Friday, February 4, 2011


So I have been running for four weeks now. I have decided that since I have completed a 5K and stuck with it this long, it would be okay to actually add running to my Facebook profile. The final results for the 5K had my finish at 33:50 minutes at a pace of 10:53 per mile. I placed 545 out of about 800 runners and 30 out of 53 runners in my division. This finished had me faster than everyone over 70 years of age in the race, but still seven minutes slower than my son who had to walk part of it because he had indulged in too many samples before the race. It was a great finish for my first try but I really want to do better. After a lifetime of athletic mediocrity, I may have actually found my sport. Now I just have to keep myself free of injury so I don't have to stop what I started!

Never underestimate the power of a cute outfit. I know it sounds shallow but hear me out. Although I didn't intend to buy any special running outfits, I happened upon a clearance rack with a shirt and shorts in the same colors as my new running shoes. At first I didn't even occur to try on actual running shorts because they didn't have enough thigh-concealing fabric but I was curious to see what they would look like. When I tried them on I was surprised at what I saw in the mirror--it was a runner. I felt special and athletic and totally able to accomplish my goals so naturally I bought the outfit. There's something about running in clothes set apart for that purpose that is different than running in the sweats I throw on to take my kids to school. The same applies to food. If I am going to push my body to perform out of its comfort zone, am I going to fuel it with junk or things that will help it to be stronger and faster. Do I want to waste by progress by downing a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos? I have also opted out of protein shakes and powders after reading their ingredients. Almost everyone contains sucralose as well as a kaleidoscope of other chemical additives. Lately I stick to a banana before the run and some Greek yogurt when I am finished.

I am absolutely giddy that the egg famine at Noll Farm is finally over. After I purchased my second dozen of eggs from the store, all the girls kicked it up a notch and I have had as many as seven eggs in one day. Once the reserves are built up we will be able to start sharing with our friends again. It really doesn't take much to get me egg-cited these days!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

No chickens were harmed in the writing of this post.

When you look into building a flock of backyard chickens the rule of thumb is to have one chicken for each member of your family plus a couple of extra in case they don't all survive to adulthood. This is how I originally started with six chickens. In the middle of their first winter, all six chickens began laying eggs and we had more than we knew what to do with. Although everything I had read stated otherwise, my chickens defied the experts by faithfully producing 4-6 eggs daily even during the coldest and shortest days. One of the benefits was being able to give away a dozen eggs per week to friends who appreciated their orange yolky goodness. I enjoyed giving them away almost as much as eating them. It felt so good that we added three new chickens to the flock to increase egg production so we could share even more.

The first sign that we would not be giving out more eggs came last summer when we lost one of our original six chickens to the extreme heat wave that not only gave us triple digits in the daylight hours, but lows that never dropped under 90 at night. She was a reliable layer of light blue eggs as well as being one of our prettiest chickens. Shortly after we lost her, the new chickens were chronologically old enough to begin laying yet showed no signs of being physically ready. All I could do was wait, and wait, and wait some more. Finally one of them began and we were back to having six chickens producing eggs until one of the older ones began molting, followed by another and then joined by the only one of the new girls that actually laid eggs (Molting is a period where chickens lose their feathers and grow new ones. This requires all their energy and their bodies cease egg production during this time). I was now down to three chickens that actually laid eggs and five freeloaders. To make it worse, those three had dropped down from laying almost everyday to every couple of days. Eventually my refrigerator which used to be filled with as many as four full egg cartons now held only one that rarely contains more than a half dozen. For several months we rationed our eggs until I finally broke down and (gasp) bought eggs this weekend so I could bake and make breakfast burritos. Although my chickens had no idea what I was doing nor did they care, I felt like I was cheating on them. To add to my guilt, the day I brought home grocery store eggs, we actually had four eggs in the nest box! Two from my old reliables, one from the previously molting new chicken and the first egg of our beloved "Disco." Any day now there will be cute fluffy chicks at the feed store and the question now is do we pick up some more freeloaders or be patient and wait for our flock to kick it into gear. It's a good thing we didn't live in the pioneer days or else those chickens would have provided us food this winter one way or another--if you know what I mean!

