Category Archives: General Food Chatter

Weekend at porky’s

I swear, this wasn’t intentional.

Friday night: Pizza from Antico’s (yeah…not on the low-carbage plan) topped with prosciutto and spicy sopressata.

Saturday: Sole food intake: the Atlanta BBQ Festival. All pork, all day.

Sunday morning: Usual weekend breakfast of bacon, eggs, fruit.

Really, I have nothing against pigs that lead me to consume them so enthusiastically over the weekend. It just happened.

Our adventure-walk to Atlanta BBQ Fest started in the early afternoon. The festival was within strolling distance from our house, and as we departed around noon, it seemed like a no-brainer to fix some road sodas for the journey.

But we had slept in, had worked out, had not really had a real breakfast…so I decided to combine the smoothie concept with the daiquiri concept and make us cardboard cups full of blended frozen strawberries and rum.

I will say, in retrospect: that shit kicked my ass.

We got to the BBQ Fest and immediately started in on the dollar samples. The festival is an actual competition, and the competitors offer dixie cups of their entries for a buck a pop. After about fifteen of these, I was ready for a beer. And some ribs.

I’d heard good things about Williamson Brothers, but they’re OTP (outside the perimeter) and we don’t venture there very often. But after this box of deliciousness, I’d be willing to make the trip.

Cole slaw…counts as vegetables? Maybe?

The ribs melted off the bone without being overly fatty, and the flavor was in the meat – not totally dependent on the sauce. Yum.

Baby back rib score: four out of five. Although I had sucked down that ridiculous “daiquiri” and two (three?) beers, so….

…home we walked, and with a belly completely stuffed with roasted pork, I fell asleep. For the night. Literally: I only consumed frozen strawberries, rum, pork and beer that day. Although we resisted this:

Um, WAT….you chase the lemonade with the vodka? That is brilliant.

We went home and passed out. Totally full of slow-cooked pork, there was nothing more that the day could offer us.

Sunday was a little more balanced. It started out with our usual weekend breakfast of eggs, bacon, fruit.

(Still: the pork theme, though….)

And after digesting for a couple of hours, I headed out on a run. It was 1 PM and 85+  degrees. I loosely planned to make it five miles.

But…oddly enough, I felt good. And having missed my usual Saturday long run (because I was really sore from lifting on Thursday and Friday) I decided to go for something a little longer on this Sunday afternoon.

10 miles. Hilly as hell. High eighties, no water, no “fuel.” And although most of the run wasn’t super speedy (around 9:00 pace) I managed to crank out a couple of sub-8 miles at the end, which included some monster hills (um…some of the same hills I’ll face at the Atlanta Half in November).

I know I  should be running more mileage right now. Especially with a goal half in November.

But I’ll take a relaxed 10 on a pork-dominated weekend.

Salmon of death

I was rather pleased with myself last night. After a particularly hard boot camp, I came home and made this gorgeous, delicious, and (most importantly) healthy dinner.

Salmon (this salmon, to be exact), asparagus, sweet potatoes. I plopped down in front of the TV with my plate and a big glass of water and proceeded to happily (if a bit smugly) enjoy each bite, thinking about how a few months ago I probably would have gone for a frozen pizza and a pint of beer when eating late after a tough workout.

As I speared one of the last flakes of fish and dredged it through the remaining sauce, I felt a little prickle in the back of my throat. So I swallowed the sweet potato I’d been chewing and chased it with a big glug of water.

But that didn’t help. It felt like I’d taken an unlatched safety pin down the hatch.

My first instinct was to cough. Hard.

I turned around and stood (I’d been sitting on the floor) so that I could, you know, get my back in to it. Or something. My husband gaped in shock as I stood there hacking, hinged at the hip over our brand new white sofa.

By now it was clear that I had a rusty nail stuck in my tonsils and no amount of coughing was going to dislodge it. Without my really thinking about it, my body engaged its next line of defense and began to move stuff back up from the other direction.

I think my husband knew this was coming before I did, because he sprinted to the kitchen for a bowl and returned just in time for me to grab it and deposit my entire gorgeous, delicious, and healthy dinner.

But this fucking thing – which was now a giant prehistoric wooly-mammoth-slaying spear – was still stuck in my throat.

