7-Year Running Watch Update: Garmin Forerunner 410

Looking back on my blog here, I see it's been 7 years since I bought myself a GPS watch for running--a Garmin Forerunner 410, to be precise. It's been a fantastic accessory over the years. It's gotten so if I don't capture a run with my Garmin, then it officially didn't happen. I've been known to turn my car around on my way to a long-run location just to pick up the forgotten watch. And as someone who has kept running logs since the early 90s, I love the touch-of-your-fingertips metrics that the Garmin provides, particularly through my Strava account. (I upload the Garmin data to Garmin's site, and then it automatically gets fed to Strava which I find more user friendly.)

According to my collected Garmin data, I've taken this watch on over 1,000 runs, and we've clocked a total of 5,308 miles together over 1119 hours. I've climbed 392,474 feet (~56,000 feet per year) and my average speed is 5.2 mph (not too shabby!).

But seven years and thousands of miles can be tough on a watch.

At this point, the silicone-ish watchband has disintegrated. Since taking the above photo where I used black tape to repair the band at the side, the band has broken completely in half and I'm using white gaffer tape to hold it together. The other side of the band is rigged up with a combination of string, thread, and a hair elastic. Unfortunately, the band turns out to be irreplaceable, since Garmin no longer makes this watch.

But you know what? I'm fine with my beat-up watch. I'm reluctant to replace it just because the band needs help. The watch itself is still tickin' and seems totally fine. There's nothing wrong with how it works, it's just a little less aesthetically pleasing than it used to be. It's worn in.

And it's like my transition in running in general. (Being worn in but still working is ME in general.) I rig up my running plans from workout to workout, with no long-term goal. I just have a yen to keep moving in nature. I'm reluctant to mess with the core of my practice--which is essentially to go out and find running adventures and enjoy the outdoors on legs that still work just fine. I love running up local mountains, and this year I ran my two favorite peaks a total of 18 times. I made that my priority. I focus on weekend adventures on trails and do hardly any pre-dawn workouts that are just for mileage.

As I get older and more seasoned, my philosophy is that if the run isn't a pleasure in some way, why on earth would I force myself? Life is too short for forcing things that I don't even have to do. I sleep in whenever I can. I eat the cake. I run when I want to. Those things feel good, and that is a blessing.

Aqua faba meringue (Vegan Eton Mess)

Have you heard this crazy idea that you can use BEAN WATER (aka "aqua faba" and specifically the liquid from a can of chickpeas) as a substitute for egg whites? Well I am here to tell you that it is perfectly true. Recently I made Vegan Eton Mess for a potluck, and I baked up a batch of crispy-sweet aqua faba meringues, and... it worked.

The secret is to use the ancient ingredient from the 1900s called "Cream of Tartar." This white powder (potassium bitartrate) creates the egg-white-like effect by stabilizing the chickpea liquid so it can hold volume. A handmixer (or stand mixer) is pretty much required. Here is my meringue mixture after some beating. Then I added loads of sugar. Check out Loving It Vegan for a similar recipe.
 Look—stiff peaks!!
I then piped the mixture onto parchment paper and baked at low temperature for AGES. The trick with meringues, I learned, is not so much to cook them as to slowly and gradually drrrrryyyy them out until they are crunchy. I think mine may have taken about 2 hours total (first at low heat, then sitting in the oven as it slowly cooled).

The results were very meringue-cookie like! A vegan person, a gluten-free person, and a French person EACH said these were very good. That seems like very well-rounded praise.

I used most of the meringues to make Vegan Eton Mess, which was my contribution to an "Ugly Food" potluck. To make the mess, layer together chopped fresh strawberries, vegan whipped topping, and crumbled aqua faba meringues. The black specks in this photo are a fermented herbal power that I added for stress and mood benefits.

For a non-ugly version the mess could be assembled in a glass trifle dish.

As an aside, I had to share the Ugly Food pièce de resistance, which was not made by me. This is a kitty litter cake, which is crumbled vanilla cake and chocolate cake decorated with twists of caramel and buried Kit Kats and other chocolatey treats. It was disturbingly served with a fresh-bought kitty litter scoop and just felt... so wrong. Yet of course I had seconds.

Have you tried Aqua Faba yet? I supposed it could be made into a pavlova, right?

I pickled that! Lacto-fermented cucumber pickles with crock

How was your summer? I know it's not officially autumn yet, but with kids back in school and the weather turning cool, summer vacation is definitely over.

One of my firsts this summer (in addition to buying a kayak and taking a table saw class) was making my own batch of pickles. I followed this Homemade Dill Pickles recipe & video from Food Wishes. It was his first time making pickles and they seemed to turn out fine, so that inspired me to just jump in and give it a try.

I bought half a bushel of pickling cukes from the farmer's market program at work, which turns out to be a LOT of cucumbers. I sorted them out to find the ones of perfect pickle size, and we ate or gave away the rest.

