Monthly Archives: November 2012

For lack of a better word

Thanksgiving was…more than week ago. It actually seems much farther in the past now. I want to write something about our gathering and meal before I forget!

Lee, a friend, and I went to my dad and his wife’s (it seems strange to call her my stepmother) house in Napa on Thursday morning. I had baked my dessert contribution (this Chestnut Pound Cake) the night before. Smelling the cake in the oven really got me in the mood for the holidays!

I also brought a giant cooler full of food. There was a huge head of cauliflower I planned to roast for dinner, ingredients for Beet-Ginger Chutney, and some other random goodies like a pomegranate and several persimmons in case we needed another salad. Oh, and there was an emergency container of Trader Joe’s shelf-stable whipping cream just in case!

Napa is beautiful in the fall and it’s the perfect place for a Thanksgiving gathering. We hung out at the house, snacking and cooking. Snitching crumbs of dried out cornbread and biscuits meant for the dressing was the best part. It felt like such a luxury to be able to lounge around all day, not to mention spend the entire day with my husband and family. Doc liked it too.

Eventually, people started to dribble in. There weren’t really that many of us there for dinner – eight I think. We took went for a lovely little walk before the final push in the kitchen.

Someone set the table as the sun was sinking to window level. There was slight panic when we realized we needed a second oven, followed by relief when we discovered that the microwave doubled as a convection oven.

We sat down for dinner at a pretty normal dinner time (maybe 7?). Here’s the menu:

Turkey + gravy (for the omnivorous majority)

My grandmother’s cornbread dressing

Pumpkin ravioli with browned butter and sage (omg this was so good – like a dessert!)

Curry roasted cauliflower and Beet-Ginger Chutney

Green salad with hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds

Homemade cranberry sauce

Green beans with bacon dressing (and a bacon-less portion for me!)

I think that was it…The cornbread dressing, beloved timeless classic that it is, was the star of the meal. There was enough for days of the best leftovers ever! I will have to find out what brand the ravioli was. I think it came from Whole Foods. It was absolutely delicious with a slight almond flavor.

Dessert was bountiful. We had homemade pumpkin pie, homemade pecan pie, and my Chestnut Pound Cake, all topped with whipped cream.

After dinner entertainment was lots of fun. We got everyone to play Cranium, making the homey-family gathering complete. After that everything is a fuzzy food-coma memory.

Isn’t he cute?

The rest of the long weekend was equally great. No Black Friday shopping for us. Lee was sick, unfortunately, so I did a good bit of running on my own. I even went to a Body Pump class on Saturday morning, something I haven’t done for a long time. We visited my dad’s cousins a my second cousins on Saturday (wow, there’s a lot of ’em) and went to see Skyfall (loved it!).

Lee and I spent the night at the boat on Saturday and went sailing with my dad, his wife, and a friend of mine from work on Sunday. So yeah, it was a pretty idyllic weekend. I’m hoping that becomes the new norm! This weekend looks like it’s going to be pretty great too (It’s raining in SF and I love the rain!).

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Cookie Therapy

I don’t know what feels better: eating homemade cookies myself or baking cookies and giving them away. I need to do both more often.

I made these a couple of weeks ago, maybe more. It was one of my first weekdays off from work after a brief full time stint. Observation from that experiment: when I’m at work, all I want to to do is go home and bake. When I’m home, I don’t often pause my day to do something fun or relaxing, like bake and eat cookies.

These cookies, rather large pumpkin cut-outs if you can’t tell that from the picture, went to Lee’s work. Doc and I walked them down there ourselves. It’s kind of an unpleasant walk down a very busy street. The sidewalk is usually studded with trash and homeless encampments. I take a different, prettier route on the way back and I suppose I could take it both ways.

There was already a lot of food laying around the office when I got there. That made me sad, of course. My poor cookies would be lost in the jumble of pan dulce and pizza, unappreciated. Oh well. It’s funny, I like bringing food to people but I don’t actually like being thanked for it. It embarrasses me to hang around while people sample my baked goods. I mistrust their praises and think they must be choking down bites of cookie just because I’m there, so I leave. I drop my cookies and run.

