Category Archives: Uncategorized

24 Miles in the Woods

I did another long trail run this week. I wanted to have a stronger run than I did last time, and I wanted to do three loops of the trail I’ll be racing on in a few weeks, just to know that I could. The race is four loops, so three seemed to be a good training peak — the 20-miler, if you will, if this were a marathon.

A fellow trail runner (and ultrarunner) agreed that three loops would be a good confidence booster.

Three loops, by the way, is 24 miles. That’s hard to think about sometimes, these days, so I simply viewed it as three loops.

Thanks to the excellent local trail running community, I found someone to run with on Wednesday. He would join me for two loops, and I’d do the last alone. We had a similar training pace goal of two hours per loop (don’t scoff: with this trail, that is a healthy pace).

Unlike my two-looper a few weeks ago, I wasn’t sleepy this time. Nor was I craving eggs and toast. I’ve really been packing in the protein, by which I mean eating ridiculously large amounts of red meat. Yes, I do occasionally consider going vegan, but I love beef. Keep your chicken, pork, and fish, but I need cow. I crave it. Maybe it’s an iron thing. Anyway, I’ve been eating a lot of it, and I’ve been feeling really strong.

Gorgeous, right? I love this trail. It’s so much fun to run, and so beautiful.

The first two loops went great. I stayed at two hours per loop, bidding farewell to my running partner halfway through our second loop (he wanted to slow down a little and take it at his own pace). I made a very quick stop at my car to refill my water bag (the bag itself didn’t leak this time but the mouthpiece did, so I had a wet leg instead of a wet lower back. I’m still not sure what I’ll do on race day — use it, or carry a handheld, which might annoy me).

Oh, also this time I brought new fuel with me (and was in new shoes — apparently my thing this year is to break out brand-new shoes for my prerace long run!) What’s that about nothing new on race day? Right! That’s why I headed out for a 24-mile trail run in fresh-out-of-the-box Cascadias and some Honey Stinger Waffles, which I’ve never tried before (YUM). I also had a peanut butter chocolatey granola bar from Costco. Probably on race day, I’ll need a little more fuel but hopefully not much — I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the marvelous aid station.

I was definitely going to keep to a two-hour goal for the third loop. I kept track of my pace this time instead of just meandering along. I mean, I noted how long each mile was taking me. I hit the fire tower (about halfway) a little early, wooo-hoooo! Right after that, I ran into a parent of one of my son’s friends, and he asked how long I was running, and I said I was at mile 19 (!!!) and then had to revise it to say “halfway through my third loop.” I mean, come on, isn’t that so much easier to think about?

On I ran. And ran. I didn’t quite push it, but I wasn’t easing off.

And I finished that third loop in 1:55, five minutes ahead of my goal.

Talk about a confidence booster! I now feel a lot more ready for the race. I know anything can happen on race day — GI issues, ice, blinding sleet, a turned ankle. But I’m excited. I’m a lot more excited than I’ve been about a race in a long time. I’m glad my first ultra will be on my home turf, even though this is one of the tougher trails around.

And now it’s time to eat, run, rest, repeat. And head to Philly to visit and old friend and do the Philadelphia Half Marathon with her. And eat some more. Did I mention my appetite has been insane?

This race is a big head game for me. It feels like the perfect goal for me right now, running-wise. Can’t wait ’til race day!

School Lunch? What Is It Served On?

I was reading a Lunch Lady book to the boys last night (she’s a school cafeteria cook who doubles as a crime fighter). Near the end, in a scene in the school kitchen, her assistant says, “OK, Lunch Lady, the last tray has been cleaned!”

“Wait, what?” asked Max.

“‘The last tray has been cleaned,’” I repeated. “All the trays are clean.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“They washed the trays. The trays are clean,” I repeated, thinking, wow, we’re tired. I continued reading but could sense he was still distracted by the tray thing. “They have to clean everything, to clean up the kitchen. That includes the trays.” He eats lunch in the cafeteria every day. Why is he so mystified about the cleaning of those melamine trays?

Ah. Because it turns out they do not use the reusable trays. After some confusing back-and-forth, I discovered that at his school, they throw out the lunch trays. Seriously? All the trays, every day? Disposable??

“What are they made of?” I asked him.

“Foam,” he said. He never buys lunch, by the way, for many reasons, but Ben does, and I generally have been OK with that (the menu is decent).

“Foam? Really?”

“Yes. Why are you surprised?”

“Who uses styrofoam these days?” I said. (Actually, they are probably polystyrene, it turns out.) “I would have expected they’d be cardboard, so at least be they’d be compostable or recyclable!”

It looks like Ben will be getting packed lunches for a while until I can confirm this and see if we can change it.

