A place for creativity in relationships, the kitchen, the gym, the home, the garden and, ultimately, in life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In Remembrance

Today is Veterans' Day, a day that comes every year as a reminder that wars are not fought by our government, but by human beings, a disproportionate number of whom are from a very different background from my own. It's hard not to get caught up in the stark unfairness of it all, that those who make the decisions to declare our countries at war are so rarely the ones who end up suffering the very real human sacrifices.

Both my grandfathers served in combat in World War II, a time in which the politics of war are remembered in much simpler terms than the ongoing wars in the Middle East. Good guys fought, bad guys lost. Today we know that soldiers aren't the only ones losing their lives in combat, and simple justifications for war don't really exist. My father's father, who died not at war but in his sleep, peacefully, when I was five, wrote letters home from war that have been immortalized in a collection by a local author, Jack London. These letters help show the human side to war, at a time when war is constant yet elusive, ever-present but rarely considered by those of us lucky enough to live in our insular country.

My grandfather is one of many whose letters are being preserved by The Letter Project. With Thanksgiving approaching, and in remembrance and gratitude to all those who have served, all those whose lives have been lost on any side of any war, and all those who strive for a peaceful world, please take a moment to give thanks.

Foggia, Italy: November 22, 1945

It is Thanksgiving Day and I am on guard duty. I can think of more pleasant ways to spend Thanksgiving, but I am well, warm and have just finished eating a wonderful dinner, so I guess I can't complain too much. For dinner we had turkey and all the trimmings, prepared and served excellently. Many people here were not so fortunate. As I sit here, in a little shack in the army parking lot I am guarding, I can see four old women huddled up against a bombed-out building, not a hundred feet away. They are having their Thanksgiving dinner too, only for them there is no turkey or peas or potatoes or cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie or ice cream. No, they are eating bread, nothing else, just plain old hard brown bread. I am sure the same thing is taking place throughout many countries in Europe. Why must these people go hungry? Why must they suffer for something they aren't responsible for? The ones who got fat under fascist rule are managing to stay fat under Allied rule, at least most of them. I cannot understand why God allows it to be this way.

-Staff Sergeant Ernest Howard, my Dadoo 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fall Pseudo-Stuffing is Freakin' Delicious!

So last night I got a hankering for some fall flavors when the weather finally turned a bit cooler and gourds are everywhere you turn in preparation for Halloween. A slow Friday night with nothing on the agenda, I wandered through the Central Market aisles looking for inspiration. I gathered a few types of mushrooms (the woodsy flavor always reminds me of fall), some butternut squash, sage and pecans. Aha, I thought, I've got the perfect ingredients for a little Autumn hash. I grabbed a bottle of wine and was busily dreaming up how to cook this little number in under an hour due to the grumblings in my tummy, which is probably why the dish made it from the kitchen to my mouth without the chance for a good photo op.

I used a combination of locally grown white button mushrooms (pre-sliced for convenience) and a small handful of deliciously expensive shiitakes, but you could gather up an assortment of any of your favorite fungi. The wild mushrooms in particular add a woodsy aroma and flavor that just can't be matched by button mushrooms alone. I recently learned the trick to a good saute for mushrooms (here), the main trick being high heat, oil and room for the fungi to breathe.

Another key to this dish if expediency is your goal, is to buy a package of frozen, cubed butternut squash. You could take the time to roast the squash for 45 minutes yourself, but sometimes convenience wins out over bragging rights. But if you've got the time, a good roast would only add to the medley of fall flavors in this stuffing. Somehow, without even really trying, I think I've found my go-to stuffing for Thanksgiving, and it's completely grain free. The boyfriend thought the butternut squash was the regular old starchy stuffing bits, so you can probably fool the diehard grain lovers in your family. And I bet it would be spectacular cooked with some sausage mixed in too. Go crazy!

1 package frozen butternut squash, cubed
6 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
handfull wild mushrooms (or as many as your pocketbook will allow, sliced in large chunks or whole)
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp dried whole sage (you can use fresh, but dried keeps way longer)
1/2 c. pecans
coconut oil (olive oil will work too)
salt to taste


1. In a medium skillet on medium heat, dry toast the pecans. Set aside.
2. In the same skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add wild mushrooms and a pinch of salt, but don't crowd the pan. Let brown, then turn mushrooms and finish searing. Set aside.
3. Same skillet (yes, a 1-pot dish!), heat a bit more oil then add button mushrooms. Don't worry about crowding these little guys, they're not as special or delicate as the wild bunch. When they start to shrink in size, add the diced onion. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until all the moisture has evaporated and the veggies are browning. In the last minute of cooking, add the minced garlic. Set aside.
4. In our heroic skillet, throw the frozen butternut squash in and let cook until you get browning on all sides. Throw in the sage, then add back in all the ingredients you've set aside, preferably on one plate to minimize dish duty afterwards. Mix it all together in the skillet and enjoy the intoxicating aroma coming from your now exhausted little skillet.
5. Serve with grilled chicken, sausage, steak, fish, pretty much anything you like, and enjoy!

I had the leftovers this morning mixed in with scrambled eggs and it was heavenly. Nothing better on a cool morning.  And if you're like me, you can eat this and pretend that you live in a place with an actual autumn.
Caution: Pseudo-Stuffing may transport you here

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tabata This

That's me vs. wall ball in Fight Gone Bad '09
Today was Tabata Thursday at CrossFit Central, which means four minutes of hell on repeat for the uninitiated. I really love/hate Tabata. Tabata is an interval training regimen created by Dr. Izumi Tabata based on research that is way more complicated than I can summarize for you. Dr. Tabata demonstrated that athletes who used a four minute protocol of 20 seconds hard work, 10 seconds rest on repeat for 8 rounds showed dramatic gains in their anaerobic capacity and VO2Max (ability to consume oxygen). Read more about the protocol and what you can do with it here. Almost 15 years later, CrossFitters and other performance athletes are doing pretty much "Tabata Anything." This can be sprints, pullups, squats, pushups, thrusters, sandbag carries, anything! And if four minutes of work sounds easy to you, try it. Just try it for two minutes.

