Friday, September 23, 2016

Currently: September Edition

Happy Friday!  I've been in Chicago for work for the last 2 days and am heading out to my brother's tonight to see my niece and nephew. I can't wait to spend some time with my brother and his wife and kids! Here's what's currently going on in my world!

Reading: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. I am reading this for the "read the first book in a series by a person of color" category of the Read Harder Challenge. I have heard so many great things about this book from people at Book Riot so I am so excited to dig into it. 

Loving: going to body pump classes. I didn't have a membership to the Y when I lived downtown since there was a gym in my condo. While it was nice to not spend money on a gym membership, I really missed being able to take classes like body pump. If you aren't familiar with body pump, it's a 60-minute strength training class that works every major muscle group in your body. If weight lifting intimidates you, this is a fun way to add some strength training into your workout routine. 

Frustrated: with some of the crazy things people say - like comparing Syrian refugees to skittles??  What has this world come to? I think I just need to live under a rock and avoid the news until the election is over.

Thinking: about what to do with the vacation time I have left. My company has a "use it or lose it" policy so I need to use those days up before year end. I realize that this is totally a first world problem and a problem I am lucky to have, though.  I'll come up with a plan but I keep changing my mind about what I should do!

Feeling: back to 100% again!  Phew, that was a long stretch of feeling like crud. It's been so nice to get back to a more active lifestyle and to not cough and cough and cough!

Anticipating: seeing my niece and nephew tonight. It will be a quick visit as I fly back home tomorrow afternoon but I'm glad I was able to squeeze some family time into this trip!

Watching: "This is Us" on NBC. Ever since the show Parenthood ended, I haven't watched any network shows, but this new show by NBC was marketed as the "new Parenthood." We watched the first episode last week and I really liked it and plan to continue to watch it!

Working: on my winter hat. It's been nice to work on a knitting project that comes together so quickly! 

Sad: about the state of the U.S. It's hard to watch the news and see all of the violence that is happening. The footage from the recent riots in Charlotte is just so sad and heartbreaking.

Grateful: for health insurance. Last time I checked, my year-to-date medical claims that had been submitted totaled $81k!! Granted about half of that is my RA injections as they cost about $1k/week (I only have to pay $10/month, luckily).

Listening:  to "In the Dark" which is a new podcast that looks into the investigation of the abduction of Jacob Wetterling. He was abducted (and killed later that night, according to the confession made by his abductor/assaulter/killer, Danny Heinrich, earlier this month) from a small town in Minnesota in 1989. I've followed this case for many years since I grew up in a town that was about 3 hours away. The subject matter of the podcast is obviously very disturbing and chilling, but it's so well done. I am especially impressed by this podcast because it had been in the works for 9 months and then just weeks before it was slated to begin, Danny Heinrich took a plea deal and confessed and led authorities to the grave where Jacob's remains were. You would never guess that this podcast had been completely reworked to reflect the fact that the guilty party confessed. They must have put in some late night in early September to re-work things!

Wishing: for a nice, long fall with beautiful, sunny weather!

What are you loving, watching, and grateful for these days? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My Evolving Eating Philosophy

Over the years, I've read several books that have focused on or touched on the topic of ethical eating. However, the book that impacted me the most and really made me think about practical ways to change my approach to sourcing my food was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In this book, Kingsolver shares her family's journey of spending one year eating only locally-grown foods. This was obviously an extreme thing to do and required a lot of planning, research, and sacrifices. My takeaway from the book was that Kingsolver wasn't encouraging the reader to mimic her experiment; instead, she provided food for thought on how the reader can shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet.

Besides providing a month-by-month account of how her family ate locally for a year, she also includes essays from her daughter and husband. Her husband's first essay included this statistic which really stopped me in my tracks:

""if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week (pg. 5)."

That's a pretty impressive statistic and goes to show how eating locally can cut down on our fuel consumption, and negative consequences of our food consumption, such as the pollution that results from all of those trucks that haul food across the U.S. (I'm looking at you, Mexican-grown tomatoes). 

Here are some of my takeaways and ways I've been trying to change the way I source our food.

1. Grow your own food and preserve it. This year I signed up for a local community garden and it has been such an awesome experience. It's been so fulfilling to eat meals made from fruits and vegetables that I grew organically with my own two hands. Besides growing my own food, I've also experimented with preserving it as I made salsa and marinara and have also frozen over a gallon of green beans. Preserving food is an important component of eating locally for those of us that live in the cold, northern regions as obviously there isn't fresh, locally grown produce available during the winter months. It's not practical for me to preserve all the fresh produce we'll need to eat during the winter, but I'm trying to preserve as much as I can to cut down on the purchase of things that have to travel so far to get to my grocery store.

