Sunday, March 28, 2010

Off and Running!

I've finally started running again and I feel great! Well, physically, I feel pretty good, but mentally I feel great, because I love running. And I've missed it for the last fews years.

I started running when I moved to Seattle in 1995 or '96, shortly after I left the Navy and I still think Seattle must be one of the best cities for running. Great running stores like Super Jock n Jill, an excellent regional running mag called Northwest Runner, and beautiful places to run like Green Lake Park.

The Bay Area is a great place for running, too, of course. I just feel sentimental about Seattle. Where else but SF can you go out for a run and see American Bison, a Dutch windmill and a Japanese tea garden all in the same day! I just need to get out there and start exploring.

The last real running I did was the San Francisco Half-Marathon in July of 2005. It was a great run for me. It wasn't a spectacular performance, but I ran most of the 13.1 miles and finished in 2:36:29! It really was a milestone in my life and I fully intended it to be just a step on my way to finishing a marathon...something I've been wanting to do for years. After the half-marathon, I was planning to take a week off to let my legs recover and just never went back to it, at least not with any real dedication. I've had a few starts and stops, but mostly I just stopped and gained 70 pounds.

I've thought a lot about why I quit running and why I let myself go. It's all emotional, of course, and I'm writing about this mostly for the friends and families of runners out there. If you know and care about someone who is a runner, please get out there and support them. Pick a spot on the route if you can and cheer for them, yell their name. It makes a difference. Most importantly, if you can do nothing else, be at the finish line to meet them and celebrate with them. It's important. When I finished the half-marathon, it was just me. I was in the middle of a crowd of people, with my shiny new medal and my legs getting stiffer by the second, and I felt really lonely because nobody was there to meet me and celebrate with me. It's maybe a little unreasonable to expect that anyone would have been there considering that my family lives 2000 miles away. I know Max would have been there if he could have and I didn't really tell many of my friends I was running, but I didn't realize how much I needed to have someone there. Lesson learned: tell everyone and ask them to come out to the race!

So, back to my current running! I just finished my first full week of training and I finished it with a 5K! This past weekend was the Inaugural Oakland Running Festival. I was so excited to see that Oakland was going to have a marathon that I immediately signed up for the 5K (with plans to run the marathon in a year...fingers crossed) and signed up to be a volunteer at the festival and marathon. I finished the 5K in 39:40, not too shabby for a weeks worth of walking and running (mostly walking) and the best part, my next race is almost guaranteed to be a PR!

Speaking of my next race, I'm already registered. I signed Max and myself up for the SF Giants Plate to Plate 5K on June 12th. It finishes at home plate in AT&T Park. If anyone wants to join us, please sign up! Or come out and cheer us on and join us at the after-run tailgate party.

Current weight: 205 lbs
Total lost: 4 lbs
Goal weight: 155 lb

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Like Proust's madeleine
"...the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us..." Marcel

At work, we often share tastings where we gather over a french press and try to pick out aromas and flavors in a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Like wine, coffee is an amazingly complex beverage but when people first start tasting coffee critically, it's not unusual to hear them say, "it smells like coffee". It's a smell we all know. But with practice you begin to pick out aromas that are floral or smokey, fruity or herbal. Smells of honey, peanuts, cedar, chocolate, blueberries...I've found all of these in a coffee cup. Still, I'm often stumped, even after years of coffee tastings. There will be a smell or a flavor that I know, that I recognize, but can't name. It's familiar, but elusive, until someone else names it. We have such an amazing capacity to remember smells and tastes, but it's not always easy to identify them.

Sense memory is a fascinating thing. Who doesn't have a catalog of smells from their youth? I remember the lilacs that grew in our back yard and the smell of a tornado coming and my dad's bay rum aftershave. He didn't actually smell like bay rum, but had a bottle. Dad smelled like black cherry pipe tobacco.

I remember that my grandmother's house had a very particular smell, and although I can't recall it exactly and would be hard-pressed to find a useful adjective to describe it, I'm sure it would be instantly recognizable even 20 years later as Grandma's house.

At one of our recent coffee tastings, someone brought along pastries to pair with the coffee and while eating a raisin-studded pastry, I suddenly was reminded of a taste from home, from years ago. It wasn't something I remembered fully, I just knew that I recognized this taste, the taste of burnt raisins, and it made me happy. After a couple of months, I had worked out that it was something deep fried and dense, with raisins, but that's all I had until I went to Iowa for Thanksgiving and brought it up. My mom knew instantly what I was talking about and quickly found my grandmother's recipe for vet bollen, little balls of yeast dough studded with apple, current and raisins, deep fried to a dark brown and rolled in sugar.

Vet bollen. As soon as she said it, I knew that was it, but still the memory was vague. My paternal grandmother was dutch and every year, on New Years Day, she made vet bollen. I've been waiting since Thanksgiving to make them and, like Proust and his almond cookie dipped in tea, as soon as I tasted one, everything about it was familiar; tart apple, the sugar coating, and of course, the taste of the raisins on the outside of the ball that get a little burnt and bitter in the hot oil. But even more than the tastes, I remember being happy. This is food that reminds me how lucky I am to have the family I have. Enjoy.

Grandma Sutton's Vet Bollen

makes about 5 dozen

2 c lukewarm water or milk
1/2 c sugar
2 tsp salt
2 cakes compressed yeast
2 beaten eggs
1/2 c shortening-softened
1 qt chopped raw apple
1 heaping cup raisins
1 heaping cup currants
7 - 7 1/2 c sifted flour

Mix as for bread sponge.
Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk.
Break off by spoonfuls and fry in deep oil at 375F.
Roll in raw sugar

That's the recipe as written. I've added some detail here:
This is a big recipe, but easily halved.
I used milk, not water, and I used pink lady apples.
1 cake of yeast is about 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast. I used 2 tsp for a half-batch and the dough proofed nicely.

To make a bread sponge, mix the yeast with about 1/4 c of the milk and let sit a few minutes until foamy, just to ensure the yeast is active. Add the rest of the milk, the sugar and about half the flour. Mix well with a fork or whisk. Let sit in a warm place until the sponge is about doubled.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the sponge and mix well to combine.
Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let dough rise until doubled in bulk.
Punch down the dough and turn it out on a board. You can knead in a bit more flour if it's too sticky.
(I tried these after letting the dough rise for a second time and they were fine, but I preferred a single rise)

Pull off small pieces of dough and fry in hot oil until dark brown (take them past golden brown)
Remove from the oil, drain briefly on paper towels and roll in granulated sugar.
I like to shake them around in a wire mesh colander to knock off the excess sugar.
The vet bollen are tastiest and more full of memories when allowed to cool to room temperature before serving.