Today we did 3 sets of Tabata work: 8 rounds of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for each exercise. Pull-ups, lunges, wall ball. Oh my god, the wall ball after the lunges nearly killed me. I literally fell on the floor when time was finally called. I was toasted.

Next time I Tabata something, I'm going to play this song on repeat to keep me motivated.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mutton Busting

This past weekend in New Braunfels at the Comal County Fair, we inadvertently discovered an American pastime heretofore unexplored by us city folk: mutton busting. Not familiar with this spectacle of prepubescent athleticism? Watch this:


Yes, my friends, those are small children riding sheep and being thrown dramatically to the dirt in an arena full of grown-ups laughing. And it is as awesome as it sounds. I can't promise that no children were harmed in the filming of the above footage, but each child we watched get tossed to the ground stood up proudly afterwards and waved to the crowd.

Just because it's so damn cute, here are some other mutton bustin' gems. You're welcome.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Date with Fran and Other Crossfit Adventures

For about two years I've kept a log of almost all my workouts, so I can flip back through them and get ideas for new workouts as well as track my progress. I managed this for two entire years, and all of a sudden I can't seem to put pen to paper to keep the log going. So here's the quick and dirty on the past week or two of kick-ass crossfit action.

Last Friday I had the pleasure and pain combo of visiting Coach Crystal Nelson's 8am class at CrossFit Central for my date with Fran. For the uninitiated, Fran is a classic killer WOD comprised of two simple, brutal movements: thrusters and pull-ups. I have a love/hate relationship with both, which means I have a healthy resistance to the lady Fran. But I wasn't about to let on in my class. The prescribed weight for men is 95#, and 65# for women. Being my first time, I went with a respectable 55# and the small blue band for pull-ups (I'm thisclose to getting unassisted kipping pull-ups, but that's another story).

Whoa. Now I know what everyone has been talking about. This was a short but aggressive little workout, and I clocked in at 8:47 with a new rip in my right palm. It was worth it. Here's the deets:

WOD: Fran

Now watch this woman rip it up and see if that inspires you to take the stairs instead of the elevator today.

In other crossfit news, I also managed to do 150 box jumps yesterday, sprinkled with a few dozen handstand pushups (modified by placing my knees on the box, hands on the ground, torso vertical). And this morning was my farewell Therapy Bootcamp WOD to dedicated gal-pal Sarah, who is departing for greener pastures next week. The ladies happily tackled partner wheelbarrow carries, donkey kicks and a short-but-sweet WOD of box jumps, tricep dips, lunges & situps (21-15-9, just like dear old Fran). It was a fun, sweaty way to say goodbye to a dear friend, and we now have an open spot on our team if anyone wants to meet up Tuesday mornings at 7am for a little crossfit fun!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Recipe Half-Win

While I'm sure The Boyfriend would tell you that he loves everything I cook, there are times when I'm better able to please my palate than his. Last night would be a case in point, although he was very gracious about it (well, mostly).  Despite his initial reaction to my concoction, I found it to be a delicious and easy way to use up extra zucchini (Thanks Mel!) that might otherwise shrivel in my fridge for want of a good recipe. See, I want to love zucchini the way I love most vegetables, but I just can't always bring myself to throw it into a dish without wrinkling my nose at it first. I needed a solution, and a healthy one at that, so I browsed around and found some delectable and heavy recipes for zucchini fritters. Mmm, I thought, I can definitely fry me some zucchini drowned in batter! But the health-conscious part of my brain intervened and helped me create a very reasonable facsimile full of good stuff for the body and soul. It may not have done the trick for my vegetable-averse man, but it worked like magic for me. I'll celebrate this one as a half-win, and maybe it will satisfy at least one person in your household as well. You can't win 'em all, right?

Zucchini Coconut Fritters

2 zucchini
2 eggs
4 tbsp coconut flour 
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp paprika
salt & pepper to taste
coconut oil for pan-frying

1. Shred zucchini using a cheese grater or mandoline, then squeeze out the water with your hands. Get messy.
2. Heat 1-2 tbsp coconut oil in frying pan over medium heat, just enough to coat the bottom.
3. In a mixing bowl, scramble the eggs, then add the zucchini and all other ingredients, stirring together.
4. In small dollops, drop spoonfuls of the mixture in the heated pan, pressing lightly to form a disc.
5. Just like a pancake, let one side cook to a light brown, then flip and brown the other side.

I served these warm and with a sprinkle of fresh tomato, but they'd probably be delicious dressed up with (non-paleo) creme fraiche or a pico de gallo. They went great with my sauteed bell peppers and sausage. Good luck and remember to celebrate even the recipes that are only successful for you!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Rainy Days and (Almost) Mondays

It's a day for curling up with a book in your pajamas, sipping hot cocoa and not getting out of bed for this pseudo-Monday. Alas, I'm fully dressed, in front of a computer under fluorescent lights and not likely to see my pj's or bed for quite a while.

