Salty snack! Tamari-Toasted Sunflower Seeds

I am a salty snack person. I always have been. As a kid I could barely consume my Halloween candy over the course of months, but I'd buy pretzel-cheese Combos with my allowance money and devour them on the 3-block walk home. My favorite childhood snack was a block of New York State Cheddar and a sleeve of Stoned Wheat Thins. Slice cheese, arrange on cracker, eat, repeat. Supremely satisfying.

In my 20s, I worked on the Appalachian Trail for several summers, and during one stint the crew coordinator laid in a bunch of snacks for us--all candy. I begged for just one thing that was crunchy and salty instead. She got me saltines. Perfect!

In the last few years, particularly since my Paleo stint, my salty-crunchy tastes have become laser-focused on cheesy crackers. Whether bunny shaped, fish shaped, or in small neat squares, cheesy crackers are my joy and my downfall. If I manage to avoid them all day, I WILL find and consume them late at night. They are so delicious!

But wait. Is there a healthy alternative to all of this processed savory delight? From time to time I remember that there is: tamari-toasted sunflower seeds like my mom used to make for party-finger-food. These little loves may be bursting with salt, but at least they don't contain white flour, right? Here's my easy recipe... 2 ingredients!


Ingredients:
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, hulled
  • 2 T Tamari (soy sauce is also fine)

Assembly:
  1. On medium heat, preheat a reliable flat pan or shallow skillet until you can feel the heat when you hold your hand about an inch above it.

  2. Pour in the sunflower seeds and start to gently stir and scrape them about. (I use a wooden rice paddle for this.) The goal is to leave no one seed on the bottom for too long.



  3. Keep gently stirring and scraping (some brief pauses are ok) as the seeds start to turn slightly golden. If they seem to be browning too quickly, turn the heat down. Be gentle!


  4. After 3-5 minutes (or more if you're being very cautious with the heat), most seeds should be golden and a few may be much darker. That's fine. The seeds have to be as toasted as you want at this point, because they don't cook much more in the remaining steps. 

  5. Pour a good glug of tamari over all the seeds in a circular motion. Your goal is to wet every seed. Then stir to help distribute the tamari among the seeds.


  6. With the heat still on, keep stirring and scraping the seeds as before. Things will get sticky because of the tamari. That is ok!

  7. Keep the seeds moving for another 30 seconds or more until the coating of tamari seems to have mostly dried. Some tamari will stick to the bottom of the pan--also OK. You want the seeds looking matte rather than glossy and wet.

  8. Pour the toasted seeds on a plate to cool.


  9. After cooling, if you haven't already eaten them all, store in a jar for your salty snack purposes!



So what about you? If you were offered sweets or salty-crunchy, which would you pick first?

Brattleboro is Foodie Heaven

Hello friends! I hope you are having an amazing May so far! I've been eating so much super food around here that I want to share it with the world. Three highlights just from the past few days:

One, I can't stop thinking about this pulled pork plate at Hazel. It comes with a choice of two sides--I got the collards (which also have wonderful pork bits worked in) and fries. It was SO much food and so satisfying. Hazel also has a good beer list. It's fairly new and this was my first visit. They specialize in pizza and BBQ and have rejuvenated an excellent location that previously had not been doing well. I'm going to add Hazel to my Brattleboro list, and I want to get back there very soon!

Hazel: Pulled pork, collards, fries on top, sample of chalkboard wall art below

Two, was another amazing brunch at our fast favorite duo restaurant. Also a newer establishment, this is my third brunch at duo, and each has been a special occasion (two birthdays, and this time was an engagement celebration). Duo does brunch so well. They totally get the leisurely pace of brunch, the need for coffee that is bottomless and plenty, and their crispy potatoes are perfectly tender-crisp-crunchity-amazing. Go there for the potatoes alone, really! The menu does change frequently, there's always something fresh alongside the favorites! We were a large table of 11 guests so I ran around snapping photos of some of the selections...

Clockwise from top right: Pulled chicken slider, the "Sweet Sunday" which is poached eggs over greens
and mushrooms with crispy potatoes, the "Zippy Cake" which is poached eggs over
a delightful pork-sage-sausage grit cake, and the "Brisket Crock."

