January 31, 2007

Painful Clarity

I spend the majority of my days in lack of any real pain. Annoyances? twinges? Mild Soreness? Sure. But no crippling pain.

Right now, on the other hand, I've got a toothache that is radiating from the tooth in question through my cheek, into other teeth, up through my temples, through my neck, and into my ear.

When I rank the times I've truly been in pain, this one is up there:

1. Dislocated shoulder that stayed out for 3 minutes or more.
2. Dislocated shoulder slammed back into place when I hit the water.
3. The sensation after the nerve block wore off from shoulder surgery.
4. Kidney Stones.
5. This toothache.
6. Horrid earaches where my ear swelled closed.
7. Broken ankle.

Tomorrow I'll go see the dentist (for the 3rd time in 3 weeks). But tonight, tonight I've got to tough it out (thankfully, I've got some pain medication lying around.) Even with the pain meds, I'm struggling.

But, I'm also amazed at the clarity that comes with the pain. There is nothing like physical pain to put your priorities in check. I can't believe the thoughts I've wasted this week on anxiety over things that just don't matter. Damn! If I wanted to worry about something, I should have been worrying about the outcome of my crown (which, it would appear, will need to be a root canal, after all).

Or better yet, I should have taken the time to appreciate how good I felt and how well my body was working for me instead of thinking about some stupid sentence I said to someone I wanted to impress and wondering if they thought it was as stupid as I did.

Seriously. I'm so jealous of my formerly pain free self. So blissful that existence is. And I don't appreciate it enough.

Upon recovery, I shall appreciate it more.

January 30, 2007

Perhaps I should buy one of his books

I am:
Gregory Benford
A master literary stylist who is also a working scientist.

Which science fiction writer are you?

The real Greg Benford once took this quiz, and it told him he was Arthur C. Clarke.

And I like Arthur C. Clarke, so in theory, I should like Benford, too...

January 28, 2007

1st Year Associate Inventory

Being able to financially justify staying at the business hotel in my hometown this weekend: good.

Needing to return to the business hotel and do work between my niece's 5-year old pretty princess in the park party and dinner at brother's: bad. (I guess this just goes to show, the reality of the justification is never as pretty as the mental image...)

8 easy miles of running this morning at a slow pace on my last long run before the marathon: good.

Returning to an email asking/ordering me to finish some diligence before the afternoon (read, before I would have even finished the trip home): bad.

Late night diligence: okay.

Doing diligence while munching on dark chocolate, shortcake from the French Laundry, and listening to E's collection of Aphrodite: much better.

Knowing how slammed my week is, already, and knowing that it'll probably get worse but I've got to find a way to get to my marathon and run it: interesting...

I'll let you know how it all turns out when I'm in the clear.

January 25, 2007

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Yesterday, I found a large silver envelope sticking out of our mailbox.

It appears that someone anonymously addressed a gift to me.

A subscription to the Bacon of the Month Club complete with snout mask, incomprehensible T-shirt, and a little rubber pig, among other trinkets.

R said it best, "Who would give such an awesome gift and then not want to take credit?"

My response? "E, of course. If it's a gift, then I have to accept it graciously and he gets bacon every month."

Alas, while E was impressed with my cleverness and may employ that trick in the future, it turns out it was a belated wedding/christmas present to him (us?) from two of his groomsmen.

So, yeah. Fair warning: Expect 2007 to include lots of bacon recipes.

January 23, 2007

Training for a cooking marathon

So, I've been spending much of my spare time thinking about HK's dilemma.

Adventurous when it comes to food.

Not much experience with cooking.

Decent-sized kitchen.


It's got the makings of a reality TV show, I tell you.

Anyways, here's my first and most ambitious suggestion: I figure it takes about a 6 months to a year to build up the base and a solid 18-20 week commitment to run a marathon. HK knows this. So, if I were him, I'd approach his cooking goals with the same attitude. I'd give myself 6 months for the basics and then an 18-20 week intense period of time for training, after which, I'd be a full-fledged home cook with lots of experience and useful recipes under my belt. Ideally, he'd schedule a big meal for family or friends as his "marathon" and tell us all about it, but perhaps I'm a bit ahead of myself?

A more reasonable suggestion, and one that perhaps lines up more readily with his request for subtle (not overwhelming) aid, would be to acquire one of the following and use it at will to develop his skills:

1. The Better Homes and Gardens Ring Bound Plaid Staple. It's a classic. My mother used it. My friends' mothers used it. It's updated and at $29.99 it's a steal. I guarantee it will meet the expectations of any beginning cook who needs to understand what they are doing and find recipes for their favorites.