I know there are many things we can put our energy into, school-wise (longer lunch breaks! more recess time! Recess before lunch! A more diverse kindergarten curriculum!), but this is a big one for me. It is 2015, and we’re still teaching our kids to use and throw out styrofoam (or, OK, polystyrene)? I guess this is a hot-button issue for me. We pack almost all their food in reusable containers. We recycle a ton (and used to compost, though it’s hard in our current place). We support a small farm through our CSA.

Does your kids’ school use disposable lunch trays? Do you know what they’re made of?

What I’ve Been Baking

This is the end of my third week of freedom — I mean, freelancing. I admit I took some much-needed time off, even though I was fielding calls from recruiters and had some interviews and landed a freelance gig. I have been running more. I have been blogging more. I have been reading more. And I’ve started baking again.

Right now in my oven are the vegan chocolate chip cookies I recently posted to FB about. The description on Food52 contained this phrasing, which caught my eye (talk about an understatement): “. . . its soft-bellied, chewy, caramelly-crisp-edged, rippled and ringed and puddled with melty chocolate, well-salted . . .” Why hello, cookie of my dreams.

But before we talk about them, here’s what else I’ve been baking:

  • A crumb-topped apple-pear pie. The apples were mostly local, the pears picked from a running buddy’s pear tree a few blocks away, the pie crust and topping recipes were from Peter Davis’s Fresh & Honest. If you want a cookbook of simple, honest food that’s about as New England as you can get, this is the cookbook for you. Despite my longstanding phobia about homemade pie crust, this came out ok. (Confession: I used my food processor. But I still had to roll it out!) The crumb topping was divine (it’s hard to go wrong with sugar and butter).
  • Parsnip-apple-raisin-walnut muffins. Like Morning Glory muffins, but with parsnips. I had one at a friend’s house and it was excellent. So I went home and found a recipe and made them (I mean, how many recipes can be out there for such a combo)? I accidentally shredded, rather than grated my parsnips, resulting in long thick tough strands. Did I let that stop me, or details like proper measuring of the shredded parsnips? No way! Did I bother to notice that the recipe made two dozen muffins instead of just one? Nope! Do they look like weird little porcupines with all the shreds of parsnip sticking out? Yup! Does anyone here besides me like them? Of course not. Would you like one? Please?
  • Gingerbread. The deepest, blackest, most gingery gingerbread ever, also from the Peter Davis book. It is excellent on its own or with whipped cream, and everyone here likes it, so that’s a win.
  • Vegan chocolate chip cookies. And this all brings us back to the cookies. I love chocolate chip cookies, and these sounded really good. I don’t care that they’re vegan. I mean, I fully support their vegan condition, but that wasn’t a draw for me.

I did what I was told, mostly, except I used half white, half whole wheat flour instead of all white, because I always do. I tossed the chocolate chips into the flour. The flour didn’t coat them, and it looked like an awful lot of chocolate chips. I beat the oil, water, and sugar. I combined everything thoroughly but minded the warning not to overmix. I tried not to be concerned that it looked like a sandy mix, like pastry dough before you add the few teaspoons of ice water to hold everything together. I dutifully refrigerated it overnight.

Scoop this?

After my second run today (don’t ask), I took it out, hoping to follow the next step and scoop it onto a parchment-lined tray. You cannot scoop loose sand that’s littered with chocolate chips. I added more water and (if you’re a diehard vegan, don’t read this part) a beaten egg.* While I still think there were about 1/4 cup too many chocolate chips, at least the batter held together this time.

Onto the cookie sheets it went! The recipe suggested freezing the trays with the scooped batter for ten minutes before baking, but — oh-so-hilarious to discover after I’d emptied a shelf in our freezer — my baking trays are too wide for our freezer shelves. A quick grind of sea salt on top (Himalayan pink, if you must know) and into the oven they went.

They certainly smelled good. And they taste really good. You don’t get the butter and vanilla flavor you might be used to, but they’re still really good. And they look fine — not like the picture in the recipe, of course, but fairly normal.

Yes, I said they look “normal” because my chocolate chip cookies always look like this. They’re never lovely and round and flat. They’re baked lumps, always.

Would I make them again? Definitely. Would I add an egg next time, too? If I needed to. Would I add vanilla next time? Hell yes. Will this be my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe? Probably not. The one I used before was just fine. But these would be handy if I were out of butter or wanted to make delicious vegan cookies. I don’t love the 12-hour lag time, because I am a fairly spontaneous baker.

But these are a good, butter-free cookie, and next time I will pay extremely close attention to the measurements instead of just eyeballing the water, and next time I will not add an egg. I swear. And also now I will stop eating them so that my family can actually enjoy a few, too.

*Also we had one egg left in the carton, which always seems ridiculous to me, so I was happy to add it to the cookie batter.

