Thursday, July 23, 2015

CSA Diary: Of alien vegetables and lasting peas

Eh. So I lied about blogging more about my wonderful CSA baskets.  What can I say? Things have been so hectic at work, at home, and at fun places and times!  Writing kind of took a back seat yet again. But rest assured, the CSA continue to deliver good farm-fresh and exciting vegetables and I continue to feed my Iron Chef alter-ego. Since my last (and, for shame, first) blog entry on CSA, we've gotten more cabbage, swiss chard, lettuce, onion, broccoli, cukes, cukes and more cukes than we can handle! Allow me to share some ideas on how we most enjoyed these CSA vegetables.
Zucchini: Still the most versatile vegetable around.  From stirfry to savory bread and sweet pastries, I won't tire of getting this in my basket.
Regular and Chub Cukes: Mind you, I'm not a pickle fan, and I can only have so much cucumber salad, so I finally decided to buy a zucchini noodle maker and zoodled these cukes away. Wait, "zoodle" is a word, right?  With light peanut dressing, they were absolutely delicious!

Carrots: We got the really skinny ones, so I couldn't zoodle these. They were great chopped and stirfried with the peas though.
English Peas: I found shelling these peas very relaxing to my nerves as I watch my 2 girls jump off the couch in that 'crouching tiger, hidden dragon' kind of ninja jump. Yes, relaxing.  Some folks would say that you can't eat the pods because it's too fibrous, but we've tried it both ways - shelled and nto, and enjoyed both immensely.  My plea to the girls: Give peas a chance.

Red Potatoes: Not everything I cook gets thumbs up all the time.  I had high hopes for these baby reds and made mashed potatoes out of them. FAIL. Totaly. They were too gooey and pasty to be mashed. I salvaged it by making fritters/latkes the following night. The following week when we got them again, I boiled then baked them with cheese. No messing around with these spuds.
Strawberries: This almost didn't make it to the house. It's a good thing I love my family as much as I do. Otherwise, I would have parked somewhere and enjoyed this by myself. So sweet and succulent - unlike the tart and firm ones from the store. BUT, it's even better enjoyed with family. I also finally shared with them the Filipino way of enjoying strawberries. Dip them in powdered milk! Seriously, you gotta try it. The girls loved them this way too. Too bad strawberry season is over. Sniff.
Grape Tomatoes: I will never tire of eating these sweet, 'pop-in-your-mouth' veggie candies.  I broil them for 10 minutes, drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar, and serve with a sprinkling of fresh basil leaves. YUM!  Believe me, my youngest hoard these on her plate to everyone's frustration.
Kale: So, you don't like greens, huh? That's what everyone says until they take the first bite of the crunchy, crispy, delicate kale chips. Baked at 350F for 10 mins, this makes for an easy, healthy snack. My kids get excited whenever they hear that we have kale in the house. That's saying a lot since one of them is a self-proclaimed picky eater. By the way, I tried making swiss chard chips and there were no takers.  It didn't really crisp up like kale did.  I'm guessing higher water content?
Kohlrabi: This vegetable is really starting to grow on me. In the beginning, it was fairly intimidating in its alien looks - with things sticking out of it like antennas. But after sauteeing it, I realized it tastes very mild, just like broccoli stalks, but milder even. So, I started cooking with it more, and CSA kept including them in baskets week after week, to my delight. I made stirfry, latkes (with zucchini), and they've even graced double chocolate chip cookies. When prying, picky eaters inquired about the green stuff in their treat, I say it's green apples. Phew.
Tomatoes: Enjoyed as caprese salad so far, but will probably make soup and sauce with the rest.

Beet: TBD - will most likely be roasted.

Sugar Snap Peas: TBD

Raspberries: TBD

More delicious ideas soon!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Wild, wild west: Badlands and Black Hills

From the names of these places, one would think that we've been casted away in Mordor! Thankfully, it's really just in our neighboring state of South Dakota, albeit it took us about 8 hrs to get there. 

On the last weekend in June, while driving to a state park, hubby and I decided that we should go somewhere for July 4th weekend. "Let's go to the Badlands!", we agreed.   There and then in the car, we looked to see if there are still places to reserve. And yes, we found a seemingly decent cabin near the Badlands, and that's pretty much how we operate these days - on a whim and without much planning ahead.

We left the house at 4 am, and with 2 stretch stops and driver swithichg, we reached the Badlands National Park around noon - Mountain Time. Somewhere in the middle of South Dakota, the time zone changed from Central to Mountain.  Pretty neat! 

A note of caution:
These cliffs easily erode and the rock could be chipped away easily with a fingernail,
so make sure you stay clear from the edge when you hike.
When we got to the Badlands, we were immediately treated to a wonderful view of the pale sandstone structures.  While it may be less impressive than it's red counterparts in Utah's Bryce canyon, and the black ones in Saxon Switzerland, Germany, it's still impressive nonetheless.  The name "Badlands" gives you a clue as to its rugged landscape forming ridges, spires, gullies and 'castle-like' structures which the girls enjoyed seeing. Unlike Bryce canyon, the rock layers are heavily eroded and do not form hoodoos. At least, we didn't see any. The name "Mako sica" was actually given by the Lakota which means eroded land because of the terrain.


Sun setting in the Badlands
It was very hot when we got there even though it was only in the mid-80F. Interestingly enough, when we went back to the park 2 days later, it was quite chilly.  So, if you're planning a trip here, make sure to bring lots of water, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a jacket because you just never know when temperature it's going to be that day - even in July!  And I also saw some (smart?) Asians with their umbrellas out. You just gotta love them! 

