Half Marathon Music Vol. 3

The past 2 weeks have been challenging training-wise.  Not because of distance, rather because of travel.

Last week, I felt sore on Monday from my gardening experiences, so I rested Monday, then worked out Tuesday.  I thought I could work out on Thursday, but ended up working a 14 hour day choosing our incoming Puente class for the next school year.  On Friday, Kris and I drove down for a Valentine’s weekend in San Diego.  It was so much fun, minus our 12 hour (should have been 6-7 hour) drive down on Friday evening.  We hit LA rush hour on a Friday before a 3 day weekend, what were we thinking?  Well, obviously we weren’t.  However, more about the trip coming soon.

It’s hard to keep a workout routine while you are vacationing, away from home and your normal routine.  Last week, I didn’t do very well.

This week, not much better.  I worked out on Monday which went well.  I felt rested and my body enjoyed the activity.  I’m liking that.  Since Thursday though, I’ve been on a 5 day Southern California college campus tour with the Puente and Avid students from the school I work at.  It’s been non-stop travel, driving, and LONG days.  I’m talking 14-15 hour days.  We start at 8, visit 2 college campuses a day, have study time (grading time for me), dinner, travel time, etc.  We’ve been getting back to the hotel around 10 pm, then give them a half hour to hang out, then have to go to each room say good night and seal up their doors with a little piece of paper to make sure no one leaves their rooms during the night.  It’s all super organized and fun, but exhausting.

I thought I could work out Thursday, but we arrived at the hotel at 11:30 pm, and us chaperones didn’t finish working until about 12:30. So, no workout Thursday.  I promised I’d wake up early Friday to squeeze in a workout before our 13 hour day, and I did.  Though that morning all I wanted to do was sleep just a little bit longer.  I am so proud of myself for that miracle-working.  Luckily, our hotel has a workout room that I used before our day started.  My legs were sore from walking around 2 college campuses the day before, but I did it, all before 7:30 am.  Then, we went to go walk around UCLA and USC.  I should wear a pedometer.  With my 2 mile workout, plus those two schools, my legs were like jello last night.  Is this a preparation, I wonder?

Today we’re at San Diego State; I’m actually typing this from their community computers.  We’ll also head to UC San Diego later in the afternoon.  I’m hoping tomorrow morning to go down to the hotel workout room for a quick jog.

So, I’ve had 3 workouts in the past two weeks.  Not good, I know.  Training is now behind schedule, the routine I had so painfully created over the past 3 weeks has been seriously jeopardized, but the cool thing is that when I get back home, I feel more motivated to keep an even steadier routine.  These two weeks have reminded me about the importance and stability of a regular exercise schedule.  I actually miss it, and I want it back.

And it’s a good thing I’ve had this motivation shift, because the training schedule is going up a notch.  Now it’s 4 workouts a week instead of three.  This means I have to switch my reward system to every 4 workouts a new song.

While I cannot share the video at the moment, since I’m on a public computer, I can share my newest song addition to the Half Marathon playlist, Shakira’s “La Loba.”  As soon as I can, I will post the video.

Half Marathon Music Volume 2

13.1 miles, and I can barely run 3, never have run more than 3.5 at one time, but continue training for the See Jane Run June 5th half marathon.

My reward system: for every 3 workouts, I buy myself a new song from itunes.  My first purchase is here.  Second purchase is Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In The World)” song which I love saving for the end of my workout and just pumping up the pace a little bit more.  I’m movin’ it!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Avocado Tree That Carries All Hope

A gorgeous California February weekend demanded that I spend it outside in my backyard, working on the garden.

One major task was adding fertilizer to our avocado tree. Of all the trees on our property, this is the one that we are most excited about.  By we I mean myself, Kris, my mom, my neighbor Kathy, my godmother, and all of our friends who know we have this tree. We’ve eaten its two previous fruits, and this year, we all want more.

Of course, there were plenty of weeds around it, and I didn’t want weeds sucking up my expensive organic fertilizer. Titania helped out in her usual fashion; while I went ripping away at the bermuda grass et al, she sun bathed in her favorite spot.

 

Sunbather Extraordinaire

It took forever to get this picture because every time I came close, she’d look up and give me her big pit bull smile.