I don’t normally ice cookies unless they’re Christmas cut-out cookies. These soft, lightly spiced, Swedish ginger cookies would be perfectly fine without icing. I mostly slathered it on there because I was worried about what other people would think of unfrosted cookies. I don’t want to be known as that crazy woman who only makes healthy food so I got out the powdered sugar and butter and made a frosting/icing of sorts. It turned out remarkably well considering I didn’t follow a recipe and just blindly added powdered sugar to butter, a splash of milk and a little vanilla extract in my food processor. At first it was lumpy but a little more sugar did the trick. I wish I had written down the ratio of ingredients I ended up with. Oh well. Next time.

As for the cookies, I followed this recipe almost exactly. I did use all brown sugar, no white, and half whole wheat flour. I also used Earth Balance instead of butter, making my cookies vegan. This recipe is very similar to my grandmother’s Ginger Cookies but I think I prefer the old family recipe. I’ve never tried to roll out that dough, however, and this dough was pretty easy to roll out and cut.

Before I forget again, the winner of the Nature Box giveaway is Christina! A box full of healthy snacks is on it’s way to her as we speak! Thank you to everyone who entered. I hope to host some more delicious giveaways soon.

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HITS Triathlon Series: Lake Havasu City, AZ Race Recap

Now seems like the time to get this down in words before I forget the blur of last weekend! There were a lot of memorable things about this race and it marked several firsts in my triathlon experience.

  1. First Olympic distance tri
  2. First time traveling a significant distance to a race
  3. First wetsuit swim in a tri

All of these were firsts for my husband too. Given that fact, I don’t have much to compare the HITS Havasu City race to. All of our previous triathlons were in the same lake in Pleasanton, CA and didn’t even involve timing chips.

Going into the Havasu tri, I expected more people, slicker, more professional infrastructure, and a more experienced triathletes than at our local Tri for Fun’s. This was indeed a much more professionally done, formal race but there were actually many participants than we’d competed against before. I think close to 1,000 people showed up to the largest Tri for Fun. Even with the starts broken down into heats by age and sex, that made for a busy racecourse. Now that I’ve experienced another triathlon, I’m extremely impressed with how organized the Tri for Fun races were.

HITS also put on a good race. Only 58 people participated in the Olympic distance race, making the transition are and racecourse seem pretty unpopulated. Everyone had an assigned rack, gear area, and stool for the parking lot transition area. There was a kiddie pool for rinsing feet at the entrance.

Lee and I picked up our packets when we arrived in Havasu City the night before. I’m glad we went through the effort to do that because otherwise we might have had a tough time finding the race in the morning. We also wouldn’t have been able to apply all the race number stickers and tattoos to our gear and ourselves ahead of time. It took all my brain power to get those stickers in the right places and I totally failed with one of the tattoos the morning of the race. At 4:30 am, I ended up placing the leg tattoo upside down on the wrong leg. Oops.

Back to the night before. Lee and I drove around in the dark looking for the start/finish area for 15 minutes before finally asking one of the volunteers that was still on course for the full Ironman racers. It gave me the chills to see runners out there in the dark, still not done with their race!

Our first choice for dinner, Chipotle, was closed so we had a crappy dinner at some chain Japanese restaurant. I guess stir-fry veggies and white rice wasn’t too terrible of a pre-race meal. It didn’t give me any problems the next day.

Our dog, Doc, came along on this trip and stayed in the hotel room during the race. We had a hotel room full of 2 bikes, a small dog, and lots of gear. My maniacal organization tendencies kicked in, as they always do for activities like this, so i had everything packed up, laid out and ready to go the night before. The bed was comfy and I slept well, although I don’t think Lee did the same.

We both started the day with peanut butter and bananas (plus half a bagel for Lee) from home. I also had a cup of caffeinated tea and Lee had his usual instant coffee drink. Doc ate the English muffins I’d brought (bad dog!).

