Thursday, July 30, 2015

An unexpected benefit of joining a CSA

Over the course of one hour and five G-chat lines a couple of months ago, my friend Kristen and I decided to "go halfsies" on a summer CSA. Then we did the math and realized that we'd save ourselves $100 if we added a third person to the mix, so we convinced our other friend Claire that her life would be sorely incomplete if she did not also receive a bag of organic vegetables once a week. And with the click of one "purchase" button and a few other "send money now" buttons, we had ourselves one full share of the Astoria CSA via Golden Earthworm Farm.

Having been the recipient of a few friends' CSA hauls while they were out of town in summers past, I knew that I was in for a treat - giant heads of lettuce, beautiful zucchini, handfuls of ripe tomatoes, and probably even some previously-unknown-to-me veggies that I couldn't wait to learn to love (I'm looking at you, kohlrabi). I immediately envisioned healthy salads, colorful sautés, infused oils, and probably a flavored drink or three. But there was something I didn't anticipate - the heightened burst of friendship that accompanies each CSA delivery.

See, Kristen, Claire, and I all have insanely complicated schedules. We are all freelancers with irregular schedules and Kristen and Claire have had frequent upstate gigs all summer. In sharp contrast, the organizers of the CSA have a very strict pick-up time - between 4:30 and 7:30 every Thursday - no exceptions. Latecomers' food will be donated. That time slot is about 10 minutes away from being in direct conflict with my show schedule, and either one or both of my share partners have managed to be otherwise occupied almost every Thursday evening since the CSA began.

But we are not ones to shy away from a silly obstacle like time. Being the Type-A overachievers that the three of us are, we not only have a shared Google calendar reminding us of the veggie pick-ups, but also stay in near-constant contact regarding a.) who will do that week's pickup and b.) when and where the other two of us will pick up our remaining thirds of the share. It is too much work and schlepping for a few cucumbers? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

In a normal, non-CSA month, I would probably see my friends once if I was lucky. We'd make a grand plan to grab a drink or a bagel, but that plan would change at the last minute because someone would cancel and we'd reschedule and then it would be another three weeks before we all got our lives together well enough to function outside of our personal bubbles. And this is without any of us having kids! Who knows how little I'll engage in meaningful adult conversations once children start showing up?

But with the presence of the CSA looming over our heads like old Ms. Harrington in 1st grade telling us that we'd better eat our veggies or else, we have to do the pickups and drop-offs each and every week - and that means we get to see each other each and every week. It's not always for a long time - sometimes Kirsten drops by for 5 minutes on a Saturday morning on her way to teaching a yoga class and really only has time to see how much Swiss chard she yet again has to incorporate into her meals. But for those five minutes, she and I connect and check in and she asks me how my show is going and I ask her how her new business is shaping up - a necessary personal, human interaction that has become one of my new favorite ways to start a Saturday.

And other times I run over to Claire's to grab my veggies and she says "shall we grab a bagel?" And because the answer is alway yes, we go to the bagel place and flirt with the bagel guy and catch up on each other's week and remind ourselves that community and friendship are the pillars of surviving in this big, scary world.

And still there are other times when the three of us work to find that elusive evening when we are all free and otherwise unoccupied, so we gather in someone's kitchen and proceed to make the tastiest CSA potluck seen on this side of Ditmars Blvd. Kristen picks up some goat cheese on the way over, I bring the walnuts that I've been meaning to use up anyway, and Claire roasts the beets and chops the fennel and onion and stirs up a vinaigrette and next thing we know we've got the most wonderful summer salad set before us; we pop open a bottle of something cold (because it's like 100 degrees in that kitchen) and enjoy a healthy, delicious, communal meal.

This post is way too long and with too few pictures (somehow it never felt right grabbing my phone for even a quick pic; one or all of us are usually sweaty and shiny from this damn heat anyway), and it doesn't have a real point other than for me to, in pleasant surprise, acknowledge how wonderful this CSA has been. Yes these are some expensive veggies, and yes it's a hassle to coordinate the logistics of getting these veggies, but it's ultimately a small price to pay for the strengthening of friendship over a handful of kale.

