Friday, March 30, 2012

Sad Pics and Cheerful—Signs of Spring

Now here's a sad pic, the flooded garden viewed from under an umbrella.
It will be weeks before we can plant anything out there, but the weeds will flourish.
This is the first time our little walkway has been flooded.
It's because of the clogged culvert, which we can't even think about unclogging
until the water subsides and the soil dries out a bit.
It isn't a given that Oregonians love spring, especially March. That's because even though the days are longer and the temps are elevated, the trees are budding, and the daffodils are nodding their golden heads, the weather often sucks. This March has been typical. Except for the longer daylight hours, it could be winter. The next 10 days? Rain. Wind. Cold.  Our culvert is backed up and we're flooded with no end of rain in sight, and with a flood watch in effect along the Rogue River and its tributaries. As far as I'm concerned, it IS winter. Too wet, cool and windy to plant, plow, ride a bike, or go fishing. (Yes, fishing is still on the agenda. I bought a steelhead rod and reel off Craig's List. The drift boat is ready to go. Once the river recedes, we should be in fine fishing fettle.)
That's our garage surrounded by water, our ditch clogged by a malfunctioning culvert,
and water backed up over the road.
But even in this persistent  cold, wet and windy spell, the birds are back and the frogs are in full chorus. The garlic is shoving upward, as are the leeks. the daffodils and tulips. I remember other springs here, where we've lived for nearly 40 years. Spring, at least parts of it,  has always been disappointing because you  think it should be balmy and perfect, and it rarely is. My old friend Diane, now Grace, with whom I am recently reconnected, visited several decades ago when I was on spring break from being a middle school teacher. The worst year of my life. Another story.

The weather was just as it is this week—cold, wet, windy. I wondered then about the unfairness, I wonder still. The kids were out of school, soccer and softball teams were trying to practice in the miserable rain—as they still are. My friend and I sat at the kitchen table in our drafty old mobile home and gazed at the growing grass tossing in the wind and rain. I think we abused some kind of illegal substance, but I'm not sure. It's been a long time. We turned out OK. So did most of those students who were subjected to my middle-school teaching. I'm sorry, kids. I hope you survived me.
But here I am now, way past teaching or journalism but strong into nourishing old friendships that have wonderfully pushed up this spring and are seeking light. Here comes the sun!
And also the morels.
These morels were harvested from our backyard! They grew from
landscaping bark spread last year. I guess this is a one-shot harvest.

What the heck are these? They come up every spring. Maybe we planted them
35 years ago? Some type of violet?

Peony sprouts. Long may they live.

Full tilt cold-frame lettuce frenzy.

Lenten Rose,A KA hellebore. It started blooming in February and in
late March is in full flower.

Grape hyacinth, fragrant.

Forsythia. A very resourceful bush. It has received infrequent care in 20-some years.

Geraniums are amazing. This one has been in the same pot for at least 10 years, maybe more,
and continues to pump out blooms most of the year. In the solarium since fall, it is cheerful and believes in spring.

Paul's pepper plants off to a good start. A sure sign of spring.

 Bringing spring inside. These succulent flowers actually grow
in the solarium. Cut flowers stay fresh for about a month.
Here's what will happen soon. Maybe in two weeks, maybe two months, summer will arrive in a flash and it will be too hot. We will complain about the blistering sun and the absent clouds and the high barometric pressure that sucks the moisture from the air and ground and heats the river rocks and warms the wings of hummingbirds. The garden will bust its buttons catching up, and time-lapse photography could record overnight growth.  I think I'll like that part. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The low-carb breakfast? No Problem!

Berries, cream, instant flax/almond cereal, and Stevia—breakfast with a low-carb count.
Forget the corn flakes, the Wheaties, the typical oatmeal-based granola and the toast and jam. Avoid the pancake-pushing restaurants and the carb-clown muffins. Instead, bring on the eggs, the sausage, the bacon, the cheese—the real goods. You're not counting calories now, but carbs, so just get over it about the fat, ok? But when you tire of eggs and breakfast meats, consider these tasty and easy alternatives. Most require advance prep, but are so good! They also work for vegetarians. They include:
  • Instant dry flax/almond cereal to reconstitute with boiling water
  • Low-carb granola heavy on nuts and seeds—and great taste
  • Low-carb tortillas with melted cheese and/or eggs etc. etc.
  • Sprouted-grain bread with nut butter and/or cream cheese (maintenance program)

Half and half is good, but you could also use plain yogurt in the
flax/almond cereal with berries..

