Friday, October 31, 2008

CSA Report - Winding Down

Each week makes it clearer that the end of the season is nearing. It makes me sad to know that the only fruit and vegetables I'll be getting are what I can round up at the farmer's market through mid-December and what I've managed to store away in my little freezer. I'm so glad I committed to this farm, and I'm already setting aside money to sign up again for the 2009 season. I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again. If you haven't considered joining a CSA in the past, you really should. You can find a CSA in your area at Local Harvest. Check into it, see what you can find, and sign up. The fresh fruits and vegetables will be well worth the effort and forethought.

This week's share:

  • 1.5 lbs green tomatoes
  • 1 head leaf lettuce
  • 0.5 lb kale
  • 1 Thai pepper, 4 Chinese lantern pepper, 1 Habanero pepper (includes additional full share cayenne peppers)
  • 1.5 oz. cilantro (includes additional share)
  • 1.5 lb sweet potatoes
  • handful of dill (free-choice item)
I'm still working my way through all the green tomatoes, and I've been eating a lot of bok choy stir fry. Last night I roasted the sweet potatoes along with some garlic and a few carrots that have been hanging around since my last trip to the farmers' market. My favorite dish this week was an attempt at using up all the kale in my crisper. I pulled out Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets (which I bought after Patresa suggested it) and found a kale recipe that was easily adapted to included ingredients I had on hand. For something so simple, this dish was surprisingly flavorful and satisfying. Give it a try!

Kale with Red Beans, Cilantro and Feta Cheese
Makes 4 servings
(adapted from Local Flavors)

1 can kidney beans (15 oz), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water or broth
1 medium onion, diced
1 large bunch kale
1 TBSP olive oil
3/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided
sea salt
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

In a medium saucepan, combine drained beans, water, half the onion and 1/4 cup cilantro and simmer over low heat until onion is tender.

Remove the kale leaves from stem. Chop the leaves coarsely into bite-sized pieces. Boil 2-3 quarts of water in a large pot. Add the kale and a 1/2 tsp or so of salt. Turn down heat and simmer for about 5 minutes until the kale is tender, then drain.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the rest of the onion and cilantro. Cook until the onion is tender and then add the kale and beans, including the remaining liquid. Simmer for several minutes to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes. Serve topped with feta (and additional cilantro, if desired).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: A Jolly Good Fellow

When I received my review copy of A Jolly Good Fellow, by Stephen V. Masse, I wasn't sure what to think. While the book was a winner of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, I must admit that if I don't find it on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, I rarely give a book a second thought. As a struggling writer and a hopeful novelist, this probably isn't the best of attitudes to have. So I gave myself a stern talking to and then hesitantly gave the book a chance.

I'm glad I wasn't deterred by my book prejudices, because I found A Jolly Good Fellow to be interesting and enjoyable. The main character, Duncan, is an unprepared kidnapper whose mark falls into his lap one day and proceeds to change his life. Gabriel, the son of a man Duncan loathes, turns out to be more than Duncan bargained for. The kidnapping doesn't go exactly as planned, but in the end Duncan gets more than money for his efforts.

A Jolly Good Fellow was a quick read, and I found myself pulled along by Duncan's multiple foibles and mishaps. Without Gabriel, this book would have faltered early on, but Masse made sure Gabriel was as interesting and insightful as an 11-year-old boy can be. If you're looking for a book with rich, vulnerable, flawed characters who grow and change despite the odds being stacked against them, then you'll enjoy this book.

For an author interview with Stephen V. Masse, visit Write Out Loud.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weight Control Chicken, Anyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of some spending some time with the girls. Three of us went to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner and, most importantly, dessert. After a long wait, which was expected, we sat at the table browsing the book they call their menu. I love the food at The Cheesecake Factory, but the number of choices is always overwhelming. As I scanned the long lists of appetizers, pasta dishes, pizzas, and entrees, I noticed a dish called Weight Management Grilled Chicken™. I also saw an entire section of Weight Management Salads™. (Yes, they were actually trademarked names with the term Weight Management in them.)

What in the world?!?