I also ordered a bunch of dill, and added flowering tops from my own dill, since Food Wishes explained this may help the pickles stay crunchy. (Does it? I don't know! But mine were crunchy at the end so it must have worked, right?)

This is 4.7 pounds of cucumbers.

SALT is one of the other main ingredients in lacto-fermented pickles. With the lacto-fermentation method, the pickles are completely submerged in a flavored brine and left to ferment in a cool dark place. No boiling or canning required. And no vinegar.

Here is the brine after the salt dissolved. This pot includes 9 cups of water, too much salt (which I'll only find out at the end), garlic, peppercorns, coriander seed, and bay leaves.

My spouse took a sauerkraut class last summer (as you do), and I got him this cool and HEAVY crock as a gift. The pickles are the first project to get crocked. 

So I layered in the cucumbers and brine, noticing that if you don't purposely add the garlic cloves in the layers, they'll be left all lonesome at the bottom of the brine pot. (I ended up kind of squeezing them down the sides.) I also noted all the seeds and peppercorns float on the top, and wasn't sure what that would mean for potential bad bacteria. But I just carried on! 

The crock comes with two weights that hold the food down. While I was confused that the weights are unglazed (if they have no glaze, do they soak stuff up that can never be unsoaked? I still don't know the answer, and I did search for it online), they were super handy for keeping the cucumbers well under the surface of the brine. Oxygen is not your friend when it comes to lacto-fermenting.

Here's the crock with cover on.

I made these pickles during the hottest time of the summer, so I put the crock inside a cooler at the bottom of our basement stairs. Once it was settled in the cooler, I put the crock lid back on. Then I shut the cooler and I left it for 7 days. (Well, I did peek now and then.)

The big day finally arrived! I lifted the lid. A white foamy stuff had appeared, and evidently the cucumbers got softer since the weights are now completely under liquid. 

Per the recipe, I just removed the white part and discarded. Looks good so far.

Here's the reveal... they look like pickles!

We tasted the pickles right away, to check for crunch and pickled-ness. They were good! They were also QUITE salty. Not unbearably salty, but I would say unnecessarily salty. When I make these next time I'll cut down on the salt.

I stored the pickles in mason jars and placed in the fridge. 

My recipe, adapted from Food Wishes

4.7 pounds cucumbers, washed with stems trimmed down
9 cups of water
8 T kosher salt (I used 9 T and that was too much, so my next batch will be 8 T)
9 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 t peppercorns
2 t coriander seeds 
4 bay leaves
4 cloves
dill leaves & flowers

Heat everything but the cucumbers and dill in a large pot while stirring gently. Turn off heat once salt has dissolved.

In stoneware crock, put a layer of cucumbers, some dill leaves/flowers, and a few cloves of garlic, then ladle in brine to cover. Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the crock. If there is brine left, make sure that at least the spices have been added to the crock. (You can keep extra brine in a jar and add it to the finished pickles, if needed.) 

If any cucumbers are sticking above the surface of the brine, remove cucumbers until the remaining ones are completely covered. I left about half an inch of liquid and then placed the weights on top of the submerged cucumbers.

Cover and leave in a cool dry place for a week. (Fine to lift cover and check top of brine, but I avoided disturbing the pickles until the end of the week.) After a week, lift the top and skim off any white bubbles/scum—discard. Remove weights and test one pickle by cutting it in half. I was looking for whether there was an "al dente" section in the middle where the cucumber still looked raw, but my cukes had completely pickled. I supposed if they had not I would have put everything back in for a few more days.

Divide pickles into clean jars and pour in brine to cover (you can also use the extra brine from the beginning, if you kept it). I also put some garlic cloves and some dill in each jar.

Even though family members agreed these were salty, they still disappeared very quickly. I'll definitely be making these again the next time I come across 4.7 pounds of pickling cucumbers.

Easy peasy caesar salad: just 4 ingredients!

A few years ago I became obsessed with salad kits—you know, bags of pre-cut veggies packaged with smaller bags of toppings and dressing. So easy! Pretty tasty! Much crunchy! And the veggies are already washed and cut, which are chores that I detest. I also found that my family members seemed to like the organic Caesar salad kit. So I started to pick one up about every week or so to get some easy greens into our menu.

But after buying about 20 or 40 salad kits over time, you start to wonder... is this really worth it? There is a lot of plastic packaging involved. And I couldn't help but notice that with a Caesar salad, there are only 4 ingredients that make the magical combination:

Romaine lettuce


Parmesan, grated

Caesar salad dressing 

Surely I can do this myself. Right? So one day I skipped the salad kit and bought the individual ingredients instead. I steeled myself to wash and cut the Romaine lettuce. Then all I had to do was put everything in a large bowl and toss. 


Perfect with many things, like pizza!

This is soooo easy, and I feel better about not buying so much plastic. I got pre-grated parmesan several times, but recently invested in a block of parm that I grate with a microplane right when I'm making the salad.