At this point, things got a little gross. I apologize if this makes you squeamish.

With the threat of upchucking out of the way, the gag reflex was far less threatening. So I reached down my throat and, using my thumb and index finger like a pair of clumsy tweezers, probed around the squishy maze of tonsil and trachea and uvula until I grasped the world’s smallest salmon bone and triumphantly pulled it out.

“Look at this!” I called to my husband, who was standing five feet away regarding me with a saucer-eyed mix of concern, horror, and awe.

We marveled at the fact that such a tiny piece of bone could cause such drama. I said something about how I had a newfound respect for bears, eating fish straight out of the river and all. My husband noted that Gollum must have been, in this respect, a total bad ass.

“Also, I’m really glad you didn’t puke on the couch,” he confessed.

I nodded. This was understandable. It is a brand new white couch.

“That was scary, but I’m really upset that I parted with all of that food,” I admitted. Wild salmon isn’t cheap.

So that’s my PSA for today: careful with them bones. I had never experienced anything like this, but it was sufficiently frightening and gross that I’ll definitely be more cautious when eating fish from now on.

Since I had to replace those lost dinner calories somehow, I ate a chocolate-dipped vanilla bar.

Junk food. It may kill you in the long run, but at least my ice cream has never tried to choke me.

Don’t eat this three days before a marathon

Last night, I met my friend Gesina for dinner at a casual little sushi joint down the street. Over bottles of Kirin Light, we caught up on important matters such as her new haircut (totally hot), my lack of a job (starting to get annoying), and race week tapering (she’s running a half this weekend, and of course I have my full on Saturday).

And then we got down to the business of fish and roll selection. We are girls who like to eat.

Spicy Tuna Roll, Wasabi Dynamite Roll, Asparagus Tempura Roll. A few pieces of sushi – or sashimi? No, sushi…we need pre-race carbs! How about one more roll…

The list of rolls was long, and eventually I gave up on reading each and every description and started just scanning for money ingredients. Like eel sauce.

“How about the White Roll?” I suggested. It sounded downright decadent. “Salmon, cream cheese, tempura crunch, and eel sauce wrapped with escloar.”

I paused for a second and thought about that last one. “Wait, escolar…isn’t that, like, lettuce?”

“No, you’re thinking of something with a similar name,” said Gesina.

“Oh yeah. Escarole,” I agreed. “Escolar is…a fish?”

“I think so,” she said.

And being that we live in the world of smart phones, the mystery fish was immediately googled. G chuckled as her phone loaded the page.

ESCOLAR: THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS FISH,” she read.

Say what?

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market,” she continued. “This firm, white fleshed fish as an incredibly rich flavor, often described as succulent, or a fattier version of swordfish. Why so rich? It turns out that – CRAP!”

Apparently, the phone’s battery was on the fritz; its screen faded to black, leaving the big question unanswered: WHY SO RICH indeed?

I briefly considered digging my own phone out of my purse to continue the research, but it seemed like more fun to be left in suspense. “Dangerous” or not, it sounded tasty. We placed our order and went back to beer sipping and chatting.

As it turns out: escolar is indeed delicious.

The whole thing was pretty amazing, actually, but it was the melt-in-your-mouth buttery white fish on the outside that put it over the top. It looked and tasted like the generic “white tuna” I’ve had many times at sushi joints, but a little fattier.

Later that night, I was lying in bed when my phone chirped. I picked it up to see an email from Gesina with a link to an article and two words: “Haha! YUM!”

[source]

And there we had our answer. WHY SO RICH? Because apparently escolar gives you the shits. And not just any shits. ORANGE, OILY SHITS.

The article is equal parts horrifying and hilarious, and the comments are even better: definitely worth a click through. However, as a summary: the escolar’s diet is high in something called “wax esters,” which it cannot digest, and neither can most people. So they come out the other end intact, creating something called “keriorrhoea,” which is just like diarrhea but even more fun, as you discharge waxy orange grease instead of regular poop.

Fortunately, neither of us has experienced this yet.

I’ve got a couple of things working in my favor here. For one thing, now that I know what it is, I’m certain I’ve eaten this fish before (as “white tuna”) and never had any ill effects. And I’ve eaten all sorts of weird and sketchy food while traveling (as has G – in fact, a few years ago we spent a summer bumming around Cambodia and Vietnam together, feasting on fried crickets and street meat and all sorts of unrefrigerated, unpasteurized, bacteria-ridden delicacies) so hopefully this “wax ester” business ain’t no thing to my stomach.