Monday, January 31, 2011

From Zero to 5K in 14 Days

So I have decided to taken up running even though it goes against every fiber of my leg muscles. It could just be another section in the lifelong cycle of get fit, slowly stop exercising and end up as couch potato, but I am really hoping it is not. My last go round with pushing myself to my limits resulted in a nagging back injury that made me miserable for several months. In an effort to heal it I rested--too much! Although the injury has not completely gone away, it has been reduced to a tolerable ache that I have finally accepted as being my new normal for the rest of my life.

I seem to be surrounded by runners. Many friends are not just running but finishing half-marathons. Initially I thought you would never see me doing anything so ridiculous as punishing my body on long, painful, boring training runs yet with each run I do I desire to go further, faster and be better than I was the day before. A friend was encouraging me to run with her and to even sign up for an actual 5K which just seemed too extreme yet after meditating on it for awhile it didn't seem so out of reach anymore. Maybe I could be a runner and actually finish a race...

Once I decided to lay down my excuses it was time to hit the road. Sure my back hurt, and I will always be anemic so my heart has to beat faster than most to get oxygen to my iron-deficient blood cells, but I decided those things would not have power over me anymore and it just meant I had to be more determined and focused. With this new found inspiration, I decided to take a run the next morning. I'd been hearing about the Couch to 5K plan and that sounded like my speed so I printed it out to see what my first workout would be. It only called for two minutes of actual running which just wasn't enough. Perhaps I wasn't "couch" after all! I was so enthusiastic after being able to run for a full mile that I registered not for the March race, but rather one that was two weeks away on February 5. I knew if I didn't make that kind of commitment, I would be in danger of giving up once things got a little hard. With my payment submitted the pressure was on. I wasn't expecting to run the full 5K and just hoped to finish. After I ran for a few more days I decided that just finishing wasn't enough. I wanted to run the whole thing and finish in as close to 30 minutes as I could get. As incredible as it seems(at least to me), I have found that I can run the full distance of a 5K during training runs, but not too much more than that.

In just 5 more days I will know exactly what I am made of and I cannot wait to cross a finish line for the first time and see my family cheering me on when I get there. My oldest son will be running the race too, however he is so much faster than me that he will be able to finish, grab a bite to eat, change into clean clothes and be back in time to film me as I triumphantly complete my first race and undo a lifetime of negative thoughts and feelings towards running and my own athletic ability in general.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Confessions of an almost gardener...

Fall is almost upon us and if you live in the desert, it signals the beginning of our second planting season. I have yet to have a garden that I would call successful. My early attempts failed due to watering issues, planting things in the wrong season, pest attacks and blatant neglect. The last three gardens were consumed by my chickens. Number one had no fence and I naively thought the chickens wouldn't notice it or care about it. Two had a fence that was too low and the crafty chickens flew over it and consumed my horticultural endeavor down to the roots. This spring's edition of my garden was the one I have waited for all my life. I harvested actual peas and broccoli, my tomatoes had little green fruits developing and real green beans were growing from delicate white blossoms on leafy green vines. Finally I could call myself a real gardener...that is until I went on vacation in June. While we were away, it was very windy and the gate to the garden blew down. I returned to my drip irrigation in disarray and no signs of life in the soil--the chickens had won again.