First of all, who in their right mind is going to sit down in front of their dinner companions, scan an entire menu of dozens and dozens of delicious descriptions, and then order anything with Weight Management in the name? Really. Imagine sitting across from your new boyfriend and ordering the Weight Management Asian Chicken Salad™. What self-respecting woman would do such a thing?

With names like that, I have a hard time believing that these dishes are very popular, except maybe with the women (and men, I suppose) who want to give the impression that they are on a diet or watching their weight. Frankly, as someone who's done her fair share of dieting, the last thing I'd want to order is a dish with "weight management" in the name. I mean, ordering a dish called Weight Management Grilled Chicken says, "I know I'm a fat cow and I'd like to order the one dish other than a salad that shows you I am trying to do something to rectify the situation."

Using the term "weight management" in the name of a few salads and a single chicken dish is insulting and is obviously targeting people who are insecure with their bodies. Why not Healthy Fare or Light Choices, or something a little less obviously directed toward those of us with weight issues (thin or not)? Were all the good terms for "lower-calorie," "lower-fat" or "healthier" dishes already trademarked? They couldn't come up with anything more creative at the menu brainstorming meetings than Weight Management? For real?

I find it more believable that they were hoping to guilt us fatties (or self-perceived fatties) into choosing the weight management options. What do you think?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CSA Report - Back in My Good Graces

After my slight disappointment last week due to the lack of pumpkins, there was redemption this week. Not because of anything new, but because I'm looking forward to trying some new things with what I got.

This week's share:

  • 3.5 lbs green tomatoes
  • 1 large head bak choy
  • 0.5 lb chard
  • 1.75 lb pole beans
  • 16 cayenne peppers, 4 Thai peppers, 4 Chinese lantern pepper, 1 Habanero pepper (includes additional full share cayenne peppers)
  • 0.5 oz. parsley
  • 1/2 pint red raspberries (u-pick, which I passed on again this week because I was in a hurry; I'm really missing out on these)
I made a delicious stir-fry with some of the bak choy tonight. I think I'll dry the cayenne peppers, Thai peppers and parsley. The beans are already half gone (I had them for dinner last night). As for the green tomatoes, I'm researching recipes for green tomato relish. Got one you'd recommend? If so, please share. I made green tomato salsa with the last batch and am working my way through it one scoop at a time. Who knew green tomatoes were so versatile? I might even give fried green tomatoes a try this time around.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Get an Autographed Copy of "New Lines from the Old Line State"

At the risk of sounding totally egotistical and assuming there are actually people out there who might be interested in having an autographed copy of New Lines from the Old Line State, I've decided to offer some copies for sale here.

If you're interested in buying an autographed copy of New Lines from the Old Line State please email me at ami at amispencer dot com or writingherlife at gmail dot com. The cost will be $15 including shipping and handling (list price: $15.95). If you've already purchased a copy and would like to have it autographed, feel free to email and I'd be happy to work something out with you as well.

Thanks for your support!


Update: Thanks to Angie for pointing out that I might want to include a bit more info about the book!

New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers includes work from 29 Maryland writers. You'll find short stories about topics such as marriage and relationships, dryads, and life in Maryland. There are plenty of poems for the poetry fans out there. And if you like non-fiction, there are essays and memoir pieces about everything from sea horses to terrorism. For a taste of what you'll get, you can also listen to a few pieces that have been read on The Signal here in Baltimore: Eric Goodman's short story, "Cicadas"; Lalita Noronha's short story, "Shanti's Choice"; and my own essay, "Flying with a Ghost".

Feel free to let me know if you'd like more information.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CSA Report - My First Disappointment

It's been a very busy week, so this report will be short. Suffice it to say that I was disappointed for the first time in my CSA experience. It turns out that half-shares didn't get pumpkins. I was so looking forward to carving my pumpkin straight from the farm, and now I'll have to buy one at the market instead. It's not really a big deal, just a little disappointing. That's the risk I take investing in a farm though. The good news is, I got an eggplant and those full-shares didn't.