 

Smiling in the sun

Meanwhile, I worked on clearing space around the avocado tree in order to add fertilizer.  I noticed that the bermuda grass and other weeds were coming out quite easily, then discovered that it was because of landscape fabric put down by the previous owners.  In my zeal to get rid of the weeds, I’d ripped the fabric up.  I had to fertilize the tree, not the dirt above the landscaping fabric.  My hoe and gardening claw dug into the rich soil, full of earthworms and ants, creating a little circle around the tree.

 

Ooophs, ripped the fabric

Here’s the fertilizer I used, recommended by my local nursery.

 

E. B. Stone Organic Citrus Fertilizer

I staged it on top of the weeds I’d pulled, hoping that someone (besides me) would appreciate the irony.  I know the nursery probably just recommended the most expensive one; we’ll see how it does. A lot of people have high hopes for this tree.  Who wouldn’t? Look at these cute little buds; these are going to become flowers, and eventually…fruit.

 

Lots of Little Buds

I bought one 4 pound box, thinking I could use it for the many trees around our house (2 giant orange trees, an almond, a lemon, an apricot, a peach, and a cherry).  Then, I read the directions which explained that for a 5 year old avocado or citrus tree (I had to guess the age), I’d need to apply 4 pounds every time I fertilized!  The whole box for just one application!  Then, on top of that, I’m supposed to fertilize 3 times a year.  Is this normal?!  I am just flabbergasted (love that word).

I ended up following directions because, well…because I’m a teacher and appreciate when my students follow mine.  I mixed in the entire box, four pounds of fertilizer, around the tree.  We’ll see how she does (although I’m not sure if it is a male or female avocado tree).

Then, of course, Titania comes over to sniff out what I’m doing.  While my back is turned, mixing the powder into the soil, she grabs a quick lick of the fertilizer’s box.  I freak out, hoping it won’t poison her, good thing it’s organic.  When I look at the ingredients, I see that the first one is blood meal.  Go figure she’d want to lick that.

I decided I need to protect the fertilizer, not just from the dog, but from weeds that want to leech off of the richness I just added to the ground.  At this moment I wished I hadn’t ripped the landscape fabric so much.  I didn’t have any mulch, but what I did have was a lot of cardboard.

 

From a recent IKEA purchase

I’d just cut it, lay it around the tree, and remove it when I needed to water.  The size was perfect, and I didn’t even have to do my usual measuring by trail and error.

 

A resourceful substitute for mulch

Knowing that Titania would still be able to burrow her head under the cardboard, I found some bricks by the orange tree and moved them to use as weights.  Perfect dog/weed barrier.

The perfect makeshift mulch

Naturally, the dog keeps sniffing out the area with a guilty look on her face.  Hopefully my yelling and reprimanding plus the cardboard barrier will stand up to her pit bull stubbornness.

 

 

Lemon Garbanzo Pasta with Butternut Squash (aka Pasta Eclipse)

This is another one of those the-gym-has-made-my-body-sore recipes.  Click here for the first one in case you missed it.  It is loosely based off of Crescent Dragonwagon’s recipe for “Pasta Sol” in her book The Passionate Vegetarian.  By loose, I mean I took the idea of combining pasta, butternut squash, kalamatas, garbanzos, and lemon zest, everything else comes from my imagination, oh and our current veggie leftovers.  Kris dubbed the recipe “Pasta Eclipse,” since the sun is partially represented in it, but for clarity purposes, I call it “Lemon Garbanzo Pasta with Butternut Squash.”

Here are the ingredients you’ll need.

Ingredients (the little squash is from my 1st garden)

Clockwise from the top left:
2 cups wild argula,
1 1/2 cups 1″ diced butternut squash,
12-15 kalamata olives, chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of brine/juice
zest and juice of 1 lemon,
2-4 ounces of creamy goat cheese
5 medium large garlic cloves pressed (less if you’re not so garlic   inclined, it will be raw in the recipe)
1/4 cup olive oil (not pictured)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (not pictured)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (not pictured)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (also MIA, not pictured)
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
1 medium yellow onion diced,
1/4 cup canned corn (optional, our leftovers from this recipe)
7 Cremini mushrooms, chopped
1/2 pound of whole wheat pasta

1.  Boil 1/2 pound of whole wheat pasta according to your taste.  Go with whole wheat, not just for the healthiness factor, but it gives the dish a nutty heartiness.  Drain when ready.

Aim for al dente

2.  While the pasta cooks, wash and drain out the garbanzos.  It gets rid of excess salt; trust me there is a lot in canned beans.  Place the beans in a medium sized bowl.