Monday, July 27, 2015

around here

Summer is in full swing here in New York, and after a horribly humid first few weeks of July, we've finally gotten some relief and have been treated to the most loveliest of sunny and breezy afternoons. The farmer's market is overflowing with giant berries and stone fruits, my CSA is providing me with more zucchini's than I know what to do with (but chocolate chip zucchini bread is a good start), I took myself on a solo one-day staycation to Rockaway Beach and gorged on books and tacos, there's a bizarrely cool art installation in Madison Square Park that I was finally able to check out, and long walks to work and on weekend dinner breaks have not only helped me dominate my Fitbit step count but also given me the urban eye candy this city is so well known for. Getting organized is the name of the game for me these days - I took an entire afternoon to obsessively reorganize the kitchen cabinets while once and for all telling the Tupperware who's boss, and I'm already making wedding to-do lists and schedules like it's my job (because it kind of actually is). There's only one more week left of the show I've been working on since April and then I'm taking a month off from theater to recharge and reassess a whole bunch of career stuff - a terrifying undertaking, but a necessary step that is long overdue. Until then, though, I'll be soaking up every last ray of sunshine I can get my hands (and face and tank-topped shoulders) on - happy summer!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Podcast love

My love for podcasts knows no ends. I wrote about some of my favorites last year in conjunction with a story about how I listen to them instead of music while running, and while I've actually gone back to running to music, I still log about 8-10 hours of podcast listening each week. Between my daily commute to/from whatever theater I'm working in (I've been on the Upper West Side all summer which is roughly a one-hour commute) and my walks around town to simply run errands and see friends, I seem to be always on the go and almost exclusively listening to podcasts the entire time. I've discovered four new podcasts this year, and while I still keep the old standards in my queue (I'm lookin' at you, This American Life, Fresh Air, and Studio 360) I've added some new (or new-to-me) gems that I'm quickly growing to love.

*Mystery Show - there's only five episodes so far, so it's entirely possible to catch up on this new podcast in just a few days. With the devotion of Columbo and the quirkiness of a Brooklyn barista, host Starlee Kine solves one mystery per episode. And while the mysteries might not have the "Serial" gravitas we have all come to know and love, they do delve into the history and makeup of some very interesting people and situations.

*On Being - while a staple in the podcast world, this one was only recently introduced to me by some friends in reference to a book club discussion. Focusing on the spiritual background of her guests who range from singers to scientists, Krista Tippett asks probing questions that get fascinating answers. There's a ton of old episodes, so start with some of my favorites - interviews with Maria Popova, Pico Iyer, and a rare talk with Mary Oliver.

*Invisibilia - another relative newbie, this show blends psychology, science, and narrative storytelling to explain "the invisible forces that control human behavior." It's a fascinating look at the world around us and the unexpected characters that inhibit it. Season Two is in the works, so binge-listen to the first six or so episodes to get yourself excited for the upcoming new episodes.

*Death, Sex, and Money - as the title suggests, this podcast focus on life's biggest and hardest topics. Often sad but always poignant, host Anna Sale gets to the heart of people's relationships with deeply personal questions that make you think about your own life and loved ones. One of my favorite episodes featured an episode with actress Ellen Burstyn, whose "shouldless day" mantra (a day in which there is nothing you "should" do) has become my new outlook on life.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Muddled Mary Blueberry Cocktail

Move over, Moscow Mule, because there's a new cocktail in town and it officially has my vote for Drink of the Summer (2015 edition). It all started (as so many of my adventures in drinking do) at the green market - I was wandering through on my way from one thing to another when I came upon the largest selection of cherries and blueberries I had ever seen. Utterly captivated, I immediately purchased a 1/2 pint of blueberries and did my very best to not inhale every last one of them before I even got on the train. I managed to make it home with most of them still intact, which was lucky for me because the remaining berries and some fresh rosemary from my balcony garden went directly into this deliciously refreshing, surprisingly fragrant, it's-too-hot-to-do-anything-but-fan-yourself-and-drink beverage. Combining muddled blueberries and rosemary-infused simple syrup (hence the name!), it screams of summer days on the shore. Or summer days in the middle of an smelly and overheated city, whichever is more applicable to you. I made this drink with vodka because that's how I roll, but you could easily substitute gin if that's more your fancy. Enjoy!