2. Support local farmers.  It's not practical or possible for everyone to grow their own food, but it is possible for everyone to support their local farmers by purchasing produce, meat and eggs at the farmer's market. It's going to be more expensive than buying these items at the grocery store, but consider this statistic: according to Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, the average American spends about 9% of their income on food, which is half of what we spent in the 1950s and lower than any other country in the world. Cheaper food sounds better on the surface, but we are paying for it in terms of our health and the health of our planet. So yes, a dozen eggs is going to cost me $6 at the farmer's market compared to around $2 at the grocery store. But as Michael Pollan says, "we are what we eat eats." So I'd rather spend a bit more for eggs that come from chickens that were humanely raised and fed a healthy diet versus eggs that came from a factory farm where the chickens are crammed into a building and fed a diet of corn. Now, I recognize that not everyone is able to afford to purchase food from the farmer's market, but those of who can, should. Plus it helps us support our local farmers, which is important because we need them to be able to continue to grow food!

3. Eat what is in season. I will be the first to admit that I've made dishes with asparagus in the summer, winter and fall. I'm going to stop doing that going forward because asparagus only grows in the Midwest in the spring. Yes it is a bit of a sacrifice to avoid purchasing a vegetable I love but that means I will only be eating asparagus when it tastes its best because it will come from local farms instead of from a farm 1,000+ miles away! This also means that I am going to stop buying fresh  tomatoes in the winter and spring ((I use the word fresh loosely here because winter tomatoes from the grocery store taste pretty awful). Again, because I live in the north, I can't buy fresh, local produce year round, but I can cut back on buying things that aren't in season in the U.S. For example, this means buying asparagus and berries in the spring, melons in the summer, and apples in the fall.

4. There will be sacrifices. One fruit that the Kingsolver family completely stopped eating was bananas because bananas are NEVER in season where they lived (North Carolina). I'm not going to say that I will never eat another banana because that is not realistic. But do I need to buy them every week when there are other fruits in season? The answer is no. My usual breakfast is oatmeal with a banana on top, but starting this week, I'm shifted to eating this apple pie oatmeal recipe using locally grown apples. It doesn't feel like much of a sacrifice since it's delicious!! 

So those are some small adjustments I am making in how I source my food. I'm certainly far from perfect, but it feels good to make small changes that move the needle towards eating a more locally-grown diet!

What changes have you made or do you plan to make in the future to shift towards eating a more locally-grown diet? Is this something you give much thought to? Again I want to emphasize that I am FAR from perfect, but I'm really trying to be more mindful of where my food is coming from!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Weekend Recap

Whew, I had quite the full but fun weekend! There wasn't a whole lot of relaxing, but given how much I'd laid on the couch resting over the last 1.5 months when I was sick, it was good to have a go go go weekend for a change! Here's how I filled the weekend.

On Friday night, we started off the weekend with the not-so-fun chore of bringing Oscar for her vet appointment. She is a nice kitty and loves Phil and me, but she is not a fan of strangers. The vet was fast and efficient, though, so we were out of there quickly. She got a clean bill of health but the vet did say she's 1-2 pounds over weight so we'll have to start giving her a certain amount of food every day to keep her at her current weight. After the vet appointment, we had some leftover chili and then walked up to a local malt shop for dessert, which was delicious! Shortly after we got home from our dessert outing, 4 friends came over for a 6-person game of hand and foot, which is our favorite game! It was a late night as we didn't finish the game until 11:45 pm (I'm usually in bed by 10 on Fridays since I'm so tired at the end of the week!). My team lost but we had a good time.

On Saturday morning I slept in! I have not been sleeping well when I was sick so I needed a night like that! After getting some stuff done around the house, I headed to body pump at the Y. It felt AMAZING to return to working out! Body pump is one of my favorite classes and I was so happy to make it through class with minimal coughing and no pain in my hip, aside from when we got into child's pose at the end of class (pretty sure yoga is a thing of the past for me - my PT and surgeon are not fans of it for people with hip issues).

