Sunday, November 13, 2011

Race Report and Review: Race 13.1 Valpo or "How I Discovered that I Do Possess the Intestinal Fortitude to Battle Sustained 25mph Winds for Over Two Hours"

Why hello there.  I'm not dead, and I'm not on the moon with Steve.  I've been here all along, working my tuchus off at the theatre, enjoying telling everyone we're engaged (tentative date Oct. 6, 2012), and freaking nailing my race training.

Yep.  Last I mentioned running I was just building a base.  Well, I got through that without trashing anything (and I felt like a beast after struggling through the record-hot summer we had), so I worked out which weekend would be best to try for a half and picked one of two available: Race 13.1 Valpo in Valparaiso, Indiana.  It's a small town up in The Region (or is it Da Region? I don't know) so I was pretty sure the race wouldn't be huge, and Valpo is flat flat flat so I knew it wouldn't be hard.  (Ha.  Haha.  More on that later.)

I loosely followed a Hal Higdon plan for beginner half-marathon training, and even though there were a few weeks when I had to trim my workouts a bit because of work scheduling, I still went into the last few weeks feeling really, really good.  I had time to add a week before my taper, so my longest long run was 11 miles two weeks before the race.  I spent the last week gently tapering and making extra sure to eat really well and stay hydrated (hydration is something I constantly struggle with). 

When race weekend rolled up, Jason and I packed the dog and a bag that I triple-checked for my running shoes into the car and took off for our overnight stay at La Quinta in Merrillville.  If you're traveling with pets, La Quinta is pretty much the best thing going.  I got a fantastic rate, they didn't require a deposit, and it seemed like the room was extremely well-insulated against sound.   Lanta is pretty sensitive and can get a little hair-trigger barky when there's outside noise.  We hardly heard a thing, though, even though the hotel was pretty packed.  The most we heard was the water running in the room above ours and a few muffled door slams down the hall--and nothing set her off.  The bed was pretty comfortable and they actually had PROTEIN at the continental breakfast--yogurt (which I've seen sometimes, but not often) and hard-boiled eggs, which I have never seen at a free hotel breakfast.  I got up about 5:45, brewed some coffee, had an egg, a banana, and a yogurt, and sat watching HGTV until it was time to leave at 7.  (If there's any TV station that I am perfectly happy to get stoned on, it's HGTV.) 

Traffic was non-existent and we were able to drive the 10 miles to the race site in no time.  Parking was not easy; I ended up hopping out of the car to go in to packet pick-up while Jason found a parking space.  I got my number and my shirt in about thirty seconds; it looked like I'd have to wait in line, but the room was really just full of people trying to escape the wind.  (Ohmygod the wind.)  Got into the porta-john line just in time--I was only about 6 people back, but by the time I came out the line was three times as long, and just a few minutes later stretched the full length of the parking lot.  This might sound weird, but the portapots were really nice, even though they were swaying in the wind.  (The wiiiiiinnnnnnnnd.)

Blah blah blah, stood around waiting for the start, they announced it in five, I lined up about halfway in the pack, and then--GO!!!  I don't really like running in a starting pack.  The longer it takes to thin out into a comfortable distribution, the higher my anxiety goes.  I don't know if I'm a little claustrophobic or if I just need a lot of personal space, but I'm pretty sure there was some seriously noisy tooth-grinding emanating from my skull in the first couple miles.  You've got the cross-country kids who blow by you at a million miles an hour, brushing your elbows and cutting you off; the people who did not train and stop short right in front of you at the 2-mile marker to turn around and walk back; the people who start waaaay too close to the front for the speed they'll be running and create roadblocks.  By the 3rd mile marker, though, things were settling into a much more evenly-dispersed stream of runners, and I dialed in my pace at right around 10 minutes per mile.