Three, Curtis' BBQ in Putney is always a messy, sticky, amazingly delicious treat. This place is rightfully famous, and 'round here in Vermont we consider it our authentic barbecue that we'd put up against any in the country. The menu is pretty simple--you're looking at some combo of ribs, chicken, and/or baked potato. I'm not a ribs person (other family members mock me for this), so I usually get a loaded baked potato. This super-stuffed pulled-chicken version was perfection. Read my 2009 thoughts about Curtis' here. We also were charmed by Curtis' 3 dogs, one dachshund and two dachshund-ish. CUTE.


What have you eaten lately that delighted you? Is the month of May like the best thing ever?

Mother's Day Half Marathon Race Report

"Why do I do this to myself?" I thought. "I want to stop. I gotta stop. I can't stop. I want to stop, but then it will go on even longer. Gotta. Keep. Running. This. Sucks."

I had already run 10 miles. It was 9:30am on Mother's Day morning, and already 90 degrees and super humid. We had been running in almost complete sun for the last 5 miles. At each water stop, I started taking not one but two cups of water from the wonderful volunteers—one to drink and one to pour on my head. The occasion for the anguish? The 5th annual Western Mass Mother's Day Half Marathon, same local and awesome race that I ran this time last year.

This is my third half marathon. Each time I run the distance, I make it a little further along before the inner doubter starts to scream in my head. Each time I make a more organized and slightly more viable plan, and each time it works well enough to get me a few miles further down the road. But Sunday was not the day I conquered the half marathon. Sunday was the day I got close enough to finishing in comfort that I'm intrigued to TRY AGAIN.

Here's the rundown, for my own reference if nothing else:

5:30 AM: Up for coffee, Ezekiel muffin with almond butter and jelly, and bathroom use. My light-sleeping son joined me around 6am, which was unexpected but nice.

6:26 AM: My crew showed up to take me to the race and support my efforts! Thanks mom!!!

7:15 AM: Arrive, apply sunscreen, pick up my race bib, more bathroom use.

7:55 AM: The national anthem is sung. It always makes me a little weepy.

8:00 AM: We begin!

Miles 0-3: My plan was to stick to a 9:30 pace to warm up. SLOW. I was fairly successful--there were some downhills where I went faster, but I decided that was allowed. 9:42, 9:14, 9:29.

Miles 4-5: Speeding up a tiny bit—aiming for 9:09, which is the pace that would get me a 2-hour finish if I ran it for every mile. 9:09, 9:13.

Mile 6: The only major hill (which is short but steep) is in this mile, so I consider 9:31 great for this split.

Mile 7: I'm halfway done and slowly starting to realize it's getting hot. I also start to purposely speed up. I'm still basically keeping up with the same group of people. I had a gnawing feeling in my tummy, like too much coffee and not enough food, and easily solved it with a dried fruit ball washed down with lots of water. Better! 9:06.

Miles 8-11: I pull out my secret weapon, my ipod loaded with a pumping RACE DAY playlist. I feel amazing. I start sailing past other runners. This works for an amazingly long time. 9:01, 8:55, 8:45, 8:53.

Miles 12-13: Kachunk, kachunk! That's the sound of the wheels falling off the bus. I am suddenly so very drained, tired and overheated. My brain seems to scramble in an instant. A guy I passed recently passes me again. The miles tick by in painfully miniscule increments. Time slows to a crawl. The final hill is absolutely nowhere in sight. See inner dialogue quoted above. 9:41, 9:38... almost as slow as mile one. Ugh.

Mile 13.1: Uphill. The race finish is on the opposite side of a highway overpass, so you have to run UP it, and then down a bit to the finish. I passed a guy on the down part who was going inexplicably slowly, so that was something. 8:10 pace for that tenth of a mile!

So here's my recap. I'm really happy with how 10/13th of this race went. I've never felt so good during a race before! I think for a few miles I was actually experiencing Flow, as described in the excellent Runner's Times article Locking Into Flow. I also knew, from some other magazine, that peaks of feeling great are generally mirrored by troughs of feeling awful. I managed to hit my trough right before finish, and I believe that's part of what made this my slowest half ever. I trained for this for 10 weeks, but never in infernal heat!!

