what we bring to the party

Thursday, December 31, 2009

For New Year's Eve: A box of Divine Delights petits fours, from the retail outlet right here in Chickenland. (And thus successfully making it to eight of the 10 foodie spots on this year's "where to eat" list.)

Good-bye, 2009!

a sign

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This morning, after I finished my first class (Ashtanga, I love you) at my newly found yoga studio, I came across this truck and just couldn't resist taking a photo.

happy merry christmas

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas was just what it was meant to be: Several days of feasting with family.

Our big contribution was Christmas Eve dinner (although we did cook on Christmas Day also). We planned a comfort food-themed meal for my parents, who made the trek up to Chickenland for a few days. Our goal was simple but good -- a meal that hit the spot but didn't require an entire day spent toiling in the kitchen.

This was the menu (paired with Merry Edwards 2007 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and served on the nice green plates we got for our wedding):

Pot roast
Sweet potato, okra, spinach and red potato salad with capers
Rainbow chard
Macaroni and cheese in a béchamel sauce

For dessert, I made butterscotch pudding topped with whipped cream, which we paired with one of my favorite dessert wines from work.

Ah, full belly.

and thus sayeth daft punk

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last night I dreamed the San Francisco Marathon was being run through my parents' house (which is strange since my parents actually live in Agoura Hills), and we had to move all of the furniture to make way for the Kenyans.

Clearly, I am obsessed.

Yes, despite the fact that I am back to eating burritos and drinking wine (right now, there's an 08 Wachica Los Carneros Chardonnay in my glass -- if you've never heard of it, that's because the Wachica label doesn't really exist yet -- job perks, baby, job perks), all I can think about is running.

Part of this is because I am not satisfied with my 4:50 marathon time. I know I sound like a brat, but I want to go faster. This desire for speed seems to be the fate of any runner. It's like that Daft Punk song -- harder, better, faster, stronger.

It's also sort of like crack. (Or like the 08 Wachica Los Carneros Chardonnay, which I can't seem to put down.)

So I research races: Portland, Eugene, Marine Corps, Vegas. And I think about what 2010 may hold. I haven't made a decision about my next 26.2 yet, but this is what I have lined up so far:

January: No racing, just training. And lots of it. With a focus on speedwork.

February: Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon on Super Bowl Sunday. I have a soft spot for this race -- it was my first ever this year, and it changed my life (cheesy, but so true). I'm hoping to go back and PR.

March: Big Sur Mud Run with my lovely runner girls! Gonna get down and dirty with Jessa, Ashley, Cynthia and Larissa.

April: Who knows? Still up in the air at this point.

May: Avenue of the Giants with Marcos and Julie. And -- wait for it -- possibly Todd. (Seriously, if Todd starts running with me, I will be so excited.) Haven't decided yet if I will do the half or the full, though I'm leaning toward the half. Also, Bay to Breakers -- I was deathly ill this year and missed it -- don't want to let that happen again.

June: Again, who knows? Haven't ruled out the San Diego 26.2.

July: Definitely doing the SF Half. Tugs at my heartstrings, this one does. Oh, SF, how I love you! (Even though your hills will kick my ass.)

no remorse

Monday, December 21, 2009

It is completely normal to stop at a Mexican market at 10 a.m. and order a gigantic burrito, especially if said burrito is supposed to be one of the best in the Napa Valley and has been on your list of items to ingest for some time now.

the feline version

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If I had all the time in the world -- and actually knew how to edit video -- I would make one of these for Meep and Mari. Only their version would have an "A-Team" theme, and Meep would be wearing gold chains and Mari would be wearing camouflage.

(Thanks to Kate for sharing this amazing example of catness.)

pdx, I love you

Monday, December 14, 2009

Took a break from running, from writing and from California and went to Portland for a long weekend.

The night we arrived, we had salt cod, pâté and cocktails at the hotel. The next morning, a spam, egg and cheddar breakfast sandwich from the BrunchBox food cart, followed by a maple bacon bar from Voodoo Doughnut and a cup of Stumptown coffee.

We stopped at music stores and The Big Book Store (we are tourists, after all) and the Saturday Market. I bought a notebook with cats on it for myself, "white lightning" catnip for the cats. There was Hefeweizen at Deschutes, Bloody Marys and wild salmon hash at Mother's, oyster omelettes at Bijou.

We wandered around in the rain, wearing heavy coats and furry gloves. We walked for blocks, waited at bus stops, rode trains. We went to a craft fair and a pub (imagine coming in from the rain for a pint and a hot beef-and-mushroom pie) and a beer shop stuffed with imports, microbrews and Cadbury. We did the chef's tasting menu at Toro Bravo and swooned over the "French kisses" -- prunes stuffed with foie gras. I drank Txakolina. He had a Sazerac.

And time passed far, far too quickly.

at the finish

Monday, December 07, 2009

Apparently, I looked like a karate-chopping smurf while sprinting toward the finish line yesterday.

But the important fact is that I finished -- 4:50:58. And now I can say I'm a marathoner, which is funny since I've never thought of myself as an athlete.

From beginning to end, the race was an experience. I could barely sleep Saturday night, and when I did doze off, I had bizarre dreams, all of them running-related. I woke up at 3:15 to eat bananas and chocolate soy milk and go to the bathroom a million times. Then I met my running buddy Neveia in the lobby at 5, and we got on the shuttle to the starting line.

The ride was torture. We were on that damn bus for what seemed like an eternity, and all I could think about was, Where are they taking us? Why is it so far away? And how the hell do they expect me to run back? And it was cold. Really ridiculously, unbelievably cold. The bus went past a car dealership, and every car in the lot was covered in a thick layer of frost.

When we finally got to the start near Folsom Dam, Neveia and I immediately headed for the port-a-potty line -- along with the entire field of 7,000 runners. The line took forever, but the wait gave us a chance to chat with our fellow mashochists, and we met a British guy who cracked us up by timing how long people were in the outhouses.

We lined up with the 4:30 pace group. The race started promptly at 7, and even with the large number of runners, it only took us about 5 minutes to cross the starting line. The first mile was an easy downhill, and as people began to warm up, they shed layers of clothing. We had to dodge a couple of trashbags, mittens and sweatshirts that other runners had abandoned in the road.

Neveia and I had a good clip going and passed the 4:30 group. We stayed well ahead of the group for half of the race. (My half marathon split was 2:11.) I started to get my hopes up for a 4:20 finish. But then at Mile 18, I slowed down at an aid station, lost Neveia (who finished in 4:32) and saw the 4:30 pace group go by.

I couldn't catch up. My lungs and breathing were fine, but my left hamstring was screaming, and my right ankle was sore too. My stride got shorter, and I had to take some walk breaks.

I kept running as much as possible, but it was tough. Small things helped. Between the Mile 24 and 25 markers, there was a Del Taco, which made me laugh, and right as I approached it, someone was blasting Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me," which made me think of Christina and I ran for her. I also found myself chanting the names of the people I love over and over. And I almost started crying when I recognized my co-worker Carol watching the race as I entered the last mile -- I actually ran off of the course to give her a hug -- it was so awesome to have her support.