Still. NOT the smartest thing to consume three days before a big race. Although I feel totally fine (and based on most of the comments in that article, I would have started feeling the symptoms by now if they were going to present themselves), I’d be lying if I said a little part of me wasn’t on Keriorrhoeawatch this morning.

That fish was delicious, though. It would almost be worth it, even with the alleged after effects. Assuming I didn’t have a marathon to run, of course.

I guess we’ll see how this comes out.

Pun intended.

 

Answers

I love you guys for indulging me on last week’s request for NAQs. Or I guess as they should be called: AOBIBYTQs. Asked Only Because I Begged You To Questions.

Here we go, in the order received….

From Jess:

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?

Somewhere with a combination of exquisite natural beauty and delicious food. I’m a city person (I loved living in NYC!) but ultimately, I’d be happy living somewhere more remote as long as the food scene was good.

Jackson, Wyoming comes to mind. Or the south of France. Or this little coastal town in Vietnam called Hoi An. Money and/or practicality are no object here, right?

If you could only eat 1 thing for a whole week, without feeling sick or getting fat, what would you eat?

Pad Thai.

Besides running, what is your favourite hobby?

Does drinking count as a hobby? I think it does.

Runners up: writing…and traveling, and hiking, and skiing. If I could figure out a way to get the writing to pay for the others, that would be delightful.

Are you planning on having children? Every blogger seems to be popping ‘em out at the moment!

Probably…although we’re not in any rush, and I worry that a child would be highly incompatible with my extremely self-centered lifestyle. Although being pregnant would provide great blog fodder, yes? THIS WEEK, BABY IS THE SIZE OF A QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE!

From Caitlin:

How do you scale mileage when training for a marathon vs. half? Longest run, pace, variety of workouts, etc? Do you see value in cross training?

That is a tough question and obviously I’m not a coach or anything, but for me personally, proper training for a full marathon means a lot more miles than equivalent training for a half. I don’t know if it’s twice as much, but it’s up there. I think a lot of people train for marathons by simply adding in a progressively longer long run each week, and you can certainly do that (I’ve done it!) but it’s probably not going to get you in PR shape (it certainly never did for me).

Cross training, in my world, has its place. It doesn’t really have a place in a proper marathon training cycle…unless I’m injured or something, that time and effort is better spent running. But during the “off season” or for just general keeping in shape, sure.

How do you entertain yourself on long solo runs? (I ask this because once I get over 6-7 miles, I want to DIE of boredom.)

I get a lot of things during long runs – tired, cranky, thirsty, angry – but actually, bored isn’t generally one of them. I always have a little dialogue going with myself in my head and if I’m running in a place where there are lots of people around, I’ll make up little stories about them. (They’re often unflattering stories. Sorry, random people.)

I am, however, guilty of doing the “math in my head” thing, especially during track workouts. As in: “200 meters down, 2800 to go! Hey, that’s 1/15 of the workout done!” This is not a helpful way to think about things.

What is your favorite type of beer and why?

Overall, IPA. I rarely have an IPA that I don’t like! Other types of beer may be better  in certain situations (like it’s hard to beat a hazy wheat on a hot day, or a boozy winter warmer while cozying up to a fire), but IPA is delicious any time.

From Marie:

WRITE ABOUT YOUR VAGINA!

…and Melissa:

Write about other people’s vaginas!

Here is a photo of the plastic orchid that came with my generically furnished rental apartment.

Tee hee. I’m so clever.

From Brii:

Write more about how you started running in the first place.

Let’s see…I started running when I was 13. I was going in to high school that fall and I desperately wanted a letter jacket. So I looked at my options. Any sport involving balls was out; I was (and still am) afraid of the ball and have the reflexes of a tree sloth on Ambien.

That left swimming and cross country. The swimmers had practice in the morning before school which sounded pretty horrible so I went out for cross country instead.

I did okay my freshman year. I think I ran something around 24 minutes for our first 3-mile race. I wasn’t the fastest person on the team, or even good enough to make the varsity cut, but it seemed to come to me easily so I stuck with it.

