Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Feast and New Cooks in the Late Year

Christmas Eve Traditions

Christmas Eve dinner for as long as I can remember has always been the same meal for my family. No matter where we are, it doesn't really feel like Christmas unless we are noshing on prime rib for dinner and my sister's special sugar cookies. Even though when we get together the question is often posed, "what do we have for Christmas Eve dinner?", it is not really a question. This year my sister, mom and I were going to be all together unlike last year and even more special, we were going to be celebrating in my sister and my new apartment. Furthermore, I was very excited to not only share Christmas with all the most important people in my life, but also to share our Christmas traditions which also include eating homemade loaves of Stollen on Christmas morning with sausages, eggs, fresh squeezed oj and plenty of coffee and eating "stew-p" which is an everything but the kitchen sink type of soup/stew (hence stew-p).

I ordered a really nice roast from Drew's Brothers and while I was picking it up nabbed some breakfast sausages, hot italian sausages and chicken (for Christmas day). There were a total of 7 of us for Christmas Eve dinner and I wanted everything to be awesome. I fretted a bit over how to cook the prime rib and didn't settle on a method until I read this post from Serious Eats. It went through the popular methods and figured out how to have the perfect sear plus perfect pink (medium rare). I was sold and with some trepidation proceeded forward.

Secret recipe Mac and Cheese

The menu included Prime rib, Horseradish Sauce (creme fraiche, dijon and horseradish), Green Beans with Garlic and Butter, Salad with AMAZING homemade dressing (red wine vinegar, olive oil, blue agave, fresh herbs and garlic), my secret recipe Mac and Cheese and fresh bread from The Baker.

I prepared everything in stages, timing out the whole meal and executing it dang near perfectly. Especially impressive since dinner time got pushed back by slightly tardy guests. I was nervous about the meal. I really wanted to provide an amazing dining experience for my guests. Before we dug into the food, we enjoyed a nice spread of crackers, hummus, salsa and plenty of Prosecco.

Empty plates and empty wine glasses? For shame! Dig in people!

With everything ready we sat down at the table, paused for me to take a picture of the table and then dug right in. Once everyone's plates were full the room fell into a deep, deep silence as everyone savored their food. I hadn't started digging in to my plate, instead I just watched their reactions and the delight at the tasting of each thing. It was actually pretty funny since they all seemed to look up at once at me and say, "this is really good!". We drank delicious red wine with dinner and then once we had digested and socialized for a while devoured some of my sister's Special Sugar Cookies, Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Chip cookies by The Baker and Gluten Free Ginger Molasses cookies by me. It was so much fun enjoying our tradition as a family and sharing it with the people I care about.

Goodbye Year, Hello New Chef in the Family?

Sister sampling her soup.

The other night, my beautiful sister offered to cook for us and boldly go where she doesn't often go. My sister can cook, she just doesn't know it yet. She has her staple items that she makes for herself, but a bad experience in the past of being made fun of for something she cooked for someone else has led her to be trepidatious when it comes to cooking for others. I was utterly shocked when she offered to cook for The Baker and I.

And cook she did. A delicious Baked Potato soup with bacon, scallions and cheddar. It had the flavor profile of a good hearty loaded baked potato but was a much lighter meal. She paired it with a salad and we were in business. She did great and I look forward to her next attempt. Who knows maybe one day she'll be guest posting for me!

While she made soup, I worked on making some gluten free dark chocolate peanut butter and jelly cupcakes for NYE dinner. They are pretty dang tasty. I am stoked to share them. It has been a good year of eating, blogging, writing and living. I look forward to a continuation and growth of that in the new year. Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays and New Year

[caption id="attachment_737" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The perfect bite: date, blue cheese and truffle honey"][/caption]

I have been absent. I know. I apologize. It was necessary.