Todd, my parents and my friends Marcos and Julie were on the last stretch up L Street, and by then, I was gutting it out -- ignoring the pain and just going for it. I had been passed by the 4:45 pace group, and I wanted to finish under 5 at all costs, so I gave it everything I had. I passed a few people and did an all-out sprint toward the finish.

And then I was done. And it was weird and sort of anti-climatic. Someone handed me a disposable blanket and a bottled water. Someone else took my photo in front of a banner that said "Finisher." And then I wandered around for a long time and couldn't find anyone I knew. And it was so cold, and all I had was the stupid disposable blanket. I ended up hobbling into a pizza place and asking one of the cooks if I could use his cell phone to call my family to come get me.

And now, I kind of don't know what to do with myself. All the training is over. I called in sick today (because I'm so sore I can barely walk) and have been hanging out in pajamas and reading the last Harry Potter book, and I feel oddly like something is missing.

Is it too soon to start thinking about the next race?

and away we go

Friday, December 04, 2009

I am in a hotel room in Sacramento, wearing my favorite yummy sushi pajamas, which happen to be very appropriate since I just went out for Japanese food. Bring on the rice because the carbo-loading has begun! (By the way, I ate a pizza topped with spaghetti for lunch today.)

I can't believe this weekend is finally here. I feel like I have been training forever, and now it's all come down to Sunday. I'm excited and scared and emotional. Started crying yesterday during my last training run. Watched this video about Rick and Dick Hoyt and bawled. Had to blink back tears again today when a good luck bouquet arrived from Shara and Kristian. Strange how 26.2 makes you think about everyone in your life and how lucky you are.

So here I go. Tomorrow, I'll head to the expo and pick up my race packet and maybe take a look at the finish line.

And then ...

CIM countdown: 31 hours.

I am not a cool cat

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Unlike Mari, who is perfectly happy to play in the reusable grocery bag and doesn't worry about things like race day weather or GI distress or blisters.

Yes, I am once again relying on cats to offer a pre-race distraction. (Aren't cats wonderful? Don't you just love them? Isn't it entirely obvious why the ancient Egyptians thought they were little gods?)

Unfortunately, the jitters are tougher this time around because I have no idea what 26.2 will be like. And I keep remembering how absolutely brutal my 22-mile training run was and wondering if I am going to experience the same excruciating pain. People keep telling me I'll be in a different mindset on race day -- "game face" and adrenaline and all that -- so I shouldn't worry. Plus I know I can't really change anything now. Marathon training is like studying for a huge exam -- and I'm at the point where if I haven't done the work already, I can't cram it in at the last second.

So all I can do is soldier on toward Sunday. I went to Goodwill tonight and picked up a light jacket (just $3.19!) that I can wear for the first mile or so and then ditch after I've warmed up. I bought my bananas and my chocolate soy milk (which is an awesome recovery drink, by the way) and my pretzels (which work better for my belly than GU). I've confirmed the hotel reservations and double-checked my bib number (rocking the 422!). I've made plans for my pre-race pasta feed -- which actually resulted in a shout-out in a Sacramento Bee blog post and made me feel semi-famous for all of two seconds.

Tomorrow is my last training run. I'm planning to do an easy 30-minute workout and just focus on how good running feels and how much I love it.

CIM countdown: Four days.

behind the door

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When I run, I often see places I'd like to stop at -- buildings I'd like to enter, community gardens I'd like to explore, bizarre lawn art I'd like to photograph. But I'm always on the clock, which means no lingering for me, and these places and all their allure are forced to wait.

Tonnellerie Radoux is one such spot. My lunchtime runs take me past this cooperage, which makes French, American and Eastern European oak barrels, as well as staves, chips and oak inserts -- basically all types of wood "seasonings" that can be used in the winemaking process.

I finally got to check Radoux out this morning when my department toured the facility. They make the barrels on site, and we watched the process from start to finish. It was absolutely fascinating to see the coopers shape the seemingly stiff, rigid planks of wood into wine barrels. The act was almost like sculpting, with fire, hammers and metal hoops to guide the wood into the right form.

And the aroma -- wow. Toasted vanilla wafting through an entire warehouse. Someone needs to make this an aftershave.

CIM countdown: Five days. (And yes, the nerves are getting to me. Thank god for the distraction of wine barrels!)

fetal duck egg

Monday, November 30, 2009

He did it. He ate balut and didn't throw up or run screaming from the room or divorce me. And now my parents love him even more. I'm impressed. Watching your husband sit down at a table across from your dad and crack open a fetal duck egg without flinching is, well, strangely hot.

And it was also fascinating to listen to my dad explain how to eat balut, which I've never been brave enough to try myself. As he was walking Todd through the process, my dad told stories to put the egg in context.

"Imagine you spent the day fishing," my dad said. "Imagine that it's rainy and cold and that you've had a long day. And then you come home to your house and you have a nice, warm balut waiting for you. And you crack open that egg and you drink the juice, and suddenly you feel energized again. You can go back and fish again tomorrow."

Almost makes you forget about the embryonic duck, doesn't it?

Anyway, here's a little step-by-step guide to eating balut:

1. Boil the balut gently for about an hour. (I think this can vary. Some people recommend 15-30 minutes, but the eggs my family had were going for awhile, and there was still a lot of liquid in them from what I saw.)

2. Stand the egg upright in an egg cup, flatter side up -- if you can tell which side is flatter. Otherwise, just guess. (I suspect that my dad likes to use an egg cup because you can eat the fetal duck piece by piece, without actually seeing the body as a whole, which can be pretty scary-looking.)

3. Crack the top of the egg with a fork and peel the greyish membrane back.

4. Salt the egg. (Again, this probably varies. My dad likes salt, but I'm not sure how authentic this is.)

5. Drink the juice/yolk.

6. Use a small spoon to scoop out the meat. Salt. Eat.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until the egg is empty, except for a hard, white substance left at the bottom. (My dad doesn't recommend eating this part because the texture is too tough.)

And there you have it: How to eat balut. Or, how to impress your Filipino in-laws.

pre-feast, pre-race thoughts

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tomorrow the Thanksgiving festivities begin. We're flying to L.A. to spend a few days with my family. Apparently, Todd is going to provide the entertainment: My dad has gathered the most adventurous (a.k.a. scariest) Filipino foods possible (think "Fear Factor" here -- we're talking duck eggs with embryonic duckling intact) to see just where Todd will draw the line. I'm a little afraid.

Luckily, though, our whole trip won't be all about greasy fried pork skins and blood stew. We're also planning to hit up Tom Colicchio's craft -- can't wait. And you know me -- if we can squeeze in a stop for a Del Classic Chicken Burrito, I will be in heaven. I swear, I wouldn't have survived college without Del Taco. Dear Del Taco executive people: My heart breaks daily because you do not have a Petaluma location.