Official Time: 2:01



And then... dim sum!!! It is a requirement that I refuel with this Chinese tea lunch after every half marathon. I made a collage for you!


Clockwise from top right: chili oil, lotus leaf rice wrap, pork siu mai, char siu bao (bbq pork bun), shrimp har gow. (We also had an order of wu gok (fried taro roll)--love that one!)

Poutine for One: 14 easy steps

In a wonderful place called Canada (the land of the big snowball), they enjoy a delicacy called Poutine.


Poutine is an inspired combination of French fries with melted cheese curds and gravy. I find it deeply satisfying and yummy... though some people think it sounds horrible. It's like haggis that way, a savory regional dish that people love or hate. I love them both!

I am fortunate to live in a town where poutine can be ordered at not one but two locations. (Where, you may ask? Flat Street Brew Pub and Hazel.) But I've never made poutine myself and it seems SO simple. This stuff can be made at home, right? Knowing only that there are three ingredients and that they must be piping hot, I invented this "Poutine for One" recipe. Of course it is easily doubled or tripled or more.

Step 1: Assemble your three ingredients. I used frozen straight cut fries, fresh local cheese curds, and boxed organic beef gravy that I'd never tried before.


Step 2: heat your oven according to the fries instructions. These Cascadian Farm fries cook for 10-15 minutes at 450˚F.

Step 3: Portion out fries on a baking sheet. For one person I used half a package of fries.


Step 4: Place fries in oven to bake. Set timer for 10 minutes.

Step 5: Warm up about 1/2 cup of the beef gravy on low heat.



Step 6: After 10 minutes, remove fries from oven and flip them (or flip as many as you can before losing patience) with a spatula. Return to oven.



Step 7: Bake for another 5-7 minutes until most fries are nice and golden brown. NOTE: You must get the fries as brown as you want at this step, because browning opportunities later are limited.

Step 8: Remove fries from oven and transfer to an oven proof serving dish, if you have it, or just a brownie pan. Goal: to melt the cheese curds in a controlled manner.

Step 9: Change oven heat to broil. Use HI if that's a choice.



Step 10: Sprinkle fries liberally with cheese curds. I used half of my container, so about 2-3 ounces.



Step 11: Broil the cheese and fries, keeping a close watch on them until the cheese is very melty. This could take about 8 minutes. More melty is better than more solid (poke the cheese curds to find out).


Step 12: Slide the mass of stuck-together together fries onto a plate.

Step 13: Pour hot gravy over all.

Step 14: Serve!



A few notes: Not having a commercial kitchen with salamander, I was proud of how my first Poutine turned out with broiler. If there's one thing to work on, it's the gravy. The store-bought gravy tasted fine, but it has a very watery consistency that is not ideal for Poutine. Perhaps simmering it more vigorously and/or for longer would render it more velvety.

What do you think? Do you like Poutine? How about haggis?

Simple Spring Appetizer: Marinated Antipasto

What is "antipasto" anyway? I think it simply means "thing you eat before pasta," i.e. a first course. But it seems to evoke different first courses to different people. To a local pizzeria, "antipasto" means a Greek salad with a layer of cold cuts on it.

To this cookbook, Antipasti by Clare Ferguson, "antipasto" means anything from an anchovy dip with fresh veggies to an elegant version of grilled cheese.





My "antipasto"? It's a refreshing array of chilled or pickled vegetables, maybe a meat or two, drizzled with a tangy Grapeseed Oil Vinaigrette.



Last night this was my whole dinner, not just the first course! Artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, caper berries, some leftover grilled chicken, and grilled green beans. I drizzled it with my favorite vinaigrette, waited as long as I could for marination, and dove in.

I'd also love to try this with grilled asparagus, any kind of olives, grilled zucchini slices, fresh tomato... mmmm.

So here's a question: what is your "antipasto" ?