Each year, I got a little faster. By senior year, I was pretty much living and breathing running and seeing times that started with 18. I set quite a few PRs that year…many of which still stand today.

I continued running competitively in college (DIII), but I never had the kind of focus that I did my last year of high school…and while I ran well, I probably didn’t live up to the potential that my coach saw when he recruited me. Oh well. I had fun in college. :)

And so…I’ve pretty much been running ever since. The longest I’ve gone without running has been a couple of months here and there for injury (of which I haven’t had many, knock on wood!) or because I was traveling. There hasn’t been a year that I haven’t raced at least a half marathon.

Sometimes I feel like I should have a better “story.” It seems like every other blogger has their OMG RUNNING JOURNEY, but I don’t really…it’s just something that I’ve been doing for almost two decades now. I can’t really imagine life without it!

From Megan:

Can you do another beer school series, or something like it? I loved those posts!

Booze School! I kinda stopped doing those because I was afraid they came off as know-it-all-y, but if people liked them, I can bring them back! I really enjoy learning about and researching types of beer/wine, especially ones that are unusual or new to me. (The hands-on part of the research is my favorite. Obviously.)

From Kimra:

Beers you love most/first beer you ever loved?

The first “real” beer I ever took a liking to was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. In my first post-college apartment, there was always a pack in the fridge!

As for beers I love most, of course, that’s harder. Nowadays, Great Divide’s Fresh Hop Pale Ale is probably my favorite Pale Ale. In the IPA family, it’s hard to top the Pliny the Elder (which I enjoyed when I was out in CA last December) or Dogfish 120 Minute, but those are elusive beasts. For a more readily-available IPA, Bell’s Two-Hearted is excellent, as is Dogfish’s 60 (or 90) Minute.

Why run a marathon (vs speedy shorter distances that don’t require turning over your whole life to 20-milers)(can you guess what I’ve been thinking about lately)?

I honestly don’t have a good answer on that one. I cannot wait for my marathon to be over so I can spend the summer/fall focusing on shorter stuff.

I also think that the longer distances are a security blanket for a lot of people. The longer the race, the more credit you get for finishing as opposed to finishing well…and in some bizarre way that takes the pressure off. There’s a certain comfort in knowing that even if you finish last, you’ve done something that most people consider pretty hardcore. In that regard, training for and racing a fast 5K can be a lot more scary than running a marathon; you’re putting yourself out there and there’s no real value in “just finishing.” There’s a real chance of failure.

Favorite/least favorite track workouts (I like stealing other people’s track workouts).

Favorite: Classic 12 X 400. I like that I can break the workout in to thirds and think of it like each mile of a 5K.

Least favorite: mile repeats. Ugh.

Possible controversy: Do you OMG! stop your watch while on training runs, and if so, can you still count your overall pace? What if it’s a stoplight vs. stopping to buy a week’s worth of groceries?

I do. It’s not my fault I got stopped at a stoplight!

In general, of course, I try to minimize the number of stops I have to make, especially if I am trying to do a quality or a pace-focused workout. That’s why I always try to go to a greenway or a continuous park loop or something when I do a tempo run.

As for long runs…unless you have your own personal on-the-go aid station set up, it’s hard to avoid making a quick stop to drink/refill water, eat Gu, etc. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with stopping your watch while you do that. As long as you get moving again as soon as you’ve done what you need to do, I don’t think it will matter on race day.

Grocery shopping, elaborate photography sessions, yoga breaks…all things I personally try to avoid while I’m running. But that’s just me.

And, since you’re thinking about maybe doing things other than running for a bit, what are some non-running/cross-training activities that you have previously tried and dropped like a hot potato?

Body Pump. You want to talk about boring? Give me a solo twenty-miler any day. I went a few times when I lived in NYC and the whole thing just seemed so contrived and predictable.

Cycling. It’s scary and it’s a pain in the ass – both figuratively and literally. I actually do own a good road bike and shoes and stuff and if I had a group to go with, I’d give it another shot, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s just not something I’m going to make the effort to do on my own.

Pilates. Meh. If I’m going to spend an hour writhing around on the floor, I’d rather be doing something more entertaining.