For the simple syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
For the cocktail:
- 5-6 fresh blueberries
- 1.5 oz chilled vodka
- 1.5 oz rosemary simple syrup
- 3 oz chilled club soda
- blueberries as garnish

How to
To make the simple syrup:
Combine water, sugar, and loose rosemary leaves in a stovetop pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Don't strain leaves, leave the rosemary loose in the syrup.
To make the cocktail:
-Muddle the blueberries in the bottom of the glass (if you don't have an actual muddler, the backside of a spoon works just as well). Add the vodka, simple syrup, and club soda. NOTE: I made this drink without ice cubes because my chilled ingredients did the work (and I didn't want to worry about the melting ice watering down the drink). If you don't want to wait for your ingredients to chill (because sometimes a girl needs a drink like now!) then by all means, use a larger glass and add some ice cubes after you've muddled the blueberries.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

afternoon delights

It's hot out. Like really, stupidly, stickily, annoyingly hot. And somehow I failed (again) to make friends with someone who has a rooftop pool. BUT it's better to be hot than cold, and the greenmarkets are exploding with cherries and blueberries as far as the eye can see. So pour yourself a cool drink, splay out in front of the nearest fan, and enjoy some of the strange and wonderful things the internet has brought us this month ;)

* I'm always game for a good personality test
* Looks so cool (maybe next year!)
* She makes some good points (and includes some great links as well)
* In honor of pink plastic flamingos 
* No, we are NOT done eating
* There are 2 kinds of people
* Everything is awful (but it's going to be ok)
* Remembering Vignelli
* Something old something new something goat and something blue
* My photog crush of the month
* And my guilty pleasure of the summer

Monday, July 13, 2015

How I structure my workouts

I have a slightly complicated relationship with running. I know all about the health benefits of incorporating running into your daily life, and I've been told by more than one health professional that it's one of the best ways to maintain weight and/or knock off a few extra calories that you may have drank over the weekend (hello, wedding dress...). But I don't like running - it's hot, it's repetitive, and it's a solitary activity. But I also like running - primarily because it's hot, it's repetitive, and it's a solitary activity. The post-run "feel good" is pretty potent, and there are few other exercises that work my entire body as quickly and efficiently and with as little equipment as just going for a run. But still - how many days do I put "RUN" on my to-do list and crawl into bed hours later without having crossed it off?

Last summer, I wrote about starting to run and how I, without really thinking it through, signed up for my first 5k. But once that Mindfulness Triathlon ended, so did my running career. I hung up my gym shoes and never really hit the road after that. Sometime last March, though, I got the "I have pent up energy and need to exercise" bug and dusted off the old sneaks. I headed out with visions of conquering every river and bridge in the tri-state area, only to immediately realize that it was 35 degrees out and the streets were covered in snow. One mini meltdown, the acceptance of an early birthday present, and a frantic local gym tryout later, I was a proud member of the Astoria branch of New York Sports Club - a mid-range gym with decent stretching areas and plenty of treadmills.

It wasn't too long before I had a system for my time at the gym. I work really well with structure and parameters, and I developed my own plan for a 30-minute, 2-mile run/walk. By alternating between running and walking and never doing either for more than three minutes at a time, I never get bored with the walking or overwhelmed by the running. And while every person (and every treadmill) is different, I walk at 3.7 mph and run at 4.7 mph - which results in two full miles and around 6,500 steps (helping me reach that daily FitBit goal).

Please note - I am not a physician, personal trainer, or athletic authority in any way - this is a workout that works for me, and I share it with you to use as an approach to your running regimen. Consult your doctor before starting or altering your workout plan, and never do anything that results in pain or extreme discomfort. You know your body, and you know what it can handle. That being said, logging two miles on a treadmill might be absolutely nothing for some people - but it might also be a reach goal for others. Use this plan as a guide and an inspiration for starting a new workout or changing up a stale routine.

