Signs of Spring

Today is the first really nice day in 2014. Hooray! All the snow has melted, it's 68 degrees out, and for a few moments while gardening I actually felt a little too hot. At this time of year, gardening means raking, chainsawing, and clipping things.

 
The new bulbs we planted last fall are blooming--I love this soft cream-colored crocus!


 
I raked the leaves and detritus out of my herb garden, then forked everything that wasn't a perennial. The chives are already coming back, and the lavender (bushy thing at mid-left) is looking very well.



 
Our nice neighbor came over with his chainsaw and cut up the Christmas tree. It looks so small when it's all in pieces! It will be burned later by our resident pyromaniac, along with a bunch of shrubbery bits he's been collecting.



 
Once the snow is gone, it's OK to cut down the mugwort from last year to give her room to grow anew. (She helps protect our home spiritually all year round, even when dormant. Ask me for details.) This is BEFORE.



 
Here is the AFTER shot. I cut down the stalks and also thinned out the roots on both sides. It seemed like the right thing to do.

What are signs of spring where you are? It is so exciting!

Mack's Place, friendly eatery in Grafton, VT

I was going to write, "if you ever find yourself in Grafton, Vermont, stop at Mack's Place," but you can't just find yourself in Grafton, Vermont. It takes some effort to get there. But if you ever make the effort, do stop at Mack's Place! It is a super friendly deli/cafe right next to the Grafton Inn, which is to say it is one of the buildings at the intersection that is downtown Grafton.

A view of Grafton.

We went to Grafton for a raptor presentation put on by the Nature Museum at Grafton. It was pretty cool. A bird educator/handler came from the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum. He talked about the historical significance of birds of prey, and brought out 4 birds to show the child-heavy crowd. There was a small kestrel or falcon, a gorgeous red tail hawk, a bald eagle, and a small owl.

 
Afterward, we wandered across the parking lot to Mack's Place Eatery. Actually, half of our family got antsy during the bird presentation and had to leave early, and the other half missed the first half so left the presentation as well, and then we finally found each other again at Mack's Place. I was really happy to hear that a breakfast sandwich had already been ordered for me!

 
The breakfast sandwiches are lovely, made on a sweet Portuguese bun and quite cheesy. (I was fascinated by my mug. They have a bunch of mugs hanging on the wall by the coffee urns for people to use.)


 
The younger family members got blueberry muffins. This one got shredded prior to eating for some reason. Other fare include specialty sandwiches and a Ploughman's Platter.


 
The cozy atmosphere includes a little "wood stove" nook (it's electric). There are photos of pets and weddings and the Governor posing with staff on the wall.


 
A large fork decorates the side yard. The other half of the building is the Grafton Cheese Shoppe for your wine & cheese needs.


While we were in Mack's Place it started to snow, a cheerful fluffy snow of the exact type that you'd want to see on Christmas Day. Of course, it's Spring now.... but this is Vermont.

I Hab a Code

I was JUST thinking how nice it is that I haven't gotten sick this season, and then I came down with a wee cold. Apparently one can only eat the leftovers of a runny-nosed & coughing preschooler for so long before contracting disease oneself. So far, my cold has been fairly contained, making me sneeze and blow my nose a lot but not traveling to my chest or sinuses. (TOUCH WOOD) I am trying some of my milder cold remedies to get me through the days.

One sick-time favorite is the Olbas Natural Inhaler. I love these for clearing out that itchy sneezy feeling in my nose (does not work if you're fully congested though, you have to be able to breathe). It is minty fresh and bracing! The inhaler contains menthol and oils of Peppermint, Cajeput, and Eucalyptol (whatever that is). Refreshing!




Whenever I wake up with a sore throat, I hit it with Honey Gardens Propolis Spray. This was recommended by an acupuncturist and I truly believe it helps my sore throat (slowly and surely). It costs about $10 an ounce but is worth it. Made in Vermont!



Tea! I like Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat (they now have a Lemon Echinacea version for immune support too) and also their Gypsy Cold Care.