Volunteers were numerous and enthusiastic in this race (too enthusiastic at one water stop--they were more interested in handing out high-fives than hydration, and I was kind of pissed off for a couple miles).  The course was mostly out in the country--flat and fast, if maybe a little boring to some.  I grew up on a farm, so I personally loved the scenery, but if you're looking for grand beauty, this isn't the course for it.  Overall I was pleased with the race, I thought it was really well-organized, and the tech shirt and medal were nice prizes.  My only complaint was the one water stop where they weren't handing out actual water.  Oh, and the wind.

I need to devote a paragraph to the wind (as you might have noticed).  It. Was. Brutal.  It was out of the south, maybe a touch out of the west, and it was very steady and dry.  Mostly it was to our sides; I didn't mind that so much, aside from it being annoying--it whipped my ponytail into a rope and made my nose so dry I actually feared a nosebleed for a while.  Everyone struggled to run a straight line, and there were gusts strong enough to knock some of the lighter runners completely off the pavement.  But it was the couple miles we ran south--face-first into it--that were just plain miserable.  I just tipped my head down and pretended it was a big hill to climb.  I think I managed it the best I could have done; I didn't fight to maintain my pace, because I knew that would be much more expensive in terms of energy spent.  Unfortunately there was nobody to draft off, so I was all on my own.  It felt like I was leaning so hard into it at times that I'm pretty sure it was literally holding me up.  There were a lot of people who broke to a walk against the wind, some of whom I don't think ever recovered (I didn't see them again, anyway, like Stompy McFloppyFuelBelt, who I was really really happy to get away from after listening to the stomping and flopping fuel belt for eight-plus miles).  As I made the turn off the last headwind section, I actually threw up my arms and cheered, and the volunteers at the corner there cheered right along with me.  They knew what made me so happy.

Even through the wind, I was able to average a pace right at ten minutes per mile.  At each mile marker, I glanced at my watch and was jolted to the reality that not only would I PR, and not only would I hit my "A" race of 2 hours 15 minutes, I would smash it.  I would have had to completely fall apart in the last 5k to miss 2:15, and I knew I was not going to do that.  I just felt good--solid and strong and my feet were ticking along like a metronome.  I was passing more than I was being passed in the last miles, and I had the big, wonderful surprise of seeing Jason's smiling face just after the 11 mile mark. 

Right after the 12 mile mark, we got to turn north and enjoy a tailwind all the way to the finish.  I knew I had it, so I just turned it loose and ran it in.  I picked off several more runners, turned the corner, caught site of the finish line, and fired the afterburners.  I kicked it hard with a big, stupid grin, and I'm pretty sure I heard people commenting on it.  Sailed across the finish line in 2 hours and 11 minutes for an average pace of 10:01, and got a big hug and a smooch from my fiance.

And here are some pictures he took!

Before the race, with the Corgi.  Aw. 

Just after 11 miles.  Done with the wind... just gotta get done with the race.

The finish... it is so close...

ZOOOOOOOOM my poor hair :(

RAAAAAAAA SMURFPANTS AAAAAWWWRRRRR I like the shirt we got.  It's cool.

And now I feel really good about shooting for an even 2 hours at the Mini in the spring.  LET'S DO THIS.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Drive-By Blogging

I had a big weekend.  Jason and I had our second anniversary, so we went to a baseball game, bought a whole bunch of books, ate three meals out, and he asked me to marry him.


Best.  Weekend.  Ever.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A foody day

Not a "foodie" day.  That spelling implies someone who refuses to use McCormick's spices or store-brand chicken broth and believes that the only salt worth using costs no less than eight dollars an ounce.  And... that ain't me.  No, it was a foody day because I spent all afternoon barefoot in the kitchen.  I wish it was Monday so I could use my really great Nomday pun I thought up, but oh well. 