I always think of this song on days like today, and imagine myself staring dreamily out a window while the rain pours down, with a paradoxical melancholic contentment. Somehow it makes me feel better.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remember to Smile

Having not been the best of weeks, I've been remiss in writing. This is unfortunate in part because writing this blog is intended to be therapeutic, and what use is therapy if you can't turn to it in times of stress?  As an antidote to wallowing I've taken to reminding myself of all the things I'm grateful for, all the reasons I have (and there are many) to wake up and smile. Here are a few of the things I've been thinking of today, in no particular order:

1) Coming home to an unexpected dinner cooked by my man of steak, asparagus and portabella mushrooms, washed down with a lovely glass of wine from my favorite wine region, Santa Ynez.

2) Having a wonderful group of gals who are willing to get up early and meet me in the humid, mosquito-infested park to tackle my dreamed-up workouts, accompanied with laughter and a little sweat. This week they learned deadlift with dumbbells and dumbbell swings, and took on the new challenges with big smiles. I love these ladies, which leads me to...

3) One of these darling ladies, my coworker, neighbor, friend forged by fire, will be leaving us in a few weeks to pursue big dreams in a faraway land. This leaves me feeling bittersweet, joyful, tearful and ultimately, inspired, and for that I am grateful to her and wish her so much happiness.

4) My family.

5) Girls' trip to Port A in two weeks! Last trip with the ladies, a few years back, ended at the local dance club with mostly-naked men, booty dancing and too many drinks. I'm thinking this time around we might settle for a movie night and girl talk and ahhhhhhhh, relaxing.

6) The Jerky-off (I know, I can't help it) that we're hosting with Miss Melicious tomorrow, to help her sift through the mountain of specialty, good-for-you, good-for-the-planet beef jerky. Just saying the name makes me smile, and I dare you to try to say that with a straight face to someone. Go ahead, "We're having a Jerky-off, how about you?" I'll let you know how it goes, and until then, take a minute to remember something that makes you smile today.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dobie Theater: In Memoriam

Yesterday marked the passing of one of the last great arthouse cinemas in Austin. I am by no means a film buff, but I've always taken great pleasure in movies, and the Dobie housed some of my most significant film-going experiences.

I saw The Brave Little Toaster with my dad and little brother in the mid-80s in the tiny little theater's Egyptian-themed room. We spent the better part of the afternoon following the screening consoling my brother about having lost his beloved red cap in the theater, and even had the theater staff helping us crawl around the sticky floor in the hopes that it would turn up, which speaks to the dedication of the staff and the stubbornness of my then-four-year-old brother.

At age 14, I snuck into the theater to catch my first NC-17 movie, the creepfest "Kids" that launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, and haunted me for years. I'll spare you a clip of some of the more gruesome scenes involving pre-pubescent-looking teens and their various illicit encounters, and instead share the trailer that may help explain why my 14-year-old self was so keen on getting into the Dobie for this.

Then came Hands on a Hard Body, which played at the Dobie for over a year, and was my first memorable encounter with a feature documentary. The movie is full of gems from the quirky and devoted characters desperate to win the hard body truck, and has even spawned a local Hands on an Eggplant Sub contest here in Austin.

As a senior in high school at the dawning of the Internet, the Blair Witch Project phenomenon seemed tailor-made to suck me in and terrify me. For those of you who weren't in the target demographic of suckers like me, the filmmakers created a buzz like I'd never experienced through their website, and used the teen rumor mill to successfully implant the idea that the footage in the movie was REAL and found after the three kids in the film disappeared during their search for the Blair Witch. Completely ridiculous in hindsight, my limited experience with the Internet allowed the marketers to create this alternate universe that carried us to the theater in droves to be haunted by the image of a lone young man standing in a corner facing the wall. No monster on screen terrified me as much as that parting shot in the film. I remember sitting in the front row, grabbing onto my high school sweetheart for dear life and hoping it would all be over soon. Having re-watched the movie recently, I can save you the trouble of going to rent it and tell you that while the film captured the collective teen psyche in 1998, it doesn't really have much to recommend it a decade later. The successful viral marketing of the film ushered in a new era in how media is publicized, leading to the disturbing recent attempt by the makers of "The Last Exorcism" to punish adolescent boys for using Chat Roulette in an attempt to drum up enthusiasm for their new film. Trust me, this scheme is sleazy.

Dobie, thank you for all the memories you gave me, even the ones that gave me nightmares. You will be missed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ultimate Renegade Garden

This has got to be the most amazing backyard garden I've ever seen. A family of four in Mesa, Arizona has created its own backyard ecosystem in an unfilled pool, turning a money/energy pit into a oasis of fresh organic veggies, fruits and herbs, as well as chickens and tilapia fish. You've got to see it to believe it.

I'm a novice gardener who's experienced more failures than successes, but I keep plugging away at it and am seriously inspired by people who get out there and make sustainable backyard farming happen in even the most inhospitable of places (namely, the freakin' desert). Here in Austin we're lucky to have tons of resources for the diy-minded home gardener and some really passionate gardening citizens.

This spring I participated in the Citizen Gardener workshop with my dear friend Sarah, where we learned the basics of organic gardening via the bio-intensive, raised-bed method for growing vegetables, as well as composting. It's free if you volunteer 10 hours in a community garden or $50 for the three classes, and they have new groups starting in the coming weeks.

The Garden Posse is our local group of guerrilla gardeners, where members transform public and private spaces into edible landscapes and use "seed bombs" made of seeds and mud to spread the love. I like that whole "make food, not bombs" ethos, and these people do some seriously cool landscaping all over town and all over the east side in particular.

In Pasadena, California, a family has been turning their home into the ultimate urban oasis, where they grow their own food, make their own biodiesel, raise chickens, goats, ducks and rabbits, and basically stay as off-the-grid as possible. People can really be amazing.

