Friday, September 23, 2016

The Wrong Shoes

Those of you who know my wardrobe well enough, or just have a thing for tennis shoes, will note that the shoes on my feet in this picture are my tennis shoes. And when I say tennis shoes, I don't mean that in a generic sense - I mean that they are the court shoes I wear when playing tennis. Those of you who both play tennis and run will be aware of the differences in feel of tennis shoes and running shoes - for those of you who are not, tennis shoes tend to be stiffer and heavier than running shoes, since they are built to support you as you move from side to side with quick stop and go motions - and you would probably not voluntarily wear the former while doing the latter or vice versa. But that is exactly what I did this morning.

This morning my training plan had me scheduled for a session of interval torture - 10 minutes of warm up followed by 8 speed intervals with cool downs in between, followed by a 10 minute cool down. Not my favorite workout, but slightly better than hill repeats, since at least the intervals are flat. Anyway, throughout that 10 minute warm up, something just felt off, but I was listening to my book (The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin  - you should totally follow that link and read the first book in the series and then come back to this one) so I wasn't really paying too much attention. I just chalked it up to my cold and 3C (cat, chinchilla, child) caused lack of sleep. It wasn't until I was partway through my second interval that I looked down and my shoes and said "Hey, those are my f*%^ing tennis shoes!"

I was sort of surprised I hadn't noticed when I was trying to tie my laces, because that took longer than normal, thanks to Sabetha's interference. I guess I was more focused on stopping her attacks on the laces and my fingers to notice that they were the wrong shoes. I should also have noticed that my Road ID was not on the laces, but I didn't notice that either.

I don't think I did any lasting damage to my shoes or my feet, but I am totally going to use the shoes as an excuse for why my intervals weren't faster!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dinner for your weekend: Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Tex-Mex is one of my favorite types of food; when Benjamin and I lived in Austin, we were in heaven, calling it our Golden Age of Tex-Mex and mourning its eventual loss, even as we took full advantage. When we first moved to Arkansas, the lack of really good Tex-Mex was a huge disappointment - I mean, Arkansas is right next door to Texas, surely something should have rubbed off! I once tried to order enchiladas with a verde sauce - usually made with tomatillos - and instead got enchiladas topped with nothing but ground up jalapenos! And Benjamin has been constantly disappointed when he tries to order something spicy, only to be "reassured" by the waiter that the dish isn't really too spicy. 

Lately, the options for good Tex-Mex in Little Rock have improved quite a bit with the opening of Local Lime, Chuy's (an Austin original that is welcome here in Little Rock, but one which we never went to in Austin - not dive-y enough, with long wait times), Heights Taco and Tamales, and The Fold. We don't eat out that often anymore though, and my craving for Tex-Mex occurs far more frequently than our trips to restaurants. What to do? Make my own, of course. We have several good cookbooks for Tex-Mex and more authentic Mexican food, we have various taco and taco salad recipes, and we have Chicken Enchilada Casserole.

This is a family recipe that my dad passed along to me when I first moved into an apartment of my own, and one that I don't remember liking all that much as a child - casseroles being a problem because the good stuff (chicken, cheese, tortillas) is all mixed up with more dubious stuff (onions, canned tomatoes, sauce). But now, I love casseroles, and this one in particular, precisely because everything is all mixed up and the flavors can meld and intensify. I have made a few modifications, because the recipe is originally from a 1976 issue of Diabetes Forecast magazine, and needed a little simplification and spicing up, but it is still pretty healthy, easy to make, and easy to scale up. I imagine it would be easy to freeze in individual portions, if you like that sort of thing (I might, but there are never enough left overs in our house).

So, for your dining pleasure, I give you Chicken Enchilada Casserole:

1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, peeled and diced* 
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder (I use 1 3/4 tsp regular, and 1/4 tsp chipotle for more spice)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 can diced tomatoes**
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped*** (approximately 2 chicken breasts. I simmer mine in some lightly salted water until cooked through, then let cool and chop)
1/2 cup chicken stock
6-9 corn tortillas, cut in quarters
1 1/2 cups (or more) grated pepper jack cheese**** (the original calls for sharp cheddar - use whatever you prefer)
Sour cream and avocados

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Get out a medium (2-3 qt) casserole dish.
2) Heat the oil in the skillet and add the onion and garlic. Saute until tender - do not allow to brown. Add the salt, chili powder(s), cumin, and oregano and mix well. Add the tomatoes, chicken, and chicken stock, mix well, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes on low heat.
3) In the casserole dish, layer the chicken mixture, tortillas, and grated cheese, repeating until you have used all the ingredients. You should end up with a cheese layer on top.
4) Cover and bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbling and the cheese is melted. If you prefer, remove the cover and broil for a couple of minutes to brown the cheese. 

My dad always serves this with extra flour tortillas for sopping up the sauce. We like to top it with sour cream and avocados, if they are on hand.