Heavy weight lifting. A few years ago, I worked with a trainer and for several months focused on strength training with lower reps and heavier weights. I actually didn’t hate it, but my running pace suffered, so I eventually backed off. And I don’t really enjoy lifting on my own, so I don’t do it as much as I probably should.

That’s it for this edition of AOBIBYTQs. Thanks for playing, guys!

A little bitta chicken, fried

My husband loves fried chicken.

Doesn’t matter if it comes from a fancy restaurant or a grocery store deli counter or KFC: he loves it. (In fact, he claims to love KFC the most, which is something I cannot quite wrap my head around.)

So guess what I got him (us) for a (belated) Valentine’s Day gift this year?

I MADE THAT CHICKEN. Well…sort of.

Saturday night, we headed to The Cooking School at Irwin Street for a little education in the form of Southern Buttermilk Chicken and Biscuits taught by Chef Diana Darris, aka the “Food Diva.”

A cooking class. I know. I KNOW! It’s such a trite date-night-y thing to do. But it was actually really fun, and now we know how to make fried chicken!

Tacked onto a funky sandwich/ice-cream shop in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, Irwin Street’s space is unpretentious and welcoming. Mismatched dishes and brightly painted, slightly sloping concrete floors hint that Irwin Street is going for a warm and cheery vibe.

Chef Diana kicked things off by pulling out three large bags of chicken, which she’d marinated overnight in buttermilk and herbs. She walked us – ten students, total – through the process of taking the chicken from marinade to platter.

After the demonstration, we washed our hands and got to work.

We tasted our first batch of chicken and everyone agreed that it could use a little more seasoning. But Chef Diana “fixed” it by whisking together a spicy honey glaze (clover honey, hot sauce, creole seasoning) and drizzling it over the chicken.

Problem solved.

Once we’d cranked out enough chicken for dinner, we moved on to biscuits.

Oh, beguiling biscuits. It’s a good thing this class wasn’t graded because I’d have failed. I did something terribly wrong with my dough and it ended up far too dense. Fortunately, everyone else’s turned out great – and, oh god, they were great. Not that I’m a connoisseur, but those were definitely the best biscuits I’ve ever had!

I won’t spill all of the stuff we learned in the class, but here are a few general concepts that stuck with me:

  • Use every step of the preparation as an opportunity to add flavor. Nothing touched our chicken that wasn’t seasoned in some way – Chef Diana even “scented” the cooking oil with rosemary and turkey bacon while it was heating up. The flour and the buttermilk in which we dipped and dredged the meat were both spruced up with spices, too.
  • Be gentle with the flour. Both the chicken and biscuits are best when light and fluffy. That means sifting the flour and using a light touch when handling it.
  • Take your time. Chef Diana instructed us to let the chicken pieces, dredged and ready to to fry, to sit for a few minutes before cooking. Apparently this “activates” the flour and its rising agents, which leads to a fluffier crust.

It was a fun night and I definitely learned a thing or two. My only complaint is that the class ran quite a bit longer than I expected it to, and I was STARVING by the time we sat down to actually eat our projects! Overall, though, it was a great experience.

Thanks, Chef Diana!

Soooooo clearly, I was down in Atlanta this weekend. The main purpose of the trip (besides spending time with my husband, of course) was to seal the deal on our housing situation. We’re, um…getting there.

And I’m back in Raleigh now. Two weeks to go until moving day. I guess it’s time to start packing…

Autentico

Hello, my name is Shelby, and I have a balsamic vinegar problem.

I think I was in college when I first ate at a fancypants-type restaurant where they pour a little plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for you to eat with your bread. I remember thinking it was cool that vinegar formed a perfect little circle, trapped there in the oil. Then I dabbed the edge of my bread in it and never looked back.

On a recent business trip to Europe, my husband picked up a little gift for me. The man clearly knows the way to my heart.

I know, the cheapo grocery store stuff is “imported from Italy.” But this is actually from Italy. And that makes it better, right?

No, actually, what makes it better is that it’s thicker and sweeter than the domestically available vinegar products that normally grace my baby lettuces. It’s almost like a balsamic reduction in a jar. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could eat this stuff with a spoon.

But then I wouldn’t have any left over for my pasta.

(Whole wheat penne with red peppers, chicken sausage, goat cheese, and OMG balsamic deliciousness.)

