Monthly Archives: August 2011

6 things I’ve learned from a year in North Carolina

I can’t believe it’s been a year since we packed up our little apartment in Greenwich Village and schlepped all our stuff down to Raleigh.

What a pain that was.  But I’ve learned quite a bit in the last twelve months – my first year as a wanna-be Southerner.  Such as:

1) You’ve gotta have a college team.

Although…I don’t.  Meh.  Saturday is Football Day down here.  I prefer Sunday Fundays.  And don’t even get me started on springtime…I don’t care about college basketball!  I want to, really, but I just can’t!  It’s too much to keep up with.

Everyone down here gets all riled up over college sports.  I much prefer m MLB and NFL, both of which are afterthoughts around here.

(A couple of people asked about the sweatshirt I’m wearing in this pic.  Nah, I don’t have any affiliation with UNC.  The sweatshirt was purchased at the airport on our way to Maine a couple of weeks ago, when my brilliant husband realized he hadn’t packed any sort of jacket.  I currently have a crush on it because it is very soft, and also because I love baby blue.)

2) Cheese salad exists.  And it’s glorious.

“Pimento cheese? What the hell is that?”  I remember asking a friend during my first few weeks here.  Well…it’s cheese and mayonnaise and peppers and it’s effing brilliant.

The South does food good.  Cheese salads.  Fried bread.  Fatty grilled meats. Mmmm.

But there’s also the State Farmers Market which is stocked with farm-fresh fruits and veggies year-round, and the plethora of restaurants who cater to that whole “farm-to-table” crowd.  I would say that, overall, it’s a great combination.  This girl will always, henceforth, have a soft spot in her heart for hush puppies.  But I can also appreciate a freshly-picked basket of butter beans.

3) Summer is the off-season…

Honestly, the thing I dreaded most about moving down here was the summer.

Now, sitting on the home stretch of the horrible thing, I think I can say it’s…survivable.  I don’t think I anticipated how thoroughly the humidity would annihilate my running pace, or how completely the race calendar would clear out from June to August, but whatever…it was sucky and slow and somewhat humbling, but I made it through.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

4) …but any type of natural disaster can strike here at any time.

For reals.  I did not think I’d be dealing with earthquakes out here.

Not that any of the quakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or storms have actually done any damage to me, personally, but they’re still there, and still kinda scary.  At least we don’t have to deal with blizzards.  (Good lord, I’m pretty sure this city would self-destruct if that happened.  They close the schools here when there’s an inch of snow!)

5) The closer you get to the equator, the bigger the bugs get.

I know.  It’s probably the weather, or the cost of living.  I can’t disagree.

But it still shocked me when I had to hurdle over a cicada corpse the size of a kitten on my run this morning.

6) Southerners are friendly.  Really, really friendly.

So, that emergency trip to Rite Aid to replenish your tampon supply.  Plan on spending a few minutes with the cashier, because she’ll probably want to chat.

That’s just how people down here are.  It’s not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a good thing.  But it took a little getting used to.

Happy one-year-in-Raleigh to me!

The question I most often get is: do you like it there?

The answer is: Yeah…I think I do.

I still miss NYC, and as a born-and-raised-on-the-west-coast girl, sometimes home seems awfully far away (especially with an annoyingly sparse selection of direct flights out of here).  But as far as places go, you can definitely do a lot worse than North Carolina.  The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, and I definitely look forward to relishing some mild fall and winter weather while the rest of the eastern seaboard gets slammed with cold and snow.

All in all, I would say it’s been a pretty good year.

Chop it?

Some days, you just don’t have much to say.

This morning, I got up early and went to HEAT class.  I got home at 7:15 AM to only to remember that my morning meeting had been cancelled, leaving me with a couple of hours to kill before work.

I’ve been sitting here for 90 minutes now, dinking around on the internet and trying to think of something profound to write about.  But I’ve got nothin’.

So instead I’m going to ask for your assistance in making an Important Life Decision.

Namely: I have a hair appointment on Thursday.

I love having longer hair and I think that long hair looks better on me than short hair.  But this shit is becoming kind of a pain in the ass lately.  Even though I usually only deal with washing/blowdrying it every couple of days, it’s still getting on my nerves.  There’s just a ton of it.

Ahem, #whitegirlproblems.

Anyway, a couple of years ago (I think this was summer 2009?) it was much shorter, and I actually liked it okay, although I look royally pissed about something (not my hair) in this pic:

Cut?  Don’t cut?  What would you do?

(And I’m not doing some half-assed midway just-below-the-shoulders cut.  On principle.  It’s either getting trimmed or getting chopped!)

