What does one eat after a mini-tri workout?

Anything one wants.

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In this case, a veg-heavy, clean out the fridge, grain bowl prepped beforehand and scarfed down afterwards.

  • farro
  • quinoa
  • steamed kale
  • carrots
  • white radishes
  • sugar snap peas
  • chickpeas
  • avocado
  • halved grape tomatoes

Topped with: 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1 clove garlic sliced, sea salt & fresh ground pepper (shaken in jar, straining out the garlic)

Highly recommended accompaniment — sit on deck as the sun goes down and chat with neighbors over drinks about their recent holiday trip.

What messes we make of the inner worlds we trod upon

Having read The Ambassadors back during undergrad — that is to say powered through it fast enough to write a synapses, have a flaccid discussion with equally unimpressed students, and pass a test on it before shoving it even more quickly out of my mind — I finished Henry James’ tale of expectations, deception, relationships and authenticity again today. I didn’t remember even the barest of outlines re-reading it, and for that I’m grateful.

I feel stingy giving it only three stars on Goodreads because it deserves more, but the superfluous nature of every line that is quintessentially James’ style is such a chore to push through for 512 pages that I also can’t in good conscience give it any more. 

There is, however, no way around the fact that this story has snaked its way through my thoughts the entire evening, and that’s saying something.

Asparagus Risotto Cakes (- the Cakes)

Into the second week, the reality that our CSA (community supported agriculture) farm is inevitably going to give us a few things that we have no flipping idea about and/or far more of something than we know what to do with has hit hard. Garlic scapes? Never heard of them. Sorrel? Isn’t that a horse color? Lemon balm? Um yeah, I got nothing.

So a book I often go to first is From Asparagus to Zucchini: A guide to cooking farm-fresh season produce. (Please buy it locally if you can.) It doesn’t have every possible vegetable or herb under the sun, but it’s been quite useful to me over the years. It has an overview of each vegetable, cooking & storage tips, and a page (or two or three) of recipes to try.

I decided to try out Asparagus Risotto Cakes today, except it tasted sooooo good coming off the stove that I decided to cut the recipe short. “We’re eating this for dinner AS IS.”

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I ate my dinner so fast that I decided to get this little prep bowl full of risotto as I was typing things up just to show what it looks like. And then I ate that, too.

If you have some fresh asparagus on hand, I highly recommend you try making it. Just remember, like all risotto recipes, once you get started you can.not.stop.stirring until the meal is done. Stir, stir, stir, stir, stir and then stir some more. Therefore it’s essential that you get everything prepped and ready-to-go beforehand.

Asparagus Risotto Cakes, adapted from p. 19 of the aforementioned book

  • 1 pound asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic (I used garlic scapes*)
  • 1 1/2 cup arborio rice
  • 1 pinch saffron threads, crushed
  • 3/4 cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
  • 6 cups chicken stock, hot (keep an extra 2 cups stock on hand, ready to be warmed, in case the rice looks like it’ll need a bit more liquid)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I had Parmigiano-Reggiano on hand)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Steam asparagus in colander over large pot of boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Rinse in cold water, cut thick stalks in half, chop into small (~1/4″ length) pieces.

Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, add onions and cook until transparent. Add garlic, cook 1 minute longer. Add rice, stir 2 minutes. Add saffron and wine. Simmer hard, stirring, until liquid is reduced by half.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until well absorbed each time. Half way through the stock, add some salt. Continue adding the stock, stirring until all the stock is absorbed and the rice begins to clump. It’ll take longer than usual for risotto.

Add butter, cheese, lemon juice, asparagus, pepper, and more salt if desired. Serve immediately.

*Garlic scapes are ancillary stalks removed as garlic is growing, to direct more energy to the bulb. Your farmer’s market might have them in stock early in the season. They can be used in place of garlic in recipes, salads, sauces, etc. I tossed the scapes in the food processor, chopped them fine, and plan to freeze the extras in small ice cube sized sections for future use.

Cardi(o) J

I messed up my right elbow about a month ago, maybe longer, I can’t remember. My memory of non-impactful things isn’t something I find I can trust much anymore.

Anyway, I lifted too much weight too many times when my fingers, wrists and forearms weren’t strong enough to match the rest of my larger muscle groups’ strength (and no, I’m not a bulky brick, thank you very much) so I injured the tendons at the elbow that connect my lower arm to my upper arm. It’s painful just to pick up a coffee cup, hold a book, find a comfortable position writing or typing. Good timing for the 150,000 words I have coming in for edits soon, no?

In short: no lifting at all for the bulk of the summer and possibly the entire summer and into the fall. This sucks. But unlike last year when I broke the left elbow, the ortho says I can still swim, bike, and run. So just call me Cardi(o) J, because I’m going to be hustling in one form or another from now until I can get back into the gym just to avoid losing my mind.

I’m down 2.5 pounds already this week. Sigh. Muscle takes so long to build but so short a time to lose.

Is it getting hot in here, or is it just the chili paste?