But before the mass consumption of food begins, I've been trying to get a few quality runs in. And nail down the raceday logistics. Lately, I've found myself lying in bed, half-awake, thinking: Will my shorts have enough pockets? How am I going to carry my pretzels, Shot Bloks and jelly beans?

I've been testing out all kinds of waist pack-type gadgets. First there was the hydration belt from Ultimate Direction. It bounced like crazy, rode up all the time and made my stomach look pouchy. I was basically driven insane every time I tried to run with it and often fantasized about dumping it on the side of the road or hanging it in a tree somewhere.

So I switched to running with a hand held water bottle (which I still don't really love and don't plan to race with -- but it's a must for training, even though I think it makes my whole right side stiff and changes the way I run -- funny how a water bottle can do that) and got this fanny pack-ish thing from Nathan for gels, nutrition, etc. Once again, it bounced. And the straps were so long and kept coming undone. I had to keep adjusting them, and that was obnoxious.

My last resort: The SPI Belt. Dear god, I wish I had bought this to begin with -- I would've saved so much money! I took it for a test run today (4-mile tempo run with hills) -- crammed it full of gels, as well as my phone, keys and Chapstick, just to see what would happen. There was no bouncing and no stomach-pouch-inducing-riding-up, but the belt did start to rotate around my waist, which was kind of annoying. Still, this is better than anything else I've tried, and I'm pretty impressed by how such seemingly teeny-tiny pockets (see my photo) expand to hold so much crap.

CIM countdown: One week, three days.

little treat

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Checking things off the list.

Today's stop: Kara's Cupcakes in Napa's Oxbow Public Market. I waited patiently in line for a passion fruit mini -- a fluffy vanilla cupcake (seriously, the cake was light as air -- how do they do this?) with passion fruit filling and vanilla buttercream frosting (which was also equally weightless). Loved it!

As much as I have a soft spot for Sift Cupcakery in Rohnert Park (they made my wedding cupcakes, after all), Kara's tops all of the fancy-pants cupcake "boutiques" I've tried.

I wish Oxbow weren't so far away so I could indulge more often.

blown out, killed, destroyed, thrashed

Monday, November 16, 2009

To put it bluntly.

Yesterday was my last big training run before raceday: 22 miles, the farthest I've ever run in my life.

I chose an incredibly scenic route through Chileno Valley, winding through the dairy and pastureland of Sonoma and Marin counties. (See the photo? It really did look like that for all of 22 miles.) I drove the route on Saturday, trying to get a sense of how challenging the run would be and mapping out where my friend Neveia (who will also call CIM her first marathon) and I would leave our cars.

Two things to which I should've paid more attention: First of all, it took a long-ass time to drive this route. I felt like I was in the car forever. Secondly, hills seem much smaller when you're in a vehicle.

Hindsight is a glorious thing, isn't it?

So Neveia and I started off on our journey yesterday morning. It was freezing. The ground and trees were covered in frost. But we kept on. We hit the 1-mile point when she realized she had lost her $100 sunglasses. So we backtracked for a little bit, but when we didn't see them on the road, we figured they were probably in the car (which we later discovered they were). So we turned back around and started on our way again.

At the 4-mile point, we began to climb the most gigantic hill ever -- one of those tricky ones that goes around a curve so you can't see how big it actually is. The ascent ended up being a mile long and reached an elevation of about 500 feet.

As we were coming down this hill (downhill = another great way to burn out your legs), we were joined by a beagle who ran with us for the next three miles. This totally threw us off. We kept telling the dog to go home, but she wouldn't listen. We had to stop running and hold the dog by the collar every time a car drove by. And then we tried to call the phone number on the dog's tag, only to realize we had zero cell reception. The dog (whose name was Merry) ended up running into a cow pasture, and we didn't see her after that. I hope she's OK and made it back home safely.

At the 9-mile mark, we hit another gigantic hill -- not as massive as the first, but it was a good half-mile to the top.

At Mile 10 we heard guns. Yes, that's right -- apparently there was a shooting range to our left. We started running faster -- probably faster than we should have (and did I mention this whole course was full of rolling hills?) -- to get away from the guns.

One of our cars was parked at a church at the 11-mile mark, so we stopped briefly to swap out water bottles and reapply sunscreen. The next two miles involved trying not to get run over on Tomales Road. And then we turned left on Chileno Valley Road and were in the homestretch (well, if you can call nine miles to go the "homestretch").

We were greeted by another ascent, this time lasting two miles to get to the top. And this is where I began to fade. Big-time. My entire lower body began to throb with a pain I have never felt before. My glutes and hamstrings were on fire. And I actually had a really hard time not crying.

I started taking walk breaks because walking was faster than running at this point. I tried to run the flat or somewhat flat sections and walk the hills. It was slow going. I went on like this for some time -- running for a bit, walking for a bit, trying little ChiRunning mind and alignment tricks to attempt to make the pain go away.

It didn't.

And meanwhile, Neveia was literally running circles around me to make sure I was OK. (I believe she actually ended up running a full 26 miles because she kept backtracking to check on me. At least she doesn't have to worry about finishing strong at CIM.)

When I hit 18, I knew I didn't have that much farther to go, so I tried to run for longer stretches -- half a mile here, half a mile there. And when there was only one mile left, I dug in and gutted it out -- ran that final 22 and actually got down to a sub-10 pace, despite all of the pain.

And I finished. It took me more than four hours, but I finished.

Unfortunately, I am in so much pain right now that I can barely walk. (I also reek of eucalyptus/menthol muscle cream.)

But the good news is I know I can finish CIM. It won't be pretty and it will probably really hurt, but I know that I have the mental willpower to do it -- and the mental part is so important in a marathon. (And I don't think there will be as many hills, so hopefully my legs will be in better shape.)

Also, I didn't crap my pants, which is always a good thing.

fall color

Friday, November 13, 2009

Whoever said California doesn't have seasons obviously never made it out to wine country.

This is my favorite time of year in the vineyard.

dim sum discovery, etc.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Should've posted this yesterday: Ulysses found dim sum in Santa Rosa, if you can believe that. We went. We overate. It was joyous. Our favorite: The onion pancakes.

As for today: Leftover chow mein for post-run dinner. And tonight's run was a good one -- 5-mile tempo run with the training group. Crisp, cool air. Great company. And the Ultima (taken afterwards, as a test, per my coach's advice) didn't make me sprint to the bathroom. Progress? My fingers are crossed!

CIM countdown: Three weeks, four days.

spreadable meat goodness

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Sometimes, you sit down to a meal that is so good, it launches you into what can only be described as a food retrospective.

You start thinking about how your eating habits have changed over time. You discuss your food history: What you grew up eating with your family and how this may or may not influence your current choices. You remember The Shift: The moment when you went from not liking or being afraid of a certain food or dish to trying it and then eventually being completely won over by it and now totally craving it.

This is what I felt when the server placed a carving board of salumi and cheese on the table in front of us at Diavola today. Because out of everything on that lovely dish, my favorite item by far was the terrine.

