Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our Week: November 22 through November 28

This week is going to be mostly photos with captions...we are traveling for the holiday, and I'm trying to squeeze in some work as well.  It's tough!

On Saturday, I ran farther than I ever have before (don't tell my marathon training pace group!)  I felt great until mile 9, when I started having some cramps in my calves and just generally feeling like I was moving very slowly, even though I wasn't.  I drank some Powerade around mile 7 and mile 10, and didn't feel TOO sick, which is a HUGE achievement for me.  

Later on Saturday, Nate went to the MSU/Vanderbilt football game in Starkville, where he met my dad.  They hit the engineering school tailgate and watched the game while W and I hung out and sent selfies to them.

More mother/son selfies.  Tuesday morning, we got up at 3:30 am to fly to Washington, D.C. for Thanksgiving.  This is a photo of my naked mug and W's stinkface when we learned that our flight was "delayed indefinitely" for maintenance.  I was worried W would run out of patience, but we finally got off the ground around 7 am. 
W in front of my sister in law's hearth.  I couldn't resist.

We spent some time going through old family photos like this one.  This photo was taken in about 1941, on the Upper West Side of New York City.  It's my mother in law and her step brother Arthur, and I think they are both dashing.
Our Thanksgiving spread.

My Thanksgiving plate...I had more deviled eggs (because, of course I did), plus about three times this much green bean casserole.  The "Yankee" version of stuffing is really growing on me, and this one was actually delicious.

I call this one "Piefecta."  If you can't choose which type of pie, just have them all. This is pumpkin, pecan, and sweet potato praline.  Topped with that amazing fake whipped cream product, of course.

We got this at Wegman's and it is amazing for the price.  I wish there were Wegman's in Alabama :(

Friday morning, I made red eye gravy for breakfast, and we ate the last of the deviled eggs.  Believe it or not, my sister in law didn't know how to make gravy!  I spent a few hours over the holiday showing her how to make several different versions.  Do you guys know how to make gravy?  Should I make some sort of blog gravy tutorial?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Y'all's Links for the Week

Check out this cave full of ancient children's shoes.  How cool would it be to recreate some of these patterns with modern materials??!

A really beautiful analysis of the differences between how English speakers and Chinese speakers see color.  With animation!

And here's a heartwarming story for those of you suffering negative media outrage fatigue.  Cute dog + cute Swedish athletes = win win.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Recipes: Foolproof Pie Crust and Bourbon Pecan Pie

This recipe is a Civil War reenactment in a pie plate!

Pie Crust
The pie crust I make is a family recipe from my mother in law, who was a descendant of German and Danish immigrants to New York City.

I actually have a photo of my mother in law teaching me how to make this pastry recipe, in the fall of 2011.  I treasure this memory, because she has since passed away.  Each Thanksgiving, my family makes pies using this recipe, in memory of grandma Marjorie.

The recipe is completely foolproof, I promise, and uses an unusual combination of boiled water and vegetable oil.  My mother in law explained that this recipe became popular during World War II-era Europe, when butter and milk were rationed, and water often needed to be sterilized on the stove top.  Interestingly, this pie crust recipe is vegan, so it can be adapted to all sorts of sweet and savory dishes fit for vegans or vegetarians.

Marjorie's Foolproof Oil and Hot Water Pie Crust
1/3 C water, freshly boiled (about 200F)
2/3 C vegetable oil
table salt (about 1/2 tsp)
all purpose flour (about 2 cups)

Pour room temperature vegetable oil into a large pastry bowl.  Add hot water.  Immediately begin whipping the two together with a fork, and adding salt until cloudy and emulsified.  Add the flour in 1/2 C increments, mixing thoroughly.  Once the dough is "ragged," turn it out onto a floured counter top or pastry board.  Divide in half and roll out with a cold, floured wine bottle.  If you are in a hot or humid climate, you can refrigerate the dough before rolling, for better results.  Makes two 9" crusts. 

Pecan Pie
The pecan pie filling I make is adapted from Bell's Best, a cookbook produced by Chapter 36 of the charitable organization Mississippi Telephone Pioneers.  It is the ONLY pecan pie recipe my family ever uses.

Bell's Best Bourbon Pecan Pie
1 C white sugar
1/2 C white corn syrup
1/4 C melted butter
3 eggs, slightly beaten ("broken")
1 C raw pecans, picked, cleaned, and roughly chopped
1 oz bourbon or rye
pinch salt

Mix the first three ingredients well, then stir in the eggs.  Fold in the pecans, bourbon, and salt.  Pour into an unbaked pie crust.  Bake in an oven preheated to 350F.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350, then 25 minutes at 300.  The pie is done when it is set up, with a "jiggly" but solid center.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Our Week: November 15 through November 21

This week has definitely been low key.  It's sort of a "rest week" between all of the exciting local events of early November, and some major travel coming up (again!). 