Note: I am aware that I am a terrible photographer. One day I might work on that. Or I might not.

A CSA On Demand: Peapod’s Farm Box Review

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a CSA farm share box…but just now and then instead of weekly?

Peapod Local Farm Box

Do you know what a CSA is? “CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way to support small and local farms while ensuring you get really fresh, local produce (or meat, etc.). Usually, you sign on with a farm, usually paying the farmer in the winter, and in exchange for your money you get a portion of the harvest, usually in weekly increments during the harvest season (though meat-only CSAs tend to be monthly). You can do this for fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, or a combo.

I have been a CSA member for 10 years. My first year, I split a small share with a friend (in which we received — and were totally mystified by — our first kohlrabi). While I love being part of a CSA farm (obviously), signing on with a CSA does take a certain amount of commitment, especially if you’re super-busy or live alone. Plus, you really need to stay on top of what’s in your produce drawers, because next week’s share pick-up will be here before you know it! It can also make meal planning a little tricky, if you are a die-hard meal planner, because you never quite know what you’re going to get.

(Of course, when you’ve been a member for a long time or grew up on a farm or just know the seasons, you have some idea of what’s going to be ready when: early June pickups that make for, quite literally, “salad days,” kale and beets in July, plenty of tomatoes and corn and potatoes in August, and the heavier stuff — winter squashes — coming as the temperatures cool.)

But maybe you don’t want the weekly commitment, or there’s no CSA near you. And you can’t get to the farmers’ market every week. Maybe you wish you could have a CSA on demand.

Peapod (the pickup and delivery service from Stop&Shop) now offers a Local Farm Box. It’s a multi-farm produce CSA that you can buy when you want it instead of committing to a season (or year). On the Peapod site, choose your region: Midwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic. For the New England Farm Box, Peapod partners with an organization called Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a  nonprofit that supports local farms, provides nutrition education, and has some other great programs.

I chose New England, of course. The site is really informative about the partner farms, how close the farms are to you, what’s available based on season, what to do with those vegetables, and a recipe that uses one of the week’s vegetables. The site also tells you what is in that week’s box and which farms the produce came from, which is handy information: I didn’t want a particular week’s box, because it contained a lot of green peppers. I’m the only green pepper eater in my house.

So I ordered the box the following week: kale, spaghetti squash, leeks, purple and white carrots, cabbage, and zucchini. Five. I should mention I also received zucchini earlier in the week from my farm share, and had (why??) bought some the previous weekend at the store. So that brought my household zucchini total to 14, but we love the stuff (and oh, time to make zucchini bread!).

Fresh and bright and local

The box arrived at the specified delivery time (which was super-handy; I had it arrive in the morning, before we all left for the day, but maybe evenings or weekend work better for you). It was big, cold, and a nice weight. Inside were beautiful fresh vegetables: a spaghetti squash (yum!), leeks, dark-green kale, purple and white carrots, medium-sized zucchini, all looking very much like what I pick up on Tuesdays from my own CSA: fresh, bright, delicious. And carefully packed, of course, the heavy stuff on the bottom, kale, and leeks on top. In the box was an informational sheet about Farm Fresh Rhode Island, the produce in the box, and the farms the veggies had come from. It also had a recipe (for my particular box, for Spaghetti Squash with Marinara, which was really good).

I will remain a loyal CSA member of my favorite local farm, Parker Farm in Lunenberg (I’ve been a member for so long that my newborn firstborn, now in second grade, nearly fell out of his ring sling into a crate of zucchini once when I was picking up my share). But I really like the Peapod Local Farm Box option. It is the perfect solution for anyone and everyone for whom a traditional CSA isn’t a good fit, or for someone who loves eating locally and seasonally but can’t get to the farmer’s market, or really for anyone who loves good fresh produce and supporting local farms.

Brilliant move, Peapod!

Wondering what to do with your produce and how to store it? Read How to Manage Your Summer Produce.

Disclosure: Peapod provided me with the Local Farm Box and some other groceries to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

Ask Your Father: Numbers, Not Riddles

Sometimes mornings are the usual routine of “Eat!” and “Get dressed!” and “Did you brush?” and “Why aren’t your shoes on yet?”

And sometimes mornings are the little one asking, “Daddy, what does 20 look like?” and my husband asking, “Twenty what?” and the little saying, “Twenty-five!” but it wasn’t a riddle.

Then I walked into the bedroom where my sick-and-staying-home older boy asked me, “Mom, why is ten famous?” and I said, of course, “Ask your father.”

Splattered Dreams

When we moved into this apartment last February, I had such high hopes. Unlike our former decrepit “We’re not putting any money into it because as soon as the woman downstairs goes into a nursing home, we’re putting it on the market” apartment, this one was freshly painted, fully functional, with a landlord who cared.