Who would've guessed? For most of my life, spreadable meat has freaked me out. I mean, how on earth can anyone trust a meat product that is shaped like a small loaf of bread and can be sliced as easily as butter?

It took me years to actually voluntarily try pâté. I think the first positive experience I had with it was in grad school. I took Carisa to a French restaurant to celebrate her engagement/upcoming wedding, and they served us bread and pâté to start. And she ate it and liked it, so I tried it, too.

And it wasn't bad. And I didn't die.

After I moved up to the Bay Area and got a job in wine, I began to run into pâté more frequently. Often, at huge wine tastings (like Family Winemakers), where the crowds were big and drunk and had already picked over the cheese table, pâté would be the only option. I would eat it simply to survive. And discovered that, well, it was actually kind of addicting.

The affinity grew as we started to eat French food more often. Our favorite SF restaurant was L'Amour Dans Le Four, and we often ordered pâté there. (Theirs came with a port jelly over the top.)

Though that restaurant has since been turned into office space, my new-found love for pâté has only become stronger.

Which led us to the next topic of conversation: Now that our food "limits" have changed, where do we draw the line?

But that, I think, is a blog post for another day.

officially ren faire?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I'm not quite sure how this happened, but somehow I got put on a mailing list for this catalog.

Apparently, I fit the profile of someone who would buy a sorceress' head dress or a Cleopatra costume (because every girl should have one of those in her closet, right?) or even a pirate dress.

I know I am a J.R.R. Tolkien dork, own the entire "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" DVD set and have a library request list with all of the terribly embarrassing young adult books featuring supernatural beings. And yes, I do read tarot cards and have Celtic tattoos and once took a religion quiz that told me my spiritual beliefs are neo-pagan.

But this does not mean I would ever -- ever -- go out in public in a velvet cloak. Even if it were reversible.

displaced burrito

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I was planning to write about the absolutely enormous burrito I had for lunch from El Azteca today, but then I started doing more marathon "homework" and spent the evening watching Spirit of the Marathon. (That's right -- I chose a DVD in lieu of dinner because the El Azteca burrito was so insanely gigantic. I'm not hungry at all, which is kind of a miracle for me.)

Anyway, the movie was amazing. If you are a runner and you happen to be reading this, you should watch this movie immediately -- especially if you are training for your first marathon. It will make you feel proud for attempting such a feat, and you'll feel like you're part of something greater -- a community of many, many other people who run and love it.

I cried through the entire movie. From start to finish. And this is not a sad movie. And I am not PMSing.

This makes me more than just a little bit scared of what may happen at CIM. At this rate, I'll need aid stations with boxes of Kleenex in addition to water and Ultima.


Monday, November 02, 2009

... seems to be something I need more of.

For example, tonight I went to an amazing event for one of our wineries. Two of the "Top Chef" finalists -- this guy and this guy -- were there, and they were serving up an awesome backyard barbecue-type menu that included chicken wings (yes, Shara, I braved the bones), sweet potato fries, tater tots, cole slaw, collared greens and a buttermilk tart with honeyed cream and caramel sauce.

Yet somehow -- even though I was surrounded by a sea of very enthusiastic wine and food lovers -- I ended up finding the two people at the party who run and had a lengthy conversation about sports bras.

Seriously, WTF?

Makes me wonder what this blog is really about now. It started off as an exercise -- a place where I could re-learn how to write for myself after creative writing workshops and too much community journalism left me burned out and far too concerned about an "audience." Then it evolved into a wine blog -- I used it to keep track of what I was drinking and practice writing tasting notes. And then I started baking and became obsessed with cupcakes (although, perhaps, not so obsessed that I would drop $25K on a cupcake car that only goes 7 mph).

And then along came the running.

And now it feels like everything somehow revolves around running. Hell, I didn't even drink a drop of wine tonight -- not even one tiny sip -- because I've decided November is going to be my sober month as I prepare for CIM.

Which makes me think: Maybe my new motto should be "Eat to run, run to eat."

Or perhaps: "If everyone drove a cupcake car complete with matching muffin top hat, the world would be a better place."

on running and toilets (to be blunt)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ran 18 this morning -- this is only the second time in my life that I've run this distance, and thankfully, today's run was much better than my previous attempt. There were no scary drunk people, and I didn't finish with a walk-limp pace. I also got to practice my newly-learned ChiRunning skills (and yes, even though it looks ridiculous, the hill technique truly works).

But I wouldn't exactly call today's run pretty. (And you should stop reading here if you get grossed out easily.)

About 12 miles in, I had to use an outhouse, and while I was trying to squat over the disgusting toilet and avoid touching anything, I accidentally peed down the back of my running tights. And there really was nothing else for me to do but pat them off with toilet paper and hope my running partner (god bless her for suffering through the remaining six miles with me and my pee pants) didn't notice.

And then at about mile 15, I realized I had ingested too many electrolytes and energy gels. Long-distance running involves the tricky act of eating on the go, and it's not easy to figure out what the right balance is. (See all the weird powders and sticky things in the picture? I depend on a mix of that stuff to get me through and help me recover from each run.)

Eat too little and hit the wall. Eat too much and, well, start praying that you don't crap your pants.

I'm experimenting right now with electrolyte drink, which is something I don't usually take while running. But I've noticed I tend to lose a lot of electrolytes (you know the salty face thing?), so I thought it might be a good idea to drink something. I brought some Ultima, which is what they're going to be serving at the aid stations at CIM (even more reason to try this stuff out), and used it for the second half of today's run.

These last nine miles were significantly hotter than the first half, so I drank almost the whole bottle of Ultima. Add three GUs to that, and my stomach was not happy. Thankfully -- oh so thankfully -- nothing horrible happened, and I survived. But it was tough and very uncomfortable.

Remarkably, despite all of this, my running buddy still wants to run with me. We're planning a 22-miler in two weeks.

Now that will be interesting.

fabulous princess cupcakes

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We're celebrating Laura's birthday tomorrow with a wig and fondue party (which hopefully won't become a wig in fondue party), so I spent the evening baking cupcakes.

Tonight's creation: Strawberry Cupcakes with Champagne Buttercream Frosting.

I used the strawberry cupcake recipe from Crazy About Cupcakes. I thought this would be fitting since Laura gave me this book for my birthday last year. And I chose strawberry because her favorite color is pink.

The recipe was pretty simple -- nothing out of the ordinary. The only real challenge was the strawberries. It's October, so fresh strawberries are pretty much out of the question. I had to go the frozen route.

And unfortunately, Krystina Castella -- author of Crazy About Cupcakes -- doesn't really explain the difference between using fresh vs. frozen fruit. She goes so far as to say she prefers fresh because frozen tends to have more water, but she doesn't actually tell you what to do with that excess water or discuss how said water may impact a recipe. She also doesn't tell you if the fruit should be thawed before use.

