Let the Holiday Begin!

Okay, I know it’s not quite the weekend, but we sort of started our holiday. Last night was our community’s 4th of July celebration. (It seems that the various cities stagger their events. Ours is always the Wednesday before the 4th.) It is a really fun summer tradition that we’ve attended most years since moving here.

It starts with an outdoor concert. Around the grounds you will find food vendors and games. My trick to eat a good dinner with all that fried food for sale – pack a picnic. We had sandwiches made with Arnold’s Sandwich Thins, Applegate Farms organic meat and cheese, pickles and CSA greens. We also brought grapes and water. We did buy ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery while we were there.

You may come upon a mounted police officer, and you know that’s a thrill for my daughter. She loves any chance to pet a horse. There are firefighters there, ready to show their trucks to any curious children, and to fit kids for discounted bike helmets. We have purchased helmets for both our children from the fire department.

The concert ends with a performance by the Minnesota Orchestra. Did I mention this event is free? How can you beat seeing the Minnesota Orchestra for free? We were rather far from the stage, but the sound was great!
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There was also a fire dancing performance this year, which mesmerized my children. The night always ends with fireworks. It’s a great summer tradition!
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Do you have a big community 4th of July celebration? What do you like to do to observe the holiday?

Perfect Summer Day

Yesterday was just a perfect summer day.  It started out slowly, getting a few things done at home.  An easy 30 minute run. Very ordinary.  Then we headed to Barnes & Noble.  We picked up tracking sheets for the summer reading program, and my children each brought money to purchase one book.  Now, after they read eight books, we can go back and they can pick out a free book for the summer reading program.  Isn’t that awesome!?  You may or may not know that I think reading is a great hobby – fun and good for us.  You can check out this post to find out more about why I think it’s so valuable.

We then took a picnic lunch to a park, and we checked out a new playground for the first time.  The playground had been torn down last year to rebuild, and wow!!  The new playground is SO NICE!!  My kids had a blast playing there. 

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We got so hot that we decided to stop off at home, then hit the beach.  This was our first trip to the beach this year.  June 28.  That seems late to me, but our weather has been so weird.  It was beautiful.  I love spending time at the beach!! 

Headed home to make dinner.  Dinner was pretty summery too.  Like I said, it was the perfect summer day.

South Pacific Shrimp, from Eating Well

Ingredients
Marinade
1/3 cup “lite” coconut milk, (see Tips)
2 serrano chiles, or jalapeno peppers, preferably red, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 pound medium shrimp, (30-40 per pound), peeled and deveined (see Tips)

Sauce
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced seeded tomato
4 cups baby spinach

Preparation
Combine coconut milk, chiles, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Drain well, reserving marinade.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and cook, turning once, until barely pink, about 30 seconds per side; transfer to a plate. Add tomato and spinach to the pan; cook, stirring, until the spinach starts to wilt, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved marinade; simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan; heat through. Serve immediately.

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After dinner, we headed out for my son’s baseball game. Really, can a day be any better than this?

What is your ideal summer day? Mine definitely includes the beach!

Weekend Update and Backwards Day

I thought I’d share a bit from last weekend, including a yummy recipe that you might like to try.  Friday was finally a nice day.  We had been having so much rain, and we hadn’t been home on any of the dry days.  Our lawn was in dire need of mowing.  Of course I spent much of Friday out mowing.  It’s so nice that my kiddos are big enough to play nearby while I mow.  When they were smaller, it was much harder to get certain jobs done.  I also had to go to work for a bit, and I was hoping it would still be dry when I got home, so I could finish up the mowing.  It was and I did.   

The kids and I went to watch a nephew’s baseball game on Friday late afternoon.  We have two nephews and a niece who live nearby, so we occasionally get to watch their sporting events or music recitals.  We’ve seen quite a few baseball games in the last few weeks.  We also have a few more nephews and nieces that live within a few hours from us, so once in a while, we even get to see some of their events.  It’s nice. 

On Saturday, I started the day off with a long run.  I headed out at 8:30, and it was already pretty warm, at least for running.  I covered 14 miles.  The first 9 went pretty well.  After that, my legs were getting sore and tired, and I took a lot of walking breaks.  Even so, I was glad to make it that far.  It’s my longest run so far. 

