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Friday, September 27, 2013

Long Run Food

Here is a well-known personal secret: I am not a morning person. I hate waking up, and I especially hate waking up earlier than 9am. I'm not a night-owl either; I don't like staying up later than 11pm. Basically, I am a sleep person - I may like being asleep more than being awake. I really do need to sleep 10 hours a day in order to feel fully rested. This may sound absurd, but the average amount of sleep needed by adult humans is 8 hours - if 8 hours is the average, some people must need more. I need more.

The reason I bring this up is because as much as I really love to sleep, I also love to run and be otherwise productive throughout the day. Many runners love getting up before everyone else to get some miles in before most people have even rolled out of bed. I don't really enjoy this. I do occasionally have to get up early in order to fit a run into my day, but I don't like it. Here in South Georgia, I really need to start runs at sunrise or shortly after if I want to run outside. I have been waiting and hoping for the day that it would be less than 95F at mid day so I could enjoy an afternoon run. This week it has been rainy and overcast everyday, and I have been so incredibly grateful. I started a 12 mile run at 4pm on Monday and smiled throughout the whole distance, because I had been able to sleep in that morning. I have always been an afternoon and evening runner, that is just my style, and I am ecstatic to get back to my regular schedule.

The problem that comes up with afternoon and evening running, is that you will have to eat at least 1 meal before you head out for the run. My stomach is generally grumpier than the average stomach, and sometimes very bad things happen on runs when I am not careful with what I eat beforehand (think about your worst running nightmares, they have happened to me). I have found that salads and smoothies are my best choices for breakfast and lunch if I am planning a longer distance later in the day. But, sometimes I just really want something warm for breakfast, especially if it is chilly and overcast for the first time in months. This is the way I was feeling on Monday, so I started going through my cabinets looking for something that would satisfy my craving and keep my belly happy on a long run. My eyes rested on the quinoa - perfect! 

At first, I considered just making quinoa the way I normally would, which would make for a savory dish. But, really, I was in the mood for something a little sweet. I did a little googling, and found that breakfast quinoa is usually made with vanilla milk-substitute instead of water. I decided this was something worth trying. I combined a 1/4 cup of quinoa with one cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. I let the mixture come to a boil and then lowered the heat until the mixture simmered. I kept the quinoa covered and simmering for about 15 minutes before adding chopped apples. After 5 minutes, I served myself and added a dash of cinnamon and maple syrup for presentation and sweetness. This was honestly one of the best all-day foods I have ever prepared (I had the leftovers for lunch).

Later in the day, I was feeling like I needed a snack. This is reasonable considering I spent the day doing homework for my online climate science course and studying makes me just as hungry as running. I considered my options carefully. I knew my breakfast quinoa would be gentle on my belly - what could I snack on that would not ruin my good choice that morning? Based on what I had available, I decided to have an avocado, but I jazzed it up a bit. I put the avo in the food processor with some garlic and lime juice. I applied the avo spread to wasa whole grain crackers. The gluten in the wasa crackers may not have been the best choice, but it luckily wasn't bad enough to ruin my run. 
Around 4, Gnasher and I set out for 12. It was cool, overcast, and drizzly, which made the weather as good as it gets in South Georgia. The first 6 miles went swimmingly. I had that feeling that I could run forever. At the 6 mile turn around point, I even found some stray watermelon growing at the edge of a cotton field. I bashed one open on the road and Gnasher and I enjoyed some refreshing watermelon. I hoped that this good find would rehydrate us and give us the sugar that we needed to stay energized through the rest of the run. I am notoriously bad at hydrating and fueling during runs. I love running because you really don't need anything but a pair of shoes (and many would argue you do't even need those). I resent carrying anything extra with me and would rather enjoy the freedom of heading out with just Gnasher's leash in my hand than bringing water and energy bars. I often suffer for this stubbornness, but sometimes I get lucky and find watermelons (or water fountains). I don't think Gnasher and I started feeling dehydrated until mile 9, but we still finished strong and I did not have any stomach issues (Thank Quinoa!). 