I’ve been stressing about this all week.  You can understand why it’s difficult to focus on anything else.

I think I need a beer.

Maybe I can blog about that tomorrow.

Fig off

I’ve moved around a lot as an adult.  California, New England, New York, the South.  But food-wise, a little piece of my palate will always belong to the five years I spent in Cleveland, Ohio, and a little restaurant called The Flying Fig.

Barely 24 years old, I was already weary of the trials of living in a big city when I moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland.  They were, unequivocally, white-girl problems, and specifically the problems of a white girl who spends way too much money on food and drink and silly nightlife shenanigans.

“Oh, L.A. is awesome, but it’s so hard to get reservations anywhere,” I would complain while waiting in line behind one velvet rope or another.

My 23-year-old self is kind of embarrassing, actually.

Anyway.  I moved to Cleveland along with the (future) hubs and we found ourselves perched atop a seemingly untapped foodie pyramid.  The hottest restaurants? You could actually get reservations at them.  And a dinner there wouldn’t empty your bank account.  No, you probably weren’t going to dine alongside Elizabeth Berkley*, but there was indeed excellent food to be had in Ohio.

Our first major restaurant discovery was The Flying Fig.

Their braised short rib is still one of my top-five favorite meals.  Ever.  I’m convinced that this dish could go up against any restaurant in New York or L.A. and kick ass.

And their house-made Fig Ice Cream with Molten Chocolate Cake is still an often-discussed dessert in our household.

This weekend, with a storm raging outside and a counter full of ripe, in-season figs, I tried to replicate it.

Molten Chocolate Cake is actually really easy: I used this recipe from Food & Wine.

A frozen fig dessert is slightly more complicated, but I found a recipe that sounded like a winner at My Best Day Ever.  I converted it and halved it, so I’m going to repeat my version here:

Burnt Fig Semi-Freddo

Serves 4-6

  • One green-basket-full of ripe figs – about 8-10 – finely chopped
  • 1/3 C brown sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 C superfine (castor) sugar
  • 1/2 C cream, whipped to stiff peaks
  • 1.5 TBSP cream, unwhipped
  • 1 TSP fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high.  Add figs and cook until sticky residue steaks across pan, about 2 minutes.  Add brown sugar and reduce heat to medium low.  Cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until jam-like, about 20 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and set pan aside to cool.  Once slightly cooled, stir in 1.5 TBSP of unwhipped cream.  Cool mixture to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, whip egg yolks with a hand mixer until thick and pale yellow.  Add superfine sugar a little at a time, while continuing to whip the mixture.

Carefully fold whipped cream in to egg mixture, taking care not to lose volume.  Fold in fig mixture.  Pour into a freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 12 hours before serving.

The whole thing together – warm molten cake with chilled fig semi-freddo – was absolutely awesome.  As good as the Flying Fig verion?  Well…almost.

Some running stats to end the week:

I guess I did okay with everything this week except strength training….um, story of my (running) life.  HEAT studios, I will see you this week!

*Jesse Spano favored my neighborhood sushi joint in Westwood.  Her signed Showgirls poster was on the wall and she was always there when we went there.  Probably the closest brush with fame I’ll ever have….

Sparklin’ Hurricanes

Hey, did y’all know there’s a hurricane barging up the east coast this weekend?

All of the projections foretold that Raleigh was likely to be on the outer edge of Irene’s path, but just in case, I decided to stock up on supplies on Friday. Naturally, I went to the liquor store.

As I smugly placed my bottles on the checkout counter – one bottle each of light rum and dark rum – I confided to the cashier: “I’m making Hurricanes this weekend.”

“How very original,” he replied dryly.

I guess I wasn’t the only one who had that idea.

So I decided to make something a little different.  You could call it a Mimosacane.  Or a Sparklin’ Hurricane.  It was delicious.

Sparklin’ Hurricane

  • 1 oz light rum
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 2-3 oz 100% mango-orange juice
  • Splash of sparkling wine or Champagne
  • Maraschino cherry, + 1 TSP of its juice

Combine both rums and juice in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain in to flutes.  Add 1 TSP juice from the maraschino cherry bottle.  Top with a splash of bubbles and drop a cherry or two down to the bottom.

This is a wonderful thing to drink on a Saturday afternoon, or on  any day where you’ve basically written off any possibility of productive activity on account of circumstances beyond your control.

(In other words: every day in the life of a spoiled household pet.)

Downtown Raleigh ended up getting a full day of solid rain and wind, but nothing too crazy – at least compared to what the coastal cities have or will experience(d). Around here, we eyed the windows suspiciously as they rattled in the gusty wind and jumped every time we heard the startling bang of a transformer blowing, but we never lost power, thankfully.

