Making the most of these last days of 2017

I know this is totally cliche, but what a year!  2017 has been an interesting year, to say the least.  I had a good year for the most part.  Urban Farmgal is gaining some traction, my cooking videos are improving, I got to go backpacking in the Beartooth Mountains (I need to write a blog post on that soon.  New Year’s Resolution: write that blog post!), I taught myself some sewing techniques (ZIPPERS! And…I turned a denim jumper into a really cute denim skirt–more on that soon), I’ve been baking a lot of holiday goodies, and I’ve been skiing like crazy the past few weeks with MaeBelle and the Hubs, in large part to work off all those holiday calories!  But I’m ready to say goodbye to 2017.  I need a fresh start in 2018, just like every year.

A few highlights from the home front recently:

1.) Everybody needs a pineapple pillow case!  And flannel, too.  When I saw this fabric, I knew Stepdaughter #2 needed it in her life.  I didn’t know what form it would take when I purchased the fabric–I knew I’d figure it out later. I picked up the other fabric at the same time, not knowing I’d use the two together.  But I needed a little extra length and the pattern looks like sea shells, so why not combine it with pineapples?  This is probably the easiest Christmas gift I have ever made.  When you need something clever and quick, a quirky pillowcase can do the trick!

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2) Getting outside to enjoy the snow.  I have a new pair of skis.  They are short and fat and act like sliding snowshoes.  They are from Altai Skis and they are called Hoks (pronounced Hawks).  They have built in skins, so you can climb up hills but they will also slide & glide like cross country skis.  If you get on a steep enough slope, you can even turn them like downhill skis.  They are so much fun!  MaeBelle took me on an adventure with them last week and we climbed up on the trails south of town:

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3) A friend helped me out of a bit of a pickle last week.  What better way to repay her kindness than with a knitted hat?  I love the colors of this hat and I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  I hope my friend loves it.  This photo doesn’t even do it justice.

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4) Skiing!  Hubs, MaeBelle, and I went for a ski tour up at Stemple Pass this afternoon.  It was a glorious way to spend the last day of the year.  It was cold in town (-14 degrees F when we got up this morning and still below 0 when we left the house at noon) but it was 18 degrees up at the pass.  It was a bit windy, but we followed some other skiers who broke trail for us and stayed in the trees protected from the wind.  What a great way to get a workout!

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5) Snow science!  Hubs and I dug a snow pit on our ski tour today and he showed me how to examine the snow to look for weak layers that could fail and lead to an avalanche.  We actually found some weak snow, which means avalanche danger is fairly high right now.  We knew the snow was a little sketchy because we’ve gotten a ton of snow the past couple of days.  Just after we left the truck, on a fairly flat section, I felt my skis “wumphf” beneath me, which is a tell-tale sign of weak snow layers.  We also took our avalanche beacons and wore them just to practice using them.  Don’t worry, mom!  We were not in any danger, I promise!

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6) Here are my Hoks.  They are only 125 cm long, which means my poles are longer than my skis!  They truly are just a ball of fun.  And they climbed up some pretty steep snow today, which impressed both Hubs and me. Unfortunately, this year’s stock, including my skis, have a problem with the skins delaminating and so they have to be replaced or repaired.  At least they are under warranty, but I may have to ship my skis back while I wait for my new ones to arrive.  That means I may not have a chance to hop on these babies again for a few weeks…

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7) Full moon rising.  We saw the moon rising as we were driving home and it was a glorious sight!  A full moon on the last day of the year seems a fitting way to bring 2017 to a close.

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Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2018 brings you much health, happiness, and prosperity.

Lentil Sausage Bake

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Early this afternoon I took a look in the pantry and was uninspired.  “What am I going to do for dinner tonight?” I thought.  While working through the rest of the afternoon, I let this little conundrum roll around in the back of my head.  Inspiration usually hits me if I just let my subconscious work like it’s wont to do.  And it did not let me down.

I have a shload of lentils in the pantry, which is where I wanted to start my dinner theme.  How could I incorporate lentils into tonight’s dinner but not have it be the overwhelming flavor?  (Don’t get me wrong, I love lentils, but I was not in the mood today for a lentil-heavy dish like a dal or something like that.)  My subconscious said, “Add sausage.”  Hubby would certainly like that, so I plucked a 1 pound package of bulk sausage from the freezer to thaw.

Side note: The bulk pork sausage is from the half hog hubby and I bought earlier this year.  Our local butcher makes incredible breakfast sausage, and I use it in all sorts of dishes, not just fried up with eggs and pancakes for breakfast.

What else was in my pantry?  Ah, I just bought some sweet potatoes the other day.  I love sweet potatoes, and they are such a nutritious addition to a meal.  I cooked the lentils and roasted the sweet potatoes early on, once I decided they were going to star in the meal.  Then I let my brain finish assembling the ingredients into something delicious.  I have a ton of chopped, frozen kale in the freezer from the CSA this summer.  Things were beginning to solidify in my head.  Onion.  I would definitely need some onion.

