fiddlehead ferns and other oddities

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dinner tonight at Peter Lowell's with Adam and Jenna. Had the pasta primavera -- housemade pappardelle with fiddlehead ferns, artichokes and peas. Chose it because I've never had fiddleheads before, and they just look so bizarre -- like tiny alien fists or the descendants of some kind of prehistoric plant. But I found that despite their strange appearance, they tasted pretty normal -- kind of reminded me of young, tender green beans.

Perhaps more unusual than the fiddlehead is the fact that I am running the Avenue of the Giants half marathon Sunday and am not completely freaking out right now. I feel oddly calm, like I've done all the studying I can do before the big test, and at this point, cramming won't help -- I just have to trust in my preparations.

The thing is, I'm honestly not sure I've done enough. I mean, I know I've done the homework when it comes to speed and hill training -- I've worked harder in these areas than I ever have in previous training cycles. And I know I'm a stronger runner because of that effort -- I did 5 x 400 tonight (before dinner, of course) at the track, and I could tell I've improved. I've also been running more often than before -- I've upped my run days from four days a week to five, and the change hasn't been too difficult.

What I feel like I might lack, though, is long runs. My longest training run for this race was 10.66 miles, and that was almost two weeks ago. I know I can run 13.1 because I've done it before, but I just don't know how tough it will be this time around.

So in some ways, I guess this race is going to be an experiment. Do I have enough of a balance between speed, strength and endurance?

I guess I'll just have to wait and see. And eat a bunch of weird-looking vegetables in the interim.

moon rise

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The ankle/calf feels better, and I had a good five-mile run tonight. Saw the full moon in all its glory.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Thursday, while pulling a handcart with two cases of wine left over from a five-hour tasting (this event was grueling, and my feet hurt like no one's business), I went off the curb at a crooked angle, sending bottles flying into the streets of San Francisco. There was broken glass everywhere.

Yesterday, within minutes of starting my shift at the wine bar, I dropped two pilsner glasses and spilled beer all over the floor (right in front of the entrance, no less) and down my shirt. Luckily, I did not squeal or yell any expletives when this happened.

This morning I woke up with a sprained ankle. I have no idea what caused it. (And I haven't been drinking, so I can't blame alcohol.) So instead of doing my last long run before next weekend's race, I am sitting here in my pajamas, while Mr. Happy gets to know my ankle. (Don't worry -- he's wrapped in a towel this time -- no more self-inflicted freezer burn.)

I am starting to wonder if (A) this just hasn't been my week, (B) someone put a clumsy curse on me or (C) maybe I just really need to rest.

(P.S. The photo is from Thursday's tasting -- Wine Enthusiast magazine's "Toast of the Town" event, held at the opera house. This was my one quiet moment -- I wandered up to the top floor, got myself a taste of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs and a bite of seared tuna with wasabi on a sesame cracker, and put my feet up.)

a reminder

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Had a press dinner tonight for one of my winemakers.

Tonight the conversation turned toward our jobs, and how we are lucky because we were able to turn something we love and care about into a full-time career.

To be perfectly honest, I haven't thought about this type of luck in awhile. Sometimes, it is too easy to get lost in grey rooms with conference calls and deadlines and "ROI."

learning curve

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Embarked on another eating adventure last night. No, folks, I'm not referring to the Baconator Double here -- had more than enough stunt food after yesterday's ridiculousness. I'm talking about Salvadoran cuisine and Pupuseria Salvadoreña in Santa Rosa.

The pupuseria (and its specialty, the pupusa -- a thick corn tortilla that can be filled with everything from beans and cheese to fried pork to squash to a tropical flower called loroco) was a first for me -- and for Todd and the four friends we met for dinner. No one in our group had ever had Salvadoran food before. We chose the restaurant because we had heard it was good, and that was all we knew about it.

Because of our complete lack of familiarity with Salvadoran food, our ordering was a bit haphazard but a lot of fun -- we'd point at things on the menu and wait to see what would arrive on the table. Prices at the restaurant were so unbelievably low, that we were all able to order quite a few dishes and try a number of different things. All six of us ate for around $55 total!