2. Irma S. Rombauer's Classic: The Joy of Cooking. Yes, another classic. Food has been part of human existence for as long as we've been surviving. So, I stand by my preference for the classics. This is the *other* book that my mother and all of my friends' mothers turned to.

3. Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery, circa 1966. See, despite my recommendations, I don't actually own the BHG or the JOC. Instead, I refer constantly to these gems, left to my by my maternal grandmother. If you want to know the history of any food you eat, it's in here. Want to know the millions of ways you can prepare a fig? You got it. Interested in Danish food? Look under D, there's a whole sub-cook-book. Many of the articles are authored by James Beard. Any type of food you can think of, there will be multiple simple recipes on how to prepare it. Bang for the buck, this is probably the best option out there for aspiring home cooks. But, then again, HK said he's a *single* 28M. Perhaps he doesn't want a collection Women's Day Encyclopedias on his counter...(they are, however, very urban, angsty, hipster, retro, chic, much to my chagrin.)

4. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. At $14.95, it's even harder to argue with than BHG. I own it and I will admit than every recipe I have tried from it has absolutely acceptable. No disasters. No high-effort likely-to-fail stressful endeavors. Solid and Good.

5. Subscribe to Food and Wine, Bon Apetit or some other foody magazine. At $12 or so for the year, this is another steal. You can mark recipes you like with sticky notes and keep them forever. I did this for two years while I was developing my cooking knowledge. To this date, I have probably only managed to complete about 20% of the recipes I marked as "to prepare." Even when I didn't mark the recipes as "to prepare," I still read them to determine if they made the cut. The act of reading recipes and stories about travel/culture/food (my version of porn) educated me and kept me interested as I was learning more and cooking. If you fear you will lose interest and you like the idea of a monthly reminder, I would actually recommend this as a first approach. Promise yourself that you will make 4 recipes from each issue. Mark 'em and go to the store and buy the exact ingredients and follow the steps. At the end of the year, you'll have acquired an immeasurable amount of knowledge about your food preparation likes & dislikes, as well as how to work your oven, use ingredients, etc.

In using these resources, I would recommend the following approach:

1. Soups: learn to make at least 2 from memory. They are a staple in any healthy diet and one of the easiest things to modify with random stuff from the pantry and fridge. I recommend you pick your two favorite soups and learn to make them. If you don't have a blender or cuisinart, stay away from puréed soups and go for chunkier ones.

2. Vegetable side dishes: try out several and determine your style. Memorize and become completely familiar with at least 2.

3. Meat dishes. Depends on your orientation. I tend to think that since meat is one of the more expensive raw materials you can use in the kitchen, I'd leave it for last on the list of things I'd experiment with. That being said, I didn't *really* get into cooking 'til I bought 2 cases of cooked wine (stupid webvan.com and their un-airconditioned warehouse over the summer!) and had to find a way to use it, which meant a year of cooking meat and impressing people. Turns out, it's not that hard and damn, do people like a well-prepared meal of meat (particularly if it's in a wine sauce). I recommend a simple black-pepper steak, filet mignon, pork chops over some sort of greens, and lamb chops as options that are fairly simple and designed to impress if you get 'em right. Any of the basic recipe sources listed above should have instructions on how to prepare each of these.

4. Pasta dishes. Seriously. Master 1 or 2 pasta dishes from scratch, starting with good pasta in the box (like Barilla). Easy to do. Guaranteed to smell awesome. A good place to start if you are skittish about your cooking skills -- they will build your confidence.

5. Rice. Risotto. Stir-fry. Rice-based soups. Pick one or more. Learn how to do one or two versions as a staple. You will be happy you did.

6. Salads. Everyone should know how to walk into the produce market and buy 5 fresh ingredients to make a salad that is delicious. The trick is learning to make your own dressing from scratch and choosing fresh in-season ingredients that compliment each other. This is a great place to start if you are concerned about burning things. Make a great salad, serve it with artisanal bread, nice olive oil for dipping and an artisinal cheese with a complimentary wine and all of a sudden you look like a gourmet cook despite the lack of any and all cooking.

7. Baking. I came to baking late in life. It's comfort food. It's much less forgiving than other kinds of cooking. And, it's very much appreciated. Bake your own pizza crust for home-made pizza, for example, and all of a sudden, the act of cutting up some pre-purchased ingredients and laying them on some pre-purchased sauce (unless you want to make it from scratch, which I recommend, but still, work with me here) becomes inspired. People rave. Similar responses are available for things like Brownies, home-made breads, cookies, cakes. I say let your appetite be your guide in this area and be sure to follow the recipes EXACTLY. In soups, rice, pastas, vegetable side dishes, salads, and even to some extent meat, you can improvise. But with baking: No. Just be a conformist. It tastes better that way.

