Sunday, February 26, 2012

DIY: 2 Successes, 1 Fail

Life has been amazingly hectic. From work to personal life, it’s been really crazy. But I wanted to share an evening of DIY. I had a few projects (as I always seem to do) laying around that I needed to take care of.

The long weekend was lovely. We went up late Friday night after the Bay Bridge closed for work (I *cannot* wait until that damn bridge is done!), no traffic and were surprised to find that there were only 2 others at the cabin that night. Score! A room for ourselves. We finally had a full day of skiing and found some good, hidden stashes. I skied the morning without my knee brace which likely wasn’t the best idea (it still hurts from tearing my MCL last March). Later that night after a nice long nap and a hot shower, A and M showed up for dinner. It was awesome to hang out with them, enjoy dinner and a few glasses of wine. The next day we skied some more, but only a half day due to the icy conditions and my bum knee. We decided to head home and were happy to find that the Bay Bridge opened early! Then, with the long weekend, I had all day Monday to address my projects.

Project 1: Rendering Lard
attention vegetarians and vegans - this contains graphic content, reader discretion is advised

I have been reading a lot lately about how extra virgin olive oil (organic, first cold pressed of course) isn’t really the best for medium to high heat cooking. I’m always sauteing veggies for something: soup, stew, rice, etc. There has been a lot of debate lately about the smoke point of olive oil (most say it’s around 400degF), so I’m under the impression that you can cook with it, just not on a high setting. If EVOO starts to smoke, you’re actually taking away the whole reason for using it: it’s healthy! I’ve started thinking about incorporating other fats into our diet just as a way to diversify, incorporate different vitamins/nutrients, as well as avoid the carcinogenic by products from overheating EVOO.

The first chopping of the piggy fat
 I stumbled across this incredible oil chart. READ IT. I am simply amazed at how they’ve portrayed every fat that I’ve ever heard of. I love how they color code each fat to describe how “good” or “bad” it is. Remember, we eat way too many omega-6 fatty acids in this country. Over consumption of omega-6’s lead to inflammation and a whole host of other bad side effects (think heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc, see “negative health effects” on Wikipedia). They are essential, but we need to cut down on consumption. Omega-6’s are usually found in processed foods. This chart shows that EVOO is really good for you but you need to be careful when cooking with it (it’s located under the “baking section” not the high-heat “stir-fry” section). Thus, I’ve started using and considering some other fats for cooking.

-Unrefined, Organic, Raw Coconut oil: this is my new found favorite high heat oil. It’s delicious! It does impart a slight coconut taste in anything that is cooked in it. It’s amazing for frying tofu. I’ve also pan fried falafel in it as well and it’s delicious. Wonderful in curries with coconut milk.

Rendering attempt #1: roasting

 -Butter: how can you go wrong with butter? Really? I LOVE butter. But in moderation. A tablespoon here or there is perfectly fine in my opinion. Please just choose organic butter from 100% pasture raised cows. This will give you the best taste and will give you the most vitamins and nutrients (notably vitamin D).

-EVOO, organic, first cold pressed and high quality: great for roasting tasty foods. I use it to roast squash, or any other seasonal veggie in the oven. I’ll start keeping the roasting temp at 400degF or below, however.

-Others: duck fat from sustainably and humanely raised ducks (amazing for frying eggs!), peanut oil (I don’t use it often, but probably will now for stir fry), and not a cooking fat, but EVOO infused truffle oil (OMG. just try it!)

-Fats I’d like to try (reference the oil chart above): unrefined flax oil (have had it in the past, need to stock up on it again), avocado oil
Chopping #2
 -Lard: yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Everyone hates lard. But really, it’s quite good for you! When you look at the oil chart, it’s high in saturated fats but it’s also high in monounsaturated fats. Let’s ignore the war on saturated fats, please. They are essential for most people. We need a little bit of saturated fats to be healthy. When you use high quality lard from an organically raised pig, I don’t see how this is a bad thing. In moderation. So on to my first DIY project.