[caption id="attachment_734" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Breaking in the new kitchen: Buffalo Runner Bean Chili & Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread (GF!)"][/caption]

You see I have been taking care of one of my goals, a necessary thing to go forward with my life: finding a place to call home. For the majority of this year I have bounced around, having with me only enough stuff (including my knife roll!!!) to cover the bare minimum. Everything else was stashed in storage. I have been all over the world this year, spent copious amounts of time in Seattle, San Francisco and Colorado. This whole time however, I have circled and circled the same central issue when trying to tackle other goals in my life: lack of roots, absence of home, no place to provide routine, consistency and roots. Over the summer and early fall, I really focused on deciding where I want to be and came to the answer I have known for a long time but was unwilling or able to accept: my heart is in San Francisco. The food, the trails, the people, the family, the vibe, the weather, everything is just me. It makes me happy. And so over these past couple of weeks, I have been in a fever pitch trying to get moved. My sister and I found a place in the City and we went in to go mode in order to get the place sorted before Christmas. I have been to Seattle and gotten all of my things out of storage, unpacked box after box and even managed to sneak in a few phenomenal meals cooked in my new kitchen, which is absolutely fabulous. And I have been good about snapping pictures with my Nikon camera, I have loads of shots of drool inducing food (included here, a sample).

[caption id="attachment_735" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="GF Ginger Molasses Cookies and Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Chip Cookies"][/caption]

One of the things that has not been able to be a priority is a weekly (or three) post. I wish that was not the case, but on the list of dire necessity it does not rank highly, maybe at some point in the future when I am a famous writer, but not right now. I often wonder if I would even be missed in the massive blog-iverse. Probably not, but I'd still like to believe that my voice matters, to someone.

[caption id="attachment_736" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="A Thanksgiving Salad"][/caption]

If you've had a chance to read my Delicious Journey, you'd know that I have a clear goal of making this blog into something. And I am more resolved than ever to do so. Starting with the new year. So awesome reader(s) enjoy your holidays and happy new year! May you have a safe, beautiful, delicious holiday! Cheers!

[caption id="attachment_738" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey Mole on handmade tortillas."][/caption]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PCTR Rodeo Beach 50k

This year's off season has been a bit different than my two others of my ultrarunning career. My first year of ultrarunning, I needed a good three weeks of no running in order to rejuvenate, recuperate and feel ready to run again. After all, I went from running 2 marathon in a year to nearly a dozen marathons or ultramarathons in one year. No wonder I was tired.

Last year, I took a good week and a half off, I seem to recall. I didn't feel like I needed it much, but the break was good for me mentally, as where I was in life was just an exhausting state of being. I was moving back from Atlanta after a temporarily indefinite stay there and trying to figure out where I was going and what I was doing with myself. I got back to running pretty quickly and have been running ever since.

This year after JFK in November, I was looking forward to a nice recovery period for the first time this year. After every race this year I have had maybe a week or so to relax and recover (or less) before turning my sights towards the next race. It was nice to think about just running and not scheduling, planning and just running (or not) what I felt. I decided to signup for the last PCTR race of the year, Rodeo Beach 50k as all of my training partners and a bunch of friends were running and I wanted to join in the fun. Plus, I wanted to see if I could run a race without specifically focusing on the race and truly allow myself to just let the day bring me what it would. Deep down, I was also hoping I might earn a hug and a mug from co-RD Sarah Spelt. She gives awesome hugs. See...

After JFK, I took a nice easy week, running 60 miles including running around at Quad Dipsea and such. I ran when I wanted and my body responded. With all the work we've been doing on my muscles at Psoas Massage and Bodywork in my weekly sessions, my legs recovered phenomenally from JFK and I decided that I would just continue with my run what I feel "offseason". Since then I have run 91 miles, 50 miles, and last week 105 miles. I have been tired, energetic, dead legs and the freshest legs ever. The 50 mile week mentioned before was my moving week from Sausalito and Seattle to San Francisco. Moving is exhausting and while I got 50 miles in Tuesday-Friday, Sat and Sunday were full of nothing but moving boxes and furniture into my 18 foot rental truck and driving down from Seattle.

