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May 2010

Review: Born to Run

I have wanted to read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall since I heard about it when it initially came out.  A little over a year later, I’ve finally purchased the book and have finished it in no time.  Filled with astonishing facts, noteworthy tips, interesting secrets, and intriguing characters, Born to Run was undoubtedly a quick and worthy read.

After suffering countless running injuries (and he certainly isn’t alone, with 8 out of every 10 runners becoming hurt every year), McDougall ventured deep into the Copper Canyons of Mexico to learn the secrets of some of the best runners around, the Tarahumara Indians.  The superhuman tribe, immune to not just most modern day diseases, but also said to be free of crime, war, and theft, can run hundreds of miles at a time along steep canyon trails with nothing but some flimsy sandals strapped to their feet.  With distance running of 50 or more miles constituting as one of their favorite leisurely activities, each of the Tarahumara Indians track quite a bit of mileage on their own two legs, all without nearly ever suffering from a single injury.

McDougall’s journey through some of North America’s “most savage terrain” would lead him to not only the answers he was seeking of how to avoid runner’s injury, but also to the explanation that we as humans were literally born to run.

At the dawn of his travels, McDougall encounters Caballo Blanco, a non-Tarahumara, “mysterious loner” living among the tribe.   Blanco initially guides McDougall to the cliffs high in the mountains where the Tarahumara secretly reside, where he then tries to absorb and obtain as much information he can gather from the taciturn, seemingly elusive tribe.

Blanco and McDougall keep in contact even after McDougall’s return to the states, where Blanco eventually informs him of a 50-mile race he has brewing in his mind, intending to combine both the superhuman Tarahumara runners and some of America’s best ultramarathoners.  With some effort and presumably a bit of luck, Blanco gathers a substantial unique and lively crew, including some of Tarahumara’s best runners, Scott Jurek, America’s top ultramarathon runner, a babbling barefoot runner named Ted, and a youthful couple from Virginia Beach, all willing to run the race of Blanco’s dreams.  And don’t forget McDougall who uses his new knowledge of running to train for his very own first endurance race, injury free.

As the story unfolds from start to end, McDougall uses his witty and highly entertaining voice to cram in interesting facts, statistics, and scientific stories, as he takes you on your own picturesque journey through the land of the Tarahumara Indians and inside the eclectic personalities of all those who travel there to run.  By the end of the book, you’re bound to want to lace up your sneakers (or buy a new, less cushioned pair first), and hit the ground running…proving to your body that you’re born to soar through the outdoors like never before.

Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Veggies and Basil

With asparagus still growing full throttle in the garden, it was time to find some new ways other than a simple steam and light dressing of olive oil and vinegar to eat the vitamin E-packed, spring veggie.  That’s when I came across a pasta recipe lying around in one of my old Vegetarian Times magazines that called for roasted asparagus.  The vibrantly colored photo sold me, and thus led me into the kitchen to get working on an adapted version of the recipe.  I used whole wheat linguine for an extra punch of fiber, containing a nutty flavor that wasn’t too much for the bold tastes of the wonderfully combined featured ingredients— roasted asparagus, shitake mushrooms, garlic, and cherry tomatoes, and then topped off with garden fresh basil.  The result:  A colorful palette on my plate filled with a touch of sweetness from the garlic, a lightness from the oven-bursting tomatoes, freshness from the basil, and a sense of satisfaction from the hearty pasta and newfound way to utilize asparagus.  If you’ve got asparagus still growing in your garden or being sold at the local farmer’s market, this is a must try.

The following recipe was modified from a Vegetarian Times February 2010 recipe.

Whole Wheat Linguine with Roasted Veggies and Fresh Basil

  • -4 cups shitake mushrooms, sliced
  • -1 lb. asparagus, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
  • -1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • -4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • -6 cloves garlic, minced
  • -1-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • -3 cups grape tomatoes
  • -3/4 cup white wine
  • -1-13.25 oz. whole-wheat linguine
  • -3/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
  • -Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450F.  Toss together mushrooms, asparagus, onion, garlic, oil, and red pepper flakes in a large roasting pan.  Roast 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Add tomatoes to pan and roast 7-10 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to burst open.  Transfer vegetables to a separate bowl, and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place roasting pan on burner over medium heat, and add wine, stirring to scrape off any stuck-on bits from pan.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until wine has evaporated by half.  Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package.  Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.  Stir reserved cooking water into the wine in the roasting pan.  Return pasta to pot, and add wine and vegetables.  Toss over medium-low heat until heated thoroughly.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Stir in torn fresh basil leave, and serve immediately.