Sometimes what you eat after a run can be as important as what you eat before a run. I know 12 miles does not seem very long, but it is the longest I have ran in over a year, so I was expecting some aching and soreness the next day. Whenever I am training for a long distance race, I try to eat a good deal of spicy red pepper and turmeric for dinner on long run days. The capsaicin in chili spices reduces muscle pain and inflammation and turmeric further aids in reducing inflammation. I find that a good, spicy curry can make me feel a lot better the day after a long run than if I had pigged out on something less beneficial. For this evening's curry, I processed a white onion and 5 cloves of garlic in the food processor. I cooked the onion and garlic with coconut oil until they started to soften. For spice, I added copious amounts of cumin, curry powder, turmeric, and red cayenne pepper, and splashes and sprinkles of red pepper flakes, powdered ginger, and allspice. I let the spices simmer with the onions and garlic until my whole kitchen smelled strongly of curry. Next, I added carrots and cubed and pressed tofu. I allowed the tofu to brown a bit before adding a can of coconut milk, green peas, and chick peas that I had boiled for 10 min. After the coconut milk came to a boil, I lowered the heat to allow the curry to simmer for about 10 minutes. I poured the curry over some white jasmine rice we had left over and dug in!

I feel pretty pleased with the meals I prepared for this long run day, but I am most excited about my discovery of breakfast quinoa. I can tell that this will join the other staple dishes in my cooking repertoire. I am filing this one away in my brain, right next to raw green soup and pizza rainbows. My next long run is 14 miles on Monday and I have not yet decided if I will stick with this menu or if I will try some new pre-run meals, but I am definitely considering planting a water bottle and a larabar at the mile 7 turnaround. Here's hoping it is a miserable, chilly, overcast, and drizzly day on Monday so I can sleep all morning and head out for my run in the midafternoon! 

Monday, September 9, 2013

I can can.

As proclaimed, I headed to the Valdosta Farm Days downtown grower's market this Saturday set to buy all the tomatoes available and can like mad. Strangely, it seemed my friends and I were the only people in town interested in the market this week. Almost none of the usual vendors had showed up and the town square was a ghost town! Only one vendor had any produce at all, and when it was my turn in line, there were only 5 tomatoes left. You know it is a strange day when there are not even onions or collards available at a growers market in southern Georgia! So, I bought my five tomatoes, along with some zucchini, peaches, cucumbers, a baking pumpkin, and local pork and venison sausages. It was better than nothing and I figured it was good to start small.

After being let down by the market, there was plenty of morning left, so we went searching for a local produce store we had heard rumors of: Carter's Market Produce and Meats. This store is like an organic and local food oasis in the Wal-Mart driven food desert of Southern Georgia. As I walked in, I immediately felt gratitude and excitement. There were some favorites like Rudi's organic bread, Bragg's apple cider vinegar, and Justin's Almond Butter that I had not been able to find here, but there was also a plethora of local organic zucchini, pumpkins, onions, tomatoes, meats, eggs (!!!), and cheeses. In addition, there was local honey, local olive oil, and locally roasted coffee. I am beyond ecstatic to have found this market!

In a moment of self-doubt, I decided to stick with the five tomatoes I had already bought (what if I made gallons of sauce that tasted terrible or went bad?). I had originally planned to use Barbara Kingsolver's family tomato sauce recipe from her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but her recipe calls for 30 lbs of tomatoes! My tomato cache weighed closer to 2.5 lbs, so I worked from several recipes I found on the internet along side Kingsolver's suggestions.

The first step in canning my own tomato sauce was to sterilize the canning jars and lids. There are several ways to do this: boiling them, running them through the dishwasher, or using a sterilizing solution. We use iodophor to sterilize everything when brewing beer and I assume that this would work for canning as well, but I could not find any sites recommending it, so I stuck to the traditional boiling for now. In the future, I think I will use the iodophor, it is much quicker and uses less energy (does not need to be heated).

Next up, the tomatoes needed to lose their skins and seeds. I found a site that suggested cutting an x on the bottom of the fruit and blanching them (dropping them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then in ice water for 30 seconds). I kind of couldn't believe how well this worked; the skins literally fell right off the tomatoes. Next, I cut them in wedges and pushed the seeds out and into my countertop compost container; turns out, canning preserves food and gives back to the soil. I chopped the tomatoes up a bit - how finely you chop them is a personal preference - and the tomatoes were ready for the pot.