Fast forward to the following Saturday, December 18 and the PCTR Rodeo Beach 50k. After hauling, lifting, carrying, driving, cleaning, organizing the new house, not to mention trying to do things to prepare for Christmas, I was standing at the start line of the race wondering what the hell I was doing and how I was ever going to muster up the energy to run 50k let alone 5 cussing feet. I had been going full out all week, for more than a week really, and really hit the wall Thursday. I had a horrible run Friday morning feeling like after 2 blocks I should go home and never run again. Then I emotionally started crashing and that didn't buoy my energy either.

But I showed up at the race nonetheless. Why not? Either I was going to run myself out of my funk for a time, for good or I wasn't. I figured I wouldn't be any worse off trying. We arrived at the start line less than 30 minutes before the start and waded through the huge crowd of people to gather numbers and say hi to friends before lacing up the Salomon's and heading up the road. The course had been rerouted off of Wolf Ridge and now would pretty much identically resemble our Thursday morning 12.5 mile loop. That meant that Brett, Nathan, Larissa, Marla, Amy and I had no excuse not to know every turn, rock and roll in the entire course. The first loop also included a jaunt up Miwok out to Coyote, down Pirates Cove and back to Tennessee Valley. The 50k and 30k started out together and before I could think twice about changing my mind and hiding in the car for a few hours, we were charging down the road towards Rodeo Valley Trail and onward to Miwok. The first few strides were a marked improvement over the previous day, but I wasn't overly excited. I went from feeling like death to death slightly warmed over, so that is not much of anything. It was a music for motivation and distraction kind of day and I found my own pace and turned on my music. The wind was crazy for the entire first loop. There were points when I thought I was going to go flying backwards like the "others" in Mary Poppins. It was not a friendly wind, but I just went with it. Nathan took off with Pete (who was running the 30k) at a nice clip and Brett was not too far behind. I was hoping they would both have good days (as with my gals Larissa, Marla and Amy) since they are gearing up for HURT. Brett had an awesome race at NF50 which was a great indicator of his fitness leading up to HURT and I was hoping that Nathan would have a good run to indicate the same. As for me, I was just happy to run all the way up Miwok and start cruising down Old Springs. My philosophy was to just get through the first loop and then I could just phone it in since the second loop was exactly our Thursday route. Heading out to Pirate's Cove, Charlie Vazac a former triathlon teammate of mine who was running the 30k after finally coming back from injury and we chatted and caught up.

And from there well, I just ran. It was pretty uneventful actually. I just ran. I felt pretty consistently slightly better than ok. I didn't bonk or have any super lows. I just got into a groove and cruised. I just ran. It was nice. Once I was in the second loop, I started passing guys and moved up about 6-8 places without working any harder. I was happy to run all the way up Miwok the second time and appreciated that there was less wind. When I hit the final aid station with just 3.7 miles to the finish, I finally allowed myself to believe and marvel for a second at my ability to run a 50k on that little energy and still run pretty well (even though comparatively I was really just cruising).

I got out on the road and kicked it up a bit, heading in for the finish, excited to see how the guys did and to be done. While I was feeling very accomplished for running well, I was really looking forward to just being done. I cruised in to the parking lot and sashayed across the finish line (literally, not figuratively) in 4:28 and as the first woman, I think 11th overall. Nathan was there at the finish line and I immediately asked him how he did and he smiled and said casually, "I won". I was so excited for him because the men's field was really fast and he trounced them and PR's by 15 minutes in the process. He ran a 3:43!!! I was super impressed. Brett had a great day running a 4:12. All of our training crew finished and it was just a fantastic day all around. And in the end, I did get my mug and a hug from Sarah.

Whether or not this off season has been truly a break, it has been a good period of time for me. I have not had the additional stress of a training regime while trying to move, get settled and handle the holidays. I have been able to truly follow my bliss and run (or not) as I want to. It is really nice. I have enjoyed it. My first real race of the season is not until March, so I am looking forward to a nice slow long build up for that and seeing how a potentially VERY interesting 2010 shapes up!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Wall

In my running, I have learned, very quickly actually, how not to hit the wall in races. I have worked out a plan that works and about 95% of the time, I execute it well and never even have to have a brush with the wall or a scare even.

I wish I could figure out how to do that in life.