After lunch, both of my kids participated in the “Junior Golf Olympics.”  We are fortunate to live right down the street from a very family-friendly golf center.  My son has taken some lessons there, and we have golfed there as a family.  I am not good at golf, but I still have fun getting out to play with my family.  This event was fun for the kids.  They had five stations to try and earned ribbons for their efforts. 

On Saturday evening, we hosted a dinner party.  I made Chicken Florentine, a recipe that my sister-in-law shared with me.  We went ahead and included the chicken, but my sister-in-law, who is a vegetarian, says that she likes it with zucchini in place of the chicken.  I might try that sometime, but we haven’t reached zucchini season around here yet. 

Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake

Ingredients
8 oz. dried bow tie pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
2 eggs
1-1/4 cups milk
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (8 oz.)
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/2 cup oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. butter, melted

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. In medium skillet cook onion in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; set aside.

2. In bowl whisk together eggs, milk, seasoning, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir in chicken, Monterey Jack cheese, artichokes, spinach, tomatoes, half of the Parmesan, cooked pasta, and onion. Transfer to a 13x9x2-inch baking dish or 3-quart rectangular casserole.

3. Bake, covered, 20 minutes. In small bowl combine remaining Parmesan, bread crumbs, paprika, and melted butter. Sprinkle mixture over pasta. Bake, uncovered, 10 minutes more or until golden. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 Recipe & Picture Source: Better Homes & Gardens

I made just two changes.  I substituted scallions for the small onion, and I used fresh spinach in place of frozen.  Have to use the CSA veggies whenever I can!

On Sunday, we went to church, then watched baseball games for the rest of the day.  I enjoy being outside all day like that.  So do my children, though it seems to tire us all out.  My son fell asleep right after dinner and slept all night.

On Monday morning, he asked me if we could have backwards day, and I said we could.  We started out reading “bedtime stories,” then he took the bath that he missed the previous night.  We moved on to a small ice cream cone for dessert then some dinner.  Lunch was in the middle like always, and the evening meal (breakfast) was pancakes, fruit and bacon.  I might be a little crazy allowing an ice cream cone first thing in the morning, but they get such a kick out of backwards day (as long as we still do our normal bedtime routine – I don’t think it would fly to skip bedtime stories just because we read them in the morning :)).  I figure it won’t hurt anything if we do that once in a while. 

Do you ever approach your days out of order?

Cutting for Stone

It took over a month for me to finish Cutting for Stone, but it was worth it. Inspiring at times, disconcerting or downright depressing at times, informative and beautifully written, this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

Why did it take so long? I’m not sure. I’ve heard other people say it was a book they couldn’t put down.  I just didn’t have time to do that.  I was very busy with other things while I was reading it. I’m sure the notes I took didn’t help me get through it quickly either. There were just so many great passages that I wanted to make note of. That’s a new habit for me – jotting down things I want to bring up at book club. I think doing so has deepened my appreciation of the books I’m reading as well. 

Set in Ethiopia, we get a sense of the tension left by Italian colonization and interference, and the desire of the Eritreans at that time to regain independence. The author, Abraham Verghese, acknowledged that the historical events weren’t completely accurate, but they are based loosely on real events and certainly give a sense of the historical backdrop of Ethiopia in the mid-twentieth century.

Reading this book also makes the reader aware of social issues in the region. The main characters in this story are doctors, and one medical condition mentioned is obstetric fistula. A fistula occurs when a hole is torn between the birth canal and another organ, and it is generally caused by obstructed labor. It is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where emergency obstetric care is less available. Imagine girls being married off at a very young age and faced with pregnancy and childbirth when they are hardly more than children themselves. Imagine a mother experiencing complications during labor without easy access to emergency medical care. Imagine suffering a tear in the birth canal that results in a constant leakage of urine. Sorry, I know it’s gross, but it’s a sad reality for many women. With this condition, they are often rejected by their husbands and cast off due to no fault of their own. One character in the story made it his mission to help these women. Here in the real world, we can also help. Check out The Fistula Foundation if you’d like to read more about this issue and/or donate to the Foundation.  Donations go toward surgery to repair the fistula, post-op care, a new dress and bus fare home, restoring health and dignity for women suffering from this condition.   