Marinated Garbanzos

3.  To the garbanzos add the lemon zest, lemon juice, pressed garlic, thyme, cayenne, oregano, chopped kalamatas, 1 tablespoon (or 2) of the kalamata juice/brine, and 1/4 cup olive oil.  Let marinate until you’re ready to eat.  Canned garbanzos are so plain tasting; they need strong flavors to soak up.

(3.5 not officially part of the recipe, my peeling and dicing awkwardly shaped butternut squash.  All I can say is use your potato peeler to get the skin off once you’ve chopped the edges away.  My garden butternut, the baby one in the picture above, perfumed the entire kitchen with its sweet scent, so exciting)

4.  In a large saute pan, over high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and saute the onion until translucent.

Saute the onions

5.  Add the diced squash.  Drizzle in a teeny bit of water, maybe 3 tablespoons, in order to steam the squash.  Cover and let cook over medium heat for 6-9 minutes.  (Note to self…maybe try white wine here…)

Isn't that orange color spectacular?

5.  Add to the squash 2 cups of arugula, chopped mushrooms, and only because I needed to use it, the corn.  Cover and steam for another 3-5 minutes until arugula turns a beautiful bright green color.

6.  To serve, place a bed of pasta down on the plate, add a little marinated garbanzos, spoon on some squash, and crumble in chucks of the goat cheese.  Delicious!

So fast and easy

Don’t have goat cheese? Go for feta or Parmesan.  I loved the goat cheese’s creaminess; it really balances well with the pasta and vegetables, and the saltiness of the cheese was perfect.

Need meat?  Maybe try some grilled or pan seared chicken.

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Emita is the kind of friend that the second you see each other again, it’s like it was yesterday, except it’s been really almost a year since you both live on opposite sides of the country.   Such is the reality of the mobile generation I belong to.

I met Emily while studying in Chile for the year.  We were both finishing our last years of college and enjoying a state of non-responsibility abroad, truly one of the best experiences for any college student.  I loved it so much, I studied abroad twice because I couldn’t get enough.

Em came out to California around Christmas to visit friends here in Nor Cal and family in So Cal.  Kris and I were very excited to show her our house, and I wanted to bake something with her.  I have realized that one way to make our house into a home is to create memories of cooking and eating with friends.  Not only that, but in my quest to join the farm to table movement, I wanted to use ingredients from our own yard.  I had many stories to tell her of my meager attempts to utilize our edible landscape.

Emita’s visit in December inspired me to try my first recipe using our persimmons.  It comes from David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes that I procured from epicurious.com.  Since it was a baking recipe and my first time using persimmons, I was very faithful to his protocol, adding in only a few extra spices to experiment and make the recipe a teensy bit mine.  I also added extra lemon flavor to the cream cheese frosting.  We used lemons from our tree, and the taste exploded on your tongue. Although there is a large amount of persimmon puree, the persimmon taste is very mellow.  It was a good thing that Emily left with half of the cake because it would not have lasted long in our house, and I’m a much faster eater than Kris is.

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake; 12-16 servings

Cake Ingredients:
¾ cup raisins
½ cup brandy or whisky
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pod (optional, but fun if you have some laying around)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups persimmon puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Icing
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (depends on lemon taste preference)
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
4 or 5 teaspoons water

1.     Preheat oven to 350° F.  Coat a 10 cup Bundt cake pan with cooking spray.

2.     In a small saucepan, bring the whisky or bourbon, raisins, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pod to a soft simmer for about 5 minutes.  You want most of the liquid to soak up into the raisins, but not all of it.  Discard the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pod.  DON’T strain it, you risk losing the infused alcohol.

3.     In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients to combine: flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir in the sugar.

4.     In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients: butter, persimmon puree, eggs, and vanilla.

5.     Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Gently stir.  Fold in the raisins, their liquid, and the nuts.  Mix until everything is just put together, maybe even less, you don’t want to over mix, only until things are roughly combined.

6.     Scrape every last bit of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.  Remove from the oven, and let cool.  Once it’s cooled, flip the cake onto a serving plate.

7.     Make the icing: in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla and lemon juice.  Gradually add the powdered sugar a little at a time.  After each addition of powdered sugar, beat until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 teaspoon of water at a time until the icing has thick liquid consistency.  How much you add depends on amount of lemon juice used. Pour on top of the cake and let it run messily along the sides and crevices.