Plus, it had a lot less onsite storage, which meant we got rid of a ton of crap. I loved that part.

The walls here were bright and clean. The space was empty. The kitchen, pantry, and bathroom floors were a gleaming bright black-and-white tile, unlike the drab brown failing linoleum of our old place.

I had grand plans. I loved the bright clean floor so much, I bought a case of those wasteful Swiffer cloths. I was going to keep this floor bright and clean, washing it every night.

************

Fast-forward to November. There’s a spare dresser in the basement. There’s water in the basement. The kitchen set-up doesn’t quite work. There’s a spare kitchen island in the basement.

If we use the toaster oven and coffee maker at the same time, if they’re on the same counter, we throw the circuit breaker. We’ve had to configure that problem into our constant moving-things-around-in-the-kitchen-because-the-space-isn’t-right situation.

We try to keep it clean, but when we got the keyboard for Max’s piano lessons, one bookshelf had to move into the entryway, meaning we took down the bench-and-cubby that I’d made last winter, so the kids have no idea where to put their stuff.

The lovely black-and-white tile? Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep that clean? We try. It’s hard. I’m making three meals a day plus feeding the cat. Plus school lunches. It’s never-ending.

Plus, Thanksgiving. Wednesday I spent the day preparing Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, roasted squash and roots, baby kale. I also cleaned up a bunch of the produce we got from the farm last weekend. Then we left for Thanksgiving.

We returned Saturday and fed the kids lunch; fed the cat; fed the kids dinner; and prepared more Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, roasted squash and roots, and a pumpkin pie for the next day’s Thanksgiving with my in-laws.

The cat was so excited to see us, she threw up next to her food bowl.

We cleaned the floor again, and again, and again. It’s nonstop.

We got home tonight, put the leftovers away, fed the kids, made lunches. Fed the cat. Cleaned everything up. Moved the toaster oven to a new spot in hopes that works better. Made plans to bring the cubby bench in from the back porch (but then where does the bookshelf go?). I’m ready to sell the Early American drop-leaf table in the front hall, which I found in Maine when I lived there. It’s precious and lovely and so original, with wide boards, and tonight I realized I am finally unattached to it, after all this time, and could sell it. For much less than I paid for it, even. I might even just give it away.

We have too many tables, and too much stuff, and the floors will never be clean. I think back to those early days, when most of our stuff wasn’t moved in yet and I was so happily uncluttered,

and I notice we’re down to 2 boxes of Swiffer cloths, which means not only did we fill a landfill with the things, but jesus we can never get ahead of the mess on the floors,

and I guess this is what life is like sometimes, when you’re 42 and not quite living your dreams and surrounded by the chaos and mess of a family.

I’m writing this with Ben asleep on my lap, and I still have to sweep and Swiffer the bathroom.

I’m pretty sure we need to get rid of half of our stuff. Will that help keep our floors clean?

Family Dinner-Based Giving #spon

There’s a lot out there about the importance of having dinner together as a family. I’m a fan. One strong memory from my childhood is that at 5:30 p.m every single day, my family sat down to a meal my mother had cooked for us.

She was a good cook and adventurous cook. In central Pennsylvania in the 1980s, she found the one Japanese grocery and always went there to buy rice, and sometimes seaweed, and sometimes (as a special treat for us) rice candy. She took on local Pennsylvania Dutch culture by learning to make stuffed hog maw (pig stomach stuffed with potatoes, sausage, cabbage, and carrots) —oh, and this wasn’t just a novelty. I remember eating hog maw often enough that it was almost a staple).

(Wow, you might think my need to stuff things—pumpkins, apples—is genetic. You might be right.)

I make dinner every day, too, and the boys and I eat together (sometimes my husband is home in time to join us, but often not; even if I don’t eat with the boys, I always sit with them and talk about their day).

Family dinner, as you can tell, is important to me. It’s a way for us to connect at the end of the day. I can hear about what happened at school. My husband (if he’s home in time) and I can talk about our days. Family dinner is not just important to me; there’s an organization called The Family Dinner Project that’s devoted to getting families to eat together–with food, conversation, and fun. They simply want to get families to sit down together for dinner….you know, the way many families used to.

Their site has tips on how to get everyone together, topics of conversation (if you need them), food ideas, and so much more. They’re kicking off the #familydinnerforward campaign for Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2) and the holiday season by inspiring “dinner-oriented acts of giving.” Go to their page to find tips on talking about Giving Tuesday as a family. They also have some great ideas for dinner-oriented acts of giving as well as a Twitter/Instagram contest. Read on!