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Taken from The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

It doesn’t look like much right now, a somewhat disturbing tar-colored substance, but man oh man does it ever smell good. I’ll be using this tomorrow, meh maybe tonight even, for a batch of Beef Short-Rib Chili with Beans. I hear the Texans crying into their sweet tea already.

It’s pretty easy to make if you can get your hands on good, almost leathery (but not over dried and crackly) chiles. I ended up going to two stores to find mine. If you have a decent Mexican grocery in your area too, you’re probably all set.

6 Ancho chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
3 California chiles, de-stemmed and deseeded and torn into 1-inch sections
2 Árbol chiles, destemmed and deseeded and cut in half

DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE OR EYES DURING THIS ENTIRE PROCESS

In a dry, heavy-bottomed, medium sauce pot, stir the chile pieces over medium-high heat for a couple minutes, until they start to really release their scent.

Add 2 cups of chicken stock (or water) and simmer over low-medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until the skins get soft.

Carefully (!) ladle the hot mixture into a sturdy blender (glass top is preferred, although mine is not) and blend on LOW so the hot mixture doesn’t forcefully expand – high school physics at work here – as the blades begin to spin, splattering lava all over you and the kitchen. Scrape the sides down. Blend on medium. Scrape the sides down. Blend on high until a perfectly smooth puree is achieved. It’ll make about 2 cups of chili paste.

I’m going to use a cup in each of the two recipes I’m making, so I poured an equal amount into two storage containers. One went in the fridge, the other into the freezer. If you want smaller amounts, freeze in ice cube trays and pop into a ziplock bag after its frozen solid. Question your need for chili seasoning packets ever again.

Fools, said I, You do not know//Silence like a cancer grows

I have a confession to make.

I knew last Friday what the underlying reason for my ‘always a sound in the background’ situation was, at least I had a very strong suspicion. But this week has, with Jeff gone on a golf holiday with some friends, really driven the point home. I’d already noticed that I listen to far less music on the weekends when he’s home, but I assumed it was because he and I don’t share a lot of musical tastes.

Until this year, I’ve often spent my days around other people in some way: working in retail or local business projects, volunteering, training with Scotty or Jessica, passing an hour or two in a favorite cafe, chatting with my favorite store’s owners. But with our decision to not eat out, go to bars/cafe’s, to travel, and to cut way back on our spending this year, not to mention my lack of a regular training partner, now I can go days without speaking to anyone but Jeff after he gets out of work. Toss in my decision to logout of the more distracting social media sites and it’s pretty much crickets around here.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like my solitude, I value my time to myself, I think the decisions are good ones. I’m introverted by nature and by upbringing. But I didn’t fully realize how little I would interact with people day by day now, especially verbally. I promise I’m not spending hours crying into my teacup or anything, nor do I have any desire to start forcing conversation on poor underpaid grocery store clerks, but to say my days are quiet is like saying snow is white.

I understand that my own decisions are the root of the situation. I was the one to suggest we take on this challenge. I made the decision to stop volunteering, at least for a year. I know that I could look for a more social type of work than copyediting. I could even *shudder* join a club of some kind – running, reading, basketweaving. I don’t expect others to fix my silent world or ask you pity me.

I know that there are people isolated from and by society for a variety of reasons. People who don’t have the privilege of making the decisions that I’ve made and that I’m making. People who are so alone and lonely that their only conversational opportunities are with themselves, hour after hour, day after day, year after year. They deserve our compassion when seen mumbling to themselves in public parks, arguing with no one on the sidewalk, or forcing a one-sided conversation on a clearly disinterested bartender or barista. I can only imagine the pain of unrelenting, unending, unmediated aloneness.

For a few years, I shared lunch M-F with someone who, I quickly came to realize, often didn’t speak to anyone else the entire day. A few days before he died, he said something unexpected that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but which I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. “Of everything you’ve every shared with me, your conversation has meant the most.” I better understand what he meant these days. I wish I could tell him so.

Take care of yourself and each other.

For your listening pleasure, because it’s brilliant and beautiful:
Sounds of Silence

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence

Songwriters: Paul Simon
The Sound of Silence lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Diversion

I found myself desperately searching for a podcast, an audiobook, a familiar movie, or yet more music to listen to while putting dinner together last night and I realized something. I have a real problem with silence lately, with a lack of diversion, with time spent with only my own thoughts. I’d like to do something about that. It’s time to get comfortable not listening to someone else’s thoughts again for a change.

On a similar note, I see that I worked through 90 books last year. Ninety. That’s kind of nuts. Probably a quarter of those were audiobooks that I listened to while running, walking, cooking, doing chores, or doing nothing at all. I’m at 24 books for this year, about 1/3 of which are audiobooks. I’ve listened to three complete podcast series since the beginning of the year. I might need a break from my favorite diversion tactic to see if there’s something I’m trying to avoid or if it’s just a too-easy habit that I’ve fallen into.

Time alone with our thoughts is time worth spending. I mean to listen a little closer.