And blankets it in colors

After a short hike in the Door trail, the kids were pretty hot and sticky.  We checked in to our cabin and headed to Wall Drug.  Since the signs for this place speckled the 500 mile road from Minnesota to South Dakota, we knew what to expect - stores, splash pad, free ice water, 5c coffee, donuts, dinosaurs, belts, and everything else you could imagine or ask for  - including a jackalope. Not exactly the attraction we seek, but the kids enjoyed cooling off in the splash pad. 

Washington's profile
Truth be told, there's not really a lot of young-kids-friendly hiking in the Badlands. So, on the next day, we decided to go to the Black Hills and check out some more kid-friendly hiking in that area. Just to make it more interesting, fate threw a wrench, or rather a nail, in our plans and we had to spend a few hours dealing with our flat tire. But that didn't stop us from more adventuring. We drove through the Black Hills and went to Mt. Rushmore in Keystone. Seeing George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt's huge visages amidst granite and greens was more impressive than I've ever imagined. Kudos to sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who I learned studied with Rodin, and used dynamite to carve the massive granite mountain.What best way to celebrate July 4th than here.  The chiseled mountain and the presidential trail highlighted 4 past leaders who made huge contributions to the US history.

News Flash: Black Hills > Badlands.
There I said it! (well, at least in my opinion.) While a lot of peaple will travel from far away lands to visit the Badlands, a lot of those will most likely skip the Black Hills National Forest. Big mistake. "Black Hills", although ominous-sounding, is named because of the hills' dark appearance, as they are covered in mostly ponderosa pine trees, with dark bark and deep evergreen needles. For many Native Americans, these hills has offered physical and spiritual renewal. And you won't know it until you visit it.
Before heading to Rapid City to have dinner, we stopped at a tucked-away Breezy Point picnic area in the Black Hills forest to get the wiggles out.  It was a great find and treated us to a great view of granite peaks.

Splash pad, Rapid City. If there's a splash park somewhere,
we'll find it.

Roughlock Falls - supposedly provided scenes for Dances with Wolves,
but I honestly don't remember the movie well.
The following day, July 5, we decided to continue exploring Black Hills National Forest. After having explored the Southern Hills a bit, we decided to take the scenic route checking out the Thunderhead falls area south of Rapid city and driving on  385 to the Northern Hills to Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.  This drive is enthralling. The limestone palisades tower on both sides and makes for the most breathtaking scenery.

Run, river, run.

Pactola Lake
As far as hiking goes, the greatest part is our hike in Pactola lake, and meeting a Lakota couple and their dogs. We had a picnic on the ridge with the view of the lake.

We would have loved to continue on to Black Hills in Wyoming to check out  Devils Tower National Monument, but the weather didn't cooperate and shoo-ed us back to Rapid City. Take my word for it, if you're in South Dakota, explore the Northern and Southern Black Hills. It will be good for your heart.

On our last morning before heading back to Minnesota, we left early for the Badlands park and we saw some animals enjoying their breakfast - prairie dogs, big horn sheep, and proghorn antelopes. We even saw some bisons from afar but couldn't get near enough to take pictures. Since it was also cooler, and the hills were soaked by rain the day before, you can see bands of vibrant colors of earth of peach, pink, and creme hues.  I swear, I've been so spoiled by geology this past few months! Which brings me to this question - Where next??!

Dances with Antelopes
The kids saw flowers, insects and a burrowing owl in the prairie.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In summer

An’ the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
An’ the cotton is high.

I just read somewhere that, apart from being Canada day today,  July 1 is also International Joke Day and Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day. Who ever comes up with these stuff? More importantly, however, it is the beginning of the 2nd half of the year. Sure, it's not January 1 where resolutions are made left and right, but one can at least take a day to reflect on what 2015 has offered and make conscious decision on how you'd like to steer the year forward through the end. That may mean tweaking diets or going outside more with summer finally here or laughing a bit more - it's international joke day after all.

One of these mornin’s
You're goin’ to rise up singin’
Then you'll spread yo’ wings
An’ you'll take the sky.
The weather here in Minnesota has been gorgeous and the produce bountiful. I can't believe summer only started a week and a half ago. This past Sunday, we went hiking at Mille Lacs Kathio, a park 2 hr drive away. The hike was filled with mosquito-swatting memories, but we had fun nonetheless. What do you expect from a "thousand lakes"park? And this is why minnesota's state bird is mosquito! Those suckers (blood) easily found parts of skin that we didn't spray, and they easily penetrated our clothes. We cut our hike short and enjoyed the little watering hole instead. The kids had fun looking for turtles and catching tadpoles.

But till that mornin’
There's a-nothin’ can harm you
With daddy an’ mammy standin’ by.

Since I was traveling on business last week, I also didn't get to cook our CSA-supplied produce. I made up for all the lost cooking time in the kitchen since. Swiss chard, kohlrabi and baby potatoes were made into deliciously creamy stew. Zucchini was turned into oven-baked cheesy fritters. And salad everyday! But the highlight were the strawberries and currants we picked on Saturday. The strawberries were so delicious, my 2 year old daughter was eating them stem and all. We've also made strawberry cream cheese cookies with them, and put them in salad, and jammed the rest. The currants were juicy and tart. I added them to muffins and tea cakes using almond flour, and to savory turkey meatloaf.

Cheers to Summer! Wherever your feet take you, don't leave your sunscreen and bug spray!

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald