Keeping consistent

With any lifestyle change, consistency is key. A stomach virus threatened to derail my training midway through week two. It kept me in bed and away from exercise and eating for 24 hours and I had to reduce a planned run to a walk as I recovered the next day. These were during the week’s best weather. An April snowstorm and family schedule had the potential to keep me from exercise later in the week. I did not run, but I worked in extra walks, biking (I forgot I had the the car at work, walked home and rushed back on the bike to get it in time for the boy’s recital) and cardio to replace the missed running sessions. Since my goal isn’t to become a runner, per se, but to increase general physical fitness, I am OK with this compromise. This week I resume my training schedule where I left off.

Equally significant has been consistently and accurately tracking all food consumed. I am using MyFitnessPal because of its easy synchronization with my Forerunner 30 fitness watch. I am not wholly thrilled with the app, but it seems accurate and adequate for food tracking. The digital kitchen scale has helped improve portion control accuracy. I have met my calorie goals and come close on the fat-protein-carbohydrate mix. As a bonus, after exercising, I typically need to consume extra calories and need something without any fat: a few ounces of whiskey or wine fit the bill. Sodium is the big surprise for me, as I continue to bump against the FDA recommended max each day. I eagerly await fresh farmer’s market produce.
I have lost six pounds in two weeks, tripling my weight loss goals. I have not felt particularly hungry nor overly fatigued from exercise.
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Running for my life

I had intended to begin running for health this winter. Chronic cough, influenza and the repetitive illness that comes of being a preschool parent postponed my plan. Last week I equipped myself with running shoes and a fitness watch and began training. The beginning of spring would herald not only fairer weather but a better self.

My first run was in sub-freezing weather and my first week ended in snow. Despite the challenges, I have met my training goals for the first week in mileage, overall steps, and caloric intake. I have even been tracking and improving my sleep.

Here’s the thing: At 60 pounds above ideal weight, I am technically obese. I haven’t run since a brief attempt at fitness in 2001-2 after a decade of not regularly exercising. I walked the dog and hiked in Washington with some success but since moving five years ago, Nebraska flatland, a fenced yard that obviates dog walks and a desk job with regular travel (restaurant food) padded my waistline even more.

I dabbled in a few exercise options: a gym, walking, bicycling, etc. but they either cost too much money, too much time or weren’t effective. Running, on the other hand, requires only a pair of shoes and burns more calories per minute than walking or bicycling. It is highly effective and natural exercise.

First, I checked out a few running books from the library: The Beginning Runner’s Handbook by Ian MacNeill and Amby Burfoot’s Runner’s World Complete Book of Beginning Running. Both had decent tips and motivation, but I settled on Burfoot’s 24-week walk/run plan instead of the 13-week walk/run plan outlined in MacNeill’s book. To me, the latter was a bit too ambitious.

Over the next six months I will gradually increase my 30-minute running sessions from intervals of 30 seconds of running and two minutes of walking to 30 minutes of straight running.

Before starting, I checked with my physician to see if he had any concerns about me starting the program. He encouraged me to take it easy and stick to it so I don’t burn out or injure myself and quit, but other than that had no qualms. I ordered a Garmin Forerunner 35 to track my health and pace my runs and headed to the local shoe store to be fitted for a pair of running shoes specific to my feet and running needs.

Technically, a cheap stopwatch would work for the run/walk interval training, but I wanted the added motivation of built-in heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking that came with the Garmin at a relatively affordable price. Other units are cheaper but rely on taking your phone with you to track, some are more expensive and filled with features I won’t need or weren’t geared as well toward running and others had similar features but were bulkier or didn’t have the 9-day battery life of the Forerunner. I just charged mine for the first time since buying it yesterday and could probably have gone another day or two. I got a refurbished unit to save a few extra bucks.

Likewise, my shoes were last year’s model to be frugal, but my wide and flat feet and heavy build require in-person fitting and better cushion than the $40 online specials that may or may not fit. Added benefit: I’m supporting local business.

So far, I’m doing about 1.8 miles per run with an average pace improving from well over 16 minutes per mile to under 15 minutes per mile. I hope to be able to wake earlier in the morning to get my runs in first thing, but so far can’t quite drag myself out of bed at 6 a.m. Plus, the chilly temperatures aren’t inducing me to rise and run early. Instead, I’m sneaking my runs in before dinner or before bed. The dog is happy. In fact, he wants me to go even faster during the run portion. Maybe by the end of the 24-week plan I’ll be able to set a pace he likes.