Harvest of the Persimmons

In early December, Kris and I harvested a few bagfuls of our Japanese persimmons.  They’d been self-thinning since August, randomly dropping on our roof and clop-clopping their way down at all hours of the night.  Come November, despite the excess that had rolled its way across the roof, the tree was ablaze, glowing orange.

We waited until the fruits started to fall off the tree like raindrops.  In their fully matured state, they were squishy-soft and fell apart when we touched them with too much pressure.  Overly matured ones accumulated along the side yard, one of Titania’s favorite sleeping areas.  On multiple occasions, I’d already had to wipe off random orange pulp that over the course of the day had dried on her back, and her mouth could not clean up.  The area smelled of fermentation and rotting fruit.

Our tree began a stunning autumnal display.  Its leaves changed into water color splashes of green and yellow with bright orange orbs polka dotting all over its branches.  Of course, once the leaves fully dropped, the skeleton of branches still maintained lanterns of fruit well into winter, at least a California winter, which most of my husband’s family does not consider real Winter with a capitol “W.”

Hashiya persimmons, also called Japanese persimmons cannot be eaten raw.  Let me rephrase, it is not recommended that this type of persimmon be eaten raw.  It leaves a bitter, dry, cotton-mouth feel as soon as you take a bite, and no amount of spitting can get rid of it.  Yes, I speak from personal experience; that nasty taste is not because one persimmon didn’t ripen; all of them taste that way, and Kris and I went though about 10.

At first we were scared that all the fruit would be ruined, but then we discovered that all we had to do was push the fruit through a strainer, et voila persimmon pulp for cooking.   From our one harvest trip, we got about 30 persimmons, still only about half of the tree.  Eventually the birds devoured the rest.

Kris made smoothies; I baked a cake with Emily, and we still have 6 cups of pulp in the freezer.

Half Marathon Music Volume 1

I’ve decided to try a little positive reinforcement in my insane attempt to run a half marathon.

Now, given that I am an English teacher, I understand the concept of diction, that is word choice. “Run” a half marathon does not really communicate my exercise capacity; there is no way I could run something that long. The term I prefer is wog, a combination of walk and jog. It was coined by my sister-friend, Natalie. Mil gracias!

So, in my process of training for the half marathon, I’ve given myself the reward of a new downloaded song for my itunes every time I go to the gym 3 times. Better said, every 3 completed workouts, gym or out and about the town, and I get to buy a new song.

My first song purchase was “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. I love this song!! And I’m taking more suggestions. So, don’t be shy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

Massacre of the Thistles

We moved into our house in May of 2010.  One of the first items on the to-do list was clearing the thistles in the backyard.

These were not your ordinary thistles that randomly show up in the lawn. These were soulless devils that had been given free range of our new backyard for the past 2 years (my guess based on talking with our new neighbors).  They had completely conquered the left side of our yard, growing waist high and spreading virally.

Ever heard that expression, “A weed is just an unloved flower”?  No my friends, a weed is a infinite invasion of irritation, and thistles, with their think thorns and evolutionarily designed deep taproot and strong stem system are the worst offenders.

Kris, mid-destruction

Looking back, it seems I underestimated (or repressed) the actual size of these adversaries; it appears that these suckers topped Kris’ shoulder level.  Here’s another picture taken from my camera phone; it’s all we had at the time.

So manly...

After much finagling, Kris agreed to take out these weeds once and for all.  Little did I know, but thistles just keep coming back.  Luckily, we now dig them up before they explode out of control.

We tried to cut up the thistles with our lawn mower to make it easier to place in the green waste container, but, as you can see from this image, our little black mower’s bag couldn’t handle that kind of work, and this wasn’t even half of them!

Our lawnmower couldn't stand a chance

Still, by the time we, well, he, had finished, we had enough thistle carnage to last a lifetime.

 

The Carnage

Three weeks worth of filling the green waste bucket, and the thistles were gone, well, managed.  And behind all of that impassability, we found ourselves this…

 

One Perfect Avocado

It was divine.

The Ten Minutes Standing Recipe

That’s all I have energy for, ten minutes.  With my body still protesting from tonight’s gym workout, I dread making dinner, thinking  Oh, can’t we just order something, please; can’t I just sit down?