8, 9, 10. In my opinion the whole point of cooking is to satisfy your own basic desires. So pick some 3 dishes you love and learn to make them. Best case scenario, they will become your signature dishes. Worst case scenario, the recipe may be WAY TOO MUCH WORK and you may never make it again. But I guarantee you will enjoy it that much more when you order it at a restaurant (I feel this way about any seafood cake after making salmon cakes). What is likely to happen, however, is that in the course of making them, you will learn more about how to combine things in the kitchen in the style that you like. You may never make that exact recipe again, but in doing it the one time you'll acquire knowledge that will make you a great improvisational cook in the style of food you enjoy.

HK (and anyone else who finds this useful), I can't wait to hear about your successes in the kitchen!

January 22, 2007

On Basics

A long, long, time ago, I was a gymnast. My coach was very obsessed with what he called "basics." Handstands. Somersaults (back & front). Bridges. Shoulder blocks. Proper running form. Hollow body holds. Handsprings (back & front). Block Jumps. Kips. Free Hip Circles. 1/4 turn handsprings (aka roundoffs). Jumping into the air and spinning 360 degrees before landing with your feet in the same spot. Walking (I'm not kidding). Scales.

It was his opinion that if you could truly master all of these things, the more complicated tricks were yours for the taking. Those of you who are familiar with gymnastics or acrobatics will note that the list above does not include a single full salto. No front flips. No back flips. Certainly no twisting flips. And, goodness gracious, no combination of multiple flipping and twisting. Yet that was the ultimate goal. And one that most of us eventually reached. Most of us achieved success at various tricks with less injuries and more air awareness than our competitors from other nearby gyms. We were slower to achieve. But we had staying power (or as much staying power as a 15-year-old female gymnast can hope to have, you know, like 1 full season of competition...).

This focus on basics has bled into other areas of my life and formed my philosophy in many areas. I believe if you get your head or body or senses around the fundamentals of most fields of study, the complex stuff will eventually work itself out for you because it has too. And if it doesn't, then either, you need more work on the basics, or you can actually spot the fundamental flaw and you can make the field a better place.

HK recently left a comment on my blog,

So, what I'm needing now is this: I've never had either the means or interest to cook for myself, have a decent-sized kitchen that has gone unused for the past six years, and have resolved this year to(among other items) cook and bake more. What cookbooks or steps would you recommend to someone so situated? (a 28M bachelor in New York City with a flare for the adventurous eating-wise).

His desire for flare and adventure is much like a gymnast's desire for a full-in, full-out dismount from the uneven parallel bars. Admirable, but scary and likely to result in much more disastrous failure than starting with a simple straight body layout dismount.

But, the thing is, there are tricks. There are ways to make it look like you are doing difficult things when really what you are doing is the specialized simple. Those outside of the gym have no idea that a front tuck mount to the beam is blind, but fairly easy. It looks impressive and it's easy to master if you've got a solid running form and front somersault. So, in that vein, I'm going to collect my food thoughts for a few days and come up with a general plan for HK that is both basics-based and high on adventure/flare. In the mean-time, I'm collecting your thoughts and preferences. Any suggestions (other than dixy_chick's very helpful suggestion to go Asian, which, flare-wise is an excellent one, albeit one that involves many failures, in my experience)?
Coolest Web Link

This is the coolest representation of data I've seen in a while.

24 hour time-lapse of US flight data.

Be sure to click the picture to see the whole thing. Very cool and interesting.
Californian Pleasure Overload

First, let us rejoice because the weather has returned to California norms.

Now then...

E and I left after work on friday to drive 2+ hours in the country so that we could enjoy the return of the sun with a weekend in wine country. We alternated between eating (R's little bro is a chef there and he hooked us up!), lounging by the fire and sleeping, art and wine with family, eating a meal I'm not certain I'm qualified to write about, more lounging by the fire and sleeping (over 12 hours!), and, of course, more winetasting.

I learned that the stupid freeze, while bad for the California citrus is very good for the grapes. It pushes the sap deep into the roots and causes simultaneous fruit bearing/blooming, which means simultaneous ripening in the sun, which means easy to measure and harvest grapes for a high-quality must. So, we should be having an excellent Californian harvest for 2007. Also, I received exactly three work emails on my phone over the whole weekend, and other than a quick response to one of them, did not have to work at all. Celebration on all fronts!