I keep the music loud and the water bottle full, and I take care to spend at least 15 minutes stretching post-run. While I certainly don't make it to the gym as much as I should, I've been using this method for a couple of months now and I'm not even close to tiring of it. I know exactly how long I'm going to run, and there aren't any surprises. I feel great afterwards, and it's often just the energy-boosting run I need when in one of my blah moods. Try it out for yourself, and let me know what you think!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hawaiian Pita Pizza

It's a sad but real truth in my life - I can't stop making mini pizzas. I don't know if it's the summer weather, the ease and speed of putting together such a tasty lunch, or just that I like to be creative in the kitchen and making a tiny pizza allows me to experiment using different toppings without too many negative ramifications. Which brings me back to my original point - I can't stop making mini pizzas! They're my go-to lunch this summer, and I recently landed on my newest favorite - a Hawaiian Pita Pizza. Why Hawaiian? Because pineapples should go on everything, especially pizza. Why pita? Because it's cheaper than a pre-made pizza crust but tastes just as great, and my grocery store stocks fresh, locally-made pita on a daily basis. It's a total win-win!

How to:
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 7" piece of pita with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon your favorite pizza sauce onto the pita (I'm an unabashed fan of Ragú Pizza Quick), and add the toppings: shredded Mozzarella cheese, fresh sliced mushrooms, thick-sliced ham (cut into 1/2" slices), diced/chunked pineapples, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese just for good measure. Cook for 10 minutes or until the edges of the pita are crispy (I like my pizzas more on the well-done side, so make sure you check on your pizza after 8 minutes or so).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

These are the days

of late morning bagels and early afternoon pita pizzas 
   and izzy sodas all day long

of wedding planning and venue visiting
   and Pinteresting until way too late

of CSA pickups and fresh summer veggies
   and leafy greens for days

of binging on bad tv and reading trashy mags
   and not feeling bad about any of it

of long walks to work and short walks around the house
   just to make those 10,000 steps

of job hunting and vacation planning
   and saving my pennies because of both

of rooting for the cubs and cheering for the mets
   and knowing that they'll get 'em next year

of dancing backstage and whisky in the office
   and celebrating an extra two weeks of work

of loving the heat and the sun and the crazy long days
   even if I only see the sun set through a corner of a hallway window

of sleeping in and staying out late
   and knowing that these days won't last forever
   because things change
   and people grow
   so I'm going to enjoy them while they last.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Balcony Garden 2015

Herbs are the name of the game this summer. While last year I poured my heart and soul into both herbs and veggies, I was left ultimately underwhelmed by the vegetable production. I yielded just one teeny tiny eggplant that was too cute too cook and a total of seven grape tomatoes - hardly enough for a sandwich, let alone the vat of fresh tomato sauce I had envisioned when setting up the garden. So this year, I decided to not even spend my energy on vegetables and instead focus on herbs - basil, rosemary, dill, oregano, spearmint, and lavender*. (*Yep, lavender is considered to be both a flower and an herb). I have to admit, though, that while last year I started everything from seedlings, I went the easy route this time around and bought these guys from the green market when they were toddlers. Why? Part laziness, part schedule, part crappy weather throughout most of pre-growing season. I only feel the slightest bit guilty about it, but then I realize that not growing your balcony garden from seedlings and instead buying your plants from the local farmer's market is a really silly thing to feel guilty about, so I get over it pretty quickly. Anyway, it's already July - how is my garden growing?

Basil - I'm having a slightly hard time with this one. There were some gorgeous leaves right away that I made sure to put on every pizza and dish of pasta in the tri-state area, but then it started to grow and flower, which I eventually learned is something I should not let happen to a basil plant. And then I heard on a podcast that once your basil starts to flower, the leaves are bitter and almost unusable. So is this a lost cause? Will I not have the spoonfuls of pesto I so longingly envisioned? I'm still watering every day and removing each tiny flower as soon as I see it, but I'm a bit confused as to how to proceed.

Rosemary - doing great! There are two decently-sized stalks(?) that are full and fragrant. Every now and then I pull off a couple of leaves and throw them into whatever I'm cooking, and the dish tastes fresh and wonderful. Good job, rosemary.