I kind of can’t believe I just wrote a whole post about balsamic vinegar. But hey, it’s Tuesday and there’s not much going on around here.

In the spirit of randomness, I’ll leave you with the ad that has been popping up constantly on my Words With Friends lately:

I’m not sure what I did to lead my phone to believe that I’m in to adolescent eskimo boys….

Don’t make this mistake

Last night, I enjoyed one of my favorite not-too-expensive, mostly-healthy-yet-totally-delicious take out meals: the grocery store sushi box.

The box had this one roll that was topped with chunks of avocado and drizzled with that delicious brown eel sauce. On the way home from the store, though, things got jostled around and everything ended up jumbled together and coated in sauce. Fine by me. I love that sauce.

After I polished off all of the rolls and nigiri pieces, I went hunting through the carnage with my chopsticks for stray chunks of sauce-coated avocado.

I thought I was done when I stumbled upon one large, last scrumptious piece.

I should have known it was too good to be true.

On the plus side, my sinuses were very clear for the rest of the evening.

Backing up a few hours…I said I was going to do mile repeats yesterday. So mile repeats I did:

On the track: 4 X 1 mile at something like 10K pace, with 400M recovery. (Okay, 400M-plus recovery. I am really bad about enforcing recovery when I’m working out alone. I dawdled around a little between intervals and was actually on about a ten-minute cycle for these.)

This workout wasn’t easy, and I almost called it quits after three. In fact, I totally owe that fourth mile to the gentlemen who were doing their track repeats at the same time as me, who gently goaded me into finishing my planned workout.

Of course, I’m glad I did. I always am.

And as much as that last one burned, it was nothing compared to ingesting a tablespoon of wasabi.

A damn proper steak

This is supposed to be eat, drink, and run, but I haven’t written much lately about the stuff that goes in my mouth. Well, the solid stuff, anyway.

It’s because my diet has gone to shit in the last couple of months. Cooking healthy yet delicious meals simply ceased to be a priority when this whole Atlanta thing came about.

Pork Nachos at Raleigh Times. Fried Chicken at Poole’s. Toro Nigiri at An Sushi. All of the favorites. As the days until my husband left to start his new job grew fewer, so did home-cooked meals. Instead, we opted to enjoy the last of our days together in a town that has some pretty great restaurants.

It’s funny how an impending Big Life Change can make you feel entitled to indulgences. Comfort food, indeed.

Now that I’m on my own for a bit, I’ve done a complete one-eighty. Instead of eating out every night, I’ve been eating…whatever I can find in the refrigerator.

Cheese, bread, sliced fruit. Salad. Crackers and peanut butter. Frozen pizza. I haven’t been eating the worst diet in the world, but I certainly could do better. Especially with lots and lots of miles on the docket for the next couple of months.

Today, I had the day off of work, and was in the middle of a glorious mid-afternoon sofa-loafing session when I was suddenly struck by: steak. A good steak. Filet. Nearly rare. OMG.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but suddenly I could think of nothing else.

You are going to change out of those pajama pants and put down that reheated frozen cheese pizza, I told myself, and go to the store. And then you’re going to make yourself a damn proper steak for dinner tonight.

Let’s not discuss the fact that this tiny hunk of filet cost almost $13 at the Whole Foods meat counter. It was exactly what I wanted, and as luck would have it, I nailed the preparation, cooking it to the exact level of almost-rare that I adore – and that is frustratingly difficult to communicate to most steakhouse servers. (Um, #firstworldproblems.) With some crispy butter-fried shallots, roasted fingerling potatoes, and some baby spinach, the whole plate was absolute perfection.

Just a little classier than my typical cracker-crumb-covered solo meal…

Sitting at the actual dinner table with a plate of real food made me realize how much I’ve missed the experience of dining rather than just snacking/eating. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, being that I’ve only been on my own here for a week. But eating alone is no excuse to be a total slob and eat garbage. I’ve been wallowing a little for the last few days. It was amazing how much better putting on a bra and making myself a nice meal made me feel.

A glass of damn proper Cab helped too:

I don’t often buy Cabs. It’s such a food-centric wine, and I generally prefer to stock my tiny rack with more versatile bottles: bottles that can be opened up with dinner, or stand alone if I just want to have a glass of red on its own.