Jason and I feel as if we've been in a food rut lately, eating a lot of the same stuff over and over.  I was getting really, really bored with cooking, and although he never complained, I know Jason was getting bored with my cooking too.  I've still got a lot of cookbooks from before we went Paleo, so I decided to flip through one and see what kind of recipes were acceptable or at least easily adapted.  I shouldn't have been surprised to find several.  Yet more evidence that it is not hard to find good recipes, if you've got even a shred of creativity (and if you're not creative, there's still plenty laid out--all you have to do is find them).

Oh, I also found a bunch of Paleo snack recipes (by Googling "Paleo snack recipes") and decided to try a new one today.  I documented all the fun I had in the kitchen today, and now I shall share.

First up--Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies!  This is not a new recipe for us; Jason found it months ago (here, scroll down a bit) and we've made it several times.  Sometimes we leave out the coconut and use more chocolate chips (usually that happens when we forget that we're out of coconut AGAIN).  Either way, they're delicious.

This is where I will say, if you plan on going Paleo or Primal, get yourself one of these:

Hello, beautiful.

Food processors are SO USEFUL.  We use ours far more often than I thought we would, and I honestly thought we'd use it plenty.  We did learn that it's worth the expense to get a good one, rather than those piddly little 2-cup "food choppers" you can get for thirty bucks at Target.  This thing ain't messing around.  It weighs as much as the dog and runs quieter than the dishwasher.  (I suspect this is because it pulverizes things so quickly the food doesn't have time to bang around and cry for help.)  We also have a food dehydrator, which we don't use quite as frequently, but it's also nice to have, especially when you find flank steak on sale for $5/pound and really want to make some jerky.

Anyway.  Moving on.  I made the cookie dough and spooned it out:

I was working with just a wooden spoon and some rather unwieldy chocolate chunks, so I had trouble getting them all to come out the same size.  So I just dug some dough out of the overachieving cookies and stuck it onto the little runty cookies, so they'd all be about the same.  Sort of like No Child Left Behind, only with baked goods.

And that is as close to a political statement as you'll find here.

Once the cookies were all evenly-matched and indistinguishable from one another, I stuck 'em in the oven and they came out looking like this.


You like that baking sheet?  It's a stoneware one that I borrowed from my sister about a year ago.  I could have sworn I returned it, but I guess not.  Apparently either a) she thought I returned it too or b) she knows I still have it and just hasn't needed it.  Either way, I've been using it for cookies because it does a bang-up job.

You know what is the great thing about this recipe?  The bowl practically cleans itself.

I guess "great" is relative to your opinion on licking the bowl.

Between the coconut oil and the oil from the nuts, there is almost nothing left in the bowl after everything's spooned out.  Also, the dough doesn't stick to the spoon, so it's easy to ball it up and drop it in even, round clumps (if you're not an idiot like me who can't eyeball cookie clumps).

Anyway, while these cookies are not especially sweet, they are far more satisfying than sugary flour-based cookies, thanks to the nuts and healthy fats.  And you still get a chocolate fix, which is basically required.

Next up?  Crackers!  Recipe.  I did not do shrimp, just the crackers, and I ended up using a little over 1/2 cup sesame seeds, rather than the full cup it called for (you can buy 'em in bulk at the Asian market!  But we don't have an Asian market out here in the corn so I just got the little tin at Kroger!  It was only 2 ounces!  So that's what I used!), and I added a little bit of olive oil.  Still worked.

Have you seen that Family Guy episode where they drink a case of ipecac to see who wins the last piece of pie?  Yeeeeeeaaaaah.

I will admit, this did not look promising.  It smelled a little weird and was a pain in the ass to roll out.  But I persevered, seasoning with these guys:

Hello, friends!  Next time I'll glue you on with butter or something.

And it all came out looking like this.

And they taste REALLY good.

So, these guys took me about an hour and a half, between getting all the crap together, educating the cookies, washing the food processor, bravely forging ahead with a questionable recipe and washing the food processor again.  (I'm sorry, Town of Plainfield.  I used a lot of water today.  I mean A LOT of water.)  And then it was time to cook dinner!  All three recipes (burgers, salsa, salad) came out of a regular cookbook (one of the many editions of Better Homes and Gardens, a recent one).  In the end I decided on Greek-seasoned turkey burgers with Greek salsa and warm tomato-and-feta salad over spinach.