I started off with a bean and cheese pupusa, which was absolutely incredible and only cost $2. The server also brought out two big jugs (the kind that are usually used for maple syrup at places like IHOP) full of green salsa and red salsa, so I ate my pupusa with that. (And apparently, while reading more about Salvadoran food today, I discovered we were also supposed to top the pupusas with pickled slaw-like veggies. I know the server brought this out in a bowl, but we were all so confused about what we were eating that one of our friends thought this was her salad and ended up eating it by herself. Not a big deal -- this just means I'll have to go back and try again!) Todd got the cheese, squash and spinach pupusa, which was also good, but surprisingly not as flavorful as the beans in mine. He also got the pork, bean and cheese pupusa, and that one was just knock-your-socks-off fantastic.

The second round of food involved a plate of nuegados de yuca, or fried cassava patties served in a sauce that the menu described as "honey and hot sour." (See the photo above.) Accompanying this was a thin, white, soapy-looking drink served in what looked like a coconut husk (but which I later discovered was a gourd). This caused all kinds of confusion. We had no idea what it was at first, and our friend Josh actually dipped one of his nuegados in it. We had to ask our server several times to explain it to us, and all she said was "It's a drink, it's a drink." So we drank it, but I'm still not sure how it was supposed to complement the nuegados (which were pretty starchy and kind of bland and not really my favorite). The drink -- I think it was chilate -- didn't taste like much -- I picked up a hint of ginger, but that was it. I'm still baffled by the pairing, so if anyone out there knows anything more about it, I'm all ears.

My third dish was a sweet corn tamale with a (heaping!) side of crema, or sour cream. This was tasty -- the ratio of cornmeal compared to sweet corn was a little high, but it was still good. There's just something about sweet corn that reminds me of summer.

I finished off the meal with what I swear was described as a custard-filled empanada with beans on the menu, but which turned out to be a fried plantain stuffed with beans. Despite my initial surprise, this was a great way to end the dinner -- sort of a savory-sweet combo, and like I said before, Pupuseria Salvadoreña's beans are killer.

Definitely a great adventure and awesome food find. And saying the word "pupusa" is fun.

double down

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Today Ulysses, Nick and I went to KFC for lunch to try the Double Down, two pieces of fried chicken sandwiching bacon, cheese and special sauce.

Apparently, this thing has 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1380 mg of sodium. It's like an instant heart attack.

Still, we had to try it. There's been so much hoopla about this monstrosity, with everyone from the local paper to the New York Times harping on it. We had to find out for ourselves: Is the Double Down fatty goodness at its finest, or is it just well-publicized stunt food?

We ordered one Double Down and split it between the three of us. (We're hardcore, but not that hardcore -- none of us wanted to try to eat an entire Double Down by ourselves. No cardiac arrest in a fast food booth please!)

When the sandwich arrived, we just stared at it.

"Is that all?" Nick said.

"I thought it would be bigger," I said.

"Maybe if I hold it up," Nick said.

The thing looked nothing like the photo on the KFC website. It was flat, the cheese wasn't melted and you could barely see the bacon. And when Nick held it up, it resembled a limp sock puppet.

We proceeded to unwrap the sandwich and pass it around to take a bite. Nick went first. "It's really dry," he said (even though he had special sauce on his face).

I went next. "What is that cheese?" I said. "That's just nasty. That cheese can't be real. How is that actually cheese? And where is the bacon?"

Ulysses took the third and final bite. "I don't like the sauce," he said. "They should just use gravy. Like those sandwiches that you dip in aus jus, but gravy."

And then Nick proceeded to dissect it, which was really disgusting. He pulled out the most flaccid piece of bacon I have ever seen. And it was covered in white special sauce. Um, yeah.

Our verdict: The Double Down is all hype. I don't think I could eat this thing even if I were rip-roaring drunk. And that's saying a lot.

a very expensive cat toy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I didn't think I wanted an iPad until I saw this video.

humble pie after dark

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Forgot to mention we went to Humble Pie for dinner Friday night, which means I got to check one more name off the list.