To participate in #familydinnerforward, simply snap a dinner/giving-related photo and share it via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #familydinnerforward. You can share as many photos as you like and all photos tagged on Twitter or Instagram with #familydinnerforward between December 2-16 will be entered to win prizes from Lenox! Two winners will be drawn at random and will receive four 4-piece plate settings of the Lenox Entertain 365 pattern of their choice (estimated value of $344-400 depending on pattern chosen)! US entrants only. Be creative! But here are some examples of dinner-oriented acts of giving you’re welcome to use:

  • Cook (or buy) a meal for a neighbor or someone in need.
    • Invite someone for family dinner: We did this recently! It’s always scary for me to invite people over for dinner–we have to clean! Our kitchen is small! Why are all the cloth napkins down in the laundry? Someone needs to buy beer and wine! If the people have never been to my house before (and likely they haven’t been, since I rarely invite people over), I usually warn them I live in a small cluttered place full of tornado-like children. The people show up anyway–and we have a really nice dinner and evening and I wonder why we don’t have friends over for dinner every week.

  • Collect and donate food items to a food pantry
  • Help deliver meals via a community organization
  • Cook a meal together at home, where everyone has a job (this is a gift to the person who primarily does the cooking!)
  • Give the gift of meaningful conversation (check out the conversation starters at http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/giving-tuesday/

(Here, I’ll just put them here for you.)

    • Talk about giving during family dinner and show us what you decide to give this season

So many great tips as we prepare for Thursday and the rest of the holiday season. Enjoy your holiday and your conversations!

[Disclosure: This is a sponsored post (AKA “compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project.” All opinions and memories of hog maw are my own.]

Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin: Thanksgiving Recipe

Ever since I glimpsed a baked stuffed pumpkin on Twitter, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of making one.

The traditional recipe, it seems, is chock-full of bread, cheese, garlic, and cream. I’m down with heaps of garlic and some cheese, but a meal of bread, cheese, and cream is really not how we eat here. I immediately thought about making a healthy vegetarian baked stuffed pumpkin recipe: swapping out bread for whole grains, adding chopped greens, cutting back on the cheese and cream. The original sounds amazing but just too heavy for us.

Oh, and then I saw a version that contains all that plus bacon. Yeah. I’d love that, very very much, but in a small dose. I will make that one day for a dinner party, but not just for my family. It would go to waste.

The wheels were still turning in my head. Whole grains instead of bread. Greens. Maybe some sausage or bacon. Definitely cheese, but not super-cheesy. Moderate cream.

And then I went for it. I went to a nearby farm for leeks, carrots, kale, spinach, and fresh sage. I had the whole Saturday ahead of me. I could finally make this thing, because we were having dinner with friends that night and I was off to an afternoon brunch the following day. I could make two stuffed pumpkins.

Cooling the rice and leeks, cooking the kale. And the pumpkin was only there for the picture; I wasn’t going to let it sit on the hot oven the whole time.

I cooked wild rice, and while it cooked, I sauteed leeks and carrots and kale. I mixed this into the wild rice in a big bowl. Then I felt like we needed more greens, so I sauteed spinach (the big leaves, not that baby-spinach stuff; the big spinach leaves from the nearby farm are so damn tasty you practically fall out of your chair when you eat them, thinking, “Oh yeah, THAT’S what spinach tastes like!!”). I chopped up the spinach once it was sauteed (why? I don’t know, maybe because I’m lazy and the raw leaves make such a huge pile falling everywhere but the sauteed leaves are a small neat pile and don’t go drifting off onto the counter and floor as I chop).

Very easy to chop the spinach when it’s in THIS condition.

Then I grated a lot (a lot) of Gruyere. I don’t know, I guess I just did what I thought was “the right amount” and then thought, “Why have this poor small chunk just left alone in the fridge?” so I grated that, too. I tossed the shredded cheese into the bowl. Now it was time for chiffonading the sage. Basically, I just used my kitchen shears to cut it into ribbons over the bowl. I also added some fresh dill, and salt and freshly ground pepper. Oh, and chives! I forgot. Only add chives if you have some on hand and don’t want them to die in your fridge. Otherwise, you don’t need them.

Fresh sage…so good!

It’s still vegan at this point. You don’t have to add the cheese or cream.

Toss, toss. Taste. Sprinkle of salt. Toss. Taste. Crush in 3 more cloves of garlic (which made young Ben, who’d previously loved his samples, frown and say it was too spicy). Toss. Try to simply taste instead of eat it all.

So easy! This actually was the simple part. Now it was time to cut the tops off the pumpkins, clean them out, and stuff them.

Did you know that since sugar pumpkins are a lot smaller than regular pumpkins, they are a real pain in the butt to clean out? I’m used to hacking them in half and scooping out the guts. When you’re leaving it whole and just going in through the top, it takes more patience. Maybe I could have cut a bigger hole in the top. Maybe you should, when you make it. Trust me.