As an aside, canned chopped olives look revolting.


Really, really revolting.


Sorry.  Anyway, they taste good, and they go into nomalicious Greek salsa, which looks like this:

Dear Lord in Heaven.  I love food so much.

Wanna see how trashed my kitchen was after my weirdo cooking bender?

Not too trashed at all, really, but I still would like more counter space.  A girl's gotta dream...

Oh hey, you know how people always think salad's not filling?  This is why.


That's an entire 10-ounce package of spinach, wilted down in some butter.  Once that water's cooked out, you realize just how little there is to a bunch of leaves.  And this, my friends, is why a good Paleo salad will always have protein and fat.  If it's just vegetables, you're gonna be hungry again as soon as you take a pee.

We, however, were having PLENTY of protein and fat with our vegetables, in the form of this dinner.

Ohhhhhh my.


That, dearest ones, was a very, very satisfying dinner, and a big step out of the rut we've been in lately.  My stomach is still very, very happy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Eat Like A Caveman: Stuffed Peppers with Breaded Squash

This afternoon, I wandered into the kitchen on a mission to make dinner.  I had an eggplant in the fridge and I wasn't afraid to use it.

Until I cut it open, that is.  I do not have a vast well of knowledge in regards to cooking eggplant, but I'm fairly certain it's not supposed to be brown and spongy in the middle.  So I was forced to improvise, and this is what I came up with.

Oh dear heaven.

The squash was not exactly an improvisation.  I've been cooking summer squash (and zucchini) like that a lot lately.  It's super-easy and delicious and more satisfying than a plain vegetable of a similar portion size.  The stuffed peppers, however, were completely thrown together with things I had in the fridge.  Nothing unusual in there, but they are so tasty.

For the peppers:

1 lb ground beef  (haha, I just typed "beaf." That was weird.)
1 onion, chopped
minced garlic in an amount you find appealing
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 can drained diced tomatoes OR a few fresh tomatoes if you've managed to get your lazy behind to the farmer's market anytime in the last couple weeks (I haven't)
1 can tomato paste
various fresh or dried herbs with an Italian slant (I was feeling braindead so I just used a handful of fresh basil from the patio pot.  In retrospect it could have also used some parsley, oregano, thyme and/or sage.)
 up to 4 pretty-colored bell peppers (only stuff one pepper per person, unless you have piggy guests)

Throw the beaf (haha) into a medium-hot pan with the onions, garlic, and a glug of olive oil.  Stir up the meat until it's thoroughly browned and crumbled up.  If it seems a little wet, drain it.  If you used 96/4 like me (or if you used bison like an even more awesome person), you probably won't need to.  Add the salt and pepper, tomato, tomato paste, and the herbs, and simmer for a few minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if you feel like it.

Just a note:  this is the most basic of all basic tomato sauces.  It can be adapted to fit a thousand applications.  It is nothing earth-shattering.  My apologies if you were bored stupid and now wish to throw boogers at me for being so lame as to put a plain old tomato sauce recipe on my blog.


Take those pretty-colored bell peppers and slice them in half vertically.  Pull out the veins and seeds, but for God's sake leave the stem on.  Peppers are so pedestrian, they need all the aesthetic help they can get.  Slice that stem in half with the rest of the pepper and all of a sudden you have ART.  Rub a bit of olive oil on the cut edges of the pepper, and rub some oil into the bottom of a glass baking dish.  Bonus points if the dish is pretty, too.  Fill each pepper half with the meatsauce (there will probably be some left over; save it for more peppers, or put it on spaghetti squash, or just eat it with a spoon like Jason did when he got home because he was flipping starving and couldn't wait for dinner) and plop the whole assembly into a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  The peppers should come out nice and hot but not exactly cooked.  You want there to be some crunch still.