The verdict: Loved it as much for dinner as I do for brunch. The food is just so good and not pretentious, and the people who work there seem genuinely nice. And the restaurant itself is adorable -- they re-decorate it every so often, and right now, there are bare branches hanging from the ceiling with white Christmas lights and brown eggs suspended from ribbons. (OK, I know that sounds weird, but it looks cool -- like you're part of a giant magical bird's nest.)

We ordered several appetizers to share, of which my favorite was the warm bread with housemade butters (dill butter and lemon butter) and olive tapenade -- so good and just so comforting. For my main, I had the chicken jalapeño pie -- chicken, peppers, cheese and black beans in a flaky crust with a green salad on the side.

I pretty much licked my plate clean.

le rêve

Monday, April 12, 2010

As you know, je suis étudiante. And tonight in my French class, one of my classmates walked in wearing a Boston Marathon track jacket and told our teacher she won't be in class next Monday because she'll be running the race.

"C'est génial!" I said. (OK, I didn't really say that, but I did say something along those lines. Only in English.) "I can only dream!"

And she said: "You can do it."

To which I responded: "Um, maybe if I am 60 and still running."

But what if she's right? What if maybe I really can do it? And I'm not talking about 30 years from now -- what if I actually did it before I turned 35?

This would mean cutting one hour and 10 minutes off of my current marathon time, which seems completely insane. I would have to run an 8:24 pace for 26.2 miles. At the moment, 9:30 is comfortable to me for shorter distances.

But what if I could?

my dad is cool because

Thursday, April 08, 2010

... he didn't just ogle the Peep sushi photos like the rest of us. (You know you've seen the posts on Facebook and Twitter. Peepshi was the rage this Easter.)

He took it to next level.

better than a glass slipper

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

My new LunarGlides are just so cute. I often find myself staring at them and cooing.

I admit I bought them largely because of their appearance, which quite possibly the worst way to choose a running shoe. (Seriously, do not follow my example. This is a bad, bad thing. Basically, I have totally succumbed to marketing and could have injured myself. You should always buy what fits and feels best, not what looks best. We're talking about running shoes, not Manolos here. For Manolos, maybe a little suffering for looks is OK.)

But in my defense, I did do a lot of research before I pulled the trigger -- read plenty of reviews, talked to the folks at Fleet Feet, etc. My plan was to try the shoes on first, but Fleet Feet didn't have any in my size, so I had to go out on a limb and order them without testing them out. (Again, a potentially poor decision. Thank goodness for Road Runner Sports, which lets you run in your new shoes for up to 60 days and still return them if they don't work out). Anyway, the whole thing with the LunarGlides (besides how ridiculously, insanely, irresistibly cute they are) is that they are a stability shoe that supposedly adapts to your pronation, offering a lot of support if you need it, or just a little.

And I've been looking for shoes that are a bit lighter, a bit more responsive. I have been running in Asics Gel-Kayanos (now 16s, and before that 15s, which was the shoe's previous incarnation) for the past year. The Gel-Kayanos are stability-plus shoes -- lots of support and cushioning. I have flexible arches -- which means that even though I do have an arch, it tends to roll in when I am standing. My right foot also tends to turn out slightly when I run. Hence the stability-plus shoes.

Lately, though, I've felt like my shoes are so cushioned that I can't "connect" with the ground -- I can't feel anything. And because of this, any sort of uneven pavement or slight change in terrain makes me lose my footing a little, and I end up rolling my ankle a lot.

So I thought I'd give the LunarGlides a try. I ran four miles in them yesterday and did speedwork in them this evening. (Awesome run tonight, by the way -- did a ladder workout of 1600 at 9:52, 800 at 9:06, 400 at 8:13, 200 at 7:14. This may seem slow to you speedsters, but for me, this kicks ass.) So far, the shoes rock.

And they're just so damn pretty to look at.

eating responsibly?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Today at lunch, I checked out The Garden, a new vegetarian restaurant that opened recently in north Santa Rosa, just off of the River Road exit. Got a takeout order -- baked veggie panini and a side of oven fries.