Bizarrely beautiful post-Irene sky:

(Unedited photo.  Crazy colors.)

Well, there’s a bottle open, so…

I’ve been seeing this LA BUBBLY stuff at Whole Foods for a couple of months now.  I can’t seem to shake the feeling that it’s some sort of hipster joke, but I have to admit, it’s not a bad sparkling wine.  It is apparently of Chilean origin but I have no idea what’s in it.  Fairly aggressive bubbles with crisp apple and lemon, but also a little hint of something more comforting, like vanilla or hazelnuts or sugar cookie.

Bottom Line: Yes, actually, I think this is a likable bottle and a decent buy. (Purchased at Whole Foods, $13.)

Okay…back to watching Caddyshack.  (At least I’ve got that goin’ for me!)  If you’re in the storm’s path, stay safe and dry!

A short and fast one

I never learn.  Not when it comes to pacing myself.  And I’m not sure that there’s much more to say about this one.  But as usual, I’ll try.

The assignment: 3 X 1000M at current 5K pace.

The scene: a soft, but fairly straight and flat, stretch of woodchip trail by a shady lake

The results: Umm….

That…is not 5K pace.  (I wish it were!)

So, going in to the workout, I did some head-math (accuracy rate: 42%) and figured that if my current 5K pace were somewhere in the 6:50-7:00/mile range, I should be shooting for 4:15 or so on this workout.

Then I got to the workout and there was a guy there who was a nineteen-something 5K runner and I decided to just try to stick with him.  (Dumb move…)

At the end of the first repeat, I felt awesome!  I even asked the coach: are you sure that was a thousand meters? Yep, measured it multiple times, he said.

Feeling smug about my ability to prance around at sub-6-minute pace and keep right on this faster dude’s heels, I started the second repeat with a cocky grin on my face.  It only took about 200M to wipe it right the hell off.

That is why you don’t start out too fast. Duh.  All of a sudden it felt like I was running through glue.  I huffed and puffed and tried to whine, but there was no one to whine to because I’d already been left in the dust.  Somehow, I finished the next two repeats and although it felt like I was running S-L-O-W, I ended the workout pretty respectably (and well under my goal mark, anyway).

What does any of this mean?  I have no idea.  I kind of wonder if I could have held consistently around 4:00 if I hadn’t gone out too fast.  And even then…it’s a short workout.  Five of those suckers would perhaps be more telling. But maybe I should get after a 5K or two in the next few weeks and see where things stand.  And I’ll try to remember not to go out too fast.  *snort*  Yeah, right…

Anyway.

After I got home from my workout, I washed the dirt off my ankles and ate a short-and-fast dinner inspired by a recipe from this awesome cookbook that my husband got me for my birthday:

Cheesy title, but I’ve been drooling over these simple seasonal recipes since I first opened the book a couple of weeks ago.  (Andrea Reusing is the chef-owner of award-winning restaurant Lantern in Chapel Hill.)

In the “summer” section, the first recipe I flagged was a spicy melon salad. I switched it up just a little bit, but it was delicious!

If this salad doesn’t convince you that fish sauce is indeed underrated, I don’t know what will.

Spicy Cantaloupe Salad [Adapted from Cooking In The Moment by Andrea Reusing]

Serves 4 as an appetizer or side

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe, cut into bite-sized cubes
  • Half of one small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1/4 C fresh lime juice (two limes)
  • 2 TBSP fish sauce
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • 1 TSP Sriracha sauce (or more/less to taste)
  • Splash of sweetened rice vinegar
  • Handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • Handful of roasted salted peanuts, chopped

Combine cantaloupe and onion in a large bowl.  Whisk together lime juice, fish sauce, honey, Sriracha and vinegar.  Pour over melon and onion and toss to coat.  Top with mint and peanuts.  Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.  Serve chilled, tossing again just before serving.

We enjoyed it with some grilled flank steak (marinated in the morning) and corn on the cob for a quick and easy dinner:

Summer all the way.

Now will everyone please stop talking about pumpkin-flavored crap already? I’m just as excited for autumn as the next girl (COOLER RUNNING WEATHER) but it’s still August!

Don’t you wish you’d married me?

When I was little, we had this geriatric popcorn popper.  Seriously, I think the thing was one of the first air poppers to roll off the assembly line in the seventies.  It was my favorite kitchen appliance.

First, you had to survive plugging it in; if you didn’t do it just right, you’d get a smart shock from its tattered cord.  It would cough and sputter to life, sending shards of kernel and burned detritus into the air.

I’d pour the kernels in and then press my little forehead against the plastic cover.  More than once, the hot air singed my eyebrows or my bangs as I peered impatiently at the trembling yellow kernels, waiting for the first one to burst.

