Monday, November 30, 2015

Rain, Running, and Snack Mix

It has been raining here in Central Arkansas for the last four days. And when I say rain, I don't mean the gentle drizzle that counts as rain in the Northwest - I know that kind of rain, I grew up with it, and while it can put a damper on your mood, at least it is generally easy to ignore as you go about your daily life. No, we have had about 4-6 inches of rain, in heavy downpours and steady showers. There is a pocket park at the bottom of our hill - just a basketball court and a walking trail really - set into a bowl where all the water drains. It has flooded twice now in the last two weeks. Our backyard and front yard are just mud puddles, squishy, messy, mud puddles. But, in theory, the sun is coming back soon, and maybe we will dry out a bit.

Being a good Northwesterner, I didn't let the rain stop me from running this week. How could I? It was the first week of my half-marathon training plan! I might get lazy later, I might have to take a break for an ice storm in January, but no way am I letting rain wash out my first week! So I put on my old rain coat (not really made for running, but it worked well enough) and slogged out the door. I am super excited about running the half in March. The farthest I have ever run was 10 miles, while training for my last 10K (6.2 miles), and when I finished that run I said to myself "I am glad I am done for today, but I could totally run another three miles if I had to!" And now I will get that chance. I am also excited because I will be raising money for a good cause: brain cancer research. Some friends of mine have set up a fund raising team and gathered close to 100 friends to run the Little Rock Marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 5K to raise money. Check out the link and think about how much you want to give me, because after Christmas I am going to come back with my hat in hand, pestering and begging you for money. Don't think I won't.

And now, because it is officially the Christmas season, and because it is raining and you need something yummy to perk you up, it is time for snack mix. I love snack mix, and while I might occasionally make it at other times of the year, December just isn't right if I don't make a couple of batches. How much do I love it? I made a batch last week - using an entire box of cereal - and it lasted two days. Malcolm and I ate almost all of it ourselves. I had to make another batch this weekend. So, without further delay, here is my recipe for snack mix:

Crispix snack mix, modified by Hope
*I have doubled the original recipe, because the smaller amount just isn't worth it. The amounts of cereal etc. are all approximate, depending on your own personal tastes and preferences - adjust as needed.

1 box Crispix cereal, or approximately 13 cups rice and corn Chex
1-2 cups Cheerios
1-2 cups cheddar Goldfish
1-2 cups peanuts
1-2 cups pretzels (I usually use sticks, but the mini twists work well too)
6 tablespoons butter, melted (the original calls for margarine, but, ugh)
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon onion salt (I usually use onion powder instead, because that is what I have)
1 teaspoon Penzey's Greek Seasoning mix or Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle (Optional: this is a new addition, and it is quite nice, but the mix is just fine without it)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
8 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 250 F.
1) Combine the cereals, Goldfish, peanuts, and pretzels in a large roasting pan. Set aside.
2) Stir together the remaining ingredients. Pour over cereal and gently stir until the cereal is evenly coated.
3) Bake at 250 F for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool - this is important, since the mix will not taste good at all when very hot. Eat. Repeat.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Birds and Soup

Although it has taken its time this year, Autumn is finally really here in Arkansas. (Do I say that every year? It is possible - I grew up in the north, and fall is supposed to come around the middle or end of September, so my reference points are always a little off for living in the south.) I finished raking the backyard last week, and just about the same time I did the last several years (at least according to my Facebook posts for those days). The front still needs it, but now it is raining, so I get a reprieve. Cooler weather seems to be sticking around, and it is raining regularly after months of drought.

Other signs of autumn:
* The state tournament for my combo tennis team was this weekend (we won!!), so now starts the inevitable lull, with only a stray singles match or lesson from time to time, until the regular season starts up again in the spring. I suppose it is good for me, but it can make me antsy, not playing several times a week.
* Project FeederWatch began over the weekend, so Malcolm and I are once again watching our bird feeders with heightened interest, as we count our avian visitors. I am excited this year, because Malcolm can really, truly participate now. Last season, he watched with me, and could pick out birds, but this season, he knows what he is doing, and he is excited too. We started our count today, and I had forgotten the thrill of spotting a new bird for our weekly list, even if it is just a white throated sparrow or chickadee.
* Soup. Maybe it has been soup season for a while now where you live, but here, we are just getting to the point where I feel a need to make a pot of soup at least once a week. I have a lot of soup recipes, and I try to make different ones, but of course we have favorites. Last night we made Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, Sausage, and Tubettini. It is an Italian recipe that my dad passed along years ago, and I am not sure which cookbook he got it out of, and even though there are many similar recipes out there on the internet, I think it is worth passing along. Just in case you too need soup.

