Monthly Archives: August 2012

Vegelicious Squashetti

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I’d heard of these things called ‘spaghetti squash’ but had never seen them in person.

Sad, but true.

Maybe it’s because things like this are seasonal here in Germany, or maybe they’ve always been buried beneath the mounds of decorative gourds that invade like martians every autumn.

Whatever the case, I paused when I read the sign ‘Spaghetti Squash,’ causing a mini-stau in the narrow aisle.

Actually, there were three placards and therefore three different types of squash for my consideration. I could have quickly googled it on my iPhone, but sometimes, I like to do things the old-fashioned way. So I stood there pondering the squash, while people bumped past, giving me the stink-eye.

Butternut was an easy one since, being the only type sold at our commissary for what seems like years on end, I had previously purchased it for my red lentil stew. The other squash was small, round and green, and thus, I could not imagine what type of so-called spaghetti could come from it. The buttery color of the third made it a prime candidate. Proudly, I scooped up the only two yellowish gourds and hoped for the best.

Upon returning home, a quick google search showed that I had chosen wisely. After reading a number of cooking blogs and realizing that I was too lazy to stand there and boil the things, I sawed them lengthwise in halves, cleaned them, placed them face down on a cookie sheet, wrapped them in foil, and left them to fend for themselves in the oven at 400 degrees.

20 minutes and a pan of pasta sauce later, a new family favorite was born.

The Gourd

2-3 spaghetti squash, halved. As with most squash, it’s hard to cut these bad boys raw. You can just toss them in the oven and clean them later, but I never have enough patience time for that sort of thing. So, as any good mom would, I had my teenage son cut them for me. It’s good training for him.

Clean out the seeds and gunk in the middle, and wrap the gourd halves in foil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on how big they are, and if you like them softer or more al dente).

After baking, you’re ‘supposed’ to let them cool, which means I plunge right in, trying not to burn myself on the hot gourds whilst scraping the steaming innards with a fork.

Though the actual name of the gourd was a subtle form of foreshadowing, nearly every person in the house (myself included) exclaimed, “It looks like spaghetti!”

Brilliant.

I tossed the stringy meat of the squash into a big bowl and served it hot with pasta sauce.

The Sauce

If you’re in a rush for time, you can simply dump a jar of organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan pasta sauce over it, which I know you always have on hand. But to make this dish truly live up to its vegelicious name, make your own sauce.

The Raw Materials

6-8 tomatoes plucked from your pesticide-free garden, chopped

1 large sweet yellow onion

6-8 white mushrooms, sliced

1-2 red peppers chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 large zucchini, chopped

1 large yellow squash (I didn’t read the placard on that one, though I’m sure it has an official name), also chopped

2 tbsp tomato paste

water or tomato juice, as needed (I ended up adding one large can of organic diced tomatoes with the juice)

1/4 -1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1-2 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp cumin

1 dash red pepper

Any other kind of  spices or veggies you like

The Method

Water sauté the garlic and onion on medium-high until translucent, adding water as needed to prevent sticking, and then add the red pepper.

Saute for 2 minutes and then add mushrooms.

When the peppers begin to soften (about the time you can smell them 2-3 minutes later), add the tomatoes.

Keep adding small amounts of water or tomato juice as necessary to prevent a smoking mess on the bottom of your pan.

When the tomatoes begin to soften and break into mush, add your spices, tomato paste, and enough liquid to make it look like pasta sauce. If it’s too runny, add more tomato paste and/or a can of organic chopped tomatoes.

Bring to a simmer then add your yellow squash and zucchini.

Simmer until the squash and zucchini are just beginning to soften, but remove from heat before they turn to mush (5-8 minutes).

Aesthetics

Form your spaghetti squash ‘noodles’ into the most spaghetti-ish arrangement possible, leaving a divot in the middle. Fill the squashetti nest with your vegilicious pasta sauce, and garnish with freshly plucked basil leaves.

Topping this with some spicy Mrs. Dash (known as ‘Mister Dash’ around this house for some strange reason) and some Veggie Shreds (if you can find them), makes this the most Vegelicious Squashetti you will ever have.

Guaranteed!

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Hands-On Parenting

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I have so much to say, and such little time to say it! Literally, I have half an hour before I need to start the tofu!

Here goes…

Last week I meant to blog, but instead, I took my daughter to the health clinic to have her hands cleaned and x-rayed. I’m sure she will tell all about it in her own blog, and I don’t want to steal her thunder, so let’s just say: horses who don’t enjoy loading into trailers + ropes held by 13 year-old gloveless girls do not mix. 