Saturdays always start early for me, because I have a weekly track club run that starts at 6am.  I can't be late or skip, either, because I pace a group of Birmingham Track Club runners training for the Mercedes-Benz Marathon.  Now, I'm by no means a fast runner, but I do keep a fairly consistent pace, and I'm able to do it naturally, sometimes even with negative splits.  I kid of think I'm a "natural negative split" runner because halfway through a run I'm just like, "ughhh...must finish as fast as possible."

Anyway, over the next 15 weeks, I will be providing pacing for the Saturday long run on the training schedule designed by the track club coaches.  I'll be pacing groups in the 8:30-10:00 minute/mile range, but it will change from week to week.  This week, I paced the 9:00 group:

On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to the J. Clyde, a gastropub owned by my friend Jerry, to watch the MSU/Alabama game.  I have no comment on the game result, but we didn't stick around too long afterward to get hassled by the Alabama fans, haha. 
My boys sharing sweet potato fries.

We are trying to get W started eating with a spoon, but he's like me and he'd rather eat with his hands.  So far, he can tap the spoon against the food, and move food to his mouth, but he gets bored and frustrated and the spoon ends up on the floor. 

He's a lefty, like his dad.
Our property management company just finished remodeling the gym in our building, and they put in two new treadmills.  Yay!  But also ewwww, because I loathe running on the treadmill.  I did get in one treadmill workout on Wednesday night, because it was dark and pouring rain by the time I was free to go running.
All the cool kids are taking gym selfies.
I did pick up some new running shoes, in my continuing effort to find a shoe that actually fits my foot (or feet, I guess, since I have two of them).  I have been running in the Brooks Ghost 7, using a toe spacer on the right side.  I also have Mizuno Wave Rider 16s, but they are way too rigid.  I got the Brooks PureConnect (on sale, of course) and took them out for a spin on Friday.  I got neon yellow, because...YOLO, I guess.
I honestly don't think these shoes could be any brighter.
Big mistake.  Huge.  At the long run the next morning (back in my Ghost 7s), my calves and shins felt like they were on fire.  I think I will need to work these shoes in gradually, and get used to them over time.  They have a very low heel/toe drop, about 5 mm, and that changes the way your lower legs have to work.  And by the way, if anyone else has a really skinny foot with high insteps and bones sticking out everywhere, please help me find a shoe that doesn't feel like I'm standing in a giant, rigid box of pain. 

Well, and I was also sore from a little family trip to Red Mountain Park.  We took Nico to check out the new dog park (it's awesome, and she had a blast), and then we walked some of the trails with W in the Kelty carrier on my back.  That child is getting heavy!
As you can see, the boys aren't really into selfies.

Mongrel dog for scale.
Next week, we are traveling again.  It will be W's tenth trip on a plane.  Unfortunately, I'm still not comfortable enough with the whole Babies on a Plane situation to avoid feeling some anxiety in the days leading up to a flight.  And as W gets older, he actually seems to have LESS patience for longer flights.  After about the second hour, I just end up feeding him snacks and letting him play Fruit Ninja on my phone.  So, uh, this next week is going to be stressful.  

Since I work for a Chinese company, I'll probably work through the Thanksgiving holiday, but my boss is pretty good about observing U.S. holidays...after all, there are loads of Chinese holidays on the calendar, too.  Have a great Thanksgiving, y'all!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Baby Led Weaning: One Year Old

About six months ago, we began the process of introducing solid foods into W's diet. We used a process called baby led weaning, or BLW, after six months of exclusive breastfeeding.  We started with banana slices, globs of hummus, avocado cubes, and lumpy oatmeal.  These are all typical BLW "favorites," and we soon had W eating many types of solid foods three times a day.

We set and followed some easy rules from the very beginning:

1.  Always offer breast milk within the hour prior to a meal of solids.
2.  Make sure each meal contains at least three different types of food.
3.  Make sure each meal contains fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
4.  Emphasize lean proteins and vegetarian fats; deemphasize simple carbohydrates.
5.  Season foods with a variety of flavors from fresh and dried herbs, spices, garlic, onion, etc.
6.  Serve a baby-friendly version of the adult meal, without preparing special or different foods.
7.  Everyone eats together, in a calm environment, using good table manners :)
8.  No excess sugar or salt, no peanuts, no choking hazards. 
9.  Provide constant supervision without unnecessary interference.

