roasted zucchini and crookneck squash with pumpkin seeds, oregano, and olives

I went out to harvest in the garden this morning and after using up about 20 crookneck squash in the last couple days, I harvested a dozen more. And a dozen cucumbers and three tomatoes. I trimmed the tomato plant back a bit so I can see several others are nearly ready, and William on corn duty tells me there are six or more ears that need to be used now. They’ll be as many or more of everything tomorrow.

I somewhat jokingly wrote in an instagram post several weeks back that I’ve found the best way to eat more vegetables is to grow a lot of vegetables. No jokes anymore since at this point in the season, it’s an incredible fact. For me anyways, this goes particularly because even though the romanticism of growing our own has long since worn off, there’s a huge sense of obligation to not waste what we’ve watched growing all season, to not waste the many hours William has spent watering and sifting compost, pulling weeds, and turning over beds.

Me? I mostly just harvest and cook and then take the glory. As is true for most gardeners and farmers, we tend to plant extra of everything because inevitably one or more crops fail– and people who grow things are slightly addicted to growing more things. (A slight problem when the backyard is producing so much). This year so far, nothing has failed. Literally nothing except a slow start and replanting of beets which thankfully won’t be ready until the summer squash, cucumbers, and corn are about done.

Anyhow, one thing I’ve been thinking about all summer is how very little has been stated publicly, in the mainstream US news anyway, about lifestyle factors that can help us through this pandemic season. Eating more vegetables, filling ourselves up on all the colors, nutrients, phytonutrients, and generally eating more whole, looks-like-it-came-directly-from-the-earth, foods can go a long way. I was asked to write a little more in-depth about this topic recently for Territory Run Co., so if you’d like more details on specific foods, nutrients, or lifestyle factors to help through this season (like mindfulness for stress relief), you can find the article here.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to figure out how to gift a few harvest extras this week, and chop, roast, sauté, etc. my way through the others. A little Italian flavor inspired, this combination of roasting zucchini and crookneck squash, and topping it with an herby, olive, garlic, and pumpkin seed topping is just one way to add some pizazz to eating your vegetables. If you have a grill basket and would like to take the cooking outside, grilling the squash instead of roasting will be a nice shift in methods.

Roasted Zucchini + Crookneck Squash with Pumpkin Seeds, Oregano, and Olives, serves 4 as a side
Use any type of summer squash you have available. The smaller, less seedy ones have the best texture.

4-8 small to medium summer squash, chopped (enough to fit a sheet pan or baking tray)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp. salt
20 fresh oregano leaves, finely minced (about two large sprigs)
15 small black olives (about 1/4 cup), rinsed, drained and sliced

  • Preheat your oven to 425 F. Line a baking pan with parchment and then spread the chopped squash evenly, so it’s mostly a single layer. Sprinkle with a little salt and roast until soft and borderline mushy, about 30-40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a pan on the stovetop, and then remove them to a cutting board. Chop them until they’re in medium-small pieces, small enough to not be able to tell they’re pumpkin seeds, but not super-fine.
  • Mince the garlic and add it to a small dish, along with the pumpkin seeds, salt, minced oregano and olives.
  • When the squash is done roasting, slide it into a serving bowl, and then stir the herby pumpkin seed mixture throughout and serve.

Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

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A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a fun run organized by a student association on campus. It was the lowest-key race I’ve helped or taken part in and there were only a handful of runners participating. On the course, I stood amidst a bunch of trees in the park, pointing the way for runners and offering my cheers.

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I am the lamest of cheerleaders. I feel inadequate at motivating and lifting up. The words that come easily in print are the hardest to voice.

The course was three laps so I watched the runners progress through each mile. Because there were so few participants I got to know each of their fun-running styles, and consequently felt the need to up my cheering game each time they came around, from the first confident runner to the last couple walk/jogging together.

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At the end of the evening, one of the runners thanked me for being encouraging. You were really helpful; you motivated me to keep going, she said.

I swiveled around dramatically, making sure there was no one else she could be talking to before answering, Really!?!?

I was astonished.

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I spent the better part of winter reading Matthew Kelly’s book. In it he shares about figuring out how best to reach people. At the end of the day, it really is quite simple:  People need to be encouraged, he says.

I had underlined, ear-marked, and post-it noted that section, thinking how I wanted to practice encouragement in the ensuing months.

The funny thing about that runner thanking me for my invisible pompoms is that her words were equally encouraging.

Lifting each other up is a little gift that simply keeps on giving.