All smiles after a great strength training workout!
Saturday afternoon was all about being productive. I cleaned house (with Phil's help), did laundry, made this delicious oatmeal recipe to enjoy for breakfast this week, and threw together this crockpot recipe to enjoy for dinner. I was on my feet until 4:15 when I finally laid down to relax for a bit before going to church. Oscar promptly jumped up on my chest for some cuddles.

On Saturday evening, I went to church, we ate the crockpot Thai Stew, and then we walked up to our church's fall festival to check out the festivities. We finished off the night by watching an episode of "Bloodline" on Netflix, which is a new show we started watching upon the recommendation of my sister-in-law Emily (thanks for the rec, Em! We are really enjoying it!)

On Sunday morning I woke up WAAAAAY earlier than I needed to be awake,which was frustrating as I was up earlier than I get up for work! It gave me a chance to cozy up on the couch with my latest read and coffee, though.

My friend picked me up for the Minneapolis Bike Tour around 7:30 and we headed downtown. It was a GORGEOUS morning for a long bike ride! It was so fun to be back on my bike. My hip felt great and I didn't cough much so I was able to do the 25 mile route, which took us just over 2 hours. It was great to spend the morning with great friends on the beautiful parkways of Minneapolis!

Pre-ride selfie!

The beautiful view of the Might Mississippi at the end of our ride
After the ride, 2 of us biked over to Red Cow in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. There was no wait and we snagged a table outdoors which was a pleasant surprise as we were expecting an obnoxious wait! We sat there for about 2 hours, eating, chatting and enjoying some champagne! Afterwards my friend gave me a ride home which I really appreciated as my legs were totally done.

I got home, showered and rested for a bit and then headed to my friend's son's 3rd birthday party. The theme of the party was Wild Rumpus, which comes from the book, Where the Wild Things Are. It was so fun to see some of my college friends and their kiddos!

On Sunday night, I video chatted with my good friend Kyla. We hadn't caught up in so long so had lots to talk about! After our chat, I watched some of the Vikings game with Phil and we chatted about our days (he had spent Sunday at his mom's). Then it was off to bed for me as I was EXHAUSTED.

So not the most relaxing weekend but it was great to be more active and spend time with Phil and several different groups of friends! And the weather could not have been better as it was sunny, warm and beautiful!

How did you spend your weekend? What's the weather like in your neck of the woods? It was 82F and sunny yesterday so was a gorgeous day!

Friday, September 16, 2016

5 Things Friday

Happy Friday, everyone!  I'm capping off the week with a "5 Things Friday" post.  

1. I'm a reading machine these days. I started my 5th book of the month earlier this week (Underground Airlines). The reason I have read so much is because I was still quite sick at the beginning of the month so I spent a lot of time on the couch or in bed reading. I imagine the pace of my reading will slow down, but in the mean time it's been a great escape and distraction for me!

2. I made a new recipe this week:  Red Lentil Chili from Minimalist Baker. It's been cool and fall-like this week, so this was the perfect cozy meal to make. Ours turned out a bit less thick than it looks in the blog post photos as I had to puree the diced tomatoes as Phil doesn't like tomato chunks (he's not very picky and doesn't request many accommodations, so I try to accommodate requests like no tomato chunks). But it was really good! I recently bought the Minimalist Baker cookbook as I had a 40% off coupon for Barnes and Noble and wanted a new cookbook to give me some meal planning inspiration. I love how her recipes are plant-based (we aren't big meat eaters), tend to be 10 ingredients or less, and are often 1-pot kind of meals. I'll definitely be making more of her recipes in the coming months!

3. I'm finally feeling better!!  It's been a long 6-7 week road to getting back to full health but I am happy to say that I am coughing very infrequently. I still have pain in my lungs and back so I haven't been able to return to cardio activities yet, but I am planning to try to go to body pump at the Y tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed I can make it through the class. I feel like I've lost so much ground this summer in terms of my level of fitness between my hip surgery and the death virus I fought for the last 1.5 months. Hopefully I can get back on track this fall and regain some of the level of fitness that I lost over the last 4-5 months.

4. Now that the weather is cooling off, I'm really in the mood to get back to knitting. I went through my knitting supply bin last weekend and found a couple of patterns to work on. I started my first project this week, which is a hat for winter. I'll share photos when it's done! Next I will knit a scarf for Phil's mom which will be part of her Christmas gift. I'm also in the mood to learn some new tricks! Besides taking a crochet class that starts in October, I'm also considering taking a classes on how to simultaneously knit 2 socks on 2 circular needles and how to knit a fair isle hat (here's an example of a fair isle pattern in case you aren't familiar with it).

