The last two weeks have been hectic both in work and in life, good but hectic. When I (re) started blogging I vowed to never neglect my blog again or go lengthy periods of time without posting, because this whole crazy medium only works if you're engaged with it on a regular basis. And of course I promptly went two weeks without a peep. I apologize. I really am going to try not to do this on a regular basis. In the interests of time and catching up (and because I have to work tonight and need to squeeze in a nap!), I'm going to recap via iPhone pics. Warning: most of this is food. I'm not sure whether to be proud or horrified that so many of the moments I choose to capture in life revolve around food or alcohol. I think mostly proud.
I am absolutely loving the little glimpses of warmer weather we have had. Sure it was 20 something degrees outside this past weekend but there have been days here and there when I haven't had to put on my down coat! Victory! I am so ready for patio and porch sitting evenings and spending as much time as possible outside. When you work in a hospital and go 13 hours without breathing fresh air you really crave that outdoor time on your days off.
I made homemade pizzas last week for dinner and was very excited with how they turned out. To be fair they weren't 100% homemade because I used TJ's pizza dough. But other than that everything was fresh. I made three concoctions, the one above with the TJ's garlic and herb dough, plus pesto, ricotta, goat cheese, butternut squash, and broccoli. I also made a super veggie explosion one and a basic tomato, mozzarella, and feta. Yum, yum, and yum!
I had some really awesome eat out dinners as well. We went to Saison to celebrate two of my loveliest friends' birthdays and I had an out of this world Carolina rice bowl with all sorts of veggies and pickled things and Asian tasting spices and herbs. It was insanely good, made even better by the addition of a soft yolk egg, which makes literally everything in this world better.
We went out to Casa Del Barco down on the canal. The food was good but overpriced and very gringo-esque. My Texas raised mother would have been horrified that they use flour tortillas. But the highlight was the location. I haven't been down to the canal in years, because there hasn't really been anything there to do. But I'm hoping that with Casa Del Barco and F. W. Sullivan's there, things will continue to move ahead and it might actually turn into a really cool part of Richmond. I am super behind the times and hadn't even seen the murals down there yet. They are so awesome and worth the trip downtown alone.
R and I have been trying to go see the Book of Mormon forever (both in DC and NYC) but it ALWAYS sells out. I saw it when it came to Richmond because I reviewed it for richmond.com but of course R was working. It's coming back to the Kennedy Center this summer and we jumped on the chance to get tickets before they're gone. It's not until June but I am so stoked to see it again. I absolutely LOVED the show and because of how fast and furious the jokes are I know a second viewing will make it even richer.
On one of our recent, gorgeous glimpse of summer days we took the pups down to Belle Isle. It has long been one of Sandy's favorite places, and we were hoping George would love it just as much.
The water was a little chilly to his liking, but overall I think he was a fan :)
Post-Belle Isle we headed to Triple Crossing Brewing. Not sure if I can think of a better day than taking the dogs on a walk in the warm sunshine on Belle Isle followed by a cold, locally brewed beer on a patio.
To top of a really great week we had an awesome weekend. My best friend from CofC Jess came up from NC to visit and then dog-sit for us. It was great to catch up with her Friday night. And then Saturday morning we took the train up to DC. With my sister not living there anymore, I don't go up nearly as much, so it was nice to get back in the city. We were good tourists on Saturday and went to the National History Museum. However we couldn't last long because it was absolutely mobbed with people and huge groups of teenagers. I really, really dislike crowds, and these were to the point where you had to stand in lines to get into exhibits and couldn't even get close enough to the glass to see items on display without elbowing people aside. We made it about an hour (my favorite part was seeing the First Lady dresses!). The rest of the weekend was spent eating and drinking (honestly museums are nice but when it comes to DC ones I've done that routine many times, sometimes the best vacations are the more indulgent ones). We went to Brian Voltaggio's Range for dinner. It was sooooo good. My favorite part was this beautiful, deceivingly simple salmon tartare. So elegant you almost hated to eat it, but of course eat it I did. It tasted like salmon should taste but rarely does, fresh and like the ocean.
Another highlight was Kopnos the next morning for brunch. This was kind of a Top Chef themed weekend, because this was Mike Isabella's Greek restaurant. I've been to Graffiato twice now, but this place absolutely gives it a run for its money. I got a frittata type dish with feta, crispy lamb, and potatoes. This sounds simple but I don't know if I've ever had a meal that used herbs so perfectly. There was dill and parsley on almost everything and it worked so beautifully and contrasted so nicely with the heavier flavors of lamb and potatoes. Also speaking of potatoes, they had this incredible lemony taste and I just will dream about this meal always.
