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

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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learn at Least One Thing New...

Each day that my brother, sister and I started off for school, our dad would say these magic words: "Learn at least one thing new..." and we would finish it off for him with a slightly exasperated "...and make good choices." At the time I don't think I understood how powerful a mantra my dad was drilling into me. Now, more than a decade since I last heard this refrain, I'm ready to revive it. While I've been busy building a career and chipping away at licensure requirements, I've lost a bit of my sense of purpose, and I'm ready for a creative outlet. I'm on a mission to bring back the passion into my daily life and live out my dad's incantation. Today I will learn at least one thing new and make good choices.