5. Lastly, TGIF! After a stretch of 4-day (or less) work weeks, a 5-day work week felt so long! I have a fun weekend on deck. After work, Phil and I are taking Oscar to her annual vet appointment (it's a 2-person job as she is quite "spunky"). Afterwards we are eating some leftovers and then walking to a local malt shop for dessert! Then some friends are coming over for cards later that evening. We are all about card nights these days! Tomorrow I'm planning to go to body pump and then will spend the rest of the day cleaning and getting things organized around the house. We don't have plans that night so I'll probably make dinner. Sunday will be a busy day! I'm doing the Minneapolis bike tour in the morning, followed by brunch with one of the friends that is doing the bike tour. Then in the late afternoon I'm going to a friend's son's birthday party at their home, and I'll cap off the day with a video chat with a faraway friend. I'm glad Saturday is mostly unplanned since Sunday is a bit on the busy side!

What's new in your world/on your mind these days?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Adventures in Gardening: Making Refrigerator Pickles

After being gone for the long weekend two weekends ago, I went to my garden on Tuesday night and had quite a bit of picking to do! Besides picking a big bag of green beans, some red peppers and some carrots, I picked lots of cucumbers.

While I use a lot of cucumbers in salads and have been giving some away to friends, I wanted to do something with the 6 smaller cucumbers I picked. Pickles are one of my most favorite foods, so I decided to make refrigerator pickles. My older sister makes them every summer so she sent me her recipe and I gave it a whirl. The nice thing about refrigerator pickles is that they are super easy to make! There are lots of recipes out there, but here is the one I used, which yields about 2 quarts:

 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. pickling salt
1 1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves
6 sprigs of dill
6 small cucumbers (or enough to partially fill 2 quart jars)

1. Slice cucumbers and distribute between 2 1-quart jars. Add 1/4 sliced onion, 3 cloves of garlic and 3 sprigs of dill to each jar.
2. Mix together sugar, pickling salt and vinegar. Distribute between the 2 jars (I put it in a measuring cup after mixing it so I knew how to evenly distribute it).
3. Add water to fill to about 1/2" below the top.
4. Let the jars sit on your counter for 48 hours, then refrigerate.
5. ENJOY!!

The finished product! 1 jar is a 1.5 pint jar so a little bit small but I didn't have another quart jar on hand.
The nice thing about refrigerator pickles is that they are a quick and easy thing to make! I tried a couple last night and they are delicious! And even if you don't have a garden, farmer's markets always have the small pickling size of cucumbers or you could use an English cucumbers. My cucumbers were borderline too big (you can tell from the picture that they have seeds) but they still taste great.

Do you like pickles? Have you ever made or eaten refrigerator pickles?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Looking Forward: The Fall Edition

So I've been a bit of a Negative Nelly lately. It's hard to be all 'rah rah life is great' when you are battling a cough that has lasted for nearly 6 weeks (!!!).  In August, I pushed myself to look back to find the bright spots of the month, and today I'm pushing myself to focus on all the fun things I have to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm looking forward to going to a birthday dinner for one of Phil's high school friends.This group of friends is so good about getting together for birthdays, which is impressive since some of them have kids and all of us have busy lives! As people have started to have kids, the birthday dinners have shifted from being at restaurants to being at home, but I actually kind of prefer going to people's houses versus a restaurant as it's easier to talk to everyone since you can move around more.

This weekend I'm looking forward to lots of things! Tomorrow night we getting together with another couple. We are grabbing dinner at a local Greek Fest and then heading back to our place to play cards. On Saturday night we have a double date with my run club buddy and her fiance. Then on Sunday I'll hit up the farmer's market with a friend and then we are planning to go to a local state park. It's going to be a full weekend but I'll have downtime on Saturday morning/afternoon so I feel good about the amount of things we have planned.

This month I'm looking forward to doing the Minneapolis Bike Tour for the 3rd year in a row. I haven't biked in a long time as I had to stop doing it as it was bothering my hip flexor, but I haven't been able to work out for the last 5 weeks due to my cough, which means my hip got extra rest and is feeling better. So I *should* be able to do the bike tour with no trouble. Plus I am doing it with a friend who will be pulling her 10 month old behind her so we'll be taking it easy and doing a shorter route (the last 2 years I did the 32 mile route; that's so not happening this year). It's such a fun event and a great way to showcase the Minneapolis bike trails!