Another notable aspect of the book is the detailed description of medical procedures. It might not sound interesting when I say it, but it was really quite fascinating. The author is a doctor himself, and he writes about his field so eloquently.

The book explores family, loyalty, betrayal, loss of innocence, courage and cowardice, risk, consequence, the connectedness of twins, honor… really such an interesting book. One theme that really spoke to me was the idea of finding your own place in the world, making your own mark, but accepting yourself and your past fully.

A tale known to African children was conveyed to the reader. A man kept his old battered slippers and was scorned for doing so. Eventually he couldn’t stand to look at them and tried to get rid of them. Every attempt to get rid of his slippers ended in disaster. The story alone didn’t mean a lot to me, but consider it in the following context. Ghosh, young Marion’s father-figure, gave Marion this advice:

The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions become our destiny.

Another passage on a similar theme referred to one of Bach’s works, Gloria

No, not Bach’s ‘Gloria.’  Yours!  Your ‘Gloria’ lives within you.  The greatest sin is not finding it, ignoring what God made possible in you.

Good advice, right?  Every one of us is different, with different talents, skills and interests.  We should not strive to be like someone else.  We should discover our own role(s) in this world and do our best at them.  We should own who we are, where we came from and where we want to go.  

What have you read lately?

Check out my book list here and more on the benefits of reading here.

More Running Musings and CSA 2011 Week 8

I recently posted about my running pace, and I marveled that my longer runs have gotten a bit faster while my shorter runs have gotten slower this year. I did get some helpful feedback on Facebook that I thought I would mention. A running friend suggested interval training – inserting some pushups or squats between 800s. Honestly, I never considered this. She also suggested increasing pace for 1/2 mile, then slowing down again, during a 3 – 4 mile run. I have to admit, I really haven’t done much with speed work, otherwise I probably would be doing something like this. As I’ve mentioned, Jeff Galloway’s Book on Running recommends doing hill work and speed work only after consistently running for a year or two. I have been running for three years now, but sadly, I’ve always drifted away from running for at least a few months over the fall/winter. In other words, I haven’t run consistently for at least a year, and I decided to keep my runs really basic so far this year. No speed work. Hills only as I encounter them – unlike my habit last summer of running up and down the same hill over and over. I don’t knock Galloway’s recommendations at all. After all, I have had fewer aches and pains this year, and I’ve run my longest distance so far. In my opinion, it’s been a good running season so far. But upon realizing that my 5K pace has dropped off, I think I will try taking my short runs a little faster and will try inserting bursts of speed in the course of my runs. I will probably save the interval/800s for winter, when I run regularly at a track. Maybe this will be the year that I keep up my running over the fall and winter!

Yesterday was also our CSA day, and here are the goods:

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In the box: garlic scapes (the curly green things), sugar snap peas, purple scallions, kohlrabi (green and purple – fun!), mini red leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, strawberries, broccoli rabe, salad mix, spinach, baby white turnips, and one more bunch of greens that I can’t identify. It was above and beyond what was listed on the newsletter.

My first order of business, after getting everything ready for the fridge, was to snack on some broccoli and sugar snap peas. My son cracked me up when he went running to find my daughter, shouting, “It’s snack time! We’re having broccoli, so we can pretend to be giants eating trees!!” It’s the simple pleasures. 🙂

First dinner of the new CSA week consisted of BBQ beef sandwiches (remember that package of ground beef that I decided to spread over a few meals?), mashed turnips, and a yummy salad consisting of red leaf lettuce, the last of last week’s arugula, leaves from last week’s pea shoots, sugar snap peas, strawberries, blueberries and chopped walnuts. I had planned to use a little drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice as dressing, but the salad was so flavorful, it didn’t need anything else.

I don’t think I always loved vegetables, and I still don’t love them all, but I sure have developed an overall fondness for my veggies! I have no doubt the mounds of vegetables I eat are good for my health, and I hope that I’m giving my kids a good start. At the very least, they are exposed to a variety of healthful foods, even if they don’t jump right in to devour all of them.