Family Game Night

Once upon a time, my job was to help create educational materials for both children and parents (and "community stakeholders"). Part of that research-based work was encouraging families to spend time together, particularly having a regular family dinner time. It's supposed to be very healthy for family relationships!

Now that I have a family of my own, we try to sit down together for dinner as often as we can. On top of that, in the past year we've also started a regular Family Game Night. Every Friday after dinner we play something--sometimes two of us, sometimes three, sometimes all four. It's something to look forward to all week!


 
I cleaned out a closet shelf above our puzzles & activity books to create a games shelf.


 
One of our newest games purchased on a special trip to FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue. This is Chutes & Ladders, the My Little Pony edition. Besides the usual chutes and ladders, there are also rainbows that can lead you even higher up if you're lucky.


 
I adore this vintage game, it's a cooperative one with Eat-Locally-Think-Globally values called Back to the Farm. We got our first edition back in the 80s so it's part of my own childhood. I took it to college and lost it to basement apartment flooding, but my mother got me a replacement (yay! Thank you!). Now my kids love it!


 
Guess Who? is for two people (or two teams). You each pick a secret item and then answer yes/no questions about its characteristics. You flip down the doors to eliminate possibilities until you figure out the other person's choice. We also found it's easy to make your own cards that fit into the holders.

 
Another favorite from my own childhood: Boggle. Our eight-year-old is now sophisticated enough to get into finding words. We use the iPad as our timer since our set only has the cubes/shaker. That's my photobombing beer there.


 
Trouble is a new one for me, but seems similar to Parcheesi. I like the satisfying gesture and sound of pressing the bubble in the middle to roll the die.


 
Junior Monopoly is great! It goes MUCH faster than regular Monopoly, but has the same features of amassing cash and real estate. I think it's just as satisfying as the adult version.


 
This was a Christmas gift (Thanks, Uncle J and Aunt G!), and we love it already! It's called Wildcraft! and it's another cooperative game. The premise is you travel up the mountain path to collect huckleberries (the blue chips in the center), and you encounter problems and harvest herbs to solve those problems as you go. Besides learning some basic herbalism, there is a lot about helping others and even tracking the motion of the sun throughout your journey!


 

This one is Feed the Kitty, a seemingly simple game of dice where one's luck can change in a moment. You never know who is going to come out on top—particularly with four players!

We have other favorites too, including Zingo (like Bingo but with images that emerge from a "shoe" and you try to grab them before others do), Blind Spell (you are given a word and blindfolded, then handed letters that make up that word plus a few extra; you have to spell the word by feel and identify the extras before the timer rings) and Busytown: Eye Found It (Richard Scarry!!!! Goldbug!!! Awesomeness!!!).

What games do you love? Do you play anything regularly?

Brattleboro, Vermont with Prof. Kitty

Peter Havens

What is up in Brattleboro, Vermont? We call it the "one and only," because there is no other place called Brattleboro anywhere in the world. If you are planning a visit to this sweet spot in Vermont, or if you LIVE here, or even if you're checking it out with no clear plans to visit, I hope this list is useful.

A disclaimer: There are many, many other things that people love to do in Brattleboro, Vermont. This is just my personal list... a mere taste of the town's charms.

Books:
Everyone's Books (Local indie bookstore that also has cards and bumper stickers)
Brattleboro Books (Browse-for-hours used books)
Mystery on Main Street (mystery and more, esp. Gorey)
Baskets (a trove of paperbacks in Harmony parking lot)

Dining:
TJ Buckley's (the best place in town looks like a diner but is high-end nirvana within. Cash only please)
Peter Havens (superior dining and heavenly cocktails)
Fireworks (wood-fired pizza and much more. I love the calamari starter)
Whetstone Station (brew-pub with 2 floors of river views)
Duo (new Main Street spot is super-popular and super-sleek)

Fireworks
 

Lunch/Dinner:
Amy's Bakery (soup, sandwiches, coffee with a river & NH mountain view)
The Marina (fries, clams, lobster mac & cheese, and West River overlook--try for sunset!)
Top of the Hill Grill (a summertime favorite, be prepared for a line and 'cue)
Chelsea Royal Diner (your typical excellent diner, with creamee stand in summertime)
Shin La (this Korean food is a town mainstay; sushi too!)
Panda North  (Our beloved Chinese restaurant does it well)
Superfresh Organic Cafe (the famous hippie spirit lives on in this vegan/gluten-free hotspot)

Panda North


Specialty Foods:
Grafton Cheese (Cheese & great gifts, plus a petting zoo for families)
North End Butchers (obsession of many locals: fresh cuts & deli meats, local produce, sandwiches)
Windham Wines (next to North End Butcher, our local wine experts--ask about tastings)
Adam's Seafood (need fresh seafood or shellfish? come here first!)