We stayed at the Sofitel and it was so lovely and the staff were awesome. Sunday afternoon we wandered around Georgetown for a long while (and even checked out an open house! the real estate agent seemed to believe we could genuinely afford a 700,000 1 bedroom condo which is so weird to me because in my head I perpetually look like a guilty 16 year old) before catching the train back home. It was really nice to get away but of course nice to get back to these little stinkers.
Whew, so that was a whirlwind recap. Hopefully such an offloading won't be necessary again because I will be posting more often. As always comments and thoughts are welcome and appreciated!
I was at the gym yesterday reading the latest issue of Runner's World and came across this quote from Marc Parent's Newbie Chronicles column.
"No matter how big and inactive you are, no matter how long-standing your hatred of running or exercise of any kind, if you give it a try and stick to it, the day will come when it no longer sucks, no longer fees like a crazy idea, no longer makes you want to die-when life itself no longer sucks, and you no longer feel like you're crazy. If you stick with running, the day will come when you'll want to live forever."
And it just stopped me in my tracks with its truth and relevance to my own experience with running. And then I realized that it's been almost exactly five years to the day since I started running, and that my anniversary with running deserved a mention, because running has done for me all of those crazy things that quote talks about.
I hated running. The only time I ran before the age of 24 was when absolutely forced to in a PE class or to chase after a baby I was nannying for. I thought it was the most insane type of exercise. Although really I hated exercise in general. I wasn't exactly overweight but I wasn't at my ideal body weight. I did the occasional yoga. But I was also absolutely not in any kind of physically fit shape. And I was deeply unhappy in the middle of probably the worst year of my life (to be fair I have had a remarkably blessed life, and this "bad" year was still so much better than most people's truly bad years, I absolutely realize that my struggles were not the kind of struggles that truly constitute awful). But I was unhappy. It was the year after Thailand. I came home so sure that I would immediately get a full time writing job. I even lined up an interview for an internship (full time and unpaid naturally) with The Atlantic (THE ATLANTIC!) while still in Thailand. The stars were aligned. It all made sense. But that interview did not lead to an internship. Nor did the many, many other interviews and applications and writing samples. Everywhere I looked there were dead ends and rejections. I was adrift. My friends all had jobs or were in grad school. Most of them were in serious relationships.
I was living with my parents and single and desperately let down by the world in the way only a 24 year old can be. And even more let down because I was coming off these incredible 6 months of travel where the world was wide open and beautiful, and I couldn't process or understand how it could suddenly not be that way. I was young and spoiled and expected to sail through life, because I had done that up until that point. And as I applied again and again to jobs that I didn't even really want (note to any aspiring writers, there are approximately 2 full time "writing" jobs that open up in the country each year, everything else is editing, and I HATE editing, as you can probably tell from my horrendous use of punctuation), I knew I had to do something to save my soul. I felt myself getting bitter and mean. I didn't like who I was becoming.
So I started to run. It was early spring just like now, when running, even for a non-runner seems do-able and even enticing. Because the air is that perfect mix of cool and warm, and the sky is the kind of blue you swear you've never seen before. You notice trees for the first time that have been there all year, only now they are starting to show those first sweet blossoms of things to come. The air itself is lighter, less dense, easier to move through than in the chill of winter. And so you tell yourself you can run.
The first few months were...a process. Any runner will tell you that even if you go on to run 10ks and half marathons and even marathons, there is nothing harder or more of a test of your very self than that first mile. And it's so true. That first mile is still for me the hardest I have ever run. It took many, many attempts to go a mile without stopping or at least feeling like I was going to die. But even after that first mile I struggled. The first year was hard. I had shin splints. I had a hip strain. I even documented all of this struggle for Richmond.com when I signed up for the Monument Avenue 10k (my editor was and remains the coolest and most indulgent of my requests to write about any and everything).
But I kept going. I kept running. I lost about 10 lb and for the first time in my adult life didn't think of myself as fat (to be fair I never was "fat" but that doesn't mean my crazy brain would accept that). I felt comfortable in my skin and in control of my body. I signed up for more races, for a half marathon, and eventually a marathon (that's a whole other story).