(Update on my lily-pad-shaped silicone lid... it actually doesn't stay on containers the way I'd hoped. But it's great for covering a cup of steeping tea.)


Other springy news:


Our front yard has been thawing, and there are some peeks of grass. Even better for children... there are peeks of MUD. (Seen here with this morning's ice)


We are so far removed from paleo living now that I've started making sourdough bread on Sundays again. It is excellent. Make sure you have lots of soft butter nearby when these guys come out of the oven.




I am obsessed with ramen right now. After posting about it in January I can't stop making it, sometimes late at night as a snack. I also can't stop adding Sichuan Chili Oil. I think I am addicted. I actually had a dream that I was eating ramen without Sichuan Chili Oil and I was so ashamed. To top it off, the New York Times published a ramen article on March 4! I am so au courant. What what.

Late-night ramen after a night of clubbing in the big city at home in Southern Vermont

Sichuan Chili Oil

Here's a Bon Appetit recipe I made: Sichuan Chili Oil. It is deeelicious. I always ask for chili oil when I'm out for dim sum. This tastes a little different, but lovely to have at my disposal.



I got this little box of Sichuan Peppercorns last winter on my trip to Santa Fe. It's the one exotic thing I could think of to seek at Whole Foods. They had it. It's been a little banged around in the cupboard over the months.



The recipe calls for a ton of Sichuan peppercorns and even more hot pepper flakes. Since I only had a tiny bag of the peppercorns (which are apparently not pepper/capsicum at all, it's a misnomer), I guessed the ratio of pepper flakes... a few scoops from the bulk bin.



The other part of the recipe is an infused oil, simmered for hours with spices, ginger, and garlic.



The two dry ingredients mixed together, ready for a hot oil bath. There's also some salt and soy sauce involved at this point.



The infused oil is added. Mine didn't foam up, which the recipe suggested was a good sign. Bah!



Leftover spices.



The chili oil is good! I store the oil in a dedicated mason jar in the fridge, and I love mixing it with some Shoyu for dipping or drizzling. It does have a very distinctive flavor, so I use it only in items I really want to taste like Sichuan peppercorns. These include ramen and Trader Joe's Gyoza.


Pork Gyoza Potstickers from Trader Joe's. Only 6 minutes from frozen to plate!
Homemade condiments are exciting, don't you think? Do you like chili oil? It's one of those things I never imagined could be made at home. Like shoes.

Cold-weather running: New equipment!

Last month I did one of my Sunday long runs on a treadmill, and it was long. Really long. It took me over 100 minutes. I know this because the treadmill shut down after 99 minutes (I don't think it can handle the extra digit), and I still wasn't done yet. (I ran 10 miles total.)

Treadmill access is wonderful when there is no other option, as was the case that day. But since that experience I am VERY motivated to do Sunday runs outside whenever I can. To help make this more likely, I bought a pair of Yaktrax to go right over my shoes and help me get traction despite snow and ice.

So the next Sunday rolls around, and it's gorgeous--sunny, crisp, and 13 degrees. It's the perfect day to try a winter long run outside.



Here are my winter "extras." Neck gaiter (white thing), face mask (black thing), running gloves (blue thing), floppy hat (purple thing) and Yaktrax. Yeah, this picture is kind of upside down.



The Yaktrax Pro model has a "performance strap" that goes over the foot and keeps the thing on for sure. It's a pretty tight fit anyway, but the hook-and-loop strap means no worries about throwing a shoe, so to speak.


The coils on the bottom are neat. They have enough give and flex so they squish down with each step. I could barely feel them. The diamond design seems perfect for maximum traction at just the right points, and I did feel quite confident on snow and ice (as their web site promises). I ran 9 miles total without a hitch.


The conditions that day seemed perfect for an inaugural run. The sidewalk was about 80% snow and ice, so lots of chances to seek the best traction. I'm not sure how well the Yaktrax generally work on plain pavement (it is not recommended in the box insert). If it were closer to 40% ice patches, I would probably forgo the Yaktrax.