While I can't say I'll ever be the next Urban Homesteader, I do know that someday I want my yard to look like this:


And when we finally buy our own home, I'm gonna make food, not lawns.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Off the Train and Back to the Grind

After a week of blissful vacation in Chicago, Milwaukee & Madison visiting some of my favorite people, I can safely report that the train is still my favorite way to travel, beer & cheese are both my friend and my enemy, and the first workday and workout after vacation are still the most painful days of the year. 

My dear friend Mel made the fantastic recommendation of a train mystery novel to accompany me on the rails, and I rushed out the day before departure to grab a copy of Dick Francis' The Edge. The book was full of intrigue, espionage and madcap adventure, just like Mel, and it was simple perfection to sit in the observation car, listening to the train whistle and soaking up a little murder mystery. And if anyone wants to spot me $1000 for my very own California train murder mystery tour, check this out.

Devilish Fried Cheese
The Great Taste of the Midwest Beer Festival the day before we left was a fantastic send-off from a memorable vacation, with over 100 breweries repping more than 300 brews! Our awesome friends had to camp out for 8 hours to get the tickets months ago, and correctly assumed that would be enough to solidify our plans for a visit in August.  We capped that beer-drenched day off with fried cheese curds dipped in a bleu cheese dressing. Yes, you read that right, and yes, it was as ridiculously decadent, over-the-top, unnecessary and delicious as it sounds. Madison is known for it's cheese curds, which you check for freshness by chewing them and listening for a squeaking sound, like a squeegee for your teeth as my man says. There's even a website for cheese curds, with etiquette rules such as "Never eat two cheese curds at once. It confuses them."

Madison Bliss
Considering the sheer volume of beer & cheese consumed, and the inordinate amount of time I spent with my feet up, the return to reality has been a bit of a slog. Yesterday was the first day back on the clock, and this morning I rolled out of bed at 6:40 am to return to my dedicated tribe of Therapy Bootcampers. I can say without exaggeration that there is no way in hell I would have made it up for this workout with these ladies, and I'm grateful to them for that.

Post-Vacation Leg Buster WOD

2 Rounds for time:
15 pushups
 25 situps
broad jump across field (approx. 10 jumps)
15 box jumps
25 tricep dips
lunge across field (approx. 15 lunges)
run 300 m.

We all finished in around 11:30, legs burning, sweat dripping, gasping for air in the 99% humidity. I may have felt like collapsing, but I'm so glad I got out there and got back to my routine. Vacations are the best and I may have returned a little blue about leaving some dear friends & so many fun times, but you can't live on beer and cheese alone, right?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gonna Board the Midnight Train: Part One

In preparation for our train trip to Chicago this weekend, I've been perusing lists of train movies and songs for inspiration.  Turns out there are some stellar train-centric films & music, and I'll post some of my favorites over the coming week for your viewing and listening pleasure (and because I just can't contain my excitement about riding the train).  We took the train three years ago from Los Angeles to Austin and it was one of my favorite travel experiences ever.  There's something romantic and dreamy about traveling slowly by train: meeting the other riders in the observation car, curling up on the tiny fold-out bed and staring out the window at the scenery passing by. Everything slows down, and I feel like I'm being transported back in time. I may even wear my Audrey Hepburn hat and big sunglasses to pretend I have an ounce of her glamour.


One of my favorite scenes in North by Northwest takes place on the train, with some of the best Hitchcock sexual innuendo ever.  Take this exchange between the dashing, if greying, Cary Grant and the tiny-as-a-bird Eva Marie Saint as they gaze lustfully into each other's eyes at close range:

Eva: I'm a big girl.
Cary: Yeah...and in all the right places too.

For 1959 this was downright tawdry, and the 3 minute long foreplay session was pretty daring.  But the most hilarious innuendo is in the film's final shot. Watch this and try not to giggle.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mama Grizzlies vs. Gerbils

I love Jon Stewart, Flight of the Conchords and bears. Until I saw this clip from the Daily Show, I wouldn't have known they had anything in common. Turns out they have the brilliant Kristen Schaal to thank for this lunchtime video break:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sarah Palin's Mama Grizzly Coalition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

My favorite line?  "The only bears that don't vote Republican are the Berenstain Bears...Because they're Jews."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wonder Women

So I'm basically surrounded by amazing women.  Everywhere I look, there's another one appearing with words of wisdom, a big hug, a kick-ass attitude, some inspiration and a good, long laugh. I like to think of them all as Wonder Women, and I strive to be like them in friendship, relationships, fitness, talents and energy. My mom is definitely Wonder Woman #1 and I learned all my superpowers from her.

Last night I got an email from the always-fabulous Mel over at theclothesmakethegirl.blogspot.com asking if I would partner with her and the lovely Maggie for the CrossFit Central Women's Challenge in three weeks. Two wonder women if I ever saw them, and I eagerly accepted, putting out of my mind the intimidating unknown that is the Dreaded Double Workout on challenge day. Check out this video from last year's challenge, featuring some of my favorite superheroines:

Women's Challenge from CrossFit Central on Vimeo.

This morning I had the pleasure of putting together a fun workout for my Therapy Bootcamp ladies, and we welcomed a new addition to our little crew (way to go, Stephanie)! Four more Wonder Women who willingly tackle my WODs with grace and only a few grimaces. I'm going out of town next week so I'm leaving the ladies with a workout for them to complete on their own.  They've been at this for awhile, and I know they can do it.  But I am still demanding photographic evidence.  There was a request for an animal WOD again, so I'm thinking bear crawls, donkey kicks, frog jumps and crab walks are in order. Any suggestions?