My 12-mile run was a piece of cake at an easy 10:02 after sleeping in 'til 9:30 AM. The non-frozen weather, sun, and flat, gorgeous wine country did not hurt the motivation. Compared with the last few weeks of long runs, this one felt like it belonged in the weekend of vacation. Amazing that you can get to the point where 12 miles feels like an overly indulgent lazy experience. But trust me, I'm not built for endurance. If I can get to this point, so can anyone with similar determination and willingness to be an idiot.

On our southward return, we stopped at Ocean beach and took a photo of E & I in front of the crashing surf by the Cliff House. We have a similar photo from 5 years ago. It should be interesting to see how they compare. We watched the sunset from the new Cliff House. E was very disappointed at the renovations (much too modern for his old-fashioned tastes) as well as the eviction of the Musée Mechanique. Nostalgic is the word, I believe.

From there, we headed to a friend's house for his visiting parents-prepared banquet of south-Indian food. Mmmmm... We stuffed ourselves silly. You know, in case we hadn't eaten enough over the course of the rest of the weekend.

I think that covers it. I am spoiled, full of food, wine, conversation, smiles and happiness. More later this week on cooking basics, and, if I can gather my thoughts and taste bud memories enough, the dinner at the laundry, which, if I fail to write more, suffice it to say was every bit as superlative as the overused clichés would have it be.

January 17, 2007

Spicy Cabbage Tofu Stir Fry

Wok cooking is quite the opposite from the majority of my cooking repertoire. Most of the dinners I make have room for error. Tons of room. It wasn't until I started trying to cook with a wok that I realized how forgiving salads, sauteed vegetables, soups, stews, risottos, pastas, and baked dishes can be. Need an extra 5 minutes to chop the onions? Go ahead and take it. Need to turn off the heat for a few minutes? Go right ahead. I generally treat cooking dinner as a relaxing not-too-structured creative event.

Asian cooking, at least in a wok, is entirely different. For many of the recipes I've followed as I'm stumbling into this new cooking area, the entire cooking process is finished in 10 minutes. At first I tried to chop ingredients while others were sizzling away, but I'm finally accepting that you really do have to chop *everything* before you heat the oil. Tonight's dinner was excellent, but mainly because E stirred the onions, peppers & garlic in the wok while I chopped the cabbage. It probably only took me 2 minutes to chop the cabbage, but at the high heat, that could have meant that some of the garlic, onions, and peppers might have burnt were it not for E.

Spicy Cabbage Tofu Stir-fry

vegetable oil for high-heat stir frying (I use canola)
1/3 head of napa cabbage, washed and chopped
1/3 yellow onion, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 red jalapenos, minced

1 package firm tofu, chopped into 1/2 in. cubes
sesame oil
soy sauce
red pepper flakes

1. First make the marinade by mixing 2-3 T sesame oil with equal part soy sauce, 3 tsp (or more) furikake & a dash of red pepper flakes. Pour over the tofu and let soak while you chop the vegetables. Stir/Toss occasionally.

2. Chop vegetables and have them near the wok, ready to go.

3. Heat vegetable oil to high and swirl around the wok. Add the garlic, peppers & onion and stir-fry until onions are slightly clear. Add the cabbage and stir until the cabbage starts to wilt (2-3 minutes).

4. Pour marinade and tofu into the wok. Stir. Bring sauce to a boil, turn to medium heat, cover & let cabbage steam in boiling sauce for another 3-4 minutes ('til tender, but still slightly crisp).

5. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Enjoy!

January 16, 2007

His & Hers Blowtorches

In case you were wondering, the community property creme brulee torch doesn't have enough kick to melt the solder on a burst pipe (thanks to the California Freeze).

Sure, it sucks to have to turn off the water and do house repair, but I think E was secretly thrilled at the need for a full-strength plumbing torch. Me, I'm just happy that we've implicitly agreed to separate property ownership of the two torches. Mine: butane, for sugar. His: propane, for plumbing.

Ahhh... married life.

January 15, 2007

Marathon: 3 weeks to go

Oh, what a difference a week makes!

I wouldn't have believed it if you had told me, but this week's 20-miler was actually *easier* than last week's horrific 14-miler. I completed it at an average pace of 9:52, just slightly faster than my target race pace of 10:00, which was a pleasant surprise. I was able to hit this average pace mainly because I busted out the last two miles at 8:56 and 8:30, so a race pace of 10:00 is probably right about the proper target for an additional 6 miles.