Starting to stuff the sugar pumpkins.

Looks full, but we can pack more in there!

If I were a food blogger, I’d rotate this picture, wouldn’t I?

Stuff the pumpkin. Pack it right in there. To the top. Fill it. When you think it can’t possibly hold any more of the stuffing, pour cream in, as much as you’re comfortable with.

Put the lid on, make sure your rack is on the lowest setting (so the pumpkin will fit in your oven, unless your pumpkin is smaller or your oven bigger than mine), and bake for at least 90 minutes. I say “at least” because my first-day pumpkin was in at least that long and was fantastic. The next day’s pumpkin didn’t get to bake quite as long and wasn’t as good. The pumpkin flesh in the longer-baked one was just melting into the stuffing, which I swear was bubbling with joy (and cream and melted cheesy goodness).

Oh, and take the lid off for the last 20 minutes or so of cooking. Just do it.

Yes, yes, yes. Oh, and is that a pan of triple-chocolate Ghirardelli brownies behind it? When the oven’s on, I use it. Also, this is why I should be invited to dinner more often, don’t you think?

OK, this is really unfair. It looks smaller than the beer can. It’s not. It’s a weird perspective. Also, it’s totally dense with cheese veggie rice goodness. Trust me, 4 adults and 4 children couldn’t finish half of this, even though I’m pretty sure we each had third helpings of it.

Hello, cheesy wholesome goodness. Also that gravy boat to the right contains really excellent turkey gravy that my friend had JUST made.

It gave, and it gave.

To serve, spoon the filling onto plates, making sure to scoop pumpkin flesh too.

Be happy.

Vegetarian Baked Stuffed Pumpkin for Thanksgiving

Serves 6-8
Prep time 30 minutes
Cook time 1 hour
Total time 1 hour, 30 minutes
Dietary Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish, Side Dish
Misc Freezable, Gourmet, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Occasion Thanksgiving
Region American

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sugar pumpkin
  • 1-1.5 cup wild rice (cooked)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil and/or butter
  • 1 large leek (cleaned and trimmed, sliced)
  • 1 large carrot (cleaned and trimmed, cut lengthwise then sliced)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup kale (cleaned, chopped)
  • 1-2 cup spinach (cleaned, large stems removed; ok to use frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • 2-3 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon fresh dill (optional)
  • .25-.5lb Gruyere (or Cheddar or similar cheese, grated or shredded)
  • .5-1 cup cream (light cream or half-and-half is fine)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup pecans, walnuts, or other nuts ([OPTIONAL: vegan addition])
  • 2-3 medium slices bacon (chopped [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])
  • 1 cup sausage chunks (browned [OPTIONAL: meat-lover’s addition])

Directions

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350. Cook wild rice according to package directions in order to end up with 1-1.5 cups cooked rice.
Step 2
While rice is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and/or butter in skillet on medium-high. Add leeks and carrots. Stir and cook until leeks are translucent and carrot softens. Remove to a large bowl. When rice is cooked, add 1 cup of cooked rice to the bowl.
Step 3
Saute kale in half a tablespoon of olive oil and/or butter. When kale softens, add to bowl. If using fresh spinach, heat remaining oil/butter. Saute spinach. Use tongs to move wilted spinach to cutting board. Chop spinach coarsely, then add to bowl. (If using frozen chopped spinach, thaw and add to bowl.) Mix all ingredients well.
Step 4
Add shredded cheese to bowl. Crush or mince the garlic; add to bowl. Cut sage into ribbons; add to bowl. Add dill, salt, and pepper. Mix all ingredients well. Adjust salt and pepper as needed, or add more garlic if you want more zing (it will get milder in flavor as it cooks). (For vegans, leave out cheese and add 1 cup toasted chopped nuts. For meat-lovers, add one cup browned sausage chunks or 2-3 slices of cooked, chopped bacon.
Step 5
Cut top off sugar pumpkin as you would cut the top off a jack-o-lantern. Be sure you cut it large enough for your hand and a spoon to fit through to clean out the pumpkin. Scrape seeds and stringy parts out of pumpkin (save seeds to roast, if you desire).
Step 6
Line a baking tray with parchment (or lightly oil the baking tray) so the pumpkin doesn’t stick to it. Place pumpkin on baking tray. Pack filling into pumpkin. Pack it in well (you may end up with leftover filling, but it’s good on its own, too, or you can freeze it for another time). Pour cream over top, slowly. Depending on how tightly you packed the filling, the cream may take some time to filter through. Put lid on pumpkin. Place in oven.
Step 7
After about an hour and ten minutes, remove the lid of the pumpkin. Place it on baking tray next to pumpkin. Continue to cook. After 90 minutes, filling should be bubbling up and pumpkin should be tender to the touch (and will have darkened). Depending on size of pumpkin and how tightly you packed the filling, it might need more time.
Step 8
When pumpkin has darkened and (more importantly!) the filling is bubbling, take it out of the oven. Carefully move pumpkin to a serving plate. Place the lid back on for presentation, if you wish, or lean it next to pumpkin.
Step 9
To serve, be sure to scoop pumpkin flesh as you spoon out the filling.