The restaurant is small, and the owners seem very passionate about vegetarianism. The bookshelf in the front area holds copies of Diet for a New America and pamphlets about how we love dogs yet eat pigs and wear cows. The picture of the cute, pink little pig on this brochure made me feel pretty guilty about being such a pork product fanatic (um, potted pig, anyone?), and all I could think about was my cats and how much I love them and how great animals are and maybe I really shouldn't be eating them anymore.

But I digress. Let's save the vegetarian debate for another night. (And I have many thoughts on this, since I used to be vegetarian. In fact, my decision to forgo meat was prompted largely by Diet for a New America, actually.)

Anyway, the food was good -- not knock-my-socks off, but good. However, what was weird to me was that it came in a styrofoam container, and the woman who took my order asked me if I wanted plastic utensils as well. You'd think that a restaurant that so passionately and vocally advocates the humane treatment of animals and eating consciously and so forth would also do everything possible to preserve their habitat -- you know, maybe use compostable cutlery and biodegradable containers. Bizarre.

If I do go back -- which I probably will because I want to try their hummus wrap -- I won't get takeout.

loony tunes

Monday, April 05, 2010

Because I did not think at all about Easter plans (possibly due to the fact that I was wearing the same snowman pajamas and blowing my nose for almost 72 hours straight), I found myself without brunch reservations yesterday morning. And of course, Rocker Oysterfeller's, the one place that I really wanted to go to, had received a very nice write-up in the local paper and was listed as one of the top spots for holiday brunching. Naturally, when I called yesterday morning in a feeble attempt to make a last-minute reservation, I was told they were completely booked but I could take my chances on a first-come-first-served seat at the bar.

Having slightly obsessive, single-minded tendencies, I forced Laura to get ready earlier than she had planned and haul ass over to my house so we could be at the restaurant as Close to Opening Time as Possible.

Seriously, sometimes I don't know why my friends still like me.

Thankfully, my ridiculous behavior paid off. We scored a table after only a 10-minute wait and enjoyed some Easter eggs benny. (I loved the fact that they used Swiss chard and black-eyed peas, and you pretty much can't beat a buttermilk biscuit base -- especially if the biscuit is as fluffy as the ones Rocker Oysterfeller's makes.)

And if that story wasn't enough to make you think I am crazy: Remember the Nike vs. Portland debate I was having awhile back? As you recall, I ended up choosing Portland for my next 26.2. Well, the Nike lottery opened today, and Ulysses decided to throw his name in (guys can participate, too, though the field is 90 percent female). And because I have no willpower whatsoever and want to be there when Ulysses runs his first half (and also would really like that damn Tiffany finisher's necklace), I entered the drawing.

Which means that if my name gets chosen for an entry, I will be running a half marathon -- in San Francisco, with hills -- exactly one week after a full marathon.

Um, yeah. Certified, right? Someone get a straightjacket.

out of pajamas, into kitchen

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Finally feeling better -- transitioned from the snowman pajamas to a pair of yoga pants and actually ventured out of the house. Destination? The grocery store, of course.

I bought a ton of food, including the ingredients for tonight's dinner of sautéed shrimp with poblano peppers, mushrooms and toasted cashews. (Yet another sign of recovery: I am cooking!) This was a little something I made up all on my own, and it was delicious, extremely easy and super fast. Here are the details:

Shrimp with Poblano Peppers, Mushrooms and Toasted Cashews
Serves two, with no leftovers

  • 1/2 cup raw and unsalted cashews, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (I also added a little ghee, or clarified butter -- I like how ghee tastes)
  • 1-inch piece ginger, sliced very thinly or grated
  • 1 poblano pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced (I used criminis)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp, rinsed (I was lazy and got the already peeled and deveined kind)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Before you begin cooking, make sure everything is prepped and close by, because this recipe goes fast -- you'll want to have all of your ingredients in order and ready to go.