I was grinning when I finished. I felt good, strong, happy, and very proud of myself. I knew I could do another 6 miles if I had to. E commented that I looked much better than I did at the end of last week's long run. Plus, there was no nausea, nor any need to drop to my knees after the shower. Instead of needing to go home and eat away from the burrito joint, I was able to go to a friend's and enjoy a huge girls' champagne lunch. (Yes, not ideal, I know...but you think I'm gonna miss 4 of my closest girl friends and frittata, raspberry bread pudding, salami, cheese, cornbread, roasted chicken salad, capers and shrimp, papaya, an assortment of berries and dark chocolate paired with great conversation and sparkling wine? If you do, you have not been reading this blog very long. I love to run, and want to recover from my long run, but not so much that I'd miss out on fun like that, please!)

So for those that care, here's my analysis of all the things that were different between the last two weeks' long runs to help me understand my training and recovery:

The mid-week runs
This past week, I did all of the training on my schedule this week on exactly the days assigned, at or below race pace (this was probably a bit too intense, but it was my last hard week of training before taper and I was out of shape, so I felt that it was worth the risk). Before the 14-miler, in contrast, I'd rearranged about two week's worth of runs to fit the holidays and work, had done all of the ones I could fit in at very slow paces, had battled a cold and missed several miles, and only allowed myself 5 days between the previous long run of 16.5 and the 14-miler.

This run, I stayed true to my favorite gu flavors: vanilla bean (mile 8) and espresso love (mile 14). Chocolate and I do not get along. I also swung back by the house for a half-glass of gatorade after mile 6.

Hydration During The Run
Last run, I took a walk break for at least two ounces of water at every 2 mile mark, except after the gu, where I waited to mile 8.65. This run, I took a walk break for water at miles 2 and 4, stopped for gatorade and to lose the jacket at mile 6, and had an ounce or two of water at every mile after ingesting the gu (miles 8-20) instead of waiting to the 2-mile marks.

Walk Breaks & Pacing
Probably the biggest difference between the two was this: I took it relatively easy 'til mile 12 of the 20-miler, at which point I started to slowly decrease my pace to well below my target race pace. In contrast, I tried to hit race-pace almost immediately on the 14-miler and had trouble maintaining it.

For the 14-miler, I did my standard .25 mile walking warm-up before the first mile at 10:13, and then then mile 2 at 9:46 and mile 3 at 9:39. I tried to maintain 10-15 seconds below race pace for every mile and took walk breaks at every 2 mile mark (except 8.65 instead of 8). This meant the 14-miler was roughly 7 2-mile chunks with a walking warm-up and cool-down that didn't count toward the mileage.

For the 20-miler, I started jogging as soon as I left the house instead of walking (I didn't want to add any extra distance, even .25 miles). In exchange, I told myself I could do the first few miles as slow as I wanted to warm up -- so I did miles 1-2 at 10:22, with mile 3 at 10:26.

I decided to view the 20-miler in chunks: a slow 6-mile warm-up ending back at my house to get rid of some layers and take in some gatorade. 2 miles at race pace and then some gu. A 10-k at slightly below race pace. More gu. Another 10-k at slightly faster than the last one. The benefit that I saw to this plan was that the marathon would be just one more gu stop and another 10-k.

Another benefit that I hadn't considered was that after taking walk breaks at miles 2, 4, 6, and 8 I didn't take any additional walk breaks except at mile 14 when I had more gu. Instead of 10 walk breaks, I only took 5. This meant my overall pace was faster even though my running pace was slightly slower for most of the miles.

The Pre-Run Routine
The night before the 14-miler, I had angry pasta, wine, tea, water, a few squares of dark chocolate and went to bed early for about 11 hours of sleep (as an aside, I've been needing much more sleep than normal these last few weeks of training). The night before this run, I had Tuscan bean soup, water, tea, more water, more tea, a few squares of dark chocolate and, just before bed, I had half a package of chocolate graham crackers with more water. Both nights I did mild stretching before sleep.

I like to run on an empty stomach with nothing but gatorade and/or coffee/water. The morning before the 14-miler I drank at least a liter of gatorade. Before the 20-miler I had a glass (10 oz?) of gatorade.

I started the 20-miler at 8:20 AM, after 8.5 hours of sleep. Because I started early, I was done with the 20-miler at 11:40 AM or so in time to stuff my face for lunch. For the 14-miler, I waited 'til around 11:00 to start and thus, wasn't able to eat anything other than the chocolate gu (which didn't agree with me) 'til around 3:00 PM.

I think the 18-hour fast between the end of dinner and the end of the 14-mile run is largely responsible for some of the nausea and muscular discomfort of the 14-miler. In contrast, thanks to the late snack and early start, I had only gone just slightly over 12-hours between my last substantive meal and the end of the 20-miler. I'm not sure what to think about the fact that I had a couple of glasses of wine before the bad run and none before the good one. In the past, I've run some of my fastest races after dinner including a glass or two of wine and as long as I had enough hydrating liquids along with the wine I haven't noticed much of a difference. That being said, given how great I felt on the 20-miler, I think I'll avoid wine the night before the marathon just to be safe.