Menotomy Grill and Tavern: Restaurant Review

I don’t go out to lunch. If I do, it’s because I’m working at a cafe with wifi and need to grab something to eat. But recently the Menotomy Grill and Tavern in East Arlington hosted a small group of bloggers for lunch (including me, hooray!). Menotomy Grill is a cozy restaurant with a Colonial tavern feel.

Menotomy Grill fills a niche for Arlington: a restaurant where you can get a good lunch or relaxing dinner or go for drinks and watch the game (what game? I don’t know these sports-games-things–but you know, the game) on the big screen at the bar. I’ve previously been there to meet friends for drinks. It’s a place in Arlington to meet friends for drinks! I’ve been there for dinner with my husband and, another time, with my mother–and another time, with a friend–for dinner. It’s fine for dinner.

This was my first time having lunch there.

OK, so maybe the ductwork undoes the cozy feel of this particular chandelier, but trust me, this place is cozy. #blamethephotographer

The place is called Menotomy Grill because it harkens back to when Arlington was called Menotomy [I can also tell you why the Jason Russell House is famous and what East Arlington used to be famous for (answer: lettuce); I know my Arlington history]. The American Revolution hit this town hard, and like the Warren Tavern in Charlestown (but with a more spacious feel), Menotomy Grill has some features that bring you back to colonial days: the stone fireplace, the wood tables and floors, and the iron/candle replica light fixtures. I’ll admit it: I am very partial to the light fixtures.

The place has a lot of nice historical touches. You could spend a lot of time near the bathroom, studying the old maps of the town.

It also has a decidedly modern feel and upscale vibe.

Menotomy Grill has a decent wine list and a very good beer list, plus ciders and cocktails. I failed to take note of their current list at this lunch, as I had seltzer, but I’ve had wine and beer there at dinner and have enjoyed my selections.

Let’s talk about food, right? That’s what we’re here for. I think among the six of us we ordered most of the appetizers. I would not have selected the Fried Dill Pickles ($7), since I don’t like fried food, and I’m a pickles purist, but they turned out to be mightily addictive, even if you didn’t bother dipping them into the spicy remoulade they were served with (also kind of addictive). They didn’t need it. They were like the seared tuna of fried pickles: hot and tender on the outside, cooler and with more substance in the middle. The perfect meld of temperature and texture. I want to go back there right now, just thinking of those pickles.

We also tried the Chipotle Citrus Wings (served with peppercorn ranch, $11), which sounded good and looked pretty.

The wings had a nice kick to them but failed to deliver in other ways: they were almost soggy, and the meat wasn’t falling off the bone the way I like it to be.

We also tried the flatbread as an appetizer. Menotomy Grill usually has two flatbreads on the menu (Margherita ($10) as well as Grilled Steak and Caramelized Onion ($12). The day’s special flatbread was smoked salmon on cream cheese on an everything dough. The special sounded like a creative combo, but we decided to try the Margherita, which was fairly crispy and very tasty. The sauce was perfect.

The House Smoked St. Louis Ribs (with guava BBQ sauce and Napa cabbage/pickled jalapeno slaw, $11) was tasty. If you’re hoping for saucy ribs, these are not them, but they were perfectly cooked and nicely porky. The Napa cabbage slaw underneath the ribs was fantastic, and I could easily envision this dish as a salad tipped with some meat cut off the ribs.

It’s hard to see the lovely salad under all the ribs.

Another blogger ordered the Wedge Salad ($9). It was everything you wanted in an wedge salad: crisp fresh iceberg lettuce, heirloom cherry tomatoes, a generous sprinkling of bacon cubes (I’d call them lardons), a confident splash of buttermilk bleu cheese dressing. Oh, and avocado. I don’t think it needs the avocado. It’s heaven on a plate, crunchy/creamy/crisp/fatty/fresh/salty/startling. I would go there just for that.

We tried a bunch of sides (each $6). The House Baked Beans are good, the Edna’s Potato Sausage Stuffing thick and meaty and delicious. The Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Mustard are tender and tasty, though a touch more watery than I prefer (I like them simple, just roasted with garlic). We also tried the various fries: Sweet Potato, Herbed Parmesan, and regular. They’re all crispy and good.