Rendering Attempt #2: dutch oven
Back in December, I purchased some pig fat specifically for rendering lard from our meat CSA. I threw it in the freezer for a rainy day. Finally, I decided it needed to be rendered.

Getting there... 

As with any of my new DIY projects, it started off shakily. I read one recipe that had you chop it up and throw it in a roasting pan at a low temp for an hour or so. I tried that. After 1 hour, nothing. UGH. Pulled out the pork and started on some granola bars.

From there, I chopped up the pork fat into smaller bits. Threw it in my biggest dutch oven and turned the heat on. The fat weighed 3 lbs, so I added 1.5 cups of water to help the fat start melting. After some exciting moments (ie pops, crackles and a bit of smoking - open your window if you try this!) the rest of the process went really well. I successfully rendered the lard and had left over cracklings. I just made a lunch with a fried egg and the lard was awesome! The cracklings don’t taste so good (I think I burned them) so I’ll give them to my coworker who has chickens. I’m sure they’ll love it (and maybe she’ll give me more of her yummy eggs)! 
Finished rendering with cracklings
The finished product! Cracklings on the left, filtered/rendered lard on the right (still warm)
Project 2: Granola Bars

So R and I go through quite a bit of Clif bars during the summer. I wanted to try my hand at making some tasty granola bars to reduce the waste. Also, I’m not totally against Clif Bar, but have you seen how many ingredients are in one of those things? Yikes! It’s kind of daunting. I like the idea of having a granola bar that’s tasty, 100% organic and has compostable packaging (ie parchment paper).

Ingredients for making granola bars
I went for Gluten Free Girl’s recipe. I hunted down all the necessary components at Rainbow Grocery that day and happily chopped up the dried fruit. I used golden raisins, dried persimmons and candied ginger. Now, here’s where this recipe turned into a fail, I think. I used sucanat sugar instead of moscovato brown sugar. Sucanat is “sucre de canne naturale.” It’s whole sugar, just dehydrated. I thought it would be a fine replacement for brown sugar. Brown sugar is the sugar with some of the molasses left in it. Yeah. It didn’t work so well. When I made the syrup, it had a rather unattractive molasses smell to it. This is when I got suspicious. Then I mixed everything together and it seemed a little too runny. Either I didn’t boil the sugar long enough to get it to thicken, or I just used the wrong sugar.
Syrup for the granola (sucanat sugar on the right)
Ah, well. Lesson learned. I still chopped them up and rolled each granola bar in parchment paper and froze them. I’m sure we can use them hiking or in a situation where there is easy access to hand washing! It’s a bit of a sticky situation when eating them... heheheh.... 
Toasting rolled oats and hazelnuts
The completed product: looks tasty but is quite sticky!
 Project 3: Nettle Pesto

A few years ago I read that nettles can help alleviate seasonal allergies. I’ve tried them every year with minor success. Last spring, I purchased something like 3 pounds of raw nettles. I had way too many so I froze a quart bag of nettles and was very happy to have them available for the first signs of allergies that recently popped up because of the mild winter we’re having.

A note on nettles. Yes, they sting! You can usually find them at farmers markets and they’ll usually bag them for you. If they don’t, USE TONGS. These buggers hurt, until you toss them in boiling water that is. To use nettles, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes (with tongs) and then transfer them to an ice bath. Squeeze out the excess water and use them however you’d like! I’ve heard of some people using the blanching water (after it cools) to water plants, or you can always keep it for a tea. After the nettles are blanched, they will not sting you and are perfectly safe to eat. They are extremely high in iron and help alleviate mild allergies.

Making nettle pesto
 A word on seasonal allergies. I have found that moving to SF helped. I found that cutting gluten out of my diet made a huge difference, yet I have still had to break down and take a prescription drug for about 2 months. This year, I’m being a bit more proactive. The first signs of allergies had me not eating *any* wheat (no cheating for me), making nettle pesto, drinking a cup of nettle tea almost every day, avoiding milk/cheese/dairy (but as I mentioned before, that’s not working out so well, so I try to stick to goat/sheep milk cheeses which tend to be less allergenic) and trying out a new homeopathic allergy medicine. I’m not a fan of homeopathy, but this stuff seems to be helping! Who knows, maybe I’ll still have to get on the drug later this year but it seems to be working well for now.