Before I cooked the tomatoes, I softened some chopped onion with just a tiny bit of water in the bottom of a large pot. Once the onions were soft, I added the tomatoes to the pot, sprinkled in salt, pepper, garlic powder, thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I brought the tomatoes to a boil, lowered to a simmer, and left for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. I have to admit, I was surprised how much water came from the tomatoes; when I read instructions to let the tomatoes reach a boil, I really thought it would be necessary to add water. As the sauce was approaching completion, I opened the sterilized jars just long enough to add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each jar. When the sauce was done cooking, I ladled it into the sterilized pint jars with the citric acid and quickly covered them with the lids. I ended up only filling 2 pint jars with sauce, but there was some left over that Jamie and I gobbled up with a spoon as a sort of tomato soup. I was impressed; the sauce tasted really good at this point - the nutmeg and cinnamon brought just a tad of sweetness to a traditionally more savory flavor.

Finally, I put my two jars of tomato sauce in the giant enamel pot that we use for brewing, and filled it with enough water to cover the jars by one inch when they were standing up. Once the water reached a rolling boil, I started a timer for 35 minutes. I have to admit, I did stare at the the jars intermittently. Part of me was sure they were going to explode, but tiny air bubbles were released from the inner rim of the screw on ring relieving the pressure inside the jars. It was probably more than a little wasteful to boil that much water for two measly pint jars, but it was an experiment! In the future, I will do much larger batches at a time. Look out friends and family, jarred goods are coming your way for the holidays this year! After what seemed like forever, my timer went off and I pulled the two jars out of the boiling water and set them to cool on the counter top. Their tops were vacuumed down strongly and they were sealed shut! It had worked. My two beautiful jars are in my pantry right now, waiting for a future pasta night!

After finishing this project, I was feeling quite prideful. Canning was simple and straightforward, but it was something that I never did before and never really expected to do. I did not grow up in a canning household. In fact, this was the first time I even made tomato sauce from scratch. Usually, I cook onions and garlic in olive oil and then add carrots and some other veggies like zucchini or whatever we have, pour in a jar of store bought sauce, and finally stir in some spinach until it wilts - voila! tomato sauce! Despite everything that I add to it, my recipe relies on a $3.50 jar of Newman's own sauce. I just can't believe how easy and affordable it is to make my own jars of tomato sauce. And, in doing so, I am supporting local farmers and decreasing the carbon footprint of my meal. I have the canning bug now; I want to can everything! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Kingsolver's localism, sweet as zucchini cookies

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and it has inspired reflection, cooking, and future projects on the horizon. I am a long time fan of Barbara's (I feel like she is now my pal after reading this year long journal); I was first introduced to her writing more than ten years ago, when I read The Poisonwood Bible for a High School english class. Over the years, I have devoured her other books, enjoying the mix of human relationships, science, environmentalism, and feminism. My obvious favorite is Prodigal Summer, and this novel likely had a role in my fascination (obsession?) with farming. In AVM, Barbara in effect plays out Prodigal Summer and moves her family from the urban desert of Tucson back to her roots in Southern Appalachia to embark on a year long hyper local eating project.

The book begins as Barbara, her husband Steven, 18 year old daughter Camille, and 4th grader Lily pile into their family car and start driving East. Upon leaving Tucson, Barbara waxes poetic on all that Tucson has to offer. Basically Tucson is a pretty fabulous place to live, if it only had more water. As she mentioned universities, museums, and other urban treasures, I couldn't help but feel a little bitter that Jamie and I were stationed here in Georgia rather than in Tucson. But, here was Barbara Kingsolver abandoning Tucson and heading to the American South!

Once at the Farm house in Virginia, the family set to work fixing up the house and preparing for the upcoming planting season and the commencement of their year of eating solely local food. As the spring began and crops began being planted and harvested, the book became part garden and farm journal, part food diary, and part exposé on the cruelties of industrial farming. I have to say that the book was rather winding and there were a lot of tangents. Occasionally, I found myself a bit distracted, wondering if I would ever finish the book. Part of the problem for me was that the majority of the shocking exposed secrets of industrial farming and U.S. farm policy were not new news for me. The first time that I learned these truths, however, I was rapt, so it is not fair to hold this against Barbara. The information is of high quality and well presented, just nothing novel or terrifying. Upon further reflection, I also realized that this book is chronicling an undertaking that required a huge amount of physical labor. From my experience working on a farm, I know that type of work can often feel like drudgery. So, I suppose that it makes sense that reading about it can sometimes feel similar.