Flax/Almond Hot Cereal

From Dana Carpender's 500 Low-Carb Recipes 
Did you used to love cooked oatmeal and cinnamon? Try this. It actually tastes better, and contains lots of protein and healthy fat. 

1 cup ground flaxseeds (pre-ground or grind your own)
1 cup ground almonds (I use my Cuisinart. Any food processor will do. It's noisy but effective.)
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup vanilla flavored whey protein powder
2 tsp cinnamon

I grind flaxseeds in a dedicated coffee grinder, but they can be purchased pre-ground. I process whole raw almonds in my Cuisinart and stop short of pulverizing to mealy. This mix should be refrigerated due to the ground flaxseeds and almonds.
To prepare:  Boil a cup of water, add as needed to 1/3 to 3/4 cup dry cereal mix. Leave room to add some cream and berries sweetened with Stevia or Splenda. (I'm moving toward Stevia as sweetener of choice, although it doesn't work for baking.) 
Sorry this is blurry. My hands tremble when I'm near
this stuff—flax granola!

Flax granola

Adapted from Dana Carpender’s Every Calorie Counts cookbook.

This granola is high in fiber, protein, and healthy fat, but low in carbs. It is great with fruit and yogurt, sprinkled atop cottage cheese, or eaten alone as a healthy snack. It has a lot of ingredients and takes a couple hours to make, (mostly baking time) but a little bit goes a long way. Not at all like oatmeal-based carb-heavy granolas.

2 cups flax seed meal (I buy seeds in bulk and grind them in a dedicated coffee grinder, store in the refrigerator.)
’1/2 cup oat bran
3/4 cup vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 c Splenda
1/2 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp, cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted (it’s expensive! Use unrefined. It tastes way better than refined.)
1/3 cup real maple syrup (or sugar-free pancake syrup for lower-cal, lower-carb.)
1/4 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts) 
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted (or not. Doesn’t seem to matter.)
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 250
In large bowl combine flax meal, oat bran, protein powder, Splenda, sesame seeds, shredded coconut,  cinnamon, and salt. Mix well.

Melt the coconut oil and stir together with the syrup and water. Pour this mixture over the stuff in the mixing bowl and mix until it’s evenly dampened.

Spray a big roasting pan or jelly roll pan with cooking spray, or rub with coconut oil,  and turn the flax mixture into it. Press it gently into an even layer. Bake for an hour.

Pull it from oven  and after loosening with a spatula, break the mix into bite-sized clumps. Then stir the pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sliced almonds into the clumps. Return the whole thing back to the oven  for another 40 – 60 minutes, stirring once or twice, It should be lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool. Break up larger clumps. Store in a tightly lidded container in a cool place.

Sprouted grain products include bread, tortillas, English muffins, and who knows what else! The theory goes that since the grains are sprouted, they will hit the bloodstream more slowly than refined grains. Also, these products are generally higher fiber, and fiber also slows the glucose effect. One slice of Alvarado St. Bakery sprouted multi-grain bread has 13 net g carbs (after counting 2 g of fiber). This is OK for maintenance, but take it easy if you're in weight-loss mode. The low-carb tortillas are a lot better if you are being super strict about carbs.

Several brands of low-carb tortillas are available. I like Tumaros Gourmet Tortillas, 5 g net carbs and 6 g fiber. Use them like any tortilla, and expect an adjustment period if you're keen on those white gummy flour tortillas that torpedo many a Mexican meal. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Hitting the Slopes with Diehards