I probably should've done a quick Web search for advice, but I was pressed for time -- baking on a weeknight is tough (and I also wanted to get a workout in -- today is a cross-training day and I needed to lift). So I winged it. I thawed the strawberries and tried to drain the excess water as best as I could before slicing the fruit.

And then I discovered that slicing was an issue too. Krystina says to slice the strawberries, but she doesn't say what size the pieces should be. I prefer smaller slices for cupcakes because bigger ones remind me of breakfast muffins. So again, I winged it.

I put the first batch of six cupcakes in the oven. (I started with standard-size cupcakes, and then switched to minis.) They seemed to take a little longer than normal to rise, and when they rose, they didn't get that high. (Excess water issue?) Also, they looked like breakfast muffins that were bleeding -- really pale with red gashes. I know Halloween is two days away, but this wasn't the look I was going for -- we want fabulous-birthday-princess, not I-survived-a-zombie-attack.

So I added just a dab of red food coloring, and my batter became a lovely shade of pink -- much better! And I filled the cupcake tins 3/4 full instead of 2/3, and that helped with the rising situation.

As for the frosting, I tried to follow Krystina's recipe for Champagne buttercream, but there were a few things in her version with which I disagreed. (Why add vegetable shortening? Really? No other frosting recipe I've ever tried has called for shortening. And she also doesn't sift her sugar. I like to sift because it gets the lumps out.)

So guess what? Once again, I winged it.

Here's my version.

Champagne Buttercream Frosting

Frosts 24 mini cupcakes

3 cups powdered sugar (you can add more if you want a stiffer consistency)
1 stick butter, at room temperature (note that room temperature is hugely important -- the butter is much easier to work with)
2-3 Tablespoons sparkling wine (I chose Cava and recommend Segura Viudas -- it's inexpensive and it tastes good)
A few pinches of edible disco dust, optional

Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add butter. Mix with an electric mixer until the consistency becomes thick and whipped. Add sparkling wine (you may want to add a tablespoon at a time, tasting as you go). Mix. If the frosting isn't stiff enough, add more powdered sugar.

Frost the cupcakes. (I like to go the whole nine yards and use a pastry bag and fancy tip -- it's fun.) Finish by using a dry teaspoon to sprinkle a little disco dust on each cupcake. (I found the spoon easier than using my fingers -- the dust seemed to stick to me.)

The verdict? Tasty and very pretty. In fact, it's all I can do to keep from eating the entire batch right now. Must remind myself: They're for Laura. They're for Laura.

hot dog pizza

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

If given enough beer, yes, I probably would eat this.

how I met wolfgang puck

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Abridged version

I went to Spago and he came out of the kitchen and it was awesome.

Unabridged version

I woke up at 4 a.m. to meet the winemaker (Ted) and the marketing gal (Dana) at the Santa Rosa airport, take the 6:25 a.m. flight to L.A., grab a quick breakfast and arrive at Spago by 10 a.m. to set up for the final library tasting event.

But our flight was delayed until 7, which became 7:30, which became 8:15. And then eventually our flight was cancelled completely. And since we were flying out of Santa Rosa, which only has one flight to LAX each day, we had to jump in the car and haul ass to Oakland in time to catch a 10 a.m. flight.

We had about an hour to make the drive.

Picture this car ride: I was in the driver's seat, weaving in and out of traffic and trying not to get into an accident because I do not want to be the Pubber Who Killed the Winemaker. (No library tasting is worth this.) Meanwhile, Ted was texting his wife and erupting in sporadic fits of laughter because really, what else can you do in this situation but laugh? And Dana was in the backseat, frantically attempting to reach the company travel agent -- who wasn't at work yet -- to make sure we'd have tickets for our new flight.

And the clock was ticking away.

We were just north of Novato when I got a call from my boss telling me she had gotten approval for us to use the company jet.

And suddenly, our travel nightmare ended. I turned the car around, and we drove back up to Santa Rosa, parked at the private air field and boarded a Pilatus. (I really, really want to be a billionnaire one day, so I too can have my very own Pilatus with its leather seats and baskets of snack foods and lovely pilot named Bruce who offers to have sandwiches waiting for you on the return flight.)

And within 15 minutes of getting on the plane, all three of us were asleep.

We made it safely to L.A. and arrived at Spago with five minutes to spare. The tasting and lunch went smoothly. (It was exciting -- every seat was filled, which isn't something that happens often in L.A. -- trade and media are notoriously jaded in this market.)

And I got to meet Wolfgang Puck. He came out of the kitchen, and it was awesome.

the runner's library

Monday, October 26, 2009

Just in case training my body is not enough, I have decided to further prepare for my very first marathon experience ever by checking out nearly every running book from the library.

That's right. They don't call me Type A for nothing.

Currently, Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-free Running, Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook and Run Faster: From the 5K to the Marathon are perched in a pile on my bedroom floor. I am also on the waitlist for Born to Run. And I recently finished The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner.

I have to say that this last book, written by Russell Taylor, is awesome.

First of all, the book is hilarious. And in the truly dorky way that a runner can understand. For example, Taylor writes about choosing a nemesis -- someone he absolutely has to beat in a race -- and how this choice is usually based upon how annoying the other person is. This rings so true for me, as my secret running goal is to one day beat the guy who shows up for Wednesday night group runs wearing a pair of orange Crocs. I am not even kidding you. I cannot stand this guy. And it is purely because of his orange Crocs. Who the hell runs in orange Crocs? Even more upsetting: This guy is always faster than me. But one day, I tell you. One day.

And I love what Taylor says about being nervous for a race. He writes:

I overhear a pair of peeing runners discuss how nervous they feel. One of them even claims to have thrown up. I don't really understand this. How can one be nervous about a race which only the elite few will finish in under three hours? There's so much time in this race -- too much really -- time enough to fall over and pick yourself up again, time to stop to tie your shoelace, to dawdle for a drink or a chat with a friend, to take souvenir photos and see the sights.

So true, right? Note to self: Remember this advice at CIM time.

Finally, there's the chapter about random marathon trivia. Did you know that the winner of the first Olympic marathon in 1896 was Spiridon Louis, a farmer and water deliveryman from Greece who trained by running alongside his mule twice daily on his delivery trips? And apparently, the marathon distance wasn't 26.2 miles until the 1908 Olympics in London. Queen Alexandra wanted the race to start on the lawn at Windsor Castle, so in order to do this, an extra mile was added on. And then to please the queen once again and end the race in front of the royal box at the Olympic stadium, an additional .2 was added. (Damn you, Queen Alexandra.) And women weren't even allowed to run the Boston Marathon until 1972.

So yes, I am geeking out. And loving every second of it.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

It seems we are getting restless.

I had numerous conversations this week with friends from different parts of my life about plans for the future.

One is trying to determine if she still wants to live in San Francisco and "rent forever."

Another is tempted to take a break from everything and spend time traveling: "We don't have kids yet, so why not?"

Two more have already loaded up the U-Haul and driven to L.A. We said good-bye to them Wednesday night at the Hopmonk. No more wine business for them. They want to get into photography.