Minestra di Lenticchie con Salsiccie e Tubettini
Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard, Sausage, and Tubettini

1/2 lb (250g) brown lentils, rinsed
10 cups (2.5 liters) light meat broth (I use 8 cups beef broth and two cups water)
1 celery rib with leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
1 onion, finely chopped
10 oz (300 g) sweet Italian sausages with fennel seeds, casings removed, crumbled (The sausage at our grocery store didn't have fennel, so I just added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to the sausage while it was cooking)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried marjoram (oregano is an acceptable substitute)
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 g) tubettini or other small pasta
1/2 lb (250g) Swiss chard leaves, chopped (I include the stems too, if they aren't too tough)

1) Place the lentils in a large pan or soup pot with the broth and water, celery, bay leaf, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the lentils are nearly tender, about 20 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a skillet, combine the olive oil, garlic and onion. Saute over medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage (and fennel) and saute for 10 minutes until golden.

3) Dissolve the tomato paste in a little of the lentil broth. Add to the sausage and onions and stir well. Add marjoram and tomatoes and stir.

4) Stir the sausage and onion mixture, the tubettini and Swiss chard into the lentils. Simmer until the chard is tender and the pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes (or a bit longer, depending on the pasta you pick. Go by the package). Discard the celery and bay leaf, and serve.

This is really good with a fresh loaf of crusty bread and a green salad.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Garden casualties

This has been a pretty strange weather year so far. This spring and early summer, we had so much rain that the Arkansas River was at flood stage for weeks. The River Trail still had portions under water well into summer. Then, all of a sudden, it stopped raining and got hot. We didn't have as many days over 100 as we did in 2012, but it was hot and dry for a long time. Enough so that we entered a flash drought. Did you know that was even a thing? I didn't. 

Malcolm and I did our best to keep things watered, but there are some areas of the backyard that are hard to reach properly, and as a result, there were some casualties. The most vexing to me is the jasmine I had planted alongside the fence. When I planted it, I had visions of it growing and overtaking the entire stretch of fence, as I remember seeing jasmine do once in Laguna Beach California. Turns out jasmine is not a fan of drought and low humidity, and despite (semi) regular watering, it dried out as crispy as an overcooked potato chip. I plan to cut it back to the ground and hope that maybe it comes back in the spring, but if I am honest, I am pretty sure it is toast.

The other primary casualties were three rose bushes; one miniature one that was here when we moved in, and two that I planted. They all have had problems with dropping leaves and rust and so forth, so it wasn't a huge surprise when they succumbed. That bed is also impossible to grow anything in, apart from a crepe myrtle, one or two day lilies, and a scraggly hosta. I tried to get lemon balm to grow there, since it seems to like trying to take over my vegetable garden, and it died. Same with the other various supposedly hardy plants I have tried. Now I am thinking of turning that area into a little pebble garden. I could make zen designs in the gravel. 

Surprisingly, the kale I planted way back in the spring is still going strong. It slowed down a bit over the summer, but it is still growing plenty of leaves and has mostly taken over half of one of the raised beds. The other bonus in the garden is the volunteer Thai basil. While we bought a set of Thai basil this year, I planted them in pots on the deck, where they grew but didn't thrive. But as the garden started growing this spring, I noticed several plants of what appeared to be basil, growing among the tomatoes and peas, and I let them go. I figure they must have come from the compost in our bins, after I threw the spent flowers in there last year. 

That is gardening for you - heartbreak and lovely surprises.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Still running

I went on a five mile run this morning, because when I got to my planned turn around at two miles I wasn't quite ready to go back. It was great. I love that my body is strong enough now for be to be able to make that decision on the spur of the moment. I love that the weather has turned cooler, so I don't instantly regret that decision because of killer heat. I love that running calms my over-anxious, over-thinking mind and gives me strength in more than physical ways. 