This is Steve, grand poohbah of our recent ski trip to the Grand Tetons and powder-snow maniac in chief. He's the one who says. "Visibility is way over-rated," and "You can just let your skis go and feel your way down the mountain." Which is what HE does. Me?  Not. I was the odd-person-out in my group because I believe in seeing with skiing,  and visibility was iffy most of the time. 
If you ask any of my five companions about our recent five-day ski vacation at the wonderful Grand Targhee ski resort in western Wyoming, each would enthuse, "It was great!!!!"
Ask me? I would say I had a good time but was disappointed. Why? The weather sucked. The visibility, except for day one, was, uh, compromised. Snow and wind blasted atop the peaks, and clouds slouched upon the crests. What is wrong with these people? PK and two other couples, people I love and admire, chose to ignore these facts.  
Here's what was right behind our resort lodging. The magnificent Teton Mountains.
I copied this photo from the Internet. We never saw this scene. 
Grand Targhee is incredible. I hope to go back, even though weather could wreck another trip for me.
But not for THEM! The weather-and-visibility deniers. Unfortunately, their rosy attitude
wasn't contagious enough to liberate me from vision dependance. 
The morning view from our slope-side lodging.
Sadly, this is what we saw much of the time. Well, sadly for ME.
The visibility situation didn't seem to matter in the least to my companions. Nor did the wind or the blowing snow. Steve, grand leader LIKED that snow was falling because that meant POWDER, light fluffy stuff you see in all those incredible ski photos. I didn't take any photos on the mountain as I didn't want to expose my camera to the elements. 

Wow. This looks great! Deep powder and blue sky! I could get into this big time. I copied this photo from the
Grand Targhee website.  I only skied powder up to my thighs, as I mostly stuck to "groomed" runs and lower elevations.  THEY had it flowing over their heads! And loved it, loved it. Even though they couldn't see it.

Here are the poor-visibility and bad-weather deniers. One of them exclaimed "Carpe Diem" several times a day.
 I am so with her! Seize the day, dammit. But for me and skiing, it's carpe diem the day you don't have to intuit your way down the mountain. I have lots of friends who would be with me on this. They just didn't happen to be there.

On the other hand, we drove almost 1,800 miles roundtrip. You can't gamble that you'll be able to see where you're going, or that the weather will be good. You're there and you just go. If powder snow is the objective, as it was, that is the best attitude. I know this was their thinking, and, I admire it. I just couldn't muster it.
I'm not saying I didn't have a good time. I did, even though I spent maybe only a total of eight hours in four days headed downhill on my new Dynastar skies, guaranteed to pump me up to the next level.

The first day was cloudy but not socked in, and I joined a guided tour-the-mountain trip and met a bunch of people with a Road Scholar group. Thanks to this, I saw and skied much of Grand Targhee.

The next day, which was blizzard-like, I took a lesson and ended up in a group of four frisky skiers with whom I'd toured the mountain the day before when visibility was decent and the snow was inches deep rather than thigh high. (My companions, meanwhile, were blasting through powder pockets in ungroomed terrain.) The frisky guys encouraged me to join them with the understanding that we were the "top dogs." I liked the top-dog idea, and foolishly fell into this ego trap. However, with limited visibility and my first experience skiing in deep powder, I floundered. I was right on their heels the day before, but was holding them back today, and I dropped out of the group.

That was good. For the next hour, I had to myself a 23-year-old instructor, Corey, who I followed like a baby ducky through the thick ridge-top fog. I could make out his yellow jacket 10 feet ahead as we slipped and turned  on a steep slope through the wonderful fluff. He taught me how to handle the deep powder—not really all that difficult, as it's virtually weightless. I fantasized about a clear day. I longed for it.

But conditions deteriorated. The next morning lifts were delayed opening because the chairs were encased with ice. Visibility was worse than ever. Winds howled. Snow swirled. I didn't even buy a lift ticket. As usual, the gang hit the slopes with good cheer. By unspoken agreement, comments on how ugly it was were not uttered, although I did hear a few remarks later in the day indicating conditions were less than ideal. I kept my mouth shut.

This has been a tough post to write. I was a wuss—and also the least skilled skier/boarder in our group. The experience provides insight into the angst of the slowest person on a bike ride, the dancer who can't feel the rhythm, or the runner who comes in last.  Is it wrong to want to see to ski? Am I really a loser? And then I think of how fortunate I am to have been there to do what I could do. My bruised little ego can just go to hell. Carpe diem. Next time. Maybe.