But the real thrill came after those first tentative pops, when the rest of the kernels caught on and suddenly an unstoppable wave of fluffy white came cascading down the chute.  I’d turn the bowl feverishly, trying to catch all of it. Invariably, a bunch of popcorn would end up on the floor and my mom would come in and make me clean it up while she tended to the much more illustrious task of buttering and salting the family snack.

Then I’d scurry into the living room with my singed bangs, clutching the bowl, and plop down to watch Step By Step or whatever.

It’s funny how a simple food can recall such vivid memories.

So when my husband mentioned a few weeks ago that it would be nice if we had a popcorn popper, I knew immediately what I was getting him for his birthday.

Lucky guy, eh?

So much sleeker and quieter than the air popper of my youth.  But the thrill of watching that ebullient tide of popcorn come down the chute is just the same.  And the “butter warmer” is just as useless.

Microwave and a pastry brush FTW.

My gift-giving may not be romantic, but it is always practical and delicious.

A cozy mug of beer to go with our late-night popcorn snack:

This Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale from North Coast Brewing Company was surprisingly fruity!  Lots of apple, banana and nectarine alongside something mildly floral but not perfume-y – like honeysuckle or rosewater.  For a strong beer, it was very easy to drink and I wished I had another on hand.  7.6% ABV.

Bottom line: Get it!  (Purchased at Total Wine, $2.25/12 oz)

Also: after complaining about being totally unmotivated about running the other day, I had a great run yesterday.  9 miles at something approximating 8-minute pace.  I haven’t run that fast in months!  It wasn’t exactly easy, but sometimes you’ve just gotta make yourself do it.

To  bring things full circle here with a horrible analogy, I’m hoping that run was like the burst of that first tentative kernel, and that there’s gonna be a whole bowlful coming down the chute this fall.

(I told you it was horrible!)

What was your favorite snack as a kid?

Peach Pound Cake with Candied Basil

Well, we made it home last night.  It was after 3 AM when our plane’s wheels touched the runway at RDU and nearly an hour after that when my head finally touched my pillow.

Long day.

No amount of coffee was gonna make getting out of bed this morning a pleasant task, but I did smile when I realized I had goodies in the mail!

Cookies!  Thank you, Blogger Bake Swap, for a fabulous breakfast this morning! These biscuit-y, buttery cookies were perfect with my morning coffee.   Hey Halley, can I have the recipe? :)

I hope she is enjoying the peachy pound cake I sent as much as I’m enjoying her cookies!

I made this Georgia Peach Pound Cake from A Well-Seasoned Life – except with North Carolina peaches, of course.  I baked it in a loaf pan for ease of shipping and topped it with some candied basil leaves.

I had never candied a basil leaf (or any kind of leaf) before and it was kind of fun.  You just dredge ’em in whipped egg whites, dunk them in superfine sugar, and then lay they out to dry for a couple of hours.

Um…with all of these baked goods floating around here, I should probably be running a little more.

Honestly, I’m feeling a little unfocused at the moment when it comes to my workouts.  I have a mile race in a month that I haven’t really trained for, and aside from the OMG FUNSIES NOT REALLY RACING marathon in November, the calendar is pretty blank.

I’d assumed I’d focus on 5K-type stuff this fall, but I feel like I’m already behind the ball on that one.

I’d assumed that doing these long runs with the hubs to help get him through his first-ever marathon training cycle wouldn’t tire me out on account of the easier pace, but I’m finding that just because I’m not running as fast doesn’t mean I won’t be stiff and sore.  If anything, I’m strangely sore in different places.  I think running slower causes me to change my form.

I’d assumed that I’d feel refreshed and renewed and excited about running hard again after a summer of lazy base-building, but I don’t feel that way at all.

Sigh.

Goal for next week: miles run > cookies eaten.

The rubber boob, and other stories

Dear US Airways, Air Traffic Control, the FAA and the Wright Brothers:

Shank you very much for stranding me in the Portland airport all afternoon.

And it’s one of those maddening delays where no one seems to have any idea of what’s actually happening and they just keep adding 30 minutes to the departure time.  It’s 9 PM and we still have to connect through PHL, which seems pretty unlikely at this point.  Odds of getting home tonight are looking rather low.

Oh well.  At least the wedding was amazing and we had a fantastic weekend of fun with friends up here in Maine!

Saturday started off with a sort of Drinking Olympics that involved a bottle of vodka, some orange juice, log balancing and a beach ball.