When I began cooking dinner, I wasn’t exactly sure where I would end up, but I figured I would wing it and make it work out one way or another.  That’s just how I roll in the kitchen.  I ended up tossing in a few herbs–thyme, rosemary, and some homemade garlic powder.  And that was it.  It came together nicely and hubby was pretty stoked at how good everything tasted together.  We both agreed that it was the perfect meal for a chilly evening.  It was something like peasant food, we decided.  Not really a casserole, but not really a skillet scramble, either.  It’s hard to classify just what it is–except delicious.  And I was really pleased that hubby liked it.  Sometimes when I mention ‘lentils,’ he gets a pained look on his face.  Or kale.  Or sweet potatoes.  But the lentils weren’t overwhelming.  The kale wasn’t obtrusive.  The sweet potatoes weren’t too sweet.  And there was sausage in it.  How can you go wrong with sausage, some would argue?  There was a nice range of flavors, textures, and plenty of vitamins and minerals to go around.  In fact, lentils, kale, and sweet potatoes are considered ‘super foods,’ chocked full of good stuff (come to think of it, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue that sausage is, in fact, a super food).  I don’t get too wrapped up in all the super food hype, I just eat food because I like it.  I also try to eat a well-balanced, vitamin/mineral/fiber rich diet, but I don’t stock my pantry with any particular item just because it is trendy.  But I have to admit, I was a little proud of my combination tonight.  It felt like a ‘Nailed it!’ moment.  I’m definitely looking forward to leftovers tomorrow!

Want to give it a try?  Find the recipe here.

 

Earth Day Fun Day

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Happy Earth Day, everyone!  I hope you all did something fun on this Saturday, and something that was mindful of treading lightly on this beautiful blue globe on which we all live.  We had a most excellent day today and now I am tired, but in the best way.

It was a beautiful day in Helena today!  This morning the Hubs and I took our dog, MaeBelle, over to the Scratchgravel Hills, just northwest of town, for a little bike ride.  What better way to celebrate Earth Day that with a mountain bike ride?  I’m a beginning mountain biker, and this trail system is perfect for me: it has mostly old 2-track roads that aren’t too rocky and some single track to give me little challenges to practice my technique.  Right off the bat we take a little single track side trail that has a pretty steep component to it.  A couple of weeks ago I cleaned the section, even though I hadn’t been riding my bike much.  This week I’ve been riding my bike a lot to the gym and to work and to run errands–my legs felt strong and I felt good.  My fitness level is at a good place.  I was confident….but.  That’s right, that dreaded word: but.  Near the middle of the section I somehow lost my balance and slipped off my bike.  I think I hit a rock funny or something, I’m not exactly sure.  What I do know for sure is that I have yet to master is hopping back on my bike while on a steep uphill climb.  I tried, and tried, and tried some more but eventually I had to push my bike all the way to the top.  I took so long that Hubs and MaeBelle came back to look for me.  At one point my chain fell of the chain wheel so I had to fix that, too.  I was pissed at myself for not cleaning that section.  Dang it, I just did it a couple of weeks ago!!  I always get upset with myself if I don’t perform well, and today was no exception.  Hubs got on me for being so hard on myself (the irony) but he gets it–he’s just as hard on himself when something trips him up, too.

Despite my rocky start, we had a lovely ride, complete with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and early spring wildflowers in abundance.  The ground was splattered with hues of white and lavender (Phlox hoodii), and fuchsia (Douglasia montana).

At the end of our ride I told Hubs I was going to ride the first section again–and clean it this time.  My legs were a little tired, but I was determined to get up that hill!  And true to my word, I made it to the top in a clean ride.  MaeBelle was at first a little confused.  I could just see the wheels turning in her little head, “Wait. What are we doing? Why aren’t we going to the truck?”  But she was a trooper and followed me dutifully up the trail.  Hubs couldn’t let me ride it again by myself–he’s not competitive or anything… but he rides a single-speed bicycle, and therefore does not have any gears to shift while riding.  Riding those steeper sections are a lot harder for him than they are for me–but he cleaned his the second time as well.  He’s a monster on a mountain bike: strong legs and a stubborn determination.  Plus he’s been riding for almost 3 decades.