I’m pairing the exercise with tracking my food. I eat salty food. Cutting the calories hasn’t been as hard as cutting the salt or balancing the carbs, fats and proteins. In addition to routinely being high on salt intake, I tend to be low on the protein and high on the fat or carbohydrates. I am looking forward to fresh, farmer’s market vegetables this year. Our garden will be smaller than last years, but hopefully will be easier to maintain and therefore more productive.

Exercise and eating are two prongs of a healthy lifestyle. So far, so good. I’ll keep you posted.IMG_5347_snow jog

How to ferment radishes

Cabbage was on sale for Memorial Day. I bought two heads and made two batches of sauerkraut. I also took the opportunity to make two smaller batches of radish kraut, using our CSA radishes and the first crop of radishes from our backyard garden. Since I only had two widemouth pint jars, I grated the remaining radishes, about one medium-sized bunch, and added them to one of the two cabbage kraut batches (see earlier post for recipe). I also used fennel seeds instead of caraway (which I had run out of).

Radish sauerkraut

2 small bunches radishes

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 cup filtered water

Mix the salt and water. Thinly slice the radish bulbs. Put the bulbs into a pint canning jar. Pack tightly and leave space at the top, about an inch. Cover with the brine. Weigh down radishes to keep submerged. Cover jar with cheesecloth. Place in a cool, dark place. Let ferment for six days. Cover with a lid and refrigerate. 

I used a ceramic teacup to weigh down the radishes to keep them submerged by the brine since that was the only non-reactive thing I could find to use as a weight. There are other recipes for fermented radishes and pickled radishes, but I went with this on as the simplest. 

I tested each after four days. The sauerkraut was good, though not quite ready. I learned I prefer the caraway seeds I used last time to the fennel seeds I tried this time. The radishes, sliced a little thicker than the thin cabbage, could use 2-3 more days. Warned by my recipe that fermenting radish can be particularly pungent, I braced my nostrils. Though a bit more aromatic than fermenting cabbage, it wasn’t particularly odiferous. 

I gave everything a few more days. The radish brine pinked up a bit. They are powerful, but good. The sauerkraut turned out properly salted, but I decided I like caraway seeds better than fennel. The kraut mixed with radish added a little extra kick, but I packed a little too much into the jar and it wasn’t quite as briny as I like. Still edible.

Fixing the mow mow

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Sunset on the prairie. The longest step of assembling the new mower was finding my tools. For some reason, my socket wrench was not in my socket set box. I missed it in the tool box the first time around and it wasn’t in any of the tool drawers, garage shelves or boxes that I sometimes leave tools in. After half an hour of looking, I found the spare socket wrench. I think the primary wrench is in the car. Then, I assembled the mower. The kids “helped” with the final stages. Then we walked to the corner gas station, kids riding in the double stroller, to get fuel. By the time we returned, it was nearly bedtime, so I settled the kids in before firing up the new mower. The grass was knee-high in places, but the mower worked fine. As bumpy as the yard is, a gasoline mower proved to be the right choice. A reel mower would have bounced unevenly. Electric probably would have worked, but I wasn’t ready for the extra $100 cost. Because the new mower lacks easily adjustable wheels and has no option for bagging or mulching, I may eventually transfer the engine to the body of the broken mower. Maybe next season. The blade is an inch shorter, 20 inches vs. 21, so I’d either have to have a shorter-than-needed blade or buy a longer one for about $20. Also, it’d be nice if the people in our old rental still have the mower bag I left in the shed, otherwise I’d have to buy a new one of those too. I thought about all this as I pushed slowly through the tall grass and the sun set below the trees. I decided to take a whack at the backyard while I was at it. I’ll need to follow up with another pass in a couple of days. In addition to grass, there is a lot of creeping charlie, clover, dandelions and other weeds.

Radishes and a new mower

The radishes are ready. During a gap in the rain, I checked the garden and picked a few. More are in the ground. I will need to plant more soon to keep up a steady supply. I’m also late planting cucumbers. I think I will uncover a new cucumber patch.

However, first the yard mowing. Luke and I bought a mower. A cheap gas mower. I considered a reel mower but the lawn is too irregular, and I am unconfident in the quality of our rental home’s electric system to plug in a heavy-duty corded mower. So, gas it is. Our previous mower was from a different Big Box store, but has the same engine. It lasted five years without so much as a tune up, oil or filter change before I broke the blade on a rock, and in so doing snapped the drive shaft. If this lasts as long for as little, I will be paying just $20 a year for the mower (I had a gift card that I hadn’t used for several years that cut the out-of-pocket expenses and drove the purchase to this store instead of the other same-price alternatives).