I’ve started training for a half marathon, and after tonight’s treadmill time, I can barely stand, let alone move.  I was going to make a quick black beans and sweet potato soup that a friend recommended, but when I saw this Meatless Monday recipe on myrecipes.com, I decided it looked easy enough; it was a win-win: quick recipe and a non-guilt inducing meal.  I figured that though I could barely move without grunting in pain, I could open a can of black beans, run a food processor, and arrange burritos to cook for 20 minutes. I felt so proud of myself that I even added in an extra vegetable in the form of spinach.  Not only that, but I was so lazy I decided I didn’t want to grate cheese, so I took sandwich slices and ripped them up to go on top of the burritos.

It all felt like I was cheating.  I was standing for only 8 minutes preparing the meal.  I spent a few more minutes making the burritos, and thank God, because that is seriously all I had energy for.  Pure Brilliance!

So, here it is…the 10 minute recipe for days when the gym has beaten you into submission.  Adapted from Black Bean Burrito Bake from myrecipes.com

1 15 ounce can black beans, drained
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, grab a teaspoon of the sauce while you’re at it
1 cup of fresh spinach
1 heaping tablespoon of cumin
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (it’s going in the food processor, so don’t be too picky about size)
1/2 cup of plain yogurt
1/2 15 ounce can of corn
4 whole wheat tortillas
1 cup store bought salsa, recommended roasted tomato variety
3 slices of pepper jack cheese, ripped length-wise
2-3 sliced green onions

In a food processor, combine, half the beans, the chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, spinach, and cumin.  Blend until smooth.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the rest of the beans with the yogurt, corn, and pureed bean mixture.  Mix well.

Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray.  Fill each tortilla with about 1/2 cup of the filling mixture.  Roll up and place the seam side down.  Pour salsa over the burritos.  Place pieces of pepper jack cheese over the top of each burrito.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, and go sit down because you deserve it.  Garnish with freshly cut green onions.

Spanish Croquettes- the recipe

This recipe is based off of an Edward Schneider post for the New York Times, a random tip of a 2 to 1 ratio of potatoes to bechemal, and my own nostalgia.

Makes about 30 1″ croquettes

1 pound of potatoes
1 shallot, minced finely
5 cloves of garlic, pressed
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup milk (I used 2%, I’m sure whole milk would be better)
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
dash of nutmeg
3/4 cup finely diced ham steak
1/2 cup Manchego cheese
dredging assembly line: 1/2 cup flour, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cup of bread crumbs

1.  Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil.  Cook for about 15 minutes, until just tender.

2.  To make the bechemal, melt the butter in a small saucepan.

3.  Add minced shallot and garlic.  Sweat the shallot and garlic until they’re translucent, about 5 minutes.

4.  Add the flour and mix with a small wire whisk to create a roux.  Cook the roux, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.

5.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the milk and chicken broth.  Slowly add the milk/broth mixture to the roux, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Mix thoroughly each time you add in liquid.  Cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes, stir occasionally and make sure the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot or start to boil.  The sauce will thicken considerably.

6.  Unpeel the potatoes and place in a food processor.  My potatoes came out very sticky I think because of their starchiness.  I also added a smidgen of milk to help them puree.

7.  In a medium sized bowl, mix the bechemel, it will be very think by now, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and pureed potatoes.

8.  Fold in the ham and Manchego.

9.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge until cool.  We placed it overnight, then formed the croquettas the next afternoon.

10.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

11.  Form the croquettes by grabbing about 1/4 cup amount in your hands, then roll it into a ball shape.  They should hold.  Form ALL croquettes before dredging anything.  Place them on the baking sheet.

12. Prepare a dredging assembly lines by placing 3 medium plates next to each other.  In the first one place the flour, the second the eggs, then third the breadcrumbs.

13.  Heat a solid 2 inches of oil (I used olive oil, but sunflower or another neutral would be good too) between 325 and 350.  I don’t have an oil temperature gauge, so my way of seeing if the oil is hot enough is by putting a tiny bite in and seeing if it fries up.

14.  Grab a croquette, roll in the flour until lightly coated.  Place in the egg until lightly coated, then roll in the breadcrumbs.  Place back on the wax paper until you’ve finished coating all the croquettes.

15.  Fry the croquettes in batches until golden brown all around.  Serve immediately.

It is not recommended that you keep them heated in a low oven.  I tried this and my croquettes that came out of the fry pan plump and shapely, came out of the oven looking like popped balloons.  Keep their perky shape, it’s part of what makes them irresistible.