Overall, BLW has been a huge success for us.  W is an adventurous eater, enjoys restaurant meals, does not reject unfamiliar foods, and is growing and thriving.  I have to admit, it's very convenient to serve W the same foods we eat, and enjoy my meal while he feeds himself.  All of the early stress of BLW has really paid off for us!

Here are some examples of typical meals W is eating, now that he is one year old.  I can provide recipes for any of these items, if anyone is curious.

Veggie "burrito":  whole wheat tortilla, roasted pumpkin, stewed pinto beans, guacamole, raw vegetables, and hard cheese

Shredded chicken breast with sage, four-cheese potato and bok choy gratin (recipe HERE), and vegetable medly

Chopped chicken breast, homemade mung bean veggie burger, cheese cubes, English peas with dill

Roasted pink and white turnips, avocado, homemade mung bean veggie burger on an English muffin, pickles and radish

Potato, 1/4 turkey burger on an English muffin, vegetable medly, boiled egg

Ground turkey with sage, German brown bread, Brussels sprouts, yellow curry potatoes with coconut milk and fresh cilantro

Shredded pork shoulder, yellow curry potatoes, baguette with roasted garlic, roasted carrots and beets

Salmon, green beans, garbanzo beans, whole wheat couscous with kale and Swiss chard

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Race Report: Vulcan Run 10k, November 8, 2014, Birmingham, Alabama (48:24, PR)

As I mentioned earlier, I ran the Vulcan Run 10k on Saturday, November 8.  So here's a little recap for y'all.  Okay, a rambling, disjointed, verbose recap for ya'll.

But first, let's take a minute to laugh at this finish line photo of me:

Every day I'm hustlin'

The Course
First of all, this is a hometown race for me.  The course goes past my living room windows, my very own Birmingham Track Club is the major sponsor, and it draws a huge crowd of local and regional runners.  The race is run on a very popular running route through the various downtown neighborhoods of Birmingham, including the scenic Highland Park Historic District.  Since moving to Birmingham in April of 2014, I have been running all or part of the course as part of my regular training runs.  To say the course is familiar would be an understatement...I know every hill and crack in the sidewalk.

This 10k is a loop that starts and ends at Linn Park in the heart of downtown.  It has about 200 feet of total elevation gain, with a long, slow climb over miles 2-3, and a quad-busting downhill that starts around mile 4.  Things level off pretty well after this long straightaway, and the chute is on the western side of Linn Park.  It is an ideal race for spectators, because it draws some elites and close competition, it is amazingly well produced and supported, and it takes place in the South's famously mild late fall weather.  Okay, I should totally work for the Birmingham board of tourism. 

My Training
I had a baby almost exactly a year ago, and running is something I have become interested in once again since his birth.  I've always been interested in staying fit, and I was a college athlete.  I have even at various times in my life been a several-times-a-week runner.  I've always been pretty casual, though, and done it in order to stay fit for other sports.  Starting this July, I have been making a real effort to speed up.  More on that stuff later.  Here's what my training looked like in the weeks leading up to the race:

Strava should pay me for this.

The week of October 27 was a bit strange, because I had some last minute business travel to South Lake Tahoe (poor me, right?).  Fortunately, the hotel was part of a swanky casino with a luxurious gym, so I did a few treadmill workouts (ew).  I really tried to take it easy the week of the race.  I ran the course on Monday, did a speed workout on Wednesday, and just shook my legs out a bit on Friday morning.

Before the Race
This race begins just blocks from my apartment, so I didn't have any issues with driving, parking, or finding the start (you laugh, but it has happened to me before...).  I picked up my packet at Trak Shak the night before, and made plans to head over around 7 for the 8am start.  Things are always a little rushed and inconsistent in the mornings, since I have a toddler I am still breastfeeding.  I just try to stay flexible.  I woke up at 6, ate a peanut butter Clif Bar with some super sugary coffee and a quart of water, got dressed, nursed the baby, and left on foot.

Once I got out the door, the weather felt unexpectedly cold, so I ran the seven blocks to the staging area at Boutwell Auditorium.  I hung out inside with the warmth and crowds, wearing a hoodie on top of my race clothes.

Ask me about my Resting Bitch Face Syndrome.