(In other words: Take a bunch of Harvard Business School graduates and put them on a lawn with some booze and some toys and they’ll make up ridiculous games, like seeing how many times they can collectively volley an inflatable sphere.  Answer: 1,367.)

Also, we found a rubber boob in the woods:

Like, in the woods.  I am still trying to wrap my head around the circumstances that would have resulted in this juggy little gem being abandoned in the woods behind a random cottage on an island in Maine.  Bachelor party?  Medical research?  Educational prop?  Who knows!

I tried to wash it in the pond, but it was rather soiled.  I guess it had been in the woods for quite a while.

Kind of fascinating, actually.

Anyway.

We managed to clean up in time to attend the gorgeous wedding ceremony and reception, both of which were right on the water.  Could not have been more beautiful.

Congrats, Kate and Sam!

Homeward bound?  I hope so!

Soft shell lobster

Of course we are going to eat lobster on this trip.  The stuff is cheaper than chicken up here!

I pedaled the beermobile down to the little dockside seafood shop last night in search of some live dinner.  I was a little surprised when the guy working there asked me if I wanted hard shell or soft shell lobsters.

I had never even heard of soft shell lobsters.  My mind immediately conjured images of deliciously crispy shells that melt in your mouth – like soft shell crab.  My mouth started to water.  But before I could even start to figure out how the heck I was going to rig up a deep fryer with the cabin’s spartan kitchenware, my hopes were dashed.

As it turns out, soft shell lobsters aren’t all that different from hard shell lobsters.  Their shells are softer (duh) because it’s summertime and they’ve just molted.  You can’t, however, eat the shells.  (They are easier to crack, though.)

Also, they’re generally only sold locally because they don’t ship well.  Thus, they are cheaper.

Cheaper?  I’ll take four, please.

The lobster-monger disappeared to the dock below (talk about fresh!) and returned with a heavy bag.  He probably thought I was feeding a full family and not just me and my husband.

Oh well.

I nestled the bag of lobsters in to the basket of the beermobile and pedaled home, occasionally flinching at the eerie movements and scraping noises coming from inside the bag.

Having done my part, I plopped the wiggling parcel on the counter, opened a beer, and let the hubs take over.

First, he transferred them from the bag to a big pot of cold water.  Freshwater. They were kicking like crazy coming out of the bag, but after a few minutes in the water they piped down.

(Supposedly this is a more humane way to kill them, as they lose consciousness or something before you cook them?)

Soft shell lobsters cook more quickly than regular lobsters.  I boiled our four pound-and-a-halfers for just twelve minutes (as opposed to fifteen).

Apparently there’s no real consensus in the Lobster World (in which, incidentally, I really wouldn’t mind living) on whether soft shell or hard shell lobsters are better.  Some say the meat of the softies is sweeter, but it also has a higher water content (the lobsters retain water when they molt), so it’s not quite as dense and rich.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell much of a difference.  It was really damn tasty.

Although maybe part of that was the vat of drawn butter…

Does this count as a brick workout?

A chilly breeze danced with the curtains and kissed my face as I awoke this morning.  I hate mornings, but this one wasn’t so bad.  Sure, I was staring down my weekly long run, but today I got to do it in the gloriously cool and relatively dry air of coastal Maine.

We’re up here for a wedding this weekend, on a little island off the coast of Portland, and decided to come a couple of days early and enjoy a break from the sweaty southern summer.  Our cottage (soon to be filled with a boisterous crew of friends) is cute and quaint and has a lovely view of the water.   The island itself it rather cute and quaint as well: 4.5 miles around, and bikes and golf carts solidly outnumber cars.

It’s nerdy, but I’ve been looking forward to running up here for several weeks now.  That is how much I hate the heat and humidity.  It was pretty awesome to just run again, without worrying about soaking through my shirt or feeling like I got hit by a truck every step of the way.

Fourteen miles done.  Now on to bigger problems.  Namely, how to stock the cabin with provisions without a vehicle.

Meet the beermobile:

The island’s little store is exactly 1.5 miles from our cabin.  I thought about walking, but beer is pretty heavy.  Then the bride offered to let me borrow her car, but I figured she probably has more important things to worry about than how my friends and I are going to transport our booze.  Renting this sweet mint-colored bike with a basket seemed like a perfect solution!

(And actually…pedaling around a little feels pretty good on my stiff long-run legs.  Maybe they should start doing that bike-run thing in reverse!)

Anyway.  I should keep this short because it’s vacation, and who wants to spend their vacation banging on their laptop?  I’m off to enjoy some more gorgeous scenery.  With its rocky beaches, Maine reminds me a lot of Washington state where I grew up:

Time to procure the last round of provisions so I can spend the rest of the afternoon doing this:

Perfection.