As we move into fall and I move into a new phase of life, trying once again to decide what I want to do with myself, how I want to inhabit my place in the world, I cherish the space that running gives me to deal, to think, to believe. 

And now, since most of you probably only come here for the pictures, here is a recent one of Malcolm. He has grown so much lately - I was looking back at the last few pictures I posted of him in the spring, and it is almost an entirely different child! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring is here, too busy to post

Now that spring is truly here, I have even more excuses for not posting much. It is simply too nice most days to stay in the house, in front of a computer. There are the regular household chores that have to be done, and some days those barely get completed, because who wants to sit inside folding laundry and cleaning the kitchen when it is 73, sunny, and oh so green outside? Malcolm certainly doesn't. If it is not raining, and sometimes even when it is, he is out in the yard as soon as he has had some breakfast. In his pajamas. I have managed to get him to the point where he puts his boots on without being told first, but that is sort of Pyrrhic victory, since he just pulls them off as soon as he gets to the sand box. Then he runs around without them, and I have to go collect the boots and, if he had them on, socks. He is certainly living up to the stereotype of the little boy who loves to play in the dirt! So much laundry from such a small person!

The vegetable garden is a bit behind - we had to shore up one of the beds, and the weather has been a bit erratic, so the tomatoes aren't in yet - but the lettuce, carrots, peas and kale are all growing apace. Iris are blooming all over our neighborhood, and our roses are starting to shine as well. If it weren't for the occasional severe thunderstorms that threaten us with golf-ball sized hail and the chance of tornadoes, April would be absolutely perfect.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Change is good, at least this time

What a difference a month makes! Instead of ice and snow, we have temperatures in the 70s most days, and everything is starting to bloom and grow.

I have been pondering another form of change and growth lately, in my attitude towards running. I've been running consistently for a little over a year now. Before training for last year's 10K, I ran occasionally, as a way to change up my exercise routine and do something that felt...cooler? than the elliptical. I had run three 5Ks when I decided to try a 10K, so it wasn't as if I was a complete beginner. But it was still something I did mainly for the benefits it gave me for other activities, like keeping me fit for tennis. Now? Now I can honestly say I run because I like running. That feels like such a radical statement for me, given that for most of my teens and 20s running was something I avoided at all costs, something akin to torture and craziness. These days, it is therapeutic, necessary. While I won't go so far as to say that I have felt a true runner's high, I definitely feel a mood lifting effect when I run these days. No matter how bad my day is or how foul a mood I am in, a run makes me feel better (at least for a little while).

Of course, I do still run to stay in shape, because I like to bake and cook and eat. And I believe in the Blerch. It is what got me started running, and some days it is what gets me out the door. I doubt I will ever run an ultramarathon, and might never even run a regular marathon, but if by getting out there four or five days a week I can keep the Blerch at bay and make myself happier, that is enough for me to keep putting on my shoes, strapping Malcolm into the stroller, and heading out for a run. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Fun in the snow (and ice)

The first two weeks of February had us fooled; there were several gloriously sunny and warm days that made us think spring was coming early this year. And then, winter decided to make an appearance. At least one of us was happy about it.

Last year Malcolm was about 18 months old when we had enough snow to try out the sled, and he hated it. This year, at two and a half, he loved it. We took him down our street, which is a cove and was far too slick for cars, and which had the perfect combination of snow and ice for a runner sled.

The sled was my mother's when she was a child, and it still works, and didn't have any problem holding both Malcolm and me as we sped down the hill.

The snow wasn't very good for snowmen, but it was good for snow angels. He made me make one too, but all I really accomplished was getting snow all over my coat!

For children, even chores are fun when they are new. Here Malcolm is helping me clean off the steps so they will melt when the sun comes out. And when the sun does come out, everything melts pretty quickly around here. Thank goodness! Arkansas does not deal well with snow.

After watching snow blower videos on YouTube, Malcolm decided to make one of his own, and spent quite a bit of time snow blowing the back yard with his shovel.

And now, the adults in the house all quite tired of snow and ice and winter - just in time for another potential round tomorrow - but Malcolm is cheering for more. I say it is time for spring and garden planting and sunshine and tennis outdoors!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wait, it's February already?

Male cardinal, eating seed from our feeder
I can't believe it has been over a month since I last sat down to write here. I know I thought about it, but kept thinking it hadn't been that long since my last post, surely. Well, here are some of the things that have been keeping me busy since the beginning of this year. 