Drinks:
Metropolis (best bet for the local music scene)
Arkham (purposely a dive bar, off Harmony Parking lot)
Kipling's (come here for your Guinness and great juke box--cash only)
Flat Street Brew Pub (good beer list, also kitchen including POUTINE)
Twilight Tea Lounge (chai & other tea delights)
Mocha Joe's (locally roasted coffee, be prepared for a wee line)

Groceries:
The Brattleboro Food Coop (straddling the line between local and trendy... overpriced or just awesome?)
West Brattleboro Farmer's Market (from May to October, everyone comes here on Saturdays)
Winter Farmer's Market (from November-April, find farm/local-made delights downtown at the River Garden on Main Street, every Saturday)
Lilac Ridge Farm (turn off Rte 9 onto Greenleaf for a lovely small farmstand... owners were in the movie Food Inc.)
Dutton's Berry Farm (kind of our permanent Farm Stand--myriad produce plus jams, sun-dried tomatoes and much more)

Farmer's Market summer haul


Hiking/Outdoors--Google for more information/maps!
West River Trail
Mount Wantastiquet (actually in New Hampshire, hike up the mountain that looms over town from the east. Trailhead accessible off Rte 119 in Hinsdale, NH)
Vermont Canoe Touring Center (rentals) (open May-October)
Cortland Hill Orchard (September holds a BOUNTY of delicious Cortlands)
Scott Farm Orchard (diverse heirloom orchard where "Cider House Rules" was filmed)

West River Trail


History & Art:
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (our very own super-cool museum)
Estey Organ Museum (did you know Brattleboro is significant in organ history?)
Gallery Walk (if you're here the first Friday of the month, check out our galleries!)

Cotton Mill Hill installation

Nightlife:
Latchis Theatre (the one & only movie house in town)
Hooker Dunham Theater (check out the musical acts coming this way!)
New England Youth Theater (sells out quickly: highly acclaimed young performers)
Brattleboro Music Center (many magnificent performances and series)
Vermont Jazz Center (world class jazz venue & school--shows usually on Saturdays)
Stone Church dances: Ballroom/Latin, African, Contra


Festivals:
Strolling of the Heifers (another one & only for our adorable town)
Northern Roots (Celtic, fiddle, more!)
Literary Festival (once Saul Bellow spoke to an over-capacity crowd... what could be next?)
Film Festival
Women's Film Festival
Winter Carnival
Brattleboro-West Arts Studio Tour
Cotton Mill Hill Open Studio & Sale
Touch a Truck (hospital fund-raiser and horn-free... your little ones may LOVE this one)
Baconfest (check latest Facebook...)
Brattleboro Brewers Festival (how could you go wrong?)


Shopping:
Please try walking down Main Street, Elliot Street, and Flat Street in downtown Brattleboro for LOTS of shopping choices.

at a Main Street antique shop


Races:
Maple 5K (late September)
Walk Run & Roll (early September)
Bill Powers Memorial 4-mile Firecracker
Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 3-mile


Kids:
Brattleboro Retreat Petting Farm
Kid's Playce
Whippersnappers
Crowell Lot Park playground
Living Memorial Park playground
Brooks Memorial Library kid's room (10-2 on Saturdays)
Avenue Grocery or Chelsea Royal Diner for creamees

Fun times at Kids Playce

Turkey Sausage Bean Soup

Simple, warming, and thick. This hearty soup is great for a weekend afternoon when there's a little extra time for chopping and simmering.