I was so, so glad to have my down jacket that morning! It was chilly and the sun didn’t rise till right before we started our swim! We had thought about biking over to the start from our hotel, which was very close, but that would have deprived us of a car to stash things in so we drive instead. There was plenty of parking, thankfully.

After setting up our transition areas, visiting the bathroom several times, and scoping out the lake, we donned our wetsuits and I stashed my jacket and uggs in the car. The remaining time before our start was pretty unpleasant. We could either stand on cold sand, cold cement, or cold grass. The 65 degree water ended up being a toastier choice. It was fun to watch the sprint swimmers go out. Most had even finished their swim by the time we started ours.

I wouldn’t say I warmed up in the water before the start. I mostly tested it out by taking a few strokes. Then it was time for the real thing! Lee started first and the women were off a few minutes later.

I think one of the biggest areas I could improve on is the first 5 minutes of the swim. The cold water and race butterflies really messed with my stroke and speed in the first two sides of the triangular course. I swam way off to the side in the first leg, giving myself extra distance to swim and killing any chance I had of staying with the faster swimmers. On the plus side, my De Soto wetsuit was fantastic! I wasn’t used to all the floatation so I had to remind myself to keep kicking! I have a separate bottom and top and the top did ride up a little. I think i just didn’t have the sleeves pulled far enough up my arms so when reached out to stroke the arms pulled the torso part of the top up. I was toasty warm…except for my feet.

The swim was two laps around a triangle, with the third point marked by a bouey on the beach that we had to run around. I was really in the groove by the end of the first lap and the second one flew by…not that I was actually swimming very fast. My swim time was 34:36.

I felt a little disoriented at T1. Maybe it was my frozen feet! The wetsuit came off easily but it took me longer to get out of there than usual. I’d better work on that.

Ah, the bike, what can I say? It was painful. I was cold (thankfully I had arm warmers, which I almost didn’t bring). The road was rough!!! It felt slow and my poor body was rattled to death by the end of the ride. There were cops out directing traffic throughout the course  and not nearly as many cones/volunteers as at our previous races. Signals for cars and triathletes were often crossed and I approached intersections without any idea where to go many times. There were also so few people near me on the course that I sometimes thought I had made a wrong turn! I guess it was just a big course.

We mostly climbed up into the local neighborhoods for the first half of the bike. None of the hills were too steep and they were broken up by little downhill segments. If the pavement hadn’t been like solidified gravel things would have been much more pleasant!

It was an out and back course so plenty of super fast people passed me going back the other way. They blasted down the hills on their bikes that sound like jet engines, looking like they were barely tired. I wasn’t too tired, actually, and should have pushed myself harder on the bike. I think a couple of people passed me and I passed a couple too but I certainly wasn’t going fast. My watch wasn’t on. I almost crashed into a curb trying to get it set up in the beginning. In the future, I don’t think I’ll bother. I don’t need to know how slow I’m going.

I passed Lee going the other direction shortly before the turnaround point. He was lookin good!

By the end of the bike, I was more than ready to get off and run. My feet were still frozen and numb. I wanted off that bicycle seat! Oddly enough, I think the transition from bike to run is my favorite part of the race. My legs are completely warmed up and just want to keep moving after the bike. I know I’m almost done and running feels so liberating!

The run course started with a jaunt up some stairs to the famous London Bridge, across the bridge, down more stairs, under the bridge, upstairs on the other side, and then finally back across the bridge to the rest of the run course. All those stairs were tough but it was a fun way to start!

The rest of the course was a flat, out and back run on a paved road. I chugged along and tried to take in the scenery. The view from the bike course had been gorgeous but there wasn’t as much to see down in the flats on the run. I took water at the first aid station, more water at the turnaround point, and third cup at the aid station on the way back. I passed one woman early on in the run and counted all the women ahead of me coming back the other way. It looked like I was the 11th or 12th one out there.

Oh yeah, fuel. I had a Gu shortly before the start of the race and a couple of Gu Chomps in the beginning of the bike. I tucked the package in my arm warmer for easy access and ate 3 more chomps on the run. They were tasty and I think they helped but it sure is hard to chew something gummy when you’re trying to run and breathe.