* Our go-to Mexican cookbook always recommends white onions in its dishes, but we usually just use yellow for this one
** Do NOT use the canned ones with herbs and spices already added - just plain. The original calls for three medium tomatoes, and if you have flavorful, ripe ones go ahead and use them instead. I use canned for convenience.
***  For mine, I usually use two chicken breasts that I have simmered in some lightly salted water until cooked through, then let cool and chop. My dad microwaves his, and I think you could use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken too, if you wanted.
**** The original calls for sharp cheddar, but I never use cheddar for Tex-Mex these days - use whatever you prefer or can find. To save time, you could also use a Mexican blend of prepackaged, shredded cheese.

Friday, September 9, 2016

An unintended hike

Over Labor Day weekend, after all the tennis was over and the cobbler had yet to be eaten, we decided to go for a family walk at one of my favorite trails - Two Rivers Park. During my half marathon training, I did most of my runs in the park, and I have missed it over the summer. The paved trail has loops of various lengths that make it perfect for running, bike riding, and taking a not-too-long family stroll. On Sunday, we set out to take one of the latter, with Malcolm riding his bike.

Before the hike, all smiles and no bug bites
Shortly after crossing the bridge onto the trail proper, we took a diversion down a dirt trail to see the river. Then, in a spirit of adventure we later rued, we decided to follow a dirt trail off into the woods, parallel to the paved trail. At first, it wasn't bad at all. Malcolm could ride his bike, the trail seemed clear and well-maintained, and it was fun to be in the woods.

The trail is straight through there - see it?
Then we hit the first of the downed trees. Malcolm climbed over, Benjamin carried the bike. Malcolm started riding again - he was having a fabulous time. Then we hit more downed trees, covered with vines, and I scared a couple of large black snakes (I don't know what they were, but I fervently hoped at the time that they were just king snakes or rat snakes, and not water moccasins). The mosquitoes, ticks, and fire ants made their presences known.

At least we can see the trail again!

And the trail just kept going. I thought I knew where it came out, and it seemed that we had been walking for a very long time - longer than I thought possible on that narrow spit of land. We weren't lost, not really - we always had the trail and could have turned around if the trail ended completely - but we had no idea how much longer we were going to be there, and we had a potluck to get to! Eventually, the trail widened out into a clear track, there were no more fallen trees, and we found a picnic table. This, we figured, had to mean we were close to the paved trail at last. We stopped to pick the burrs off our socks, then set off, renewed. Only to discover that we were on the horseback riding trail that crosses the park, and it wound around for quite a while. Well, OK, it wasn't that long, but we were all getting tired and hot and thirsty and I figured we had walked at least three miles by that point (we had water, but it was only supposed to be a mile hike).

Finally, we came to the spot where I thought we had to emerge - I was right, just a little off on the distance - and made it back to the paved path, and eventually back to the car. Malcolm was getting tired, but he never complained. The entire time we were bushwhacking, he kept saying "Nothing can stop the Riders!" and charging ahead. I was amazed at how well he handled the whole adventure - I certainly wouldn't have been that good about such a thing, considering how much I whined about walking on the boardwalk path when hiking!

It is too bad that the city has not kept that trail cleared, because it could be a very nice hiking/biking trail if they did. Just take some bug spray!

Friday, September 2, 2016

A cobbler for Labor Day

Peaches and blackberries. Didn't take a picture fast enough...

I have made this cobbler at least four or five times already this summer. Until this summer, I would not have described myself as a cobbler-baking type of person, really. Apple crisp, apple crostata, berry crumble - yes, enthusiastically yes. But traditional cobbler just seemed too much work for a casual summer dessert. You have some berries, maybe a couple of kinds, but not so many that you can make a pie (never mind the fact that it is far too hot and humid to be rolling out pie crust) and you need something to do with them. This, friends, this is it. 

My friend Mina first recommended it to me back in May or June, when I invited her to bring her kids along with Malcolm and I to pick berries. They couldn't come, but she said I needed to make this recipe. That it was so simple and so good. And she was right. I have made it with blueberries and blackberries and raspberries, peaches and blueberries, and yesterday, with blackberries and peaches. I bet it would be good with plums, or strawberries and raspberries. And Malcolm loves to help make it, because it is so simple. He mixes the batter as I add ingredients, and helps sprinkle the berries on top. 

It is a Pioneer Woman recipe, and here is the original, Blackberry Cobbler #1. I made a couple of changes, but nothing too drastic. I hope you have time to give it a try this Labor Day weekend!

Blackberry Cobbler #1 (with adaptations by Hope)

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar + 1/4 cup for sprinkling on top (I only use 1 TBSP)
1 cup self-rising flour or 1 cup all purpose flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 cups blackberries or a mix of berries and stone fruits

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a baking dish (the original recipe doesn't specify a size; I use a Pyrex pie plate).

Melt butter. Combine 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup flour in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the milk and mix well. Pour in the melted butter and whisk until smooth.

Pour the batter into the baking dish. Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the top. Sprinkle the entire thing with 1 Tbps sugar (or more, if you want it really sweet).

Bake for 1 hour, until golden and bubbly. (The original suggests adding another tsp of sugar over the top 10 minutes before it is finished. I have never done this; it is sweet enough as is for me.) Let cool a bit, then serve. Top with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like (yes!).