The finished, tasty nettle pesto!
 I am of the opinion that seasonal allergies, skin rashes, being exhausted all the time, chronic stomach troubles, etc are usually caused by a food intolerance/allergy. By consuming the very thing that you’re intolerant/allergic to, you create a constant state of inflammation in your body. The overactive immune system then goes slightly haywire when exposed to, say, pollen. Hence, the development of seasonal allergies. When you eliminate the food that you’re intolerant/allergic to from your diet, your body can properly respond to allergens and not react. Again, I’ve seen a huge difference in my seasonal allergies by getting rid of the gluten in my life. I’m interested to see how my experiment of avoiding cheese and milk and using this homeopathic medicine will help my seasonal allergies the closer we come to April and May. Note: I’m not a doctor, PhD or other medical professional. This is simply my observation and what I’ve read in other mediums.

Nettle Pesto

-1 lb blanched nettles, excess water removed
-3-5 peeled garlic cloves
-1/2 cup raw walnuts
-1/2 tsp salt + more to taste
-1/2 cup grated parmesean + more to taste
-ground pepper to taste
-1/4-1/2 cup organic, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

Put everything in a food processor except the EVOO. Pulse until the pieces are broken up. Start adding EVOO through the chute and keep adding it until the pesto begins to form. Taste along the way and balance with more salt, EVOO, pepper or garlic. Keep blending until everything is broken down and is seasoned to your liking. This took me about 5 minutes.

Keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or freeze for a few months.


Lastly, I know this has been a long post so thanks for hanging in there with me, but I feel I have to make a public service announcement. R crashed on his bike yesterday. Please, everyone, wear your bike helmet!!! Use lights at night. Be visible to cars. Be careful on the MUNI lines! Don’t be a stupid biker who weaves in and out of traffic. I nearly hit someone yesterday for passing me on the left. No helmet, he was weaving in and around the cars on busy 18th street near Bi-Rite. Be sensible. Who do you think will win that fight? The car or you on a bike?

R crashed literally 100 feet away from where I did 1.5 years ago on the MUNI lines. He also fell victim to the gnarly MUNI lines. We were fortunate enough to find a dentist to temporarily repair R’s broken front tooth on a Saturday and time will tell if he needs a root canal or just a permanent cap. He was lucky by escaping with just a broken tooth, a banged up knee and some cuts and bruises. One of the guys he was supposed to bike with yesterday was following a car too closely on the decent from Mt. Tam, the car slammed on its brakes and he crashed; sustaining a head injury, almost breaking his arm and he enjoyed a ride to Marin General in an ambulance. It must almost be a new moon!

Flowers from R (my favorite!) for taking care of him, along with my next DIY project: mushrooms!

Let’s hope there isn’t a next time, but please just be safe out there. Life is full of risks but we can always make safe decisions to mitigate that risk.

OK, enough of my ranting for today! What are your DIY projects? Think I’m crazy for using lard?

Be well.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Friends and Rest

Part of our haul from the Saturday Farmers Market: cauliflower, dates, gluten free russian tea cakes (!!!) and Rancho Gordo beans
 You may have noticed that I’ve been quite relaxed in my posts in 2012. I think I started this blog project with much enthusiasm and forgot that sometimes life changes. Sometimes you just have to take time for yourself. And breathe. And rest.
A lunchtime workout: 15 minutes on the stairs

These past few weeks have been amazingly busy. For no real reason. Other than life and ski season. Here is a glimpse into my normal work day, one that sucks up most of my time:

6:45a: wake up
7:50: commute to work
8:30: work (meetings with R&D, email, more meetings, call a customer, etc)
11:00: snack on some fruit
12:00p: Gym
1:00: Lunch at my desk while I “work” i.e. surf the web pretending to work, then I work
4:30 or so: snack on some fruit
5:30: pack up and go home
6:30: arrive at home and make dinner
9:00: finally done with dinner and dishes
10:30: bed

As you can see, my *work* and my commute take up an amazing amount of time. I truly only have about 1.5hrs in the evening to do what I want to do. Usually, this is when I write a blog post, read, watch Dowton Abby or stretch/do PT exercises. This time sink of work is especially difficult lately given the fact that I’m not in love with my work. I think work is important, but my struggle has been to find something new which is proving to be challenging! I’m quite optimistic, however. It will change. Because it has to.