I hope you enjoy this first official weekend of summer!!

Chickpea and Pea Shoot Salad

I tried out a new salad recipe the other night. What drew me to this recipe was the fact that it called for pea shoots. I have a lot of pea shoots from the CSA, so I welcome any suggestions of how to use them up! Seeing that the recipe called for heating up the veggies and the dressing, I was a little skeptical. It seemed to me that it would be better cold. Well, I have no basis for comparison, but I think I was wrong. I really liked this recipe warm, and I would recommend it! Before I share the recipe, I’ll point out that I skipped the avocado and red pepper because I didn’t have any on hand. It would probably be even better with all the veggies the recipe calls for.

Chickpea, Avocado & Pea Shoot Salad, from Relish Magazine

Salad:
1/2 small red onion, minced (I used 6 scallions)
1 large carrot, finely chopped (I used 2 carrots)
2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1/2 red bell pepper
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup pea shoots, watercress or broccoli sprouts, washed (I used 2 cups, and I wished I had used more!)

Dressing:
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 T freshly squeezed orange juice
1 T lime juice
1 T chopped dill
1/4 t coarse salt

1. To prepare salad, place onion, carrot, radishes and chickpeas in a large bowl. Bring water to a boil and pour over vegetables. Let stand 2 to 3 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
2. To prepare dressing, whisk together all ingredients in a small skillet over medium heat. Simmer until thoroughly heated.
3. Add red pepper, avocados and pea shoots to chickpea mixture (or in my case just pea shoots) and drizzle dressing over top. Toss to coat; serve warm.

Along with the salad, we had whole wheat spaghetti with a homemade sauce, but as my daughter pointed out, it wasn’t really saucy, it was chunky. Kids are so literal. 😉

Spaghetti Topping (not sauce)

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup browned ground beef, if desired
1/2 bunch garlic scapes
generous handful of fresh basil leaves

Chop garlic scapes into 1/4 inch sections. Heat in olive oil until beginning to soften. Add tomatoes and heat thoroughly. Add chopped basil and heat until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top your spaghetti and enjoy. I also added about 1/4 cup browned ground beef along with the tomatoes. I cooked one package of ground beef and have split it out over a few meals. Why don’t I always do this? A pound of ground beef is usually way more than we want or need at any one meal. If you don’t do meat or red meat, just skip it. The ‘not sauce’ will be just as good without it!

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Some of my favorite things about this meal: Everyone liked it! I used radishes and dill from our garden for the salad and basil from our garden for the spaghetti topping. I was also glad to use some of our CSA pea shoots. This has been my favorite way to eat them so far! (I’ve also used them in stir-fry and quesadillas.)

It’s so fun to watch our garden grow and even more fun to eat from the garden! I’m still a little ‘iffy’ about what’s what out there, so weeding is a challenge. I have probably left a lot of weeds for fear they might be something we planted. I hope that as the plants get bigger, it will become easier to identify everything! Radishes are the only thing that we started from seed that we’ve had the pleasure of eating. We got small plants for our herb garden, so they were ready to go.

Have I mentioned that I love summer? I do. 🙂

Do you have any favorite salads to share? I L-O-V-E salads and would love to hear new recipes!!

Hit the ground running…

…or walking, or biking, and you know what I find?

I see a lot of things I would have missed if I only traveled by car. I should say I sense a lot of things I would have missed. I have been glad on so many occasions that I was able to notice and enjoy a variety of things. I often finish a run marveling at the natural world. Sometimes it’s something man-made that catches my eye (or ear, or nose, as the case may be).

Some things I enjoy seeing: deer, foxes, rabbits, birds, flowers, people, dogs, lakes, sail boats, sunsets, stars, and fireflies.

Some things I enjoy hearing: birds, especially loons, a friendly hello from a fellow pedestrian, and a train.

Some things I enjoy smelling: flowers, food that people are grilling, and fresh mown grass.

I enjoy feeling the rhythm of my steps and breathing, and a refreshing breeze. Sometimes I even enjoy the feeling of light rain.

From a car, I would likely miss all or most of these things.

What do you enjoy about slowing down for a walk, run, or bike ride?