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Tart Cherry + Fig Granola

This granola is a little gift too. I don’t make granola often because I find the sweet flavors and crunchy textures mildly addicting and if I don’t practice some restraint, the whole batch will be eaten in one go. Numerous studies have shown that tart cherries are good for runners because they aid in reducing inflammation and increasing muscle recovery. While the amount of tart cherries in this granola are no where near the amount necessary to show real results, I am firm believer in the “every bit helps” philosophy, plus they taste good. We have a local business just up the road, Oregon Cherry Country, that grows and processes their own cherries and I usually purchase from them. Realistically, all the nuts, seeds, fruit, and even spices can be interchanged here. I really like the balance of the puffed cereal (like arrowhead mills or nature’s path brands, not rice krispies) with the oats, and the seeds, nuts, and fruits showcased here are among my favorites–change them up based on what you like or have! 

2 cups thick-rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary

2 cups puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped

1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cardamom

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) cloves

1/16 tsp. (a large pinch) nutmeg

1/3 cup dried tart cherries

1/3 cup dried figs, chopped

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine the dry ingredients, save the fruit, in a large bowl. Pour the liquids over the dry and use your hands to coat them all evenly. Spread the granola mixture on the baking sheet, press down gently, and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool before adding the dried fruit.

Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars

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Oats are one of my favorite foods of all time, and over the years they are probably the most common ingredient in many of my recipes. Aside from porridge, I really love to try out new variations of homemade granola bars. Recently, I’ve been using bars as a quick form of recovery after hard runs or races. With races especially, I often find it difficult to eat anything offered at the post-race party that might help me start the recovery process in a timely manner. Common post race offerings include bagels, bananas, pancakes, and sometimes pizza, which are all great carbohydrate-rich foods that I cannot eat. Making these bars and stowing them in my bag are the new way to go!

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The Sports Nutrition literature recommends eating a post-workout recovery meal or snack with a ratio of carbohydrate to protein of 3 – 4:1. Eating a food or meal in this range helps with muscle glycogen re-synthesis. That’s science speak for sugars in the muscle. Adding amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to the carbohydrate mix also help with muscle protein synthesis. If the muscles begin getting re-fueled and rebuilt quickly, they will recover and be ready to get back out there sooner!

In addition to fitting within the recommended carb to protein ratio range, these bars also contain turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. Turmeric has been used for centuries in India. It contains a compound called Curcumin which has often been lauded with potent anti-inflammatory actions. Ginger also has been known to reduce inflammation and it helps settle the stomach. I’ve been struggling with a minor injury all summer and my stomach often begins to feel like I just stepped off a carnival ride after a hard run, so the addition of turmeric and ginger help the recovery process just a little bit more. With the addition of cinnamon, the flavor combination also just plain tastes good, and for that alone, I’d mix these spices in!

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These bars are healthy, filling, easy to make, and can be eaten any time of day, even if you’re not an endurance athlete. I’ve also been throwing them in my lunch box all summer to eat between meals when I need a snack.

If you’re really interested in the bars’ nutrient break-down, I’ve included it at the end of the post. For more on healthy inflammation-fighting foods, check out this article from Runner’s World.

 
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Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars
These can be adapted in infinite ways by changing up the types of dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. I also enjoy subbing out half of the oats for puffed rice or millet. The dash of black pepper will help the turmeric absorb and become more bioavailable, so don’t leave it out. 
  • 3/4-1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free if necessary)
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • dash of black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a square baking dish (approx. 8″ x 8″) or line with a piece of parchment paper so the bars are easier to lift out.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the vanilla, 3/4 cup applesauce, and spices.
  3. Place the oats into a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped, but still have a fair bit of texture. Then stir them into the applesauce mixture.
  4. Add the nuts, seeds, and raisins to the applesauce-oat mixture until thoroughly combined, and add a little more applesauce if needed.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and press down with the back of a spatula or spoon until it is compacted and even.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until the bars are firm and lightly golden along the edge. Wait until the bars are cool and then slice into squares or rectangles. This makes 16 small bars (~100 calories each) or 8 larger bars.
Nutrition Information, (for a larger bar or two small ones)
208 calories
10 grams fat – 13% Daily Value
1 gram saturated fat – 5%
0 grams trans fat
0 mg cholesterol
32 mg sodium – 1%
27 grams carbohydrate – 8%
9 grams sugar
4 grams fiber – 12%
6 grams protein – 14%
 
Vitamin A – 0 %
Vitamin C – 2%
Calcium – 2%
Iron – 13%
63 mg magnesium – 20%
217mg potassium – 5%