She ended up having patches of skin filleted from her hands. It’s probably one of the most painful, most difficult spots to treat, right there in the pit between her thumb & forefinger.

Though she’s healing nicely, there are many things she can’t do: brush her hair, cook, make popcorn (on the stove), text her friends, play piano, and do her math. 

Should I be suspicious of that last item?

In all fairness to my incredible daughter, most of her schoolwork is on the computer, but math requires pencil-wielding, which is kind of painful at this point.

And so, my lesson this week is that of patience. She gets frustrated because she can’t do all the things she loves to do (including working with horses & going to the beach, should we get another hot day for it), and I get frustrated because, to be perfectly honest, I’m not used to this kind of workload.

Though I’m often helping to braid hair around this place, it’s been years since I ran a bath for a kid. And the cleaning & treating of my poor daughter’s wounds is time consuming. It’s not her fault (so don’t be upset when reading this, Katie!), and I am not in any way resentful, but because I’m typically such an unorganized person, I am really forced to plan my days better, which is really stretching my abilities.

The best part of this accident (if there is a good side to it) is that my daughter and I are spending a lot of time together; and together, we are learning patience and grace, even during difficult situations.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. I have also done things like running (yes, my foot is totally better–hooray) and I did something weird called ‘biking,’ which is fodder for another blog.

As for the running, I’m still keeping in shape. I decided to shorten my long run today, and when I got home I had a funny conversation with Libby (my 8 year-old)

“How far did you run today?” she asked.

“16 miles,” I replied.

“You call that short?!”

I had to think about it…yeah, I do.

It is truly amazing what happens when you begin to run longer distances. It happens so gradually that you’re barely aware of it–kind of like how your kids grow taller, but you don’t often ‘see’ it, until they wake up one morning and you have to reach UP to hug them, and you think, “When did THAT happen?”

That’s how I felt about my ‘short’ run today.

And so, the church bell just tolled 3 times, meaning it’s a quarter till five, and I have to go fry up my tofu.

I am sure Katie will be blogging about her recent experience with the horses, and if you want to check out her blog, you can go to aufgehtsdaughter.com

Now it’s tofu-time, and I also feel the need to go hug my kids–even the ones who are taller than me. 

My Kind of Crazy: A Peek into the Mind of a Long-Distance Runner

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This morning, my doctor told me I should ‘take it easy for a while,’ and I burst out laughing. But when I looked up at him, he wasn’t smiling.

Wait…it was NOT a joke?

He said the annoying pain along my right arch is plantar fasciitis and in order to let it heal, I should ease-off the running.

But he’s not a runner, so I’m not sure if I trust him.

It’s kind of the same way I don’t completely trust OB’s who are men. They can be perfectly knowledgeable, friendly, published, well-respected and adept, but even the best male OB in the field lacks a practical sort of knowledge.

In both childbirth and in running (particularly long-distance running), unless you’ve done it once, you don’t have the physical recall that is so inextricably linked with the mind.

Most people think I’m crazy because I:

  • gave birth to 4 children (twice without drugs)

  • currently educate said children myself

  • eat (for the most part) a plant-based diet

  • run for hours on end (for fun)

  • get a strange sort of high from finishing a race many would consider a long commute

  • desire to run ultra marathons as I get older

  • firmly believe in minimalist running

I am a writer by trade, and yet I find it hard to put into words how I feel when I’m on a REALLY long run. It is love & dread & joy & pain & fear & hope & ecstasy & disappointment & thankfulness all bundled up and set on twitchy legs.

Running forces the body, mind and spirit to fuse together in a way that is addictive and, as one of my marathon friends said, cathartic.

Even after the most horrible run, under the worst possible circumstances (like 50 degrees, rain, and someone stealing your coconut water) a marathon runner will tell you, “It was worth it!”

I realized this as I spoke animatedly about my horrendous marathon with the tech as he X-rayed my foot, because HE is a marathon runner too, only he ran in full uniform with a 50 pound rucksack and passed a kidney stone at mile 12. Yikes! I was impressed he finished at all!

And yes, I realize the irony in the fact that neither the tech nor I thought it abnormal he was X-raying my foot, while we spoke so fondly of running.

Long-distance running is not a secret society, but I will say, it feels like it sometimes. There is a certain communicative gleam in the eye–a mutual understanding of pain and satisfaction, with a touch of crazy–when two marathoners swap stories.