But the Wine Sample Lady at Fresh Market was pouring this 2009 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon a few days ago, and sipping it in the store, I really enjoyed it. It was smooth as velvet with lovely chicory and cherry notes, and it didn’t give me any cottonmouth. Just very…drinkable. So I picked up a bottle. Which was fortunate and timely, because it paired wonderfully with my steak tonight, and tasted even better after airing out for half an hour.

Bottom line: Get it! A solid affordable Cab. (Purchased at Fresh Market, $14.)

Anyway. I’m not sure what the point of this post is, other than to perhaps congratulate myself for putting on pants and using my stove today.

Perhaps I should revel in the laziness and just eat my cheese, because I’m sure that once I get down to Atlanta and am reunited with my dining partner, there will be gorging a-plenty. A whole new batch of restaurants to explore! We’ve been apart for two months! We just dealt with moving! Who wants a cocktail? We deserve it! 

2,011 in 2011: the failure

The best thing about setting meaningless and arbitrary goals is that when you don’t meet them…nothing bad happens. Hooray!

I suppose there’s the possibility that I’ll drink enough champagne with dinner that I go streaking through the streets in the hours before the clock strikes, thereby logging another 6.7 miles. But given that we’re staying in and laying low tonight, I’d say it seems unlikely.

But hey – I cracked 2K for the year! Not bad, eh? I don’t really know how many miles I ran in 2010, but I’m quite certain that I ran more in 2011. So I’ve got that going for me.

Here’s a quick look at the other meaningless and arbitrary goals – as outlined in this post from last December – that I (mostly) failed to accomplish this year:

1) Learn to bake bread: PARTIAL SUCCESS

I owe any progress on this one entirely to Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day. And I still whip up a batch every so often. But I never really progressed beyond the basic Round Peasant Loaf. Oh well. The Round Peasant Loaf is still pretty delicious.

2) Learn to drink Scotch: FAILURE

Did I ever show you the photo of the time that I tried?

That’s the same face I was making during my flight out to Seattle last week, when the guy next to me kept ripping these terrible farts – and then, to my horror, apologizing. Every time! Awkward! Because what are you supposed to say to that? Just pretend it wasn’t your fart and look around with a disgusted look on your face like the rest of us, dude.

Anyway, Scotch. Yeah, still not my bag. But I’m sure I’ll keep trying.

3) Learn to spell: SUCCESS?

This was a stupid goal to begin with because obviously I already know how to spell. I’m just lazy. Like, I noticed that I misspelled JUBELALE in my last post but am I going to go back and fix it? Probably not. (Also, I’m not sure it counts as a misspelling if it’s not a real word.)

So really the goal should have been LEARN NOT TO BE LAZY. But then I wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Overall, though, I’m giving this one a green light if for no other reason that I believe Words With Friends has improved my grasp of the English language. Or just allowed me to learn a bunch of random words that I didn’t realize were actually words. Whatever! I know how to spell them!

4) Learn to fix a (bike) flat: FAILURE

Utter failure. Except to pull it away from the wall it to remove the cobwebs collecting around it, I haven’t touched my bike all year. Pretty sure both of the tires are flat now, too. Doh.

5) Learn to jump turn: MOSTLY A FAILURE

I did end up getting out west to ski last spring. Each year, I think I probably do a little better with my form. But I’m still mostly a disaster when it comes to even the smallest moguls. It’s hard to have skiing goals when you live in the southeast. #southernerproblems

6) Learn to carve a bird: FAILURE

For Thanksgiving this year, I literally just tore the meat off of the turkey and plopped it on a serving platter, as it was just the two of us so who cares about having pretty slices? And personal hygiene?

Still…I’d love to take one of those knife skills classes or whatever. Maybe next year.

7) Learn to taste wine: SUCCESS

I drank a lot of wine this year. And I went to a Wine Bloggers Conference. Learning FTW! Still definitely not an expert, but I’m starting to feel like I can talk reasonably intelligently on the subject.

8) Learn about beer: SUCCESS

Again…definitely still a novice, but I have learned so much this year. I’m counting it as a success.

9) Learn to apply mascara: SUCCESS

This one was easy. As soon as I started buying the good shit from Sephora instead of the crappy shit from Target, I stopped looking like I had fleas all over my face. I can handle spending 20 bucks on mascara a couple of times a year.

