Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acorn Squash

Everyone knows its fall! Time for pumpkins, squash, and lots of apples! Our refrigerator and cupboards definitely reflect this. But who can resist your pick of two big squash for $5 at the Farmer's Market?

Acorn squash is my favorite squash for stuffing. When its cut in half it makes the perfect individual serving bowl to put your stuffing in and it looks beautiful. I found a perfect stuffed acorn squash recipe last year and have not looked back. It is rare that we make things like this more than once, but there is just no reason to look for another recipe when both Aaron and I love this one.

The ingredients are listed below, but I have to admit I have never ventured into the wheat berries territory. We have used quinoa or brown rice instead. I think following the rest of the ingredients closely would result in the best flavor, but we have made it with only dried herbs and with cranberries instead of sour cherries (they are expensive!) and walnuts or chopped almonds instead of pine nuts (also expensive). It still tastes great!

Even if you aren't going to stuff your squash I suggest roasting it with a smashed garlic clove under it. It really does add a great flavor to the acorn squash.

1 acorn squash
2 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
salt and pepper

1/2 cup wheat berries, soaked for at least a couple hours
1 tbsp grape seed oil
2 shallots, small dice (or 1 small-medium cooking onion)
1 celery stalk, small dice
1 medium carrot, peeled and small dice
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ground coriander
3 sprigs thyme, leaves chopped up fine
1 sprig sage, leaves chopped up fine
splash of white wine (alternatively you can squeeze a bit of lemon at the end or use a bit of white wine vinegar at the end too)
3/4 cup vegetable stock (or water)
1/2 cup dried sour cherries, chopped up roughly
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (I just slide them into the oven for a bit while the squash is cooking)
3 sprigs parsley, leaves chopped fine

Click here for full instructions and some beautiful photos: The First Mess- Stuffed Acorn Squash.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Less is More?

I think I spoiled some of my faithful blog readers (family) over the summer by posting almost every day about something interesting and exciting. Well, I was in Mexico City, surrounded by new people, places, and things! Of course I had a lot to post about. I also had no responsibilities beyond my internship and skyping with Aaron, so it was easy to find the time.

Unfortunately my cushy summer life ended abruptly and this semester is going to be a little bit crazy. Besides keeping my part-time job, I also have added a project assistantship, which means I do weekly research for a La Follette professor. I'm taking four classes, which is a lot, and I am in charge of planning my classes graduation ceremony and reception. PLUS I got offered an internship with the U.S. State Department that I just couldn't turn down.

So as you can see, sleep deprivation will probably become an unavoidable part of my life. The work load is adding up quickly. I will still be posting but don't be surprised if there are longer gaps in between posts. Honestly, I am just not doing anything that interesting besides studying and reading the news. I try not to post about those things on here because most of you would find them boring and they require more thought out writing than talking about going to a new park. ANYWAY if you are interested in any of that you can make a Twitter account and follow me on there, where I regularly share articles and opinions.

Disclaimer: I am not a State Department or Federal government employee! Anything I post on here (or twitter) is my own opinion.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Governor Nelson State Park

The weather on Saturday was beautiful, so Aaron and I decided to go on a bike ride. We have been on the same loop around Lake Monona multiple times, but haven't really ventured around Lake Mendota much (on the north side of Madison's isthmus).

Some googling led us on a 20 mile ish ride to Governor Nelson State Park and back. The ride was very nice until we ended up on a loose stone road getting hit with pebbles for the last few miles to the park (we do not have a flat tire kit... our plan is to call the Green Cab company which has bike racks on their cabs... we are smart). When we got to the park we were happy to find out its free to get in on a bike. We road to the water and took a break on the dock.

It is a nice park with swimming, picnic tables, a volleyball net, playground etc. We'll have to head over when the weather gets warm again!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Out of the Darkness Community Walk

Over the weekend Aaron and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Madison. The weather was great and it was a nice way to spend Sunday morning with friends while supporting a good cause (instead of sleeping in). Thanks to Ruth for her generous donations!

We rewarded ourselves with a trip to Ale Asylum for the opening of their new brewery/tasting room.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Local Food: Ingredients

Made in Madison.
Aaron and I recently watched the documentary "Ingredients." It had been on our Netflix queue for a while, but came at a great time, as it discusses the importance of local food and mentions Farm to School, which I am doing a project on for one of my classes this semester.

The project will be challenging and we don't know if we will find that Farm to School is beneficial (from a cost-benefit standpoint) yet, but overall I would say Aaron and I try to support local farmers and food suppliers as much as we can afford to. We get excited to buy the things that say "locally made" at Whole Foods and we go to the Farmer's Market every week. I especially love when restaurants tell you where they got their food from (this is pretty popular in Madison).

Of course, we could be doing a lot more. We don't go to the winter Farmer's Market, we don't have a source for locally produced eggs*, and we don't can or freeze food to enjoy more local stuff during the winter. We tried to get a CSA this year, but that failed when their crop was wiped out by the hot weather.

So why care? Local fruits and vegetables are often cheaper, fresher, and contain more nutrients than the stuff on the store shelves. Plus buying them supports the local economy. Also, a lot of times the food tastes better and lasts longer in the fridge (store-bought eggs tastes like nothing to me now).