My legs just kept going and going and going on the run. I was getting tired but I could have run farther, which surprised me. I was totally under trained on the run and don’t remember the last time I actually ran 6 miles!

One particularly speedy woman passed me right before the finish, which I saw coming. She was blasting out towards the turnaround about a mile behind me and I knew she’d pass me eventually. I didn’t have it in me to match her pace with a sprint at the end.

Lee met me at the finish line, having crossed in 2:58.39, well ahead of my 3:10.03. I was done and I was proud!

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Carrot…pie? A Recipe Swap and a giveaway!

Perhaps I reacted to this month’s Burwell General Store Recipe Swap recipe a little differently than most people. I was ready to cook up some carrots and bake a pie! Carrot pie sounded like another delicious variation of some of my favorite pies: pumpkin and sweet potato. Could carrot pie be even better because of what it has in common with carrot cake (my absolute favorite)?

I wanted to find out whether another orange vegetable would make a lovely, fall-flavored pie so I decided to stick closely to the original recipe. That turned out to be pretty easy, since the recipe was so vague that I didn’t have a rigid ingredient list to follow. It reads something like an oral history gathered by some culinary folklorist. Can I have that job, please?

I steamed “the carrots”, added them to milk and eggs, sweetened them with sugar, and added cinnamon for spice. That wasn’t all, of course. The full recipe is at the bottom of this post. My take on carrot pie includes ricotta cheese and allspice but no crust. I gave up baking custard pies in crust long ago. All I want is the filling so baking that in little ramekins or muffin cups makes dessert much more enjoyable to me.

Individual custard cups may not be quite as pretty as a whole pie and sometimes it’s nice to have some crunch with your silky-smooth filling. That’s where this bag of granola comes in!

I happened to have a bag of Cherry Berry Granola in my pantry from the NatureBox each blogger received as part of the Foodbuzz Festival gift bag. NatureBox delivers a monthly package of healthy snacks anywhere you need them (in the U.S.). They come in neat little resealable pouches and have already saved me from a snack black hole at least once. I love the dried fruit, nut mix, and Blueberry Almond Bites but I’m especially excited about the granola, since it’s on the light side – just how I like granola – with a good ratio of oats to whole almonds and dried berries.

The crunchy granola was a perfect topping for my carrot custard, which was still warm and gooey when I snacked on it yesterday afternoon. It was reminiscent of pumpkin or sweet potato pie but with more substance, thanks to the ricotta cheese, and plenty of flavor from the vanilla bean and spices. Lee and I did a bike/run brick workout that morning so I snacked for the rest of the day. The rest of my little carrot pies went in the fridge for weeknight desserts.

 

If you’d like to try some healthy, convenient snacks for yourself, NatureBox has generously offered one of their future month’s boxes to one of my lucky readers! All you have to do is comment on this post telling my where and when you most need a snack during the day. The winner will be chosen at random from those comments. One entry per person, please. I will announce the winner in 1 week. At this time, NatureBox can only deliver to U.S. addresses and cannot customize box contents. Be sure to check out the NatureBox Blog for delicious recipes and snack ideas!

You’ll also find inventive recipes inspired by carrot pie from my fellow recipe swappers below.



Little Crustless Carrot Pies

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 half-cup ramekins

Ingredients

  • 3 medium-sized carrots
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese*
  • 1/4 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar, brown sugar, or other sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut carrots into 1 inch chunks and steam until tender.
  3. Puree carrots in a food processor or using a hand blender.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs.
  5. Add ricotta cheese, milk, sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla, stirring with a whisk until well blended.
  6. Add carrots and stir until combined.
  7. Pour batter into ramekins coated with a little oil or silicone muffin liners. Place these on a baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the center of each pie is solid and the edges begin to pull away from the dish.
  9. Cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.
  10. Pies may be served warm or chilled, topped with granola, cookie crumbs, or even whipped cream. If using muffin cups, you may remove pies form the cups before serving as long as they are significantly cooled.

Notes

* Yogurt or pureed tofu may be substituted for ricotta.

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Filed under desserts, Recipe Swaps, snacks