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fetal duck egg

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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?

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

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.


... 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)

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.