Working at the CSA

Last Friday, I finished my first full week at the CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) gardening farm where I’m currently working.  Wow, must I say I have learned so much already!  For one, I don’t think I want to open up my own CSA like I had once dreamed.  While I say this half jokingly, I also say it half seriously.  Working on the farm is a lot, a lot of hard work.

I’ve grown up working in my family’s organic garden, which is much larger than your average household garden.  I’m used to sweating out in the sun doing doing hard labor for hours at a time, and my dad has instilled an appreciation for hard work within me since I was little.  I wasn’t initially sure how large-scale the CSA garden I’d be working at would be, but I now know that my household farm is nothing in comparison to the CSA, nor is the work I had done in my family’s couple-acre garden.

Sure I’d plant 40 or so tomato plants in my family’s garden, more than would be planted in the typical family plot, but at the CSA I was planting 400 tomato plants just within the first morning on the job.  On my second day of work, I had planted a total 1,000 melon and pepper plants…1,000 plants in one day!  My back was definitely yelling at me by the end of that day.

While working on the CSA farm is certainly tiring, I want to emphasize that it’s so very rewarding, particularly compared to most typical summer jobs I could have gotten.  On my drive home at the end of that second day, I reflected on what I had just accomplished and realized I had just planted the most plants in one day that I have ever planted in my entire life.  Sure I was exhausted, but it was a satisfying exhaustion.  On my first day, I had learned that while I was planting 400 or so various tomato plants in a small section of the field, there would be nearly 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes being cultivated that year at the CSA.  I really support the heirloom movement, and I was proud to be a part of such an impressive tomato-growing CSA!

As I paint my hands in mud day in and day out, I’m picking up so much information and useful tidbits along the way that hopefully I’ll be able to carry with me through time.  Even if I don’t open my own CSA one day, I’ll certainly always grow a garden (at least I hope).  I’ve learned that growing plants inside black plastic helps hold the water and attract the sun and can enable plants to grow twice as efficiently.  I’ve learned that blueberry bushes love dirt from the woods because it’s more acidic, and that they also really enjoy being fertilized with pine needles.  I’ve learned that my little muscles are surprisingly strong, and I can hoe through large fields of compact dirt and shovel wood chips for an 8-hour work day.  I’ve also learned and re-emphasized my thoughts that you certainly don’t need a gym to feel sore the next day.  (Boy were my shoulders and arms feeling all that shoveling the next day!

After a little over just one week, I’m already feeling fully immersed in farm life.  Dirt permanently beneath my nails.  Skin almost as tan as the dirt.  Body always a little tired or sore in one area.  Appetite, pretty ravenous.  Bed time, much earlier than a college kid is used to.  That goes the same for my morning wake-up call.  A daily 15 minutes of yoga a huge plus in the morning or evening.

I can’t lie, my summer job is more back-breaking work than I’m used to and it’s already taken a little adjusting.  But I already know that this job is going to be (and already is) such a great and worthwhile experience.  Plus, a job where I get to be outside almost all day is my kind of job.  A little sweat and dirt certainly won’t harm me.  I also want to add that the family I’m working with is so great…I know I’m definitely going to be one of the fam. by the end of my summer job.  So far it’s just a husband, wife, their son, and me working on the farm, and a little old grandma who’s always sweetly there to talk and give encouragement.

At the end of this week we’ll begin to prepare for the first CSA run and farmer’s market!  I can’t wait to learn about this side of the farm, for this is something I really don’t have much previous experience with.  I though I’d leave you with a short log of my first days at the CSA…below you’ll see the kind of hard work you’d be getting yourself into if you worked/ran a CSA…but certainly rewarding as well, especially when all those plants start to birth veggies and fruit!