Not one to give up, I began planting my cool season garden today. I invited the chickens to join me inside the fence so they could turn the soil and devour any little weeds that were residing there. They did a great job on the weeds, but their work ethic on turning the soil left much to be desired. I even crumbled up cereal and mixed it in the dirt to encourage them to scratch around but they still didn't do a very good job. Eventually I kicked them out and turned the soil myself with a garden fork. After undoing the damage my feathered friends had done to the irrigation, I was ready to head to the nursery for seeds and plants.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my gardening failures was due to planting things in the wrong season. Apparently some things grow better in cool weather and some prefer it warmer. My early gardening days consisted of me going to the nursery and grabbing whatever sounded and looked good. I do not make that mistake anymore. A good rule of thumb is: things that have seeds like tomatoes, peppers or melons are warm weather crops and cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages, as well as most root vegetables are cool weather crops. On a visit to the Springs Preserve, I got a handy pamphlet that had a nice grid in the back to tell you what to plant and when. This publication is also available online by clicking here. A master gardener named Clarita Huffman created this calendar and I plan my garden around it. Now I do not actually know Clarita or what her credentials or experience are, but I will not plant something unless she says it is okay.

With the garden ready to receive new plants and seeds, I went to the nursery to see what transplants were available and what seeds I would need to purchase. My husband was drawn to tomatoes and peppers but I knew that Clarita would not approve so I told him it was the wrong time of year for those. With that remark, a nursery employee came over to tell me why it was okay to plant them now: they have a fast growing season, they are cold hardy enough to grow in Montana, etc.; but since her name tag did not say Clarita, I wasn't falling for it. My husband thought I should listen to her since she worked at the nursery but I decided that it was part of a larger conspiracy to get rid of their leftover summer vegetables on uneducated gardeners.
For transplants I selected broccoli, napa cabbage and brussel sprouts. I also grabbed seed packets of spinach, carrots and two varieties of lettuce, as well as some garlic bulbs. Mr. Garden State, aka my husband, cast a disapproving eye on my transplants. He thought they didn't look very healthy. I argued that they were the best ones they had and once they were in the ground they would be okay. He still didn't believe me and even taunted me all the way home about how in New Jersey you just stick stuff in the ground and it grows. You don't even need to water it, it's big, beautiful, blah, blah, blah. He is a firm believer that nothing good can grow here but I am determined to prove him wrong. I reminded him that we ate actual peas and broccoli from the last garden and he reminded me that it wasn't enough to feed the whole family. New Jersey may be the Garden State, but we have better winters and can correctly pronounce the word "water."

Most everything is in the ground except for the seeds. I have reinforced the chicken fence and secured the gate better, although I must confess there is some relief when the chickens eat the garden because then the pressure is off me. The garden can't fail when it's not there anymore. Still, I believe that this time I can grow enough broccoli to feed all four of us in one meal--if those chickens don't get it first!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How sweet it isn't...

"A sugar is a sugar whether it comes from cane, corn or beets."--Corn Refiner's Association

Is a sugar really a sugar? If that is the case, why are we trying so hard to avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2008 Americans consumed 37.8 pounds of HFCS per capita. It is found in obvious things like sodas and fruit drinks, and not so obvious items like ketchup and the majority of breads at the supermarket. To see how it enhances the stability and shelf-life of different products, click here. After reading this list, I wanted to avoid this ingredient even more and this is the website that is supposed to convince me how safe it is!

Although produced from corn, a healthy vegetable, HFCS bears no resemblance to it's original form. It is highly-refined into a cheap sweetener that is created from a crop highly subsidized by the U.S. government. As a sweetener, it is chemically different than sugar and not metabolized the same way. Table sugar is composed of sucrose which is not broken down and used by the body the same way as fructose. In animal studies, fructose produced insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance, high insulin levels, high triglycerides and high blood pressure. HFCS is also the prime suspect in the obesity epidemic that is plaguing America. Mice fed fructose experienced higher weight gain than mice that were fed the same amount of sucrose.