While I felt worse immediately after the 14-miler, I definitely slept worse after the 20-miler. Last night, I woke multiple times to an anxious body full of various mild pains. I'm much more sore today than I was the day after the 14-miler. I can only imagine the level of cellular repair that must be going on in my body right now. Thankfully, E bought me a massage for today, so I should feel much better shortly. Regardless, I am prepared for a very fitful night of sleep after the marathon and a very sore few days that follow.

The good news is, I am officially in taper. It's all downhill from here 'til the big day!

January 11, 2007

Say Cheese!

In a fitting continuation of the Californian Celebration of the week, I can heartily recommend that you all go try:

San Joaquin Gold.

$10 for a big old chunk of the wheel. 16-month aged cow's milk cheese. Salty. Sharp. Somewhere between fontina and manchego in terms of taste with a nice dry but not too-dry aged parmigiano texture -- excellent for ribbon grating over home-made Tuscan bean soup, if I do say so myself.

If I was blind-folded I'd guess Spain or Italy as the Country of origin. But no. California. Despite the naysayers, and its history of shoddy product, the heart of the San Joaquin Valley can make artisanal food products that rival Europe in quality (and kick its ass in price (after importing)). And when it does, we should all embrace it!


January 10, 2007

A California Moment

Sometimes I forget what a fabulous State this is.

Yesterday, I was reminded, yet again.

Thanks to Miss E. I was invited to an evening at a spa, restaurant, and lodge. Upon arriving, we enjoyed the sunset, some wine, a hot tub, and entirely too much fabulous conversation before drifting off to sleep. I was so very glad that I made it a priority to take her up on her offer and so thankful that she made it.

But the gratitude hit me with full force before I even saw her. I left work a wee bit before the normal leaving time, and it felt good. Within 30 minutes, my shoulders relaxed and my breathing deepened as my body sensed the luxury of vacation all the while twisting the steering wheel on the winding roads through farmland. Within 38 minutes, I could see the coast and the crashing surf stretching for miles. And at approximately 3/4 of an hour, I realized that this was my life. I love the ocean. Thus, I should, nay, I must, stop and visit one of the several gorgeous, empty, beaches.

So, I did.

I pulled over.
I stopped the car and took up two of the closest parking spots to the beach entrance.
I got out and climbed the dune in my work clothes (boots with heels included).
I took pictures of the setting sun.
I grabbed a handful of sand and let it run through my fingers.
I realized I was grinning like a fool.
I felt so alive. And rich.

The treasure of a blindingly beautiful 65 degree sunset along the Californian coast just seems too precious to be available to me whenever I want to take the time to enjoy it. And yet, there I was.

All I had to do was leave work, drive, and stop.

January 8, 2007


I think the metamorphosis is complete. I'm finally at a point in my life where I'm paying some attention to fashion. It's been a long time coming. Just ask my friends and family.

I've always had strong opinions about practicality of clothes. Stupidity of clothes and accessory trends. Value in well-made pieces to be worn or used as accents. But it's taken me quite some time to mesh my opinions with the reality that even choosing not to act is an action. And inaction in fashion, well, it's like inaction in many things. It shows.

Recently, within the last few years or so, I've had to accept that fashion plays a bigger role in society than I wanted to admit. To show up poorly dressed IS a statement. At worst, it's a big raised middle finger. At best, it's a silent scream of, "I don't have to care about your concept of well-dressed, because my reputation, skills, connections, etc. are enough to speak for me."

I always wanted to be making NO statement with my appearance. I always wanted the things I considered to be my strongest attributes to be the ones that made the impression. When I finally admitted that I was going to be (and had been) making a fashion statement with my attempt at a non-statement I started to acquire nice quality fashionable pieces and coordinate them into a wardrobe that fit my fashion personality.

Where I am going with all of this?

Well, tonight I broke down and spent $70 on socks. That's right. Socks. Despite the last few years of slowly building a somewhat decent wardrobe and shoe collection, I never purchased socks. In fact, I think I may never have really purchased socks other than work out socks in my entire life. The only non-workout socks I ever had were gifts.

So, I follow my traditional practical pattern and wear what's clean and won't be needed for other activities, which means the workout socks (ooohhhh... new Balegas from E for Christmas) are off limits for work, and I'm stuck wearing the occasional nice stockings (when circumstances require it) but mainly knitted socks that I haven't thrown out from high school on, with the largest portion made up by the Christmas sock collection given to me by JayKay, circa 1996-98.