This story is about that first year. It's about the way running gave me a purpose and a plan when the rest of my days were empty and aimless and full of waiting for yet another letter or email or phone call to tell me thanks but no thanks. It gave me something physical and real to do every day, something I could control. I couldn't force those people to give me a job but when I got yet another rejection that always, always felt like a slap across the face (you would think if you got turned down for 20 jobs, the 21st would hurt less, but it never did hurt any less, it always felt like the wine was knocked out of me for a few days), I could put on a pair of tennis shoes (back then I think I ran in Nike's! that was before I discovered the wonder of Brooks), tie them up, walk outside, and move. That physical pain of running eased the deeper, gnawing pain of rejection. I could ground myself in the way my muscles changed and grew stronger, in the way I felt after each run, calm and tired and happy. I ran in Richmond. I ran in DC when I lived with my sister and her husband. I ran down Monument past Civil War statues, down Connecticut Ave in DC past cherry blossoms in all their puffy, pink glory. I ran through the National Zoo and waved hi to pandas. I ran through Maymont and around Shield's Lake.
It was on a run that I decided to go to Haiti on a volunteer trip that changed me as a person and changed the goals of my life. It was on a run that a little thought snuck up in my head that maybe I should go to nursing school, learn a trade that could help people. It was on a run that I realized that I would always be a writer regardless of if my primary living came from writing, that maybe by trying to force writing to be my profession I was killing it. I was putting so much pressure on this love of writing of mine that I was destroying my relationship with it. And that it was okay to stop trying to force this door open that would not budge no matter how hard I worked, to try something new, that I could choose another path if it meant that I could be happy. That it didn't mean I was giving up or failing. It just meant I was finding a new path.
It was on runs throughout that year that I made the most important decisions of my life. Running gave me that. It gave me that clarity and strength and belief. It gave me everything.
Five years later and I am happy to still call myself a runner. My body might not be so happy with this all the time (curse you IT bands!) but I am always happy to call myself a runner. I am so happy I made that choice five years ago to try something I previously hated. I am so happy that even as I continued to hate it most of that first year I kept running. I try to tell anyone who doesn't run that simple truth. You don't start off running because you love it. You start off running precisely because you hate it, but because you need to show yourself, on a molecular level, that you can handle doing something that hard, that you are capable of putting one foot in front of the other even when it sucks, that you aren't the kind of person who only does things when they're easy. You need to be the kind of person who pushes through runs and days and life even when they are at their hardest, even when it hurts, because that's the only way you ever come to know your own strength.
So here's to running, to our five year anniversary, to a relationship that has given me aches and pains and physical therapy bills but also gifts beyond measurement, truths about myself that will stay with me always.
And because these words are just so good, one more quote from Parent's article to end it on:
"Always run as strong and as long and as fast as you can. Always be patient with injury...Do anything to keep running. Never stop hoping for more, expecting the best, celebrating early (and often!) pushing harder...Let's never, ever stop."
After a week of rain and work, we finally had a beautiful Spring-like afternoon yesterday and were both off work. So we decided to head to Ardent Craft Ales. They have a really cool beer garden and they awesomely welcome kids and dogs. So we brought our dog, George, and met with up with my BF MK, her husband Josh and their adorable baby. It was a really fun time. I got the sweet potato and sage saison and despite sounding kind of crazy it was so delicious. Very mild sweet potato and sage flavors. Just a slightly sweet farmhouse saison. So good I had to have two :)
The place was packed and full of babies and dogs (if you really think about it, an outdoor beer garden is one of the best places to bring both a baby and a dog). George naturally got a ton of attention (if you want to make friends and never be lonely in public get a golden retriever puppy). Although his thunder was slightly stolen by another golden puppy who was there. He and the other golden played for a while and everyone's hearts simultaneously exploded from the cuteness.
George licked lots of people (and beer on the ground unfortunately, he is taking after his parents, not the licking the ground part, the liking beer part) and wanted to be everyone there's best friend. I know George loves us, but having a golden you realize that your dog would probably happily go home with anyone he meets, because they just love people so much.
George and the baby bonded. George and this baby are at the moment at least on similar developmental paths (both obsessed with putting random objects in their mouths, both at the absolute peak of cuteness) and we are convinced George is kind of the baby's spirit animal (and maybe vice versa).
All four boys bonded over the beer and sunshine.
It really was the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. It made me so ready and excited about warm weather and all the fun things that come with it.