And a very close friend told me yesterday over pho that she's been offered an internship in entertainment PR, and she's pretty sure she's going to accept, which means she'll be heading down to Santa Monica soon.

And I think: Who's next? Or perhaps, more importantly: What's next?

here's the beef

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

For the past two months or so, I have been working on a library wine tour for one of my brands, a Napa Valley pioneer that was part of the infamous Paris Tasting in 1976. (If this sounds familiar, it is. This is not the first time I've worked with a historic Napa producer. You'll remember that my last brand was also a Paris Tasting alum.)

Anyway, part of the preparation for this series of library events involved tasting through the entire Cabernet Sauvignon portfolio. (I know, I know -- my life is incredibly rough.) This took two days and involved about 100 wines. I'm not kidding -- this was tough. It's no easy feat to taste Napa Cab back to back to back. The tannins do a number on your tastebuds, and your teeth turn a remarkable shade of purple. I had to work really hard to stay focused; with this many wines, it was tempting to stop paying attention to nuances and say everything tastes the same (which is definitely not true because a 1967 is going to be profoundly different from a 1997).

How to prevent palate fatigue?

Meat. And lots of it.

Our winemaker swears that eating "meat roll-ups" counteracts the tannins in Cabernet and refreshes the palate. So while we were tasting all of these wines, we were also helping ourselves to a gigantic plate of meat. And I guess it worked because we survived and were able to pick out a very nice selection of wines to show during the library tour, which launched last night with a tasting and dinner at Boulevard, that good ol' bastion of fine dining in San Francisco. (And yes, I'll admit it -- this was actually my Very First Time at Boulevard. When I told that to our dinner guests, they looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, it is a sin to be a foodie and not eat at Boulevard.)

Wines shown included the 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon (the very same wine that was in the Paris Tasting), the 1987 Cabernet Bosché, the 1987 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the 1995 Cabernet Bosché and the 1995 Sycamore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. All in all a great lineup and a wonderful evening, and our guests seemed really pleased. (Crossing my fingers now and hoping this leads to ink. Dear writers: Please write.)

The performance repeats again Thursday at Martini House in St. Helena and next week at Spago in Beverly Hills.

What can I say? Fun stuff.

in other news: harvest

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oh, that's right -- this blog is also supposed to be about wine.

So here is a glimpse of passerillage. This method of making dessert wine involves drying out the grapes -- basically, letting them shrivel up like raisins -- so their flavors become more concentrated. It's time-consuming and labor-intensive, and because the grapes shrink so much when they dry up, you need a lot of them to make a small amount of wine.

One of the wineries I represent makes a Sauvignon Blanc-based dessert wine using this method. On Monday, we had a passerillage party. The whole team got together to sort Sauvignon Blanc grapes -- picking out leaves, bugs (yes, bugs -- I picked out a moth and several spiders) and any fruit that didn't look or smell so great -- and lay the clusters out in a single layer on screens to dry. You can see the setup in the photo above. (By the way, the guy in the striped shirt is the assistant winemaker, who introduced the process to the winery.)

After the grapes were laid out -- it was sort of like putting puzzle pieces together -- the screens were stacked on top of each other in a big storage container that resembled the trailer on a big rig. The grapes will sit in that storage container until they shrivel up, and then the juice will be pressed out of them, most likely in December.

feet: a love letter

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dear Feet:

I know I test you. There are the flip-flops that completely lack arch support, the heels that put you on tip-toe, the boots I wore last weekend to LovEvolution that resulted in a giant blister. I know I don't always make the best choices.

But I can't imagine my life without you.

I depend on you to hit the brakes when an asshole driver cuts me off on the way to the office. I rely on you when I need to take a journalist tramping through a vineyard or pour wine hour after hour at a festival. You slog through my Friday nights while I wait tables at the wine bar.

I position you in 45-degree angles during yoga class and make sure you're shoulder-width apart for squats. I force you to lunge. (And I hate lunges.) And I sometimes forget the flip-flops -- with their lack of arch support -- when I shower at the gym, thereby putting you at risk of disgusting fungal illnesses.

And I ask you to run, mile after mile, pounding the road over and over again because my brain has decided that it wants to me to be a runner. I twist your ankle, take you to physical therapy (where you are subjected to poking, prodding and x-rays), submerge you in ice baths, wrap you in athletic tape, make you run more. Occasionally, I turn your toenails black and then feel embarrassed when I have to explain to the pedicure lady why you look sad.

You endure so much, yet you never let me down.

And this morning, you were amazing. Despite the training interruptions and my lack of confidence, you gave me a PR: 2:08:44 -- exactly 16 seconds faster than even my wildest dreams had hoped.

Pieds. Piedi. Pies. Paa. Pés.

So beautiful and wonderful and strong in any language.

With much gratitude,

P.S. We are getting a 90-minute massage tomorrow night.

cute kittens calm nerves

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I cannot stop watching this. I probably watched it at least 12 times yesterday, and every time, I would laugh hysterically until I started crying. (I also forced my coworker to watch it. Poor coworker.)

And now here I am, awake before it's even light out on a Saturday morning, watching this video and eating cereal. (The fact that I can eat and watch this is quite possibly another sign of my insanity.)

But at least these cats get my mind off of tomorrow's endeavor. And at least the absolutely bizarre hours I'm keeping at the moment (did you know I was in bed last night by 9?) mean I'm on the right sleep schedule for the 7 a.m. race start.

sometimes, you can't win

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Three days left now until Healdsburg.

Went for a 3-miler last night after work. (I'm tapering, so mileage is pretty low at the moment.) Conditions were perfect: The weather was cool and crisp (I love fall), my foot wasn't bothering me and I was able to focus. And I actually finally had a really good run with a decent time, even though my route had a few gradual hills.

Satisfied, I came home, stretched and went to wash my face. And when I saw myself in the mirror, I discovered a Giant Bird Poo in my hair. Seriously: Absolutely Giant. And fresh. And if it had fallen about an inch to the right, it would've landed in my eye.


go, turtle, go

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I am supposed to be extra-cautious with my diet this week: Lots of complex carbohydrates, no alcohol, minimal fats and pretty much no new or experimental food that could in any way cause GI distress. (Hence tonight's dinner: "Nachos" made with onions, pasilla peppers, heirloom cherry tomatoes from our potted tomato plants outside, corn relish, soyrizo and feta.)

Yes, it's pre-race week. There are exactly five days left until the Wine Country Half Marathon in Healdsburg.

This is my third half marathon this year, so it seems like I should have more confidence, but instead I feel iffy. My training was interrupted by an injury and then a cold, and my runs just haven't been as strong or as fast as I would have liked them to be. I was really hoping to PR at Healdsburg and possibly get my time down to 2:09, but now my goal is just to finish without looking like I'm about to collapse (especially since my parents will be watching, and they will freak out and try to convince me to give up running forever if anything goes remotely wrong).