MaeBelle was happy to hop in the truck and drink a lot of water.  She’s going to be 12 years old in a few weeks, but she’s still going strong!  What a happy gal she was at the end of our ride:

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By the we got home it was lunch time.  I made egg salad sandwiches (including from the garden: green onions & chives & spinach!) and they tasted SO. GOOD.  Then I was craving something a little sweet.  For a few days I’ve had this idea rolling around in the back of my head–a way to use up some frozen blackberries and one of the limes that I grew over the winter (That’s right, I grow citrus.  In Montana.).  And so mini lime-blackberry cheesecakes were born.  Since today is Earth Day, and the sun was shining brightly, I decided to use my solar oven to bake my little cheesecakes. I love my solar oven and use it every chance I get.  During the week I will throw together a rice pilaf or something, put it in the solar oven, then go to work.  When I get home the dish is cooked to perfection.  Gotta love that!  All part of my sustainable, low impact living initiative, not to mention a way to be an absent cook and not burn down the house.

Oh, and those cheesecakes?  They are SO. GOOD.  Hubs and I had to pry ourselves away from them tonight.  It was hard not to eat them all.  I will have to post a recipe and a video showing how to make them, but not tonight.

While the cheesecakes baked, I worked in the garden.  MaeBelle loves it when I work outside.  She lazes around in the yard eating compost (and I yell at her to get out of the compost) and chewing on sticks or just watching people walk by.  I weeded and got rid of a bunch of last year’s dead flower stalks in my boulevard jungle of yarrow, blue flax, sunflowers, sagebrush, and rabbit brush.  A woman jogged by and said, “You have a beautiful garden!”  Ah, it nearly made me blush even though I hear that a lot from passersby.  It makes me happy that they take joy in my front yard garden.

Later this afternoon I noticed a woman dumping some food scraps over our fence into the orchard where the chickens were.  She had a toddler with her and they sat on the grass and watched the chickens for a few minutes.  She lives on the next block and though she’d asked Hubs last year if they could feed the chickens some of their kitchen scraps and watch the chickens, I’d never met her or talked to her.  I packaged a dozen eggs of varying colors: green, white, and several shades of brown, and walked outside to offer her some eggs in exchange for feeding our chickens some goodies.  She and her daughter were delighted to receive the eggs.  I was delighted to see this little girl take such pleasure in watching my Girls gobble up the strawberry hulls and apple peels, clucking and squeaking with happiness.  It gives me hope that maybe someday, when she grows up and has a house of her own, this little girl will want her own small flock of backyard chickens.

For dinner, I made a quasi quiche–meaning it was sort of like a quiche souffle or… something totally made up.  I tossed in bunch of veggies like mushrooms, onions, more green onions & spinach from the garden, along with some smoked cheese.  I separated some of the eggs and beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  There were way more veggies than eggs, so there was spinach poking up out of the eggs.  I used some leftover rice pilaf as crust to hold the egg mixture and it turned out really tasty!  Hubs and I both had seconds.  It was a good food sort of day!  I haven’t cooked like that in a looooong time, and it felt good to be back in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, by dinner time the sun was too low in the sky and clouds were beginning to gather, so I had to use my indoor oven to bake the quiche-thing.  Oh well.  There will be more sunny days and plenty of recipes to try in the Solavore oven this spring and summer.

Have a happy, healthy week!

 

Farmgirl Fit

One of my part-time jobs is working at my gym.  I started working the front desk a little more than a year ago then I began teaching barre classes last summer.  Even though the gym doesn’t pay a lot, I do get a free membership (so that’s worth quite a bit!) and, more importantly, I actually really like working there.  I’m not an overly social creature, but I do enjoy getting know to people, especially if they are bettering their health through exercise.  The front desk is a very social job–you greet members as they come in the door and tell them goodbye when they leave.  I especially love talking with new members or people who just come in for a day or week.  I can show them around and offer suggestions on classes to take–I love doing that.  There’s a lot more to the job, but the gist of it is to be friendly and helpful, just like any service job, yes?  One benefit of working at the gym is getting to know so many people from around the community–and many gym members have become friends over the past year.  Today I saw a family I rarely see anymore–I used to see them every Tuesday night when I worked that shift, but since I quit working the late night shifts, I hadn’t seen them for several months.  But they came in the gym tonight right before I got off my shift.  And the mom is going to come to my barre class next week!  So excited!  One final perk of working at the gym: when it’s not real busy, I can knit!  Bonus!

Now that I’m teaching barre, I have really began to focus more on getting fit.  I was already in pretty good shape when I began teaching, but now I’m looking to get serious.  Really serious.  I want to drop my body fat percentage so I can actually see those abdominal muscles that I know are hiding under that little bit of extra pooch around my midline.  Unfortunately, it takes quite a bit of discipline in the eating department to get there.  I’m not sure I have it.  I do love my carbs.  So I’ve upped my cardio a little more in the hopes that I can drop some more of the fat and I’m trying to be a little better about watching what I eat.  This means I can’t do what I did last night and make cookies, then eat 27 for breakfast the next morning, after eating 15 after dinner.  Ok, so I’m exaggerating–a little bit.  But I have horked down a lot of cookies since last night…so I gotta be a little better about that.  Oh, and you know what’s most annoying about trying to lose body fat?  You can’t pick where it leaves on the body.  Many women are familiar with this problem.  Our bodies like to store fat on our midsection, thighs, booty, and arms.  After I joined the gym a couple years ago, one of the first places I lost fat was my boobs.  Seriously?!  I’ve never been well-endowed in that department anyway, so to watch my boobs shrink even more just added insult to injury.  Why can’t I just suction the extra fat on my thighs and shunt it to my boobs?  Is that too much to ask?  I think not.