For Valentine's Day I gave the hubby a cooking class at Sur La Table in Stony Point. We had done one of their classes before, earlier on in our relationship and had an awesome time. I love to cook but tend to fall into cooking routines and make what I am comfortable making (salmon, Asian noodle bowl things, Mexican, a lot of salads). I don't venture much outside of my cooking comfort zone and rarely make beef or pork dishes (not counting ground beef or bacon). So I signed us up for a Tuscan cooking class with pork tenderloin and risotto (something else I have never dared try) as the main dish. R loves Italian food so I knew he would be excited.
We went this past Friday night and had a really good time. The class was packed with 16 people (our last class only had 6) so that part was a slight drawback just because it was less intimate and the instructor was spread slightly thin with that many amateur chefs to watch over (and make sure don't burn/cut themselves or break the expensive equipment). They started the class with appetizers and then off we went.
We started making a pie crust for a lemon custard tart as the big group (R and I were called on to pulse a food processor and add butter, two things I feel fairly able to handle). After that we split into groups of 4 (we were at a table with a young college aged couple who were really nice and by the end of the class the instructor asked if we knew each other before the class!).
With our new friend!
We started by making lemon custard which was really cool. I liked this class because I feel like we did three techniques that have always kind of scared me, custard, risotto, and properly searing/cooking pork. The custard part was tricky because you have to cook the eggs and lemon juice in a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water at just the right temperature. The water can't boil and you need to take the glass bowl on and off the heat frequently, because if the eggs get too hot you have scrambled eggs which no one wants in a pie crust. You also have to whisk constantly. After our custard got to the proper heat (which the instructor could tell based on taste, he had super chef spidey senses) we added it to a blender that costs more than my car. We added a huge vat of butter piece by piece as we blended and boom, custard (there were a few more steps than that but just hitting the highlights here).
After custard we tackled the risotto. This was also really cool, because as an avid Top Chef watcher I know there are about a thousand ways to screw up risotto (as every poor chef on that show who attempts it almost always does). The trick with risotto (according to our instructor, who used to be a chef in NYC) is to cook the rice in oil until it "opens" (the way to tell, it smells like popcorn!), and only then start to add broth. You have to add broth bit by bit and stir the entire time as the rice absorbs the liquid. Our risotto ended up awesome (might be less about our technique and more because we added about a pound of butter and almost as much cheese).
The last thing we did was sear our pork tenderloin. Take aways from this are that meat should be room temperature when you add it to a pan (not cold right out of the fridge) and that you need to make sure your oil is hot before you add your meat if you want a good sear (also that teflon pans will make you die, as our instructor frequently told us).
At this point they pushed us out into the store (conveniently timed right after they gave us all a glass of wine) with our 10% off coupon. Of course we bought something (they enchant you with the wine and the cooking smells and all the fancy, shiny objects that you feel like you have to have, these people know what they're doing). We bought grill baskets (so excited about warm weather and grilling) and a gadget thingy that gets the stems off herbs (I know that sounds completely silly, but Sur La Table basically exists to sell kitchen gadgets that if you really think about them are really cool and pretty but absolutely unnecessary). Luckily they only gave us one glass of wine or we might have bought that blender and be forced to eat every meal for the rest of our lives out of a blender to justify the cost.
They let us back into the kitchen as soon as the instructor and delightful three lady helpers/magical kitchen elves had cleaned up all of our messes (and probably done quite a bit to the food to make it taste good and fool our silly selves into thinking we had done it ourselves). The food tasted SO stinking good. Again, I have never made pork tenderloin and I never order it, but I absolutely loved it and plan to cook it a lot more in the future (it's actually a pretty lean meat so really not much more unhealthy than a chicken breast). The risotto was also incredible and full of so much cheesy goodness. We licked our plates.
We finished things off with dessert. One word: mmmmmmmmmmmmm.
R and I shared one of these, and I almost had to stab him with my spoon to get my share.
Overall I highly recommend taking one of these classes. You learn cool techniques but in a very labor non-intensive way. The magical kitchen elves do all of the prep and cleaning (which are the worst parts about cooking anyway) so you leave these classes convinced you can make a meal like this any night of the week (with Sur La Table products naturally). Which you can't really. But you do leave a better cook than you started, and get to eat your delicious food (or at least the professionally prepared food they secretly swap out when you're not looking).
I had a 54 hour work week last week, so apologies for the lack of posts. However, here are five things from last week worth noting.