Toast the cashews, either on some aluminum foil in the toaster oven (watch them closely -- they'll toast quickly) or in a small skillet on low heat. Set them aside to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the ginger. When the ginger starts to brown, add the poblanos, combining everything with a wooden spoon. Add the mushrooms, paprika and a little salt and pepper, stirring again with the spoon to make sure everything gets coated with spices and that nothing is sticking to the pan or starting to burn. Add the garlic. Add the shrimp. Shake the pan around a lot (don't you love how technical I am?) or use the spoon to make sure the shrimp cooks evenly. As the shrimp cooks, it will start to turn orange. Right before it's finished and when there is still a tiny bit of grey left, add the cilantro. When the shrimp is fully cooked (which maybe took me four or five minutes, tops), remove it from the heat.

Serve over rice (I used brown basmati). Garnish with the toasted cashews and a lime wedge.

still here

Friday, April 02, 2010

Spent another day at home, in pajamas, trying to slowly wean myself from the Kleenex box. Except to get the mail this morning, I haven't set foot outside the house in the past 48 hours. I find this fact to be very creepy, especially since I live down the street from a high school, and can imagine the kids picturing me as some kind of house-bound monster lurking behind a teal-green front door. (Clearly, I have watched one too many episodes of "Buffy.")

Luckily, I am not alone here at home. Mari, my glorious and amazing cat-daughter-princess (really, this is why I should leave the house -- if I stay here too long, I end up worshipping felines), seems to be pretty happy that we get to spend more time together.

mud is lovely, germs are not

Thursday, April 01, 2010

My immune system has played a cruel joke on me. What I thought was simply a bad case of allergies has turned into a rip-roaring, full-fledged, nasty-pants cold, complete with sore throat, hacking cough and stuffy nose. In the past 24 hours, I have gone through almost a quart of chicken broth, and my new best friends are a box of Kleenex and the NeilMed squeeze bottle sinus rinse, which is as awkward as it sounds but does bring a lot of relief.

But that's not the worst part. I'm sidelined. No running. I have absolutely no energy (today was spent in pajamas and slippers, with harvesting my virtual crops on my virtual farm game serving as my sole physical activity), and I'm doing my best to be good to myself and follow the "neck rule" -- no running with symptoms below the neck.

Therefore it's only appropriate that I dwell on this past weekend's race, the Big Sur Mud Run. I captained a team made up of myself, Jessa, Cynthia, Larissa and Ashley. These girls all represent different parts of my life -- journalism, moving to San Francisco, the past year at my current job -- and it was really amazing to get together with all of them and talk about topics such as pre-race pooing, slightly unripe bananas vs. slightly overripe, and whether regular running shorts or spandex capris are the better choice for crawling through mud pits.

We took a pretty non-competitive view of the mud run. Our goals were to work together on the obstacles, have a good time and get as dirty as possible. As you can tell by the smiles on our faces in the photo above, we achieved what we had in mind.

I will say, however, that even though we weren't really taking the race seriously, there were parts of the course that were challenging. For example, the first part of the race had only one mud pit to break it up -- everything else involved running uphill on pavement or running in sand or running uphill in sand (which just may be my new nightmare). So we were working hard. (Note to self: More trail running is needed.) And a couple of the obstacles involved five-foot-high plywood walls that we had to boost each other over. I completely ate it when I went over the first wall -- landed on my feet, but then lost my balance and fell forward onto my hands and knees. And the drill sergeants made us do push-ups at several points along the course, which only served to emphasize my lack of upper-body strength. And the mud pits had sticks and gravel in them -- all of us emerged with scrapes, bruises and bloody knees.

Yet it was so unbelievably fun. There is something so cathartic about diving face-first into a pit full of mud, crawling along on your belly and coming up -- laughing hysterically -- with a mouth full of grit. It's like being 3 years old again and not caring what people think -- if a hair is out of place, if your outfit is flattering, if you've "done it right." An awesome, joyous, wonderful feeling.

We crossed the finish line together, arms raised, clasping one another's hands. All of us are already talking about doing it again. I just have to get well soon so I can get back out there!
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