Local products aren't always cheaper, but they are often fresher and definitely support local businesses. They also both save on the environmental costs of transporting food thousands of miles. This one is harder for us. We mostly stick to locally made condiments, honey, and bread (and of course finding affordable local beer is not an issue).

It seems like a no-brainer to me that local food is better, but I'm curious what other people think about it. Do you even think about it?

After watching Ingredients, I was excited to go to the Farmer's Market and sought out things we don't typically buy there, like garlic. Aaron said it made him want to be a farmer (he is still sad that his Dad didn't take over his grandparents corn farm). I encourage you to check the documentary out, its just an hour long!

** This was a real bummer this summer when our favorite provider at the Farmer's Market said it was too hot for his hens to lay enough eggs to sell and we didn't have anywhere else to go for eggs.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gondolas and Chair Lifts

The morning before we left Colorado, Aaron and I woke up earlier than the rest of his family (we aren't so talented at this sleeping in past 8 thing), so we headed to the mountain side for a free gondola ride and to look around. I have never been in a gondola, although I have had nightmares where I am in them, so I had a mix of excitement and fear going on.

From the parking lot.
Doors closing, no going back now!
Taking off.
So turns out it wasn't scary at all (if you don't think too much about how you are hanging in a heavy contraption from a tiny little cable). The gondola was basically a hopper that stopped at a couple sections of the resort to eventually drop people off at the base of some chair lifts around peak 6. 

It was about a 15 or 20 minute ride to the base of the mountains, where they had a little summer fun park set up (think human maze, bungee trampoline thingy, some rides down the mountain). It was all a little pricey, so we decided to opt for just the scenic chair lift ride that set us back $18.

Chairlifts in Michigan are normally scary enough for me, but I was happy to find out that mostly all of the chairlifts in Colorado have bars you pull down in front of you, so you don't have to worry about falling to your death so much. As long as Aaron DIDN'T MOVE AT ALL I was ok!

Up we go.

Once we got to the top of the chair lift, we were required to get off, so we walked around a bit. Aaron pretended to ski off. We were at 11,000 feet and I was wearing flip flops, so we weren't exactly equipped for a mountain hike, but we did our best.

Looking down a black diamond! Those gaps in the trees behind him are ski runs that absolutely blew my mind. If we ever ski in Colorado I will be sticking to the easy green and medium blue runs.

Heading back down and enjoying the view.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Breckenridge, CO


This past weekend Aaron and I went to Colorado for his friend's wedding. I had never been and we had a great trip planned. We wanted to get there early so we could spend some time in Denver and go to the bachelor/bachelorette parties on Thursday night. 

Unfortunately our plane wasn't able to take off and we had a pretty rough day at the airport wondering when we were going to get to Colorado. It included waiting in line for over 3 hours and hardly moving, going through security twice, trying to get on standby flights, and eating breakfast and dinner in the same airport restaurant. While we finally got to Denver around 11:00 p.m. that night and Aaron got to go to part of the bachelor party he had planned, it was exhausting and kinda put a damper on the rest of the trip for us since we were pretty tired.

I didn't take any pictures of that part of our trip because it was too depressing, and no pictures in Denver because we weren't able to do much besides eating breakfast there.

The wedding was in Breckenridge, a little under two hours from Denver. The town had a beautiful view and lots of restaurants, cafes, and hiking, but it was a little too touristy for me (even though there weren't any tourists I could only image what its like during ski season). My favorite part was seeing the mountains and hiking. I wished I had brought some actual hiking clothes and shoes.

My brother and sister in law on a random chairlift sitting on the ground. 
Breckenridge is above 9,000 feet, but the altitude didn't really bother me, probably because the air was sooo much cleaner than the air in Mexico City! Climbing up this hill did leave me a little out of breath, though.

Ready for the wedding.   
The wedding took place at a hotel/resort on the side of a mountain, and this was the amazing view on the deck. It was beautiful and certainly put our little park wedding to shame :)
Planting an aspen tree.
Congrats to Chris and Meghan!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Camping: Wisconsin River

Since moving to Wisconsin, Aaron and I have wanted to go camping. There is so much beautiful land and a ton of state parks (which unlike Michigan allow beer, a requisite for a good campfire).

Unfortunately we had only used borrowed camping supplies from family and we are far away from all of our family now. This summer Aaron decided it was time to start collecting our own camping equipment and he bought us a tent. He was determined that we would go camping before I started school, but we cut it close. Classes started yesterday so Labor Day weekend was our only option (we picked up our sleeping bags from the store a day before we left).

I had heard a lot about the Wisconsin River but we had never been, so we picked a campground right along the river about an hour west of Madison. The campground was cool because it had "secluded tent sites," which meant we were basically surrounded by trees and bushes, instead of being on top of other campers.

Luckily Aaron is really into camping so I let him do most of the set up. Our tent only takes about 5 minutes to put up. It took longer to take it down when we left!

During the day we hiked, did a 30 mile bike ride, and swam in the incredibly shallow river. 

We were in the middle of quite a few very little Wisconsin towns. There were lots of farms, tractors, and pro-life billboards. It was interesting to get out of the Madison bubble for a little bit.

We had a great time but I am happy to be back in my bed and with my own wonderfully clean bathroom!