This week's share:

  • 1 lbs green tomatoes
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 head bak choy
  • 0.5 lb chard
  • 0.75 lb Russian kale
  • 3 cayenne peppers, 4 Thai peppers, 1 Chinese lantern pepper
  • 0.5 oz. cilantro
  • 1/2 pint red raspberries (u-pick, which I passed on again this week because I was in a hurry)
Things are slowing down a bit, but I've still got enough with the staples I picked up at the farmer's market (onions, potatoes, a few peppers) for some green tomato salsa, roasted eggplant, and a good Asian stir-fry. I'll probably try something new with the kale (maybe a crock pot dish). I'm still working my way through the butternut and Delicata squash, too. I'm certainly not wanting for food, even if I have to get creative with it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Omnivore's 100 - Adventurous Eating is the Name of the Game

I've been stumbling on this meme all over the internet, so it's high time I get in on the game and share my eating prowess (or not). The list below includes 100 foods that Andrew at Very Good Taste thinks every omnivore should try at least once. Have questions about the 100? Check out Hundred Reasons, a helpful FAQ of sorts. I've added some links to the items I wasn't sure about, just in case you're wondering about things like nettle tea and phaal, too.

Here are the rules and, as usual, feel free to join in on the fun:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (NOTE: Red items are food's I've tried but won't try again.)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht (authentic in Ukraine, and not as bland as you might think)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (No smoking for me.)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (I'm pretty adventurous with food, but not that adventurous.)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala (I loooove this!)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (But not in a really long time.)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis (If I didn't know what this is, I might have, but now? No way.)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (Anything with the word "intestine" in the description is not for me.)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (If a deer hit by a truck and then hauled home counts...)
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (Fried spam sandwiches with Cheez Whiz...ah, childhood memories)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

I'll pretty much try anything once, so there aren't many items crossed out for me. But I thought I would have had more bolded foods than I did. I'm really looking forward to seeking out some of these foods, like lobster thermidor and prickly pear. As I do, I'll be updating the list to keep track of my omnivore adventures.

How does your list look? Are you an adventurous eater or would you cross out more than you'd bold?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Commitment for Breast Cancer Awareness

If you haven't already heard, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One of my new favorite blogs, Elastic Waist, is hosting a Breast Cancer Awareness Challenge. Since studies show that exercise can decrease your risk of developing breast cancer, Weetabix at Elastic Waist suggests we all work to get in 3o minutes of exercise every day for six weeks. The challenge started on Wednesday, but there's still plenty of time to join in.

Go ahead. Stop by Elastic Waist to check out the challenge, email Weetabix (weetabix at elasticwaist dot com) if you're interested in "officially" joining and start getting your workout on. It's only 30 minutes a day, and there aren't any rules that disqualify you for doing crunches and squats in front of television at the end of the day because you haven't managed to squeeze in a trip to the gym today. Just saying...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A New Gig and a Great Site

Blissfully Domestic, a magazine covering a variety of topics of interest to women, relaunched recently bringing a new design and lots of new content to the website. With the creation of several channels, you'll find posts on topics ranging from green living to homeschooling to blogging and everything in between.

And you'll never guess who's writing for the new Healthy Living channel, Healthy Bliss...

OK, it's me. As if I don't have enough to do, right? I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to write about a topic I love for a great website. There are some other wonderful contributors that have joined the team, too. I highly recommend that you check out Blissfully Domestic soon. You can read my first article about exercise motivation (and spread some comment lovin') while you're there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

She's a (Radio) Star

It's official. You can hear me read my essay "Flying with a Ghost" from the anthology New Lines from the Old Line State on 88.1FM WYPR's The Signal, airing on Friday, October 10th at 12PM and 7PM. I'll be closing out the show, so if you can't spare a full hour for The Signal, tune in for the last ten minutes to hear "Flying with a Ghost." (I highly recommend you check out the full show when you have some time, though!)

If you're not in the Baltimore area, you can listen to the live stream online. Hope you'll come back here and let me know what you thought after it's over. And if you don't get the chance to listen live, I'll post the permanent link to my segment once it goes up.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CSA Report - Oh Boy, It's Bok Choy

There's not much to say about this week's share, except that I can see a great stir fry coming up in the next few days. I'm still working my way through last week's share and I'm glad I didn't make it to the farmers' market over the weekend because I know I would be drowning in veggies again.