For the last two weeks, I have been going full speed, all out doing the big move from Seattle (and Sausalito) to our new place in San Francisco. Moving is stressful. And top that off with the holiday season, I was expecting a bit of stress. I managed it well through the tough parts. I moved everything out of my storage unit last Saturday on my own (since the truck place called and gave me the truck a day early) into the 18 foot truck. Drove down to San Francisco on Sunday in merely 14.5 hours of driving, unloaded the truck on Monday afternoon and went to bed Monday night without a single box left to be unpacked in my room or in the kitchen. The week brought a flurry of activity and by about Thursday afternoon all I had energy left to do was collapse on my bed and take a 3 hr nap. I physically was hitting the wall. And within a matter of hours, I made another turn and smacked face first into the mental wall. And man, did that hurt. I tred water in that space until Saturday morning until about 6 miles into my 50k race and then managed to stay afloat until midday Sunday when a unwarranted lambasting sunk my spirits even lower.

A brief weekend respite.
Things that make me happy.

In reality, I should feel very accomplished since I can now tick off one of my goals that are the cornerstone of this blog: finding a place to call home. I am home. Yeah!! But instead of basking in that nice feeling, I am instead feeling like a failure. The wall has smacked me so good, every time and every direction I try to get up, it delivers another blow to keep me on my knees. It's the type of epic crisis of confidence that makes me just want to sit in the dark hiding under a blanket. It sucks to doubt your worth, to hate yourself, to be completely disappointed in yourself. And for no good reason. Instead of looking at what I have and am accomplishing, I can't stop thinking about all the things I haven't, the failures, the fall shorts.

Even feeling that way, I am able to not feel hopeless or even worried really. I know the feeling will pass. I have patience. When I was in Seattle last week, my cousin sang me a song she wrote about patience and it was beautiful. She reminded me that I have been and am able to be incredibly patient and wait for the right thing to come along. I will do what I can to make myself feel better and just ride it out, hopefully without blooding and bruising myself too much. I am proud of myself for trying to work through this on my own. I may have self-doubts, I may feel oppressively sad at moments, I may even loathe myself briefly but I also know that I am not really (or at least can work at not being) those things I am unable to stop telling myself currently. I have hung up the phone two rings in, deleted emails a half hour in the making in an attempt to see if I can handle this on my own. I have practiced good self-nurturing for the most part and even questioned writing this post. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade. I don't want to be a downer, whinner. I am annoyed with myself for feeling this way. It will pass, and I cannot tell you how much I look forward to that happening.... I have much too much to still accomplish and do and live to occupy the doldrums for long.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home, let me go home

For me this year (and beyond) has been typified by my spontaneity, not my commitment. At least to place. I have floated and bounced. Searched and sought. Pondered and thought. Decided and undecided. I have for a long time, maybe even since I left San Francisco two years ago, never felt home. I have felt restless and unsatisfied with solutions that I thought were the answers to my searching.

It is a funny thing, signing a lease. It is a funny thing when it means that you have found your home again. I have signed many a lease since leaving SF and never felt home. I have lived in beautiful places, made my self beautiful spaces but never felt home. I feel home now. I signed on the dotted line and even if it is just an apartment with my sister, a block away from where we use to live together a few years ago, it is still my home. That excites me. I am going up to Seattle this weekend and taking my stuff out of storage and that blows my mind even more. I can unfolding my life only in part, stop living with one foot out the door. I haven't wanted to for a long time, but it took more than just sheer willpower to make it so. As I discussed in earlier posts on this blog, finding a home was one of my goals or objectives along my delicious journey. I discussed leaving Seattle many months ago and not looking forward to the road. Not looking forward to the open ended, no answer to "when will you be back?" or even "where do you live?". I didn't know. And now I do. Cue the music and ride off into the sunset? Nope, but in a long of ways, establishing a firm place of residence is a closing of a chapter, a book, a leg of the journey. No longer can I expend my mental energy in finding my place in the world. Instead I can expend it finding my way in the world from the springboard of home. I can take it off my plate. It also opens me up to things that haven't been possible, things I have longingly wanted but been unable to touch for a while: committment, routine, regular every day life.