It’s true: money really can buy happiness.

10) Learn how to poach an egg: FAILURE

I don’t think I’ve even attempted this since I wrote that goal.

11) Learn to do a headstand: TOTAL FAILURE

I don’t think I’ve even attended a yoga class since I wrote that goal.

So, to summarize: My successes this year stemmed from drinking, shopping, and dicking around on my iPhone. Sounds about right.

In all seriousness, though, 2011 was a pretty good year. I trained pretty hard in the spring and ran a pretty decent half marathon. Then I trained pretty hard in the fall and ran a legit marathon PR (and a BQ to boot).  The latter ranks pretty highly among my favorite running experiences ever. So far, anyway.

So, really: who cares if I fell 6+ miles short of my yearly mileage goal? Or that I avoided my yoga mat and my bike like they were covered in cooties? Or that I can’t drink whiskey without making a ridiculous fart face? I’m taking some pretty good memories from 2011 when we say goodbye in a few hours.

As for 2012, there are some Big Running Plans and Mega Life Changes on tap in the months ahead. But I’ll save all of that for another post.

So…cheers to the new year! Be safe, have fun, don’t drink so much flavored vodka that you end up falling asleep with your head in a paper bag filled with your own vomit. (Not that I’ve ever done that…. #college)

The roasted marshmallow incident

“I NEED A BLOWTORCH!” I wailed, watching a second set of slightly overcooked marshmallows puff up like little brown blowfish as I pulled them from the oven, just in time for them to turn pimply and collapse upon themselves.

“That,” said my husband – who was standing on a chair in the hallway, soothing the smoke detector by fanning it with a dish towel – “is the last thing you need.”

Gelatin-puffed sugar and heat are fickle bedfellows, as anyone who has sat fireside and watched their perfect coal-roasted golden-brown marshmallow suddenly sprout blisters and slide off the end of their roasting stick knows.

So I don’t know why I became so attached to the beguiling idea of toasted marshmallows atop Purple Yam Soup for Thanksgiving dinner this year. Everything was done. The turkey and stuffing camped on the counter under tents of foil; the cranberries waited patiently, a serving spoon sticking out of their jellied mass like a lever ready to be pulled.

Everything was done…except for the damn marshmallows. And while we should have been sitting down to eat, I was nearing tears over the failed execution of toasted sugar and gelatin, inching a bit closer to the proverbial ledge with every shriek from the smoke detector. After all, I had made a similar soup last year, complete with the same tricky topping, and it hadn’t been this difficult. (Had it?)

I brushed the sweat from my forehead with the back of my oven mitt and stuck the third batch of marshmallows under the broiler, leaving the door propped open. I didn’t take my eyes off of them as I ladled the soup in to bowls – miraculously, without any spillage. The marshmallows started to come alive: at first it was barely perceptible, their faint swelling as subtle as the breathing belly of a sleeping kitty. Their soft edges melted away as they morphed from cylinders to domes. A blush of golden color appeared first on the crown, then spread outward, deepening as it traveled to a toasty brown.

“HONEY IT’S TIME TO EAT!” I barked. “LIKE NOW!” I yanked the pan from the oven, grabbed a spatula, and began prying the toasted marshmallows from the pan, desperate to transfer them to the soup bowls before their precious window of perfect done-ness slammed shut and they deflated – again.

(As an aside, purple yams are really purple.)

“I’m sorry; I was a total bitch a minute ago,” I apologized to my husband as we savored our first spoonfuls.

“But this is really good,” he said.

And it was.  The hot marshmallow innards melted into the creamy yam soup, adding a toasty sweetness, while their “shells” provided a delicious burned-sugar crunch – perfectly complemented by the salty pistachios and butter-fried sage.

Recipe: Purple Yam Soup with Roasted Marshmallows, Pistachios and Fried Sage

So….

Thanksgiving 2011 Lesson One: Cooking with fussy, extremely time-and-heat-sensitive ingredients might not be the best idea in the midst of a hectic holiday meal. Unless you enjoy the sound of your smoke detector.

Thanksgiving 2011 Lesson Two: But sometimes it’s totally worth it.

Thanksgiving 2011 Lesson Three: I really do need a blowtorch. (Santa?)

Happy Black Friday!