I *love* cherry trees! Here are a few near the building I work in.
 Lately, I’ve had other things going on at night after work. Meeting friends for dinner, an acupuncture appointment, the Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine class series (which ends this Thursday), a Chai making class, laundry and cleaning the neglected apartment until late, and a few nights of true exhaustion and early bedtimes. No real time to rest. Throw skiing in there and last weekend my friend S from Seattle visiting and I haven’t had any time for me.

R and me overlooking SF Bay from the Presidio Park
 Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year and I loved seeing S last weekend. We had a lot of fun. I took Friday off and I *needed* it. I got groceries. Made a healthy lunch (specifically great for boosting the immune system). We went to yoga. Saturday was spent in the Farmer’s Market (I always forget how much I love it), resting and making another delicious dinner. Time spent catching up. Time spent together. Time with a few tasty glasses of excellent wine. Sunday we went on an amazing 30 mile bike ride in the gorgeous sunshine in the Marin Headlands, a short nap and some girl time shopping in the Mission. Sadly said goodbye on Monday morning and back to work. *sigh*

Me on the GG bridge
 Winter is a time for rest. When you keep your body running, thinking, doing and active all the time, you’re depleting it of much needed resources and rest. Winter is a time to build up your body’s resources for spring and summer. This is exactly what I wasn’t doing. And I nearly got a cold! Luckily, when I saw J my acupuncturist on Monday, she worked on my immune system and also gave me some herbs: Gan Mao Ling. Three pills, three times a day. For when you have a scratchy throat (not a sore throat). I recommend this ancient formula - but will also encourage you to see an herbalist or acupuncturist! I avoided the cold. This time. Because I rested. Because I ate healthy foods. This weekend has been a much needed weekend of rest. Of food and cooking. Of time with R who has been travelling and working nonstop.

I cannot wait for a full 3-day weekend in Tahoe next weekend! And 10” of new snow predicted!
After a lovely climb, a rewarding view of the GG bridge and SF

Success! R, me and S.

S and me overlooking the Pacific

Breakfast of Champions! Huevos Rancheros (minus the salsa and yes, there's a poached egg in there somewhere)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Our first day of skiing

I brush my boot on the front of my binding and inhale the crisp, dry and thin air around me. I’m out of shape. Shove the front of my boot into the front of my binding with more snow falling off my boots from the hike up. A firm shove of my heel down finds my boot fully snapped into my binding. Repeat with my left foot. A few hops up and down just to get my heart pumping again at this high altitude and a quick shove off to the lift. *I’m skiing.*

I love this ritual that I perform right before I ski. It’s a time to catch my breath after the ridiculously short but breathtakingly difficult hike to the hill (got to love altitude). It’s a time to prepare for the demands and challenges that I’ll ask of my body for that day. It’s a time for the adrenaline to ramp up and for me to mentally be ready to hurl myself down a mountain; be it a blue, black or double black run.

Driving home after our first day
We hop on the chair and suddenly I’m at the top of the mountain, overlooking the incredible surroundings that never cease to take my breath away: snow, trees, rocks and mountains for miles, as far as the eye can see and the tiny buildings at the bottom of the run. A deep breath, a surge of adrenaline and a small drop into the black that I call a warm up run and I’m timidly racing down the mountain to the goal of doing it all over again. A slight shift in weight, a flex of my lower abdominals, pressure of my shins against the front my boot, a pole plant and finally a slight stand and there’s one of the many turns I’ll do that day. *I’m skiing.* This season, with a knee brace.