Despite respites of boredom, I did enjoy the glimpse into Barbara's family's dedication to a noble cause and all the hard work that went into their success. Not too secretly, I long for a homestead that is self sustainable and this book deepened those longings and also made me feel a tad guilty that I was not doing more now. I have a ton of land in my backyard, mostly full sun, that is not being used for anything, save for my dogs stomping ground (he really likes stomping). My garden is rather pathetic, with only a few plants, and my 3 chickens are not even laying eggs yet. My excuse has been that we are moving soon and it is not worth all the work to create growing spaces. The next family that lives here would probably prefer grass, anyways. But, the book provides some really fabulous ideas about living more sustainably and eating locally that would not require me to till my entire backyard.

Two of the ideas that appealed to me most, that would not be terribly difficult or expensive and could make a big difference, are canning and baking bread. The book correctly identifies that for many of us, it is relatively easy to eat mostly local in the summer, when farmer's markets are in season, but it is more difficult to eat locally in the winter when markets are closed. The Kingsolvers can their own vegetables, but it would be just as local to buy up all the tomatoes at the farmer's market and can them, so you can have local tomatoes and sauces in the winter. The Kingsolvers also grew a huge over-abundance of zucchini. They tried their best to eat it and give it away to friends, but there was just too much. Not wanting to create waste, they shredded the zucchini and stored it in freezer bags to be used in breads and cookies all year round. In addition to specific instructions on how to can tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, chutneys, and salsas, the book also included an amazing recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies (see below). Other vegetables, like greens and broccoli, can be blanched and frozen in freezer bags. Tomorrow is the next farmers market in downtown Valdosta (Valdosta Farm Days), and I plan on stocking up on local veggies and trying out the canning process for the first time this weekend.

I am also looking into buying a bread machine. It appears that I can buy a decent machine for about $60, which is the price of 20 loaves of bread at $3 a loaf. If Jamie and I eat a loaf of bread every week, the machine will pay for itself in 20 weeks, or 5 months. Furthermore, we are having trouble finding bread without high fructose corn syrup and specialty healthy breads like spelt or whole grain in Valdosta supermarkets. Baking our own bread would solve that problem, as well. I haven't placed the order yet, but it is on my mind and there is an amazon tab open in my browser.

Since I couldn't head straight to the farmer's market or start baking bread as soon as I finished "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I decided to try out the zucchini chocolate chip cookie recipe instead. I am glad I did. Jamie was skeptical of these cookies when he observed the bits of green, but seemed to forget all about them once he indulged in a cookie (and then another). I modified the original recipe to be dairy-free and only used white flour, rather than half whole wheat, because I did not have whole wheat flour in the cabinet and wanted the cookies right away. The modifications worked out deliciously.


The wet stuff
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (real)

The dry stuff
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

The good stuff
1 cup finely shredded zucchini
12 oz. dark chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Combine the wet stuff in a large mixing bowl; I used my new Kitchen Aid mixer bowl for this (thanks again, Mom!). I used honey that we purchased from an apiary near Jamie's grandparents house in upstate New York. This honey is extra flavorful, and I attribute at least part of the success of this recipe to the magnificent local honey.

3. Combine the dry stuff in a separate mixing bowl. Stir the ingredients with a fork until they are evenly mixed.

4. Stir half the dry stuff into the wet stuff. Mix thoroughly before adding the second half of the dry ingredients, and again mix thoroughly.

5. Add the good stuff into the mixture and continue mixing until evenly dispersed.
 6. Drop spoonfuls of batter onto greased cookie sheets (unless you have parchment paper handy, which is a better choice). The recipe should make about two dozen cookies, if you don't eat too much batter. I only got 20 cookies out of the recipe...

7. Cook at 350F for 10-12 minutes or until brown around the edges.

8. Remove cookies from cookie sheets and place on cooling racks to prevent burning.

9. Cookies will be soft, spongy, and cake-like. Enjoy!! Share with your friends... or eat them all.