Of course, if your family doesn't mind delicious umami, you can also pass some chopped anchovies to sprinkle on top. So there are FIVE ingredients in this salad if you want to get salty about it.

Oh yum.

Do you have an easy peasy salad that you make? Feelings on salad dressing that isn't homemade?

Cape Cod Vacation 2019, including Edward Gorey

We went back to Cape Cod! I enjoyed my closeup photos of barnacles from our 2018 trip, so I tried a few more closeups this year.

Moonscape, or seashell sitting in the sun?

The smell of beach roses is the smell of summer.

LOBSTER ROLL. This is from Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham, where we also played our first family game of mini golf.

We also visited the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth. It was delightfully weird.

I'm so glad my children got to be exposed to Gorey's oddness and oddities. The author & artist lived from 1925-2000, and he purchased this house in 1979, moving there a few years later. He had a fantastic imagination and was a true eccentric.

Our kids were given a Gashlycrumb Tinies Scavenger Hunt to amuse them on their visit.

My daughter did a great job finding evidence of each of the 26 children's untimely demises (here a bottle of lye on a windowsill, there a box of tacks on a mantelpiece).

We saw Gorey's raccoon fur coat (one of them), which he stopped wearing later in his life because of his devotion to causes of animal welfare. In his will he established a charitable trust for animals, and specified that it include not only the usual cuddly animals, but also bats and invertebrates.

In Gorey's kitchen Dracula is right next to Craig Claiborne.

The last waffle of the millennium (presumably from December 31, 1999) is preserved on the kitchen wall.

The fantod, a figure sewn and stuffed by Gorey, can be arranged into any letter of the alphabet.

Gorey liked to collect things, like large clanking rings, cheese graters, potato mashers, and thousands and thousands of books.

He also liked to have a lot of cats around--preferably 6, as he said 7 cats was too many.

The Doubtful Guest is out on the lawn.

Shchavel Borscht (Sorrel Soup)

Did you know that I spent a month in the USSR when I was 12 years old? I went there with my parents on some sort of academic exchange of my dad's. For most of our time there we stayed in a dorm room at Moscow State University (MGU), which was available because it was summertime and the regular school year had ended. The university had turned off the hot water for some reason, so I got used to taking freezing cold showers. We also went to then-Leningrad and stayed in one of the most sumptuous hotel suites I've ever seen, but that's another story.

Before our trip, my father taught me how to read Cyrillic, and this came in handy for things like reading menus, identifying which subway station we were in, and transliterating large Soviet signs (such as "Slava Trudu" which means "Hooray for Work"). I remember pyramid shaped paper containers of whole milk--you tore off a corner to pour or sip, and the inside of the paper was coated with yellow cream. I remember having the best ice cream I've ever tasted: it was always vanilla, and wrapped in a crumbly chocolate coating. We saw opera and ballet performances, ate caviar on toast at the top of the Kremlin, attended a real Soviet circus, walked around the pastel colored Gum department store, drank sugary hot tea from glasses with metal handles, and went to the VDNK exhibition (similar to a state fair). The main thing I remember about the VDNK was the water vending machines that were standing out in the hot sun, where thirsty people could drink from a shared glass that was chained to the machine. It was June, and all of Moscow seemed buried in drifts of cottonwood fluff.

This is a long way of saying that I can remember a little Cyrillic, and when I see a word like "Shchavel" I know that the first 4 letters of that word are one character in Cyrillic: щ. Shchavel is the Russian word for "Sorrel," which I was looking up because somebody had given me a sorrel plant last year and it was looking rather ripe for the picking in the corner of my garden. 

At first I thought I'd make a French sorrel soup from my plant. But when I found this Valentina's Corner recipe for Shchavel Borscht, I knew I had to make that instead. Admittedly while saying SHCHAVEL BORSCHT as many times as possible in what I imagined to be a deeply authentic Russian accent. щавель Борщ!

Sorrel is the genus Rumex, which makes it a relative of docks. The sorrel leaves are somewhat fleshy. They have a slightly piquant taste when raw, surprisingly similar to wood sorrel (which is a different genus and looks like a spindly-stemmed shamrock with 3 heart-shaped leaves).

I washed and chopped my Shchavel leaves. According to Valentina's Corner, this is really a Ukrainian soup. I don't know a lot about Ukrainian cuisine but I have noticed this country knows how to find nutrition and healing from the plant kingdom. (For instance did you know that "Chernobyl" is the Ukrainian word for Artemisia vulgaris, aka mugwort or wormwood?)

Essentially the Borscht is a chicken and potato soup that has been lightly flavored with sour cream and ketchup.

The lightly lemony sorrel gives it a bit more tartness, but it is not super sour or at all bitter.

Add a dollop of smetana (sour cream) to each bowl of Shchavel Borscht. Ready!!

Are you a Borscht person? Until I found this recipe I thought that Borscht had to have beets in it, but not so. It just needs to be sour. Na zdorovie!