Yup, that's me after a 2 hour nap, with a goggle tan, making cheese sauce. For the epic mac and cheese I made at our cabin. And it was EPIC.
Even with my love of skiing, this year has been incredibly disappointing. It’s hard not to be in the mountains and not be grumpy. I know I should be happy that I’m up in the beautiful Sierras and that I can afford to ski and enjoy the outdoors, but it’s so hard when I know just how amazing it really *could* be. I’ve been spoiled the previous 3 seasons. I heard on NPR this morning that we’re at about 30% of where we should be for this time of year. We’re already two-thirds of the way through our wettest months of the year (December – February) and it has barely snowed in the Sierras or rained in the Bay Area. I HOPE that February will change this disappointing and slightly scary statistic around, but it’s not looking good.

A bluebird day of skiing last weekend. Beautiful.
D & J on the chairlift
We’ve skied 3 days on snow. The first day, it wasn’t so fantastic. It was the first big storm, everyone was up, Kirkwood was having power issues (of course) and the lines were long. The two lines for the lifts we wanted to take were long. We skied a half day. Last weekend we spent both Saturday and Sunday on snow. Saturday was a longer day and Sunday a half day. It’s just boring to ski corduroy groomers all day. You cycle one lift and run and it’s fun, exhilarating, but tough when you spend more time on the lift than you do on snow. I crave powder. I crave fluffy double blacks that challenge me beyond my physical capabilities and mental stamina. Hope it comes soon…
R & myself on the chairlift
Ok, done complaining. I’m happy its winter and I’m happy to ski. Now, LET.IT.SNOW.

In other news, I’ve finally made the big decision about TCM. I’ve decided to not pursue a master’s degree. It’s a difficult decision. I’m saddened by this choice but I’m excited about my future. R and I have discussed some different options and I’ll wait to give details about that until I know more. All I know is that even though my job is picking up, things are busy, traffic on Monday and Tuesday has improved my commute home to 45 minutes instead of 60+ (I have no idea how this occurs), I’m working on some projects with high visibility (including an iPad app!), and I all I know is that I really need to move on.

I’ve discovered that this time in my life is really quite turbulent. Makes sense (see Saturn Returns). I’m reevaluating everything. My likes and dislikes. What a friend is to me, how I want relationship to be and how to distance myself from friendships that aren’t working. What to do about my career. What I want out of my life. And evaluating how to have a better outlook on being present in my daily life.

I had dinner with A last night. It was so wonderful to spend some time with her while our schedules are so busy, even if it only was 2 hours. We discussed my decision to not go to school, her graduate work, how our lives are so busy, and then she brought up this topic of Mindfulness Meditation. I need to research this more, but basically it sounds like the cycle is:

  1. Stressor
  2. React to stress
  3. Cope with stress and reaction
The point, from my brief conversation with A, is to break the cycle between 1 and 2 to have a stressor in your life, be mindful of it, address it and move on without negatively reacting and coping. Hmm… sounds interesting. I’m just realizing that if I don’t stop wishing it were Friday, I’ll be 85, grumpy and wonder where the hell my life went. So I’m trying to be present. Enjoy every day. Even if its not the best day or even if it could be better.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. I don’t know how I could go throughout life without my closest friends and family. You know who you are. And I love you. Thank you for being apart of my life, helping me through life’s challenges and celebrating life’s wonders. You are truly amazing people and my life wouldn’t be what it is without you in it.

Lastly and excitingly, there are a lot of friends who are welcoming new babies into this world. I guess I’ve hit that age. My coworker P & J welcomed their son into the world at the start of January and our friends J & M gave birth to a son in December. Both adorable! I also found out today that a coworker and his wife are expecting in August, along with K & K who are due in March and one of my college friends from girls’ camping is due in July. So many babies!! No. I’m not drinking the water. I have a few continents to travel to before I dedicate my life to raising bambinos. Congrats to all of my friends however. I’m so happy for you!

***LET. IT. SNOW***

“in these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
and where you invest your love, you invest your life
awake my soul”
-Mumford & Sons, Awake My Soul