I got caught up talking to a nice man named Dean, who was running Vulcan for the fifth time.  He is 64 and a cyclist who uses the annual Vulcan race as a way to measure his fitness.  It was so inspiring to hear him talk about his love for the running community, and how he tries to be a good fitness role model for his children and grandchildren.  I wanted a bit of a warmup, so as I shook his hand to say bye, I told him I would cheer for him by name if I saw him later on the course.  Foreshadowing!

The Race Itself
I did some quick strides around Linn Park, and texted my husband to meet me near the start.  I kissed my baby, left my hoodie with them, and tried to find a good place in the crowd.  I tend to start too far back (some sort of inferiority complex maybe??), so I tried to estimate the crowd size and stand near people who looked about my speed.  It's weird, but my pace group is always full of middle aged men who take fitness seriously...I can usually spot their Under Armor shirts and gray New Balance shoes, and think, "these are my people!"

Seriously, ask me.

I started my music and the Strava app, and barely heard the start.  It took me about 16 seconds to cross the touch pads (at least that's what they call those things in runners call them touch pads, too?).  I just tried to stay to the left and not get hung up behind anyone too slow.  I almost immediately regretted not standing closer to the start.  Oh well.  The first mile was a hustle, and I found myself running inefficiently to go around slower people.  We passed the buildings of the loft district, went through the Light Rails tunnel (which always smells like pee, GROSS), and turned on to Second Avenue South.  I checked my split for the first mile - 7:49.  For the second mile, I just focused on running a very consistent pace, staying to the right, and enjoying the flat stretch of road.  After the next turn, I saw the lead pack crossing out of view onto the first hill of Highland Avenue.

 The stretch on Highland was just as uncomfortable as I had anticipated.  I just tried to run just to the edge of my comfort level.  I passed several people on each uphill stretch, but I just kept my head down and stayed on the inside of the curves.  This one guy in a Peavine Falls race shirt kept slooooowing down on the uphills, letting me pass him, then cutting me off again on the downhills.  Dude was SERIOUSLY starting to get on my nerves.  I thought, "I'll bet he drives like that on I-65, too."  What a jerk.  (Spoiler: I finished about 3 minutes ahead of him).

Sausage party.

At the water stop, OF COURSE I accidentally grabbed yellow Powerade, and OF COURSE I spilled it all over my head.  I took my gloves off and stuffed them into the butt region of my compression shorts in a less-than-graceful-or-modest manner.  By that, I mean 1) I almost fell, and 2) I exposed portions of my butt.  "That's right, guys, enjoy the view," I thought. 

Splits, y'all.

As I hit the downhill stretch on 20th Street, the crowd had thinned out a lot.  I only saw one other woman, so I had some disjointed thoughts about gender bias in running until I was like, "FOCUS UP, SELF!"  I'm not gonna lie, when I saw my splits at mile five, I was pretty pleased with myself.  I knew I would make my target time if I just kept running consistently.  Then...out of nowhere, I saw Dean!  I started saying, "go, Dean, go, Dean!" as I caught up to him.  He high-fived me and we ran most of that stretch together.  I felt a little remorse once I left him behind.  At the corner of Park Place, I saw my husband and baby, and they were both cheering for all the runners.  After seeing them, I basically sprinted through the finish.  My official time was 48:24, and the Best Times rep cheerfully informed me that I had missed the cutoff for Top 200 by about two minutes.  Thanks, lady!

I'm sure the fact that the race name is incorrect is a reflection on someone's computer illiteracy. 

After the race, Waffle House and Cahaba Brewing were serving various free items in the auditorium, and I enjoyed drinking beer and coffee simultaneously at 9am. 

This is why I run, people.

Overall, I was pleased with how the race turned out.  I finished 4th for my age/gender (BTW totally wish more "middle aged" women would take up running).  After adjusting for hills, my splits qualified me to work as a track club pacer.  But mostly, I have so much respect for the people who can run a 6:00/mile pace over a 10k distance.  The swimming events I trained for were only 2-5 minutes long, and maintaining that type of cardiovascular output for an hour or more is still very new for me!  I love the running community in Birmingham, so I am definitely going to make an effort to do more races like Vulcan.  And, of course, I'm already planning how I am going to shave more time off my 10k (addicting, right?).

I didn't get a top 200 shirt, BUT I WILL NEXT YEAR! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Our Week: November 8 through November 14

Our week started early in the day on Saturday, November 8, the day of the Vulcan Run 10k, sponsored by my local track club.

I ran it in 48:24, a PR for me (although the first 10k I've run since deliberately training for speed).

I have no idea why this time receipt says "Corinth Classic," BTW.  Probably some other race timed by the same company.  I ended up 4/111 for my age gender, because the winner of my division was Carmen Hussar, who was part of the elite division.  I plan to write up all the details of this race in a separate race report later this week.