You know how to further elevate it from "dinner" to "ART?"  Stick a tiny freaking basil leaf on it.

Now that breaded squash.  It's not bread at all.  It's almond flour. To make it:

1 medium yellow squash or zucchini, cut into large dice
1/2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup almond flour
garlic powder

Melt the butter in a medium-hot pan (normally I'm indifferent about cooking surface but this really wants something non-stick, whether it's teflon or well-seasoned cast iron or whatever you use).  Cook the squash for about 5 minutes, giving it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Scatter half the almond flour over the veggies, along with some more salt and pepper and a dusting of garlic powder.  Toss to coat (stirring just doesn't work, sorry).  Scatter the rest of the almond flour; toss it again.  Turn up the heat a few degrees; we want to crisp up the breading a bit, but we don't want to burn it.  Keep tossing the squash every 30 seconds or so; try to make sure it turns so each side gets browned.  Serve it nice and hot and try not to stuff it all in your mouth at once because it is DELICIOUS.

And I leave you with this artistic shot of some admittedly poorly-browned breaded squash.

It's not really browned.  It's really just kind of beiged.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just a little stitch

Before anyone says anything, I do not participate in the use of mind-altering substances.  I never have, I never will, no I'm not lying.  But I had this turn of phrase pop into my head a few weeks ago and I couldn't let it go.  I cracked up every time I thought of it.  I can't help it.  Puns amuse me like you wouldn't believe.  It surely can't be normal.  But I digress.  Here's a pun!  There's even a voice that goes along with it!  (It sounds a lot like Towelie, if you're curious.)

I had to stitch it.  Every now and then I get crazy-inspired to do a bit of embroidery.  My technique is kind of "eh," but whatever.  I do it because it's fun.  I knocked this off in just a couple hours while Jason was watching the Women's World Cup and doing computery stuff.

I'll shut up and just show you the stitches.

Two steaks.  They are high.  The steaks are high.  You see what I did thar?

Extreme close-up!

I love this little guy.  He's so adorably stoned.

I didn't mean for him to be wonk-eyed, but it worked so I left it.

And now it's out of my head and on a piece of muslin, so I can let it go already. 

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

I've been back on the running pony for some weeks now, slowly building mileage and making sure I don't fall off.  As I keep saying, I'm not a runner, but I want to be!  It's just that sometimes I'm... shall we say... less than enthusiastic about doing the work involved in becoming a runner.  It would be kind of awesome if I could wake up tomorrow and be like "Hey sweetie, I'm going to join you on your thirteen mile run, and YOU'RE GOING DOWN."  But no... tomorrow's going to be a mile-and-a-half slog at a searing 10:15 pace.  The best consolation is the bacon waiting patiently in the fridge.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh right, perspective.  Jason left the house at 5:30 this morning to whip out his 11 miles before work.  (Yeah.  He runs more in a day than I run in a whole week.  He's amazing and I love him.)  I'd asked him to poke me before he left so I could get up and do my run before breakfast.  So he did (well, he didn't literally poke me, because that would be rude and unboyfriendlike), and I got up after silently whining  for fifteen minutes or so.

Ate a banana, drank some water, got into my running clothes (as much as running annoys me sometimes, I love the clothes), and sat on the couch.  And sat on the couch.  And sat on the couch.  I just kept thinking, "Gotta run two miles... don't wanna.  One mile away, then one mile back.  Gotta, but don't wanna.  Don't wanna.  MAAAAAAHHHHHH" 

And then I thought about the lady who lives in our subdivision.  If I had to guess, I'd say she's in her mid to late 40's, and is a very dedicated runner.  She's not very fast (like I'm one to talk about fast), but she's out there like clockwork, at sunrise, almost every day.  And the interesting thing is that it seems like the bulk of her running is on the long oval drive at the back of our subdivision.  And I thought... I don't want to run a mile away and a mile back... but I could do laps!  Yes!  Laps are doable today! 