See, even back then, JayKay, a true fashion-lover and wonderful person who understands the connection between looking good, feeling good, and being great, knew I needed sock fashion help.

And today, my friends, I finally gave in.

To Evolution!

January 7, 2007

Marathon: 4 weeks to go

Well, folks, this should be interesting. Today, I did my scheduled 14-mile long run at just slightly slower than my target race pace (I was targeting 10-minute-miles for a pleasant experience in my first marathon, and did today's 14 at a painful 10:12). This was the first long run I'd done at race pace since December 9th. Back then (we shall refer to this as "BA," or before Atlanta), I easily did 15 miles in the hills of San Francisco at a 9:49 pace.

For all the runs between December 9th and now, however, I'd been loafing. And, to be honest, I let the world's worst cold and my laziness combine to the point of not ever getting out the door, so much. So, my weakly (sic) mileage totals in the last three weeks have been between 1.5 to 13 miles short of the already very-light for marathon training goals. This translated into easier and slower long runs over the last 3 weeks in order to ensure I hit the distance goals. I had read enough to know one thing -- the certain way to screw yourself in marathon training is to cheat on your long runs.

Today, I could find no more justifications for taking it easy on my long run. I was home, with no major responsibilities more important than my workout plan. I'd slept 11 hours. It was a gorgeous clear day at 65 degrees. It was a step-back week which meant my long run was shorter than last week's and much shorter than next week's. So I set out with the goal of trying to maintain race pace and using this run to gauge just how far I'd fallen in terms of my training.

Keeping to race pace was DIFFICULT. There was no way I could attain the 11 seconds faster pace I'd set back in early December. The Gu at mile 7 seemed to help, like it usually does, so I did an easy 9:45 and 9:44 mile for 8 and 9. Unfortunately, instead of taking my typical water break 2 miles after the gu, I decided to press on for another .85 because I was behind and I knew there would be a mandatory break in my run at the freeway overpass. Bad idea. Stomach upset!

100 feet before my Garmin beeped mile 14, I had to sprint (Okay, I had to move fast enough that the cars would know I was trying to hustle, but it wasn't even close to a sprint, more like a hobble) across a stoplight before it changed to red.

An eternity later, when the watch beeped mile 14, instead of feeling relief at being done, felt like I needed to puke. Badly. Like I was looking around at my neighbors' yards to find the least noticeable place to do the deed. Also, I was thinking, "holy shit, I think I'm going to do 12 more miles at this pace?"

Thankfully, the cool down walk calmed my stomach and I was too tired to think about the actual distance of a marathon. When I got home, I thought I was in the clear, and made plans to go grab food with E after I got clean. But, I underestimated the effect of the hot shower (okay, I like them scalding...). I was shaky. Much too shaky. No time to condition the hair, I think I'm gonna...

This, my friends, would explain how I found myself, 2 minutes after I started my shower, naked, dripping, and taking deep breaths into my bedroom carpet in child's pose.

Eventually, I was able to stand and collect myself. Shortly thereafter I was able to go to one of the local burrito joints and order carne asada tacos. But, I had to leave when another round of nausea hit as I looked at the various meats in sauces (the same ones that usually make me drool with anticipation). We took our food to go.

I am happy to report that I was able to gobble my food with no problem and have felt fine since. But, just in case, I've been taking it easy on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, with cups of tea, People magazine, and Runner's world. Those loafing instincts from the languid South die hard, I tell you.

What have I learned from today?

1. The whole training and untraining thing isn't a joke.

2. Chocolate Gu is no longer welcome on my long runs. But, a water break for at least the first two 10 minute periods after the gu are.

3. I will more than likely need to set a new race pace goal if I want the Marathon to be a pleasant experience. (More info after next week's 20-miler.)

4. Losing the majority of the weight I gained in Atlanta helped with muscle pain between last week's 16.5 miler and today's 14 miler but the increased speed today caused way more immediate discomfort after the run than the increased weight last week.

5. I re-verified that if I'm just too out of shape to finish my first marathon while enjoying it, I'll drop out, finish the half and do a different one a month later. There are two options and both are still open for registration.

6. Finally, thanks to runner's world, I learned that Lance Armstrong thinks completing a Marathon is 10-times more difficult than riding a Tour de France. Also, his longest long run was 13 miles (not 16, like he told the press) and couldn't complete a 25-minute training run due to shin splints 3 weeks before the race. So, I'm thinking if Lance can pull out a sub-3 NYC marathon, then I may be able to pull it together to just finish sub-5.

January 4, 2007

Dead Sexy

That severe head cold that everyone you know has?