Next month I'm looking forward to our trip to Bend, Oregon. We booked our airbnb last month and I'm so excited about it as the location is walking distance from downtown and they provide bikes so we'll be able to use those to bop around. We are planning to do one longer hike in the Bend area and another longer hike in Crater Lake National Park. It should be an awesome getaway for us! Then the following weekend is Julia Child Night which I'm super excited about! This year Julia is taking a road trip through the U.S. so we'll be making small plates featuring food from different regions of the U.S.

In November I'm looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving! We're still finalizing our plans but I think we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with Phil's mom and Christmas with my family. I'm extra excited for Thanksgiving because the Netflix Gilmore Girls Bonus season comes out on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend. I'm sooooo excited for those 4 bonus episodes. We have an early market close that day so I can see myself coming home from work and having a Gilmore Girls marathon. I wish I had some local friends that were obsessed with the show because I'd totally have a little party (and order take-out from like 10 places because that's what Lorelai would do). But alas, the friends who are obsessed with it live far away, so I'll have to watch it on my own (and probably send them an obnoxious number of text messages once I know they've watched it, too).

This fall I'm looking forward to taking a 6-week crochet class. I tried to teach myself to crochet 5 years ago and I managed to make a blanket (shown in this post) but it was such a God-awful experience as I wasn't really sure how to read a pattern or distinguish between stitches. I love knitting but would love to be able to crochet as I think it'd be easier/faster to make things like blankets. So a friend and I are taking a local community ed course which meets at a school in my neighborhood.

What are you looking forward to these days?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Try This at Home Tuesday: Farmers Market Salad

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a great long weekend (at least for those that live in Canada and the US!). After a long absence from any "Try This at Home Tuesday" posts, I'm back with a salad idea. I've been on a salad kick since the beginning of the year as it's a great way to get lots of veggies into your diet and if you change up the toppings and/or dressing, it keeps things interesting. That said, I've been eating the same salad for the last several weeks and don't see it changing anytime soon! I do modify it slightly as the vegetables I use can vary depending on what is available at the farmer's market/my garden.

I thought I'd share it today in case anyone is looking for some lunch-time inspiration. I think it's pretty easy and not very time consuming which is ideal for these busy summer/fall weekends!

First up, you chop up whatever vegetables sound good to you. This week I went with 2 green peppers, 1 onion, a small bunch of organic rainbow carrots (I recommend buying organic so you don't have to peel them!), and a large zucchini. I know that is a lot of vegetables, but I like a high topping-to-greens ratio for my salad - otherwise it's not filling enough for me. After chopping everything up, I tossed it with some olive oil, put it on some foil-lined baking sheets, and seasoned it with salt, pepper, and dried oregano (which came from my herb garden!).

The veggies before going in the oven.
Then you roast them at 425F for 20-25 minutes. I usually have a couple of pans going so I switch the racks the pans are on after about 10-12 minutes, otherwise one cooks way faster than the other. The cooking time will vary depending on the size and the type of vegetable.

The finished product!
Roasted vegetables are so good as the roasting process brings out so much flavor and they can get a bit caramelized in the oven, especially the onions.

Next up, it's time to make the dressing. You could buy it from the grocery store, but check out the list of ingredients in Kraft's Balsamic Vinaigrette:

Water, Balsamic Vinegar (Wine Vinegar, Grape Juice, Water), Soybean Oil, Sugar, Canola Oil, Salt, Contains Less than 2% of Dried Garlic, Dijon Mustard (Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Water, Salt, White Wine, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Spice), Spice, Xanthan Gum, Dried Parsley, Oleoresin Paprika, Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (to Protect Flavor).

You really only need 5 ingredients to make a great vinaigrette, and those 5 ingredients are things that are probably in most people's kitchen. 

Salt, pepper, olive oil, dijon mustard, and your vinegar of choice

I combine 1 T. olive oil, 1 T. vinegar (lately I've been using a white balsamic), 1/2 t. dijon mustard, and a couple of grinds of salt and pepper. Easy peasy and so delicious! You could probably cut these ingredients in half depending on how big your salad is.

For the salad assembly, I've been using grilled chicken or shredded rotisserie chicken for the protein, a 50/50 mix of spring greens and baby spinach, the roasted vegetables, cherries tomatoes, and chopped cucumbers (which come from my garden!). When packing this salad for lunch, it works best to put the toppings at the bottom and the greens on top.

Do you bring your lunch to work? If so, what is your favorite lunch to bring?