So why I am I bringing this up? With all the attention on the dangers of HFCS, it's consumption has seen a 21% decrease compared to 10 years ago. Prominent brands such as Hunt's Ketchup and some Sara Lee breads have removed it entirely and advertise this fact on their labels. This revolution has hit the Corn Refiner's Association in their pocket book and they are scrambling to recoup their losses. If you visit the Sweet Surprise website, you will almost be convinced that there is no difference between HFCS and other sweeteners. They are even lobbying for permission to rename HFCS to "corn sugar" on the labels of foods. Corn sugar? Really? For those that aren't avid label readers, this is not a big deal, but for the rest of us it is an insult. It is on the news, do you think we aren't going to figure it out? A highly-processed sweetener by any other name will be just as sweet--and unhealthy!

There was a time when I read labels to avoid sugar but now I am excited to find labels boasting my snowy-white, granulated friend. Today, while buying a barbecue sauce, only one brand (not in the organic aisle) did not have HFCS as an ingredient. For all the others it was listed first or second. Buying organic products is another way to eliminate or reduce your HFCS consumption. This may sound corny, but the only sweet surprise I see is that food manufacturers are listening and removing this ingredient from their products. Keep up the good work American shoppers!

Friday, June 25, 2010

You mango me crazy...

For the almost half of my life, I did not eat mangoes. I am not sure I had even heard of them until high school and the first time I tasted one it came from a jar and was packed in syrup. Since then, they have become pretty popular. They grace our smoothies, shampoos and flavor chewing gum. My kids love them and from Cinco de Mayo through the summer they are pretty affordable. Their health benefits are numerous: they contain phenols, a powerful antioxidant; they are high in iron; and contain vitamins A, E and selenium to name a few. So why do I HATE mangoes? Have you ever tried to peel and cut one? In the photo, you can clearly see the pit, yet whenever I cut one the only way I can distinguish the pit from the fruit is when my knife hits it. I have seen cooking shows where they score it in the peel and one well-placed horizontal slice yields perfect cubes, yet I have never had this work in real life. I have tried peeling and then slicing only to have mush on my knife and juice running down my arm. It's for these reasons that I avoid making mango salsa, mango smoothies or just buying them to snack on. They beckon you with their beautiful skins, painted various hues of red and green while concealing their golden-orange flesh which is so difficult to remove that you need to be a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu just to try. In spite of all these negative reasons I was convinced to buy some by a pleading seven-year-old boy and a very attractive sale price. I wish I could say this time was different but I could barely harvest enough flesh out of three of them to produce 2 cups of puree for ice cream. According to the recipe, three mangoes should have yielded enough for the puree and 1 1/2 cups diced to serve with the ice cream. Stinkin' mangoes!

Since our chickens began laying, we have had an abundance of eggs. So much so that we can usually give away a dozen a week. We scramble them, fry them, bake them, feed them to the dogs and sometimes even to the chickens. I've made chiffon cake, angel food cake and several quiches. Now that it is summer, egg production has gone down just when I found a new thing to do with them. My friend has a food blog and posted this recipe for mini frittatas. They were so easy to make and I substituted bacon and cheddar for the ham and parmesan since those were the ingredients I had on hand. They bake in a mini muffin pan so you don't have to worry about having the middle loose or your oven on for an hour in the summer. They were a big hit with my family and needless to say, we had no leftovers.

Speaking of eggs, remember how they were bad for you because of the cholesterol and needed to be avoided or at least consumed in moderation? Well avoid them no more, they are good for you! The whites contain the most perfect form of protein you can consume and the yokes are an egg-cellent source of choline, a nutrient required for healthy liver function among other things. New studies show that they may even reduce your risk of heart disease. History has demonstrated that food dietary guidelines fluctuate with the current scientific studies and hypotheses so how can we know what is best to eat? Don't be swayed by the trends and processed foods with healthy things added in. If it looks close to how it was created in nature, how could it be wrong?

Monday, June 21, 2010

I scream, you scream...we all scream over $20 ice cream!

Sometimes I feel like I was meant to live over 100 years ago. The idea of being self-sufficient and living a simpler existence is so attractive at times. I know if the women of that era could travel to our time and see our washing machines, SUVs and water dispensing refrigerators, they would probably be perfectly happy to trade places. It's just another case of the grass being greener on the other side.