These same ladies will be true Wonder Women with me in September when we take on the CASA 5K Superhero Run, in full superhero regalia. Now where is my cape...?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Old School Workout Fun

This was a fabulous (fabulously hard) week of WODs (Workout of the Day), including an old school gym free-for-all with Crystal that involved rope climbs, tire flips and wheelbarrows. We got to play like kids, and I felt pretty strong wheelbarrow-ing a big guy across the dirty gym floor.

Rope climbs, while impressive for elite athletes, were more a source of laughter than strength-training for me this time, but I'll keep plugging away at them.  Who knew the stuff we did with ease as kids could be so hard for grown-ups?  Maybe I can even do this some day:

In no particular order, this week's WODs also included 50 deadlifts at 95#, a couple hundred situps, 100 burpees, farmer carries, rowing, kettlebell cleans and running. Whew.  To top it all off, a couple of my Therapy Bootcamp ladies gathered for an impromptu office party with a little Sit and Be Fit action.  In case you're wondering, yes, we really did this. And yes, the rest of our office thinks we're a little bit crazy, which is a relative term when you work in mental health.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tapas with Don Draper

I've anticipated the new season of Mad Men with the most excitement since My So-Called Life, probably more than is healthy for a television show.  Sunday night the wait was finally over, and if you haven't watched the season premiere yet, stop what you're doing and pick up your remote.  Without any spoilers, I will say that while the BF felt it lacked a little spark, I felt like it was the perfect buildup to what promises to be a challenging new season in the Mad world.  They can't give it all away in the first episode, right?  As my friend Ethan put it, it's foreplay.

In celebration of the arrival of season four, I decided some celebratory food was in order.  A nightshade
celebration, to be precise.  See, it turns out that the BF and his steel cable tendons just weren't responding to our nightshade withholdings like they had been.  After a few trial runs with reintroducing the illicit vegetables, he's thrown himself with full force back into the delicious world of tomatoes & peppers (and sometimes potatoes).  What better cuisine to welcome his return to civilization than Spanish tapas?  After a visit to Granada a few years ago and a summer study in Santander at 16, I've had a passion for Spanish food that's only deepened since I've become a bit of a cook myself.  A lovely friend gifted me with a tapas cookbook that is incredibly difficult to track down online, but you can find it here, and I relished the opportunity to rip out all my nightshade-free tabs and track down tomato & pepper filled vittles for the Mad Men tapeo.

The Alhambra in Granada
In my characteristically excessive cooking nature, I made way too much of everything, but have been eating my way through leftovers happily for two days.  Here's what we had, in no particular order: traditional tortilla española, romesco sauce, albondigas in almond sauce and sautéed green beans with toasted pine nuts.  Plus vino, of course.  The almond sauce for the albondigas, or Spanish meatballs, was like heaven and I will definitely make that again to top everything from beef, pork or chicken to squash, sweet potatoes or leafy greens.  It was that good.  The version in my cookbook called for white bread, but I omitted it without any ill effects (to my American tastes), so here's basically what I did:

Salsa de Almendra (Almond Sauce)
Olive oil
1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 cloves garlic
2/3 c. white wine (can omit & sub stock if not using alcohol)
1 1/2 c. vegetable, chicken or beef stock
salt & pepper
*If you are not using blanched (de-skinned) almonds, you can quickly blanch them yourself by boiling skin-on almonds for 30 seconds, running cold water over them to stop the cooking process, letting them cool to the touch, then pinching each almond between your fingers to slip off the skins.  Not too taxing, just a little tedious.  You can find blanched almonds in the bulk section of most grocery stores and save yourself the trouble, though.

Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in skillet on medium (you can use the same skillet you cooked your meat in)
Toast the almonds in the oil until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes
Mince the garlic & toss it in with the almonds, stirring until lightly browned
Pour in the wine and boil for a couple minutes
Remove from heat & cool slightly, then pour mixture into food processor along with stock
Process until smooth (or if you're impatient like me, until it's a texture you like)
Season to taste with salt & pepper

You can serve it immediately with just about anything, you can save it and serve it at room temperature as a veggie dip, or you can add it to your scrambled eggs the next morning like me.  It's that tasty & versatile.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Free CrossFit Community Workouts

If you've been wondering what all this crossfit talk is about, this weekend you have an opportunity to come and try it out with the crew from CrossFit Central.  You can sign up online for an indoor workout to throw some weight around, or you can just show up under the Mopac bridge on the Austin High side of Town Lake at 8:30 am this Saturday, July 31 for some bootcamp-style fun.  Personally, I love the UTB workouts.  They always bring out a big crowd with a wide range of abilities, so you can participate even if you've been on your couch for the past year. And despite the scary term "bootcamp," the community workouts are always friendly, welcoming, fun and challenging in a good way.

See you there!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Best BLT You Will Ever Eat

I'm just gonna say right off the bat that this recipe is not paleo.  For those of you reading who follow those principles, as I myself *generally* do, please close your browser and walk away from the computer.  Pretend you never saw this, because you may be too tempted by the mouth-wateringly decadent flavors (although, sadly, not the underwhelming photographic evidence).

For the rest of you, here's how the sandwich went down.  I visited the Barton Creek Farmer's Market with my Dad yesterday and acquired some uncured, super-fresh pork belly bacon from Richardson Farms.  I made a quick stop at Whole Foods on the way home to grab a crusty loaf of sourdough, local sprouts and a ripe avocado.  I returned home as quickly as possible to assemble the remaining ingredients of a garden tomato and Smith & Smith Family eggs.