Me too. Sniffling, sneezing, coughing, more sniffling, headache, more sniffling, can't sleep, couldn't run this AM due to the combo of the cold and the rain outside (can't really do a nose this runny on the treadmill).

But wait, there's more.

I also have a gigantic sty in my right eye.


January 2, 2007

It Was Worth It

In case you were wondering, 10 days in the South for the holidays will result in approximately a 5% weight gain. That's right. 0.5% per day. About 200 days and I could double myself. Incredible.

But, as the title states, it was worth it. I can honestly say that I have never had 10 consecutive similarly culinarily amazing days in a row, including stints living in France and in Italy (no doubt because I was never hosted by in-laws there...).

December 23rd, we arrived late, assuming we'd make due with the snack boxes, only to be taken out to delicious French food where I had a light 4 course dinner. The trend continued throughout the trip.

December 24th, we started to enjoy what will henceforth be known for eternity as "the bacon christmas." Bacon sandwiches for lunch. Baked okra with bacon for dinner, on the side of beef tenderloin and green beans with bacon, of course.

Christmas breakfast? Grits fried in butter (DELICIOUS!), bacon, scrambled eggs, homemade bread and homemade blackberry preserves. Not that different from my childhood, except I'd never experienced fried grits before and was uneducated in the manner in which they can a) expand in your stomach; and b) turn you into an addict.

Christmas dinner? Tur-duck-en and all the fix'ns (including bacon brussel sprouts stuffing) with 3 other families. Bigger and more dressed up than what I'm used to. More hand-shaking and polite table talk. But, in general, almost the same as home and the food...Mmmmmm.

Midnight Christmas snack? That one generally takes the form of the best leftovers available and this year was no different. So E and I enjoyed midnight fried grits, bacon (duh!), and beer while watching For Your Eyes Only. Double-O-7-days of Christmas is one of my favorite things about Christmas in the South. I have no idea if its available nationwide, but I'd never experienced it 'til I came to visit, so I associate it with this part of the Country.

The day after Christmas we ate brunch with friends at a delicious, (but much too cool for the likes of us) cafe, then, we went out for another 4 course meal. This one was surpisingly expensive (one of the great things about leaving our hometown for other towns in the US is the lower cost of living just about everywhere other than NYC. Turns out, the expense came from the California wine). Apparently, we're spoiled here. Either, people in the South don't think much of paying $17/glass for what I consider a reasonably priced mid-level California Pinot, or, we should have asked how much the house pinot was before we ordered it. 3 glasses later, we we surprised at the $50 increase in the bill.

The next day, after a lunch of with E's parents at piebar pizza, which isn't exactly light, we met up with E's family for a delicious, but overly-big-portioned meal at newly-opened place-to-be-seen Trois. We all agreed the food was amazing, just too much. Note, E wasn't a huge fan of the super-cool ambiance. I really liked it. I suspect we may differ due to the complimentary pink sparkling wine upon seating -- not really E's thing.

So, there we were, December 28th, both of us visibly fatter in just 5 days, me, despite my continuing marathon training. Believe it or not, we had no food plans for the 28th. So, we did what any self-respecting Southerner who's left town and finds themself back in their old stomping grounds would do--we had an impromptu lunch of authentic pulled pork barbeque with the requisite fried sides and then a few hours later, we had dinner of all the holiday leftovers at E's parents. Mind you, I indulged in two desserts that night: sticky toffee pudding with sauce, AND bourbon ice cream. Seriously, how could you not love this place?

December 29th, we had a lunch that escapes my memory, but I can guarantee there was lard. And, for dinner, we had the best meal, food-wise (and the company was great as well -- E's best man and his wife), that E and I enjoyed in 2006. Bacchanalia. I can not rave enough about this meal. Amazing flavor, texture and wine combinations. Great service. Wonderful cheese tray. Innovative between-course (I refrained from saying inter-course, aren't you proud?) palate cleansers. Perfect portion sizes (except the extra oysters they gave me because we were one of the last seatings, wahhhh...). Excellent wine paring. I am interested to see how the whole experience compares to French Laundry, which E and I have reservations to enjoy in a few weeks (yeah, it's gonna be all celery and water 'til then if I want my clothes to fit...)

Anyways, I think you get the idea. It was gluttonous caloric mayhem. Rest assured there were more meals of pork, (most including bacon), beef, fried, and, of course, the required visits to both Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House. E always complains that no one in California knows how to make proper hash browns, green beans, okra, etc. I'm thinking that's not a bad thing. Perhaps proper hash browns and the like should be a vacation only activity...

Regardless, I can't recommend it enough. I feel so full with happiness. Nurtured. Loved. The only drawback was how much more difficult my long run was today...