Tuesday, November 11, was the American holiday Veterans Day.  I went to a luncheon given by my chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, held at a private club on top of Red Mountain.  I just love Art Deco architecture, especially neon.  It really reminds me of my time spent in New York.

That afternoon, we went to the Birmingham Veterans Day Parade.  Trivia:  Birmingham, Alabama has the nation's largest and oldest Veterans Day Parade.  The parade route actually comes within a block of our apartment.

On Friday, we bought a new car ;)  Nate and I have been driving an older Corolla (a more compact model from before the 2008 redesign) with a manual transmission.  It definitely had some scars from years in the Colorado mountains, multiple cross-country trips, regular street parking in New York City, and even a tree that fell during Hurricane Sandy.  Although losing the Corolla was bittersweet, we really needed a new ride.  Since we couldn't be happier with the new car, I'll do a separate post about it later. 

That evening, W's first birthday, my parents drove over for a visit, and we all went out for a lavish steak dinner.  Once Nate and I started discussing what type of birthday party W would like, we quickly agreed that we should treat him to a special meal.  W loves to eat, and he has such an adventurous palate.  For his first birthday meal, he had a cheese plate, lamb chops, and a slice of gorgeous triple layer vanilla cake made by his Gaga.  He got a pair of moccasins from Nate and me, so he can keep his feet clean and dry as he learns to walk.

I just love this little guy to pieces.  He is a very curious, thoughtful, gentlemanly, and pleasant baby.  He is capable of amusing himself for hours, he is enthralled by music and books, and he loves animals.  He follows the dog around, squealing and chattering to her.  One of his favorite things is sitting in his dad's lap watching music videos on Youtube.  Right now, his favorites are M.I.A.'s Bad Girls, Beck's E-pro, and Madonna's Hung Up.  He absolutely loves to eat, and family dinners are one of the most precious times we share together.  We have been able to feed him a modified version of what we eat, almost from day one.  He tries everything we give him, but his favorites are banana slices, pesto, grilled meats, and fresh bread.  I can be sure that W will enjoy any food item I prepare with garlic and fresh herbs.  He has been an excellent sleeper from three months old, and I am thankful every morning that I have been able to get rest during the first year of his life.  I am also grateful each day that we have a good breastfeeding relationship, and that he is such a healthy child.

Happy birthday, W.  We love you :)

I can't even believe he used to be this tiny.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recipe: Potato Bok Choy Gratin

My husband and I belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) cooperative.  The farm we support is Snow's Bend Farm outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  In this part of the country, at this time of the year, we start getting huge volumes of cold-weather crops like chard, kale, turnips, and sometimes even more exotic items like kohlrabi.  After a while, our kitchen is covered in green.

One of the things we have been getting in large quantities this month is bok choy.  I decided our refrigerator had too much bok choy, so I made this gratin.  Here's the recipe:

Bok Choy Potato Gratin
Dutch oven
8" cast iron skillet
chef's knife or cleaver
paring knife

6-8 large red skinned or other waxy potatoes
1 head of bok choy (about 1 pound), diced
1 sweet white onion, diced
3 T unsalted butter (1 T for cooking the bok choy and 2 T for a béchamel)
2 T unbleached all purpose wheat flour
2 oz. each of 3 types of cheese (I used Havarti, chèvre, and Parmesan)
whole milk (enough to fill the space remaining in the skillet, about 1.5 cups)

Par cook the potatoes by boiling them whole in a Dutch oven with enough water to cover.  Remove the potatoes to cool.  Slice into 1/8" slices and set aside.

In the cast iron skillet, sauté the bok choy and onion in 1 T butter until onion is transparent.  Turn down to medium and cook until caramelized.  Remove and set aside.

Use <1 tsp of water to deglaze the skillet and turn back up to high.  Melt 2 T of butter and add the flour.  Once the flour is browned, add water and/or milk as desired to make a roux.  Set aside (I usually just pour it into a teacup or measuring cup).

Preheat an oven to 400F.  In the cast iron skillet, layer potatoes, bok choy mixture, cubed cheese, and béchamel until all ingredients have been used.  Fill the skillet up to within 1/4" of the rim with whole milk and place in the oven.  Cook until heated through and browned on top, about 40 minutes. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why do all of these templates have such terrible fonts?

Yesterday, someone told me, "you should have an awesome blog."  I said, "if I had a blog, it would be...hardly awesome."

So here you go.