Dill - I think the dill has started to flower as well. And/or I don't know how to harvest fresh dill. AND whatever is there is so think and wispy I couldn't take a picture of it. DISCLAIMER - I plant things as if I know what I'm doing, but then never actually take the time to read or learn about the things I just planted, assuming that if my forefathers could survive off the land then I can grown some measly herbs. DISCLAIMER #2 - My forefathers did not, in fact, successfully survive off of the land, they instead took the first boat out of Italy when the going got tough and settled in urban Chicago, effectively removing any necessity of ever living off the land again. So clearly I come from hearty farmer stock. But back to the dill - what the heck do I do with this dill plant??

Oregano - flourishing. I'll probably need to repot this at some point, because it's threatening to take over my balcony. Anyone need any fresh oregano?

Spearmint - I have nearly killed and then miraculously revived this particular "Kentucky Colonel" like five times already. I secretly think my spearmint plant is punishing me for leaving Louisville six years ago (I lived there for three years and almost-but-not-really stayed for good), but I show him who's boss by adding a sprig to my bourbon while dreaming of simpler times when men were men and ladies carried parasols.

Lavender - so I haven't exactly turned my balcony into an idyllic and sun-streaked Provençal garden like Pinterest told me would happen, but I do have a solitary flower that smells delightful and is oh so pretty to look at. While I suppose my lavender sachet business will have to wait another year (which sucks because I already bought the domain to Spadoni', that little lavender bud is a constant reminder that hardships can be overcome and to always reach for the stars.

What are you growing this summer? Want to kick it grade-school-style and trade me half of your Lunchable for some oregano?

Friday, July 3, 2015

CSA Cooking - Bowtie Pasta Salad

The first few weeks of my CSA haul were nothing but greens, greens, and more greens. And while I was able to up my salad and smoothie game a bit, I wasn't too inspired to create anything too exciting. But thanks to whatever natural growing season that upstate New York is heading into (I'm totally a farmer, you guys), we're starting to see veggies of all shapes and colors (read: less leafy greens) - and I'm secretly really relieved. Granted, I'm sure I'll be singing a different tune come late August when I can't even look at another zucchini, but at the moment I'm loving it all.

So back to last week's box - amongst the romaine lettuce and swiss chard were zucchini, white turnips, baby kale, and fennel. And because my motto is "when in doubt, sauté it!" that's exactly what I did. And also because carbs are my jam, I cooked up a pot of bowtie pasta and mixed that into the veggies. Served cold, this is the perfect light and healthy summer pasta salad - no heavy sauces, just simple, fresh, locally sourced veggies. ;)

- 1 lb bowtie pasta
- 1 clove garlic, finely diced
- 1/3 fennel bulb, finely diced
- 1 large zucchini, cut into 1/4" cubes
- 2 white turnips, thinly sliced
- 2 large handfuls kale, roughly chopped
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine (optional)
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- 1 small handful of fennel fronds, as garnish

How to
In a large pot, boil 6-8 cups of salted water. Add pasta, let cook to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and let that get hot as well. Begin to sauté the vegetables, starting with the garlic and fennel. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until golden brown. Add the zucchini and turnips to the garlic and fennel, and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until soft. Fold the kale into the vegetables and let it soften. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, reduce heat to low.

When the pasta is al dente, remove it from heat. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the pasta into the skillet and on top of the vegetables. Add the white wine, 2-3 tbsp of the pasta water, and the Parmesan cheese to the skillet, and stir well. Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes on low heat or until the pasta is done to your likeness. This can be served immediately as a hot dish, or place the pasta into a large container and refrigerated to serve as a cold pasta salad. Garnish with the fennel fronds before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

month in objects: June

mets tix: because days off are for baseball games (and also go cubs!) / garnier: because sometimes you think you're going burgundy but it turns out purple but hey these things happen and I'm just gonna rock it / oregano: because sometimes you manage to keep the plants alive for yet another month / rach in sunglasses: because happy opening! / whitney ticket: because art museums are my jam / lipstik: because I'm unabashadly rocking the coral this summer / physique 57: because trying a new workout never hurts / heart: because #lovewins

month in objects is my documentation system for 2015 - each month I create and photograph a collage of items that represent that month - and then toss most of the actual items in the trash. By the end of the year, I'll have 12 photographs and (hopefully) a lot less clutter. read january's story and the origin of this project here. want to see previous months? february / march / april / may