like oatmeal.

Are you willing to swap out your oatmeal or quinoa to give amaranth a try?

Finger Lakes welcomes aspiring micro-brewers

Credit: Associated Press AP PHOTO SEPT. 11, 2009

Credit: Associated Press AP PHOTO SEPT. 11, 2009

Interested in starting your own microbrewery? There’s an app conference for that. And, of course, with more than 50 breweries in the area, it’s in the Finger Lakes.

The 2015 Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Conference, hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County, will be March 27-28 in Waterloo.

Whether your heart is set on starting or maintaining a cidery, brewery, or distillery, the conference will offer an opportunity to network, learn the process, and take a field trip to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station’s Vinification and Brewing Laboratory.

Local speakers include Gregg Stacy from the Ithaca Beer Co., Bill Barton from Bellwether Hard Cider, and over 20 others from around New York State.

It’s no secret that the Finger Lakes is a go-to destination for from-the-source alcohol; according to the Ithaca Visitor’s Bureau the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is America’s first and longest running wine trail in the country, and includes 16 of the area’s best wineries, a cidery, a meadery and four distilleries.

Between the Chocolate and Wine weekend in February, the Finger Lakes Wine Festival in July, the Bacon on the Lakein wine and bacon tour in March, the Finger Lakes Beer Festival in October, and countless other events (coupled with the gorgeous lake views and waterfalls), it’s not wonder so many people call Ithaca home.

Ithaca startup, Rosie, revolutionizes grocery shopping

House-bound senior citizens, toddler-toting working mothers, busy college students or young professionals—having the time or ability to go grocery shopping is a luxury that some people simply can’t afford.

Enter Rosie—the Ithaca start-up grocery ordering and delivery app developed by Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management students, Nick Nickitas and Jon Ambrose, and their chief technology officer Mike Ryzewic. Nickitas and Ambrose teamed up while earning their MBAs with the goal of starting a company that takes the chore out of grocery shopping.

“It should be as easy to shop local as shopping on Amazon.com or any other online retailer,” Nickitas said, who came up with the initial idea.

Rosie allows consumers to browse their local grocery stores online or on the smartphone app and place an order for pickup or delivery starting at $1.99. But it goes beyond that, using smart technology to offer recommendations, recipes, and reminders for previously purchased products. Ambrose said they aimed for two things with Rosie: an “amazing customer experience” and the support of local businesses.

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Vegan Diaries: one week as a modern-day herbivore

This weekend, Cornell hosted the iV Conference—the Ivy League Vegan Conference. The event brings in presenters and guests who represent a variety of fields including medicine, climatology, policy, industry, finance, and consulting and “emphasize innovation, self-critique, and re-examination of a plant-based diet as an elegant solution to a host of pressing issues in an increasingly global community.” Between this weekend’s conference on the other hill, Beyoncé’s promotion of 22 Days Nutrition, the latest report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee endorsing a plant-based diet, Chipotle’s promotion of its vegan option, it seems there’s been a lot of vegan buzz lately.So I decided to give it a try for a week to see what it was all about.

When I told most people about my experience, I got a lot of “what’s that?” and “why would you do that to yourself?” and “so can you eat ____ (insert blatantly non-vegan item here)?” Lesson number one; most people have no idea that being vegan means cutting out all animal products (and a significant portion of people don’t even know which things are considered animal products). It looked like my vegan adventure would be partially changing my diet and partially changing people’s understanding of veganism. Continue reading