I’ve had the Grilled Vegetable Panini before, at dinner (lots of grilled vegetables and cheese). This day, we all tried the Menotomy Cheeseburger ($13), topped with cheddar, lettuce, red onion, and a smoked tomato jam (add a fried egg or bacon for an additional charge). It was a good burger: slightly but not overly fatty, off-set by the crisped grilled bun and the startling sweet touch of the tomato jam. I’d go back there for that (and the Wedge Salad!).

The Greek Salad ($9) has a nice dressing and is big. Others ordered the Herb Roasted Chicken, the Grilled Hanger Steak, the Grilled Chicken BLT, and the day’s special sandwich (a grilled ham and cheese club with house-made chips) and reported back very positively.

We didn’t try the desserts. We had no room.

But I’ll be back, to the cozy Colonial-tavern space.

[Disclosure: We were hosted for lunch. All opinions are my own.] 

Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream with Hood Sour Cream

Ice cream that’s fast, eggless, and homemade? Yes, please! Plus, it’s blueberry season!

And it’s sour cream season. Just kidding: sour cream is always in season. I was recently asked by Hood to come up a recipe incorporating sour cream as the main ingredient. Well, I think they asked me to share a recipe, but I’ll confess I don’t usually cook with sour cream. My cooking/our eating is all veggies and lean meat and whole grains and minimal dairy….except, well, for ice cream.

I love ice cream. I love to eat it. I love to make it. However, it’s hard to make creamy ice cream at home unless you make a custard base first. Who has time for that? Whenever I get the urge to make ice cream, I need to make it now. I don’t want to patiently separate eggs and make the custard and thoroughly cool it, etc., before making the ice cream. No. Need it now.

Sour cream is a great base for homemade ice cream, because it’s rich and thick and tangy and wonderful. And it’s fast. Just add your ingredients, turn on the ice cream maker, sit down to dinner (or clean up from dinner, or whatever) and half an hour later you have wonderful homemade ice cream.

We recently went blueberry picking and went overboard, coming home with ten pounds. Ten pounds of blueberries! We ate a lot of them fresh, but I also washed, dried, and froze most of them. Those fresh blueberries add a wonderful flavor to this ice cream, but you could substitute any fruit. Or leave out the blueberries, cut the lemon juice down, and increase the vanilla. Or hey! A few tablespoons of brown sugar mixed into the ice cream at the last minute would be amazing. Or brown sugar and banana slices!! Considering how many people told me they liked a bowl of sour cream with sliced bananas and brown sugar, I have to try making that in ice cream form.

But for now, it’s blueberries.

Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

This tangy, rich ice cream is fast—no need to make and cool a custard base!—eggless, and delicious. I don’t use much sugar, because I don’t like very sweet ice cream, but if you prefer a sweeter dessert, increase the sugar by a half-cup.

 Ice Cream:

16 oz sour cream
1½  cups whole milk
½ cup sugar (you can use up to one cup if you want it sweeter)
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 T lemon juice

Blueberry Sauce:

2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup sugar

Equipment: Ice cream maker

Blueberry Sauce: Make blueberry sauce first. Combine blueberries and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil, covered, over medium-high, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered until slightly thickened. Cool. [NOTE: To cool quickly, divide into shallow bowls or other dishes and place dishes into fridge or freezer.]

Ice Cream: Combine all ice cream ingredients in a bowl and mix with a whisk (or put them all into the blender). Pour into ice cream maker. About 15 minutes later, add half of the blueberry sauce. Let the ice cream maker run until the ice cream is done (usually about half an hour total; ice cream will have increased in volume and frozen to a soft-serve consistency). Pack ice cream into a freezer-safe container, drizzling in remaining blueberry sauce. Eat immediately if you like a soft-serve consistency or freeze to let the ice cream harden. [NOTE: If it gets very hard, remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving.]

Variations: You don’t have to make blueberry ice cream. With the sour cream ice cream base, you can make any flavor.

  • Strawberry: Substitute strawberries (fresh or frozen) for blueberries. Proceed as directed.
  • Vanilla: Skip blueberry sauce. Increase sugar to ¾ cup. Increase vanilla to 1.5 tsp. Decrease lemon juice to 1 tablespoon. Add scraped vanilla beans, if desired.
  • Chocolate Swirl: Skip blueberry sauce. Increase sugar to ¾ cup. Decrease lemon juice to 1 tablespoon. Drizzle in ¾ to 1 cup of chocolate sauce at the very end.

Enjoy!

[Disclosure: I was invited by Hood to participate in their Sour Cream Meal Makeover (there’s an actual cookoff tomorrow night–check out the final recipes on the Hood site!). I was compensated for my participation. All opinions are my own.]