Weeds and broken mowers

Daylight on the prairie. On a hot, sunny morning before the oppressive heat of afternoon fully kicked in, Sylvia helped weed the garden this weekend. I pulled weeds and she put them in a large bucket. Our radishes look good; the red root balls peeking through the dirt. Spinach, lettuce, turnips, nasturtium and tomatoes are all making progress. I planted more spinach and radish so they can mature in succession. I applied some liquid fertilizer diluted in water to each of the garden beds. Sylvia helped pour the bucket. I also laid out a tarp to cover the patch of garden that I wasn’t able to cover with cardboard and hay. I had planned to mow to keep the weeds and grass in check there, but last week the lawnmower broke. Actually, the blade fell off. I would have expected a grand clatter of breaking parts, but instead the engine sounded like it slid into neutral. I stopped it and checked and the twisted blade was lying on the ground with the attachment assembly, thought he bolt was nowhere to be seen.
I must have hit a rock the last time I mowed, something that happens routinely, large enough to bend the blade. I didn’t check before starting to mow and after a couple passes the blade fell off. The driveshaft snapped, so it’s not simply a matter of replacing the blade. I apparently need a new motor.
As fixing is more expensive than replacing, I’ve been debating the merits of another cheap gas lawnmower or a nice human-powered reel mower. With a gas mower, I’d be able to get the cheapest Home Depot model and move the new mower and blade to the slightly better body (with the big rear wheels) on my current mower and would have a handful of spare parts. With a reel mower, I do the environment good and do away with the unpleasantness of a gasoline engine and all the noise and smelliness that entails.
Our lawn is less than a tenth of an acre, so small enough for a reel mower, though it is overgrown with weeds (it looks like a dandelion and creeping Charlie farm) and the ground is not level, with numerous divots and mounds throughout. Plus, it is festooned with small sticks that break off the surrounding trees regularly. Both are features unfriendly to reel mowers. Also, you have to commit to twice weekly mowing because once the grass is long, it tends to bend rather than break. I want a reel mower, but fear it would cause more frustration. I had a mid-grade reel mower in Montesano and it was satisfactory, though occasionally frustrating, particularly during fast-growing Spring. I don’t have enough to afford even the most cost-effective electric mowers, which would combine the advantages of both push-power and gas while minimizing the disadvantages of each type. Maybe I will consider that a bit more.

Beets, bunny and honey

Daylight on the prairie. A hot May day and the boy and I drove to pick up our CSA shares. In the box was kale, spinach, beet greens with tiny beets attached, rhubarb, French turnips and greens, garlic shoots and dill. Luke enthusiastically transferred the vegetables to our cooler, sampling a bite of rhubarb and declaring it good. He insisted on dragging the cooler back to the car.

The next stop was our new rabbit and pork CSA share. Luke, 3, wanted to know why were sitting in a hot car in a strange Co-op parking lot. I told him we were waiting for the man with the rabbits.

“I like rabbits,” Luke exclaimed.

“It’s going to be a tasty dinner,” I replied.

Luke didn’t have an answer to that. I could practically hear his 3-year-old brain gears struggling to process eating cute, fuzzy bunnies. Luke needed a potty break and we picked up some toothpaste on the way back. An email told us what van to look for and we met our new CSA partner.

Mark had butchered rabbits the day before and the fresh meat was in a cooler. While chatting, we looked a photos of the young pigs roaming their pen. This is their first year raising pigs. They will be ready for harvest in October. Mark gave Luke a sample of fresh honey comb — honey and rabbits are their specialty. Luke ate it voraciously, dripping honey on his hands, before deciding he was done with the wax.

Once home, I sauteed some bacon in the pan, then browned the rabbit legs in bacon grease and olive oil before braising in spinach broth. While deboning the meat, I braised the beet greens with some turnips left from last week’s box. Rabbit needs to be cooked low and slow. I probably cooked a little too hot, as it was a mite tough. Tough but tasty. The kids ate all their meat, including their share of the liver, kidney and heart that I sauteed in the bacon grease. I over-salted the vegetables.

That’s all? Blanching boils bulk away

The end result of half an hour of trimming and boiling was underwhelming to be charitable. I blanched and froze the radish and turnip greens, along with two bunches of spinach. First you take off the stems. Then you dip them in hard-boiling water for a minute, then quickly rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. The blanching apparently stops the enzymatic process that causes leafy greens to rot even when frozen. It also greatly reduces the bulk. Instead of a colander full of leafy greens I ended up with less than three tiny snack baggies of soggy greens. You are supposed to squeeze out all excess water with your fist, which I did. Each batch of greens easily fit in my fist.