I fried up the bacon with a light sprinkling of hickory smoked salt, toasted thin slices of sourdough in the broiler, then fried two eggs in the bacon grease.  I layered tomato slices, sprouts, avocado and bacon, and placed an over-medium egg on top.

The first bite had the yolk oozing out, coating everything in its golden richness.  The crunch of the toast with the creaminess of the avocado, the chewy saltiness of the bacon and the garden-freshness of the vegetables made this, quite possibly, the Best BLT Ever.  If you really want to take your sandwich to the over-the-top tier of decadence, throw in some room-temperature Brie right over that fried egg and experience culinary nirvana.  I dare you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Turkish Getups and Other Forms of Torture

This week was full of cool, sweaty, challenging CrossFitting fun, that left my body *very* aware of each tiny muscle fiber.  Therapy Bootcamp was a jungle sauna that left all of us dripping and, thankfully, laughing through the box jumps, dumbbell cleans, overhead squats and tricep pushups that me and my ladies chugged through despite the 100% humidity.  Wednesday I was back to CrossFit Central for some time with the lovely Crystal McReynolds who reintroduced me to an old nemesis, the Turkish Getup. Ridiculous name, even more ridiculous movement that involves lying supine on a dirty gym floor with a raised kettlebell, inartfully getting to a standing position, and then slowly lowering back down without hitting yourself or anyone else with the kettlebell.

Yesterday's CFC class involved some regulars like running, wall ball and push press, so I wasn't feeling too intimidated.  But during the very first round of 55# push press I wrenched my neck for the hundredth time this year.  Boo!  I lowered the weight and kept going, then rolled out my neck on a TriggerPoint ball to stave off additional pain.  Since I'm less inclined to spend inordinate amounts of money on gym equipment than my coach, I've been known to roll out at home with a sweet potato, a firm lemon and a rolling pin.  The lemon had the added benefit of aromatherapy, and I swear it works almost as well.

So today I'm trying something new in the healing department.  I'm getting tired of having a literal pain in my neck every other week, so I'm taking my first trip to a chiropractor for Airrosti treatment.  This apparently involves some aggressive massage, stretching and then taping the unsuspecting patient up like a mummy.  I'm a little wary of the very standard release you have to sign that warns of the rare but fatal complications that can arise from "cervical spine adjustments," but I'm soldiering on.  One more Lesson of the Day: your cervical spine is no where near your cervix.  Who knew?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Get Busy for the Greater Good

In fighting off ennui, I'm collecting upcoming events that will surely spark a flame of motivation for me, and hopefully for some of you as well.  I want something to make me go


How about you?

This Thursday you will find me out and about at the Texas Democratic Party's Young Professional Council Happy Hour (that's a mouthful) to show support for all our candidates, from our State Representatives to Bill White in his race against the man with steel hair.  This event promises to be both a lot of fun and a great opportunity to meet people who care about people.  Check it out at on the Texas Democratic Party site or on the Facebook invite.

Date: Thursday, July 22
Time: 6:00 to 8:00pm
Location: Malverde
               400 B West 2nd St. 

Next up in the queue of Fun for the Greater Good is the CASA Superhero Run in September.  This is a great event that provides much-needed support to abused children AND gives you the opportunity to dress like Superwoman for a day.  Register Here.

Date: Sunday, September 19
Time: 7:30 am Registration, 8:00 am 5K start, 8:45 am Kids 1K start
Location: The Domain
                 11410 Century Oaks Terrace 

Be a superhero just like this little guy.

Monday, July 19, 2010

TRIO: A Carpaccio Love Affair

Last week I was able to enjoy my first visit to TRIO, the hot little restaurant in the Four Seasons with a much-lauded happy hour.  I put on a little summer dress, dragged along the boyfriend and sampled a bit of what this place has to offer.  The happy hour is Monday - Saturday from 5 to 8, and I guarantee you that happy hour is the only time you'll ever find me there.  Not because the menu doesn't have a million things to recommend it for a full dinner, but because I would rather reserve half of my paycheck for utility bills and student loan payments.  But that's just me.

When we got there at 6:30, the place was packed and we looked a little like this:

Luckily, the bartender was fast and friendly, and we got a tasty glass of Cava ($4.50 during HH) to pass the time while we jockeyed for a spot at the bar (you have to order at the bar to get happy hour prices).  You've got to be quick to snag a stool, and it got a little cutthroat after about 20 minutes of shuffling in between the tables.  We planted ourselves behind a nice couple who we managed not to freak out with our hovering, and they sweetly saved their seats for us when another couple tried to horn in on our territory.

With the seating battle finally won, we were able to sample a few appetizers.  The beef carpaccio ($7.50 during HH) was amazing, the truffled arugula and manchego paired with it added a spicy, nutty flavor to the deliciously tender seasoned raw beef.  You could basically put truffle oil on anything, even a banana split, and I would happily eat it up.  The sunny side up egg was a terrific addition that added a creaminess to the dish that really made it something close to culinary perfection.

The Texas Cheese plate ($7.50 during HH) was a  selection of four cheeses with honey.  The Hoja Santa goat cheese from Dallas was my favorite, with a relatively mild, creamy flavor wrapped in an hoja santa leaf.  Sadly, no Austin cheesemakers were represented on this dish, but the chef's selection of cheeses rotates regularly.

We finished off our night of playing dress-up with a glass of Grenache rosé ($4.50 during HH) and a stroll around the patio, seriously considering a nap in one of the hammocks the Four Seasons so thoughtfully placed for its overindulgent guests.