I am not balking at the vagabond life I have been leading. Heck no! Don't get me wrong, it suits a part of my personality. But routine and every day life do too. And as I mentioned in my shadows on the wall posting, I have a pretty radtastic "regular" life, so committing to that is not scary at all! This new chapter of my life is unfolding and I am embracing it, warts and all, with open arms. I get giddy thinking about monthly girls nights and thursday morning early morning runs. Sunday dinners and crossing things off the list. I am looking forward to balance, looking forward to all the fun things that come along with having a home (like not having stuff in storage! Dinner parties! Etc). I am looking forward to having this constant struggle and question, not be a constant struggle and question. Instead, I can focus my attention on my career, my running, and finding a way to write that book, those blog and open that cafe or food company. From here I launch. It is exciting, terrifying, a drastic change and only a subtle move at the same time. It is an adventure.

Enough talk for now, I need to go move another load of stuff to the new place!

Run for your life! Pacing the North Face 50

This past weekend, just two weeks after racing JFK 50, but feeling like it was nothing but a distant memory I headed out to my "backyard", the Marin Headlands to cheer, crew (aka collect headlamps) and pace at the North Face 50 miler. I had a bunch of friends out there including training partners, Brett, Larissa and tons of the Endurables. Not to mention my speedy buddy Caitlin and lots of friends from all over. This race draws a ton of people due to the $10,000 prize purse.

Michael Wardian, my friend and fellow USA 100k Teammate, had asked me to pace for the last 20 miles and since I was feeling well recovered, I decided that, despite the fact that I was sure there was no way in hell I could keep up, I would agree to it. Nathan was pacing Brett and so we headed out in the wee hours of the morning to see our friends come through Muir Beach the first time before heading up to Pantoll to get ready to pace.

It was freaking cold up there. I saw tons of friends up at Pantoll including Nikki, Kami, Prudence, Trisha Steidl, Bryon Powell, Ed (Caitlin's boyfriend), Jeri Howland and plenty others I am sure I am forgetting (sorry!). It was really fun to watch all the runners coming in, not so fun to stand there and shiver, but as soon as Uli Steidl and Geoff Roes came through, I had to be ready. Michael's goal was to run for the win, so I knew I would have to run the heck out of some super tough trails. Before I could think twice or question for the millionth time if I was ready, he came screaming through Pantoll and we headed down Bootjack, Lost, etc over some pretty technical terrain. It took me a minute to get my legs warmed up, but once they got going I really needed them. I was pretty much running as hard as I could to push the pace for him. He had had a bad bonk on Coastal and had slipped out of the top 10 and was now hunting to get it back. Running that hard, all I could think was: "I am going to run as hard as I can until I can't. I am just going to run as hard as I can until he drops me". There were definitely moments where I felt that point was closer than others. We picked off a few runners and kept cranking along Redwood Creek trail back to Muir Beach. I was behind Michael and merely hanging on for dear life but encouraging him and talking to him. I felt like I was running hard enough that at any moment I could or would go smashing into threshold at any second. I never did though.

We managed to do good enough work to bring Michael back up to 5th place. With less than a mile and a half to go Leigh Schmitt came zooming up on us like he was on a bicycle. Mike said, "sorry Leigh but I can't let you beat me now." And took off at Michael Wardian sub 2:20 marathoner pace. I was spent and I simply cannot run that fast, but I had done my job. It was incredible to watch him drop the hammer and protect his position.

I was super stoked to be a part of Mike's race. As much as I helped him, which he assured me I did, he also taught me something at the same time. I learned that I can run at a pace which seems beyond comfort, outside of myself, along the edge of the knife on some seriously difficult terrain and hold on. Not only hold on, but still have the power to push up some hills that use to make me cry like a colicky baby. It was awesome. Running in the "pain cave" was something I wanted to learn to do and by pacing someone significantly faster than I am, I was able to go there. It was awesome. I was worked after those 20 miles.