So I am struggling right now. I am frustrated that I am not faster and better. I am impatient and stamping my foot (my right foot, since my left foot still hurts a little) and wondering why -- even though I've joined a training group and have a coach and follow a personalized training plan and read every dorky running book I can get from the library and have the shoes and the Body Glide and the Garmin -- it's taking so damn long to improve.

It's funny -- you'd think with running it would be about getting to a destination as quickly as possible. But what I'm learning is that it's actually the opposite -- more like slowing down, figuring out your limitations, accepting them and then trying carefully to overcome them -- and forgiving yourself if you don't succeed right away. It's a tough lesson.

Given this, I really should be viewing Healdsburg as just another training run. It's preparation for CIM, which will be the real test (first full marathon ever -- yikes). And it's a small step in what will hopefully be many more years of running.

on being old

Sunday, October 04, 2009

At work, there is a 21-year-old intern who makes it a point to remind everyone that we are "so much older" than he is. During his first week, he asked me: "Where do I meet young people around here?" And then when we had our department barbecue, he showed up two hours late and announced: "I didn't realize it started so early. But then again, old people do things earlier."

I laugh at this kid. He has no idea that us "seniors" can still party it up, dress like freaks and spend all day dancing in the streets in hot pants, only to wake up refreshed the next morning and go for a six-mile run.

Oh, youth: You have so much yet to learn. And you should also think -- even just a little bit -- before you open your mouth.

garden state getaway

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Recently, I announced: "I am going to New Jersey for vacation."

And people stared and said: "Why?"

Because New Jersey is where I can get extraordinarily good red curry, made from scratch by a friend who just finished one of Kasma Loha-unchit's five-day intensive Thai cooking classes.

It's where I can eat crepes filled with dulce de leche, melted chocolate and homemade whipped cream for breakfast. And where amazing street food can be found at the local middle school's fall festival.

It's where the leaves are already changing color and I have to use multiple blankets at night and I think about how I haven't worn a scarf in a very long time.

And most importantly, it's where Kate lives and where Shara drove to meet us.

And now I miss them both.

a cookie in each hand

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The first time I ever tried to bake on my own was in high school. My friend Holly and I were at her house, and we decided to make cookies from scratch. She pulled out a recipe (I'm not even really sure where this recipe actually came from), and we went at it.

We were missing some ingredients. I remember we were supposed to put a dollop of jelly or something like that on each cookie. But there was no jelly (and I think we thought it sounded weird anyway), so we skipped that part.

And even though we were winging it and probably also making a huge mess and most likely giggling way too much, those cookies turned out to be damn good -- simple, not too sweet, but with loads of butter. In a word: Addicting.

Since then, Holly's recipe has become my go-to. I've made these cookies throughout the different stages of my life: When I was trying to impress a boyfriend's parents (this was also in high school, and it was kind of a disaster because I didn't use enough butter in the cookies),when I wanted to prove to my mom that I could cook on my own (this was a disaster as well, since she ended up helping me), when I first moved to San Luis Obispo and used the kitchen to pass those lonely hours (finally getting the recipe right), when I came to San Francisco and promised myself I would do a better job of listening to my instincts (and subsequently hoarding the batch in a Tupperware and refusing to share with anyone).

I made these cookies last Saturday for a barbecue at my boss's house. Obviously, this time, I shared. And they were a hit.

Holly's Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
2 tsps baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Soften butter and mix thoroughly with sugar. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Roll dough into balls the size of large marbles and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes.

close call

Monday, September 07, 2009

In addition to this blog, I'm on the blogroll for the NVV's harvest blog. This is tricky because I don't want things to cross over. This blog must remain a secret from the people I work with; I don't want them telling me I can't write about other people's wines, share opinions about restaurants, post videos that mock wine sales or make fun of wine tourists' fashion choices.

Unfortunately, I accidentally posted my personal entry on the NVV blog this morning. Seriously: SHIT. Luckily, I was able to delete it immediately. I just really hope no one saw it. (Thank goodness today is a holiday and harvest has started. Hopefully people are sleeping or sampling grapes and not surfing the Web.)

Anyway, as I was saying in my original post (which I now have to attempt to recreate), I am reading Hal Higdon's Marathon Training and counting down to CIM. I have exactly 12 weeks of training left.

And according to Mr. Higdon, 55 percent of everything I eat should be carbohydrates. Hell freaking yeah. At last, validation for my intense love of rice, potatoes, pasta and vegetables. Take that, Atkins!

However, despite carefully carbo-loading the night before with papardelle from Sugo and waking up at 5:20 a.m. to eat a bowl of oatmeal, yesterday morning's 18-miler from Santa Rosa to Sebastopol and back was brutal. The first 15 miles were fine -- slow and steady, just like I planned, with GU and water at the right intervals.

But the last three miles were pure torture. My hips were aching (maybe I need glucosamine), and the Joe Rodota Trail was just plain scary. Seriously, as I got closer to Santa Rosa, the people on the trail got weirder. You must have a tough life to sit in the middle of a running/biking path before 9 a.m. and drink 40s. (And yes, they really were right smack in the middle of the trail.) And you must have some major issues if you are going to try to show me your penis while I'm running. Dear god, despite my aching hips, I got out of there as fast as I could.

Thankfully, the recovery meal was delightful: Eggs Blackstone (how I love heirloom tomato time) with potatoes and fresh fruit at Humble Pie, my favorite brunch spot.

taking the romance out of it

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where to start? This video is so dead-on in so many ways that it is absolutely hilarious.

And really freaking sad at the same time.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When you wait tables, you hear things. Bits. Pieces. Shards of conversation. Like finding a single, abandoned sock on the side of road: There is no context.

"The eighth graders are the worst. They'll just whip it out and start playing with it."

"It was break-up sex."

"Then he asked if he could smell me."

It is polite to avoid comments, to pretend you are deaf, to stick to the script. So you pick up plates, glasses, forks. You cannot help it. At this point, in this situation, you are looking for what you can take away, those things you can rinse off, pat dry and bring out at another time.

dear feet: I am grateful

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amazing run yesterday at Point Reyes: The trail took us through ferns and redwoods, only to end up on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Didn't even notice the nine miles going by.

better with bacon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Remember the bacon chocolate bar? There's something about that salty-sweet combination that can only be described as downright magical. (Think of those chocolate-covered pretzels. Or caramel and sea salt. All works of genius. All absolutely necessary during times of PMS.)

And now I present to you: The dark chocolate bacon cupcake with dark chocolate frosting and fleur de sel.

This is by far The Best Cupcake I Have Ever Made in My Whole Life. (And I truly hope it will be The Best Cupcake Jenn Has Ever Eaten in Her Whole Life because I made it with her birthday in mind.)

Why bacon? Because it is the cult classic of foods. It's the one meat that tempts even the strictest of vegetarians. And people are becoming more and more creative with it -- there are bacon lattes, maple bacon doughnuts, even fancy-pants restaurants have come up with creative bacon desserts.

So I thought: Why not me?