We’re not gonna talk about the meatballs

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Pantry Staples Spicy Red Sauce

This is the easiest, tastiest, most requested thing I make. Dead serious. Jeff absolutely craves this shit ‘love is the main ingredient’ concoction. It slow simmers in the over for 5 hours though – yes, 5 hours – so plan ahead or dinner’s going to be late.

You can see above how labor intensive the prep process is. Would your Italian great-grandmother approve of this take on marinara sauce? Hell no. Are you going to scarf it down before spontaneously belting out Brindisi from La Traviata? Damn straight.

Turn oven to 250F
Go to your cupboard and pull out:

2 – 28 oz cans of good, quality WHOLE tomatoes
(cut them up into large chunks while still in the can)
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Dump all of the above into a large oven-safe pot with a lid (a dutch oven works great)

Add:
1 medium to large onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced

Mix it all together

Cover almost completely with lid, tilting it just slightly so some steam can escape. The tilted lid is very important. This will cause it to simmer and thicken slightly. If the lid is all the way on, the liquids will boil making a drippy, nasty sauce.

NOTES:
1. Only use good, quality WHOLE canned tomatoes. Diced and crushed tomatoes have stabilizers added to keep the texture from falling apart. Cut, dice or smash the tomatoes yourself.
2. Look for bright green, fragrant bay leaves. If you use dried bay leaves, opt for Morton & Bassett if available. They’re the best ones I’ve found by far. Those pale, grayish bay leaves that look like they’ve been under florescent lighting for 15 years are worth less than the plastic container they come in.
3. Coarse, kosher salt is your friend. Your kitchen BFF. I use Alessi for cooking and Maldon salt flakes at the table. There is a remarkable difference between high quality salt and that stuff in the big blue tube. It’s more than worth the price difference. There’s plenty of iodized salt in our lives and food already. You don’t have to cook with it or use it at the table.
4. Do yourself a favor and make a double batch like I did. With the oven on that long, get the most food for your energy buck. Tomato sauce and chili freezes well and always tastes even better after sitting a day.

Soooooooo about those meatballs…

All I can say for my first attempt at making homemade meatballs is that whatever those things ended up actually being, they at least tasted good.

What’s 12 hours roundtrip between friends?

Two years ago this past April, an acquaintance who worked at a bakery that I frequented commented that she, a self-described life-long non-athlete, “could never do a triathlon.” I disagreed and said that it was simply a matter of deciding to do it and then putting in the work, piece by piece, day after day. If I could learn to swim when the mere thought of water gave me hives, she a comfortable swimmer could complete a triathlon. After a few more back and forth comments on the topic, I said that if she really wanted to do one I would train with her. But only if she was serious about it and was willing to commit to the work.

Long story short, she committed and she completed an Olympic length triathlon by the end of that summer. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always enjoyable – for either of us. We trained in the heat, the cold, the rain and even some snow. There were tears and more than a few ‘I hate this’ moments. We learned that she has exercise-induced panic attacks when her heart rate exceeds 175 bpm while running. So we got her a heart rate monitor and she learned to plan for and work around this condition. But she did it. She met her self-stated goal of running “every step of that fucking 10k”. In addition, she finished her first 1/2 marathon with me two months after the triathlon.

Over that summer, she introduced me to Ragbrai, talked me through my own panic attacks in the water, and on one (particularly ridiculous and awe-inspiring) weekend, we ran her first 10 miler on Saturday and rode my first century ride (100 mile) the very next day. And we became very good friends.

Last year, she moved away to pursue her dream career and I’ve missed her ever since. I especially miss training with her. I miss her determination and the way she shouted “Hell yeah!” after reaching a new milestone. I miss her goofiness and spontaneous laughter. I miss her loud running outfits, headband obsession, and enthusiastic “Let’s do it!” to life in general.

Last Friday on the phone, we lamented that we didn’t get to ride together anymore. So she called me back later and said, “I’m coming out on Tuesday, we’re riding on Wednesday, and I’m heading home again on Thursday so I can get to class on Friday. Think Shan will let me borrow her bike?” And that’s how it went down. She arrived last night after 6 hours on the Mega bus, we put in a solid 45 miles on one of our favorite trails in picture perfect weather today (but alas, no pictures were taken), we had dinner this evening with Jeff (an excellent vegan chili as she likes her food HOT), and she’s leaving tomorrow. Shan is meeting us for breakfast after she gets off work so she can get her own hugs and hellos in before heading off to bed for her ‘night’.

One of the things I’d forgotten about riding with Jess is how well we ride together. That’s a rare and beautiful thing. Our pacing is synchronized, we anticipate each other’s movements, and the conversation and silences are comfortably organic. We just flow. Something I’ve learned is that no matter how much I enjoy cycling by myself – and I enjoy it a lot – I enjoy cycling with her more. I am lucky to have many people I can ride with locally, but those hours and hours and hours we spent training together that first summer gelled something special between us and I’m grateful to have experienced it. May she and I ride again together soon.