And so, with that scary little glimpse into my mind, you might be able to understand why something like plantar fasciitis is so annoying.

NOT run?! You mean, I might have to (gasp) cross-train? Does that actually work?!

The nurse doing my screening today said, “Running is hard on the body.” But really, it’s not so much that running is hard on the body, it’s just that at this point, my body is hard on the running. I am still clinging to a few stubborn fat stores, and I hope that once I finally eradicate them, I will be back to pain-free running.

But what to do for now?

John at ‘Fit for a Year’ posited the interesting question: Do you succumb to injuries?

This is a real dilemma for me, as I have already set my sights on more marathons in the not-to-distant future.

I ran 18 miles last Saturday and felt so good (aside from the minor arch pain) that I ran 2 more miles. In fact, during large portions of the run, I wasn’t even aware of the pain in my arch, because I was focused on other things.

As ultramarathoner Lizzy Hawker says the June issue of TrailRunner magazine: “You have to be aware of what your body is saying. The main thing is learning to listen. And to cut off listening when you’re in pain and keep going.”

Granted, she was talking about racing not training, but I’m not entirely convinced that ‘resting’ my foot for six weeks is the answer.

After my first two marathons, I lost my level of fitness afterwards. I didn’t just fall off the health wagon, I tipped it over and dismantled it, leaving me to start back at step one.

I don’t want to go through that again.

So, for now, my ‘plan’ is to substitute some of my runs with cross-training, such as bike riding (how hard could that be, right?) or if I’m desperate, I’ll dust off the elliptical in the basement, but I don’t think I can give up my long runs without an intervention.

Running is a part of my life, and despite the injuries, I truly feel my life and the lives of those around me are better for it.

Back to Basics

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Three days after the marathon, I found myself hobbling along the farm road, feeling like a post-operative surgery patient. My legs were stiff, my joints barely moved, my knees complained, and I had a weird pain in my right arch.

I walked for most of the two miles before I returned home, whereupon I proceeded to eat as if I’d just run a second marathon. I don’t know why I’ve had the craving lately to dip my gluten-free crackers directly into the jar of organic almond butter, but I’m assuming my body needs it in order to ‘repair’ muscle tissue or a slightly bruised ego…comfort food, I suppose.

In the past, I’ve been known to completely fall off the training wagon after a marathon, so this year, my goal is to keep up the miles. And though I ran 30 miles last week, in many ways I feel I’m starting all over again. I’ve had to re-evaluate not only how I run, but why I run.

I can put any kind of spin I like on running, but the fact is: my last marathon was pretty much hateful. The only thing I enjoyed about it was finishing with my kids. Matter of fact, I nearly started to cry when I ran down that final hill because I was so incredibly joyful for it to be OVER.

That is not the kind of running I’d like to do.

I want to get back to that happy place where I truly loved running. I know that some people will think I’m crazy for saying this, but it is the place where the physical pain of the long run is part of its charm: a challenge to overcome–not something that swallows you whole. It is the place where the physical effort allows you to think more clearly and to absorb the miraculous details of things you often take for granted, such as deer, pink clouds or a field of sunflowers waiting patiently for dawn.

For me, running had always been a way to feel closer to God–a time of prayer, thankfulness and mediation on the beautiful, living world. But somehow I lost it. I got worried about the numbers and the accolades.

While I didn’t totally blow the marathon (I DID actually finish in a decently slow-ish amount of time and could still walk afterwards), it wasn’t a satisfying experience this year. And it wasn’t because of the elements or my knee or the hostile competitors–it was because of me.

I had stopped loving the long run.

So, I am now back to basics. Just like a patient recovering from surgery, I’m learning how to run again.

I am not running for the numbers or to impress people, but I’m running because it is something I love–something that is a huge part of my life, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Of course I would like to be faster, but honestly I would rather run slowly and enjoy it than run quickly and hate it. Why bother?

A marathon can teach you a lot about yourself–especially when you have 4 1/2 or more hours for introspection. And while I don’t always like what I learn about myself, I am glad that I went through the experience, just so I can make a change for the better.

Ideally, at least for me (a non-competitive athlete), a race should be an outward expression of my love of running, not the brutally final goal.

As I ran along a quiet forest path this week, with rain coming down in a fine mist and pine trees towering over me, I felt small, strong, and slightly lost, but content as I began to fall in love again.

I am optimistic that my once intimate relationship with running isn’t beyond repair, and that the spark will ignite into something that keeps the soul warm.

I’ve already started looking for the next marathon.

Tuscany has a sweet sound to it!