While I'm on the topic, here are a few other things I've picked up while researching winter running:
  • Helpful tip for layering: Think of 60˚F as the baseline for one layer. For every 20˚ below that, add a layer. Today at 13˚ I wore 3 layers on top--wicking thermal long underwear, a technical T, and a jacket. On the bottom I wore running capris, super-warm socks pulled up to meet the capris, and full-length running pants over both (2 layers).
  • I like to wear a neck gaiter, such as Turtle Fur (made in Vermont!). It's less fiddly than a scarf and can be pulled up over mouth & nose if needed.
  • I wear a face mask below 20˚... otherwise I seem to get asthma. I also wear a floppy knit hat that pulls right down over my ears and hair. The result--only my eyes and the bridge of my nose are showing during a super-cold run.
Do you have special cold weather rituals or gear? If you live in warm weather, please enjoy it extra for me today!

Wordless Wednesday: Cleaning Surfaces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So satisfying!

 

Ramen Inspired by David Chang

I randomly started watching the 2009 show "Mind of a Chef, Season 1" featuring David Chang and narrated by Anthony Bourdain. It is great! It's basically dedicated to exploring Chang's culinary pleasures and inspirations, from fermented bonito to Rene Redzepi. The very first episode is dedicated to Ramen and immediately gave me an immense yearning for any kind of ramen. Easy for those in Tokyo, harder for those Vermont.

David Chang is a fan of tsukemen, which is cold ramen dipped into a hot broth and then slurped back in giant quantities. I tried to find a recipe online and got this awesome Cooking with Dog show:




The recipe below is my own version of Ramen, pretty dissimilar but it made me happy. I even packed it up in little containers to have at work!

Ramen to go


Ingredients:

  • Any kind of ramen-like noodles, cooked per directions and rinsed in cold water. I used Kame Chinese noodles
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 scallion, sliced on diagonal
  • Chicken bouillon (I like Better than Bouillon, it's organic!)
  • Umami paste (Taste #5 Nobu recipe)
  • Mushroom oil, such as truffle/porcini oil
  • 2 T Tamari
  • 1 t red pepper flakes
  • Beet greens, chopped
  • Nori seaweed (about 1/2 sheet)
Ready to heat


Assembly:

  1. Bring water to boil in medium saucepan. Add scallions. Boil about 30 seconds.
  2. Add bouillon, umami paste, Tamari, mushroom oil, and pepper flakes. Bring back to a boil.

3. Add beet greens, bring back to a boil for about a minute.

 
4. Add the cold noodles, bring back to a boil to heat through. Are you using chopsticks for stirring? Do!


5. Pour into a large eating bowl. Garnish with pieces of nori. Eat!

Vermont Ramen



















I also tried ramen from the package, which is yummy in its own way. Do you like ramen? Have you tried making it without a packet?

December Radio Playlists 2013




The name of the show: Blackbeard's Delight
Your host: Prof. Kitty
The station: WVEW 107.7 Brattleboro, VT

December 5, 2013

  • Paranoimia: Art of Noise
  • Real Life: Tanlines
  • All That We Perceive: Thievery Corporation
  • The Forest: The Cure
  • An Anniversary Away: Reverie Sound Revue
  • Sun Children: DJ Nickodemus f. Real Live Show
  • Polythene Pam & She Came in through the Bathroom Window: The Beatles
  • Our Lips Are Sealed: Go-Go's
  • Happy: Pharrell Williams
  • Tarzan Boy: Baltimora
  • Wet & Rusting: Menomena
  • Rasputin: Boney M

December 12, 2013

  • Can't Get You Out of My Head: Kylie Minogue
  • La Cucaracha: Kumbia Kings
  • Never Tear Us Apart: INXS
  • The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned): The Decemberists
  • Life in a Northern Town: The Dream Academy
  • Sycamore: Bill Callahan
  • Corrupted Endeavour: Jessamine
  • Digging in the Dirt: Peter Gabriel
  • Lose It In the End: Mark Ronson & the Business International
  • Jique: Brazilian Girls
  • Who Loves the Sun: Velvet Underground