All in all it was a great day. Uli won, Caitlin won ( read their accounts here and here). Brett massively PR'd and had fun doing it! A huge congrats to all the finishers! It was an awesome day. I was super stoked to finish off the day by having dinner with my Salomon crew and the next day did a short, sleepy, sore run to top my week out at 91 miles. Pretty crazy that it was my second week back from JFK and I did 91 miles. And that is with no doubles and feeling phenomenal the whole time! Cool!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sink, Swin or Buoy. The art of being a friend.

We all feel like this sometimes? Like we are locked up in prison, trapped, screaming to get out of our lives, circumstances, spaces or heads. It is not a nice feeling. I don't currently feel that way and I can say that is a big relief. I have spent a lot of time in that space. Believe me. A charmed life it has not been. Charming and cute at times, but I am sure if I counted my life experiences like pile of poker chips, the good ones would only in the past few years be making a move towards being even.

And I am not complaining. I love my life. Whatever it has taken to get me where I am, I accept it as part of the journey. Good or bad, Amor Fati, I accept it. Because if you take any of it away, I might not be where I am now and I like where I am. I like who I am. And I feel the same way even when I don't feel like this.....

But this post is not about my struggles.

While I am really enjoying the ebbs and flows my journey is currently taking, I know that not everyone I know and care about is in the same boat. For some, it is drastically hard times. For some, it is their darkest hour. For some, it is not easy right now. I can relate to that. I can understand that. I know what it is like to cry yourself to sleep night after night for months and months. I know what it is like to feel like you have no idea when the sun will shine again. It freaking sucks.

When people I care about are unhappy, struggling or having a hard time in the past, I have gone way past empathy and often found myself feeling a part of or responsible for their issues. Even though I know I am only responsible for myself, I am what is known as a "sensitive". I can't turn it off that I become sad when someone I know is sad. It usually works with genuine happiness to, so I'll take it. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to navigate knowing that about myself. I remember this time last year my joke was "I don't have any problems of my own, I only have other people's". That didn't actually help the other's with problem or myself. What was helpful was being an available, willing to listen, willing to hug and console.

I have slowed learned to be an empathetic, available friend but in a way that actually is helpful and healthy to both people. Remember a while ago when I was talking about being like a little boat being tossed around in a storm? And how helpful it was to have friends who didn't jump in my sinking ship and wallow in it, they threw me light teethers to key me upright until I was able to do it for myself. I likened it to a parent's hands under a child on the monkey bars. For me, I know that when I have a problem or feeling, I want to address it, I want to deal with it, I want to sort it. I don't want someone else to. If someone else does, than its bound to come back to me later. The little teethers, the guiding hands gave me a confidence to get through the storm, ship not sunk, back to calm seas.

Through that experience I again confirmed what I have learned through self-work, reading and Al-Anon, that people don't need to be knee deep in the mud with you to be sympathetic, supportive or helpful. In fact, it is the opposite of helpful. It is nice to realize that instead of jumping in the sinking ship and yelling for a bucket, it is better to stay firmly and safely in your own boat, but throw a line to someone else. It is better to stand on the edge of the quicksand and offer a branch, instead of diving in after someone. It was a revelation to realize this. I mean, if I think about my own sensitive nature, than shouldn't I think that someone else could have their spirits lifted by my happiness and joy at life?

I love my friends and family intensely. It pains me when they hurt. I have to work really hard at NOT trying to fix them. I want to fix, I want to help. And the reality is, I cannot. All I can do is be available, be strong, be happy, be helpful, listen well and offer a hug or a nice warm meal. I can be present. And that is all. I went for a run today, it turned into a very long run because I was trying to work through some of these feelings. I was trying to run my way out of others sadness so that I could be of use, be good to them. And it worked. I started to hum, "Lean on Me". And all of the above unfolded to me. And then I thought, what helps me when I am feeling down? A perfectly happy song. It may not change life, but it is a reminder of joy, it is a reminder of where life will be again. Today, that song(s) were this.... Listen and be well....

edward sharpe and the magnetic zeros on NPR's Tiny Desk

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