My microwave melted my FreshDirect microwave-ready meal

This is FreshDirect’s SMART & SIMPLE MOROCCAN CHICKEN W/ HERBED COUSCOUS.

The instructions read, “Place in microwave and heat on high for 3 minutes in 1,000-watt or higher microwave.” So I did, in my 1,000-watt GE Profile microwave. Three minutes later, this is what resulted.

The last step on the FD package–“Enjoy!”–is looking mighty difficult.

This is what the package looked like beforehand:

freshdirectmeal.png

Heralding a smaller can of soda

Is the Coke mini can the new light cigarette? in Slate.
Despite the ironic tone of this article, I like where Coca-Cola is going with this. Portion control is an important psychological shift for the American consumer.
Go back a few decades and the standard Coke bottle was 6.5 ounces. Profit margins and gluttony and one-upmanship have boosted the default bottle size to 20 oz. 7-Eleven sells 64 ounce soda cups! So if a small can of Coke, like a 100-calorie bag of cookies, can get us to consume less sugar, so be it.
For what it’s worth, Coke nowadays is best imbibed from an 8-ounce glass bottle.

Line dieting

I’ve been watching with amusement the recent recent fuss about line diets hitting the blog world, for I’ve been doing this for a number of years, and I had no idea it was actually called something.
dietchart.png
Back in 2005 I started tracking my daily weight in an Excel spreadsheet. The system was simple: weigh myself, go into work, jot it down. I did it at work because I kept a second tab in the spreadsheet and tracked my caloric and fat intake each day. I set consumption goals, and after lunch I’d know how much room I had left for dinner and dessert.
I’ve never blogged about it because, frankly, I found it to be a rather poor diet tool. It was a terrific learning exercise–I’m far more cognizant now about just how fattening food is.
But the spreadsheet, while a fun game, was not much of a motivator. Yes, I wanted to make a pretty declining trendline, and to punch the lower limits of the chart. But I didn’t find that any more satisfying than simply stepping on the scale in the morning and seeing how I did. Data points, to me, were decidedly unsexy.
I kept returning to the spreadsheet on and off into 2008, mostly for the daily food lists, which were better at keeping me honest (and just a label-reading version of Weight Watchers’ point system). Then I gave up, got really fat, and have lost weight in the past year simply by convincing myself to snack less. Spreadsheets are great, but they don’t provide willpower. And on a successful diet, a spreadsheet is redundant–the evidence is in the mirror.

On eating natural foods

Sometimes I wonder, as I pursue (gradually) healthier eating habits and begin shopping for food for my son, whether buying “natural” foods makes a difference. I’m fairly progressive, but I’ve never fallen hard for organic foods or shied away from processed sweets. The difference doesn’t always shout out at me.
And then I read some labels.
Consider the ingredients in the Skippy peanut butter in my kitchen. I grew up with Skippy, my wife eats Skippy, it’s peanut butter! But take a peek at the ingredient list, reprinted verbatim:
Roasted peanuts
Corn syrup solids
Sugar
Soy protein
Salt
Hydrogenated vegetable oils to prevent separation
Mono and diglycerides
Minerals
Vitamins
I always assumed, well, that’s how peanut butter is made, right? But then I got into Cream-Nut, the old-fashioned peanut butter made in Michigan and purchased at my local Fairway market. Its ingredient list:
Peanuts
Sea salt
The difference is a revelation. So, too, is the nutrition that comes from each–the Skippy has four and a half times as much sodium, two and half times the carbohydrates and four times the sugar.
In fairness, Skippy now makes a Natural line of its own, so this isn’t really about how Unilever is evil. It’s a reminder to myself that the processed foods of the past half-century do, indeed, come from worse places, no matter how good they taste. The current trend away from these foods is a bandwagon I’m going to try to stick with.
I doubt I can do anything to help Nate’s sweet tooth, which I inherited from my grandmother. But at the very least, I can get him hooked on the right kind of peanut butter.

Review: Shake Shack UWS

Having long anticipated the opening of the Upper West Side branch of Shake Shack, I was thrilled to hear of its opening yesterday. My wife and I checked on it Saturday, with no luck; yesterday we were out of town, so by tonight we decided we’d waited long enough, and off I went to get us some take-out.
Arriving after 8 p.m. on the second day was a good move. The line took around 20 minutes, the service was chipper and efficient, the store clean and cheery. (A tip: wait time from the entrance of the restaurant is around 10 minutes. It’s also 10 minutes from the corner of 77th and Columbus to the front door. Beyond that you’ll have to ask the neighbors.)
To patrons of the original, the new Shake Shack is not particularly innovative or exciting. The decor is a proper match to the shack in Madison Square Park, right down to the metal mesh and backlit sign. In a nod to the neighborhood, the main floor includes indoor waiting-area seating, a section for stroller parking, and some new concretes like the Natural History Crunchstellation.
So, most importantly: how was it? In short, very good. The overall quality is still Danny-Meyer-playing-short-order-cook high; all ingredients were fresh and each item prepared to order.
Burger: The Shack Burger has the same allure as downtown, tasty and inviting. But the full flavor isn’t all the way there yet. The original Shack has been grilling burgers 12 hours a day for years, and there’s a flavorful char that provides the “ohmigod this is amazing” taste. This early on, uptown is missing that extra kick. Still solid, though, and my wife noticed the difference less than I did.
Hot dogs: We tried a Shack-cago and a New York Dog, both of which were enjoyable, basic hot dogs. The multitude of toppings on the Shack-cago was great, particularly the relish.
Fries: Best part of the meal. Crunchy, fluffy, bursting with flavor. The uptown fries are as good as Madison Square if not better, despite rumors that the ones here are frozen.
Concrete: Our Shacky Road went fast. Crunchies added afterward were a fun and unexpected twist. I’m still partial to the Shack Attack, but really, any concrete is a good concrete.
All in all, a solid start for the first expansion of the Shake Shack. In a few months’ time, I will be fighting long lines (or showing up at 9:30 p.m., after most of the UWS has gone to bed) for what I’ve long declared is the best burger in New York City–now a short walk from home as well as 500 yards from my office. Heaven.
Welcome Interior Production line

In the elevator

Scene: two tall, thin women, one blonde, one brunette. The blonde is carrying lunch.
Brunette: “You go there?”
Blonde: “I like their egg whites. They’re really good.”
“Really? What do you order?”
“I get the egg whites, some brown rice, and a little bit of fat-free cheese.”
“That sounds like it doesn’t taste like anything!”
“Well, you can put, like, ketchup on it.”

Shake Shack UWS

Regular readers of this space know your host is something of a burger fan. So it is no surprise that I enjoy Shake Shack in the backyard of my office by the Flatiron building.
My wife, jealous for the past year at my proximity to the Shackburger, has had shpilkes for months in anticipation of the Upper West Side Shake Shack on 77th and Columbus. The New York Sun ran a thorough update on the new location today, including this nugget:

When the decision was made to open another Shake Shack, the location of the outpost wasn’t chosen from a particular comparison of neighborhoods. “Randy Garutti, who is our managing partner, committed himself fully to Shake Shack about a year and a half ago,” Mr. Meyer said. “Randy happens to live two blocks away from this site….”