This week's share:

  • 0.5 lbs green beans
  • 1.25 lbs tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs green tomatoes
  • 1 head bak choy
  • 0.5 lb chard
  • 3 cayenne peppers, 4 Thai peppers, 4 Chinese lantern peppers and 1 Habanero pepper
  • 0.75 oz. parsley
  • 1 pint red raspberries (which I passed on this week because I was in a hurry)
What are you eating this week?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Letter to My Body Part Deux

Back in April I was prompted by a post I'd read on BlogHer to write a letter to my body. In the letter, I begged forgiveness and made some commitments, but until a few days ago, I'd completely forgotten about it. The good news is that, for the most part, things with me and my body have been going rather well.

What got me thinking about my letter was an email I received from Capessa, a great new site for women, notifying me that they are sponsoring a Letter to My Body Contest with the blessing of BlogHer and support of True Body Confessions. All you have to do to enter the contest is post a 250-word letter to your body in the comments of the contest post by October 15. The winner will receive a $500 shopping spree from courtesy of Not Your Daughter's Jeans. Who wouldn't love to spoil their body with a little bit of Zappos love? I know I would, so I've decided to write another letter to my body (or rather, from my body to me).

Hello, Beautiful. It was so good to see you smiling this morning in the mirror. I can sense you're feeling more comfortable in our skin and I'm so proud of you.

I want to say thank you for feeding me so well lately. No, I probably didn't need those chicken fingers and French fries last night. And yes, that stomach ache was my way of reminding you that I prefer those vegetables, whole grains and lean meats we've been eating so much of. But for the most part, you've been treating me really well, and I'm grateful.

I love the exercise we've been doing--all of it. I wouldn't even mind it if we did a bit more over the next couple of weeks. The running is invigorating, that new stair machine at the gym was cool, and the yoga makes me feel lean and confident. Thanks for stretching, strengthening and challenging me. Can we try that step aerobics class next?

By the way, I heard you struggling with whether or not to weigh yourself this morning. I say forget about that scale and stop worrying about those numbers--I don't really care about them. Just keep feeding me those good foods and sweating it out a few times a week and we'll be just fine. Besides, didn't you see us this morning in that full-length mirror? We're hot, girl!

Thanks for tuning in to my signals and listening to what I'm trying to tell you. Communication is the key to a great relationship and I think we're finally speaking the same language.

All my love,
Your Body

You've only got a few more days, so get writing. Your body wants to hear from you. And when you're done writing your love letter to the most important person in your life, go enter the contest to try your hand at winning that Zappos shopping spree!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

CSA Report - Oh, the Greens

There were a lot of hot peppers in my share this week. I've been holding on to the jalapeno, Thai and cayenne peppers from the last few weeks because I'm really not sure what to do with them and haven't taken the time to do the research. I guess I better get going before they're not good to me anymore.

With the cooler weather, things are starting to slow down in the distribution shed. The tomato pickings are getting slim and the greens are coming back full-force. Think kale, chard and lettuce in abundance again. I'm glad to have plenty of eggplant (I saved last weeks' CSA share and got an extra at the farmers' market) to make ratatouille and maybe give baba ganoush a try, too. I'm going to try to get creative with some of the other vegetables and make some pasta dishes. This cooler weather is really bringing on the cravings for carbs and richer foods.

This week's share:

  • 1.5 lbs green beans
  • 2.5 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 sweet green pepper
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 head lettuce
  • 0.5 lbs delicata squash (1 small)
  • 0.5 lb chard
  • 0.75 lb kale
  • 2 cayenne peppers, 5 Thai peppers, 1 Chinese lantern (habanero) pepper
  • 0.5 oz. parsley
  • 0.5 oz. cilantro
  • 1 pint red raspberries
If you can find delicata squash anywhere, I highly recommend it. The flesh is just sweet enough that all I added was a bit of salt and pepper and a dab of butter before mashing and eating it. I'm looking forward to having another one this week. As for the tomatoes, green pepper and cilantro, I think some salsa is in order. For some reason, salads are making my stomach turn, so I'll have to find something creative to do with the lettuce. And, as usual, the kale and chard will probably be sauteed and tossed into a fritatta or pasta dish.

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