Total bill: $42 for four glasses of wine, two appetizers and a big tip.  Bonus: Free valet parking with validation (just don't forget to tip the valet).  We'll definitely be back to sample more of the fare, and I might have to attempt a re-creation of the carpaccio at home.  I could get used to that dish.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Last night I had the pleasure of taking a dip after dark at the incomparable Barton Springs.  If you've never visited Austin's iconic spot at night, you've got to try it.  There's a peacefulness to it that you can't get during the hot summer days (although it's a perfect Saturday afternoon spot too).

I've been humming this all night and day, so I hope to get it stuck in your head too:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pigs and Figs

It's fig season here in Austin, but what's a girl to do when she doesn't know more about figs than what comes in a Newton?  I got fresh figs in my Urban Roots CSA and I also discovered fresh figs down in the neighborhood park, so I'm on the lookout for fun ways to prepare this foreign fruit.  And at the risk of exposing my true figgy colors, I actually haven't enjoyed the taste of figs in previous concoctions I've sampled at others' hands.  So I'm taking back the reins, and looking for a new way to prepare figs that might appeal to me more.  A quick recipe search linked this little guy with figs regularly:

By the way, did you know that a fig was the original object of desire in Eden, not the apple we see today?  I'm partway through In the Devil's Garden, a book that traces the "sinful history of forbidden food" and I'm gathering all sorts of interesting food factoids to bring out at dinner parties.

And just look at that sensuous fig. I'd have taken a bite, too.

The recipe is simple, the results a sinful combination of salty & sweet.  It's almost enough to make a fig-lover out of me.  Of course, bacon makes everything better.

Bacon-wrapped Figs
As many figs as you find
Uncured bacon (no nitrites added)

Cut the tips off each fig.  Wrap each whole fig in 1/2 slice bacon.  Pan-fry with seam side down to secure bacon around fig.  Slowly turn until all sides of bacon are fully cooked.  Let cool on paper towels to absorb the delicious bacon grease & pop into your mouth.  Feel free to fry an egg or two in the pan drippings. Why waste a good thing?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Double Duty and the Breakfast of Champions

So a few of my work friends have been crazy enough to let me put together weekly workouts for us, dubbed "Therapy Bootcamp" (we're a bunch of social workers and family therapists).  Each week we brave the bugs & the heat, both of which are plentiful this time of year, and meet up for some early morning CrossFit-style fun. At least they tell me they're having fun, even if it hurts just a little bit.

Since I'm the regular CrossFitter in the group, it's up to me to put together our workouts, which I LOVE!  I get to challenge myself and my friends, and be a little creative as well.  A particularly successful Therapy Bootcamp WOD (Workout of the Day) including an "animal" segment involving bear crawls, donkey kicks, crab walks & frog jumps, and I'm proud to say we all brought out our inner 5-year-old.

So I couldn't very well leave them hanging yesterday, despite having an indoor CrossFit Central class at 8am. A double duty day!

Here's what I looked like afterwards:

Therapy Bootcamp WOD

Warm-up 10 minutes
3 rounds for time:
25 superman
25 mountain climbers
25 situps
10 tricep dips
run approx. 300 meters

My time- 11:20

CrossFit Central WOD

Warm-up (this one included hateful burpee broad jumps)
8 rounds for time:
12 jump squats
8 clapping pushups
12 one-arm snatch (I used 20# db)

My time- 17:38

The 8 rounds really took a force of will to power through.  I was the only girl in class and didn't have my usual fab Coach Crystal, but working out with the guys and Carey kept me motivated to work my butt off and I held my own with them. My clapping pushups consisted of knee pushups with a one-hand slap to the chest between each one, leaving me with one hell of a skinned knee.  Far from feeling depleted after these WODs, I felt energetic and ready for the day.  Then I got home to fix my breakfast of champions!

2 fried farmers market eggs
1/2 cup whipped sweet potatoes
handful of blueberries with a little greek yogurt

Mmmmm. And sweet potatoes are an awesome alternative to boring old white potatoes, which aside from being the nightshade arch-nemesis of my bf are also pretty high up there on the list of foods that skyrocket your blood sugar.  Make the switch to this pretty little tuber and you won't regret it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Canning with Jamlady

Yesterday at Half Price Books, I picked up a copy of Pickles to Relish, which is apparently written by a woman named Beverly Schoonmaker Alfeld and her alter ego Jamlady. Really. I tried to read the book from cover to cover, but it's written in this informative yet strangely opaque manner that makes it tough to get through whole pages, let alone whole paragraphs. You see, Jamlady is a fan of bold type, presumably for emphasis, but the end result is pages of dense wording with half of every other line in bold. If only she had followed these important rules.

Her love affair with bold type aside, the pictures of the more savory side of canning were enough to get me out into my garden in the heat to pick some green tomatoes and peppers for my first attempt at a Jamlady recipe. The recipes themselves are densely packed throughout this book, and the author has created her own canning notation system, that she alternately calls (in bold) the Alfeld Nomenclature System and the Alfeld Notation System. Sounds pretty professional, right? Somewhere in this book, I missed the explanation that the system is hers alone, and instead made the incorrect assumption that this is standard canning shorthand. Let me give you an example. For the recipe I'm going to try today, here's the ANS: JSP/RWB10(16OZ)A. Think you can just slap that label on your canned goods and the rest of the canning world will actually know what you're talking about? Think again, my friends. What that label means is "Jam/Seal/Process in a Rolling Water Bath for 10 minutes for a 16oz jar with an Adjustment for altitudes above 1,000 feet." So it's great shorthand, it's just that no one but you and Jamlady (and me!) will know what you mean when you use it. Read a little more about what others are saying about Jamlady and her books here and here.