Ingredients
  • 1 t olive oil
  • 1 large pat butter
  • onion, chopped
  • 3 turkey sausage, sweet Italian
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 box chicken broth (32 ounces)
  • 3 small potatoes, cubed
  • 1 can great northern beans (15 ounces)



Assembly
  1. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil and melt butter. Toss in onions and stir.
  2. Sauté onions until glassy and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  3. Squeeze sausage out of casings and stir around, breaking up chunks with your spoon.
  4. When sausage chunks are cooked on all sides, add carrots and celery.


  5. Continue to sauté, stir, and break up sausage chunks until everything is sweaty. (About 2 more minutes.)
  6. Stir in crushed garlic.
  7. Pour in chicken broth, and add potatoes and beans.
  8.  

  9. Cook for about 30 minutes... The goal is to make sure the potatoes are soft.
  10. To thicken the soup, use a potato masher to squish everything around for about 30 seconds.




Serve!




Hunkering down in the Deep Heart of Winter

Remember Christmas? Winter was only 4 days old, and having a sparkly white holiday seemed like a festive idea. Remember New Year's Day, when the possibility of changing for the better gave one the drive to barrel into 2015 with vim? Remember the rest of January, when all that possibility played out into reality, with some actual success? Remember Groundhog's Day, when we thought that theoretically winter was half over and we're on our way to spring?

Those hopeful days seem so long ago now.



One of our driveway piles--we tunneled right through it this morning after shoveling out for the day.


Now, right now, it's the deep heart of winter. There hasn't been a full week of school since January 12th. I've lost count of the blizzards and the trips out to shovel. The pile of shoveled snow has gotten so high that it slides down again after being tossed up, so I trudge down the street a bit and throw the snow on the front lawn where the drifts are only 3 feet high and not 6 feet high. After resisting for weeks, I have accepted that I must wear layers that include ski pants, fleece jacket under my winter coat, scarf, and neon orange toque. I've given up on running outdoors and retreated to the local gym to use the treadmill. (Exception: our Tuesday morning group always runs outdoors, because we are awesome.) I've given up on healthy habits and making positive changes in my life. I am just hunkered down doing basic maintenance that involves beer, cheese, chocolate, and spicy food. And I tell myself that this is IT. The middle. There will be more weeks of snow and sub-zero temperatures. But this is the nadir. When March comes there will still be blizzards, and snow might even come in April. But soon... maybe a month from now... the cold and the winter will start to lose their power. Spring and the sun and the rotation of the earth and the flower fairies will smite old man winter on the forehead and send him reeling off to think about what he's done.

Here are some photos of our attempts at life while waiting for winter to go away. How have you been holding up? If you live somewhere warm, are you really really really appreciating it right now? (I hope you are, haha!)

 
A delightful dish of poutine from Flat Street Pub. Smothered with melted cheese curds and rich gravy, this hit the spot on a cold Sunday afternoon.


Quick work trip to Boston. This is the long view from my hotel window. I kind of centered on the Citgo sign.


Closer view of Boston on a side street with 4 feet of snow. They've gotten about 2 more feet of snow since I was there.


Business note: Don't try to get work done while the Superbowl parade is going on. It's loud, and the excitement is contagious. Here's my 11th floor view of the Minutemen at the beginning of the parade.

Breakfast in Boston: Egg-white farmer's omelet at the Highball Lounge (which is part of the Nine Zero hotel on Tremont street). I had this with a ton of bottomless grapefruit juice and coffee.


Boston lunch: Lobster roll at Kelly's roast beef--they say it contains the meat of 2 lobsters and I believe 'em. Quite delicious.


Boston dinner: Filet mignon & shrimp at The Oceanaire, a super fancy "Seafood Room" that happened to be open (and then jumpin' with swanky locals) during the Monday blizzard when we were in town.


Starbucks near Government Center: I've always liked the teakettle merrily spouting steam.


A box of chocolates for my Valentine--it's chocolate scat that was a brilliant fundraising idea by our local environmental education center. I learned about moose, raccoon, otter, and red fox droppings.


Elements of dinner—planning a vindaloo simmer with basmati rice. SPICY!


Next up--school vacation week and trip to New York City!