Also, the water I used for the blanching was tinted green, and I figured there were quite a few nutrients left in the water. Instead of dumping the vitamins down the drain, I decided to save them. First I filled a quart jar with the liquid to use as a vegetable soup broth. Then I drank several cups worth as an herbal tea. It tasted spinachy but not bad at all. I’m going to have to ponder what type of soup to make. Also, I snipped half of the chives onto parchment paper in a baking sheet and put it in the freezer to freeze before bagging. On a positive note, I realized that a plant growing by the rosebush is a large bunch of flowering chives. I will snip and freeze them too. Yay!

Pine tip gin puts chest on your hair

IMG_4763The succulent greens have been sprouting on the pine trees alongside my afternoon walk route. I have been steeping them in hot water for a deliciously refreshing, lemony pine tea. I decided to up my game by making a pine-tip-infused vodka, a pseudo gin of sorts.

A quick online search turned up a recipe. Basically, you gather a cup of the tips of a pine or spruce of which you enjoy the flavor, chop them for two minutes in a food processor, then put them in a jar with 750 ml of vodka. I chose a Nebraska-distilled grain-based vodka. Technically, I made an infused vodka, but since gin is essentially distilled spirits infused with an evergreen (juniper berries), I called my concoction pine-tip gin.

Then, you wait four days, strain out the floating bits and run the liquid through a filter to remove the rest. I used our four-cup coffee machine and filter. It took a while, but did a pretty good job. It had a light green hue and was a little cloudy but all the bits were gone.

Then, I poured the results back into the mason jar and sampled the results. It was not particularly good. It didn’t have the juniper taste of gin. The pine scent and flavor was overwhelming. Maybe I waited too long. I liked the tea from this tree, but the infused vodka was disgusting.

I didn’t mind when the kids bumped my arm and I spilled the last bit of my glass on the floor. Usually, I consider that alcohol abuse. I tried blending the spirits with pomegranate juice. Rancid. I tried making a simple sugar syrup. Foetid. I looked up recipes for pine infused drinks online. One called for tonic water and a twist of lemon. That might work. I had neither. This experiment may last in the freezer for a while.

Our first CSA share

Last winter we decided to buy a Community Supported Agriculture share. We wanted fresh, local produce and sufficient in-season bounty to freeze and can the surplus for winter eating. It was our way to to better our diet and increase self-sufficiency in tandem with our garden experiment. Our hope was that it would also be an affordable way to eat better. Although local and organic food can be more expensive, vegetables generally are more affordable than meat. Mindful preparation and preservation hopefully will make the difference in health and wealth.

Last fall we bought half a hog from Common Good Farm CSA in Raymond. Less expensive than by-the-pound organic pork and comparable to factory farm pork in price. With a little judicious rationing, it has been our primary protein source, augmented by grocery store sales on turkey, beef and canned beans, ever since.

When choosing which CSA for our produce, we considered one with a pickup location across the street from my office, but they had sold out so we added ourselves to the waiting list and went with Common Good Farm. Their pickup is about a mile from our house. It is hard to compare prices between farms. There isn’t a per pound breakdown, just a dollar amount for a season, which varies by farm, and half or full shares, which are not specified by size other than a generic feeds 2-3 people depending on your eating habits or 3-4. Or less. Or more. Our farm has a long history as a CSA, so evidently people are happy to return. The second place — with a longer season, but maybe less per box for a comparable per week price and fewer years experience — contacted us after we had paid for Common Good Farm’s share.

We had our first orientation and farm visit a week earlier. It was nice and Luke enjoyed watching the chickens after we received the spiel about how to open the boxes and conduct the pickups, as well as sundry other details. Normally, the first delivery is in late May. A warm spring made this year’s arrive early. We received our first box May 1. Our box contained several bunches of spinach, spring turnips and greens, radishes and greens, rhubarb, cilantro and chives. A dozen farm fresh eggs accompanied the bounty.

I made a spinach, radish and turnip salad to accompany our grilled brats and baked beans. Sylvia ate everything. Luke ate the radish and turnip but ignored the spinach.

I called Mandy’s canning guru for advice and possible assistance preserving the rhubarb and greens. There wasn’t enough to warrant canning in her estimation; she suggested blanching and freezing any of the greens we wish to preserve. That’s what I will do tonight. The rest gets mixed into a variety of dishes. Plans include: braised radish, spinach pesto, bacon and wilted spinach salad, and grilled turnip. The cilantro and chives will get divvied up amongst the dishes and I may make a pico de gallo. Any leftovers will go into a vegetable stew at week’s end. I will make a rhubarb crumble later this week as well. I’ve never cooked rhubarb before and rarely make dessert, so this will be an experience.

Then, we’ll see what next week’s box brings.