Whatever gets you out the door, amirite?  Anyway, I'd wasted so much time whinging on the couch that it was 6:48 by the time I got out the door.  That's a lot later than I like.  According to my Garmin, the oval is around four tenths of a mile, so five laps would give me my two miles.  I actually ran into Jason on his way home, and his smile is always a boost.  So that was nice.  He was in the shower by the time I got home, but I still got some breakfast cooked before he came downstairs.  (I like to be helpful in the mornings.  Having his breakfast ready is the least I can do.)  And now I've earned the right to be a slug the rest of the day.  Yay!

So there you have it.  Perspective.  Two miles seemed like a lot this morning.  But since I was able to break it up into manageable chunks, it didn't seem like such a wall.  I don't even care that it was a boring run and I didn't get to see any turtles.  Boring is a minor issue when you don't want to do it anyway. 

I bet I don't do laps tomorrow, though.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Quilt for The Littlest Russell

Two of my friends are having their first babies--both are having girls, and the two babies are due within a few days of each other.  They are the first of my "grown-up" friends to produce offspring, so these little kittens are going to be spoiled rotten, and yours truly is more than happy to help with the spoilage.

We just held a shower for one of the girls today, and naturally I had to go nuts with the quilting.  I've worked on this blanket pretty much non-stop for the last couple weeks and just finished it up this morning.

I present to you--a purple and green quilt.

This one shows the color.  It's not perfect but it's close.

And this one shows the texture.  Vive la hand-quilting!

It's machine-pieced, hand-quilted and -bound.  I do not like machine quilting.  Like, at all.  I don't like the way it looks, I don't like the way it affects the drape, I kind of think of it as cheating... I just don't like it.  So, hand quilting it is.  I'm kind of a traditionalist that way.  Someday I'll have a magnum opus of a hand-pieced, hand-quilted monster, but I'm cool with machine piecing for now.  But NO MACHINE QUILTING.

Where was I?  Oh!  More details.  The binding is scrappy (yay for using up yardage!), the backing is a solid piece of unbleached muslin (the better to show off my quilting [I refuse to be modest on this topic {I mean, I'm still a quilting noob and it looks pretty dang good if you ask me}]), and it runs a hair short of 45" square.  I'm really pleased with the texture, but I think next time I'll try a different batting.  I used an 80/20 cotton/poly blend, and it's just a little too lofty for my taste.  I think in the future I'll stick with 100% cotton, or the cotton/bamboo blend I used on my sister's quilt. 

The whole thing was a learning experience (first time sewing bias-edged pieces), and while it's good, it's not show quality.  I did okay on the places where four corners meet...

Semi-gratuitous texture shot.  Yum.  I like dense quilting.

See?  Not bad, not bad at all...

On the places where eight corners meet, however, my results were a bit hit-or-miss.



Big miss.  Blech.

But I'm really, really pleased with how the binding turned out.  It's a French-fold binding, both for durability and because it seemed the easiest way (no raw edges to harass me!).  The corners are kind of good-not-great, but I learned a lot and they'll be better next time.  And it turns out that while I haaaaaaate hemming, quilt binding is very soothing and meditative.  Loved that process, really.

What?  You want to see more of that gorgeous backing with the quilting and everything?


Seriously, I am really, really happy with how the quilting turned out.  It's mostly free-handed, too.  Go me!  (Sorry.  Modesty failure again.)

This whole experience just made me happy.  The small size meant it wasn't a huge time commitment, and it's been nice to get a break from the bed-sized quilt I'm making for Sis (which just needs to be bound!  The quilting is d-o-n-e DONE!), and the colors are so cheerful, it was honestly hard to put it down (which might have also been the fact that I had one week to quilt the bitch).

It was very well-received by the mom-to-be (which I expected; she's a little crafty herself so she understands and appreciates the work involved).  I'm happy she's happy, and I can't wait to make the next one!