December 26, 2013—recap of 2013 songs! plus other things that go with them


  • Tonight's Today: Jack PeƱate
  • Out of My League: Fitz & the Tantrums
  • Keep Moving: Jessy Lanza
  • Renaissance Girls: Oh Land
  • L.E.S. Artistes: Santigold XXXchange remix
  • Afterlife: Arcade Fire
  • Mirrors: Justin Timberlake
  • Heaven: Club 8
  • Get Lucky: Daft Punk
  • Safe & Sound: Capital Cities
  • 24 Hours: Sky Ferreira
  • Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone: Bobby "Blue" Bland

My intro to snowshoeing

My beloved and I once received a pair of snowshoes each as a Christmas gift. They were something I'd always wanted but would never buy for myself: the perfect gift. I was secretly pregnant at the time, and that winter to get healthy exercise I'd don my snowshoes in the early morning and pad around the country farm where we lived. I especially loved to find some snowbound drama of predator and prey, where perhaps one steady set of tracks would meet another leaping set of tracks, with signs of scuffle and blood, and nobody to know or witness except one puzzled woman on snowshoes. They seemed like secret stories left in plain sight for me to unravel, and accessible only because of my particular footwear.

When we moved into town I put the snowshoes away for a while, until another perfect Christmas gift, cash, allowed me to purchase a bright headlamp. I pictured myself using the headlamp to snowshoe on a local woodland trail in the gloaming, trudging along, perhaps alone or perhaps with my young daughter, and soaking up the quiet muffled tranquility of the coming dark and the deep powdery snow. This actually happened soon afterward, when I spent one magical late afternoon with my child in that very gloaming in those very woods. Then the snowshoes got put away again.

Until this year. This year when the snow came, I kind of freaked out because I couldn't run in it. I am now so addicted to running and regular exercise that the problem of SNOW threw me for a loop. How do I run in this stuff? What can I do instead? How am I going to survive until spring? After a few days of worrying and some helpful Facebook support, I realized that winter was here and I should probably roll with it. And if I want to get out and exercise in the snow, I should use my snowshoes!

This past Sunday was a perfect opportunity. We'd just had our first significant snowfall when about a foot fell overnight and then cleared up by dawn leaving a winter wonderland. At the time of my traditional Sunday long run, I geared up with snowshoes and headed into the woods.


 

One person has been here before me...

It was so fun to be active in a new way, and the woods were lovely. I even practiced some run-walking on my rather wide snowshoes. Snowshoing is hard work though. I could run about 7 miles in the time it took me to snowshoe 2.

That brings me to yesterday morning, when the group that I run with during the warm season turned out to be a group of snowshoeing beasts. Through our email forum I was invited to join their annual Ascent to the Star, which is an early morning snowshoe up a nearby mountain to the top where a Yuletide star is lit up (in bulbs) year after year.


Above: Using my trusty notebook to plan everything I would bring; At the last minute I added a thermos of hot tea.


We met at 5am and headed up the mountain in fresh snow under a full moon. 22 people and about 6 energetic dogs were there. It was an amazing experience, with great camaraderie among the trekkers, some jokes about our slow single-file ascent resembling the Hillary Step (I was thrilled to be in a crowd that makes casual Everest references), and immense and rewarding physical effort to make it to the top by snowshoe.

Here's my reward, a photo of the star from beneath. It's at least 20 feet tall.


When we got there we toasted to health, wealth, and happiness and made remarks about which of the 3 was most important. I had a welcome slug of Bailey's Irish Cream. Coming back down the mountain was a blast, since we were all motivated to get home and warmed up as quickly as possible. We took a lot of shortcuts and slid down very steep slopes on snowshoes and backsides, which I learned has the elegant name of glissading. At the bottom, my new friends even helped push my car out of the snowbank where I'd managed to lodge it when I first arrived.

The experience was one of those incredible group activities that is so satisfying, even though so simple. I felt proud and accomplished afterward just for getting up really early and putting one foot in front of other for 2 miles up and back a mountain. What an amazingly achievable pleasure, to set a physical goal and then reach it and feel proud! What's next!?