Anyhoo…this month I’m working the desk on Monday afternoons.  In the morning I take a Les Mills class, BodyAttack (my favorite cardio class), then I run home and shower, eat lunch, love on my dog, do a little work, then head back to the gym around 12:30.  I work until 5:00, then I teach barre at 5:30.  I am a huge fan of barre.  It’s a low impact class, so it’s great for people with joint problems.  My classes incorporate cardio, and as one woman mentioned to me tonight, “You don’t have to jump around to get your heart rate up and sweat.”  Absolutely not!  That’s why I love teaching barre.  It builds strength in the core, arms, and legs, it burns fat because we do get into that cardio zone, and it promotes better balance and posture.

Today while at the front desk I spotted a sheet laid out for members entitled “101 Benefits of Regular Exercise.”  I had to have it.  I haven’t given it a thorough look yet, but I thought I’d share some of my favorites on the list.  As I am a huge proponent of the healthy, less stressful lifestyle, some of these really hit home.

Here are some of my favorite benefits of regular exercise, in no particular order:

  1. Helps you effectively manage stress
  2. Helps you lose weight–especially fat (yes, and we know where I lose it from first)
  3. Reduces your risk of getting heart disease
  4. Helps alleviate depression
  5. May protect against the development of Alzheimer’s disease
  6. Improves your glucose tolerance (which means you lessen your risk of developing Type II diabetes, or if you have Type II diabetes, you can possibly reverse it and maybe even get off insulin!)
  7. Increases your productivity at work
  8. Improves posture (a HUGE focus in my barre class)
  9. Improves your balance and coordination (another HUGE focus in my barre class)
  10. Helps to alleviate low-back pain (a chronic problem for many Americans)
  11. Enhances sexual desire, performance, and satisfaction (why did this not make the top 10 on the sheet?!)
  12. Helps you to relax (which is but one reason why I am incorporating more yoga into my life)

There are so many more benefits to regular exercise that I think are just as important, but I didn’t want to bore you to death.  But the point of this little exercise it to remind you that exercise has wide-ranging benefits.  One of the hardest parts of exercise is simply getting started and getting into a routine.  If you are looking to incorporate more exercise into your life, I encourage you to take that first step and get movin’!  You don’t have to join a gym, though having the group classes is a big motivator for me.  Would I work as hard at home as I do at the gym in a group class?  Hell no!  There’s no one at home to keep me motivated or held accountable for getting off my tush and getting my sweat on.

A prime example:  I watch a lot of YouTube videos to get new ideas for barre.  I like to keep it fresh and incorporate new moves on a regular basis so we don’t get bored doing the same ol’ routine.  How often do I actually DO the exercises I’m watching on the YouTube video?  This weekend I did my first one.  I’m not kidding.  I have watched literally hundreds of YouTube videos and I am usually sitting on my tush (maybe even eating a cookie or three) and making mental notes on cool things to try in my next class.  Not going to burn many calories that way, am I?  Eventually I do burn those calories, while I’m trying out these moves in my class, but it’s because I’M IN THE CLASS.  Not in my basement.

So, if you’re a loner and have self-motivation, great.  If you need a friend, find one who wants to add more exercise to their life and the two of you can motivate one another.  If you need a large group of people to hold you accountable, then find a gym that offers some great group fitness classes and join!  It may seem expensive (and it will be if you don’t use it), but if you find improvements in your health, then the long-term benefits may include fewer medical expenses (and some insurance companies offer discounts on gym memberships).  And, most importantly, if you haven’t been active for a long period of time, you should probably consult with your doctor before you run off to the gym.  You know, just to make sure you don’t do anything drastic that could cause more harm than good.

And once you’ve made the commitment to start exercising, you have to also make it a priority.  Which means, dear friends, you have to schedule it into your life and STICK TO THE SCHEDULE.  This is probably the hardest part and the easiest out you have for not exercising.  But isn’t your well-being a priority?  Then treat it as such!  If you can incorporate exercise into your routine and stick with it, you will see results.  And once you begin to see results, you want to see more results!  It becomes easier to convince yourself to go to the gym or go for that walk or workout to that YouTube video once you start to notice all that work is paying off.  So don’t give up!  It may take a few weeks for you to notice a change, but it will happen if you stick with it!