Open kibbeh, from Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
 Cooking, of course. I have so many good cookbooks now that I am really making an effort to try new recipes. Weekends tend to be the best time for that around here - more people to help with complicated prep work, or just keep Malcolm out of my hair while I do it.  For the savory side of things, my current crush is Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. There are some recipes I know I will never make, but all the ones I have made have been amazing. This open kibbeh was so very good - lamb, bulgher, and some tahini, essentially - there was hardly any left for the next day.

Sticky Toffee Pudding from Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food

Last summer, while watching The Colbert Report,  we saw Jamie Oliver bring out this sticky toffee pudding and my mother-in-law was drooling over it. I told her if she bought me the book, I would make it for her; she remembered and gave it to me for Christmas. So, I made sticky toffee pudding for a New Year's treat. Oh. My. Goodness. Rich and flavorful and oh so good. I probably won't make it again any time soon, just because we really don't need that much cake in the house, but I might break it out for the next potluck we go to.

Chocolate sables from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan
 Another reason I probably won't get around to making another sticky toffee pudding soon is that I also got Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan for Christmas, and I am attempting to bake my way through it. It will take a long time, since there are so many recipes and alternate variations, and I can't quite justify baking dessert every single weekend, but I don't really mind. Everything I have make so far is delicious.

Who can resist that face?
And of course, in addition to cooking, Malcolm is keeping me on my toes. At two and a half, he is far too smart for his own good, too good at getting into things he shouldn't, and just adorable enough to stay (mostly) out of trouble.

We are out riding bikes without coats, in February!
 He got a balance bike for Christmas, and has almost completely mastered it. He rides down our street without touching, rides circles in our cul-de-sac, and is generally getting set for a life on two wheels. It isn't so bad when the weather is warm, like it has been this week, but he was insisting we go out when it was 35 and windy, and that was a bit much for this mama. (Not that I should complain, since I made him go out in the stroller for runs with me when it was equally cold and windy. The difference is that he was swaddled in blankets and sleeps through most of the runs, whereas I have to stand around and watch for cars while he is bike riding - no blankets or naps for me). It is exciting to see how fast he learns and figures things out.

Sharp-shinned hawk (I think), staking out our feeder
 Malcolm and I have been participating in this year's Feeder Watch program, conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Basically, we watch our bird feeders two consecutive days a week and try to identify and count the various birds we see, then we report that data and it helps the scientists get a picture of bird migration and numbers. Last week, this beauty showed up and scared all the little birds away. I didn't mind, because it stayed around long enough for me to get out my camera and take a few pictures.

So, there is my year so far, mostly. I am also training for a 10K in March, partially in order to be able to eat all the delicious things I bake, and tennis season is just about to pick up steam. I'll try not to let things go for another month this time!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Black Friday Hiking Report

Longtime readers of my blog (hi Mom and Dad) know that Benjamin and I go on a hike on the day after Thanksgiving; it is our way of refraining from over-consumption, avoiding getting trampled, and recovering from any Thanksgiving excess. Since Malcolm arrived, we haven't taken any long or strenuous hikes, but we have made an effort to at least go somewhere we don't normally go for a walk. This year, we headed up to Russellville (about an hour's drive) to try out the Bona Dea Trails.

It is a trail system that combines a fitness trail, jogging trail and some hiking (sort of), in the city limits of Russellville. The entire loop (about 3.5 miles) is paved and in good condition, so it is wheelchair and bicycle accessible. That means isn't a particularly difficult hike, but it was a good fit for us at this time, with our toddler, stroller, grandmother and two dogs.

It was chilly, but sunny - good weather for a long walk. Malcolm walked at least a mile and a half of the trail by himself. As long as he is in the mood, he is a very good walker/hiker. We all had fun on the fitness parts of the trail, trying out the various exercise stations.

The scenery wasn't spectacular, but it was peaceful, and it is supposed to have good wildlife viewing opportunities if you visit near sunrise and sunset.

Although I doubt we will make the trip up to Russellville just to use the trails again soon, it is definitely somewhere I would go to run or ride my bike if I lived in the area. It might be worth a return visit when Malcolm is a bit older and can ride his bike around the entire trail.