Her linguistic exercises shouldn't dissuade you from trying out her book, however. It's filled with interesting minutiae on the history of canning, the scientific basis for the recipes and detailed explanations of the importance of pH balance in home canning. For a novice canner like myself, it's a great guide. I'll let you know how the canned green tomatoes and peppers turn out when I crack 'em open. If you're new to canning like me, it's a good idea to look around for yourself on the web for a primer on canning and sterilization, as the health risks are aplenty if you take a wrong turn. Try here, here and here for the basics.
And in case you were wondering, this recipe does not qualify as nightshade-free in any form or fashion. Sorry, honey.

If you're like me, you aren't using an actual canner, but instead are using a deep stainless steel or other nonreactive pot, deep enough to cover upright jars with 1 to 2 inches of water without boiling over and making a huge mess (guilty!). I actually used an asparagus steamer, which is perfect for canning one can at a time but not much for making edible asparagus, and it comes with it's own steamer basket that lets you easily lift the can out of the pot. You can use any type of basket or colander to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot (breakage potential), or string lid rings together with twist ties per Jamlady's suggestion. I used one pint Mason jar with a metal lid and band. You can reuse jars an d bands, but the lids will only seal properly for one use, so make sure you get fresh lids. You can buy them at most grocery stores and here in Austin at Callahan's.

Recipe adapted from Pickles to Relish by Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker Alfeld (sweet name, BTW):

Kosher-Style Dilled Green Tomatoes

Per pint jar:
Fresh, firm green tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp celery seed
10 peppercorns
5 allspice berries
4 mixed garden peppers (Anaheim, bell)
For the brine:
2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
4 cups hot water
1/2 cup salt + 1 tbsp pickling salt (no iodine added)
*You'll have leftover brine if you only use one pint.

Fill pot with hot water and bring to a rolling boil. Sterilize jars, lids, bands & funnel (if you're using one, which I didn't) in rolling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove carefully with tongs and place on clean dishtowel. Meanwhile, bring brine to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Bring water in pot back to a rolling boil. Fill jar with vegetables and spices and pour hot brine over them with a ladle or a funnel. Leave approximately 1/2 inch of headspace in jars. The seal is formed when the product cools and a vacuum is created, making the product shelf-stable. Put the lids on the jars and secure with the rings, but you don't have to use all your might to secure the lids. Just close the jar and the processing will take care of the rest.

Process jars by placing in the rolling water bath for 10 minutes. Jamlady instructs us to put a lid on the pot, but mine just isn't deep enough for that without it boiling over, so fair warning. Remove jars *very carefully* and place on dishtowel overnight to cool. You should hear a popping noise as the jars seal, and you can check each jar after it cools by pressing in the middle of the metal lid. Resist the urge to tighten the lid during the cooling off period! If the lid is depressed, you've got a seal. If the lid pops back, just refrigerate the jars and eat them within the month.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Twist on Antwhistle

I grew up eating a funky dish my dad called Antwhistle that I always associated with this guy. According to family tradition, Antwhistle is a sort of pauper's meal made with ground beef, peanuts & raisins. Sounds kinda disgusting, but is actually pretty good. So last night I found myself with Richardson Farms ground beef, Urban Roots CSA carrots & onions, and some cashews. By the way, did you know cashews come from that gorgeous tree?
While I sauteed three carrots, half an onion, some garlic and a handful of cashews in a little coconut oil, I whipped up a batch of nightshade-free guacamole. What's a nightshade, you ask?
Strangely enough, they include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. Why would you want to make guacamole without those delicious peppers? Well, besides being the bane of my
culinary existence, nightshades also contribute to inflammation for some people with conditions like tendonitis, like my man. Here's a good article explaining the ins and outs of the cantankerous nightshade family. When we took nightshades off the menu for three months, he went from chowing down 20 advil a day to going days without any pain medication at all. Since we've continued to abstain, he's been able to get his pain levels under control in a way that even physical therapy wasn't able to do.

But is your boyfriend really worth giving up tomatoes and peppers? Well, my friends, I go back and forth on this one. When I have the urge to cook a big pot of chili (mmmm) or chicken parmigiana or basically anything in the Mexican/Italian/Indian tradition, I definitely curse the day his tendons turned into steel cables. But I digress.

The nightshade-free guacamole turned out delicious, the revamped farm-fresh Antwhistle was delicious, and it made me forget for a moment those delicious tomatoes. Almost.

*As with all recipes, feel free to substitute, change amounts and generally make them your own.

Cashew Antwhistle
1 lb. ground beef
3 carrots, peeled
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup cashews
herbs (thyme, sage, oregano, etc.)
salt & pepper
coconut oil

1. Cut carrots into rounds or dice to your pleasure, dice onion, mince garlic.
2. Place veggies and cashews into deep skillet with 1 tbsp coconut oil and cook over medium heat until softened, covering briefly with a lid.
3. Put veggies aside and add beef to skillet, along with salt, pepper and herbs to taste. Sautee until meat is cooked through.
4. Pour off excess fat and put veggie mixture back in.
5. Eat and enjoy.

Nightshade-Free Guacamole

1 avocado
mustard powder
salt & pepper
lemon or lime juice

1. Scoop out avocado flesh into small bowl.
2. Mince one clove garlic or use garlic powder to taste & add it in.
3. Add a dash of mustard powder, cumin, salt & pepper. Remember you can always add more, but you can't take it out.
4. Squeeze half of one lemon or lime into bowl & mash it all together.
5. Cilantro would make a great addition if you have any on hand.
6. Serve with julienned vegetables like carrots, jicama, cucumbers or your traditional tortilla chips. We went with jicama and it was delish.