My first days and full week at the CSA

Thursday (1/2 day of work…of course my car battery would die on my first day!):  Planted 400 or so tomato plants.  Weeded a 100 x 10 foot area of lettuce with a hoe.  Weeded the herb garden.  Became acquainted with the farm.

Friday:  Planted 400+ sweet and hot pepper plants.  Planted 600+ cantaloupe and watermelon plants.  Some small hand weeding.

Monday: Hand weeded and then hoe weeded one of the blueberry patches, approx. one 200 foot row.  Then spread long pine needles up and down the row and in between the blueberry bushes.  Hoe weeded the lettuce again.  Hand weeded the rhubarb.  Planted some flowers all around the house.  Left around 2 or 2:30 due to rain…went home and baked a rhubarb crisp!

Tuesday:  Rainy day/ Off work

Wednesday:  Hand weeded and then hoe weeded several 400 foot rows of swiss chard and spinach.  Planted 100 or so okra plants.  Used a hoe to remove grass and weeds between 100 blueberry bushes spread 10 feet apart…approx. 1,000 square foot area.  Fertilized 100 blueberry bushes by hand.  Help spread sawdust around blueberry bushes.

Thursday:  Did around 45 minutes of hand weeding, and then dug wood chips from 9-5.  Shoveled wood chips into truck and then spread around four 100-foot rows of grapes.  Spread wood chips around remaining blueberry plants that didn’t get sawdusted.  Spread wood chips around rhubarb plants.  Spread wood chips in between herb boxes and lettuce boxes.  Spread some more wood chips.  Wood chips.  Wood chips.  Wood chips.  Total:  5 overly full truck loads of wood chips, shoveled

Friday:  Weeded a gigantic flower garden, probably around 1500 square feet.  Used a wheel barrow to dig mulch and spread around entire flower garden.  Did some odds and ends jobs, such as painting a couple tables and areas around the house.

If you live in the Lancaster or Philadelphia area, check out Herrcastle Farm.  They also do farmer’s markets around the Philadelphia area.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

The fruitiness and the sweetness of pomegranate juice makes it the perfect ingredient to lace slightly bitter arugula greens.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette:

-1/2 cup pomegranate juice
-1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
-2 tablespoons mustard
-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/4 generous tsp. salt
-Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Whisk all the above ingredients together.

Salad

-1 part arugula to 1 part romaine lettuce
-3-4 sliced strawberries
-Crumbled feta or goat cheese, or diced tofu
-Fresh ground pepper, to taste
-Pomegranate dressing, to taste

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived home from college to have a case full of POM Wonderful waiting for me in the fridge.  The nice folks over at POM sent me some free samples of their 100% pomegranate juice to try.

I’ve always heard good things about pomegranate juice because of its notable antioxidant powers (protecting human cells from free radicals, which can lead to cancer).  In fact, POM proves to have more antioxidants than red wine, grape juice, blueberry and cranberry juice, and green tea.  POM has conducted numerous other studies on the health benefits of pomegranate juice, showing significant results ranging in patients with prostate cancer to heart disease.  To read more about POM’s health benefits and the studies they have conducted, click here.

What excited me most about POM though was the taste.  I had never previously had straight-up pomegranate juice and was curious to see whether it would be on the sour or sweet side.  I find the actual pomegranate seeds to be rather tart.  With POM containing no added sugar, I was surprised to find it definitely erred on the sweet side.

POM reminded me of an intensely-flavored version of red grape juice, encompassing that same sweet taste of the average glass of grape juice, but also containing slightly tart undertones.  I found my first taste of POM to be pleasantly delicious.

I definitely think POM pomegranate juice would make a great ingredient for a summer cocktail.  For a nice and refreshing non-alcoholic drink, mix one part pomegranate juice with one part seltzer water/sparkling water.  The pungent flavor of the POM is able to hold its own even with the slight watering down that comes from the carbonated water, which in turn actually helps to lighten up the juice.  It also mixes pretty well with most white wines.

Stay tune for tomorrow when I’ll be featuring a my-style recipe —nice, easy, and delicious— that utilizes pomegranate juice.

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