After doing some research online (in which I discovered a number of other interesting bacon items, such as BLT cupcakes from a bakery in Chicago), I stumbled across a recipe from A Good Appetite. Here it is for you, with a few changes and notes from my baking experience:

Dark Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes

8 slices good thick-cut bacon
1 c unsalted butter
1/2 c Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
3/4 c water
2 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c well-shaken buttermilk
2 T vanilla
2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare 24 muffin tins.

Cut bacon into 3-inch pieces. Cook over medium-high heat in a skillet until bacon is brown and crisp. (You'll want to make sure the bacon is more on the well-done side because you don't want to bite into your cupcake later and find a fatty, oily piece of meaty bacon. The goal is crisp and salty, not chewy.) Remove bacon and transfer to a paper towel to drain. Pat any remaining oil off the bacon. Chop cooked bacon into small pieces, similar in size to what you'd use to sprinkle on a salad. Set aside.

Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, then whisk in cocoa. Add water and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in separately sugar, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the cocoa mixture and whisk until just combined (it will be a little bit lumpy). Stir in bacon. (Note that the batter will be very, very dark, so it may be a little difficult to make sure everything is mixed in properly.)

Fill muffin tins to about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes until a skewer or toothpick comes out clean. It's a moist cake, so don't worry if a few crumbs stick to your tester.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Dark Chocolate Frosting

1/2 c unsalted butter
2/3 c Hershey's Special Dark
3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c milk
1 t vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Sift in one cup of powdered sugar at a time and add the milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. (It's helpful to use an electric whisk and a spatula for the frosting -- keeps the mess to a minimum.)

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with a little fleur de sel right before serving.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ran in 97-degree heat wearing "loaner" shoes. Nike did a promo at Fleet Feet and brought in a bunch of shoes runners could test out for tonight's group run. I'm a sucker for shoes and a sucker for freebies, so I borrowed a pair.

Big mistake.

By mile two, my arches were screaming at me, sweat stung my eyes and I had lost my running buddy (apparently, she hadn't hydrated enough and had stopped sweating and was experiencing chills -- all major heat exhaustion warning signs).

Tonight's workout may have been a bust. But we tried, right? And every effort deserves a reward, or so I tell myself.

So after the running buddy rehydrated and I got rid of the loaner shoes (thank god), we went to Tex Wasabi's for beers and a big batch of Vegas fries: French fries covered in buffalo wing sauce and served with a side of bleu cheese dressing.

Now that's what I call recovery.

que bueno

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I may have finally discovered the home of the best burrito in the Napa Valley: La Luna Market & Taqueria, a small Mexican grocery with a short menu of hot food, a whole bunch of piñatas hanging from the ceiling (yes, even a Miley Cyrus piñata) and two rickety picnic tables out front.

Met a friend for lunch there today. We both ordered super burritos sin carne. (I love how people are always shocked when I tell them to hold the meat -- they look at me like I'm crazy. But the truth is, I find it much easier to tell if a burrito is good or not when I can actually taste the beans, salsa and everything that's in it -- no meat to mask the flavors.) We also got a gigantic bag of tortilla chips (freshly fried -- they were dripping oil -- it was amazing), homemade salsa and some Arizona Green Tea. And this cost us about $19 total.

And man, was this a good burrito! The tortilla was perfect -- not rubbery, not cold, not dry. Good beans, really good salsa, good guac and good sour cream (not too thick, not too runny). Yo quiero mas ...

los pequeños milagros

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Just as I finished reading the last sentence of a deliciously trashy YA novel, the doorbell rang.

And there on the doorstep, in the growing dark of a hot summer night, stood a man and a woman. The man carried two large coolers. The woman said: "Would you like to buy some tamales?"

And I thought, Yes, there is definitely a god.

the mark of insanity

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Thursday is my cross-training day, so after work I met Jessa in the Mission to check out the new BurnSF workout -- classes that blend Pilates, weights and a ridiculous amount of jumping (I believe the official term is "plyometrics"). I found myself barefoot and attached to some very large springs, sweating profusely to Madonna dance remixes and wondering when it would be time for dinner. (Blame this on the fact that halfway through the workout, the room was overcome by the scent of toast. Torture, anyone?)

Friday is a run day, so Jessa and I hung out again. (We are both training for marathons, although she is Ms. Boston Qualifier, while I am Ms. I-Hope-I-Don't-Get-Carried-Off-On-A-Stretcher.) This time, we tackled the trails at Helen Putnam. I would like to write a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and request they rename this park "Big Bitch of a Hill That Mocks Your Pain Park." The entire first part of this run was one gigantic hill (and it sneaks up on you -- from my photo above, it looks like a gradual incline that ends at the horizon, but no, once you round the corner, the ascent continues, steeply, for probably half a mile), followed by a quick downhill and then a flat section, and then the biggest Mother Bitch of a Hill Ever. (I couldn't even run all the way up this last hill. And my breathing was so hard you could've heard me in Novato.) And we did this loop twice.

Then I worked at the wine bar until 1 a.m. (and remember, I worked my day job yesterday as well). I was so exhausted that I could barely squat down to get the bubbly out of the cooler. And you would've been seriously concerned about worker's comp if you saw me climbing up the ladder to pull bottles off of the retail wall.

So now I am hobbling around the house. I am opening a packet of something called Biofreeze (why does this remind me of an Austin Powers movie?) and rolling up my pajama pants so I can tell my calves that I really do love them, despite the abuse.

And I am realizing there is a red wine stain on my leg that runs from knee to ankle.


where there are whiskers

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This evening's run: 5.17 miles around downtown Chickenland.

Every run begins with a body scan. Does anything hurt? How's that right arch doing? Are my shoulders tensing up? Was the pre-run pizza slice a bad choice? (I'm telling you, proper nutrition is one of my biggest hurdles. Also challenging: My hydration belt, which continually rides up and is the bane of my existence, yet I desperately need it or someone will be scraping me off the sidewalk.)

And after the body scan, Breathe. And begin to settle into a pattern, a rhythm.

Which, for me, means counting: The seconds between steps, the timer on the crosswalk, the minutes on my watch.

And cats. I cannot run without counting cats. This has become a ritual (or perhaps another manifestation of my slight OCD -- you decide).

Tonight there were five cats, most of them calicos. And I was thrilled to see my favorite, the one who suns herself on Keokuk Street. She makes me break the rules, momentarily stop the counting. I will pause my watch so I can scratch her belly. She reminds me of my own cat, my little girl who hides in the warm laundry.

the state neckwear is the bolo tie

Monday, August 03, 2009

Which I did not purchase.

Instead, souvenirs from this weekend's trip to Phoenix included a very dark tan, excess calories (due in large part to heavy intake of free breakfast croissants and spicy Bloody Marys), a newfound expertise in calling in noise complaints (our resort had been overtaken by the Beta Theta Pi 170th annual convention) and a sore right arm (Wii tennis injury).

Overall, good fun in 111-degree weather.
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