1. I spent two days at a Pediatric End of Life Conference early in the week (Yes, I know. Most people read that sentence and immediately begin to cry and wonder how anyone could do anything that depressing. But pediatric palliative and end of life care is a very real part of my job. It is something I take very seriously and consider to be privilege. I jumped at the opportunity to spend two days hearing from experts in the field. You now have the right to go back to not thinking about such sad things hopefully ever again :) ) I work at a hospital in downtown Richmond (due to my fear of HIPPA I will never utter its name, sort of like Voldemort). And there are incredible food carts all around. My normal lunch "break" is 5 minutes downing a Cliff bar and a jug of diet pepsi in the break room while simultaneously fielding phone calls and call bells from patients. So having a whole 45 minute break at the conference was like a little vacation. It meant I actually had time to get food from a cart and sit down while eating it without giving myself heartburn.
There are a million options with the carts, anything from Mexican to sandwiches to Thai to Carribean. But of course I turned to Christopher' Runaway Gourmet . I am obsessed with their tuna salad and marinated cucumbers. The best part is you always get a big chunk of crunchy french bread with your order. If you're looking for a (literal) out of the box lunch I highly recommend heading downtown the next time the weather is nice and perusing the many carts. It always makes me feel like I live in a much bigger city than Richmond.
2. It's not always doom and gloom working with kids at a hospital (actually it's very rarely doom and gloom when you work with kids, even the sickest ones). Sometimes my days include complimentary manicures at the nurses' station :)
3. R and I went to Southbound last week. And we absolutely LOVED it.
I have zero food pictures because I was too busy unhinging my jaw. But we had the tostada appetizer which was super delicious. It reminded me of something my mom used to make with us when I was little. We called it Mexican pizza. We got those flat taco shells and then smothered them with refried beans, cheese, salsa, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, etc, then put them in the oven. This was a fancy version of that more or less with the addition of delicious carnitas. So, SO good. I wanted every appetizer though, especially the Virginia ham plate with buttermilk biscuits! Next time. For my entree I got the local flounder with white beans and broccolini. The flounder was perfectly cooked and so fresh. The white beans were all bacony and salty goodness. And the broccolini was somehow fresh and slightly crunchy while also tasting very drenched in butter. R got the house made fusili with sausage which was also incredible. We both licked our plates. But still managed to have room to walk next door to Gelati Celesti (but really how could you NOT have room for gelati celesti at any time day or night?)
4. We headed up to Wintergreen Saturday to stay with our friends Ross and Laura. So here's the thing. I have been skiing probably 6 or 7 times. All but one of those times have been to Wintergreen. Now granted those ski trips are usually spaced apart by several years, but in all those visits I have never progressed beyond the beginner slope. I like skiing. But I also have a (what I consider) healthy fear present whenever I ski. I mean it's ludicrous when you really think about it. We strap wooden sticks to our feet and then shoot down snow covered mountains on them. It's kind of dumb. I love many kinds of adventure, but have never been an adrenaline junky when it comes to doing things that are speedy or from great heights. However on this occasion I finally made it to the intermediate slopes. I'm glad I did if only for the incredible view of the Blue Ridge that awaits you at the top of the lift (those suckers down on the bunny slope don't get this kind of view! also they probably wouldn't enjoy it because as a skiing beginner you spend most of the time horizontal) Even though these slopes are steeper they are made slightly easier by the fact that unlike on the beginner slope you are not constantly avoiding screaming, out of control people crashing all around you (trust me, I say that as someone who has spent most of my ski trips screaming and crashing). I was also comforted/humiliated by the number of teeny tiny (I mean barely out of toddler years) kids also on the intermediate slopes. And of course they shoot straight down the hills without any poles or presumably any fear whatsoever (in my defense my bones are much more brittle in my old age versus their tiny, pliable ones). I got a system down where I took big wide turns the whole way down and made a pie shape with my skis the entire time (I wish someone had gotten a video, because you probably get the mental image of how professional and awesome I must have appeared).
We both made it through the experience without any fractures (something we high fived over beers at the little food cabin at the bottom of the beginner slope) and had a great time watching college basketball and eating delicious chicken pot pie that night in our friends' condo. Any time I go skiing and don't die I consider it a momentous victory.
5. And finally, because no weekly wrap up would be complete without a George and Sandy picture.
Sandy, miraculously, has yet to attempt fratricide.