My pioneering spirit has long desired to make ice cream from scratch. I received a hand-me-down ice cream maker this past winter and have been waiting for the scorching days of summer to bust it out. While traveling in North Carolina and Virginia this month, we ate a LOT of ice cream and some of it was homemade. There was definitely a difference! I couldn't wait to return home and make some for us. I decided that cherry vanilla would be our first flavor since it was my husband's favorite when he was a kid. I bought my ingredients only to come home and find that the metal container that holds the ice cream was missing the lid! In desperation, I went to Kohl's but could only find an ice cream maker that made 1 1/2 quarts. What is the point? There are four of us! It would take two batches just for all of us to have a bowl. I hit Target next and found one that could make a gallon and was the old-fashioned style with the wooden bucket. I was back in business! Our first batch was amazing, though the kids didn't like the actual cherries in it very much. Did they take into consideration the fact that I hand-pitted 3 cups worth for this ice cream and had red-stained hands the rest of the day? Of course not. There may have been too many cherries and I didn't chop them very small so they were pretty icy when you bit into them. My next batch was to be vanilla bean. I decided that I would use the finest ingredients to make the best vanilla bean ice cream possible. I already had good eggs (the recipe called for 8 yolks) and just needed some cream, half and half and vanilla beans. I went to Whole Foods so I could buy organic dairy products. Straus Family Creamery's adorable glass bottles beckoned me. They cost about 40 cents more than the other organics but I decided to splurge. While checking out, the cashier asked if I knew about the bottle deposit. Apparently it costs an additional $1.50 per glass bottle which is refunded if you bring the bottles back to the store. Too embarrassed to want to take them back and switch out for the cheaper cardboard cartons, I opted to pay the extra $3.00. Did I mention the glass bottles were adorable? In all my obsessing over the dairy ingredients, I forgot to buy vanilla beans. Not wanting to trudge back to Whole Foods, I hit my local Albertson's. This being my first purchase of whole vanilla beans, I was totally shocked to discover that they sell for $7 for ONE! Fortunately they were on sale or else I would have had to pay $10! Although my recipe called for two beans, I settled for bringing home one giant spice jar with one skinny crinkled bean. At this point, it was almost a $20 gallon of ice cream; I had totally lost my mind. I wish I could say it was the most amazing ice cream ever, but sadly, it was so rich we could barely eat it. At least it made a good berry milkshake and I have learned a valuable life lesson that just because something costs more, doesn't mean it's better.

This last week I signed on to the Bountiful Baskets produce co-op. Several of my friends have already been purchasing through it and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. This Saturday morning, I was standing in line behind a warehouse and holding an empty laundry basket that was to be filled with a mystery assortment of fruits and vegetables. The process is actually very simple. You contribute on Tuesday morning towards the upcoming Saturday delivery. It is $15 for conventional produce or $25 for organic. There is a one-time charge of $3.00 added to your first order. Drop points are located around town and you select the one that is most convenient for you, then arrive at the scheduled time to pick up your produce. They have co-ops in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Texas and Washington. For more information check out their website here. I was very happy with amount I received and the overall quality was acceptable except for a little too much mush in one of the tomatoes and some slightly wilted lettuce. The lettuce did perk up once I put it in the fridge. My first organic purchase consisted of:

5 cameo apples
4 black plums
6 bananas
Somewhere between 2-3 pounds of white seedless grapes
2 grapefruits
1 pint blueberries
1 bunch celery
1 bunch of lacinato kale
4 tomatoes
3 avocados
1 head green leaf lettuce
1 head cauliflower
2 heads brocolette (A longer, thinner broccoli, it looked like what we grew at home)

You only participate when you want, so there is no obligation to contribute every week. I can't wait to see what my basket will have next week, and it also nice to have a laundry basket not filled with dirty clothes for a change.

FEEDJIT Live Traffic Feed